Wednesday, 21 August 2019

War of the Spark: Ravnica - the online stories

Writer - Greg Weisman
Released - May-June 2019

Eh... have you read my summary of the War of the Spark novel? This is just the same story again, but entirely from Rat's perspective and with some bits summarized. There is a little expansion here and there, like a scene between her and Hekara in the first part, and we get to see a bit more of Kaya convincing the Orzhov to join the battle, but otherwise it's just the same story we've already covered.

This might sound weird, but while this is just the exact same story as War of the Spark, I also think it is a million times worse.

While reading the novel I did not feel the vitriol some other people felt, perhaps because I thought it was just overambitious, which made me accept a few flaws. It was trying to do far too much in too few pages, but the constant action and cool individual scenes kept me entertained while reading it.

Then I heard there is going to be an online story as well, and I thought "Adding a few extra chapters to War of Spark is a great idea! That'll give them more space to develop the bits that were rushed through!"... and then I read it and it is just a summary of what I already read...

War of the Spark: Ravnica

Writer - Greg Weisman
Cover art - Magali Villeneuve
Released - April 2019

This book has a... high paced plot, so... *deep breath*

In the prologue we see Ugin talking to the spirit of Niv-Mizzet, who is inside the Firemind Vessel and was dropped off in the Meditation Realm by Sarkhan Vol. The two dragons talk in veiled terms about their plan to take down Nicol Bolas.

And no, you didn't miss anything, Niv-Mizzet is already dead, having been killed while trying to stop Bolas, before the book starts. This book skips over some very important plot points that are only now being covered in The Gathering Storm. We'll talk more about that below.

On Ravnica the Interplanar Beacon is switched on to lure as many planeswalkers as possible to the plane to fight Bolas. Among the first to turn up are Teyo Varda, directly after his ascension, and the Gatewatch and their allies, who were having cocoa at Pia Nalaar's place while Gideon went back to Dominaria to see why Liliana didn't follow them at the end of Dominaria.

Tuesday, 16 July 2019

Children of the Nameless

Writer - Brandon Sanderson
Cover art - Chris Rahn
Released - 12 December 2018

As requested I'll do a summary here, but I really want to urge you to go and read the whole thing here. It is a mystery story, and I don't want to spoil the main plot for the people still planning to read it. Also, it's free, so why miss it?

The story starts rather dark, with a girl named Tacenda being the sole survivor of an attack on her Innistradi village. She and her twin Willia were born with a strange condition: she can only see at night, her sister only during the day. In exchange for this strange curse the girls have powers: Willia is a fantastic warrior, and Tacenda can sing the Song of Warding which can protect against all the nasty creepies of Innistrad. The song failed to work though when mysterious spirits known as Whisperers attacked the village during the day, leaving Tacenda fairly helpless. Yet she survives and blames the Man of the Manor, the local aristocrat, for the attacks, as he was previously seen killing the twins' parents while they were making an offering to the Bog, a magical spot worshiped by the villagers.

Yeah, this story is fairly complex, so the summary is going to be veeeeeery info-dump-y.

Sunday, 23 June 2019

The Monsters of Magic

The Monsters of Magic
Editor - J. Robert King
Cover art - Ron Spears
First printing - August 2003

This is the final installment of the anthology series, and it is pretty much like all the others. By now the creators have figured out that it's a good idea to tie all the stories into either the cards themselves or to the rest of continuity, so there are no completely random stories anymore, but the quality is still very variable. The monsters featured range from very famous Magic creatures (LhurgoyfAtogMorphling) to some also-rans (Vampiric DragonPhantom Monster), but curiously the four on the cover weren't included for some reason, even though they are pretty iconic Magic monsters! (Okay, Two-Headed Dragon isn't quite in the same league as Sliver QueenHypnotic Specter and Masticore, but it was played as a finisher back in the day!)

The stories are divided up into three parts: Ancient Monsters, Modern Monsters and Otherworldly Monsters, with four stories each. This is a bit less useful than the more specific time periods from The Secrets of Magic, as the division between "Ancient" and "Modern" is actually just "Pre-Invasion" or "Post-Invasion" and everything in the Otherworldly section fits in the "Pre-Invasion" bit as well. We'll have to see if the stories themselves guide us to a clearer placement.

Wednesday, 12 June 2019

The circulair continuity of Legends I, Legends II and Greensleeves

During the Legends I and Legends II reviews, and heck, all the way back in the Greensleeves trilogy reviews from 2015, I've said that I would eventually do an article about the multiple incarnations of the Legends Legends set that appear in the Magic canon. Time to cross another long promised project off the list!

I must warn you though, if you're hoping for another Lat-Nam Kerfuffle where I try to make all of this fit together somehow, do temper your hopes a little. It's simply impossible to make all these references fit without creating some sort of circulair timeline where one character appears first in Legends I and then in Legends II, while another character goes the other way. Even with less egregious examples you can end up with characters who have apparently been around for thousands of years. To solve this without making up a whole lot of fan fiction involving outlandish time travel plots we need to assume there are multiple characters with the same name in the canon. Madarans especially seems to have a habit of naming their children after ancient legends in this fix. It's probably a cultural thing.

As for why this happened... well, Clayton Emery and Scott McGough have pretty much told us. Calyton has said several times, most recently in the comment section of this blog, that Xira was a late addition to the book, originally another minor character that was changed to incorporate more Legends from the set. Only nobody told Scott, who was putting the same characters in his own story. There was no editor keeping this straight, so it should come as no surprise that there was also no one making sure the new books worked with the old Harper Prism stuff.

I have speculated before on why continuity was such a mess at the time. Remember that the two Legends trilogies were published at the same time as the Otaria Saga, which was also a complete continuity trainwreck both internally and with regards to the rest of Magic's continuity. We'll probably never learn exactly what was going on inside WotC at the time, but this was clearly a time when the storyline, and especially a consistent continuity, were very low down on the list of priorities. Well, at least it's left us with an interesting puzzle...

Saturday, 11 May 2019

Champion's Trial

Writer - Scott McGough
Cover artist - Kev Walker
First printing - November 2003

The book starts with Nicol Bolas in the Blind Eternities, recapping the situation after the previous two books. He is unable to trace Tetsuo. We then find the former champion alongside Kolo Meha, Wasitora and her kittens hiding near the village of Sekana. Together they make a plan to take down the kentsu, newly crowned regent Ramses Overdark and emperor Bolas himself. Overdark sends kentsu troops to Sekana to lure Tetsuo out, but they are destroyed by Meha and the nekoru. For this failure Bolas robs Overdark of the use of his body, paralyzing him but putting his mind in direct contact with all his minions.

The army isn't doing any better on the Edemi's. Jorgan Hage has one part of the army attack the remaining rebels under Lady Caleria while another part attacks the Sylvan Library, still under control of Ayesha Tanaka. Ayesha utterly defeats them, attacking them with wood golems, strangling them by taking control over the leather in their armor, and supercharging the growth of the reefs around Kusho to destroy the fleet there, leaving the army just enough ships to retreat from the island. Hage is teleported to the mainland by Overdark to avoid the slaughter. Lord Magnus's spirit, which is still in the Library, is pleased that Ayesha's ingenious use of its powers killed so many kentsu, but still wants his seat back, so the two make a deal. Ayesha relinquishes control, but is transported to Kusho with the means to heal the island's mana lines and her own mana addiction. Going there also allows her to seek vengeance on the killers of Kei.

Tuesday, 30 April 2019

Emperor's Fist

Writer - Scott McGough
Cover artist - Greg Staples
First printing - March 2003

After last book's failure of imperial assassin Ramses Overdark to quell rebellion in the Edemi islands, the emperor of Madara sends in the army, headed by Marhault Elsdragon. Overdark is ordered not to interfere, and imperial champion Tetsuo Umezawa and his crew are punished for their interference in Overdark's attack on the Edemi's by being forced to serve under as army officers for the time being.

Wednesday, 24 April 2019

Assassin's Blade

Writer - Scott McGough
Cover art - ...not credited! Perhaps Greg Staples, who did the next book as well?
First printing - December 2002

We are introduced to the empire of Madara, which is controlled by a mysterious emperor (who in this book only manifests as a face, not described in detail, summoned in a specific shrine) who rules through three individuals: imperial assassin Ramses Overdark, army general Marhault Elsdragon, and imperial champion Tetsuo Umezawa.

We open to Overdark asking the emperor for his blessing to attack the rebellious Edemi Islands. He plans to use this attack to rid himself of his rivals and thus sends his minion, the creepy wasp-lady Xira Arien after Umezawa. She finds him with his second Tor Wauki, his artificer Ayesha Tanaka and her student healer Kei Takahashi in the village of Sekana. The nekoru cat-dragon Wasitora has claimed the settlement for herself (mainly so the locals will give her loads of fish), so it is up to the champion to defend the emperor's honor and chase away the monster. He challenges her to a duel and at one point he has her on the ropes, only for the battle to be interrupted by an Elder Land Wurm from the Edemis. Waisitora attacks the thing, mainly to defend her turf, but Tetsuo sees this as an honorable act and thus after defeating the wurm he charges Kei with healing her. While the healer is looking after his charge he is attacked by Arien, who lays an egg inside him. She lets herself be seen and says she's going to the nearest Edemi island of Kusho, luring the champion and his people there. Tetsuo appoints Waisitora as his deputy defending Sekana and heads off after Arien.

Sunday, 14 April 2019

"The Mirage Document" ...or not

Okay, let's start with a bit of an emberassing confession. Way back when I discussed Jeff Lee's site, The Legends of Magic, I did not cover the Mirage section because I wanted to cover "The Mirage Document" first. The Document has floated around the internet for a couple of years now, but eh... when I actually got around to analyzing it, it turned out it contains nothing new! It is just a splicing together of the Mirage and Visions articles from The Duelist, from the Magic website and, drumroll... the Mirage section of The Legends of Magic!

When you search for "Magic the Gathering Head Desk" you get these pictures of Urza. Fair enough.
So yeah. What are we going to do now? Well, first I'm going to go over what Jeff Lee had to say about Mirage. Although not an official source, his site dominated the collective memory of the Vorthos community for years, so it's good to know which information came from there. After that we are going to look at all the temporal references in the various Mirage sources to see if we can finally hammer out the timeline of Jamuraa. Which in turn would finally allow us to put a handful of short stories from the anthologies on a definitive spot on the timeline, after ages of lounging on a temporary placement.

Vision: The Backstory

While working on the Mirage timeline article (which I will publish directly after this post) I ran into the problem that certain older websites were not only down on their original location, but that the reposts I had been linking to in my older articles have also disappeared. So to prevent link rot in the future, I'm reposting those to my blog now, so I can always point to these entries if they come up in the future.

Second entry: Visions: the Backstory. The archived version of the page can be found here.

Mirage - The Story of Jamuraa

While working on the Mirage timeline article (which I will publish directly after this post) I ran into the problem that certain older websites were not only down on their original location, but that the reposts I had been linking to in my older articles have also disappeared. So to prevent link rot in the future, I'm reposting those to my blog now, so I can always point to these entries if they come up in the future.

First up: Mirage - The Story of Jamuraa. The archive of the original page can be found here.

Tuesday, 9 April 2019

Magic Story: Guilds of Ravnica & Ravnica Allegiance

Writer - Nicky Drayden
Originally released October 2018 - February 2019

There are ten stories here, five each for Guilds of Ravnica and Ravnica Allegiance. You can just go read them on the Magic Story page of course, but people seem to like it when I include summaries, so I will. Check out the stories themselves first if you don't want spoilers!

Under the Cover of Fog
Merret, a minor Dimir operative, steals an Elixer of Focus, but gets in trouble when Grimbly Wothis, the minotaur he stole it from, chases him to his house. There it is discovered Merret's baby has eaten bread soaked in the elixer and developed powerful magical powers. Wothis want the baby as payment, but then guildmaster Lazav turns up. He wipes the minotaur's mind and forgives Merret for his incompetency in exchange for altering the minds of his family and inserting an "aunt" into their home who will tutor the kid.

Testing the Dark Waters
An Izzet scientist, Leighbet, discovers a way to make plants immune to electricity but gets fired for unauthorized use of equipment. She sets up her own lab and hires an assistant, Tamsyn. While attempting to make humanoids electro-proof Tamsyn kills the test subjects so the project remains secret. Leighbet signs up for some Simic experiment to make more money to keep the experiments going but is horribly mutated as those experiments react to the magic she has herself been exposed to. She hides in the sewers. Tamsyn tracks her down and reveals she's a Dimir agent, but Leighbet manages to kill her.

Monday, 18 February 2019

Musings Magic Special

Editor - Steven Tice
Published by Calliope Comics
Released fall 1996

Musings was a magazine about comic books published by Calliope Comics, which appears to be a comic book store that also did some publishing on the side. I can't find much on them on the internet, but these days their Facebook page still talks about selling Magic cards, so I guess them devoting an issue of their magazine to our favorite card game was a natural fit.

This issue was mostly forgotten to time until someone put a picture of its cover up on the comics section of the MTGWiki's List of Storyline Sources (despite this being neither a comic nor on that list of sources...) Fans have since tracked it down, and thanks to the amazing @stillcary sharing it with me I can now cover it on this blog!

While not an official WotC publication, the magazine has interviews with a bunch of artists and WotC insiders. Among the things they share here are lore tidbits that never made it into anything WotC put out itself, so this is a great source for people interested in what I call "shadow continuity", the things WotC creates behind the scenes that don't end up in any finished product but parts of which tend to get out when creators interact with fans. It's tricky business to handle, as the line between "this is canonical, we just haven't published it yet" and "this is work-in-progress which may change before it gets to publication" is a vague one, and even if something is considered 100% canonical in-house by the current creative team there is no guarantee that future creative teams will agree with, or even know of, that something. So thread carefully when handeling material like this. If you are like me though, and love any snippet of information about all the unpublished work of the Pete Venters continuity era, dive in!

Tuesday, 5 February 2019

Magic Calendars

One of the more obscure entries in the Magic canon is the collection of calendars WotC has released over the years. Most of them just have some pretty pictures and nothing else but a few actually contained relevant lore, including the backstory of some legendary creatures and maps of various continents of Dominaria. I had pretty much resigned myself to not covering them, but then the always excellent Magic Librarities website uploaded a whole bunch of scans of them, allowing me to take a look anyway.

The ones that I will be covering here are the monthly calendars up to 1999 and the 1997 "365 days in Dominia" daily calendar. The ones released later (at least the ones that I know off) just show art, so they are not as interesting for lore junkies. I don't know if this list is exhaustive, but we can always do another addendum article, can't we?

Quick note: for a long time I thought there must've been another daily calendar, as Jeff Lee claimed to have taken his info on the Elder Dragon War from one. His description matched the "365 days in Dominia" calendar pretty well, except for the inconvenient fact that there is nothing on Elder Dragons in that one! The later discovery of unused flavor text for Elder Land Wurm which did talk about the War suggests to me that Jeff was misremembering things. I think it is likely that he took info on various legendary creatures from the "365 days in Dominia" calendar but was given the stuff on Elder Dragons by Pete Venters directly, and that he conflated the two when talking about it years later. (If another daily calendar ever turns up though, I'll certainly cover it!)

Tuesday, 29 January 2019

Core Set 2019 Player's Guide

Last time I said I wasn't planning on covering the Player's Guides, just the stories, but you know how it is with new year's resolutions... Consider this review that one glass of champagne on a new years reception before you actually stop drinking for a month.

It has recently come to my attention that the Player's Guides, the little booklets you get with bundles, once again contain story relevant information from time to time. Unfortunately I haven't been able to figure out exactly which ones have relevant stuff in them and which just have info about mechanics and cards. The Dominaria one had some stuff that initially seemed interesting, but it turns out everything in there also appeared in The Art of Magic the Gathering: Dominaria. Well, the timeline in the booklet put the Thran at 5000 years ago instead of 5000 years before the birth of Urza, but other than that one mistake (which fits in a long tradition of moving the Thran about on the timeline) there isn't really anything to discuss now we've already covered the art book.

The Core 2019 Player's Guide is different though. Perhaps it's because there isn't a Core 2019 Art Book, but there is actually some very noteworthy stuff in there. Not a lot, mind you, it's just a thin booklet, but unique info we've never (officially) gotten anywhere else.

Monday, 21 January 2019


Writer - Cassandra Khaw
Originally released August-September 2018

Return to Dominaria and Chronicle of Bolas have dragged this blog into the present day and I found that I quite liked writing stuff that is more relevant to the current Vorthos discussion. So I think I'm going to try and do more reviews on newer stuff, alternating between covering recent stories and older material. It's going to be a bit of an adjustment, as I can't do my usual deep dives into continuity for these stories, not having analysed the Gatewatch era as thoroughly as the earlier periods of the storyline, but on the plus side, if recent stories start referencing older continuity (say, the plane Cabralin, to name a completely random example) it will be good to cover that on the blog in a timely manner, rather than just pointing it out on twitter.

Since I'll also need time in my schedule to continue reviewing older stuff (I want the review of Nicol Bolas's first appearance in Legends II out before the conclusion of Bolas's story in the third Ravnica set at least) I will not cover every single recent source. My plan is to do reviews for the actual stories as soon as possible after they wrap up, but other sources, like art books, player's guides, roleplaying supplements, and whatever else WotC decides to release next, will have to wait until I a) get my hand on them and b) have space in my schedule for an extra review.

So, new year, new direction! Let's see how it goes! First I'll have to catch up with everything released since Chronicle of Bolas, starting with Unbowed, the Vivien Reid story.

The story can be found through the following links.
For those who prefer me summarizing things: Vivien Ried visits the vampire kingdom of Luneau on Ixalan and is horrified by its treatment of the local wildlife. When she tries to save a monstrosaur during a gladiatorial battle she gets captured. The vamps try to get the secrets of her Arkbow out of her, but she escapes and causes all the zoo animals to stampede and destroy Luneau.

Wednesday, 9 January 2019

The Official Guide to Portal Second Age

Portal Second Age is an odd one. A set full of very simple cards that would be pretty much forgotten these days if not for all the guns shown in the art. It didn't really have a storyline, but unlike the original Portal it did have a specific setting, the island of Caliman on the Southern hemisphere of Dominaria, a description of which was given in The Official Guide to Portal Second Age. A shorter version of that text ended up in the third volume of the Magic the Gathering Official Encyclopedia.

I can't say the setting is very deep though. One nation per color, conflicts along color wheel lines, that sort of stuff. The Alaborn somehow survived peacefully for "thousands of years" without contact with other cultures, but are now fighting the goblins and the swamp queen Tojira. The Talas merchants are getting into trouble by logging in the forest of the Norwood elves... you get the idea. The version from the Encyclopedia has been re-posted here so you can read that if you're interested.

The most intriguing bits are the ones that tie it to the background of the Weatherlight Saga (Portal Second Age came out right between Rath block and Urza's block). Tojira lives in the ruins of a Thran city. That buzzsaw-weapon the ogres are using is powered by a Phyrexian mana battery. It is not outright stated in the text, but it seems the unusually high levels of technology (nightstalker engines, flying ships, all those guns) either originate from the Thran ruins or from more recent contact with the Phyrexians.


The longer version of the text from the Offical Guide hints at an even deeper connection to the Weatherlight Saga. It reveals that the Talas also use Thran tech, that the swamp dwellers trade "evil Phyrexian artifacts" with the goblins, and perhaps most telling in its vagueness: "the humans benefit from the genius of a great inventor." If that was just some random inventor among the Alaborn or Talas they surely would have been named right, like Tojira? But no, we just get that one enigmatic line. Which makes me wonder... are we actually looking at a proxy war between Urza and the Phyrexians here?

Unfortunately that's all there is. No further hints at what is going on, how the war might turn out or anything like that. With WotC's aversion to showing guns in their arts I highly doubt we will ever get an update. Even if we ever return to Caliman we will most likely find out it has been leveled during the Phyrexian Invasion or one of the subsequent Dominarian apocalypses, to explain how they lost all their guns. Though maybe we could salvage the nightstalkers in a future Dominaria set? They are a unique Dominarian creature type and I always kinda liked their design. And hey, Dakmor itself is still around in a way, so...

All in all Caliman in a setting with a unique high-technology feel and cool hints about links to the larger continuity, but no really deep lore. In interesting blip on the Vorthos radar, but little more than that.

There are a few timeline references in the text. Tojira came to occupy the swamp 10 years ago. The Talas started to chop down Norwood trees 30 years ago. The first skirmishes and disagreements between the nations started 150 years ago. Which of course raises the question: 150 years ago compared to what? I'm guessing the lack of a qualifier means the set takes place in the present, which was 4205 at the time of the Weatherlight Saga.

With there not being a real story for the set it's going to look a little weird on my timeline, but I guess I'll include it for completion's sake. All those backstory dates I'll save for now as not to clutter the timeline up any more than it already is, but I'll keep them in mind in case I ever make a timeline as detailed as the one of the Wiki.