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 If you are like me though, and love any snippet of information about all the unpublished work of the Pete Venters continuity era, dive in!
The magazine has interview with artists Mark Tedin, Phil Foglio, Kaya Foglio, Susan van Camp, Ken Meyer Jr and Pete Venters, the designers of Homelands, Alliances and Mirage, Richard Garfield himself and the German translator of Magic, as well as an article on a Magic variant called World Decks, which I still don't fully understand, but which seems to involve building 1000+ card decks. For us the main pieces of interest are the Homelands and Alliances articles (the Mirage part is very short), though the various artist interviews also have some neat tidbits in them.

Also: sketches!
Homelands Interview
Te interview with Homelands creators Kyle Namvar and Scott Hungerford, and a few additional answers by continuity man Pete Venters, covers most of the behind the scenes story we have already learned from the Homelands issues of The Duelist. What those issues didn't include was that the set was apparently intended to be a simpler set, not geared towards tournament play, and that about 75 cards originally in it where scrapped for being too powerful. The thing is though... the set wasn't billed as a "starter" product in the issues of The Duelist released concurrently with it. Here that claim is repeated multiple times in this interview, especially in response to the interviewer bringing up that the "play quality of the cards" were "somewhat controversial". So... it honestly sounds a bit like trying to explain away criticism after the fact. Then again, maybe it was always intended as an entry level product and it was the promotion that failed to communicate this well.

Some individual facts of note:
  • The set, which was originally supposed to take place on Dominaria, was going to have cards for Vesuva (which did pretty much what the later Vesuva card did, but was considered too broken at the time) and Llanowar Forest (which summoned elves for free, like Didgeredoo does for minotaurs).
  • Anaba Bodygaurd being a "Summon Bodyguard" is apparently because the bodyguards have been kicked out of Anaba society to live among the humans, not just because no one was paying attention to the creature types back then.
  • Beast Walkers were given their transformation powers by Feroz. The Homelands document (an unpublished source) added that Feroz was disguised as a wanderer named Porrin at the time.
  • Mox Pearls come from Giant Oysters. This, curiously, was not in the Homelands document!
  • There is apparently a place called Haverford where they use mammoths to plow the ground.
  • Heart Wolves are kept by a guy named Lestor, Lestor's Heart Wolf being an anagram of Lesser Throat Wolf, a reference to the old school Magic urban legend.
  • Marjhan was intended as some sort of Elder Sea Serpent, ancestor to all the Sea Serpents, but that idea fell through when Homelands was removed from Dominaria to its own plane.
  • The origin of the 4/5 fingers on the minotaur hands and the fact that Mirtiin and Stahaan minotaurs consider the Hurloon heretics (the mystery of which originated in Ashes of the Sun) has something to do with the Hurloon being transported to Ulgrotha for a while. "Eventually we will put the whole story in print", says Pete Venters, optimistically. He brings up the fingers again in The Duelist #16, but that promised story has never been revealed.
  • Not lore info, but something that I found odd to hear nonetheless: Timmerian Fiends were apparently made for Sealed deck play, and so 8 year olds can strike fear into the hears of Black Lotus players. Now, I've never played Homelands sealed, but I've played Homelands Rotisserie Draft, and I can tell you I was never tempted to play a 3 mana 1/1. And encouraging 8-year-olds to steal Black Lotuses just sounds like child endangerment.

Alliances Interview
The Alliances article has a lot less to say about storyline stuff, mostly dealing with card design. Funnily enough the designers here mostly play down the strength of the set, repeatedly saying that there really aren't as many broken cards in there as some people think. Quite the contrast with Homelands!

The most interesting storyline fact is that Pete Venters says all of Alliances happens over a period of 3 years! This fact hasn't really held up as continuity developed. First the set was stretched to about 300 years (For example, Varchild was mentioned as living 100 years after the Ice Age in The Colors of Magic) only to be crunched back down to 20 years by The Shattered Alliance. It's quite bizarre that such a basic element of the story seemed to be completely forgotten about after Pete Venters left WotC, but that is the nature of "shadow continuity". All that work Pete did on the Magic roleplaying game and the coffee table book apparently just disappeared in some drawer and was lost for years. By the time Brady Dommermuth unearthed those documents around the creation of Coldsnap subsequent releases had made large parts of them incompatible with published continuity and they were thus named the Forgotten Archive.
  • For an example: according to this interview the Lord of Tresserhorn was created by Lim-Dûl to care for his keep when the necromancer himself went to Shandalar. The Lord had 4 Keepers of Tresserhorn as his lieutenants. The Eternal Ice and The Shattered Alliance changed this, making Chaeska the one Keeper of Tresserhorn and Lim-Dûl's second in command. After Dûl suddenly disappeared to another plane Chaeska created the Lord of Tresserhorn in his image to keep the other undead under control.
  • Now some really sad news: Phelddagrif did not really exist on Terisiare! It was just a children's story but so many kids believed in it that wizards found they were able to summon the legend as a magical being!
  • That said... presumably these magical constructs somehow escaped into the wild and reproduced, creating Questing Phelldegriffs. How else can you explain non-legendary Phelddagrifs?

Other Tidbits
  • Pete Venters says that Grandmother Sengir is no longer a planeswalker due to the Apocalypse Chime, and her powers are waning further. The Homelands Document kept referring to her as a planeswalker though. We appear to have some dueling shadow continuities here!
  • According to him the Heart of Yavimaya is a 12 foot high plant. Invasion will later make it slightly bigger: there it is a 5000 foot tall Magnigoth tree!
  • Pete also admits that "the actual percentage of players interested in the storyline is an unknown quantity" but that he's run a "couple of seminars on the Worlds of Dominia" which people were very enthusiastic about. I would love to know what those seminars were like!
  • In the Susan van Kamp interview she says she considered Veldrane of Sengir & Faerie Noble warring brothers who each lost an eye in a duel while drawing them. The interviewer asked Scott Hungerford about this, who says Autumn Willow created the faeries as Veldrane look-a-likes because they were intended to keep him out of the forest. Interestingly the 365 Days in Dominia calendar mentioned how annoyed Veldrane was with having to fight look-a-likes of himself!
  • I'm a bit unclear on how much information the artists got back in the day. Mark Tedin says he was just given the cardname, nothing more. Not even the color of the card to decide what palette would best accompany the frame! On the other hand, Phil Foglio did seem to know colors and card effects in advance. And the art description Pete Venters gives for Kaysa is very detailed. (Although curiously that description mentions that Kaysa's crescent moon birthmark is very important, but it ended up being covered up in the final art...)
  • The German translators say Opfertisch is the correct translation for Onulet... I thought Onluet wasn't a real word, and the card was originally supposed to be called Onulets, an anagram of Soul Net? Opfertisch is German for sacrificial table, which the artifact does look like, although it was more of a robo-ox in The Brothers' War... Eh... I guess that concludes my pedantry about the translation of a random Antiquities uncommon.
...and that's my look at the Musings Magic Special. More a list of factoids than a proper review, but that's always the case with these behind the scenes articles. This magazine gives us a tantalizing glimpse at the workings of WotC at the time and adds to our understanding of what Magic's continuity was like in the Pete Venters era, but as a lot of it is of debatable canonicity these days I wouldn't advise hunting this one down unless you are the hardest of hardcore old storyline fans.

1 comment:

  1. Between all this, and looking at Balduvian Shaman of an example of what it was like back in the days when the poor artists didn't even have a Style Guide to set the tone of the world/setting for them - I'm honestly amazed sometimes that the game in the early days was anywhere near as coherent at it was. Or that we even got any real continuity at all, wow.