Tuesday, 9 April 2019

Magic Story: Guilds of Ravnica & Ravnica Allegiance


Writer - Nicky Drayden
Originally released October 2018 - February 2019

SUMMARIES
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.




Clans & Legions
Minotaur Osset Weslyn is promoted to Wojek counterintelligence officer by the flamekin Embrel Skormak. His very first mission goes awry when his informant turns up dead and upon returning he finds Skormak incapacitated and his two superior officers dead from poisoning. He is framed for the crime, but with the help of the angel Aresaan he figures out Skormak did the poisoning himself so he would get promoted to a now vacant position, which he thinks would otherwise never have happened due to anti-flamekin racism. They manage to kill him with a water elemental fire extinguisher.

Death's Precious Moments
The Kraul Bozak gets a job working for a lich, although anti-Kraul racism means he only gets to do the crummy tasks. He overhears his master being in on a plot to frame Vraska for causing a massacre with some poisonous mushroom. Bozak sacrifices his life to stop the massacre but is turned into a fungus-zombie by Mazirek.


Bound and Bonded
The Selesnyan wurm herder Terrik is found guilty of killing 24 people when a building collapsed when his wurm passed by. A kid who was orphaned by the disaster shows him an artifact and his friend Ambrellin identifies it as a piece of an old Izzet device. They and some other friends decide to find the device and stumble upon an Orzhov pontiff who has a bunch of enslaved wurms and spirits to dig for the machine, which essentially just prints money. This digging actually caused the building to collapse. The pontiff enslaves the group as punishment for trespassing but they manage to trick him and shove him into a hole. By the time he gets out they've used the machine to make enough money to buy off everyone's debts. They go free, after sabotaging the machine again.

The Illusions of Child's Play
Kodolaag, a Rakdos demon, fancies the effigy seller Zita. Their date goes well until she is arrested by the Azorius for correcting the spelling on some graffiti slandering Dovin Baan. Kodo and his mate Olrich break her out of prison with the help of the seer Lucinka. They themselves get arrested in the proces, but eventually manage to stage a massive break out. 


Rage of the Unsung
Arrus, a Gruul viashino tattoo artist, is exiled from the Ghor clan after the tatoo's he's made spontaneously combust. There he teams up with legendary tattoo artist Baas Radley and discovers the Selesnya have been planting trees, accelerating their growth, and leeching magic from Gruul lands. That is why the ingredients for his tattoo's had become violently unstable. Arrus returns to his clan and challenges its chieftains, Ruric and Thar, for the leadership position. He obviously gets pummeled, but his speech about how they need to get back at the Selesnyans convinces the rest of the clan to stand with him. The story ends with Ruric and Thar declaring war on the Selesnyans.

The Principles of Unnatural Selection
Medge is a Simic teacher and a Utopian, which is a more traditional group opposing the bio-engineering Adaptationists. He and his pupils find a sunken Orzhov ship with a ghost haunting it. They try to help it get up through one of the zonots but it turns out the ship was smuggling a keyrune stolen from Momir Vig. They get rid of the ghost (by getting the amulet it was bonded to eaten by a krasis). They are then invited by a museum to go and deliver the keystone. One of the students there knocks the last remaining blob of cytoplast from its pedestal, which clings to Medge and mutates him. In the end Medge suggests to an Adaptationist rival that they should learn from each other's ideas and maybe team up to raise pupils the next year.

The Ledger of Hidden Fortune
Orzhov debt collector Miri is working a second job for a fleshmage because her family has money troubles. There she overhears a Selesnyan pleading for her life, saying she has information about a vulnerability at Vitu-Ghazi. Miri, who always wanted to be Selesnyan, steals the woman's robes after she's been killed. When her father catches her wearing the robes she says it is only to infiltrate the Selesnyans and learn more about the vulnerability. She discovers the tree was only superficially restored after an attack by an Izzet magelord, but when she returns she is first approached by her mother. Her mother thinks the story about the weakness was all a ruse by Miri to join the Selesnya for a while and has procured a Crown of Convergence for Miri so she doesn't have to face her dad empty-handed. She gives him the crown and her dad is happy with the treasure. At the end of the story she gives her dad a tree which she claims is a money tree, although in reality she puts the coins in it herself every night.


The Ascension of Reza
Azorius lawmage Reza is on his way to the Historical Archives when he falls of his griffin due to someone below trying to shoot Azorius thopters out of the sky. He crashes in the Thinktank, a region inhabited by rogue chemisters over which the Izzet, Azorius, Simic and Golgari all claim ownership, a conundrum that lawmages have puzzled over for years. While he's there an experiment goes awry and a giant elemental shows up but Azorius forces do nothing due to the juridical problems. Reza manages to solve the problem on the fly by declaring the region an independent enclave. The day is saved and Reza's mentor promotes him to her equal. 

REVIEW
I'm in two minds about these stories, in pretty much the same way that I've seen a lot of people bring up. On the one hand, the stories themselves are perfectly fine, and it is cool to see more of the world that just what the Gatewatch happens to run into. On the other, I was entirely on board with the new ongoing storyline and to now suddenly have to wait such a long time for its continuation is a bit annoying. Initially it also felt like the storyline spotlights from Guilds of Ravnica and Ravnica Allegiance were just sort of hanging there. Luckily by now the War of the Spark prequel novel has been announced, which is presumably where the spotlight events will be picked up upon. (There was initially going to be a paragraph here about me worrying whether the War of the Spark novel was going to have enough space to cover all the planeswalkers and the Ravnica side of the story, but I can delete that now!)


Still, I would have liked to see those events picked up in these stories, perhaps from a viewpoint of average Ravnicans. That way the main story wouldn't have stood still for so long. Plus, I've never been a huge fan of inconsequential stories, and some of these do feel a bit... random. Especially the first few. The Dimir story was perhaps a bad one to begin with, as it feels to me like set up for future stories, the origin story of some powerful Dimir spy. As is though, there is a good chance we are never going to see Merret's kid ever again. Luckily the later ones feel a lot more like complete stories. The Ravnica Allegiance batch also add a lot more interconnection between the stories (one has a prison break, an escaped prisoner shows up next story, the Orzhov bad guy from the Selesnya story is the dad from the Orzhov one, et cetera) which at least tickles my continuity senses.

The stories also rose in quality as they went on. First few stories feel a bit weird, taking sudden odd turns. The Dimir story introduces a not very talented operative and has him steal that potion of Focus, so it seems to be going in one direction, only to suddenly focus on a magic baby and the guildmaster. The Izzet story spends a lot of time on money troubles and the ethics of experimenting, but then the end suddenly involves coming to terms with massive Simic-induced mutations?

After that though, the Boros story had good tension, pretty good sleuthing for such a short story and was well tied into the growing tensions on Ravnica. The same can be said for the Gruul one, and it is no surprise then that those two are my favorites of the lot. In addition to the Gruul story, the Rakdos and Orzhov ones I most want to see followed up upon, as the Gruul-Selesnya war, the great prison break and the weakness at Vitu-Ghazi seem excellent plot hooks to hang further stories on.


One thing that struck me about the writing style was the interesting depictions of non-human humanoids. Sometimes it is just a throwaway pun, like a minotaur couple literally "butting heads", but with the Kraul the writing really makes them strange and alien. Having a sentient race that devours the giant bug their eggs were put in, with the bug thinking she is their mother... creepy! In fact, that story had me shivering multiple times. Mind controlling funguses? All the body horror in the later parts of the story? Brrrr!

Another thing I wanted to note is that these stories continue the tradition of Ranivca being... kind of horrible. It's always been an odd paradox that the guilds are so good for getting players to identify with them, yet result in such an oppressive world in-universe. Of these ten stories the Selesnya one is the most positive on the small scale, having an unambiguously happy ending, yet one of the most horrifying when it comes to worldbuilding, with all its talk of eternal debt to the Orzhov people gain so easily. In fact, the Orzhov really come of as just the absolute worst in these stories. Every other guild, even Rakdos, gets to show something of their better nature, but the Orzhov are just rotten to the core it seems. Sure, Miri sounds nice, but in the end she still is working for that fleshcrafter who just murders people for their debts! Hopefully we'll get to see Teysa (or Pilvic... hey, a man can dream) to get a slightly nicer view of the Church of Deals soon.

I mean... this sounds nice? Surely there is no nefarious plot behind this?
Having mulled over the stories some more I think it's not really fair that I used the word "inconsequential" near the start of this section. There are some great character pieces in there, the social conscious themes (anti-flamekinism, anti-kraulism, vedalken falling victim of species profiling) are generally well done, and all the connections between them keep my continuity-senses entertained. But I would've appreciated them a lot more from start if they hadn't had that idea of "you're getting this instead of the main story" hanging over them.

TRIVIA
  • Some of the names in these stories... Merret, Bender, Warick, Dex Foley, Tamsyn Sweene... Don't they all sound a bit too English for a Czech-inspired plane? I guess it's realistic for a planet-sized city to have multiple cultures in it, but it stuck out to me after all the Slavic names in the previous Ravnica stories.
  • Starting with the Rakdos story we get content warnings! On Magic stories! That's a first! Apparently all the screwed up body-horror from the Golgari story and the killing of goblins from the Izzet story are fine, but a mention of safe words and a joke about "the beast with two backs" and the lawyers perk up? That's the world we live in I guess.
  • Kodolaag's origin story is a neat reference to the original Rakdos card:
"You build a following, insatiable groupies reveling in your skillful debauchery, until one day, Rakdos notices you have just a few more fans than he does. So he kills half of them."

CONTINUITY
  • Aresaan, the angel from the Boros story, is said to be "a Razia copy". In the original Ravnica stories it was said all Boros angels were clones of Razia. Those were all killed except for Feather, with the angels in Return to Ravnica being clones of her. I guess a clone-of-a-Razia-clone still counts as a Razia copy.
  • I'm sure there are people speculating whether Aresaan actually is Feather. She does have bound wings, just like Feather had when she was initially introduced, but I doubt they are the same. Feather's full name was Pierakor az Vinrenn D'rav, and their personalities don't really match. 
  • That story also mentions "the site of a dragon extermination ten or so millennia ago". The original Ravnica stories revealed that Niv-Mizzet was the last surviving dragon on all of Ravnica. We've had other dragon cards in Ravnica sets from the very start though, so the extermination must have been less complete than the stories Niv-Mizzet put out about it.
  • The Orzhov ghost from the Simic story has never seen merfolk because his sinking predates the opening of the Zonots, which happened between the original Ravnica story and Return to Ravnica. Continuity!
  • In the Azorius story there is mention of a 500 year old map on which the Ghost Quarter was three times the size it is now. This sounds like a continuity error. Before the dissolution of the Guildpact the Ghost Quarter was a strange "blister" on Ravnica, invisible to the rest of the world until the end of the Dissension story, when it became overlayed on top of the city. And when the Mending happened it was supposed to disappear to whereabouts unknown. So... is Reza saying something that didn't exist 500 years ago was three times bigger then than it is today, when it also doesn't exist? I'm not a good enough lawmage to talk my way out of that one, so I think we'll just have to call it an error and move on.
  • The stories might not be tied to the storyline spotlights, but there are many references to heightened tensions on Ravnica. The first story mentioned more weapons are being smuggled, there is pressure to make more impressive discoveries among the Izzet in the second, "Tensions are brewing" in the third, et cetera. In the second batch of stories things seem to ramp up even more. With Dovin Baan increasing the power and arresting zeal of the Azorius, their new mega-prison, and the Gruul-Selesnya war, it does seem like we are seeing more of the grand scheme there.
  • I don't think the attack of an Izzet magelord that hurt Vitu-Ghazi is a reference to anything specific.

TIMELINE
Most of these stories are somehow linked, so I think it is safe to assume that all of them, even the ones without direct ties to other stories, happen around the same time (until the opposite is proven of course). As the Vorthos Cast crew has pointed out, the Orzhov story gives us dates for some of the events, which place them in the spring/summer. The current Ravnica sets are all set in the autumn, so we have a clear sequence for events. To get any more specific and to tie these stories to the larger timeline though, we still need more information. Presumably we can work things out after the War of the Spark novels have been released.

4 comments:

  1. Always glad for another update - my favorite blog lives!

    Also good to see someone actually talking about how oppressively terrible Ravnica is from any in-setting perspective. Maybe nothing here is quite as bad as the casual revelation back in the original trilogy that Izzet goblins live in perpetual slavery, and the magelords murder any of them who show enough magical potential to ever get out of that arrangement, but still: Ravnica being both the "fun" plane and a cyberpunk dystopia needs to get discussed!

    A couple of minor corrections: you refer to both Osset Weslyn and Medge as male, but they are not. It's subtle in a first-person story, however:

    "Says the heifer with blood all over her hands," the giant bellows, pushing me forth. -- Clans & Legions

    "Step aside," the guardian says to my students. "This merwoman has destroyed a priceless artifact." -- The Principles of Unnatural Selection

    (I would also like to register that Leighbet did those Simic experiments to get the money to shut her unethical research DOWN, but that's less important.)

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  2. The stories on Ravnica are all oppressive and horrid - it reminds me of the living conditions in the first ten harper-collins novels.
    Almost no one in those books had a easy life.

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  3. I think the attack on Vitu-Ghazi is a reference to the Dack Fayden comics and Sifa Grent’s attempt to drain the tree.

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    1. That did come to mind, but Sifa was a Grixian allied with some Rakdos attacking the tree, not an Izzet magelord. I would've been a cool reference though!

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