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.

For those of you who need a refresher, Jeff Lee was one of the original storyline gurus and MTGNews storyline moderators. He created a website with the intent of collecting all storyline knowledge in once place. (I can relate to that!) He had contact with insiders like Pete Venters and Teri McLaren and thus could share information with the community that had never officially been published, but which was still seen as canonical by the then-current continuity team of WotC. Because of this, and because he covered some old and obscure sources, like out of print comics and calendars, his site became a pivotal source of information for the early 2000's lore community. Unfortunately some mistakes snuck onto the site and it presented some fan theories as fact. Back in the day, when many sources where almost impossible to acquire for most storyline fans, all of Jeff's site was pretty much accepted as gospel.

The Mirage section of the site is quite extensive, with an explanation of the story, a description of the various characters and locations of the setting, and even a description of the flavor behind every single card in the set, which makes Mirage the expansion Jeff covered in by far the most detail. (See my original review of the site for the other sections)

Having a lore tidbit for every card in the set is a cool idea in theory, although to be honest many are quite short and not particularly noteworthy if you've already read the other sources on Mirage. The few ones I thought were cool are:
  • The entry on Breathstealer talks about the various Breathstealer clans, which is a reference to the Mirage: Oasis online choose-your-own-adventure. The "they can kill a man without waking his sleeping wife" line is taken directly from the Encyclopedia Dominia, which curiously did not feel the need to mention the existence of the various clans.
  • The Harbingers of Night are described as among the first of Kaervek's minions to appear. I mention this mostly because in the anthology story Angel of Vengeance, which I will talk about later in this article, a demon called a Harbinger of Night shows up, but it is nothing like the creature seen on the card or described by Jeff Lee, and should thus be seen as a different being altogether that just happens to have the same name.
  • Apparently Serene Heart and Tranquil Domain represent Teferi in his realm. Jeff calls them part 1 and 2 of a triptych, but doesn't mention a third part, so... maybe he just meant a diptych? Reality Ripple also shows Teferi, at the exact moment of leaving the timeline. So I guess that calendar art and his Battlemage cameo were not his the first appearances after all.
  • Taniwha works for Teferi. It is described as "one of the many compelling reasons why Teferi stayed out of the war in favor of guarding his creations"
I can sort of see the resemblance to Reality Ripple, though Teferi clearly aged himself down for Serene Heart.
Now, the most important bit: the coverage of Jamuraa's backstory. From the official online sources we knew Jamuraa had "magical traditions that have existed for millennia"  and "centuries ago" Femeref split form Zhalfir, that the nobility was unhappy with the king's unwillingness to go to war, which led to Zhalfir splintering into separate states until Teferi returned, only for hostilities to rise again when the planeswalker retreated to his island. Jeff's site adds a whole lot more detail to this backstory.

We hear that Zhalfir "mastered the five colors of magic" even before the Brothers' War and that its magics protected it from the deprivations of the Ice Age. These two facts are very noteworthy as they were echoed in the Dominaria artbook, where it is said Zhalfir was founded during the Time of Legends (-5000 to 0 AR) and that it flourished during the Ice Age.

We also learn Teferi "refined" the Houses of Magic into the Zhalfirin guilds to keep the country steady while is gone, indulging in the planeswalkerial urge to travel the multiverse. It doesn't work very well, as the church denouncing the Shadow Guild is what leads to the secession of Femeref. We also learn more about how Teferi stopped the conflict: he tracks down a girl of royal blood and installs her as queen Yormeba. During the crowning Jolrael makes an appearance. She is already "a long forgotten royal mage" at this point.

So far, so good. The inclusion of details like the name of queen Yormeba and the fact that parts of this were validated years later by the Dominaria artbook suggest to me that all of this is information Jeff got from Pete Venters, and not fan speculation. Jeff isn't completely copy-pasting behind the scenes documents though. For example, Teferi is described as a wise man educated at Tolaria. This is clearly incorporating post-Mirage block continuity into the description. Although Jeff was covering pre-rev information mostly, his site was made post-Urza's block. In pre-rev times there was no indication that Tolaria had an wizards academy, and Jeff's own site, on the Legends section, described the island as full of illusions and shapeshifters that drove people mad.

Jeff isn't 100% consistent with pre-revision and revisionist continuity. He repeats the claim that Teferi wanted to control time to "overcome the difficulties of summoning creatures", which we saw on the online Mirage story. Later sources changed this, first by giving him a backstory in time manipulation through his Tolarian education and then Time Spiral added a fascination with time from a young age. There is actually a single line in Time Streams which kinda sorta fixes this disparity, by saying Teferi developed phasing to overcome the difficulty of summoning creates in the distorted time zones of Tolaria. Jeff only covers the pre-rev version of the story, but again includes no fan theories.

For the actual war we have much more info from the official sources and Jeff adds little to it, especially since his site never covered the Visions part of the story. The pages on the locations and people of Jamuraa similarly cover stuff we already from official sources. It includes a few cool references though, mentioning for example the Burning Isle of Steel, from The Duelist #13. Oh, and it includes one of the rare lines where Jeff clearly indicates what his sources are. When discussion Purraj of Urborg he says "Continuity has implied, however, that she did survive the blast from Mangara, although she may appear only in short fiction."

So what to make of all this? Obviously this is not an official source, but it seems a fairly faithful retelling of stuff that was considered unpublished canon in the Pete Venters era, and parts of it were vindicated by later sources. It is probably as close to canon as "shadow continuity" is going to get. Personally I put it in the "canon until proven otherwise" category. Which is convenient since using this backstory is the only way I'm going to be able to put those anthology stories on the timeline with any kind of accuracy.

Let's start with the most solid dates before working our way back to the dates that are more vague or from unreliable sources.

Time Streams gives us an approximate date for Teferi's return to Jamuraa. He returns around ~3355 to deal with a war in Zhalfir. At the very end of the book, in ~3360, Jhoira goes to visit him. This visit is shown in the short story Scars of the Legacy. We learn that the war has been stopped and that Teferi is now Lord Mage of Zhalfir. Perhaps that scene was inspired by the various times Teferi stopped Zhalfir from civil war in the Mirage backstory, but clearly he doesn't know he's a planeswalker yet, so it has to happen before those events. The only conclusion we can draw is that Zhalfir apparently can't stay stable without Teferi looking after it. It's a miracle it apparently survived for 5000 years!

Teferi returning around 3355 meshes reasonably well with information from The Duelist, which told us he guided Zhalfir for "nearly a millennia (sic)". At least, if you round it up, and ignore the gaps in which he was planeswalking or out of the timestream while the preventative measures he had put in place were completely failing. Still, it's not so big a discrepancy to start complaining about it.

The second source we should turn to is the official timeline, which is unfortunately a bit tricky. It gives "~4150 to 4196" as the dates for both Mirage and Visions. The clear end date of 4196 seems to be the year the Mirage War ends (this meshes well with Sisay's appearance at its conclusion), but what does the ~4150 date indicate? From the Mirage online story we know Teferi was phased out for 200 years and that Mangara established his Harmony "within a century" of his disappearance. From the Visions online story we know the war itself only lasted "for over a year". Nothing of note is said to happen around 4150. When I made the timeline that became the basis for the MTG Wiki's timeline I assumed this was a retcon and moved Teferi's disappearance (the start of the story proper) to that date. The Wiki's timeline still follows this interpretation. As I discussed in my Mirage & Visions Online article, nowadays I prefer to preserve as much of the original story as possible and thus I interpret ~4150 as either the start of the period shown in the Mirage set, or perhaps the start of Kaervek's meddling. This means that Teferi disappeared around the year 4000.

Now that we have established the upper and lower boundaries of our Teferi timeline, lets see if we can fill things in a little bit more. The official sources don't help very much with that. They only say the Femeref secession happened "centuries ago", that Teferi was planeswalking for "centuries" before returning and installing queen Yormeba, and that he left for his island "after a few decades". To get more specific we have to turn to Jeff Lee.

His site says that the secession happened "soon" after Teferi left. Then the two countries coexisted for 200 years, with Femeref sharing its gold to placate Zhalfir, before Suq'ata annexed parts of northern Zhalfir to get gold for itself. This is what triggered the Zhalfirin nobles to turn on their king. 50 years after that Teferi returns and puts Yormeba on the throne.

This gives us a block of about 250 years during which Teferi was planeswalking while his country fell apart. Placing that block on the timeline is a lot trickier though. We know that he leaves for his island after a few decades, and Jeff adds that after "years of trial and error" Teferi realized he had destabilized the timestream, tried to fix it and was phased out in the proces. This is all very vague, but the terminology of decades and years seems to hint that we are still under a century for all this to happen. So if Teferi phases out in ~4000, Yormeba's ascension happens... between ~3900 and ~3950? And Teferi left for his trip around ~3650/~3700?

On the other end of the timeline, Jeff says Teferi watched over Zhalfir for centuries, which means that after returning in 3355, he stayed for at least 200 years. So even if we stretch up the time between him going to his island and him leaving the timestream, we have a clear lower boundary at ~3550.

All a bit vague, but that best we can do with this information. Now let's turn to the anthology stories.

Angel of Vengeance from The Color of Magic gives us little indication of when it happens, except that it features the Civic Guildmage Sabul Hajeen. Teferi established the guilds so he could leave for his planeswalking, so it has to happen after that. The angel Kotara also notes that the royal palace at Kipamu is no longer expanding, hinting that Zhalfir is in decline at the time.

Sabul is featured again in the story Hand of Justice from The Myths of Magic. It is said to take place in a time when "the kings of our land of Zhalfir had grown weak and lazy, and their vassals vied furiously for the reins of authority". The narrator, a grandfather himself, says it happens "before my grandsire's grandsire was even born". In the end Sabul arranges an alliance between two warring noble houses, and the narrator says he eventually brought peace to all of Kipamu.

The fact that the guilds exist in these stories proves it happens after Teferi leaves for the first time. The fact that the nobles are warring probably places it either in the 50 years before he returns (after the Suq'atan annexations cause Zhalfir to fall apart) or in the years after he's retired to his island. As the second story is told by a Zhalfirin its framing device has to happen before Zhalfir is phased out though (unless Zhalfir is one day brought back, but we'll worry about that if it ever happens) and since he says it happens at least six generations ago the first option is more likely. If we assume the period between Yormeba's crowning and Teferi phasing out is close to a century, and that the two Sabul stories happen at the very start of the warring nobles period, that gives us around 150 years, which you can just about squeeze six generations into. We just have to assume that while Sabul managed to create peace in Kipamu, he couldn't do that same for the entire subcontinent.

The story Dragon of Jamuraa from The Dragons of Magic features a battle between Zhalfir and Femeref, in which the Zhalfirin's are surprised by the ferocity of the dwarves that choose to fight with the Femerefi. This hints that this story also takes place at the beginning of the 50 years of conflict before Teferi returns, as the Suq'atan annexation brought dwarven refugees to Femeref. The Zhalfirin commander even references the goldmines over which conflict began.

So to conclude, we can say that the official sources leave the Jamuraan backstory very vague timeline-wise, but that by incorporating Jeff Lee's information we can figure out a bit more. And then that throwaway line about the generations in Hand of Justice, showing that we have to stretch the time between Teferi returning and phasing out as far as we can, gives us a pretty tight timeline:

  • ~3355 - Teferi returns from Tolaria to Zhalfir to end a civil war.
  • ~3360 - The war has ended. Scars of the Legacy takes place.
  • ~3650 - Teferi establishes the Guilds of Zhalfir and leaves to travel the planes. Soon after Femeref secedes from Zhalfir.
  • ~3850 - Suq'ata annexes parts of northern Zhalfir, triggering events that led to Zhalfir falling apart to several independent states. Angel of Vengeance, Hand of Justice and Dragon of Jamuraa take place.
  • ~3900 - Teferi returns, places queen Yormeba on the throne and temporarily restores peace. He leaves for the Chada Islands after a few decades and starts his temporal experiments.
  • ~4000 - Teferi's island phases out, Mangara, Kaervek & Jolrael come and check it out. Within a century Mangara establishes his age of harmony.
  • 4195-4196 - The Mirage War

I will immediately admit that these are not the strongest dates in my timeline, as they are based on information from an unofficial source and the interpretation of a single line in a very obscure story, but I do believe this is the best timeline we can make with the information we have available at the moment. If we get a Return to Jamuraa block that throws a wrench in all of this some day, I'll gladly update the timeline!

Finally, a few other timeline wrinkles:

  • The list of characters from the official online Mirage story says Femeref seceded 30 years after Teferi left. This entry completely garbles the story though, saying that Femeref seceded after Teferi left for his island, mixing up his planeswalking and his experimenting, despite other parts of the same website clearly making the distinction. As such I've left it out of consideration. If the 30 years date holds true though, it could be that we have to move the creation of the guilds and Teferi leaving for the Multiverse back another three decades. Then again, with all the approximations we are using 30 years are easily swallowed up in an error margin.
  • The main reason I bring this up is because the MTG Wiki says that Teferi was only gone for 30 years before returning to find Femeref seceded. This is not supported by any official source, but is clearly a garbled mushing together of the thirty years line from the character list and the "A furious Teferi returned fifty years later to find Zhalfir broken." from Jeff Lee's site (note that the "fifty years" refers to the period after Zhalfir fell apart, not to the period after Teferi left, which was 250 years). Perhaps somewhere in the wiki-editing process something got mucked up, but that date is just wrong.
  • Speaking of wrong dates, on Jeff Lee's character list, it is said Teferi watched over his homeland for millennia. Obviously that is far too long, and it is contradicted everywhere else on his site where he (correctly) mentioned "centuries" instead. Perhaps this mistake came from reading The Duelist #13, where it was said that Teferi looked over Zhalfir "for nearly a millennia". The erroneous use of the plural may have thrown Jeff off.
  • Oh, and for what it is worth, Gwendlyn DiCorci ruled "centuries ago". Not that she has any lore surrounding her, other than a single blurb on Jeff's site mentioning she's a great seductress.
Oh, and this.
And with that I've finally, finally, FINALLY covered the "Mirage Document". Or at least, covered all the parts the document was made up from. It feels pretty good to give those anthology stories a definitive timeline placement!

The updates on this blog have been a bit sparce lately. This is due to sudden work commitments and a few ill-timed attacks by the flue. I've worked on various articles whenever I found the time though, so the plan is still to at least get the Legends II cycle reviews out while Nicol Bolas is still relevant. Here's hoping on no more unexpected obstacles!

Finally, while doing this article I found that the online Visions story is no longer available om, that the reposting of said story on MTGSally also seems to have disappeared in the ether and that there was only one archived version of the site. So for easier access I've reposted the entire thing to my blog. You can find it here. And while I was working I decided to also repost the Mirage stuff.


  1. I say the wait is always worth it. You're very methodical and thorough in your research

  2. Ho. Ly. Cow. Dang, and I thought I was a hardcore Vorthos. Thanks for the info and your dedication to organizing the timeline. This is something I could never do.