“Magic Origins: A New Era”
Most “new era” pronouncements don’t live up to the hype. This one might.
Go read Jenna Helland’s article “Magic Origins: A New Era” if you haven’t already. My words will wait.
(You have not waited in vain.)
So a lot to take in there, but here are some highlights:
Ten distinct worlds. The five key Planeswalker characters originated on five different planes and went to five additional different planes with no overlap, so a total of ten “worlds.”
Moving through time. The “before-and-after” nature of the storytelling in Magic Origins means that the set is going back in time based on the lifespans of its five characters. As a consequence, Magic Origins will show worlds that no longer exist in the “present,” as it is (weakly) defined in Magic’s storytelling. Bant, Gideon’s Planeswalking destination, no longer exists; it was subsumed into the larger Alara.
Arguably Lorwyn no longer exists either, as the Great Aurora, the event that “flipped” Lorwyn to Shadowmoor and back again, is over and the two-phase plane has become one again with regular day and night. For that matter, the wasteland-husk that is Dominaria is a far cry from the lush, life-giving environs enjoyed by the young Liliana Vess.
Vess is likely the oldest of the five Planeswalkers, as she has enjoyed demon-supplied youth and longevity for more than a century’s lifespan. Nissa is the wild card that could in theory be older, due to the longer lifespans of elves in many media. The other three are close in age, with Gideon more mature than, if not older than, the young polar opposites Jace and Chandra.
No connections – yet. We know Liliana will meet Jace in the future, and he will meet Chandra. She will meet Gideon, and Gideon shares an interest in preserving Zendikar with Nissa. In fact, all but Liliana are confirmed to have been to Zendikar around the time the Eldrazi were unleashed. But for now all of that is in the future.
The pendulum has swung back toward story on cards. Mark Rosewater has used the idea of a pendulum in explaining Magic design: it swings out into various areas but always comes back toward a center. While I’m not sure exactly where the “center” is of Magic’s storytelling, that pendulum too is swinging. Once, the Weatherlight and its crew were at the center of a story that was explicitly told through cards, as illustrated by the “Tempest Storyboard” Arcana. After that storyline wrapped up in Apocalypse, the pendulum swung toward less story on cards, with Ravnica almost purely setting.
After Return to Ravnica, the pendulum began swinging more obviously toward showing story moments again, though moments rather than an entire storyline; think Deicide in Journey into Nyx or Crux of Fate in Fate Reforged.
From what I’ve seen so far, there won’t be a move back toward Tempest-style storytelling. As Jenna Helland put it, there’s no way to tell a linear story effectively through the inherently random medium of Magic cards. Instead of having the Magic storyline be a jigsaw-style puzzle discovered by rearranging cards or bought in a book, it’s getting portioned out according to the strengths of various media: visual and emotional immersion for the video games, longer-form storytelling in Uncharted Realms, and the grand flashbulb moments encapsulated on single cards.
Obviously I can’t speak of success or failure yet, but it’s obvious they’ve put a lot of thought into the new storytelling model and I think it has every chance to be a win. I hope it is.
Notes On Ten Planes
Some of the ten planes are well-known to even casual players through recent visits, such as Theros and Ravnica. Others will be remembered, fondly or not, by those with more time spent around the game (Bant, Dominaria – yes, Dominaria counts at this point – Innistrad, Lorwyn, Zendikar). The other three planes remain mostly mysterious even to a hardcore Vorthos like me.
Let’s start with Vryn, the home plane of Jace. (We know it’s his home plane, but Jace doesn’t, because he committed teenage emo destruction of his own memories.) Before Monday the best indication of what Vryn is, though not its significance to the storyline, came in the form of a Planechase card.
The precise uses of the Mage-Rings remain unknown, but they’re central to the story-kernels gleaned from the Magic Origins cards officially revealed on Monday in a Magic Arcana.
Hydrolash is also worth a mention, as it implies the existence of Magic not depending on the Mage-Rings, plus a prevailing culture involving equations. How Blue!
Regatha, the plane Chandra traveled to, similarly is named only on one card in current Magic, the Regathan Firecat above. The plane, however, has been the site of numerous important events in Magic’s storyline. Way back when, the sharp-tongued pyromantic Planeswalker of my Vorthosian dreams, the burn artist formerly known as Jaya Ballard, Task Mage, established a (rather individualistic) monastery at Keral Keep on Regatha. Chandra traveled here after her spark ignited, found some people who could help her grow her gift, and settled in.
Of course, if trouble wasn’t finding Chandra on its own, she was finding it. A stolen scroll and the reaction to it sent Jace Beleren on a mission to track Chandra down and take both the scroll and her memories of its contents. That initial interaction is recorded in the Magic webcomic Fuel for the Fire, starting in Part II.
Later on, Chandra and Gideon have some interesting adventures on Regatha, possibly involving some unresolved romantic tension, before Chandra drops the hammer on Gideon’s order and tells him another branch on her home plane was responsible for the destruction of all she loved. That’s the quick-and-dirty version of one of the last Planeswalker novels, The Purifying Fire.
(Incidentally, parts of The Purifying Fire have been retconned, at least as they relate to Chandra’s Kaladesh past, by Doug Beyer’s short story “Fire Logic.” I for one am glad to see the original “forced into arranged marriage” trope go away. Compare the two versions here.)
Kaladesh as a plane was revealed in “Fire Logic” – or at least the parts Chandra got to see. On the one hand, it only makes sense that we’d only experience what she experienced on a plane that seems to blend Indian Subcontinent and steampunk influences.
It also means virtually all of our knowledge of a plane whose every name screams South Asia comes through a girl with white skin and red hair that isn’t dyed with henna. Awkward.
I could go through exactly how awkward, citing TVTropes entries and things that happened in “British India” while Queen Victoria was perched on her throne (including one of the nastiest methods of execution ever devised), but as I put it online…
I considered writing about how problematic Chandra + Kaladesh is. I’d rather you read Shivam Bhatt’s take instead.
— John Dale Beety (@jdbeety) 12 June 2015
“On Chandra, Colonialism, and Race” An open letter to Mark Rosewater by Shivam Bhatt http://talinthas.tumblr.com/post/121325797382/on-chandra-colonialism-and-race … #mtg #MTGORIGINS
— Tolarian Community (@TolarianCollege) 12 June 2015
Seriously, read Shivam Bhatt’s letter. It makes me wonder – did Wizards take the time to talk to people like Mr. Bhatt when the plane of Kaladesh came up? For all the care they took with Alesha, Who Smiles at Death in “The Truth of Names,” it feels as if they didn’t reach the same standard with this first look at Kaladesh.
Doug Beyer, responding to Shivam Bhatt’s letter, wrote that Kaladesh on the whole is a diverse plane and asked for more time to reveal a greater portion of the set. I don’t doubt that Kaladesh will look more diverse on the whole, but “Fire Logic” was my first impression of it, and not a great one.
A Cheerful Speculation
This is the part that’s not terribly well-supported, much less confirmed, but I like to go off the rails every once in a while.
If there are twenty basic lands, they’ll be linked to the ten worlds, two apiece. This is based on past basic land art numbers (twenty basics, four for each of the five types) and distributions. Shards of Alara, for example, had a 1-2-1 model where each shard was represented twice on its “core” basic land – Plains for Bant, for instance – and then one each of the “allied” colors. That meant Bant was represented in two Plains, one Forest, and one Island.
Because of the number twenty and the easy divisions thereof (two by ten, four by five), this pattern shows up a lot and I think it’ll pop up again in Magic Origins:
That would be a straight-up translation of the theme, but it wouldn’t surprise me if some sort of switching went on. For example:
Gideon Jura is from Akros, so he has some passionate red mixed in with his orderly white. Chandra similarly confronted the forces of order early in her life. That could argue for a Theros Mountain and a Kaladesh Plains in a swap.
Or I could just be totally off, because hey, it’s the last Core Set, so if there’s any unused basic land art hanging around Wizards, this is the final chance to put it in front of a mass audience.
What do you think we’ll see in Magic Origins?