The Intriguing Possibilities Of Planeswalker Angrath

The Minotaur planeswalker Angrath has lots of storytelling potential! JDB covers the intriguing possibilities and makes a pitch for his U.S. readers to join him in serving their local communities!

There’s a bit of a breather in Magic’s flavor space as Vorthoses await the details from Rivals of Ixalan. With the first half of the block’s Magic Story in the books and a couple of columns filling in details of worldbuilding for Ixalan the Magic expansion (set on Ixalan the continent within Ixalan the plane – obviously not a creative choice made in the service of maximizing clarity!), it’s as good a time as any to look back at what we’ve seen…and what might be in store.

And while there’s plenty to discuss, from Jace and Vraska’s new and newly threatened relationship to the race for the Immortal Sun, whatever it is, I’m zeroed in on the Minotaur blacksmith and disher-out of chain pain, Angrath.

From “Murder Monster” to Family Minotaur

Of the four planeswalkers confirmed to be on Ixalan at the end of the Ixalan storyline, only one hasn’t had a card: Angrath. The Minotaur, like Vraska the Gorgon a one-of-a-kind specimen on Ixalan, is stuck on the plane, and unlike Jace (mind-wiped and in Neo’s “whoa” phase), Vraska (in “finish the mission and figure it out” mode), or Huatli (who’s misinterpreted the plane of Kaladesh as the lost city of Orazca), Angrath knows exactly what’s happened to him, and he’s clearly never heard of the Serenity Prayer.

He also fights with magically enhanced iron chains that he can turn red-hot at will…which is often.

But even from Angrath’s first appearance, something seemed different about him. When Huatli had her first planeswalking experience (albeit one sabotaged by the Ixalan’s Binding effect), Angrath’s attitude toward her snapped from “ready to kill” to “let’s be allies” in an instant. And in the climactic story of the set, Angrath is dead set on aligning with Huatli, because even if she doesn’t know what she can do, Angrath sure does.

And he sure doesn’t sound like a stereotypical single-note character like so many red planeswalker one-and-dones (see: Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded). As he tells Huatli, “‘Whatever prevents us from leaving this plane is locked in that city. We can help each other escape to different worlds if we find it.'” This flinty rationality reminds me in some ways of Koth of the Hammer, who forced his friend Elspeth to planeswalk away before setting off a spellbomb near the heart of power in New Phyrexia.

Of course, you can take the Minotaur out of his home plane, but you can’t take the home plane out of the Minotaur. His idea of a solution is to kill everyone and everything that could stand in his way of escaping Ixalan, provoking Huatli’s priceless thought, “Spectacular, the murder monster wants to be my friend.”

The catch, in storyline terms, is that Magic Story so far has treated Angrath only externally, rather than delving into his interior life. As a subject of the Sun Empire, Huatli isn’t exactly inclined to sit down with a Pirate who had no qualms about killing her Dinosaur mount and listen to his story.

Yet what a story he has! From the mothership, in a feature by Chas Andres, is this response to a question about where Angrath came from and why he traveled to Ixalan:

Angrath was a family man on a plane we haven’t been to yet. He has two adorable daughters, and whenever he wasn’t at work as a blacksmith he would travel the Multiverse to bring them back presents. He went away on a weekend holiday years ago and ended up on Ixalan, and when he tried to return home he could not.

That’s more emotional resonance in one paragraph than in most Magic Story installments! But there was something about the tenor of the response that seemed so at odds with Magic’s apparent direction that I feared the worst. I fired off a Tweet…and got the response I was looking for.

Want, Hide, Fear, Obsess, Hurt

I’ve written an entire article on Catherynne M. Valente’s rubric for giving characters depth:

“Give them something to want.

Give them something to hide.

Give them something to fear.

Give them something to obsess over.

Then hurt them.”

Previously, we’d known that Angrath wanted off Ixalan, and pretty badly at that, but not why. Now we have an answer: he has two daughters back on his home plane, and Ixalan’s Binding is keeping him from them. The need to return to his daughters ticks every box but “something to hide,” and being a planeswalker covers that point pretty well; he is willing to share information about planeswalking with Huatli, but I doubt he’s shared that with his crew, much less any non-planeswalker strangers.

As long as there has been a concept of “home,” living beings have wanted to return there after going away. Long before science formalized the idea of a home range, shepherds knew how certain breeds “hefted” or linked themselves to one place. The journey home is also an essential component of storytelling (the return is a crucial step in the monomyth) and literature, from Homer’s Odyssey to the multitude of works that followed.

And unlike in ancient Greek myth, where the original Minotaur was an unthinking brute to be slain by the hero, future story installments may show Angrath as the protagonist, driven on a quest to see his daughters once more. Planeswalker parents dedicated to raising children on a particular plane are unusual (Tamiyo is the only other I can come up with from recent years), and Angrath’s story could hold particular resonance for a Magic community that is getting older and more populated with players who are parents themselves.

The Unanswered Question

Of course, one paragraph isn’t nearly enough to tell Angrath’s story, and it raises many questions beyond whether or not he’s the descendant of a certain other Minotaur who was known to hang around ships.

How long has Angrath been away from home and his daughters? In the Odyssey, Odysseus spent ten years on his journey home, time enough for his son Telemachus to grow from a boy into a man. However long Angrath has been trapped on Ixalan, his absence has caused a father-daughter rift that must be grappled with on his return. (In the context of this article, I treat Angrath’s leaving Ixalan eventually as a given, on the assumption that Wizards of the Coast will write a storyline in which Jace can leave the plane, thereby freeing Angrath to leave as well.)

We see Angrath now, but who was he before he left on his ill-fated planeswalking equivalent of a trip to the toy store? He is older than the Minotaur who left, but by how much? How old were his daughters when he left? How quickly do Minotaurs on his home plane grow up? (Are his daughters even Minotaurs? Tamiyo adopted a child who was not a Moonfolk, after all.) And if there are differences in the passage of time between Ixalan and Angrath’s home plane, there’s a series of The Forever War consequences to deal with.

Who has taken care of Angrath’s daughters in the meantime? The phrases “family man” and “two adorable daughters” don’t fill out all of the pieces of Angrath’s family. Who else is involved in raising his daughters, if anyone? Is there an extended family or clan system that would look after the daughters as they would the children of a Minotaur fighter who died in battle?

If the family situation is nuclear, did Angrath leave a spouse or partner behind? (Or spouses, or partners, or exes, or…) Suppose Angrath comes back to find that he has been declared dead in his absence, and the mother of his daughters has mourned him with all propriety and subsequently married the man who stepped in to help raise the children. What then?

Or perhaps is he widowed? A single father? Could Angrath’s daughters have sought out one of his customers for help and been taken in? Were they left to raise themselves? Are they still alive?

How has home changed in Angrath’s absence? If Angrath’s people are migratory, what he remembers as “home” might not be anymore. His shop, if he kept one and was not in the employ of a war-leader, is gone unless someone took it over. The slow accretion of small changes and the sudden shifts of large ones will hit Angrath in a single wallop when he makes it home, if he does, and he’ll have to find his role in a place that has moved on without him.

The Narrowing

Time, of course, will narrow all these speculations down to a handful of truths. We don’t know what Wizards of the Coast has settled on for Angrath’s future, if indeed he has one. For all we know, he may die in one of Ixalan’s jungles, or upon one of Orazca’s golden plazas. His last request that his daughters be taken care of might spur a planeswalker to visit them; just as easily, it might go unheard.

But for now, Angrath is a small bundle of characterization and evidence wrapped up in a cloud of possibilities. He is Minotaur-as-Odysseus, trapped on Ixalan as on Calypso’s love-prison isle, with the subsequent books of his journey not yet written. All the potential has me excited. Now I have to hope Wizards of the Coast makes choices worthy of that potential.

On a Personal Note

While the USA doesn’t have mandatory military service the way some other countries do (such as Singapore), virtually all men living in the United States are required to register with the Selective Service System within 30 days of their eighteenth birthday.

If, God forbid, there would be a national emergency so severe that Congress and the President authorize the first draft since the 1970s, Selective Service local boards all across the USA would be activated. These five-person local boards would review claims for conscientious objector status, hardship deferments, and so on.

As for the people who serve on these local boards, who might have to make those weighty decisions…

…they’re people like me.

I am, in the context of civil society at least, a very ordinary person. I’m not a millionaire, or even a middle manager. I don’t have political “connections” at any level.

But I was willing to volunteer, and when a vacancy opened up in Roanoke County, Virginia, the application I’d made after moving here was on file. An officer with Selective Service got in touch; I passed the requirements (eighteen years or older, U.S. citizen, registered with Selective Service if male, not in law enforcement or current or former military, clean criminal record); and now I’m awaiting info on my volunteer training.

Local boards tend to skew older; many members have been serving since around 2000. But in the next few years the Selective Service System will need thousands of new volunteers to serve on local boards. Why not someone in their teens or twenties, for whom living at a draft-eligible age is a current experience or a recent memory? Why not someone older whose hobby has them competing shoulder-to-shoulder with young people every Friday night?

Why not you?

If you’re able and willing to become a local board member like me, I encourage you to learn more about the local board member program and fill out the application form.

I hope I’m never needed. But I’ll be ready.