Remember the Weatherlight, Part 1: Come Sail Away
Magic recently celebrated its 12th Anniversary, and it is still the king of CCGs. Or are they TCGs? I’ve grown confused—doing research for this article, I struck a vein of old The Duelist magazines. For those of you who don’t know, The Duelist was WotC’s official magazine, dealing mostly with Magic but touching on its other products (including, eventually, Pokemon, which led directly to the magazine’s demise. And they said fads never hurt anybody). Imagine a week’s worth of magicthegathering.com content with nice graphics and lots of ads, only that week’s content only comes every two months and is reporting old information. That doesn’t sound very nice, but this was back in the storied times before the internet had conquered our lives—often, magazines were the only easy source of information on the game for most of the magic public.
The year was 1997. Magic was just out of its infancy—it was in the middle of its first true unified block. The first glimmers of this came with Alliances, the expansion to Ice Age. Nine years on that doesn’t sound very impressive, but the idea was completely novel at the time—before that, expansions had only the most tenuous of links – other than Arabian Nights and Homelands (and, possibly, some parts of Legends), the expansions had all taken place on the same world, mentioned in the tiny rulebooks inserted in your starter boxes: Dominaria. The first true Magic storyline was, of course, that of Antiquities. Flavor texts of these cards mentioned battles and personages, all in an almost historical past tense, and with no real characters to speak of. Oh, there were names, but little more—none of the characters were even pictured on cards. If you wanted to know more about the story, you were forced to look at Wizard’s official dramatization of it: the Brothers’ War...
Remember, these were very primitive times. The only novels Magic was releasing were standalones, generic fantasy stories with a few Magic terms and locales thrown in. Many people, myself included, didn’t have access to the comic books—I didn’t start playing until Ice Age. It was some time before I even SAW a genuine Antiquities card, much less began to piece together the story. And "piece together" is truly the correct term.
I don't know what the bird
thing is about, either.
thing is about, either.
Without the comics, the only source of Magic lore was the cards themselves – flavor texts, and only from cards you happened to have access to. At first, all the cards seemed separate and distinct, but gradually, recognizable names emerged. Two brothers named Urza and Mishra had fought a big war with each other. The continent of Argoth was destroyed at the end of it, in a blast that caused a climate shift. This was all very intriguing, but it wasn’t a STORY. At most, it was a history—events were recounted through the lens of time, making the flavor of each set seem to be that of a snapshot of some specific time period on Dominaria. No set was better at this than Fallen Empires, which had the benefit of multiple copies of every common to load the set with ample amounts of flavor. As a history buff, this all appealed to me… but unlike actual history, there was no simple resource to find out what "actually happened."
But there was a gradual shift in the flavor technique of Magic sets. Alliances picked up the flavor and setting of Ice Age, and actually added glimmers of a plot. Where Fallen Empires and The Dark showcased conflict, and even had a few "characters" who spoke, the conflict did not seem to build up to anything, and the characters merely offered points of view, and did not actually perform any significant deeds. Alliances was the first real set to offer a conclusion, to actually show conflict that led to positive change. It was a start.
Alliances was followed up by Mirage, which continued to deepen the storyline potential of sets. Besides showing off the Jamuraan setting, it also showed the first half of a war—the wizard Kaervek was taking advantage of the disappearance of Teferi to try to conquer the domains he protected. This wasn’t mere history—this was characters, with personalities, interacting with each other within the confines of an actual dramatic plot. The story was told in The Duelist, and there was even a choose-your-own-adventure style webgame on their primitive website (that I could never manage to beat). And players were interested.
Which finally brings us to the topic of this article. Allow me to quote MaRo from the ancient, near-forgotten text that was April, 1997 issue of The Duelist
Quote fromHere’s a Story
Besides introducing several cool game mechanics, Mocha Latte will serve as a prologue for The Weatherlight Saga, an exciting new backstory for Magic. Following the adventures of Captain Sisay and her flying ship (first seen in the flavor text of Mirage), The Weatherlight Saga will differ from previous backstories in several ways:
For those of you skeptics out there, I promise you something quite different from the backstories of Magic past. Plotted by Magic author and editor Michael G. Ryan and yours truly, with additional help from Bob Krueger, Kij Johnson, and Pete Venters, The Weatherlight Saga is a hold-on-to-your-hat adventure, chock full of plot twists and surprises. I can’t let you in on any of the details just yet, but suffice to say that we spent a long time making this a story that players will remember for years to come. (We used the Star Wars trilogy as a spiritual guide. What more can I say?) I really think this is going to be something you’re going to like.
- The epic story will evolve through more than one or two expansions. Although each expansion will have its own resolution, the overall story arc will wind its way through the year 2000.
- A single set of characters will continually evolve through the flavor text and art. These characters will be depicted in multiple pieces of art so that the players can see different interpretations by top Magic artists.
- Starting in Dominaria, the story will leave the home of all the Magic expansions to date to explore other exciting worlds.
- The story will expand to many different media (books, online promotions, and The Duelist), allowing interested players many opportunities to learn all about the characters and expansive plot.
So far as I know, that was the first anyone heard of the multi-year arc. And it was big news. An epic storyline to continue through the distant year 2000? They were obviously serious about this, and from the way MaRo talked about it, it sounded quite awesome.
The next issue, in June, offered even more coverage—a quick overview of what planning such a long story entails (including some bits of foreshadowing: “We knew we wanted to take our characters to a dark shadow world, to the keep of a servant of evil, and to a plane where all the world is a market and anything can be bought—for a price.”), and a short story that served as something of a prologue to the saga. This story, “Maelstrom,” offered us the first glimpse of a story that would dominate the game for the next five years.
Now, as Michael G. Ryan did those eight years ago, I shall introduce you to the crew of the Weatherlight, and the beginning of what is and shall likely remain the greatest epic of all Magic storylines. I am only going to give you information we knew at the time, save for a few pictures from Tempest for characters not pictured in Weatherlight.
Our (alleged) hero, Gerrard, sporting an
unjustifiably cocky 'Fabio' look.
unjustifiably cocky 'Fabio' look.
- Gerrard – the man to whom a mystic collection of artifacts known as the Legacy belongs, a man destined to do battle with a mystical figure known only as the “Lord of the Wastes.” When he lost a childhood friend during the search for the Legacy, he left the ship, and currently holds a post in the military of his native Benalia.
- Sisay – the Captain of the Weatherlight, Sisay has long quested after the Legacy artifacts, even after Gerrard left the ship. Sisay took some small part in the plot of Visions, giving transport to the heroes at a crucial time.
- Mirri – a female cat warrior and best friend of Gerrard. She lives in Llanowar as the story begins.
- Crovax – the last survivor of a noble family in wretched Urborg, Crovax wishes to escape the curse on him by questing with the Weatherlight.
- Tahngarth – one of the particularly proud Talruum minotaurs, Tahngarth takes enormous pride in his appearance and strength. He serves as Sisay’s 2nd in Command, and resents Gerrard’s abandonment of the Weatherlight.
- Hanna – daughter to an ancient wizard, Barrin, Hanna studied artifice in the Argivian University, and is the Weatherlight’s engineer. She and Gerrard had a burgeoning romantic relationship when he suddenly left the ship, and still harbors feelings of betrayal toward him because of it.
- Ertai – when the crew realizes they need a mage, they turn to Hanna’s father, Barrin of Tolaria. Barrin opts out of the assignment, but offers instead his prized—but untried—student, Ertai. Ertai’s lack of experience does little to stem his arrogance.
- Karn – a silver golem and part of Gerrard’s Legacy, Karn has been "switched off" for years; worse, the memory of being tricked into killing an innocent man is fresh in him, causing Karn to vow never to take another life.
- Squee – the Weatherlight’s loyal Goblin cabin boy.
- Orim – the ship’s healer.
- Starke – a duplicitous, unwilling servant of Volrath, who holds his daughter captive. Starke is willing to help Sisay recover the Legacy, if she will help him retrieve his daughter.
“I have learned that many of [the Legacy’s] pieces were stolen by a sidar’s son. I know you and the others aboard this flying ship seek those pieces.”
Sisay leaned forward. “How do you know these things?”
A faint smile twitched across Starke’s lips. “Because I know the sidar’s son was thought dead. I also know he is alive and now called Volrath.” Starke paused. “I know where he is—and how much of the Legacy yet remains with him.”
Starke offers to help Sisay find the Legacy, if she will rescue his daughter. Volrath, however, forces Starke’s hand, sending the ruthless mercenary Maraxus of Keld to kill him. In an effort to save his own life, Starke agrees to set Sisay up to be kidnapped, as bait for Gerrard.
And thus The Weatherlight Saga begins.
Some details were sketchy at first. It was some time before Gerrard got a last name – not that anyone else really got one. Not a popular thing in Dominaria, apparently. (Crovax, at least, did have one: Windgrace. Though he was of no relation to the panther warrior planeswalker of that name who also hailed from Urborg, some connection between Crovax’s line and the Planeswalker must have existed. This was never elaborated upon). The following issue of The Duelist had another story by Michael G. Ryan, Torrent, again focusing largely on Starke. But I shall reveal events roughly chronologically, just to make things easier. Bear in mind most of the back story—anything before the abduction of Sisay—was not available right away, and came together from many different sources. Other than the cards themselves, there were articles in The Duelist and other magazines, and again, a comic book line. This series was, to my knowledge, WotC’s last attempt at Magic-related comic books—they did not sell well, and were eventually replaced with traditional novels. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
As a baby, Gerrard’s Benalish family had been killed at the will of the mysterious Lord of the Wastes.
His protector, Karn, took him and the Legacy to distant Jamuraa, where Gerrard was raised by a tribal sidar. The sidar’s son, Vuel, became Gerrard’s blood brother—until a Rathi agent, the selfsame Starke il-Vec, was sent to recruit Vuel for the Lord of the Wastes. During Vuel’s test of manhood, freeclimbing a local cliff (geology IS good for something), he began to lose his grip—thanks to some subtle poisons Starke had slipped him. Though the rules of the test involve strict non-interference, Gerrard rushed to save his blood-brother—forever ensuring that Vuel would never be a man in the eyes of the tribe. Vuel was furious, and wanted revenge. He stole the Legacy, selling bits of it to raise an army with which he destroyed his father’s tribe, and keeping other parts for himself. Karn tried to prevent all this mayhem, but Vuel tricked him into killing an innocent man, then deactivated the golem with a Touchstone.
Karn bringing infant Gerrard to his
foster father, Sidar Kondo.
foster father, Sidar Kondo.
That was the last Gerrard heard of Vuel for a long time—he thought Vuel dead with the rest of the tribe. Now even without his silver guardian for company, he set out into the world, eventually ending up under the tutelage of Multani, the Maro Sorcerer, with an elf named Rofellos. The two left Multani, meeting up with Mirri as well and joining the crew of the Weatherlight. Gerrard struck up a romance with the pretty blonde engineer, Hanna, and things were going well—until Crovax’s family came under attack by Gallowbraid and Morinfen. The Weatherlight came to the defense of its crewman’s family, dispatching the two beasts—but at great cost to all involved. Rofellos was killed, making the price of pursuing the Legacy too high for him.
Meanwhile, Crovax had freed the angel Selenia from the spell that bound her to protect his family. He was in love with the angel, but the moment the spell was broken, she was drawn away, into the service of another. Crovax, feeling his life cursed but wishing to pursue his angel, left the remains of his family (including Jolav, who existed only in comics and in the fiction, not on the cards) and went with the Weatherlight, just as Gerrard left the ship. Without Gerrard aboard, Mirri saw no reason to remain either, finding her way to Llanowar. Sisay continued on her quest to find the Legacy artifacts, prophesized to be the key to defeating the Lord of the Wastes.
Gerrard and Crovax, fighting
Gallowbraid and Morinfen.
Gallowbraid and Morinfen.
Which brings us up to date for her abduction… almost. Right before setting up Sisay, Starke revealed to Crovax that Selenia is on Rath… and that his family was being slaughtered while he was looking vainly for the angel. Crovax returned home—giving Starke an escape plan. One which he would soon need, it turned out.
You now know far more than we did back in 1997—aren’t you lucky? All we knew was, Gerrard’s former blood-brother, who hated him and wanted envied the Legacy, kidnapped Sisay into his dark world of Rath, and the crew of the Weatherlight was reuniting to rescue her. Starke seeks shelter with Crovax in Urborg from Maraxus of Keldwhile the Weatherlight picks up Gerrard. Gerrard, for his part, deserts his post to help find his old captain, and despite his earlier abandonment of the crew, is put in command. This may seem odd, but the Weatherlight is part of the Legacy, and is his by right of birth—that fact doesn’t make Tahngarth like him any more. Abandoning now his post in Benalia, he leaves behind only an hourglass necklace with a friend.
The crew is determined to rescue their captain, but all they know is that she has been taken to another plane called Rath. While Weatherlight is capable of planeshifting, it requires a native of the destination plane—Starke—and a wizard of considerable strength to imprint the destination into the Thran engine. What is a ‘Thran’ engine? We didn’t know—something to do with the Legacy. What is the Legacy? Who built it, when, and why? Gerrard’s ancestor? Who is the “Lord of the Wastes?” Nobody knew at the time—I imagine some of you reading now don’t know, which is why I’m writing these articles in the first place.
Anyway, Gerrard suggests picking up Mirri, saying that she might be able to work the Thran engine. Gerrard knows well that she can’t, but he wants to be reunited with his friend—he needs someone to watch his back in case he screws up. Coincidentally, he finds the deactivated Karn gathering dust in one of the holds, and manages to release the golem from the Touchstone’s effects—though a pacifist now, Karn is still a loyal, titanic ally, someone else to watch Gerrard’s back in case he screws up. This might be a fine time to inform you all of a slight bias I have:
Honestly, one of the biggest flaws with The Weatherlight Saga is the magnitude of the "hero"'s suckiness. Gerrard has his moments, but they are few, and interspaced between prolonged periods of angst and ineptitude. Not everyone shares my opinion, mind you. Just everyone I’ve talked to. Regardless, I shall let you all make your own judgments, once the saga is complete.
Llanowar is having some local trouble when Weatherlight arrives, and Mirri does not want to abandon her adopted people. Gerrard has one of his moments, and actually uses a combo to defeat the Aboroth. It was probably Hanna’s idea.
Mirri rejoins the crew, but is unable to work the engine. Hanna, grudgingly, reveals that her father, Barrin, is easily powerful enough to make Weatherlight shift to Rath (which we would later find out to be a gross understatement). Hanna and Barrin had been estranged for some time, and she won’t tell Gerrard why, but willingly leads Weatherlight to the mysterious island of Tolaria, where Barrin is the head of a secret order that tends the Lotus Vale. This detail was very quickly dropped, and in fact there is no later reference to Tolaria as the source of Black Lotuses—they just got a little overzealous linking the set to recognizable names from Magic’s past.
Barrin and Hanna don’t get along at all—the full nature of the dispute is never elaborated upon to my recollection.. The only source of disagreement we get is that Hanna wanted to study artifacts instead of magic, to the point that she went to New Argive, the world's major center of artifact studies. For whatever reason, Barrin decides not to come along--Gerrard can tell the tension between father and daughter would be a problem anyway. Instead, Gerrard suggests his apprentice,
Ertai—he may be arrogant, but at least he won’t tear the ship apart feuding with Hanna.
Ertai--half the usefulness of any other
crewmember for only twice the talk.
crewmember for only twice the talk.
Equipped now with a wizard, Weatherlight needs a native of Rath to key the Thran engine in on where it needs to go. They travel to Urborg to find Crovax, whose home had been attacked by Rathi agents in the past, and again shortly before Weatherlight arrived, killing the remainder of his family. He knows nothing of Rath itself, but he does know someone who had been there—Starke. The Rathi man had fled to Crovax to be protected from Maraxus. Crovax sent him to hide with a friend on nearby Bogardan (the second richest red-mana environment on Dominaria, next to Shiv), not wishing to expose him to the Rathi agents attacking his own estates. The Weatherlight helps Crovax finally defeat Gallowbraid and Morinfen, and the nobleman joins the crew as they sail to find Starke.
Crovax’s friend has already been killed, and Starke captured by Maraxus’s forces. After sending Mirri to scout, Gerrard and Tahngarth infiltrate the Keldon’s camp to rescue Starke. They flee the camp, and are chased into the mountains. Weatherlight arrives to dispatch Maraxus’s troops, but he himself seems invulnerable—until Starke tells Gerrard Maraxus’s secret: Maraxus draws strength from the proximity of others. The more people around, the stronger he is (quite a good interpretation of Keldon Warlord’s flavor, really). Gerrard sends Weatherlight away to weaken Maraxus, Gerrard easily defeats the warlord, but before Maraxus can surrender, Starke comes out of hiding and does his thing, killing Maraxus before he can reveal his involvement in Sisay's abduction. Starke follows this up by swearing allegiance to Gerrard, revealing that his daughter is Volrath’s prisoner. Gerrard grudgingly trusts him—or rather, admits that, schemer or no, they need Starke to rescue Sisay. Weatherlight comes to pick them up, and they planeshift to Rath.
After the self-guided tour of some of Dominaria’s most scenic locales, (unfortunately not including the famous nude beach of pre-Invasion Otaria,) thus ends the first chapter in The Weatherlight Saga—or perhaps more appropriately, the prologue. We knew very little at the time. What kind of place was Rath? Why did Volrath despise Gerrard so? Would the rest of the crew become more important? All in all, it was an intriguing beginning—it explored many diverse areas of Dominaria, before leaving that familiar plane entirely for the foreboding-sounding Rath. I, personally, and most other players, couldn’t wait—especially after the first Tempest ads came out with the following quote:
“There is no storm such as this.
It is a sickness in the sky.
It is crafted in Chaos
and even the darkness breathes.”
Continue to Part 2
VestDan is an aspiring author who is not above shameless self promotion: you can view the half-finished draft of his ridiculously long scifi/fantasy saga, here.