The Vorthos Guide to Magic: The Gathering
Join us as we turn the clock back a decade, to the series that inspired Archive Trap. Remember the Weatherlight, written by Shannon Rezendes, was first published on MTGS way back in 2005. Her five(ish) part series explored the history of the Weatherlight Saga, both from a real-world perspective and as a part of the lore. Shannon has kindly given us permission to reprint her articles as a series of guest Archive Traps so that a new generation of Magic fans can enjoy it. Today we bring you Part 3 of that story. You can also catch up on Part 1 and Part 2.
The conclusion of The Rath Cycle was really no conclusion at all. True, the three sets had had a full dramatic arc, and the original goal—rescuing Sisay—was achieved. But now, we knew the stakes were much higher than we’d originally thought: Weatherlight’s crew had discovered on Rath that their entire world was at risk. Perceptive readers even had a good idea of who was behind it—but we didn’t know who Yawgmoth was. We didn’t know many things… where did the portal send the Weatherlight? What was going to happen to captured Ertai? And what the hell was URZA doing in Exodus, anyway?! All Exodus told us was that we truly had no idea what was going on.
But we were about to find out.
In fact, anyone who read The Brothers’ War found out many critical parts of the backstory. Jeff Grubb’s The Brothers’ War was the first of the revisionist, modern Magic novels, but it recounted the very first original Magic storyline, that of Antiquities. I am not going to recount the full story here, because 1) it is slightly out of the scope of The (already-lengthy) Weatherlight Saga, 2) it is intricate enough for an article all its own, and 3) really, you should track down a copy and read it. I will give a brief summary here, of the portion described in Urza’s Saga.
But first, I must mention another novel that came out shortly after The Brothers’ War—Rath and Storm. As WotC had discontinued the comics running parallel to the sets, they opted to replace them with actual novels—but the first for sets of The Weatherlight Saga had already seen print. With the emphasis of the story moving to Urza for a year, they didn’t want to spend the time (or effort) to release books for all four expansions, so instead, they crammed all four into one. Rath and Storm isn’t a bad book, but it is an awkward one—not only does it have a ridiculous amount of material to cover, the manner in which they chose to do so was rather bizarre. Rath and Storm was an anthology you see, with each chapter written by a different author; moreover, each chapter was from a different character’s point of view. So, while all the characters (and even, in one chapter, Weatherlight itself) tells part of the story from their perspective, you never get to see that perspective again in that book. So, you do not get to really see any of the characters grow or develop as the story progresses. This is especially tragic for Mirri, a fairly popular character at the time—we got to see her fight with Crovax, an extended flashback that told us that she loved Gerrard as more than a friend, and then she was dead. So, while Rath and Storm covered all the necessary material, it was not with the necessary depth or attention to detail it required. The whole affair comes out feeling more rushed than threatening—instead of the slow realization of threat we saw as The Rath Cycle came out, the book felt more like an extended chase scene. Incidentally, Gerrard’s reputation was not helped by the book, as all of his heroic actions took place during other characters’ chapters—all the readers got to see him do was angst. But at least he did that like a pro.
Back to Urza’s block, though. Urza’s Saga began a three-expansion flashback explaining the creation and purpose of the Legacy, of Rath, and even of Gerrard—it served to show us the full extent of the danger to Dominaria. Urza’s Saga is unique among expansions, in that each of its colors tells a different part of the story, chronologically (though there is a little muddling between the Black and White sections and the Blue and Red sections). Green came first, and why not—Green was not the powerhouse color it is today. In 1999, and in fact for the entire history of the game preceding, Green was but the poor attempt at a fifth color, working only as a supplement to the other four. It had its fans, but it wasn’t winning many tournaments. Urza’s Saga showed a noticeable attempt to up the power level of Green cards. While a noble effort, Green was again overshadowed by its archenemy and traditional powerhouse color—Blue. The long dark time of Combo Winter was about to begin. You may think this all unrelated to the story, but I’ll bring it in, don’t worry. As for now, back to the saga.
Urza’s Saga begins in 63 A.R. (Argivian Reckoning, starting with the year Urza and Mishra were born), the twilight of the Brothers’ War, a conflict between two nations on the continent of Terisiare led by feuding brothers Urza and Mishra, in a time before much of the world had even theorized about the concept of magic. The root cause of their conflict came when they were apprentices at an archeological dig, investigating the ruins of the ancient Thran Empire. When exploring a cave in an area called Koilos, the brothers found a large Thran powerstone on a pedestal—and accidentally broke it. Each brother took one half—Urza, the Mightstone, Mishra, the Weakstone. They didn’t realize that the stone had been keeping a gate closed, and had been doing so since time immemorial. Neither brother realized the significance of it—both were more concerned with acquiring the other’s stone. Needless to say, they had a falling out; their estrangement deepened as both rose to power in competing nations, and eventually war broke out. After several decades, the continent was decimated and both sides were out of resources.
Then, as chance—or fate—would have it, Urza’s (probable) son, Harbin, stumbles upon the verdant island of Argoth (or continent, in prerevisionist texts). This is where Urza’s Saga begins. Both sides moved to conquer the island, opposed at first more by its inhabitants than by each other. The forest itself rose to oppose them, but the mechanized armies of both sides were too destructive.
Finally, the two brothers’ armies met for one climactic battle. However, the machines of both sides go berserk and attack everything indiscriminately. A Phyrexian praetor, Gix, had come to make sure neither brother wins the war. The brothers themselves stop caring about their armies when they encounter each other, and Urza is confounded to see his brother still a young man. They fight, and Urza does something neither had thought possible. Mishra is wounded, showing Urza the truth—his brother is no more. A group known as the Brotherhood of Gix had tempted Mishra with the power Gix’s world—Phyrexia—had to offer. Mishra himself had seen Phyrexia—he had returned to the caves of koilos and found the portal he and Urza had accidentally opened. The surface of Phyrexia is inhabited by machines of such perfect design that they can actually be said to live—there is actually a mechanical ecosystem. Mishra saw some of Phyrexia’s fiercest predators at work and envied their power. This began him down the dark path that had him end up a Phyrexian pawn.
Now, on Argoth, Urza realizes all this. He realizes the mighty Thran empire had created the stones he and Mishra fought over to seal Phyrexia away, had in fact fallen because of Phyrexia—but while the Thran were no more, the Phyrexians had had millennia to develop. He realizes that Gix is there and had taken control of the armies. He realizes many things, for he is on the cusp of something immense—a part of him, buried latent within all his life, was awakening. His inborn magical skill was coming to the fore—that, and something else, something even stronger. But he doesn’t have time to study it—he needs to destroy Gix and the artifact armies, before Phyrexia uses them against his whole world. Now, Urza had come into possession of an ancient, mystical artifact, and used his newfound magical abilities to pour as much mana into it as possible.
Number of cataclysmic events Urza causes: 1
Indeed, the Sylex blast is perhaps the most important event in Dominarian history between the fall of the Thran and the Apocalypse. Argoth is not simply leveled—the island itself is destroyed (let this be a
Gix, during his brief stint as an optometrist
lesson not to funnel too much mana into mysterious devices!). The blast is powerful enough to alter Dominaria’s climate, starting a trend that initiates the Ice Age within a few centuries; moreover, the blast actually altered Dominaria’s standing within the multiverse; as the Ice Age started, something called the “Shard” formed around Dominaria and its closest neighbors, making the dozen or so planes inaccessible to the rest of the multiverse—though there was one other cause behind the Shard as well, which I shall get to.
Needless to say, the Sylex blast ensured Urza’s infamy for millennia to come. But what of Urza himself? Something strange happens to him as he is about to die. The Mightstone and Weakstone intervene, protecting Urza and bringing out his true potential. Urza became the mightiest of beings, a planeswalker, with the two stones residing in his head, behind his eyes. This is where The Brothers’ War ends, and Lynn Abbey’s Planeswalker picks up.
Now, allow me to pause for a moment and explain what a “planeswalker” is, for the uninitiated. In the original conception of the game, the players are planeswalkers—powerful magic beings, able to step from universe to universe of their own power. Dueling was supposed to represent two ‘walkers having it out over some plane or other, and the loser is either killed or simply banished from the plane. Planeswalkers are extraordinarily rare—only one in some million sentient beings are born with the potential to become a ‘walker, and quite a few live their entire lives without triggering this ‘spark,’ as it’s called. So long as the spark is dormant, a potential walker acts and lives like anyone else of their species. It is not until some enormous stress—usually their own death—occurs that the spark triggers (kinda like Highlander). The fact that most new ‘walkers just received godlike powers while being on the verge of death, they are not known to be a very psychologically stable breed.
Urza is no exception—the revelation of his brother’s fate, the power suddenly granted him, the pain of his own death, all combine to drive Urza quite mad. He becomes obsessed with what happened to his brother, with finding Phyrexia and destroying it. This becomes complicated when he is exiled from Dominaria when something called the Shard forms. The Shard was a barrier around Dominaria and a few neighboring planes, that slowly came to be as a response to the Sylex blast—Gaea, the life force of Dominaria, created the defense to keep Urza out. And you know you’ve done something catastrophic if the planet itself kicks you out. The Shard would exist until the planeswalker Freyalise cast the Worldspell, shattering the Shard and ending the Ice Age, over two millennia after the Sylex blast. The timing of this rite was specific—it coincided with the approach of a "wandering plane" in the multiverse, Shandalar, as seen in the Micropose Magic: the Gathering computer game—not something that’s technically important, but it only goes to show how well integrated continuity was at the time.
Back to my subject, Urza wanders the planes for some time, looking for any information on Phyrexia but failing to find any leads… until he meets Xantcha. Xantcha is but one of many Phyrexian sleeper agents, or "newts" created in human form to infiltrate Dominarian cultures and make them more susceptible to Phyrexian invasion. Xantcha, however, is defective—she can think for herself. For this, she is condemned to die, but Urza happens along and, thinking she is a
Few characters with such little screentime
became nearly as popular as Xantcha,
Urza's pragmatic Phyrexian sidekick.
human victim, rescues her. Examining her Phyrexian body, he assumes, in his madness, that she was originally a human who had be captured and assimilated as Mishra had.
Xantcha provides Urza with invaluable intelligence about Phyrexia, and he prepares an attack on the realm. Somewhere around 1800 A.R., he launches his assault not only in armor, but in a meticulously constructed dragon-mech-thing that is not seen on the cards. (This was one of the first noticeable inconsistencies between books and cards, but was a minor one and was mostly ignored at the time—we certainly didn’t expect it to become an endemic problem.) Urza’s attack is quite potent, blasting down to the fourth before realizing how hopeless it is. While his attacks begin to be repulsed, Xantcha infiltrates Phyrexia to find her Heartstone—the vessel for her Phyrexian soul. So long as it remained on Phyrexia, they had a hold on her—no more. She returns to Urza’s side, as he is wounded badly, and convinces him to flee.
From the hell of Phyrexia, Urza fled to heaven—Serra’s realm. Since the beginning of the game, Serra had been synonymous to ‘Angel;’ for the dozen people who paid attention to Homelands we knew that she had died recently in the Magic timeline, only a few decades ago at most. But we didn’t know anything about her from before her stay on Ulgrotha—at least, not before Urza’s block came along. Like Weatherligh’s tour of major Dominarian sites, Urza’s block toured major names and places of Dominarian history, but with the added tension of those areas being under threat.
Urza is unwell when he arrives in Serra’s Realm. He spends years recuperating, while Xantcha is kept under strict guard, though she is healed as well. After Urza awakens, he learns a lot about Serra’s Realm—first and foremost, though everyone there thinks of her as a Goddess, she is, like him, a planeswalker. Even more important, though, is that Serra’s Realm is, like Phyrexia, a created plane. From within her Sanctum, Serra controls all the affairs of Serra’s Realm, just as Yawgmoth does from his 9th Sphere. But, simply keeping her realm stable requires her full attention at all times, making her a distant, but powerful, presence for her people. As such, though she hates Yawgmoth and all he stands for, she cannot help Urza against the Phyrexians. This also reveals a sinister realization – since artificial planes don’t last forever, Phyrexia wants Dominaria as a new home. With lack of anywhere to go, Urza wanders the multiverse after leaving Serra’s realm, until the Shard falls. Shortly after his departure (which is a relative term when dealing with immortals), the Phyrexians attack Serra’s Realm. Though the attack is repulsed, there were many losses—including one
Serra was probably more popular before
she actually appeared in a book.
particularly potent warrior. Worse, the taint of so much black mana in the perfect white mana realm causes Serra too much pain, forcing her to depart her realm, leaving her enforcer, Radiant, in charge.
Returning to Dominaria, Urza becomes obsessed with the past. He builds dioramas of his past, of his encounters with Mishra to try to find if his brother could have been saved. His insanity reaches new heights, and Xantcha endeavors to snap him out of his mad torpor by finding a Mishra duplicate for him to interact with—hopefully, she thinks, if she fool Urza into thinking the duplicate is the REAL Mishra, he can settle affairs with his "brother." Using a description from The Antiquity Wars by Urza’s wife—who also had, shall we say, intimate knowledge of his more charismatic brother—she finds a prisoner named Ratepe about to be executed.
The plan works, to a point—though Urza remains mad, at times thinking Ratepe his brother, at times knowing him to be someone else, he is at least roused to fight Phyrexia again instead of dwelling on the past. Ratepe has an unexpected effect on Xantcha as well—impossible as it might have seemed for a Phyrexian, and perhaps only possible because she acquired her own heartstone, she falls in love with the man. Urza, oblivious to this, decides first to deal with the Phyrexian sleeper agents, that have been worming their way into Dominarian society for years. Gix, his and Xantcha’s recurring nemesis, encounters Xantcha as she scouts out a sleeper cell, and threatens her life. She escapes, but he was able to read Urza’s plan from her mind.
It was too late to foil Urza, however. He had created a device that killed Phyrexian agents, with the minor side-effect of giving ALL normal humans excruciating migraines. The threat of the sleeper agents was ended, PLUS
Number of cataclysmic events Urza causes: 2
Xantcha wore nice earplugs to cancel out the death effect, but the danger wasn’t over—Urza was weakened by the effort, and Gix hunts him down. Urza and his group finally confront Gix in the same caves of Koilos where Gix had come to Dominaria in the first place. Or, he claims, first RETURNED—Gix says that the Phyrexians are all that is left of the ancient and powerful Thran, the long dead culture Urza and Mishra studied as apprentices. The Thran hadn’t died nobly to defeat the Phyrexians—they had become the Phyrexians. And now, at the very place where Urza and Misha reopened the gate to Phyrexia, Gix intended to end the troublesome planeswalker’s life. The powerful Phyrexian praetor duels Urza to a standstill while Xantcha and Ratepe look on, feeling powerless. But when Gix gains the upper hand and begins to draw the Mightstone and Weakstone out from Urza’s head, they take action: simply, they leap at Gix and break his concentration. Gix dispatches them both easily, but the gesture gave Urza time to recover—or, rather, his eyes. The two Thran crystals send a backlash of power back at Gix, annihilating the demon and, again, saving Urza’s sorry ass. The last he sees of Xantcha, she was flying toward his brother’s embrace—but he is not bitter. Xantcha’s plan to make Urza get over Mishra worked—Urza wishes them well. But it did not cure Urza of his obsession with the past, and he resolves to continue. Thus ends Lynn Abbey’s Planeswalker, but still not Urza’s Saga—the Blue and Red portions of the set overlap with Urza’s Legacy.
But before I move on, one little tidbit from Duelist 32, in December 1998:
Scott McGough willfully accepted the position of Magic’s “Story Guy” as of May 1998. Pity and fear him, for he is obviously mad.
Now, this went completely unnoticed at the time, but the fact that the saga changed creative control halfway through, during the backstory flashback no less, was peculiar.
The rest of Urza’s Saga was mostly lead-in to the next stage of Urza’s life, so I’m going to mix it in with Urza’s Legacy’s storyline as it occurs chronologically.
On a remote island, he founds an academy that attracts the most powerful wizards in Dominaria (and most powerful players on Earth, for that matter). The affairs of the school are mostly dealt with by its headmaster, the capable Barrin (though there is little evidence past the card Lotus Blossom of him being the head Lotus farmer or whatever was said back during Weatherlight)—from the students up through the faculty. Urza—or, as he calls himself publically, Malzra (which is probably why many images of Urza show him as a young man)—sees the students as assets in his struggle against Phyrexia, but is focusing personally on temporal research, hoping to go back in time over six millennia to stop the Thran from falling. He is stymied at first as nothing seems to survive the time travel process… until he tries silver. He builds a golem of the stuff, installing Xantcha’s heartstone in it to give it intelligence and emotion. Note that Karn was not designed as a pacifist, yet his card is given a pacifistic flavor, because WotC reasoned that was the Karn we were "used to." The golem—Karn, of course—soon becomes next to useless to Urza, as time travel apparently doesn’t go back further than two days. Karn uses his spare time to befriend young Teferi and Jhoira, the latter of which has another friend—a mysterious castaway named Kerrick. Little did Jhoira know that Kerrick was actually a new Phyrexian sleeper agent… oops. Kerrick guides some Phyrexian Negators to the island, and Jhoira is killed despite Karn’s attempts to save her. Urza agreed to send Karn back in time to try to save her. Karn does manage to prevent her death in the past, but at the cost of slightly overexerting the time machine.
Number of cataclysmic events Urza causes: 3
Anyone who has watched enough science fiction knows that time isn’t something even responsible, capable scientists should be allowed to deal with, much less Urza. The overload is catastrophic, killing more than half of the wizards and students, and warping the flow of time all over the island. Teferi is trapped in a slow-time bubble, on fire no less, (you’d think he’d know better than to mess with time later, but I guess not), while Kerrick is trapped in a fast-time one. Urza and the survivors leave the island for a time, unaware that Jhoira is still alive there. As a native of Shiv, she has excellent survival skills… but she is still much changed in the ten years Urza, Barrin, and the rest of the Academy are away. Now, Urza has returned to rebuild the Academy, and Jhoira’s experience with the temporal geography of the island proves invaluable.
But Urza wasn’t the only one hard at work. Stuck in a fast-time bubble, in a deep gorge no less, Kerrick—like all sleeper agents, effectively immortal—uses what resources he has to build up an army and diseases to use against Tolaria. Urza drops a few bombs in the gorge and considers the threat ended, while Jhoira devises a method of rescuing Teferi—spraying a slow-time bubble like his with water that flowed from a fast-time area allows entry. Teferi is rescued, and startled to discover how much time has changed—his childhood companion (and crush), Jhoira, is now a grown woman. However, he falls into Urza’s inner circle—perhaps because Urza recognizes the planeswalkers’ spark in him, or perhaps just because of Jhoira’s relationship with him.
Either way, Urza takes the two and Karn along while following a lead Jhoira provides—a trinket from her homeland, made somehow of Thran metal, and it isn’t anywhere near six thousand years old. While he is away, Kerrick’s forces, after benefiting from hundreds of times faster research than Tolaria’s, are finally sturdy enough to survive passing through the edge of the time bubble, and attack the academy, with only Barrin to lead the defenses. The first wave is beaten back after the initial shock of assault, but the Phyrexians have the vast advantage in time, and anything the Tolarians throw at Kerrick’s gorge only gives the Phyrexian more material to work with.
Of course, Urza is oblivious to all this, half the world away. In Shiv, he has discovered something beyond his greatest hopes—an intact Thran factory. The giant building, dubbed the “Mana Rig,” was originally designed to manufacture powerstones, the central core of all Thran (and Phyrexian) machines. The few he had found previously were worn out—a source of fresh powerstones would allow him to make a powerful arsenal to use against the Phyrexians, or even to act as the core of a new project he has come up with. First, though, he has to negotiate with the natives—Viashino and goblins--that have taken up residence in the ancient structure, and aren’t very friendly neighbors. The Viashino are far more intelligent, but Teferi discovers that the Goblins move about much more easily—as if they were meant to do so. Neither group knows what the huge building does, and after Urza displays some planeswalkerly power to impress both groups by intervening in a familial spat between two local Shivan draaaaaaaaaakes. No, not dragons—for some unknown and befuddling reason, the two powerful firebreathing serpentine sky monsters are referred to in the book as "fire drakes," even though one of them, Rhammidarigaaz, was later printed as a Dragon. The elder Fire Drake, a female named Gherridarigaaz, is a powerful force in the local draconic hierarchy, and does not approve of her son, Rhammidarigaaz’s, friendliness with the Viashino. He manages to scare off the older dragon, gaining the support of Rhamidarigaaz and the Viashino.
This allows him to get the Rig operational again, and he sets his new allies to making a powerstone of ridiculous size—one so large, it will take the mana of an entire world to charge. Not one to trifle with minor details like THAT, and confident that the mana rig can defend itself, Urza sets off to find the next component of his new weapon.
Urza’s plans involve Thran metal and strong, resilient wood. One problem with this is, Thran metal grows. (How does it do that? Hell if I know; it’s a bloody fantasy setting, deal with it.) So, Urza needs to find some sort of wood that would remain alive, and grow and evolve in concert with the Thran metal. As the last magical forest he had visited on Dominaria had the disadvantage of not existing, he tracked down another, even more powerful forest that had risen since the Ice Age—the sentient Yavimaya.
Yavimaya’s sentience may not date back to the days of Argoth, but its native nature spirit does. And Mr. Maro Man, as Gaea’s representative of the forest, still remembers the loss of his counterpart, Titania, when Argoth was annihilated. Urza’s reception in Yavimaya is, therefore, not exactly cordial. Urza is trapped in one of Yavimaya’s ancient trees, and forced to relive the pain he caused.
While he is trapped, the assault on Tolaria worsens. Even with his own fast-time research facilities, Barrin cannot keep up against the onslaught. All of the defenses Urza set up for Tolaria have been defeated, and the Phyrexian enclave has grown consistently stronger by scavenging the leavings of each battle. Finally, risking the absent planeswalker’s ire, he uses a spell to summon Urza to Tolaria, freeing him from his prison and bringing Multani along for the ride. The maro-sorcerer quickly realizes who the true enemy in the situation is, and helps Urza fight Kerrick. Urza planeswalks to Shiv quickly, recruiting not only Rhammidarigaaz, but also Gherridarigaaz to act as aerial support. The two drago… DRAKES… along with Multani and Urza himself, turn the tide against Kerrick’s forces, and destroy the Phyrexian scourge on Tolaria. With the immediate threat ended, and Multani now bringing Yavimaya into the conflict, Tolaria is quickly rebuilt and Urza resumes work on his skyship. Multani provides a portion of Yavimaya’s oldest tree, called the Weatherseed (look at the background). Jhoira returns with the new Thran metal and giant—uncharged—powerstone core, and Urza assembles his greatest creation—the Weatherlight.
But this new weapon isn’t really that ultimate yet… it has enough power to fly around and look all pretty, but not much more. It should be able to shift between worlds and all sorts of other coolness, but as I said earlier, it needs a LOT of energy—roughly an entire world’s worth.
Urza already has one in mind. Things
Serra's replacement did not run quite as
tranquil a plane as either would have liked.
haven’t gone so well there since his last visit. Serra has been gone for some time, and without her influence, the world is slowly collapsing. Her strongest archangel, Radiant, rules through martial strength, often quite brutally. Her endless quest has been to purify the world of Phyrexian influence, including purging the population of any Phyrexian agents. Problem is, Radiant’s methodology is about as rational and foolproof as Joseph McCarthy’s—she’s executing hundreds of innocents as Phyrexians—her zealotry had made her a tool toward Phyrexia’s ends herself, and had in fact driven her somewhat insane.
Urza, on the other hand, is at his sanest in centuries. He decides to help the innocents, perhaps an uncharacteristic action, but a logical one—it gets him new allies, and he has business in Serra’s Realm anyway. He assembles a crew for the Weatherlight, including Tolarian students, Viashino, Karn, and Jhoira at the helm, accompanied by the reconciled family of Shivan dragon/drake/wyrm things. Radiant opposes the Weatherlight’s arrival, attacking the ship on its maiden voyage. The crew is prepared for conflict, and holds back the attack as the refugees get aboard—though the ship’s dilithium cryst… I mean, Thran engine doesn’t have power to get back to Dominaria, and the attack is getting fiercer. One particularly potent assault nearly destroys Urza… but Gherridarigaaz takes the hit.
Radiant is, however, unsatisfied. She yanks Urza into Serra’s Sanctum, stunning the planeswalker before he can fight back. She hopes that, with the power of Urza’s eyes, she can run Serra’s Realm as well as Serra ever did, and rips them from his head. This turns out to be a bad move, especially when she tries to put the Mightstone and Weakstone back together—they explode in a burst of energy, returning to Urza’s head and killing the loony bird girl. He goes back to Weatherlight and, with most of the refugees aboard, initiates the inevitable, collapsing all the energy that composes Serra’s Realm into the ship’s power core. That leaves us with one charged ship.
Number of cataclysmic events Urza causes: 4.
Urza settles the remaining Serrans in Benalia, where their faith had some history, and returned to Tolaria, feeling accomplished. He had created a weapon powerful enough—in his fragile mind, at least—to defend Dominaria against the eventual Phyrexian invasion. Thus ends J. Robert King’s Time Streams, and the Urza’s Legacy storyline—meaning the next book and next expansion would overlap, which simplified things immensely.
But what about the main plot? What was going on in the present day? During the duration of this flashback, the story of the modern crew of the Weatherlight was left on hold. A few efforts were made to keep the characters in mind—for example, a three-part story also by J. Robert King about Crovax and Selenia in Duelist magazines, which, ALSO though flashbacks, kept the main story in the back of our minds… at least, that was the idea.
Speaking of the "modern" story, Duelist 34 in February 1999 finally provided a timeline of Magic expansions. The expansions, other than Arabian Nights and Legends, had occurred in chronological order up until this flashback—even Homelands was on there, between 3800 and 4130 AR. The events of Mirage and Visions had lasted from somewhere around 4150 AR to 4196. Eight years later, Weatherlight had occurred, rather near the end of the Dominarian year as the Rath cycle took place the following year in 4205, making Urza, on whose birth the Argivian Reckoning calendar is zeroed, very, very old.
But interest in the story was waning—relatively speaking, at least. Even new players can’t go too long before hearing about "combo winter," an event that descended upon the game like the Black Death upon Europe. Rath-Urza Type two was—and shall hopefully remain—the fastest, most broken Standard environment in the history of the game, leading to numerous bannings. Not only bannings, in fact, but emergency bannings—banning cards off the normal scheduled times of year to assess the health of supported formats. Memory Jar got banned before the set it was in even became tournament legal. Urza, it seems, wasn’t satisfied with wreaking havoc in the storyline… and, simply put, the STORY of the game obviously garners less attention than the game itself. Players and WotC alike were both watching the game itself, and the story suffered for it.
WotC was also further distracted by the tremendous, fad-driven success of the Pokemon TCG. The rabid legions of young Pokemon fans, coupled with the all-time low ebb of fun Magic was undergoing, made the newer card game the first TCG ever to surpass Magic in sales. I, personally, knew it wouldn’t last, and I suspect WotC knew as well, but they did all they could to capitalize on it while it was there, to the extent that they decided to stop printing Magic-centered Duelist Magazine after Urza’s Destiny came out, replacing it with TopDeck magazine. Those "fortunates" who had
The first sign of the Apocalypse?
leftover subscriptions to Duelist had it carry over to TopDeck… you have no idea how much joy it was to find pictures of that damned electric rat in my mailbox once a month. TopDeck had but a few pages on Magic, and no support for its storyline. This was back in the day when Y2K threatened to destroy mankind and all that—the internet’s conquest of our lives was not yet complete. So, now, the only support for The Weatherlight Saga came from the novels—now included in fat packs, but still only a draw for those who were really interested—and on the cards themselves. The comics were gone. Duelist was going. It would no longer be a simple matter of course to know what the storyline was—the easy accessibility of Rath Cycle (the Starter Boxes even included a little storybook) was evaporating.
Duelist did still showcase Urza’s Destiny’s story developments, but honestly, not that much went on in the set (though Bloodlines, by Loren Coleman, is still a good read). It was more of the leftover connecter material to get from the creation of the Weatherlight to the present day. Urza realizes that, while Weatherlight has tremendous power, it is nothing without a crew to wield it. Jhoira, at least a good enough captain not to ram the ship into the ground every chance she gets, is still alive—in fact, it was found that an annual drink from Tolarian slow-time water stops aging all together—but she has taken up residence in Shiv. The Thran metal allows him to build great weapons, but he could never outproduce Phyrexia—and he’ll need more than just a living, thinking crew for Weatherlight. He was going to need soldiers.
For both, he’d need to meddle in an entirely new field—genetics (or, at least, the fantasy version of it). All his previous projects and responsibilities—Karn, the Weatherlight, the Serran refugees—are sidelined. He is intelligent enough to bring someone in to help Barrin run the Academy for him—someone whom Barrin would get quite close to. Barrin and Urza lock horns over his meddling in the bloodlines of Dominaria, not realizing that he is a beneficiary—Rayne, whom he hits it off with and eventually marries, is a product of the project (meaning Hanna, their daughter, is as well. In fact, most of the humans on the Weatherlight crew—Sisay, Crovax, and especially Gerrard—are the superhuman results of Urza’s project). Other Academy researchers object as well, some of them resigning over it.
However. one of the resignations, Gatha, is more concerned with the limitations of Urza’s project. He steals some of Urza’s samples of Phyrexian stock and travels to remote Keld—always a popular people in magic fiction. Gatha goes to one Keldon family with weak offspring and offers to use his research to strengthen the line. His methods are brutal, but effective. Urza monitors his experiments, and continues along similar lines—instead of combining Phyrexian blood with human stock, he keeps his human and Phyrexian lines separate—the human lines are meant to make populations better able to defend themselves, while his other project purifies Phyrexian blood to create a loyal, perfect army—the Metathran.
Elsewhere, things being to move toward the endgame. Multani brings an emissary of distant, militant Llanowar—Rofellos—to Yavimaya to teach the inhabitants Llanowar’s military ways. The Phyrexians attempt a preemptive strike, but Yavimaya repels them at the coast. The forest makes itself into a weapon for the coming war.
Phyrexia isn’t just sitting there, though. Urza follows a wounded Negator after he defeats it to a new plane, hidden in the Blind Eternities (space between planes) near Dominaria. The world is small, the world is eerie, the world is evil… the world is Rath. Already, it has absorbed small parts of Dominaria, including a large group of elves that fight—and lose to the first Evincar of Rath, Davvol. He realizes that Rath is meant to be a staging area for the invasion, and forges an alliance with Lyna of the Soltari.
But while Urza is now wise to Phyrexia’s plans, Phyrexia learns of his. Gatha’s activities in Keld, splicing Phyrexian and Keldan blood, have yielded the strongest Keldon warriors in history, including the Witch-King, Kreig, who is strong enough to have seized control of the nation and started conquering everyone around. Yawgmoth takes notice, and sends one the members of his inner circle, Croag, to deal with the Keldons. Croag is comparable in power to Gix, so it’s a testament to how powerful Kreig is that he manages to wound the Phyrexian before meeting his noble death and ending the golden age of Keld. Gatha manages to leap from a cliff to prevent himself from being captured, but Phyrexia, fearing other powerful bastardizations of their line, track down most of the families Urza meddled in and slaughter them. This is why Gallowbraid and Morinfen were sent after Crovax’s family; this is why Sisay’s parents were such strong partisans against the “Lord of the Wastes.” And this is why Gerrard is an orphan—he is the last survivor of the Capashen line. Karn, relegated to glorified babysitter, protects the infant, and takes him all the way to distant Jamuura to be raised in safety. He is the furthest along of Urza’s subjects, and with the invasion growing ever closer, there is no time to start anew. The Weatherlight, the Legacy, the culmination of all of Urza’s efforts for four millennia culminate in the helpless child. Rath is growing rapidly. The stage is set.
And things are starting to go awry. Besides all the distractions WotC had that I mentioned earlier, perhaps the biggest liability The Weatherlight Saga had was the sheer number of people working on it. MaRo and others came up with the original story, passed the reins on to Scott McGough, and help came from Daneen McDermot and others. The books themselves numbered five in total, one of them being an anthology and the other four by four separate authors. The books were all good and almost right on the money, but… details began to go awry. Where, in the sets, were Urza’s falcon engines? Junk Diver maybe? Hardly intimidating, and strongly out of flavor for Urza’s most common mechanized weapon. Where were the fire drakes in Urza’s Legacy—in fact, why weren’t they just dragons? If the Phyrexians knew about Gerrard, enough to try to seduce Vuel, why didn’t they just kill him? Magic was learning the lesson that George Lucas was to teach us even more spectacularly—doing a prequel tends, at the very least, to shake loose inconsistencies to the surface. Worse, that many people working on the same project makes trouble inevitable. And when I say trouble, I mean plot holes big enough to fly a dragon engine through. Literally. And now we find that the feeling of foreboding that, during the Rath cycle, existed within the story, now seems to have transfered to the telling of the story. But perhaps that just comes from foreknowledge...
Regardless, with the conclusion of Urza Block, we were to return to the 'modern' day, and find out what happened to Weatherlight after it barreled through that portal. Where did it lead? How would they get back to Dominaria, and where would they fit into Urza's war? What happened to Ertai, after getting captured by Greven il-Vec? What will Crovax do, now stranded in the Stronghold after tearing Mirri apart? Would Urza be able to defend his homeworld, and would Dominaria survive his "leadership?" Would Squee ever achieve his dream of becoming an Iron Chef? We had to wait months for just some of these answers, back then. Many Masticore-ravaged months.
Shannon Rezendes is an aspiring author who is not above shameless self promotion: you can view her blog here.
Original Article Edited by Goblinboy
Remember the Weatherlight Banner by iloveatogs
That’s it for this week, thanks for reading! We hope this article is keeping you hooked for what happens next in the Weatherlight Saga! If you'd like to read more, Part 4 will be available soon.
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