Artifacts I: Stones of Power and Heart

The Vorthos Guide to Magic: The Gathering
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Welcome back to Archive Trap, the unofficial guide for the incompleat. This solar cycle, we educate you on the grandeur of Phyrexia, predecessor of New Phyrexia. Here we chronicle their strengths and weaknesses, their triumphs and ultimate failure. Much knowledge was lost to time, but thanks to Karn, the Father of Machines, we recovered information dating back thousands of years. Our archive extends from the origin of the Ineffable to his demise at the hands of Urza Planeswalker, whose hubris allowed the Great Work to begin and New Phyrexia to rise. Come, Newts and Germs, as we explore our origins. This article will be covering the first three novels in the Artifacts cycle, as a lead-in for our Mirrodin series.

Rebbec spends the majority of the novel swooning over Yawgmoth.
The Thran, Front Cover art by Gary Ruddell
Phyrexian History While this is not the publishing order of these stories, this is how the stories are chronologically laid out. Unlike other articles, we have so much to cover that I will hit important political or geographic points as we go, eschewing my almanac style for now. The Artifacts Cycle is by far some of the best fiction early Magic had to offer, and if you are able to find the novels, I recommend giving them a read.

The Fallen Artificer

While the story of The Thran opens with the Battle of Meghiddon Defile, the penultimate battle of the Thran Civil War taking place some years after the story begins, I will not jump between time periods as the novel does for the purposes of this summary.

Our story begins with the renowned artificer Glacian working at the mana rig located under the Thran Capital of Halcyon. Glacian is not a nice person, but neither is he a villain. He is cruel to his goblin workers in the rig, who are enslaved to do the work no sane human being would. They are rolling a giant powerstone out of the assembly when it shatters — big powerstones are harder to make as slight imperfections while charging them can cause them to break. A mysterious figure snatches up one of these pieces and uses it to stab Glacian, and disappears back to Kolios - the underground community of untouchables.

Glacian develops a wasting disease afterwards, and the healers are at a loss for how to help. Any magic they try just makes the problem worse (of note: the Thran did not have an understanding of the colors of magic yet). Years prior, they’d banned all their healers skilled in true medicine due to a schism between the Eugenicists, who believed humanity was an animal like any other, and the prevailing imperial view that humans are distinct from other species. The capital city council, worried it will lose its prized artificer, recalls the foremost Thran Eugenicist, Yawgmoth.

Yawgmoth arrives at Halcyon and is greeted by Glacian’s wife, a brilliant woman named Rebbec. Rebbec designed the city, and Yawgmoth immediately takes a liking to her. Glacian, being anti-medicine, hates Yawgmoth from the start, not least of which because of the pain all of his poking and prodding (and cutting) causes. Yawgmoth diagnoses the disease as Phthisis, a disease that afflicts the overrun penal colony below the city, in the caves of the damned. He requests access to the untouchable’s caverns to study the disease further.

There, Yawgmoth finds an untouchable named Gix suffering from the disease, who turns out to be the same one who stabbed Glacian. Gix is a bit of a revolutionary, railing against the city above. Months pass, and Yawgmoth falls in love with Rebbec and her beautiful architecture, but his discovery as to the cause of Phthisis puts him further at odds with Glacian and the ruling Halcyon council: the disease is caused by exposure to powerstones. Upon this revelation, Gix attempts to murder Glacian for poisoning his people, and flees back into the caves of the damned.

Yawgmoth the Healer

Yawgmoth’s treatment of the disease reaches a breakthrough when one of his students, Xod, notices that some metals will block certain aspects of magic. He relates the color theory of magic, and this leads Yawgmoth to an idea for a possible treatment. As he develops this treatment, Gix incites the rest of the untouchables to riot, and they ascend into the city through secret tunnels. Yawgmoth takes command of the Thran forces to quell the riot, ultimately testing the cure on Gix, who has an almost immediate reaction. The disease begins to clear up! In exchange for more serum, as the disease has progressed in the Caves of the Damned, the untouchables withdraw, and Yawgmoth is hailed a hero.

Yawgmoth leverages this newfound status and his cure as means of securing power. He brings the cure to the untouchables, who become loyalty to him. In the city above, he begins a major public health campaign… with basically every disease symptom being listed as a symptom of Phthisis. He used this power to send undesirables from the city above to the caves below, while elevating his favored untouchables. In this way, he continues to gain power, as the threat of getting sent below and the hope of getting sent above gives him near complete power over both groups. Throughout all of this, Rebbec believes that Yawgmoth is doing his best to help the city, and is one of his greatest advocates, to Glacian’s dismay.

While Yawgmoth’s treatments work on most, Glacian doesn’t respond to the treatment well. Yawgmoth wants him well, because there is no fun in taking the wife of a sick man. Glacian has been slowly sliding into madness, seeming to have symptoms of dementia in addition to Phthisis, and they cannot explain why. During his more lucid moments, Glacian makes designs and writes out his theories on powerstones.

Powerstones were basically magical CPUs... and nuclear reactors.
Worn Powerstone by Henry G. Higgenbotham
On Powerstones

Powerstones are interesting things. They are gems capable of storing vast quantities of power, and are for all practical purposes virtually inextinguishable. Powerstones are created on the mana rig, an enormous factory that produces and fuels the gems using mana drawn from Dominaria. As Glacian discovers, they actually contain vast physical spaces inside, and can be powered up by absorbing that physical space. If one were to collapse an entire plane inside, it would provide enough power to planeshift something between worlds. Long term exposure to powerstone energies, however, appear to cause Phthisis.

Quarantine and Manifest Destiny

As the threat of Phthisis spreads to the outer Thran cities, Yawgmoth begins putting even more draconian quarantine policies into place. He usurps control of the outer cities in the name of public health, all the while leading the people of Halcyon to believe he is a hero saving them. Rebbec, at her lowest point due to Glacian’s declining health and the threats to her people, makes the mistake of coming on to Yawgmoth, who rejects her. Again, he wants to ‘win’ her from Glacian, like she is some kind of prize. As Glacian’s condition worsens, he throws himself into his work in lucid moments, creating design after design. Yawgmoth begins stealing them and employing them for himself, even manipulating the ailing Glacian into designing things Yawgmoth wants.

In the Caves of the Damned, Gix has found himself in a Faustian deal with Yawgmoth. He sees what Yawgmoth is up to, but has little choice but to do as the tyrant wishes in exchange for the serum. Yawgmoth forbids the term untouchable from being used, and the residents of the Caves of the Damned are so grateful for all he has done that a religious reverence for the man sprouts up around their so-called savior. That is, until the serum’s effects begin to diminish, forcing Yawgmoth to accelerate his plans.

One day, a mysterious woman appears at Glacian’s side. She names herself Dyfed (and until Kaya, she was the only black woman planeswalker), and explains that she is a planeswalker, once a Thran herself, and that she senses great potential in Glacian. She was waiting for someone from her people to discover the multiverse, and Glacian’s revelations about powerstones and the physical dimension contained inside has brought her. Yawgmoth listens to their discussion outside the door, and enters, demanding proof of her claims. She transports him to the world of Pyrulea, an inverted world of giant plant-life where the sun hovers in the middle of the world and the horizon stretches up in to the distance.

This turns out to be exactly what Yawgmoth needed as the former untouchables revolt again. His serum’s effectiveness has continued to diminish and he has ceased elevating the untouchables from the caves of the damned. But Yawgmoth has prepared for this day; his manipulation of Glacian has yielded fruit. During this second uprising, which Yawgmoth had deliberately fomented, he asked Dyfed to give the elders of the city (the ruling council) a tour of various planes. On that tour, Yawgmoth promises a perfect plan — a paradise — from which the afflicted will be cured. He appeals to their vanity and sense of manifest destiny, and promises that from this paradise the sick can finally be healed. A portal will be built in the caves of the damned below. Back home, his Glacian-designed devices quell the uprising through sheer slaughter.

This is obviously the face of a man you can trust.
The Thran, Back Cover art by Gary Ruddell
The Thran Civil War

Yawgmoth’s plans are threatened by the arrival of ambassadors from a number of other races and of outlying Thran city-states, calling themselves the Thran Alliance. They demand Yawgmoth be turned over to them for crimes he committed at their homes. It turns out his modus operandi is to release a disease, and then swoop in as a savior to take what he wants. This has played out horrifically everywhere Yawgmoth has gone in his travels. The Halcyon Council refuses, too enamored by Yawgmoth’s promises, and he turns this moment into a play for absolute control. The Thran Alliance representatives are taken hostage. Rebbec, finally realizing what a monster Yawgmoth is, goes to her husband. Together, they ask Dyfed for aid protecting the hostages, worried Yawgmoth would kill them. Dyfed transports the representatives to the top of an inverted mountain on the plane of Mercadia. She leaves them there to keep the natives of the plane safe from them, and vice-verse. Back on Dominaria, Rebbec touches Glacian for the first time in years, no longer believing Yawgmoth’s fiction about Phthisis being contagious (it is more like radiation sickness). Yawgmoth has Glacian transferred to the quarantine caves in retaliation, and cruelly (for both of them) assigns Gix to his care.

Yawgmoth prepares Halcyon for the Thran Alliance when Dyfed arrives, having found his paradise. It is an artifical plane of nine nested spheres. The first is a lush verdant oasis, the second a beauty of shimmering metal, and onward. In the center lies the corpse of a Planeswalker who had assumed the form of a dragon. This center sphere was the control center, and in it a being can become attuned to the plane and wield god-like power. Yawgmoth gets to work clearing the corpse with his followers, and spends his time becoming attuned to the world. He names it Phyrexia, after Phyresis, the Thran word for iterative improvement.

Dyfed constructs a gateway between the two planes, attuned to Phyrexia through a powerstone. The stone is used to open the gate from the Dominarian side, and split in two to keep the gateway open. This way, Dyfed no longer needs to ferry people back and forth. As Yawgmoth prepares for the Thran Alliance’s retaliation, he also begins working on his paradise, transporting the medical pods of all the sick to this new world. He begins to experiment on those in the pods, making the first Phyrexian newts by tweaking the Thran’s genes to be stronger and resistant to Phthisis. He implants uncharged powerstones inside these proto-Phyrexians, and discovers they have interesting properties. At this point, he has such control over the plane that he can see and hear everything that goes on there. He is, essentially, a god of the plane.

Back home, though, the Thran Alliance is winning the war. Yawgmoth returns, reluctantly (relinquishing his godhood while on Dominaria). He begins using brutal scorched earth tactics, destroying entire cities just because they might fall to the Alliance. As the Alliance advances, Yawgmoth vows to stop them at the Meghiddon Defile, a natural valley which presents a last line of defense before Halcyon itself. He begins to deploy his Phyrexians, to the great unease of the unchanged Halcyonites.

At the battle of Meghiddon Defile, Glacian (who had been left behind) uses the opportunity to talk to his wife. Yawgmoth had implanted a powerstone in him as well, and could see and hear everything he said. Off-plane and distracted, he warns Rebbec of Yawgmoth's true intentions. Yawgmoth is evil, and his warped vision of paradise will be the end of the Thran.

The Thran built... interestingly shaped artifacts.
Su-Chi by Christopher Rush
Yawgmoth takes command of the Null Sphere, a control station over all of the Thran’s artifacts, and launches it into the sky. Just when the battle of Meghiddon Defile seems to have turned in the Alliances favor, he uses the devices to hijack control of all the powerstone-enabled artifacts, turning them against their Alliance masters. In a final coup de grace, he drops a powerstone charger, a horrific device that ‘charges’ a powerstone by absorbing physical space and sucking the all the life force out of everything nearby. The Thran Alliance’s army is wiped out, no survivors. The excess energy from the device is then bled off through the Null Sphere. Just as the battle is thought won, two Alliance fleets appear on the Horizon. The threat of retaliation for what they have done allows Yawgmoth to instill more fear in the Halcyonites. He tells them to return to Phyrexia with him and ascend as Phyrexians while those remaining in Halcyon hold off the fleets.

On Phyrexia, Dyfed confronts Yawgmoth. She now realizes Glacian was right about him and that Phthisis was never contagious. Yawgmoth lulls her into a false sense of security, and scrambles her brain with a dagger to keep her from thinking. Even with a planeswalker’s ability to regenerate, without the ability to think they are caught. Yawgmoth returns to Dominaria to bring Glacian back with him, and proceeds to experiment on them both. He learned that Dyfed’s interest in Glacian was due to his latent spark, and he sets his Phyrexian Vat Priests to dissecting them to find "the planeswalking organ." Rebbec, of course, objects. She is kidnapped as well and he imprisons her in Phyrexia’s core. When Yawgmoth returns to Dominaria to fight the Alliance, she convinces the core to do her will on Yawgmoth’s behalf. She uses it to kill the vat priests tending to Glacian and Dyfed. Dyfed perishes without their life support, but Rebbec escapes back to Dominaria with Glacian’s pod.

Yawgmoth’s Phyrexian forces prove themselves in battle, easily worth ten times their number against the Alliance forces. Yawgmoth is himself modified enough that with powerstone armor he survives a skyship ramming into his command ship and crashing to the surface. As he retreats, he meets Xod and Gix, both now modified Phyrexians (and loving it). They help Yawgmoth escape, and he releases his final gambit: another powerstone charger, dropped right on Halcyon’s door. The humans still crewing the Null Sphere revolt, and sacrifice themselves by sending the Null Sphere into orbit, where the cold and lack of air kill them and their Phyrexian guards both. Without the Null Sphere, there is nothing to contain the blast. Everyone who is left — Alliance, Halcyonite, or Phyrexia — all flee underground for safety. There, Yawgmoth welcomes them (and their genetic material) to Phyrexia.

Rebbec’s escape plan is ruined, and instead she stays with Glacian as he dies. After his death, she feels his body’s continued warmth, and discovers that Yawgmoth had implanted two charged powerstones into Glacian. In truth, these are the powerstones for the Phyrexian gateway. They absorbed his latent spark and essence, and with them Rebbec closes the Phyrexian gateway in the caves of the damned by combining the stones. With nothing left for her, she ascends to the surface to accept her fate. Locked out of their true home, all Phyrexia can do is build… and wait.

On Heartstones

While they are not explicitly called that yet, the powerstones Yawgmoth implants in living creatures are an early version of Heartstones. He first discovers this application with Glacian, whose condition continues to deteriorate despite his symptoms. He discovers that the powerstone Glacian was stabbed with left behind shards which had grown from their original size and were imbued with power. Yawgmoth removes them, only to leave behind the portal powerstones as an experiment, and to ensure Glacian will not work against him.

He continued this tactic for all of his Phyrexians in the future, as this process absorbs some of the hosts’ essence and creates an intangible link between the heartstone and its owner. By implanting all Phyrexian newts as they developed this way, he had direct access to them no matter where they are. This fact becomes especially important later, when we learn about Xantcha. This might also be why no Phyrexians can have sparks, and lack souls, because the process imbues that piece of them in the heartstone. This last bit is just a theory, though.

Did Urza have his own spark, or were the Brothers fighting over Glacian's?
Retaliation by Tom Fleming
The Brothers’ War

This event has been covered in greater detail in The Brothers’ War Part I and Part II.

Five millennia pass, and all that is left of the once great Thran Empire are broken powerstones dug out of the desert. That is, until two young boys named Urza and Mishra arrive at the desert camp of scholar Tocasia, and eventually repair a Thran Ornithopter for their own use. They find their way to Koilos, and accidently crack the Powerstone holding the gate shut. They both receive visions of the Thran Civil War (Mishra a vision of Phyrexia, Urza of the Thran) and half of the powerstone, dubbed the Mightstone and Weakstone. Jealousy and alcohol cause the younger brother, Mishra, to attempt to steal the Mightstone from his brother. The attempt goes poorly, and the two brothers are separated for a long time.

A series of irrelevant events put to the Brothers in positions of power in opposing kingdoms, Urza as chief artificer and Mishra as wizard. Because of their positions, they are forced into a conflict not of their own making. Their positions make reconciliation impossible, especially as they each feel betrayed by the other as time goes on. Mishra, unable to stand against his brother’s artifice, attempts to find more weapons like the one he has (a lone dragon engine), and re-engages the portal to Phyrexia. This attracts the notice of Gix, now an extremely powerful Phyrexian Demon — the equivalent of a modern day Praetor — who eventually follows them back to Dominaria and subjugates a group of priests. He uses these priests to infiltrate all sides of the conflict and sow discord.

Over the decades, the Brothers’ two sides have an ever-escalating arms race in artifice. Mishra, though successful, becomes isolated and corrupted by the priests. As he grows more and more desperate over the years, the priests of Gix come to him with an offer. They compleat Mishra, giving him an endoskeleton that gives him a facsimile of youth and strength. The war eventually comes to a head on the Isle of Argoth, and in the middle of their final confrontation, Gix arrives and assumes control of all the artifacts on the battlefield, turning them against one another and against the brothers’ forces. Urza realizes what his brother has become during their final battle amid Gix’s chaos, and activates a failsafe device he was given: the Golgothian Sylex. Argoth is destroyed in the blast, along with the co-opted artifacts and the compleated Mishra. Gix escapes just in time, and returns to Phyrexia to make further plans. The power of the reunited Mightstone and Weakstone fuse into Urza as he is enveloped by the Sylex Blast, becoming his powerstone eyes as he ascends as a Planeswalker. He then begins to hunt for Phyrexia.

Xantcha the outcast would be the cause of Phyrexia's downfall and rebirth.
Victimize by Val Mayerik
Failed Invasion

The novel Planeswalker explains a LOT about both Phyrexia and the metaphysics of the multiverse. The following few sections are the events of the novel in chronological order (Magic novels LOVE playing presenting the plot out of order.)

Gix was not to be put off on his people's return home. Sometime near the end of the Brothers’ War, he implemented a sleeper agent program. This program was designed to create Phyrexians who could infiltrate Dominaria society. This was accomplished by taking uncompleated newts (the genetic templates for all Phyrexians grown in vats) and training them on how to live and survive on Dominaria. Many newts were selected from the Fane of Flesh and designated for Gix’s sleeper agent program. They were taught language and facts about the plane that would become their home, and eventually transported to the first sphere and taught survival skills. For the newts, this was a rough experience, as compleation is the calling of every Phyrexian, and their fleshy bodies were ill-suited for Phyrexia’s environment. This injustice was one of the first steps for two newts to begin to think for themselves.

The newt required to stand in position Xantcha (a phyrexian number) quickly became trouble. She and another newt began to express individuality, shown by cutting and dying their hair while they were still too naive to understand what that would mean. They were deemed defective and marked for recycling. The newt Xantcha, however, proved a modicum of worth with harvesting artifacts from Phyrexian incursions to other worlds. There she served for untold years (newts being ageless creatures). Around this time, Gix’s first sleeper agents infiltrated Dominaria, and failed spectacularly at their task, being killed almost instantly by native Dominarians (xenophobia for the win). Gix’s plan failed to take into account that the Phyrexian Newt was not human enough to pass for normal on Dominaria. The newts were all sexless and slight of build, approximately the size of an adolescent. They all also looked exactly the same. After his failure, Gix was excoriated in the furnaces of the seventh sphere, while Xantcha was sent on more and more dangerous salvage missions.

Xantcha is by far the most interesting character in the novel.
Xantcha Vanguard by Heather Hudson
On Xantcha

Xantcha appears human but is actually a genetically engineered Phyrexian newt. While Xantcha is sexless, she identifies as female. Her generation of newts all looked alike and were approximately the size of an adolescent human, which she frequently uses to pass as a young male teenager thanks to her gender neutral looks. Urza gives her an artifact she ingests, which, when necessary, covers her with a protective shield that she can use in combat. She modifies this to turn it into a bubble rather than armor, which allows her to fly (albeit slowly). She also has the ability to ‘smell’ Phyrexian Oil, allowing her to identify Phyrexian Sleepers and give early warning of enemies. She is smart, canny and cynical - features which have endeared her to many readers over the years.

Travels and the Shard

For three thousand years, Urza and Phyrexia both find themselves cut off from Dominaria. The activation of the Sylex Blast created a shard that makes planeswalking and activating planar portals into the shard impossible. During that time, Urza made it his priority to make war on Phyrexia where he could find them, but simply had no idea where Phyrexia was. He made his first major break when he discovered Xantcha on one of her salvage missions and mistook her for a brainwashed human. He slays her Phyrexian guards (as much there to keep an eye on her as to protect her) and takes her with him. From Xantcha he finally learns how to access the Phyrexian homeworld, and spends a great deal of time building his own dragon engine, which he improves for a long time before committing to an assault of Phyrexia, leaving Xantcha, now his trusted (and only) friend, behind.

Urza's grand strategy for defeating Phyrexia is a really big dragon engine.
Ill-Gotten Gains by Greg Staples
Urza severely underestimated both Xantcha and Phyrexia, however. While Urza planeswalked away without her, Xantcha had a rolled up Phyrexian Portal that she used to transport herself back to the Fane of Flesh. Urza, believing her to be a normal human, never understood her desire to recover her heartstone, but his attack gave her the perfect opportunity to slip in undetected. No Phyrexians gave her a second glance (being one of thousands of identical newts in her generation helps) as she slipped in during the confusion. There, she discovered the repository of heartstones and, despite thousands of them being piled in together, she managed to find her own. In with the heartstones, she notices many of them going dark, a sign of Urza’s progress, but that there are too many, far too many, for Urza to take himself. Having made it all the way down to the Fourth Sphere, Urza was laying waste to the Phyrexian forces, but in his destructive glee he fails to notice that he is not making an appreciable dent in the literal sea of enemies he was up against. Xantcha fights her way to him and warns him in time, and he has a lucid enough moment to planeswalk the two of them to safety.

The two eventually settling on Moag for a time, but after his assault deep into their heart the Phyrexians are hunting him down. Urza tries to get the people of Moag to help him fight, now realizing that he needs an army to fight Phyrexia — to no avail. Soon, the two are driven even from their adopted home and hunted from plane to plane, until Xantcha is knocked unconscious in a battle. When she wakes up, she is in a plane of clouds and floating islands: Serra’s Realm. But there is a problem, she is a prisoner, abandoned with an attendant on one of the outer islands. Serra healed her, but would not allow her to roam free. It is a very Super Mario Galaxy-esque island, as a walk around it winds up with her right back where she started. The attendant tells her that she cannot return to meet Serra, the creator of the realm, or Urza, who is a guest. The reason quickly becomes clear, as a being of Phyrexia, Xantcha is a black-mana-based creature and her black magic clashes with the pure white mana of Serra’s Realm.

Serra's journey mirrors Elspeth's closely, right down to running away from home.
Sanctum of Serra by Rob Alexander
Xantcha uses her armor, which attracts the attention of Archangels set on destroying the aberration. Xantcha manages to talk her way into being brought back to Serra’s Palace (her bubble not sufficient for the weird physics of the realm). There she meets Urza, completely oblivious to her plight. Urza and Serra were talking while Serra’s magic healed him, and he had essentially completely forgotten about her. Serra fears Xantcha’s dark taint would bring more Phyrexians, and to avoid further conflict Urza and Xantcha leave.

We learn later that Serra was right, and Phyrexia invades her realm soon after. She eventually abandons the plane, leaving the Archangel Radiant in charge.

After an exhaustingly long journey, Urza and Xantcha travel to Equilor. The beings there, seemingly human, are at least the strength of a planeswalker, if not more powerful. They tell Urza much, and Urza wishes to stay. Xantcha reminds him of his task, and one of the beings tells him that the Shard has fallen. Urza can return home.

On Artificial Planes

There are four well known artificial planes in magic, and they all operate on the same principles. Essentially, an oldwalker creates a tear in the blind eternities, forcing a physical space to appear. That physical space is dependent on the mana inside to maintain. If that mana isn’t balanced, the plane begins to contract until it disappears entirely. This means that planes that heavily skew toward one kind of mana or another need relatively constant maintenance. Serra’s Realm skews heavily white, requiring its creator, Serra, to spend time maintaining the plane. Phyrexia skews black, and while not directly stated, it’s probably maintained by the Eighth and/or Ninth Spheres. When Karn created Argentum, he created it with a balance of mana in the core (later this mana is ejected partially and becomes known as Mirrodin’s Suns) which helps keep the plane stable (although it was supposedly an empty, existing plane where he built the world). This is all, of course, how it is described by two planeswalkers who are at least partially insane, but it gives you the basics for things that come later. Rath is an exception to this rule, due to the flowstone (we will talk about it when we get there).

Where did Gix get that red time gem? Who knows!
Oppression by Pete Venters
Return to Dominaria

When Xantcha and Urza return to Dominaria, Urza’s obsession and madness only gets worse. He becomes convinced that if he could just alter time itself, he could go back in time and save his brother. All he really accomplishes, however, is animating a bunch of miniatures to re-enact events from the Brothers’ War. Xantcha becomes concerned, and decides that the best course is to pull Urza out of his madness by allowing him to get closure with his brother. Since Mishra is very dead at this point, she is determined to find someone to act as a proxy. She heads to Efuan Pincar, a small backwater nation that is in the early stages of a civil war between a growing religious movement and the monarchy. To Xantcha’s surprise, she finds that Sleeper Agents — now refined to look like individuals and successfully blending in — have infiltrated both sides of the conflict. There, she buys a young slave named Ratape who matches Mishra’s description (she owns Kayla Bin-Kroog’s history on the Brother’s War), promising to return him home, free, if he succeeds. Surprisingly, this faux Mishra manages to pull Urza out of his despondency. The power of the Weakstone in Urza’s eye seems to call to Ratepe, giving him the knowledge he needs to convince Urza.

Over the time they spend together helping heal Urza’s mind, Ratepe and Xantcha fall in love. Urza seizes upon an idea: sonic devices (referred to as “spiders”) that only affect creatures with Glistening Oil, vibrating in such a way as to cause massive pain or death when loud enough. The three begin seeding these devices throughout Dominaria, intent on killing every sleeper agent at once, each spider designed to go off at the zenith of the Null Moon. When Xantcha plants the devices in Efuan Pincar, she learns a horrifying truth; not only have the Phyrexians completely taken over the country, but Gix has returned and is leading the secret invasion. Xantcha barely escapes a run-in with Gix, mostly because he seems to let her go.

Urza, Xantcha and Ratepe (who Urza believes to be his brother in some form) await the activation of the Spiders with a front row seat. Xantcha uses her armor to completely surround herself, ensuring she will not be killed with the rest of the sleeper agents. The devices all detonate with an apocalyptic flair, killing all but one Phyrexian on the plane. Gix, powers rivaling that of the planeswalker himself, is alone in escaping the purge. He flees to Kolios and the portal to Phyrexia, and lies in wait to ambush Urza. Urza, with Xantcha and Ratepe in tow, happily obliges him. Gix and Urza test themselves in a battle of wills, but Gix gains the upper hand. A red gem on his forehead begins to force the Might and Weakstones back in time, threatening to re-open the phyrexian portal. It is unclear exactly what is going on in this event, but Xantcha senses the trouble and she and Ratepe end up sacrificing themselves in the deadly light emitted by the beam to free the powerstones, which return to Urza’s eyes. Gix is defeated, and Urza is left alone once more, having only Xantcha’s heartstone and his sanity restored.

Thanks for reading! Next time, we dive into the second half of the artifacts cycle, in anticipation of our journey to Mirrodin!

Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments or on the forum, and we will address it in future updates. Have a suggestion for something you want to see? Let us know, and we may address it in a future column. You can also follow me on twitter @Jay13x or Archive Trap Mini on Tumblr.


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