Theros: Elspeth's Tragedy

Welcome back to Archive Trap, the unofficial guide to Magic: The Gathering. Today we pick up from where we left off at the end of last week's article and dive into the story of Theros. Be warned: this one is pure tragedy and a sad end to a character who we have followed through quite a few stories now. Theros was a turning point, not just for the story but the art. While the story all but disappeared from the artwork after Onslaught block, in Theros we see a number of pieces of art depicting major story events. It is also around this time that creative shake-ups were happening behind the scenes and the path was being laid for Magic Origins. There was some sweet vertical art that I shall feature in this article, as well!

Elspeth becomes more than the scars of her past in this block.
Gods Willing by Mark Winters

The Story of Theros

In the Despair Lands beyond the Nessian Forest, a young woman named Lidia carries her son. She seeks his salvation, believing her son's Eidolon (soul) is missing. Unfortunately, her son is one of the most powerful prophets alive, able to hear the entire pantheon speak, and Erebos covets him. The pain of hearing all the gods makes him seem mentally unstable and aloof. Erebos sends Athreos to claim the boy, but Lidia's sorrow causes Karametra to act. She sends aid to rescue Lidia's son as Lidia herself is taken to the Underworld.

It seems 'pivotal moments' on cards were first field tested in Theros.
Vanquish the Foul by Eric Deschamps

The boy is Daxos, and he is alone in the world when he is dropped off in the Nessian Forest. In the sky above, a battle rages between Purphoros and Heliod. Purphoros is wielding a sword that he forged, which bears the power to cut the fabric of Nyx itself. A young woman appears, seemingly from nowhere, and the two lonely children bond. She introduces herself as Elspeth. As the battle in the sky above comes to a head, the sword — Godsend — is knocked to Earth, but not before Purphoros dislodges Polukranos from Nyx.

Heliod and Nylea work together to contain Polukranos and keep him from devouring the mortal world. Godsend lands near Daxos and Elspeth, but Heliod's imposing visage approaches the two children. With sword in hand, Elspeth planeswalks away in fear. Daxos, in awe of the god, pledges himself to Heliod. Kruphix takes Purphoros away for punishment, and warns the gods to never threaten the mortal world again or he would call a great Silence (a period when the gods aren't suppose interfere in the mortal world).

Over a decade later, the satyr Planeswalker Xenagos plots against the gods. Upon discovering the gods have neither presence nor power beyond Theros, he wants to expose them for what they are by ascending as one of them. He conceals his scheme with revels and by obscuring the view of his home, Skola Valley, with a roof of thorns. He kills a young human who comes to one of his revels, but when that is not enough for one of his rituals, he has Kydele, Prophet of Kruphix, brought out. Xenagos knows that Kruphix is spying, and allows Kydele to escape. His hopes her visions will cause enough chaos and discord among the gods that a Silence is called.

It is weird that Daxos does not appear in any story art. Late addition, perhaps?
Art by Tyler Jacobson

Elspeth returns to Theros after fleeing New Phyrexia. She is broken by her failures and hopes that the gods she remembers from her youth might provide the salvation she seeks. She takes work as a mercenary, defending a homestead outside Akros from wild satyrs. They chant one of Xenagos's pseudonyms, King Stranger. Xenagos has been working to free Polukranos, and Heliod mistakes the satyr's plot as one of Purphoros's. He tries and fails to convince Thassa of the danger that Purphoros poses, but ignores Thassa's warning that Polukranos is free.

Elspeth, meanwhile, decides to investigate the underbelly of Theros to see how corrupt it is. She meets a priest of Phenax, who reveals that a Silence is coming and that she should seek the God of the Sun. The oracle is a mind mage, and both he and Phenax learn that her sword is the very same as the one once wielded by Purphoros. Phenax runs with this information to Thassa, as all the gods had believed Godsend was lost with the sunken polis of Arixmethes.

Xenagos continues his plot by kidnapping Petros, a Nyxborn golem created in Purphoros's image. Purphoros does not even realize that he was robbed, as his punishment for attacking Heliod involved damaging his mind so that he has no long-term memory. Thassa arrives shortly thereafter to inquire after the sword, and Purphoros builds Galaia — a nyxborn chimera construct — to track it down. Nylea tracks the escaped Polukranos through the Nessian Forest, but finds satyr rituals along the way that must be directing the hydra. When she tells Heliod, he continues to insist that it is Purphoros's doing. She goes to find Xenagos herself, but is confused by the Planeswalker's words and backs off, leaving him with a wound near his heart. As she leaves, we see that Xenagos has put Petros hard to work building an army of Nyxborn minotaurs.

Elspeth heads to the Shrine of Heliod outside Akros. She finally breaks down and expresses her survivor's guilt to Heliod's statue, when suddenly she is attacked by Galaia. She fights off the construct, and lays down Godsend at Heliod's altar. Heliod himself appears to her, furious, demanding to know how she hid the blade from him. He transforms it into a spear and sends a ray of smiting light at Elspeth. She defends against the attack, which confuses and intrigues Heliod. He allows her to bear Godsend if she agrees take it to his main temple in Meletis, where it can go to the plane's divine protector. In Meletis, Heliod relays this information to Daxos. Foreigners are expelled from Akros as King Anax prepares for war with the minotaurs. Elspeth takes work guarding a young woman named Nikka, whose rebellious streak is eventually soothed by Elspeth's tenacity… and by her threats to leave Nikka behind. Nikka tells Elspeth the tale of Callaphe the Mariner and her ship the Monsoon, which can sail straight into Nyx.

The vertical pieces of art in this block are fabulous.
Art by Peter Mohrbacher

The gods' interpersonal drama begins sparking a war, with Heliod evaporating the oceans as Thassa threatens a tidal wave to wipe out Meletis. Kruphix calls the Silence just before Daxos rides out to meet Elspeth at the Four Winds Plateau outside the city. With the gods gone, Polukranos finally arrives. Daxos and Elspeth work together to defeat the beast, only partially severing heads to make them useless but unable to grow back. Once they slay the hydra together, Elspeth decides to stay in Meletis at Heliod's Temple, believing herself to be the sun god's champion.

Back in Akros, King Anax is growing more and more agitated as the heads of slain Nyxborn continue to appear in well-guarded sections of his castle. The rumored minotaur attack, in anticipation of which he had expelled all foreigners, turned out to be fake. Consequently, the king lost the support of his people. Akros's queen, Cymede, is secretly an elementalist and works behind the scenes to support her husband. She is a prophet much like Daxos, and Keranos desires to claim her. She appeals to him at the Temple of Epiphany, where she is granted a vision of a satyr behind the minotaurs. Elsewhere, Xenagos convinces the Rageblood, a minotaur leader and prophet of Mogis, to attack Akros with his Nyxborn army.

In Meletis, Elspeth and Daxos spend weeks training together in Heliod's Temple, bonding beyond friendship. The weeks of silence from the gods begins to worry them, so when the sphinx Medomai arrives, they seek his counsel. Medomai is cryptic and foreboding, and immediately after talking to him they learn Akros has come under siege.

Ajani sure has gotten around in the couple of years since Alara Unbroken.
Solidarity of Heroes by Eric Deschamps

Daxos rallies Meletian forces, and they ride together. Along the way, they are greeted by Anthousa, Daxos’s foster sister, and the Setessans. They find minotaurs laying siege to the Akros, a second ring of fortifications protecting them from both sides. Queen Cymede brings word to them that Xenagos has been captured by the Akroans, caught red-handed delivering the slain Nyxborn heads. He has demanded to speak with Elspeth. He reveals a method of defeating the minotaurs by taking advantage of the second ring of fortifications: flood them out with water from the Deydra River. Elspeth reluctantly relays this strategy to Anax, and the plan is accepted. Meanwhile, Iroas and Mogis duel in the sky, and Anax decides he must duel the Rageblood himself. Elspeth is chosen as his second.

The plan does not go as expected, but Anax has the advantage against the Rageblood. Cymede and Daxos raise the river, but not fast enough to flood out the army before Anax is wounded. Cymede gives herself over to Keranos to aid with the river, and she disappears as the flood rages. As the Rageblood and Anax duel, Mogis cheats and intervenes to help his Minotaurs just as Keranos aided Cymede. Anax is only saved from the powered up Rageblood by Elspeth. She and the wounded King retreat just as the flood waters sweep away the minotaur army.

The starry sky aspect of Nyx is such a brilliant design choice.
Art by Tyler Jacobson

That night, one of the greatest revels that the plane has seen is celebrated between the armies of the three poleis. Xenagos slips from captivity and comes to take Godsend from Elspeth. He sneaks into Elspeth's tent, where she and Daxos lie after engaging in a revel of their own. He magically holds them in place as his minion searches the room for the spear. Nikka ran off with it earlier, so he leaves Elspeth with a nightmare of a Phyrexian Obliterator. She kills the Obliterator, only to realize upon its death that the hallucination was actually her lover, Daxos. With his dying breath, he forgives her.

Elspeth and Nikka flee the camp as the revel gets more and more intense, egged on by Xenagos's power. As they flee, the plane is wracked with spasms and they turn to see Xenagos ascending into Nyx as a new god. He leaves a void behind him in the night sky, which only seems to get worse each passing day. In the mountains, Elspeth returns to Heliod's shrine for aid. Speaking through Nikka's voice, Heliod and Nylea threaten Elspeth with death for the murder of Daxos and for helping Xenagos to ascend.

Leaving Nikka behind, preventing her from becoming collateral damage, Elspeth begins a journey to figure out how to prove her innocence and stop Xenagos. She is hunted by Nyxborn sent by Nylea, but is saved by Therosi leonin and Ajani. Together, they head to Oreskos and a leonin fortification. A war council has gathered, with leonin deciding whether or not to aid the humans in their struggle as more and more Nyxborn descend from Nykthos to attack humanity. The leonin are split into two parties. The King, Brimaz, heads to the Nessian Forest to help humanity, while his forces who do not wish to fight alongside humans are sent to Nykthos to stem the tide of invading Nyxborn.

Elspeth and Ajani go with Brimaz. At the Nessian Forest, they reconnect with Anthousa, who gives them a boat. Their goal is to reach the edge of the world and enter Nyx. They follow the river to the Siren Sea, and a ship's graveyard. Ajani raises the legendary ship The Monsoon, only for Callephe the Mariner herself to show up. Ajani warns Elspeth not to trust her, as he questions why Callephe, a merfolk, would even need a ship. They sail west, toward Kruphix's tree at the edge of the world. During their journey, Ajani gets even more suspicious when Callephe references Cosi, the trickster god of Zendikar. Callephe eventually reveals herself as Kiora, and departs the ship once they reach her destination: Arixmethes.

Poor Ajani got cropped out of the card art for this.
Deicide by Jason Chan

Thassa confronts Ajani and Elspeth, but tells them that she does not believe that they are to blame for Theros's peril. She warns them that they will need to complete an ordeal to access Nyx, and offers up her own. She then bids the Monsoon to take them where they need to go, before setting out to confront the pretender Kiora. When Elspeth and Ajani arrive at Kruphix's Temple, they realize that the Monsoon is a living creature, and Kruphix allows it entry to Nyx. Inside, they find a duplicate of Nykthos. Ajani urges Elspeth to go to Thassa's shrine and ask for an ordeal, but she refuses. Still grieving Daxos, she asks for an ordeal from Erebos instead. Her ordeal from Erebos is cruel; she is given the memories of a lifetime spent on Bant with a family growing up around her and has to reject her ideal life. Even crueler, Erebos agrees to send Daxos back to the mortal realm… in return for Elspeth's life.

“Because no one ever promised me a life without suffering,” Elspeth said.
And with those words, she was ripped back to Nyx.

Once in Nyx, they immediately spot Xenagos, who has created a moat of darkness around himself. He is actively draining all the Nyxborn he can find of their power to bolster his own. Among them is Nylea, who they save and heal. She forgives Elspeth for her part in this and sets out to tell Heliod not to take his vengeance out on her. Elspeth confronts the partial-god Xenagos, and spots a weakness in his being where Nylea wounded him. She plunges Godsend into his heart, and the satyr Planeswalker is forced out of Nyx, felled by the blow.

In the aftermath, Ajani and Elspeth are warned to flee before Heliod catches them, but he appears moments before they escape the realm of the gods. They are unable to planeswalk away while in Nyx. He rips Godsend away from Elspeth, and monologues about how his champion cannot know more than him. He was going to kill her regardless of her culpability with Daxos and Xenagos. Without a second thought, he runs her through with the Godsend, bidding Ajani to bring her body back to the mortal realm lest she disappear forever.

Elspeth's journey is not over. I believe that we will see her again.
Art by Tyler Jacobson

Upon Elspeth's death, her deal with Erebos is complete. Nylea goes to search out the rescued Daxos. To her horror, Daxos emerges from the Underworld as a zombified Returned; Erebos cruelly twisted the agreement. Ajani brings Elspeth's body back to Theros, and begins to spread the word of Heliod's great betrayal of his champion.

That is it for today, demi-gods! Do not forget that you can read about Gideon's childhood in Chandra, Gideon, and the Purifying Fire and about Ashiok's plot for Theros in Dack Fayden Part II!

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 that 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 at Archive Trap Mini on Tumblr.



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