Welcome back to Archive Trap, unofficial guide to Magic: The Gathering! If you haven't been following Magic's story, now is the time to jump back in; today we're going to go through every major story event of the last ten years. Hour of Devastation was a turning point for the story of the Gatewatch. If you’re new, lapsed, or just want a refresher, here’s where we are: the Gatewatch has suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of the elder dragon Nicol Bolas. This is a really good jumping on point, as what I’m going to call Phase 1 of the Gatewatch just concluded. Phase 2, the rebuilding of the Gatewatch, begins with Ixalan. I will be linking to my longer articles on each topic throughout if you want to learn more.
Nicol Bolas was not content with only
being an ancient, powerful elder dragon. Wit's End
by Chris Rahn
Phase 0: The Post-Mending Era Begins
The Story of the Mending
Over the past decade, the story of Magic: the Gathering has revolved around an event called the Mending. Before the Mending, Planeswalkers were immortal, able to wield godlike power. Now they are reduced to the level of mortal mages. Sixty years later, Planeswalkers born after the Mending are ignorant of this past omnipotence. But for those ancient beings who were once called gods throughout the planes of the Multiverse, it became a struggle to regain the power and influence they lost. One such being is the elder dragon Nicol Bolas, one of the oldest and most powerful creatures in the Multiverse. While most of his kind was wiped out in a conflict known as the Elder Dragon War, Nicol Bolas’s planeswalker spark ignited. Feared throughout the Multiverse, when Bolas realized his time as a god grew short, he hatched a series of plans to restore what he would lose.
Jace became an interplanar gangster to learn about his powers.
Art by Karl Kopinski
Agents of Artifice
Decades later, the necromancer Liliana Vess came to Bolas for aid. She too once lived as a god, but only had a frail human body to fall back on. Bolas brokered four demonic deals on her behalf, restoring her youth and power. Liliana hoped she could find a way free of the deals before her debts came due, but as the time ticked by she was forced to turn back to Bolas for aid. She proposed a deal: the return of the Infinite Consortium, an organization usurped by the Planeswalker Tezzeret, in exchange for freedom from her debts.
Little did she know that Tezzeret just recruited Jace Beleren, a telepath with no memory of his home plane. Jace had no stomach for Tezzeret’s brutal tactics, and when he fled the organization, Liliana swooped in. She seduced the young mind mage, but when it was clear Jace had no intent of going after Tezzeret she had to act. She manipulated events to make Jace believe that Tezzeret sought revenge on his old protégé, miring the two in conflict. Liliana’s duplicity is revealed, and rather than play into her hands, Jace leaves Tezzeret for dead. Bolas ends up the only winner, recovering Tezzeret’s body and gaining some leverage on two new potential pawns.
The Purifying Fire
The pyromancer Chandra Nalaar came into conflict with the Order of Heliud on her adopted plane of Regatha. Gideon Jura was dispatched to bring her in to face the Purifying Fire (a white mana flame that strips magical power) as punishment, but the two Planeswalkers bonded instead. When Chandra stepped into the Purifying Fire, she had accepted responsibility for her actions, and the flames allowed her to retain her magic. She promptly brought the Order’s entire complex down around them.
A small sliver of the Maelstrom's power allowed Ajani to save Alara.
Art by Dave Kendall
Shards of Alara
On Alara, Bolas planed to regain a significant amount of power generated by the Conflux (the rejoining of the plane’s five shards) through consuming the ensuing Maelstrom. He planted agents on each of Alara’s five shards, but made a fatal mistake when a minion killed the brother of Ajani Goldmane, whose spark ignited in grief. In his quest for the killer, Ajani learned of Bolas’s plot and met allies like the knight and Planeswalker, Elspeth Tirel. In their final confrontation, Bolas consumed the Maelstrom and defeated Ajani with an almost casual ease. He was only stopped when Ajani managed to absorb a sliver of the remaining Maelstrom. Ajani used that power to summon a soul avatar of Bolas, and rather than fight his perfect equal, Bolas fled with his newfound power. Elspeth, however, would leave the refuge of Bant forever because of the taint of Grixis.
Nicol Bolas engineered a conflict between his servant, Sarkhan Vol, Jace, and Chandra on Zendikar at the Eye of Ugin. This unlocked the Eldrazi prison, but when the ancient vampire Sorin Markov arrived to fix it, he found that his ally Nissa Revane had other ideas. Nissa believed that shattering the prison would force the Eldrazi to leave, but all it did was allow the Eldrazi Titans to fully escape and begin devouring Zendikar.
A cancelled novel threw Liliana's story into chaos.
Art by Izzy
The Chain Veil
Liliana, whose demonic deals came due, turned to the dark power of the mysterious Chain Veil. Both the Veil and the Raven Man (a mysterious man that has been appearing to her since her youth) hinted that the she and the Chain Veil have a grand, destructive destiny. With the Veil’s power, she dispatched the first of her demons, Kothophed, at a terrible cost. Along the way, she cursed the beast mage Garruk Wildspeaker, infusing him with a dark power that corrupts and transform him.
Dack Fayden and Fiora
Dack Fayden, the Greatest Thief in the Multiverse, stole an artifact from the Rakdos that led him to the Planeswalker who slaughtered his hometown: Sifa Grent. He tracked her through Innistrad, Grixis, and several other planes before finally landing back on his adopted home of Ravnica. He stopped her from consuming the life force of Vitu-Ghazi, the City-Tree, and finally avenged his family and friends by killing Sifa. He later found a gauntlet in the possession of the Boros that led him to Theros, where the mysterious Planeswalker Ashiok was using the dreams of the people for nefarious ends. He entered the Underworld on Theros to stop a plot from the nightmare Planeswalker. He hasn’t been seen since.
Elsewhere on his home plane, the leaders of Paliano vied for power. King Brago was assassinated by Kaya, and Queen Marchesa seized the throne. But her rule was not without strife, as goblin Planeswalker Daretti stirred the pot in order to take advantage of the chaos and exact revenge on his former colleagues.
It's for the best New Phyrexia has made Mirrodin's backstory moot.
Phyrexian Arena by Svetlin Velinov
Scars of Mirrodin
Ajani tracked Elspeth down on Dominaria to return her armor and encourage her to return home, but scars from Elspeth’s past prevented her from accepting such an offer. She met Koth, a native of Mirrodin, and along with the artificer Venser they traveled to Koth’s home to confront the growing New Phyrexian threat. The journey was difficult for Elspeth, who grew up in a Phyrexian dungeon. They’re helped along by the duplicitous Tezzeret, revived by Bolas, who had been sent by there by the elder dragon for secretive reasons. Along with a Mirran woman immune to the Phyrexian oil’s infection, they cured the silver golem Karn at the cost of Venser’s life. But it was far too late for Mirrodin, leaving Koth and Elspeth fighting a losing battle against New Phyrexia. Elspeth lost track of Koth after a mission gone wrong, and was forced to planeswalk away to safety.
Pursuing her second demon, Liliana traveled to Innistrad. There she instigated the destruction of the Helvault, a prison for demons created by Sorin Markov as part of his efforts to keep his home plane safe. This freed both Avacyn, Sorin's angelic protector of the plane; and Griselbrand, Liliana’s second demon. She hunted Griselbrand as he escaped, dispatching him with the Chain Veil. But she herself was hunted by the cursed Planeswalker Garruk. Avacyn and Griselbrand were not the only beings released, however...
Return to Ravnica
The World of Ravnica (Coming Soon)
On Ravnica, Jace discovered the Implicit Maze, a failsafe created by the Azorius Parun, Azor, in the event that the Guildpact was ever broken. This discovery quickly turned into a race against time, and then a literal race, as the guilds (and Jace) ran the paths to remake the Guildpact. Jace won, and was endowed with the power of the Living Guildpact - whose word is magically binding law - much to the chagrin of fellow Planeswalker Ral Zarek. Ral was a devoted Izzet guildmage, but the lack of faith from his guild leader and an outsider becoming the plane’s ultimate arbiter embittered the mage. Ravnica’s inherently unjust society inspired gorgon assassin Vraska to conspire against the Guildpact. She turned to other plans after losing a duel against Jace.
Heliod's similarity to Heliud is more than coincidence...
Art by Tyler Jacobson
Elspeth arrived on Theros, having acquired her sword, Godsend, there years before. Little did she know that the sword was the key to a decade-old rivalry between Purphoros and Heliod. Events cascaded with Elspeth becoming Heliod’s champion against a powerful hydra loosed on Theros by the satyr Planeswalker, Xenagos. With the help of Heliod’s oracle Daxos, she dispatched the hydra. Due to the chaos caused in the mortal realm by their meddling, Kruphix recalled all the gods to Nyx.
Elspeth and Daxos bonded and became lovers, but she killed him after a hallucination caused by Xenagos led her to believe that Daxos was a Phyrexian. With no one to oppose him, Xenagos used a great revel to ascend to godhood. Elspeth took the blame and the ire of the gods, and while she managed to stop Xenagos, Heliod tragically betrayed her by running her through with Godsend. Her friend Ajani returned her body to Theros, but in a cruel twist of fate a deal made earlier to exchange Elspeth’s life for Daxos's results in Daxos’s revival... as an undead returned.
Garruk’s curse continued to worsen, and he began to take on demonic characteristics and hunt Planeswalkers. Jace Beleren sent other Planeswalkers after Garruk to stop him, but it was only through the use of a power dampening hedron implanted in Ob Nixilis that Garruk’s transformation was halted. No longer actively hunting other Planeswalkers, Garruk’s dark side remained. Ob Nixilis, a former Planeswalker also cursed to demonic form by the Chain Veil, regained his wings and much of his strength, setting his sights on restoring his spark...
Bolas’s servant Sarkhan Vol suffered from tormenting voices ever since his time spent in the Eye of Ugin, and they drove him to return home to Tarkir. He first left home in search of dragons, which were extinct in the life he knew. Sarkhan learned that he is not mad, but instead host to a remnant of Ugin’s essence. Driven by the voices, he discovered Ugin’s resting place, and a unique interaction of magic allowed Sarkhan to travel back 1,280 years to just before the spirit dragon’s death. He managed to save Ugin from death at the hands of Nicol Bolas by using a hedron from Zendikar to cocoon the spirit dragon and begin a long path to recovery. Sarkhan was thrust forward in time again to discover a world where dragon broods rule what used to be the five clans. He also learned that his friend Narset ascended as a Planeswalker instead of dying in a timeline only he remembers.
Sorin Markov arrived to find his old ally Ugin so they could set Zendikar right once more, only to find the spirit dragon’s hedron cocoon. He freed Ugin, who admonished him to find Nahiri, the Lithomancer. Sorin was pretty sure Nahiri would not be pleased to see him again, however...
Ral's Project Lightning Bug will prove more important than it seems.
Art by Dave Kendall
Phase 1: The Gatewatch is Born
Ral Zarek approached Jace about a dangerous project he had been working on, one that could expose the existence of Planeswalkers. He called it Project Lighting Bug, and together Jace and Ral sabotaged the results to get Niv-Mizzet to shut it down. Ral also led Jace to an unknown Planeswalker affiliated with the Boros, who turned out to be Gideon. Gideon, in turn, learned that the Living Guildpact is a fellow Planeswalker.
Torn between his fights on Ravnica and Zendikar, Gideon went to Jace for help. They attempted to recruit Chandra Nalaar, but after the events of The Purifying Fire and Zendikar, she committed herself to the monastic life at Keral Keep on Regatha. So Jace and Gideon returned to Zendikar with only each other.
The Eldrazi's release is the catalyst for the Gatewatch's formation.
Art by Tyler Jacobson
Battle for Zendikar
Once on Zendikar, Gideon and Jace stumbled across Nissa, who was trying to make amends for unleashing the Eldrazi Titans on her home plane. When Nissa's connection to Zendikar was suddenly cut off, she hunted for the source. She discovered Ob Nixilis using hedrons and the stolen Khalni Heart to attempt to restore his spark. Nissa stopped him and reacquired the Khalni Heart, restoring her connection to the plane. As the Zendikari were pushed from one settlement to the next by the voracious Eldrazi, they made a last stand at the plane’s largest (and last) city, Sea Gate. While searching for a solution to the Eldrazi menace, Jace encountered the revived Ugin at his namesake Eye. There he learned how to stop the Eldrazi by arranging hedrons in a miniature version of the network that previously imprisoned them. What was left of Zendikar’s people worked together to stop Ulamog at Sea Gate using this kind of hedron alignment.
The Gatewatch's seemingly easy victories were a set-up for a big fall.
Zendikar Resurgent by Chris Rallis
But it was not to last. Ob Nixilis, full of hatred for the the plane that stole his spark and the elf who disrupted his attempt to regain it, decided to intervene. At the last moment, he turned the energy of the hedron network on himself, reigniting his spark and freeing Ulamog. With his connection to countless planes restored, he summoned Kozilek to help Ulamog finish the Zendikari people. Taking a more personal approach to his revenge, he defeatsed Gideon, Jace, and Nissa, trapping them in a nearby cave to be tortured by Kozilek brood drones. Chandra arrived just in time to foil Ob Nixilis's plan and rescue the other Planeswalkers.
The four Planeswalkers decided they’re stronger together, and they each made a vow to protect the Multiverse, forming the Gatewatch. Without the hedron network, however, they could no longer contain the Eldrazi. Ugin insisted the Eldrazi shouldn’t be destroyed, but Jace used what he knew of the network to combine Nissa’s connection to the plane and Chandra’s pyromancy. Together, they enacted a desperate plan to pull Ulamog and Kozilek fully into the plane and incinerate their now-mortal forms. They nearly destroyed the plane but succeeded in defeating the Titans. Ugin, enraged, warned the Gatewatch that their actions have consequences they may not see for eons. Edit: Kiora was present as well, using her stolen Bident, but leaves dejected at her failure to defeat the Eldrazi herself.
Eldritch Moon's surprise twist was Emrakul sealing herself in the moon.
Imprisoned in the Moon by Ryan Alexander Lee
Shadows Over Innistrad
While the rest of the Gatewatch helped the clean-up on Zendikar, Jace set out in pursuit of Sorin Markov (who Ugin had previously mentioned to him) for aid tracking down Emrakul. Jace traveled to Innistrad and found Liliana unwilling to help and looking to rid herself of the Chain Veil. In the meantime, the angel protector Avacyn had gone mad and begun to slaughter her own people. Jace stumbled across Markov Manor, destroyed, found Tamiyo's Journal, and learned about the mysterious cryptoliths that pointed to a mysterious gravity well just offshore. His mind started to unravel, but was cured of the cryptoliths' influence at a cathedral in Thraben by Tamiyo. They went to confront and cure Avacyn, but she was too powerful for them. Sorin arrived in the nick of time and unmade his creation.
Of course, this was all part of what Nahiri, the mastermind behind the cryptoliths, wanted. She was fueled by vengeance for Sorin sealing her in the Helvault; she had escaped when Avacyn and Griselbrand were released, only to find her home of Zendikar overrun by the Eldrazi Titans. Avacyn was the last piece of Sorin’s protection of Innistrad from extraplanar threats (the Helvault having been destroyed by Liliana). With Avacyn gone, the third Eldrazi Titan, Emrakul, was able to manifest on the plane, lured by the mana channeled through the cryptoliths. Tamiyo, Liliana, and the Gatewatch were powerless to stop her, even with the aid of the Chain Veil's power. It was only Emrakul’s cryptic desire to seal herself in the moon (controlling Tamiyo) that saved the day. In the aftermath, Liliana decided allies would be useful in ridding herself of her demons and freeing her from the Veil, so she joined the fledgling Gatewatch.
The cracks in the Gatewatch as a team finally begin to show.
Art by Raymond Swanland
Unsure how to move forward, the Gatewatch returned to Ravnica with Jace. They were approached by Dovin Baan, who wanted aid putting down a renegade plot against the Inventors’ Fair on Kaladesh. Chandra, who is from Kaladesh, was outraged by his dismissal of the renegades' work. Liliana, thinking she can manipulate Chandra's anger for her own purposes, traveled to Kaladesh with her. Nissa followed because she was worried about Chandra's volatile emotions. They discovered something unexpected: Chandra's mother, Pia, was alive and had been captured by Tezzeret. Worse, Tezzeret had usurped control of the city's governing body, the Consulate. Trying to rescue Pia, Chandra and Nissa fell into a trap set by an old enemy of Chandra's, Captain Baral.
Ajani came to Kaladesh tracking Tezzeret, and he allied himself with Chandra and Nissa after rescuing them. Still grieving Elspeth, he hoped that he could discover what Bolas was planning by following Tezzeret. Back on Ravnica, Ral Zarek warned Jace that Vraska had left Ravnica for a plane he couldn't detect, revealing Project Lightning Bug was still active. They’re interrupted by Liliana, who explained the danger Tezzeret posed. She returned to Kaladesh with Gideon and Jace in tow.
Tezzeret had already incorporated the most vital piece of the Planar Bridge into his arm.
Dark Intimations by Chase Stone
Chandra freed her mother from Tezzeret’s clutches in the midst of Tezzeret’s coup, and the Gatewatch joined the renegade revolution. Tezzeret seized the invention of a Kaladeshi native - the Planar Bridge - which was the first working portal between planes since the Mending. Knowing the danger of such a device, the Gatewatch vowed to destroy it. Chandra dueled Baral but spared his life. In a final battle with Tezzeret, Chandra and Gideon succeeded in destroying the Planar Bridge while Tezzeret dueled with Liliana. In their fight, he revealed that Bolas was located on Amonkhet - the same place Liliana’s third demon, Razaketh, resided. Secretly, Tezzeret had already installed the most important part of the Planar Bridge, the modular core, inside his etherium arm.
Ajani joined the Gatewatch, but warned them against confronting Bolas directly without more help. They agree to rendezvous on Dominaria. Confident after their recent victories, however, the rest of the Gatewatch decided to ignore Ajani’s advice and head to Amonkhet. Ajani, unaware of their real plan, left to find allies in the fight against Bolas.
Bolas has an army and the means to transport them. What's next?
Neheb, the Eternal by Chris Rahn
The Gatewatch’s confrontation of Bolas went exactly how you’d expect. Gideon found the gods of the plane, who walk among their people, inspiring to him. After an initial shock at being greeted with a paradise that worships Nicol Bolas as God-Pharaoh, the dark underbelly of Amonkhet horrified the Gatewatch. They discover the Trials that everyone on Amonkhet trains for their entire lives really just kill everyone who partakes. They freed some dissidents, including a young woman named Samut. They're forced to fight in the final trial against Samut's friend, Djeru, but when Djeru would be killed by Hazoret's spear, Gideon intervenes.
Hazoret's reprisal was interrupted by the start of the foretold Hour of Revelation. The people and gods of Amonkhet were confronted with the dark secret behind their faith as their gods were killed and the protective Hekma barrier was destroyed; their God-Pharaoh was using them. His plan: build an army of lazotep-armored zombies with all the skills and training of their former lives but none of the memories or free will. The Hours were heralded by Razaketh, Liliana’s third demon, who she killed with the aid of the Gatewatch.
Nicol Bolas picks the Gatewatch apart in a very personal way.
Hour of Devastation by Simon Dominick
As her siblings died around her, Hazoret was freed from Bolas's mental control. She lashed out against the twisted Scorpion God. Samut and a remorseful Djeru helped push the dark god back, killing it with an obelisk. In the aftermath, Hazoret's gratitude ignited Samut's spark, but she returned immediately to help her people escape the destruction.
Meanwhile, the Gatewatch formed a simple plan to defeat Bolas that went immediately awry. Bolas pretended to have a weakness in his mental defenses, and when Jace tried to exploit it, Bolas sprung the trap. Jace managed to retain enough sense of self to planeswalk away before mind death set in. Bolas convinced Liliana that the fight is unwinnable (prodded on by the Raven Man) and that she could live if she agreed to serve the elder dragon. She planeswalked away to await further orders from her new master. Chandra’s fire proved insufficient against Bolas, and Nissa’s animist magic couldn't overcome Bolas’s domination of the plane. Both Planeswalkers fled within moments of each other. Gideon was the last Gatewatch member standing, and Bolas showed that his indestructible aura wasn’t as impervious as he thought. With Bolas’s claw ready to pierce Gideon and tear him apart, Gideon finally fled.
In the aftermath, Tezzeret appeared before his master. In a surprise twist, it was revealed that Ral Zarek is working with them as well. Bolas believed Ral is taking too long completing a project. What project is was left unsaid, but in all likelihood it had something to do with Project Lightning Bug.
What will Vraska do when she meets Jace again?
Ixalan Key Art
Phase 2: The Gatewatch is Broken
With the Gatewatch broken, each in very personal ways, the story turns to building them back up. Our next stop is the plane of Ixalan, where an amnesiac Jace will encounter Vraska, a bitter enemy who wants the Living Guildpact dead. But Vraska has more planned, with her ally, Mazirek, unearthing a zombie army from catacombs deep beneath Ravnica. What is her purpose on Ixalan? We don’t yet know, but I suspect that the plane is tied to Ugin in some way. From there we go to Dominaria, where Liliana will likely deal with her own demons (literally and figuratively) in the aftermath of her betrayal.
Where Magic goes after is anyone’s guess. Chandra’s flames, which always seemed to solve every problem, simply weren’t good enough this time. Nissa is experiencing burgeoning influence on her mind from some remnant of Emrakul and has begun to question if her affiliation with the Gatewatch was really the right move. Gideon, who has thrown himself into deadly situations with no regard for his own life since his arrogance tragically got his friends killed as a boy, has decided finally that he wants to live to beat Bolas.
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 @VorthosJay on Tumblr.