Welcome back to Archive Trap, unofficial guide to Magic: The Gathering! Today I’m diving into a relatively minor plane with some serious lore behind it. Shandalar is perhaps one of the planes the general fanbase knows the least about. Were it not for Shandalar's use as a core set location, it would likely have been forgotten. As it is, as the home plane of The Chain Veil, it's very important. Why? Read on.
Why does Shandalar's Soul look like this? Shut up, that's why.
Soul of Shandalar by Raymond Swanland
Setting the Stage
There are lots of continuity issues just between the Shandalar comics and the video game, which Berend Boer explains in his piece Microprose's Magic: the Gathering (a.k.a. Shandalar). Full disclosure: I haven’t played the game, I’ve only watched videos of people playing the game. Ordinarily I insist first person accounts, but I think you’ll all forgive me on this one. I did, however, manage to acquire the game’s manual and the accompanying story, which I’ll be retelling below. Shandalar’s history is perhaps the most misunderstood in the game, given that it wasn’t a topic of particular interest to Vorthos in the day and a number of fan theories have been misinterpreted as fact.
Please note that much of Shandalar’s plot serves as a sequel to the events of the Ice Age.
The Eloren Wilds are a reference to the Microprose game.
Eloren Wilds by Darrell Riche
Geography and Politics
Piecing together Shandalar’s geography isn't easy. The old Microprose game had a huge number of locations but they were randomly generated, making mapping them impossible. Even if we could, the only location that crosses into modern times is the Eloren Wilds, which we don’t have a precise location for, either. The city of Ardestan was located between the Osai Desert and the Nether Lands according to the Shandalar comics. It was once the capital of the plane, but was mostly destroyed in Lim-Dûl’s War (more on that later). Today, a city called Ardestan resides near the Kalonian Wilds, but it’s not clear if it is the same city, or one merely named in the old one's honor.
Martyne is coastal city off near Mistral Isle, in the Kapsho Seas. The sea is adjacent to Kalonia, an ancient forest grown over the ruins of the Onakke civilization. Far to the east lies the aptly named Eastern Sea, on the coast of which resides a hive of the slivers called the Skep. On the other end of the forest lies Lesh, an ancient city named after an evil god (the planeswalker Leshrac). Elsewhere, unconnected with the other known geography, is An Karras, the capital city of the kingdom of Thune. The few other notable locations are Evos Isle, which lies far off any regular sea route, Valkas, which is the grandest mountain on Shandalar, and Tonamur, a great ocean surrounding the main continent.
While Shandalar appears at first glance to have your standard fantasy races, that wasn’t always the case. Around 2,000 years ago, Shandalar was filled with bizarre creates like Faerie Dragons. In more recent times, it has been revealed that Shandalar is home to the Amphin, a mysterious race that has remained deliberately hidden from the outside world. The ancient Onakke civilization once thrived in what in now the Kalonian Wilds, but they were the victims of a mass extinction some unknown time ago. The greatest threat to the plane is a new breed of slivers, who have adapted to take on more humanoid and animal-like traits. They breed at the far reaches of the Kalonian Wilds, but will likely not remain there for long.
Arzakon was an epic battle with wall statue.
Screenshot from the Microprose Magic: The Gathering game
Arzakon is an evil planeswalker introduced in the classic Microprose game Magic: The Gathering, also known as Shandalar. He tracked the energies of the great battles between Lim-Dûl, Kenan Sahrmal, and Sahrmal's apprentices to the plane, wishing to take the plane’s rich mana for his own. When he was rebuffed by the Guardian and the Great Barrier of Shandalar, he reached out to the five Guild Lords of Shandalar, promising them great power.
Garruk Wildspeaker is a nature mage and beast hunter. While on a hunt in Shandalar, one of his beasts was killed by necromancy. He tracks the necromancer’s path to the Onakke Ruins, where he encounters Liliana Vess. Unfortunately for Garruk, he becomes the victim of a demon curse from the Veil. He tracked Liliana down to remove it, but he’s no match for her newfound power. With a demon transformation imminent and a rampage across the multiverse, Jace Beleren implants a hedron (take from Ob Nixilis) into Garruk that halts the transformation.
Leshrac is an evil planeswalker from an unknown plane. He was one of the many planeswalkers trapped inside the Shard during the Ice Age, and became the patron of the Necromancer Lim-Dûl in order to secure an undead army for the conquest of other planes. After Jodah discovered the wandering plane of Shandalar, Leshrac escaped there with Lim-Dûl. He later fled the plane, and is killed in a duel with Nicol Bolas just prior to the Mending.
The longest running mystery in Magic is the identity of the Raven Man.
Art by Victor Adame Minguez
Liliana Vess is a 200-year-old necromancer from Dominaria. As a young healer, the Raven Man convinced her to use her budding necromancy on a cure for her brother. Instead, it damned his soul to the Void. Following the Mending, her fear of being cursed with her brother drove her to making four demonic pacts, all brokered by Nicol Bolas. Unable to escape her pacts, she turned to the power of the Chain Veil, but has found the price extracted by the Veil to be steep.
Tevesh Szat is a mad planeswalker from Dominaria who took a draconic form. He partnered with Leshrac to escape the Shard, but they quickly turned on each other, forcing him to flee the plane. Szat is later killed during the Invasion of Dominaria.
Kenan Sahrmal is the planeswalker guardian of Shandalar. At some point in the recent past he grew complacent, and Lim-Dûl used his legend to impersonate the planeswalker. Kenan ended up battling the planeswalkers who invaded his home, but a soul-swapping trick by Lim-Dûl left him severely weakened.
Lim-Dûl did one thing best: survive.
Lim-Dul's Vault by Wayne England
Lim-Dûl is a Necromancer originally from Dominaria. Once a man named Mairsil, he usurped control of the Conclave of Mages from the wizard Ith and imprisoned him below the Conclave’s castle. Ith was freed by a young mage named Jodah, and Mairsil was incinerated by a vengeful Ith. Before his death, however, Mairsil transferred his soul into a red gemstone ring, which was lost for a time in the Conclave’s ruins. Over a thousand years later, a Kjeldoran deserter named Lim-Dûl took shelter in the ruins and found Mairsil’s ring. Mairsil’s essence merged with Lim-Dûl’s, and they became known as the Great Necromancer, feared across the continent. But Lim-Dûl was petty, and his grudge against his former kingdom led to an all-out war. When Leshrac, Lim-Dûl’s planeswalker patron, found out the Necromancer was plotting against him, he cursed Lim-Dûl to grow ever larger horns from his forehead. Lim-Dûl’s zombie army was defeated by the combined forces of Balduvia and Kjeldor (united by the now nearly ageless Jodah). Leshrac had planned on using that army to conquer Shandalar, and so in his displeasure he took Lim-Dûl from the field of battle. Before leaving, Leshrac severed Lim-Dûl's hand, leaving behind the ring containing Mairsil's essence. That ring would go on to cause more trouble on Dominaria, but it's at this point that the story of Shandalar's Lim-Dûl diverges from that of Mairsil and Dominaria's version.
- Azaar - An apprentice of Kenan Sahrmal whose body was stolen by Lim-Dûl.
- The Guardian - An apprentice and eventual successor to Kenan Sahrmal.
- Hastric - A Thunian Scout who discovers the Sliver hive at the skep.
- Jalira, Master Polymorphist - A mage and thief who follows Hastric’s trail to the skep.
- Kurkesh, Onakke Ancient - The manifested spirit of a long-dead Onakke.
- Riku of Two Reflections - A mage who split himself in two to master both spellcraft and life magic.
- Sliver Hivelord - The dominant sliver of the skep’s hive.
- Talrand, Sky Summoner - Ruler of the Kapsho Seas, star of the shockingly named Talrand, Sky Summoner.
- Xathrid - A powerful demon about whom little else is known.
- Yisan, the Wandering Bard - A thief who follows Hastric’s trail to the skep. His lyre’s name is Tolumnus.
Lim-Dûl fakes his death at the hands of an irate Leshrac.
Shandalar #1 Panels by Bo Hampton
The Story of Shandalar
Escape from the Shard
Following the climactic events of the Ice Age comic, three Planeswalkers escape from the Shard to Shandalar: Faralyn, Leshrac, and Tevesh Szat. The necromancer Lim-Dûl, beholden to Leshrac, is brought along as well (although by whom depends on which source). Faralyn arrives in a land called the Broken Barrens and is almost immediately killed by an astral dragon, sent by the plane’s champion, Kenan Sahrmal. Leshrac arrives a short time later and casts a ward to disguise his power. He destroys an astral dragon and vows to track Kenan Sahrmal down.
In the Shadowwood, Dark Elves are attacked by a mysterious legion of undead, only to be saved by the heroes Bani Bakur and Ravash Mog. The two women arrive riding magical seahorses sent by Kenan Sahrmal. After their victory, they return to Ardestan, but they feel something is wrong with Shandalar’s mana. The people of Shandalar, from royalty to commoner, all use magic casually. When simple spells begin to have disastrous consequences, they warn people against casting magic until the problem is solved. They discuss Kenan Sahrmal's absence, gone twelve years, and decide to pray for his aid at the mouth of his catacombs.
Leshrac wanders Shandalar for three months, but is unable to find Sahrmal. Instead, he finds Tevesh Szat and Lim-Dûl in the desert of El-Aman. Lim-Dûl explains his failure to his master, but Leshrac responds by burning Lim-Dûl alive. Tevesh Szat goes his own way on the plane, desiring to learn its secrets for himself. Secretly, the real Lim-Dûl slips away from the two planeswalkers, having made a mana duplicate of himself as a distraction. He melds through the world's bedrock and discovers the catacombs. He senses the arrival of Bani and Ravash, and poses as “Magus” to convince the two of them to fight Tevesh Szat. When Ravash isn’t buying it, he summons her greatest fear - bats - and she falls off a ledge in the cavern. Bani believes her dead, and storms off to finds Tevesh Szat - cursing Kenan Sahrmal’s name for letting Ravash die.
Lim-Dûl fakes his death again after body swapping with Kenan Sahrmal.
Shandalar #2 panels by Bo Hampton
Elsewhere in the catacombs, Kenan Sahrmal hears her words and vows to act.
Bani leads a small group of mages and warriors against Szat at the Eastern Sea. Sahrmal follows them, invisible. Sahrmal aids them in battle, and from a distance, Lim-Dûl casts mana barbs to harm Szat. Szat turns on the warrior band, and Sahrmal reveals himself to protect his acolytes - casting a barrier to protect them. Szat easily overpowers Sahrmal and straps him to a tree. Leshrac arrives to investigate, and Sahrmal reveals that Lim-Dûl plotting against them both. Rather than uniting, Szat turns on Leshrac for allowing the Necromancer to get away. When Sahrmal belittles Lim-Dûl, the Necromancer reveals himself enters the battle as well. With all three interlopers in one place, Sahrmal springs his trap and both Leshrac and Tevesh Szat flee the plane.
With the others gone, Lim-Dûl and Kenan Sahrmal face off. Lim-Dûl stabs Sahrmal just before Bani appears and beheads the Necromancer. A few days later, while mourning Ravash, Sahrmal appears to Bani and apologizes for his long absence. He tells her that he is ready to take his place as Shandalar’s leader. Bani is far too jaded with him now and declines. Sahrmal angrily exclaims he will return in twelve years' time. When he returns, it is revealed that Lim-Dûl switched bodies with Sahrmal just before Bani beheaded him, and he’s now leading a zombie horde against Ardestan.
Lim-Dûl's assault on Ardestan 12 years later.
Shandalar #2 Panel by Bo Hampton
- Magic: The Gathering (Microprose) Manual
- Magic: The Gathering (Microprose)
Ardestan was the last in the line of cities Lim-Dûl conquered during his assault on Shandalar. Once it fell, so too would the plane. Kenan Sahrmal was severely weakened by Lim-Dûl’s trick and subsequent beheading. Rather than face the Necromancer directly, he trained two apprentices to fight alongside him: Azaar and an unnamed mage. Azaar bridled under Sahrmal's tutelage. Sahrmal urged patience, but Azaar wanted to confront Lim-Dûl before he conquered Ardestan. Azaar stole a secret spell and went to duel Lim-Dûl. As the battle begins, Azaar creates a circle of protection around himself to buy time while he prepares the spell he’d stolen. The purpose of the spell is to imprison the Necromancer's spirit in his body. Lim-Dûl simply waits. When Azaar drops his wards, the Necromancer strikes with the same spell he used to steal Sahrmal’s body.
It doesn’t quite work out the way either intended. Azaar’s stolen spell targeted Lim-Dûl’s spirit, and would draw out its power to create the Great Barrier around Shandalar, defending it from outside intrusion. Because Lim-Dûl had attempted to possess Azaar, the spell backfires and traps them both in the young mage's body. The two spirits war for control, leaving the body catatonic. Because the spell now had two incredibly powerful wizards to draw power from, it was far more powerful than Sahrmal intended. To safeguard the Great Barrier, Sahrmal buried Azaar’s away from prying eyes.
Kenan Sahrmal's will is broken by what happened to Azaar, but can't risk freeing his apprentice without also freeing Lim-Dûl and destroying the Barrier. Sahrmal grants his other apprentice all his remaining power, making the young mage effectively immortal and presenting him to the people of Shandalar as their new guardian, dubbed simply ‘The Guardian’. Aftwards, Sahrmal retired and faded into obscurity.
The Wizard’s War
The Guardian formed five guilds, one for each color of magic, to help him guard the plane and ensure its rich mana was used responsibly. Each leader is chosen in a contest, and the champions are named Guild Lords. Unfortuntely, Lim-Dûl’s spirit eventually won over Azaar - destroying the other wizard’s soul. He emerged from his grave to try and conquer Shandalar once more. With the five guilds in place, he was easily repulsed, with the only casualty being the Black Guild Lord. The Guardian removed Lim-Dûl’s spirit from Azaar’s body, but when the Great Barrier began to weaken as a result, he placed it in an artifact.
Azaar’s body was so powerful, it rose from the dead and took over the Black Guild, naming itself Lichlord Skavius Slan. Supposedly, the Lichlord remembers nothing of Azaar or Lim-Dûl. The creatures summoned during the war were trapped, thanks to the barrier, and adapted to their new plane. The ripples of power from this war attracted the attention of Arzakon, another evil planeswalker bent on taking Shandalar.
The Five Guild Lords are not the brightest bunch.
Screenshot from Magic: The Gathering (Microprose)
The Spell of Dominion
Arzakon’s first attempt to enter Shandalar was rebuffed by the Guardian and the Great Barrier’s power. So the planeswalker turned to a different approach, promising the Guild Lords power and dominion over Shandalar. They were lured by Arzakon’s promises over the course of many years, and together they slew the Guardian, who took on an astral form. Arzakon promised the Spell of Dominion to each Guild Lord, so long as they provide him with enough power. The Guild Lords began ransacking the plane for every artifact of power they could find.
An inexperienced mage was approached by an elderly woman channeling the spirit of the Guardian, and set on a path against the Guild Lords. The mage’s power grew throughout the adventure, until they were strong enough to challenge the Guild Lords themselves. When the final Guild Lord was defeated, Arzakon himself challenged the mage with what power he'd filtered onto the plane. The mage banished Arzakon and the Great Barrier was kept stable.
Modern Shandalar and The Missing Pieces
- Dreams of the Damned (Flashback)
- The Veil of Deceit (Flashback)
- Xathrid Gorgon
- The Path of Bravery
- Zurbit’s Day
At some point in the past, however, planeswalkers were once more able to access Shandalar, meaning the Great Barrier had failed. The Onakke Ogres were all wiped out in another unknown event, and previously unknown slivers began stirring in the Kalonian Wilds. The Guilds fell and new nations rose across the plane. At some point Ob Nixilis came for the Chain Veil and was cursed by its power. Pretty much everything that happened between Arzakon's banishment and Liliana and Garruk’s arrival is a mystery.
Modern Shandalar bears little resemblence to the Shandalar of old. Faerie and Astral Dragons are nowhere in sight, and the average person no longer has easy access to magic. The plane remains mana rich, and as such a travel destination for planeswalkers.
Liliana's story was set back years by the cancellation of her novel.
Art by Izzy
The Chain Veil
- The Hunter and the Veil
- The Veil’s Curse, Part 1
- The Raven’s Eye Part 2 and Part 3
- The Veil of Deceit
I’ve already written a long-form version of The Chain Veil’s story in Liliana, Garruk, and the Veil. Because the story spans so many different planes, it doesn’t really seem worthwhile to try and piece together just the bits that happen on Shandalar, but I’ll do a brief overview of the things that occur on Shandalar. Liliana came to the plane to retrieve the Chain Veil at the behest of her demon creditor, Kothophed. Along the way she killed one of Garruk’s hunting beasts, and so the hunter followed the necromancer to the lair of the Onakke. Liliana retrieved the Veil, but unintentionally cursed Garruk when he confronted her. Liliana would return to Shandalar, but she’d ultimately learn nothing from the spirits of the Onakke. Garruk, too, would return, his curse turning him more and more demon-like, but his transformation was halted by Jace implanting a hedron into his body (taken from Ob Nixilis).
Slivers now look like Predator knock-offs instead of doofy Aliens.
Sliver Hive by Igor Kieryluk
The Chain Veil isn’t the only development on the plane, either. A Thunian Scout named Hastric is exploring the Eastern Sea at the site of an ancient mage battle when he’s attacked by a mysterious creature. He wakes up with creatures he dubs slivers, and the caverns they inhabit (their hive) the skep. He follows the group he’s with until he finds an opportunity to escape. Along the way, he notices a giant monstrous shape beneath an amber-like surface in the ground, and hopes it never awakens. On his way out, he discovers a crude writing that shows these creature’s transformation from the original slivers to these new tentacled slivers.
Unfortunately, when he returns to civilization no one believes him. He lost far more time there than he originally believed, and the call of the slivers slowly drove him mad. In Lesh, He’s waylaid by Yisan and Jalira, who fleece him for his remaining gold. They discover the location of the sliver hive in Hastric's journal, and together decide to loot the belongings of the dead left there. They journey through the Kalonian Wilds, keeping wide of the coast with the Kaspshos seas, as they’d both ripped off Talrand in the past.
Eventually, they discover the hive, and infiltrate it through Jalira’s Polymorph magic turning them both into slivers. They get all the way to the Hivelord’s chamber, who has apparently been freed from under the surface since Hastric was there. The Hivelord’s power transforms them back into humans, but when they aren’t immediately attacked, they slowly find fresh clothes and stuff their pockets with whatever they can carry. Outside, Jalira insists they make for Martyne, but Yisan wants to go back inside. Ominously, it appears the call of the Hivelord may have permanently affected Yisan.
We haven't been back since.
That's it for today, would-be conquerors! Shandalar is poised for conflict with Slivers, Amphin, and the ghosts of the Onakke waiting in the wings for their chance. When we return to Shandalar, will it ever be the same?
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.