The Mysteries of Ixalan

Welcome back to Archive Trap, the unofficial guide to Magic: The Gathering! Archive Trap is expanding beyond just rote examinations and summaries of older lore, into speculative looks at current sets and what may be around the corner. The biggest mystery in Magic right now is just what in the Nine Hells the Immortal Sun is. By this point last block, I had assembled a number of clues (and had the packaging leak) to piece together Bolas's plan. This time around, I'm not so certain. I’m pretty sure Ugin is behind Ixalan, somewhere, but current evidence suggest much of the shenanigans on the plane occurred after his death. So let's put Ugin aside, for a moment, and look at everything with fresh eyes. There are a whole lot of questions: What is the Immortal Sun, exactly? Who or what was the winged beast that took it? Who left it with the monks in Torrezon in the first place? We've been given pieces of the history of the plane, and my plan is to assemble them here and then evaluate what they mean.

Quote from Ixalan Player"s Guide »
Eight centuries ago, the distant homeland of the Vampires was a diverse assembly of nations and city-states, enjoying a renaissance of scientific progress, artistic flourishing, and vibrant trade. As war erupted against a remote, mountainous nation, though, the Legion of Dusk was born.

The timeline is a bit fuzzy, but I think I figured it out.

Duskborne Skymarcher by Seb McKinnon

Theft of the Immortal Sun

The earliest known event on Ixalan (the plane) is the theft of the Immortal Sun. While information about the history of the Legion of Dusk and the continent of Torrezon is scattered, we can piece together roughly what happened. Thanks to the Ixalan Player's Guide, we know exactly when the Legion of Dusk was born. This gives us a central reference point to map out when everything else happened. This is important, because if the history of Ixalan involves known characters like Nicol Bolas or Ugin, the last thousand years are a dicey time. Both of them were mostly dead for centuries, and so a few hundred years in either direction makes a pretty big difference.

Thankfully, knowing the Immortal Sun was stolen over 800 years ago leaves our options open. When Vraska's crew relates the story of the Immortal Sun to Jace, we learn that the theft occurred before the Legion of Dusk formed. What's interesting is that no one seems to question where it came from in the first place; the legends from both the Brazen Coalition and the Legion of Dusk both start at the Immortal Sun residing in a monastery in Torrezon.

Malcolm nodded. "The object we're after is in Orazca, and it is known as the Immortal Sun. It used to be kept in the monasteries of Torrezon, in the kingdom that would eventually become the Legion of Dusk. For generations, it remained under the protection of its holy custodians in the mountains of the eastern continent.

"Its presence gave the old rulers incredible power," Malcolm continued. "Jealousies blossomed, and Pedron the Wicked's forces broke into the monastery where the Immortal Sun was kept safe and stole it. As they departed the sanctuary, a winged being descended from the sky. It took the Immortal Sun, carrying the relic across the sea and into the west. No living being knows its exact location, but this compass is meant to help us."

Where did the Immortal Sun come from in the first place?

Inspiring Cleric by Randy Gallegos

This raises some interesting questions. Who gave the Immortal Sun to the monks in the first place? Who or what was the winged being? Notably, if the winged beast was a Planeswalker, why did it carry the Immortal Sun west instead of planeswalking (other than the obvious narrative necessity)? We don't have any solid answers to any of these questions yet, but we do learn more about this backstory from a slightly deranged Mavren Fein. When we meet Mavren, he's caught in the rapture of his blood fast, which apparently includes the need to espouse basic religious doctrine to his own people.

Quote from The Race, Part 1 »
"Saint Elenda, the most devoted of the devoted, the First and the Faithful. She was born mortal, a warrior nun charged with her brothers and sisters of faith to guard the Immortal Sun in the mountains of Torrezon. Listen!"
Quote from The Race, Part 1 »
"Pedron the Wicked killed them all. Guilty, greedy, foul betrayer of his own!" Mavren spat. "But she, she survived; she was nine feet tall! Hair like a raven's wings and nails like lightning's edge! She ran outside to fight Pedron, but the Immortal Sun had been stolen from the fiend by a winged beast in the sky!"
Quote from The Race, Part 1 »
"The beast took the Immortal Sun to the west, and Saint Elenda followed it! Staunch piety! Blessed Saint Elenda!"

While we have to account for the drift of centuries of retellings, we can assume the broad strokes of the story as it is presented to us are true. This Pedron guy assaulted a monastery and attempted to steal the Immortal Sun. In my mind, the most likely scenario is that he set off some kind of magical alarm that alerted the winged beast to the theft. The beast appeared, took possession of the Immortal Sun, and took it across the sea for safekeeping. How did such a creature appear just in time, though? And while Mavren may not have been the most reliable narrator, the description of Elenda doesn't sound human. Maybe she was an orc? And then there is the fact that the Planeswalker's Guide to Ixalan, Part 2, refers to Elenda being left for dead, not immediately chasing down the winged beast. But the Ten Burning Questions from the Ixalan Story Q&A seems to indicate there might be more going on there.

What's really important to note is that there are no vampires on Torrezon at this time. We would not see them until Elenda's return from Ixalan, 500 years ago.  Some details aren't really clear, some text suggests the Dusk Legion was formed 800 years ago, but I think that's explainable by the nature of the Apostasine War. The symbol of the Legion of Dusk, the black rose, is heavily related to the Immortal Sun, although stylized into a flower. You can learn more about how both the Legion of Dusk's symbol and the Sun Empire's symbol are derived from the same source, the glyph from Ixalan's Binding, in Andrew Weisel's Tweet Storm. It's really quite cool how the symbol, once rotated, matches up with so many other symbols.

Why did Elenda return from Ixalan?

Skyblade of the Legion by Daarken

The Apostasine War

So about eight centuries ago, according to the Planeswalker's Guide, the Apostasine War begins as three rivals vie for the throne to their once united kingdom of Torrezon. Note that this is already long after the Immortal Sun was stolen, but we don't know how long. Two princes are labeled Apostates as Torrezon's church sides with their sister. I believe this is meant to be the origin of the Dusk Legion, as that alliance between church and crown carries through to the present day even though there weren't any vampires yet. This war went on for three hundred years, as the descendants of these rulers carried on the fight. It seems like the Dusk Legion would lose until Elenda appears, out of nowhere, and routs the apostate's armies, ending the Dusk Legion's rivals in one fell swoop. But how could one person be so powerful? Mavren comes through again with the answer, explaining more of the background of his faith, this time to a prisoner he was about to eat.

Quote from The Race, Part 1 »
"She was a genius! She was a visionary! She turned to dark magic and took on the burden of immortality until the Immortal Sun could be retrieved once again! Blessed wonderful brilliant Saint Elenda, the First and the Faithful. She searched for centuries and returned, yes, she returned to Torrezon, and taught her Rite to the nobles so that we may take up the sacrifice and join her in her search. Genius! Visionary! Blessed by the Night itself!"

I bolded that last statement because I think that will be important again later, but for now let's just look at the Torrezon side of things. Elenda returns to her homeland, centuries later, having become a vampire during her journey. We don't know why she returns, exactly, but we know that she failed to retrieve the Immortal Sun. Frankly, we don't even know if this is really Elenda or someone assuming her identity to manipulate the Dusk Legion. Presumably, her purpose is to create the Legion of Dusk and return to Ixalan with an army at her back. But it doesn't happen immediately, as the Legion of Dusk first seeks the conquest of their own continent. Elenda isn't around to see it, however, as Mavren states that at some point during his two hundred years of undeath, she sailed back to Ixalan. Why? Again, we don't know.

Why did Elenda leave again for Ixalan without the Legion of Dusk?
Ritual of Rejuvenation by Bastien L. Deharme
Quote from The Race, Part 1 »
"I was one of the early ones. I watched as she sailed back into the west and have waited for my day to follow her. Patient patient patient. I'm very good at waiting."

Mavren's use of the phrase "I was one of the early ones" is a bit confusing, as it seems like he's referring to being one of the early vampires, which can't be true if he's only 200ish years old. I think it's more likely he's talking about being one of the first to come to Ixalan, which makes far more sense in context. I don't know why the Legion of Dusk only finally turns their attention to Ixalan (the continent) two years ago, but I suppose when you're no longer mortal there isn't quite the sense of urgency you'd otherwise have. And based on the Q&A, it seems like Elenda might not actually know what they're up to.

As for where she is, wherever it is, we have a feeling she has no idea what the Legion of Dusk has gotten up to since she left.

So maybe she returned home to end the war? Whatever the reason, the pirates, descendants of refugees fleeing Torrezon, and the Sun Empire are not happy with the Legion's arrival. They're here to find Elenda, as indicated by the bios for Mavren Fein and Vona. And the language is pretty interesting, as it refers to Elenda as the guardian of the Immortal Sun.

Fein seeks Elenda, the guardian of the Immortal Sun, to bring eternal life to his people

Is Orazca a vault for treasure ... or a prison for something powerful?

Spires of Orazca by Yeong-Hao Han

The Golden City of Orazca

So we've established the history of Torrezon, but what about Ixalan? Sadly, we don't have any convenient dates to anchor anything on yet. We know that some sort of cataclysm occurred in the past, but it's all left very vague. Cards like Gilded Sentinel and Pillar of Origins indicate that the River Heralds and Sun Empire were once allies before some kind of catastrophe struck. According to the Planeswalker's Guide to Ixalan, Part 1, Growing Rites of Itlimoc was an example of the Heralds' and the Empire's cooperation. Then the Empire of the Sun and the River Heralds parted ways. Now, sunken ruins and abandoned temples indicate that something tragic struck Ixalan in centuries past, something the Sun Empire is only just now recovering from.

What, exactly, was that event? It probably has to do with the corruption of the Sun Empire's leaders. They were apparently capable of great power with the Immortal Sun behind them. Obviously, this didn't end well. One emperor in particular, Apatzec Intli, acquired the Immortal Sun under mysterious circumstances.

Emperor Apatzec Intli was gifted the Immortal Sun in a fateful encounter, and vowed to conquer the merfolk and raze the jungle.

He wielded the Immortal Sun without any wisdom or restraint.

Devastation and ruin followed in his wake, and the Immortal Sun was taken away and gifted to the River Heralds, who vowed to keep its location a secret, even from themselves.

The story tells us that at some point in the past, a figure known as the Last Guardian entrusted the protection of the Immortal Sun to the River Heralds, but did not entrust them with custody of it. While Mavren Fein's bio refers to Elenda as the Guardian of the Immortal Sun, this Last Guardian seems to be a different figure. The Q&A actually confirms the Last Guardian and the winged beast are the same being, and that this being also appeared to the Sun Empire under a different name. Perhaps the being who first gifted it to Apatzec Intli? Anyway, the Last Guardian entrusted the River Heralds with the protection of the Immortal Sun.

The merfolk of Ixalan seem pretty sure the Immortal Sun spells doom.

Shapers of Nature by Chris Seaman

Quote from The Shapers »
"And yet. If the Last Guardian had meant for us to wield it, he could have entrusted it directly to our care. The history of the Immortal Sun is the history of its misuse by mortals. I am not so arrogant as to think that we alone might safely bear the weight of this responsibility.

Based on what we know, Orazca was buried at some point in the past, and the implication from the Planeswalker's Guide is that it was intentionally hidden by the Merfolk. For whatever reason, the Immortal Sun was hidden in Orazca, former capital of the Sun Empire, rather than separately.

And that "misuse by mortals" line? That's very interesting. What is the Immortal Sun that it can't be entrusted to mortal hands and is so dangerous someone has hidden it away on Ixalan? Why would someone cast Ixalan's Binding to prevent Planeswalkers from leaving, but not from entering?

Quote from The Shapers »
The power of Orazca is unlike any other. It is separate from the wind and the waves, the ephemeral exertions of life and the deep, slow grinding of the earth. It is many things to many people—its truths remain shrouded from our view. But what it is is beyond words. It is a steady pulse, a rhythm, that can be heard throughout the world by those who know how to listen.

Why does the Immortal Sun give off the same energy as planeswalking?

Thaumatic Compass by Yeong-Hao Han

And whatever that steady pulse is? It’s got to be what is drawing the Thaumatic Compass. Could it be drawn to strong sources of aether? Jace notes that the Thaumatic Compass seems drawn to the magic of planeswalking.

If his theory were true, then the Golden City would have to be a massive hub of magical energy—and this compass would point directly toward its source.

A massive hub of magical energy that pulses with power. Whatever is going on with Orazca and the Immortal Sun, it has to do with the powers of Planeswalkers. We're still missing some clues, but there is another interesting note about Orazca itself.

Quote from The Race, Part 2 »
"It is part of the land around it, yet separate, to keep it hidden. It does not move, but the way to it is enchanted to change …"

This line from Tishana is easy to overlook at first glance, but when you start to consider what she is talking about things get weird. What does this actually mean? Is Oraza out of phase with the rest of Ixalan somehow? Was it contained partially in some sort of pocket plane? Combine that with how she talks about its power earlier in the story, and it seems like the Immortal Sun is a powerful aether artifact. That dovetails nicely, from a thematic standpoint, with Huatli's vision of Kaladesh when her spark ignites in A Question of Confidence. That would also explain why Bolas wants it, as the Planar Bridge took a massive amount of aether to power while on Kaladesh, and he might need something to power it. So that's probably the one very specific use Bolas wants the Immortal Sun for, according to the Q&A. It also helps explain the barrier preventing planeswalkers from leaving if the enchantment is powered by the Immortal Sun in some way. As for what it actually is or does, we don't know, and the characters reiterate that.

Quote from The Race, Part 2 »
"I think it's something that's not supposed to be here," Jace said. "Something introduced to this world."

I think so too, Jace, but the question is by whom, and why? I don't really have any idea what the MacGuffin here actually is, but we can reasonably guess at what it does and who is behind it (more on that later). Let's talk about what we learned when Orazca was unearthed. The first thing is something that should be familiar for theory hounds.

Why does the emergence of Orazca reveal gold veins everywhere?

Art by Wesley Burt

Quote from The Race, Part 2 »
The bellow of some giant beast sounded over the shaking of the earth.

Vraska froze, the primal noise sending a jolt of terror through her heart. Her dread only intensified when she heard a similar sound of equal volume … then another … and another.

Something had awoken.

If this sounded familiar in context, it's because we've seen this scene before. It was one of Nissa's visions when she was inside the Temple of Kefnet way back in Amonkhet.

Quote from The Hand That Moves »
She saw a young man, his face erased, stumbling among a garden of statues. High above the man a growing cloud of dusk attacked the sun. From somewhere outside the garden there was a mighty roar.

The symbolism is clear; we've got a young man with his identity erased (Jace) stumbling among a garden of statues (caused by Vraska). A cloud of dusk (the Legion of Dusk/Aclazotz) attacking the Sun (Sun Empire/Threefold Sun). And then we get the mighty roar. As for what actually made the roar, I personally believe (given the comment about something awakening) that it was something trapped inside Orazca, awakened when the city was. I'll get into why later, but I think it's something draconic. An alternative explanation, given the four roars heard, was that it was Gishath, Sun's Avatar and the three other avatars. Of course, it might also have been the awakening of elder dinosaurs, which I will also touch on later. One last note before we move on from Orazca itself.

Quote from The Race, Part 2 »
The city itself had opened like the petals of a flower. True to its name, the structure itself was a perfect, untouched gold, ornamented with turquoise, amber, and jade. Its ramps and walkways led over churning rivers and waterfalls, and high above were strange symbols and motifs carved with care.

The city isn't being revealed, or unearthed, but is unfolding like a flower? That's a pretty specific visual image, consistent with the merfolk hiding the city carefully using their nature shaping powers.

And then there's the weird gold stratification. The art of Orazca at the end of The Race, Part 2 and the Rivals of Ixalan key art both show gold in the hills surrounding Orazca. Silvergill Adept also shows a merfolk investigating a vein of gold ore curiously unearthed underwater. Is this a clue to what the Immortal Sun does? Is it capable of transmutation? Whatever it does, it also grants a terrible power.

Quote from Star of Extinction Flavor Text »
"The visions haunt me. I see the end of the world, brought on by the search for the Immortal Sun." —Shaper Pashona

A wicked Emperor once wielded this magic using the Immortal Sun.

Star of Extinction by Chris Rahn

The End of the World

Everyone seems to have a different idea about what the Immortal Sun will do once found. The pirates believe it will bring them wealth, Angrath thinks it's his way off the plane, the Legion of Dusk believes it will lead to true everlasting life, and the Sun Empire believes it will lead to their renewed glory. Only one group has dire ideas of what the Immortal Sun will bring: the River Heralds.

Quote from The Shapers »
The sun will tumble from the sky, the waters will run cold, and this land that has cradled us will become our grave.

The River Heralds have to be fun at parties, no? This quote, coupled with Star of Extinction's artwork and flavor text, seems to hint that the River Herald's catastrophic view of the Immortal Sun is the correct one. The sun tumbling from the sky seems like an awfully apt metaphor when you look at Star of Extinction. Notice how the art is framed so it seems like twilight, but what at first glance is the sun on the horizon is actually the biggest of the meteors.

And then we have the ecological damage first pointed out by Cyrus Eosphoros on twitter. Two cards hint at an ecological catastrophe going on behind the scenes. Blight Keeper shows the bat imp withering away some of the lush jungle, and I think it is way more important that it appears at first glance. When you combine it with Spreading Rot, which also shows some sort of ecological damage, it appears there is something more going on. So what's the deal? Well, there's another element at play here outside of the factional conflict for Orazca. There is a rivalry between the two known deities of Ixalan, beings that seem to be operating through intermediaries instead of appearing directly. I'm talking about Aclazotz and the Threefold Sun, beings we haven't seen but whose impact can be found all over the plane. Unlike Amonkhet or Theros, these gods probably won't appear as actual creatures (if they are indeed gods), but instead through avatars like Gishath.

Did the Sun Empire take their symbol from Gishath... or vice versa?

Gishath, Sun's Avatar by Zack Stella

The Gods of Ixalan

Let's start with the Threefold Sun. The Sun Empire believes the Threefold Sun created humanity from clay. The Threefold is made up of three aspects, each distinct but part of the whole. The first is Kinjalli, the Wakening Sun, which heralds new life. The second is Ixalli, the Verdant Sun, which fosters growth. The third and final is Tilonalli, the Burning Sun, which which emphasizes passion and represents destruction. The Threefold Sun itself doesn't get its own name, but each aspect of the sun has avatars, with Gishath being the avatar of all three aspects.

These three aspects seem to be where the three concentric broken circles come from (more on that in a second). Those broken circles also correspond to the symbol in Ixalan's Binding (looking at it, it's easy to see how both the Sun Empire and Legion of Dusk derived these symbols). It appears the people of the Sun Empire believe the Threefold Sun is literally the sun (and not something like Heliod or Oketra the True), which is a nice change of pace from all the gods we've seen walking around in the last ten years. It's possible that the Sunbird is a manifestation of the Threefold Sun, but the connection isn't really clear.

It's worth noting that the Sunbird and Aclazotz have a golden glow about them.
Arguel's Blood Fast by Daarken

Opposing the Threefold Sun is Aclazotz, the mysterious bat-god of night that is referenced on Arguel's Blood Fast/Temple of Aclazotz. Now, remember when I bolded that passage about Elenda being blessed by the night itself? I don't think that's figurative. 

Quote from Arguel"s Blood Fast/Temple of Aclazotz Flavor Text »
Arguel's vision led him into the jungles of Ixalan... to the temple of a bat-god of night, eternal enemy to the Threefold Sun.

I believe when Elenda followed the Immortal Sun across the sea, she encountered Aclazotz (or became Aclazotz, for all we know). The vampires of the Legion of Dusk have distinctively bat-like features, and along with their name and their power over shades and darkness, it seems like a perfect match. With the Legion of Dusk's opposition to the Sun Empire, it looks like we have a proxy war between these two deities. As to what Aclazotz is, we don't know. There's only the one reference, but I suspect we will find that Aclazotz is actually a demon, as demons are frequently linked to the creation of vampires. Blight Keeper is notably a bat imp, which is a kind of lesser demon, and you'll see where I'm going here. If Blight Keeper withers away life on a small scale, I would imagine it would take an actual demon to cause the damage on Spreading Rot.

Quote from Spreading Rot Flavor text »
"What is this foul presence that defies the sun’s cleansing rays?" —Itzama the Crested

The wording here is telling. What would defy the Threefold Sun's cleansing rays? Probably its eternal rival, Aclazotz. It's also interesting that we only get the most fleeting glimpse of an actual Ixalan demon. We know they exist on the plane and they're not really taking up pirate or vampire space, so where are they? Further, the Dusk Legion's religious tenants seem to point at another connection to the Threefold Sun.

The Sinking Sun. Salvation has a cost. Just as the sun must set to allow for a new dawn, a person can turn to darkness if it will bring about the coming salvation.

The Wakening Sun, the Verdant Sun, the Burning Sun... and the Sinking Sun? Clearly these two faiths are way more intertwined than they should be. Perhaps Aclazotz is merely a fourth aspect of the sun, the inevitable dusk. Either way, the conflict between the Threefold Sun and Aclazotz seems to be heating up. But these two aren't the only players on Ixalan.

The Guardians

One really important note is that the merfolk specifically refer to being entrusted with the Immortal Sun by the Last Guardian. Last implies more than one, either a group or a lineage. The Q&A confirms that the winged beast and the Last Guardian are the same entity, and implies that Sun Empire knew them by a different name in another story. At this point, that story is most likely how Apatzec Intli was first gifted the Immortal Sun. I've got two ideas for who that might be, both with a fair amount of evidence, and both are known characters: Azor and Ugin.

But it's possible that we've got Elenda all wrong. Mavren Fein's bio, which I posted earlier, calls her a guardian of the Immortal Sun, as well. Given that she's female and the Last Guardian is referred to as a male, they're not the same person. Could we be completely misunderstanding her character? She was once a guardian of the Immortal Sun on Torrezon, and it stands to reason she might have resumed her duties on Ixalan, this time working with the Last Guardian. Clearly the Legion of Dusk's version of events isn't completely accurate, and the Q&A also states there's more going on with her than we know.

In any case, there's clearly more at work here than just one guardian, and so keep in mind as I take a look at Azor and Ugin that they're not mutually exclusive theories. It wouldn't be the first time Ugin worked with partners...

If this guy isn't Azor, he's got a weird fashion sense.

Azor Ahoy, the Lord of Flight

The article Ixalan Store Championship Goodies gave us another giant clue as to what, exactly, is going on in Ixalan. The Top 8 deck boxes reveal a mysterious new character, a sphinx! But not just any sphinx, a sphinx standing in front of the same symbols as from Ixalan's Binding (probably the Immortal Sun itself) and with a chest piece that looks an awful lot like the Azorius symbol. Ixalan's Binding also seems to have the Azorius symbol incorporated into it, something others have pointed out but I discounted because there was no corroborating evidence at the time. Then of course, there was a hint I seemed to have missed.

We would sooner find a flying panther than an entire lost city.

Could this sphinx be the winged beast or the Last Guardian? Emperor Apatzec III's quote above about a flying panther seems to indicate that it might just be. We don't see sphinxes elsewhere on Ixalan, so it would make sense that the people wouldn't know what it was. And there's one sphinx in particular that would fit the narrative and has shown the ability to create a planar barrier: Azor. Azor's species is never actually stated in any of the Ravnica stories. Speculation was that Azor was human, but only the play about the formation of the Guildpact at the beginning of Ravnica: City of Guilds depicts Azor as human... and it wasn't exactly a historically accurate rendition. There is a common misconception that the Bailiff, the spectral figure that appears to Jace at the end of The Secretist was Azor, but it explicitly states that it is just an artificial intelligence (like a spirit homunculus) created by Azor... and it also mentions that Azor wasn't from Ravnica. Azor is the author of the original Guildpact, which had the power to lock Planeswalkers out of Ravnica, so it stands to reason he might be able to accomplish something like Ixalan's Binding. The glowing light preventing people from doing things looks a lot like Azorius magic. It's possible that Azor was eventually locked out of Ravnica due to the Guildpact, and may not be aware his original Guildpact has failed.

Add Jace, the Living Guildpact to the mix? You've got a recipe for an interesting second act of Ixalan. Check out Andrew's Twitter thread for more. Think about it, literally everything else gets a proper name, down to Pedron the Wicked, and we get a vague title for the Last Guardian? And then they're deliberately coy about it in the Q&A? The only reason to do that would be to hide an identity.

Where does all this dragon imagery come from?

Rivals of Ixalan Key Art

Enter the Dragon

So if the sphinx was what took the Immortal Sun from Pedron the Wicked, case closed, right? Not quite. At first glance, Dragonskull Summit is a lampshade on a card that just doesn't fit on Ixalan's setting. But there's an issue: the people of Ixalan seem to both do and don't know what a dragon is. That leaves things a little iffy, because it's really not all that clear, and in my opinion was meant to be deliberately vague.

Could these represent elder dinosaurs like Ghalta, Primal Hunger?
Dragonskull Summit by Alayna Danner and Bishop's Soldier by Scott Murphy

Ugin, is that you?
Crop of Rivals of Ixalan Key Art

If there are no dragons on Ixalan, why is Huatli holding a dragon banner?

Crop of Rivals of Ixalan Key Art

Dragonskull Summit indicates that the pirates (who are from Torrezon) don't have any idea what a dragon is. And yet, we see dragon imagery in a few key places. Let's look again at Dragonskull Summit and Bishop's Soldier. It's not obvious at card size, but when you look at the enlarged art, there's pretty clearly a dragon on the pommel of the vampire's sword. What's more, that decorative pommel seems to match the skull-like head of Dragonskull Summit. Take a look at the comparison image. The recent reveal of Ghalta, Primal Hunger matches up almost perfectly with Dragonskull Summit, and one could see how it (or a similar elder dinosaur) influenced the draconic figure on Bishop's Soldier's pommel.

But wait, there's more! The Rivals of Ixalan key art seems to reference a dragon in a couple places! The mural behind Huatli, to the bottom right, shows a bird-like figure and a dragon-like figure facing one another. While the bird is mostly in red, the dragon is in green. The bird is reminiscent of the art from Sunbird's Invocation, and so it may indeed be the personification of the Threefold Sun. The draconic figure, however, is even more interesting. The figure is depicted with jade and green paint, breathing some sort of colorless fire. At first I thought maybe the pigment was meant to have faded, but the red of the Sunbird next to it is so vibrant, it must have intentionally been left colorless. What greenish dragons do we know that breath colorless fire?

Now let's look at the even more prominent banner Huatli is holding. It's a draconic figure completely unlike anything we've seen on Ixalan, with the exception of the coatl. But why would Huatli be holding a coatl banner? Or, for that matter, any creature that isn't obviously a dinosaur or a representation of Gishath? If you look at the figure on the mural and the figure on the banner, they're clearly meant to be the same or at least similar figures. There's the prominent eyebrow and eye, the similar snouts, the lines around where the lips would be. Is this figure is meant to depict Ugin? Ugin's whispy beard and the spike-like scales around his elbows are represented on the banner, and the jade figure makes a lot more sense if it's because of Ugin's coloring. "Ugin Horns" can be seen in the art for Rallying Roar (on the banner) and Pillar of Origins (in gold at the bottom of the pillar). I collected a lot of artwork and evidence in The Case of Ugin on my blog. Ghalta is a potential second candidate, but I'll explore the idea of elder dinosaurs more in moment.

There are a lot of reasons to think Ugin was involved in Ixalan's past. As a feathered dragon, he's a perfect thematic match for Quetzlcoatl, the Nahuatl god of wind and wisdom. Those feathery wings Ugin has? They didn't appear until 2015, when R&D would have known they were going to Ixalan, and concept art for the Spirit Dragon gave him a feathery tail and feathery arms not unlike the dinosaurs of Ixalan. The merfolk of Ixalan, who were entrusted with the protection of Orazca, etch their magic into jade. You know who else etches magic into things? Ugin. I wonder if they learned some of their magic from the spirit dragon?

Ugin has been portrayed in this style for a decade.
Ghostfire by Cyril Van Der Haegen
Journey to the Eye panel by Izzy
Comparison Image by user MarcusTorrent
Quote from The Lithomancer »
She filled the skies of Zendikar with stone, and Ugin etched them with draconic runes that held them in the air and would bind the Eldrazi to this place.

The binding enchantment that keeps Planeswalkers on Ixalan, and the glyph that goes along with it, are both things Ugin is capable of. The timeline matches up, and others have noted that Ugin's involvement with Ixalan might have been why Nicol Bolas tried to kill him, finally explaining their battle in Fate Reforged. The biggest bit of foreshadowing is during Hour of Devastation, when Jace attempts to read Bolas’s mind. He gets a flash of a similar mind, but crystalline, that he quickly forgets. It matches the description of Ugin’s mind from Revelation at the Eye. And if it's foreshadowing, the creative team has clarified that Bolas did not send Jace to Ixalan.

Nicol Bolas has no clue Jace ended up on Ixalan.

Shu Yun, the Silent Tempest by David Gaillet
Call to the Feast by Yongjae Choi

Ghostfire by Cyril Van Der Haegen

So what's left to explain the ridiculous luck of Jace winding up on Ixalan? With how well they've connected the dots so far, especially around the timing of events surrounding the Planar Bridge and Amonkhet, I'm not going to buy that it's just a coincidence or contrivance. What if Ugin planted something subconscious in Jace in case he did something as stupid as confronting Bolas? We know they exist, and there's really no other reason for why Jace would suddenly forget about his experience with Ugin. So if that's the case, where would you send a dangerous young man like Jace if he risked revealing your secrets to your greatest foe? If you were Ugin and prefer imprisoning over killing, you'd send him someplace he couldn't leave. There are a lot of other little things that make sense in the context of Ugin being involved with the Immortal Sun, such as the fact that it was first held at a monastery, and that Call to the Feast features a Sun Empire Warrior with a ponytail and a coin on his forehead, very reminiscent of Jeskai warriors. A third eye motif is present in several Ugin-inspired places, like Ghostfire or the Jeskai monks. Note that some didn't think the Jeskai's third eye was related to the character in Ghostfire way back when, either.

Even if it's not Ugin, there's clearly something draconic involved with Ixalan, something I'm interested to see more of.

Elder dinosaurs are a whole new wrinkle to elder lore.

Elder Dinosaur Highlander

Finally, I have to talk about the reveal of elder dinosaurs. The Elder creature type has a lot of baggage. It shouldn't escape notice that the last time it appeared was on Tarkir on the dragon broods created by who else but Ugin. The original elder dragons (which included Nicol Bolas) were beings from before recorded history who had powers that rivaled Planeswalkers. They almost all died out following the Dragon War (alternatively known as the Elder Dragon War) within their species. Now, I don't want to get too much into the weeds over an event with almost no lore (I already wrote my thoughts about how it applies today in The Elder Dragon Cold War, and I'll go into more detail on a future piece), but the reappearance of the Elder type on Ghalta does not seem coincidental. The losers of the Dragon War had their wings and limbs removed and became elder land wurms. Might Ghalta and any other elder dinosaurs be dragons who were similarly cast down? Or derivative of the elder dragons in some other way? How do they relate to the Threefold Sun? The fact that Ghalta looks almost exactly like the apparently fossilized being from Dragonskull Summit can't be a coincidence.

There is a lot to unpack with everything revealed so far about Ixalan's history. The draconic figures I pointed out earlier could easily be elder dinosaurs instead of Ugin figures... or it might not be a coincidence that you could interpret it as either. We just don't have enough information to go on at this point, but the answer to this mystery is by far the most intriguing to me.

Assembling the Pieces

With everything we've discussed so far, let's lay out the actual timeline of events as we can piece it together. Note that some of this is just my best guesswork, as the events would logically seem to require placement where they are.

  1. Sometime in the ancient past, the Immortal Sun was brought to Ixalan (the plane) and left in Torrezon.
  2. Civilization on Torrezon flourished with the Immortal Sun.
  3. Pedron the Wicked attempts to steal the Immortal Sun, but the winged beast appears and takes it to Ixalan (the continent). Elenda follows.
  4. About 800 years ago, the country of Torrezon is torn apart by a civil war known as The Apostasine War.
  5. Emperor Apatzec Intli is gifted the Immortal Sun, but wielded its power cruelly.
  6. The Immortal Sun is taken from the Emperor and entrusted to the River Heralds by the Last Guardian.
  7. The River Heralds push the Sun Empire to the coast and hide Orazca.
  8. Elenda returns to Torrezon about 500 years ago, now a vampire, and the Legion of Dusk begins a campaign of conquest.
  9. The Dusk Legion sets about conquering the continent, renaming it Torrezon after their country.
  10. About 200 years ago, Elenda returns to Ixalan for unknown reasons.
  11. About 100 years ago, refugees from the Free Cities flee to Ixalan, where they're rebuffed by the natives. Their descendants become the Brazen Coalition.
  12. The Dusk Legion's war of conquest ends about 60 years ago, with the Legion of Dusk controlling the entire continent.
  13. The Legion of Dusk's invasion of Ixalan begins about two years ago.

That pulls us all the way into the present day. There are many mysteries left to uncover, and I'm curious to see what directions the story goes.

That's it for today, explorers of Orazca! Let us me know in the comments what you think the Immortal Sun is, and if you have different answers to the questions I've tried to answer!

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.



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