Jaya Ballard Returns

Welcome back to Archive Trap, the unofficial guide to Magic: the Gathering! Today I'm going to talk about one of the major characters from the Ice Age, Jaya Ballard. At PAX Unplugged this weekend, Chris Cocks revealed art from the upcoming Dominaria set, and one piece stood out. It was an older woman who looked suspiciously like Jaya Ballard. For a long time, her status was in question. She received a card in Time Spiral, Jaya Ballard, Task Mage, but she was only mentioned in passing in the story. What's worse, Jodah believing her dead at the time, leading to speculation as to whether she was dead or if Jodah wasn't the 'real' Jodah (thanks to some alternate timeline shenanigans not worth going into). Now we've learned the truth: she's alive and well, although the passage of time in the sixty years since the Mending has obviously affected her. But who is Jaya, and why was she important? And more to the point, where has she been since the Ice Age? And why is she back now?

Jaya Ballard would now be over 1,600 years old.
Jaya Ballard, Task Mage by Matt Cavotta

The Flavor Text Queen

Quote from Inferno"s Flavor Text »
"Some have said there is no subtlety to destruction. You know what? They’re dead.”

—Jaya Ballard, task mage

Years before Jaya ever received a card or was featured in a novel, she appeared on the flavor text of a bunch of cards. There, she set a precedent for snarky flavor text characters that would follow, establishing a passion for pyromancy and a dislike for Yavimaya's sapient gorillas. She's appeared sporadically over the years, most recently in Eternal Masters' Carbonize. Much like Jace Beleren, the majority of players only know her by reputation from this flavor text, but it doesn't really give you the full scope of who the character is.

With all that in mind, let's rewind the clock to 2934 AR (Argivian Reckoning), the calendar of the plane of Dominaria. Thousands of years earlier, the brothers Urza and Mishra warred, strip mining the continent of Terisiare for resources in their fight. Behind the scenes, agents of Phyrexia were stoking the conflict, and it all came to a head during the final battle on Argoth, a resource rich island off the coast of Terisiare. Urza and Mishra steamrolled the druids, elves, and forest creatures there, until their apprentices realized they were headed for total destruction. Urza was gifted the magical Golgothian Sylex, which offered an end to the war. When Urza realized in horror what his brother, Mishra, had become - a phyrexian monstrosity - he activated the sylex, causing a devastating blast that ushered in an ice age for the plane. In 2934 AR, the Ice Age is simply the reality for many, but not all are aware of the danger it poses, or the barrier that has kept planeswalkers from leaving.

Jodah believed Jaya was dead... and so did we.

The Eternal Ice cover art by Gary Ruddell

The Eternal Ice

When we first meet Jaya we learn that she's a task mage, a mage with a very limited knowledge of spell craft. In Jaya's case, she was a pyromancer with a few spells. The earliest known event in her life was when she was hired to break into the office of the Archmage of the School of the Unseen, arguably the most powerful (non-planeswalker) wizard on the plane. She manages to get all the way into his office before she's caught, thanks in part to taking advantage of the hubris of wizards (they very rarely plan against non-magical intrusion). Jodah, the Archmage, is so impressed that he befriends the young woman, and invites her to join his other students. She learns her first few spells with him before leaving.

Some time later Jaya learns that her friend Jodah has gone missing, potentially in a coup from inside his school. She follows the plot to Tresserhorn, keep of Lim-Dûl the Necromancer. There she finds Jodah, but in a bizarre twist Jodah is working for the Necromancer. She infiltrates a group of summoned scholars to observe the situation, but isn't well suited to it. Jodah catches her reading a tawdry novel from the Dark Age, but fails to recognize her. Later, he catches her doodling instead of working. Realizing his mind has been affected in some way, she confronts him.

It becomes clear that Jodah has been drugged, and the toxins begin to affect them as they escape. She drags Jodah to a Safe Haven, a magical teleportation network only Jodah knows how to use. Without the power to heal him on her own, or the ability to use the Safe Haven network herself, she's forced to use Freyalise's Charm, which she had been given by one of the planeswalker's priests. Freyalise appears and they bargain for Jodah's life. Freyalise tells her that Jodah uses a magic mirror to store his memories and reclaim them without the emotional weight of his centuries of life. He was stopped mid-processes, and the mirror went to the Royal Academy of Magic.

What would bring her back to Dominaria? Maybe an old foe...

Lim-Dûl's Vault by Wayne England

Jaya heads to the Academy and steals it back - again circumventing magical wards by mundane means. No one wards the upper windows in a tower, so she uses a grapple to climb up and retrieve the mirror. Her escape is significantly less stealthy, and she's forced to rely on an old Kjeldoran Skyknight friend to escape the city. She returns to Jodah, who she left in the care of Lovisa Coldeyes, leader of the Balduvians (rival of the Kjeldorans). Jodah's memory is restored, and he realizes what Lim-Dûl was planning: escape from the barrier caused by the Ice Age for his patron Leshrac (known as the Shard, which covered twelve planes). They learn from Lovisa that attacks from Kjeldorans and Lim-Dûl's zombie army have been growing worse recently, and realize it would take the combined strength of Kjeldor and the Balduvians to stop Lim-Dûl.

They beseech King Darien of Kjeldor for aid, but the hatred of Balduvians runs deep and the King is has only recently ascended the throne, unable to fully control his own people. Jaya is arrested, but Jodah breaks her out and asks her to find out what's going on in the city. She discovers a military cabal plotting a coup, lead by the undead Márton Stromgald doing Lim-Dûl's bidding. She infiltrates a rally, only to find all the soldiers who attended poisoned in front of her. She's chased by the few still living, but the chase is cut short by Freyalise, demanding the price for her aid earlier. Jaya puts her off until the crisis is dealt with.

Jaya returns to the palace in time to help stop a coup against the King from the now undead Stromgald Cabalists. This pushes him into action, and together the Kjeldorans and Balduvians meet Lim-Dûl's army in a snowy valley. Jodah also learns Freyalise's price - access to the archives of the School of the Unseen, which he reluctantly agrees to. As the armies clash, almost everyone is buried in an avalanche, leaving Lim-Dûl and Jodah to duel. Leshrac ends the fight before Jodah can strike a finishing blow, cutting off the necromancer's hand and escaping the Shard to Shandalar.

In the aftermath of the battle, Jaya finds Lim-Dûl's hand and a mysterious ruby ring. Before she can understand what she's found, she and Jodah are transported by Freyalise to be participants in her world spell. Using the knowledge she gained from Jodah's archives, she plans to unleash a world spell, a spell not unlike the one unleashed in the sylex blast that started the Ice Age. Her plan would reverse the Ice Age, but at the cost of an equal catastrophe. Jodah agrees to allow his Safe Haven network and magic mirror to be used to diffuse the blast, and the planeswalker succeeds in ending the Ice Age. Freyalise leaves a bit of her power in the mirror as a trap for Jodah's arrogance, believe him to be a planeswalker because she sensed a spark during the spell.

I like the shattered mirror being front and center here.
The Shattered Alliance cover art by Gary Ruddell

The Shattered Alliance

Twenty years later, floods from the thaw of the plane have caused sea levels to rise, wreaking catastrophe on the old system. Jaya has kept the hand and ruby ring with her, unknowingly being influenced by Jodah's ancient enemy, Mairsil. Mairsil had similarly wormed his way into Lim-Dûl's mind, and had eventually become one with the necromancer. When the ring was separated, Mairsil's essence remained behind. Influenced by Mairsil, Jaya returns to Jodah and admonishes him for abandoning the world when it desperately needed his help in this time. Together they search for survivors from the final battle with Lim-Dûl, hoping to find the missing ruby ring. She leads him to all of their old allies, and when he gets too close, Mairsil unleashes a rare plague on Jaya, distracting Jodah from realizing what's happening.

Their path takes them to Soldev, where Jodah believes the Adnates are being led by the returned Mairsil/Lim-Dûl. He's right - as he discovers Phyrexian constructs buried deep under the city (probably dating to the original Thran Civil War), Jaya stabs him and reveals herself as Mairsil's host. Jodah is forced to use his magic mirror to heal himself, springing Freyalise's trap. Jodah figures that if he had a spark in his thousands of years of life, it would ignited long ago. Freyalise's power would only kill him. He delays Freyalise's power and chases Jaya/Mairsil/Lim-Dûl through the city. Mairsil gives Jodah a choice,save Jaya or save his school, as a dozen Phyrexian machines are teleported to level his school. Jodah chooses Jaya and tricks his possessed friend, smashing the mirror into her and unleashing Freyalise's power.

Mairsil's reappearance in card form can't be a coincidence.

Mairsil, the Pretender by Izzy

Jodah correctly guessed that Freyalise had sensed Jaya's spark during the World Spell, not his. Jaya ascends and materializes with Jodah in the Blind Eternities. He watches and encourages as she purges Mairsil's influence before he can take back control. Together they return and Jaya makes short work of the Phyrexians with her newfound power. They have an emotional farewell, and Jaya grants Jodah a final gift before leaving: he would never need the mirror to lessen the emotional weight of his agelessness again. With that, she departs.

This was a pretty brief synopsis of the story from Jaya's point of view. If you want to learn more about the Ice Age cycle, check out The Shard and the World Spell and Alliances and Coldsnap

Time Spiral Cycle

The Shattered Alliance was the last we would see of Jaya, at least until the Dominaria reveals. She's a planeswalker for a few chapters at the end of the novels, but otherwise over 1,600 years have passed. What was Jaya up to? When Jodah returned to the story in Planar Chaos, he seemed to believe Jaya was dead and told Freyalise as much. But when we see Jodah again in the epilogue of Future Sight, Jhoira tells him that she couldn't find any record of Jaya's death. So what gives? There's some small confusion as to whether or not the Jodah that appears in those novels is actually from 'our' version of Dominaria.

Quote from Future Sight, Epilogue »
"This is not the mirror that the texts associate so closely with Jodah.”
"No,” he said. "I made that one myself.”
"Perhaps in the wake of Jaya Ballard’s death?”
Jodah’s eyes fell. "Yes,” he said.
"But Jaya never died,” Jhoira said. "Or at least, there is no mention of her death in my archives.” She extended the mirror to Jodah. "Yet I take one look at you and I can tell your grief is genuine. Which means your history is not exactly the same as the history recorded for Jodah. You are Jodah... but you are not that Jodah. Are you?”
"I never was,” Jodah said. He took the mirror and let it drop to his side. "And I doubt he ever was, either.”
"Jhoira’s eyes were bright and sharp, her expression eager. "Whoever you are,” she said, "You’re a good man. I may not know the true Jodah, the historical hero of old, but I know you. And I’d like to know more.”

It seems unlikely that the creative team would want to dredge up a confusing plot point about an alternate Jodah, so let's just leave that one alone.

Obviously, whoever this Jodah is, he was not correct about Jaya Ballard's death. So if Jaya didn't die... where was she? We actually wouldn't have to wait too long to hear about Jaya again. Her legacy is a big part of The Purifying Fire.

The Keralians keep to themselves... unless threatened.

Mount Keralia by Franz Vohwinkel

The Purifying Fire

The Purifying Fire was the debut novel for both Chandra Nalaar and Gideon Jura, two planeswalkers with ties to Jaya Ballard. After escaping execution on Kaladesh, Chandra planeswalks to Regatha, where she finds a monastery devoted to pyromancy called Keral Keep. There, she finally finds a place to fit in, and confides in the Monastery's Matriarch, Mother Luti, the truth of her existence as a planeswalker. Luti advises that Chandra showed good judgment telling only her, and advises her to keep it a secret from others.

So here's where things start to get suspicious (don't worry, they get weird soon, too). Mother Luti knows entirely too much about planeswalkers. Both Gideon and Chandra have mentors who know about planeswalkers, but unless Luti knew another planeswalker herself (which she never brings up), there's no way she can know everything she does. Mother Luti is also an elderly woman, which Jaya would be if she aged normally following the Mending. And there are a couple little... odd conversations between Chandra and Mother Luti.

Quote from The Purifying Fire, Chapter Two »
Luti didn’t smile at her pledge. "Guard yourself, Chandra. The fire you kindle for your enemy may burn you more than him.”
"Is that Jaya?”
"No, it is Luti. Listen, the Multiverse is a very big place,” Luti said. "It is probable that you will never run into that mage again. It is better to think about what you can control ...”
Quote from The Purifying Fire, Chapter Two »
"In a battle with another planeswalker, it's said that Jaya cunningly defeated her opponent by --"
"That stinking rat made me believe he was going to kill Brannon," Chandra said.

The Keralians all have very distinctive garb.

Abbot of Keral Keep by Deruchenko Alexander

Mistaking Luti's wisdom for Jaya's is a cute line, but it gets real suspicious when we not only know that Jaya is alive, but that she's wearing Keralian clothes (I'll get into that in a minute). Not to mention that line about a battle with another planeswalker... that'll be important in a moment, too.

The thing is, we're told in both The Purifying Fire, and when we revisit the monastery in Offers to the Fire that the monastery was inspired by Jaya, not founded by her. The latter story also mentions that Jaya was only on the plane briefly. Now, Gideon's mentor Hixus knew about planeswalkers because his mentor was a planeswalker. But how did Keral Keep accumulate so much knowledge about a woman who wasn't around for very long?

And then the part where Luti knows way too much comes just a little later. Luti has about two pages of talking about the Blind Eternities and giving advice to the younger, reckless pyromancer. The thing is, Chandra catches on to when Mother Luti goes on a 'They say' lecture about the Blind Eternities.

Quote from The Purifying Fire, Chapter Five »
"They say? They, who?" Chandra said dismissively. "Besides you, who around here knows anything about planeswalkers?"

How did Jaya's goggles end up here?
Pyromancer's Goggles by James Paick

Exactly, Chandra. This is pretty quickly brushed off, but the Keralians are very intereted in Chandra in part because she reminds them of Jaya. My trouble is, if Jaya didn't actually found the monastery how did they learn so much? How did Mother Luti learn even more? How does she know detailed information about the Blind Eternities? When we finally return to Regatha around Magic Origins, we also learned that Jaya's goggles rested inside the monastery. This is important.

Quote from Offers to the Fire »
But to Chandra she was a kind of myth, a presence that hung in the air of the Keep. Jaya's pyromantic sayings were on every monk's lips and carved into the halls, and her pair of heat-shield goggles rested on a pedestal inside the monastery.

So why is this little factoid important? Take a look at the artwork we've been shown for Jaya's return, below. I'm including a higher resolution screen cap here so you can soak in some more of the details. Real quick though, let me give you a description of Mother Luti.

Quote from The Purifying Fire, Chapter Four »
Her head turned quickly when she heard footsteps approaching her, but she relaxed when she saw Luti, wearing a long, copper-colored robe. The mother mage's white hair was loosely braided and hanging over one shoulder.

Art by Yongjae Choi

Let's examine this art piece by piece, shall we? First of all, we know it's Jaya because of the goggles, the mirrored pose from her first art, and the same 'fingers spill streams of curving flames' look. But she's also wearing Regathan robes, as seen on Abbot of Keral Keep and Acolyte of the Inferno, down to the diamond-stitched leather armor around the waist. She's got the same loosely braided white hair as Mother Luti, too. And how did Jaya get ahold of those goggles again, anyway? I mean, I suppose she could have had new ones made, but her originals would be over 1,600 years old at this point. No way she gets them reproduced that perfectly. So what's the deal? Has Mother Luti simply been Jaya in hiding all along? Or maybe she returned, pretending to be a simple pyromancer herself and teach a younger generation like Jodah once taught her?

Heliod was likely once Heliud, a planeswalker.

Heliod, God of the Sun by Jaime Jones

The Order of Heliud and Heliod

Here's where things get kind of weird. I had a bit of an off-the-wall theory where Jaya died fighting Heliod. It seems random at first, but when you start to piece things together it would make sense for Jaya to at least know of Heliod. It all starts with Cary Barkett's Breaking Down the Order of Heliud and Heliod. If you haven't read it, you should, as it lays out the case for Heliod having once been Heliud, the planeswalker who created the Order of Heliud on Regatha (and other planes).

We first meet Gideon while he's working for the Order of Heliud, and is tasked with hunting Chandra down. They get trapped on a plane together and form a bond, and Gideon tells her about his past - namely that his sural came from his mentor, who got it from his own teacher, a planeswalker.

Quote from The Purifying Fire, Chapter Ten »
"His teacher died without telling him where he'd gotten it."
"Do you know how he died?" For a planeswalker, there were so many possibilities.
"A pyromancer killed him."

Okay. So here's why this is weird. Let's look at the facts surrounding Heliud in this case.

  • Heliud was a planeswalker who became the god Heliod.
  • Heliud founded the Order of Heliud
  • Jaya inspired Keral Keep.
  • The Order of Heliud's base is barely a day's journey from Keral Keep.
  • The non-planeswalkers of Keral Keep know of a planeswalker duel she had, which means it took place on Regatha.

Art by Chris Rallis

You're telling me these two planeswalkers, with home bases just a stone's throw away, knew nothing about one another? Much like Chandra's confrontation with the Order, it feels distinctly like something that would pique Jaya's interest. Now, I'm not done yet. Here's where it gets really weird.

  • Hixus' mentor was a planeswalker
  • Hixus is a devotee of Heliod
  • Heliud was a planeswalker
  • Hixus believed his mentor was killed by a pyromancer
  • Gideon knows all of this and hasn't made any connections.

It's starting to come together, right? Anyway, how do I know Hixus is a devotee of Heliod? Because in Akros, the shrine to Heliod is located outside the city out of deference to the patron god of the city, Iroas. This is mentioned in the the two-part novella Godsend, and the same shrine appears again in Gideon's Origin: Kytheon Iora of Akros. Why does this matter? Look behind Gideon and Hixus in the Chris Rallis art to the left. Who is that a rather large statue of, inside a prison in the middle of Akros? That's right, it's Heliod.

So here's what I think happened. I think Jaya Ballard and Heliud ran afoul of one another at some point on Regatha. That's the planeswalker duel that the Keralians knew about. Jaya wins, but Heliud gets away. She tracks Heliud to Theros, where they duel again. Hixus was present, but probably young. This might have been after the Mending, and Heliud was looking for a way to stave off aging and regain his power. If he established an Order of Heliud on Theros, he might have had enough believers to help him ascend to godhood like Xenagos would later. There are a lot of clues scattered throughout the Theros block (in the novels and stories) that indicate Heliod is a relatively new god. Heliud and Jaya dueled, and Heliud would have ascended to escape from her, or maybe she was too late to stop him. Either way, Hixus would have believed Jaya was responsible for Heliud's death. He would not be able to process Heliod being Heliud, as mortal origins of the gods are forgotten by the people as a side effect of Nyx (again, read Cary's article for the metaphysics of the whole thing).

Jaya, in her failure, resolves to keep an eye on the Order's influence. She returns to Regatha, the home base of the order, and takes on the identity of Luti, slowing working her way into the leadership of the monastery at Keral Keep, with no one aware of her true identity. Maybe it happened just before the Mending, and Jodah believes she died in the duel, explaining his grief.

As to why she's appearing again now? Her student, Chandra, just picked the biggest fight of her life with an Elder Dragon, and lost badly. Her group's rendezvous point was Dominaria. Maybe the Raven Man theory is true, and Jaya has come to stop her old foe Lim-Dûl. There are a couple of hooks that would bring her back to Dominaria, and I'm excited to see which one it really turns out to be.

After all, it could just be that the Keralians are just big copy cats, and Jaya has been off sipping mai tais on Bant.

That's it for today, Keral Krew! Are you ready for the return of Dominaria, yet?

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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