Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Timeline

Not only do I intend to review all stories of the Magic canon, I'm also going to see how they all fit together in one huuuuuuge timeline. I already made a Magic timeline once, over on MTGSalvation (It was the basis for the timeline on the MTGSally wiki.) As I've said before though, I'm not that happy with that version anymore. It contains mistakes, it is incomplete, and worst of all, I didn't bother with annotations. That has made revisions to the project very difficult down the line. Since then I've gotten my Masters degree in History however, and if there is one thing I've learned at uni it's the importance of annotations. So every entry on this new timeline will contain a link to the review in which its placement is discussed. As my project progresses, so will the timeline grow.

Be aware that this is very much a work in progress, with several stories placed provisionally until I am able to review other stories that might influence their placement.

Every entry here contains a link to the relevant review. If the timeline placement is discussed in a different review I have added a link to that one as well, in brackets. The placement of sets up to Scourge is based on the official Wizards of the Coast timeline. Later sets have been placed roughly at the right time to provide context.

The Official MTG Timeline

Today I uploaded my review of Final Sacrifice, In it I explain how we can put an accurate date to the first four novels of the Harper Prism line. So from now on, I will not only be reviewing stories, I'll also maintain a timeline to show how they all fit together. The timeline will be uploaded shortly after this post.

To give some context to the first few entries though, I thought I'd first show you an official, WotC-made timeline. We've already discussed the earliest one, from the Fourth Edition Players' Guide, but there is a far more detailed timeline out there. For years Wizards of the Coast kept stock of when their stories happened on their website, but around Onslaught block they lost interest in the specifics of the story, and from Mirrodin onwards the timeline was forgotten. Eventually they overhauled their website, and in the process the timeline was lost. Except it wasn't! Thanks to the miracle of the Internet Wayback Machine we can actually still find this timeline! Let's have a look at it. All dates are given in AR (Argivian Reckoning). 0 AR is the year Urza and Mishra were born.

Final Sacrifice

Final Sacrifice
Written by Clayton Emery
Published by Harper Prism, 1995



SUMMARY
Our heroes have grown up. Last novel started with them barely holding their own in battle, this time was start with three straight chapters of them plowing through various evil wizards. Gull seems to have settled into his role as a general, which he's enjoying a lot more now he's having some success. All the fighting is taking its toll on Greensleeves though. She longs for peace and for time with her lover Kwam. She's supposed to regularly summon the wizards they defeated and tagged with the Stone Brain, but often she is to tired to even do that. Her stress is only made worse by Chaney. The druid died of old age at the end of Shattered Chains, but now she's taken to visiting Greensleeves as a shade, making cryptic allusions to her having to make "the final sacrifice" (*ding*, title drop!)

Back on the tropical island seen in Whispering Woods, the defeated wizards have grouped together. Towser, on of the few who hasn't been tagged, is now their leader. He has stolen and copied Greensleeves Nova Pentacle, which will prevent the wearer from being summoned. In addition he has a Keldon Warlord, an incredibly capable warrior who also has some sort of rage inducing power. He gets all the servants on the island to slaughter their families as a power showcase. The warlord also has an obsession with killing Gull for some reason.

On the cover he looks slightly more realistic.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Shattered Chains

Shattered Chains
Written by Clayton Emery
Published by Harper Prism, 1995



SUMMARY
Several months have passed since the end of Whispering Woods, but Greensleeves and Gull aren´t getting anywhere. They are attracting plenty of people who are willing to fight wizards, but barely any of them are combat trained, so the army just keeps stumbling from one narrow escape to the other. Still, their fame has spread, and the rulers of Benalia decide to nip this crusade in the bud before it can get its act together. Luckily for our heroes though, the leading politician decides to mix some personal revenge into the plan. Noreen (from Arena) had refused his advances in the past, so he sends her to kill Gull and Greensleeves, taking her child hostage to force her to comply. Noreen, whose real name turns out to be Rakel, infiltrates the army, but quickly develops sympathy for their cause. She’s had some bad experiences with wizards herself in Arena, and in the intervening years Garth has become struck by planeswalker-wanderlust and often abandons her for long stretches of time. Unwilling to go through with her orders she ends up training the army into an effective fighting force.

Monday, 19 January 2015

Whispering Woods

Whispering Woods
Written by Clayton Emery
Published by Harper Prism, 1994


SUMMARY
Gull the woodcutter and his sister Greensleeves (who can't talk, only chatter like animals) are the only ones left in the ruins of their village. Two mages came by, fought each other, and turned their village into collateral damage when one of them cast Earthquake. Most of the villagers were then killed with Pestilence. The other survivors moved away, so now the two hang around with some summoned creatures that got left behind. Then one of the mages, a guy called Towser, shows up. He claims the destruction was wrought by his opponent and that he can send the summoned creatures back to their homes. He seemingly does so, and convinces Gull to get a job caring for the horses in his caravan. While working for Towser Gull makes some enemies, some friends, finds a lover in the "dancing girl" Lily, helps uncover a Mana Vault, gets smack-bang in the middle of another magical duel when another mage tries to claim said Vault, and most surprisingly: discovers that his sister isn't mad after all, it was just the magic of the Whispering Woods next to their village that overwhelmed her mind as a child.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Arena



Arena
Written by William R. Forstchen
Published by Harper Prism, 1994

SUMMARY
Our very first Magic novel! All this time we've been told "You are a planeswalker" when we learn the game, now we will finally see what that entails! Right? Well... the story is set in Estark, a city in which life revolves around the yearly festival in which wizards, not planeswalkers, battle in the eponymous arena. The city is nominally ruled by the Grand Master of the Arena, but he must always fight to keep the four great houses (more like wizarding guilds really) under control. The mob, overtaxed and bloodthirsty, is difficult to control as well. So when a mysterious wizard called Garth One-Eye turns up and starts causing fights between the houses, the Grand Master is not happy.

Hrm. So not only is this story not about planeswalkers, all the magic users are scumbags? Okay, interesting choice for your tie-in novel...

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Pocket Players' Guide (Fourth Edition), the Timeline

As promised, here is the timeline from the Pocket Players' Guide. A day earlier than expected since I happened to stumble upon a complete write up while doing some more google research for my project. So with the help of one Tom de Ruyter and his website from the early days of the internet, I present to you: the oldest timeline in the Magic canon!


A Timeline of Dominaria
Article, author John Tynes (probably)
Originally appeared in the Pocket Players' Guide (Fourth Edition)

As always, click to enlarge the scan. Behind the jump break you'll find the original English text.

Monday, 5 January 2015

The Oldest Stuff

Where to begin my project? Well, how about at the very beginning of the game? Today I'll discuss four short writings that came out before Uncharted Realm started, before Wizards of the Coast published its first novel, before even the Acclaim comics or the Harper Prism novels. Most of them were written by Richard Garfield himself, and one of them hails directly from the original Alpha rulebook! Welcome to the first instalment of Multiverse in Review, where we look at the very rock the Magic storyline is build upon.


  
Introduction
Short story, written by Richard Garfield
Originally appeared in the Alpha edition rulebook



Roreca's Tale
Short Story, written by Richard Garfield
Originally appeared in the Pocket Players' Guide (Revised Edition)

Dominia and Its Walkers
Article, written by Richard Garfield
Originally appeared in the Pocket Players' Guide (Revised Edition)



Nature of Dominia
Article, written by John Tynes
Originally appeared in the Pocket Players' Guide (4th Edition)

Okay, the 4th Edition players' guide came out after some of the earliest novels and comics, but its discussion fits best with the other three articles, so I'll discuss it here.

Skaff Elias on the creation of Antiquities

In my overview of the history of the storyline I mentioned an article from the old comic Urza-Mishra War #1, in which designer Skaff Elias talked in detail about how the oldest sets and storylines in general, and Antiquities in specific, were created. I thought that would be a nice thing to share with you all, so... here it is, straight from the comic!

You can click to embiggen them

 

 

Table of Contents

General
Introduction
A behind the scenes overview of the storyline
Complete list of storyline sources
Timeline

The Oldest Stuff
The Alpha Rulebook and the Pocket Players' Guides
Pocket Player's Guide Timeline
The Duelist #1-2 and The Duelist Supplement #1 (Arabian Nights & Antiquities)
The Duelist #3-4 (Fallen Empires)

Harper Prism novels
Arena
Whispering Woods
Shattered Chains
Final Sacrifice
The Cursed Land
The Prodigal Sorcerer
Ashes of the Sun
Song of Time
And Peace Shall Sleep
Dark Legacy
Tapestries
Distant Planes
Harper Prism Wrap-Up

Armada Comics (and related video games)
Arabian Nights #1-2
Fallen Angel #1
Dakkon Blackblade #1
The Dragon War
Elder Dragons #1-2
Antiquities War #1-4, Urza-Mishra War #1-2
Fallen Empires #1-2
Ice Age #1-4 part one, part two
Shandalar #1-2
Microprose's Magic: the Gathering
Alliances (unpublished comic)
Jedit Ojanen #1-2
Serra Angel #1
Homelands #1
Shadow Mage #1-4
Nightmare #1
Wayfarer #1-5
Magic the Gathering: Battlemage
Armada continuity overview
Walker of Night (unpublished comic)
Prelude to War (unpublished comic)
Planeswalkers War (unpublished comic)

The Duelist and other pre-rev sources
The Duelist #5-6 (Ice Age)
The Duelist #7-10 (Homelands)
The Duelist #11-12 (Alliances)
The Duelist #13-14 (Mirage)
The Duelist #15-16 (Visions)
Mirage & Visions Online
Encyclopedia Dominia

The Weatherlight Saga
The Duelist #17-19 (Weatherlight)
The Duelist #20-22 (Tempest)
The Duelist #23-26 (Stronghold)
Sisay's Quest
The Duelist #27-30 (Exodus) & Rath block online
Gerrard's Quest
Rath and Storm
The Art of Magic the Gathering: the Rath Cycle
Born to Greatness
Rath Block wrap-up and continuity overview

The Brothers' War
The Colors of Magic
Planeswalker
The Duelist #31-34 (Urza's Saga)
A Time for Remembrance
Time Streams
The Duelist #35-38 (Urza's Legacy)
Scars of the Legacy
Bloodlines
The Duelist #39-41 (Urza's Destiny)
Phyrexian Autopsy

The Gathering Dark
The Eternal Ice
The Shattered Alliance

Mercadian Masques promotional comic
Mercadian Masques
Nemesis promotional comic
Nemesis
Nemesis online
Prophecy promotional comic 
Prophecy
Barrin's Journal (aka Prophecy online)

The Thran
The Myths of Magic
Invasion promotional comic
Invasion
Planeshift
Apocalypse
Invasion cycle: the Review

Supplemental Articles
Skaff Elias on the creation of Antiquities
The Official MTG Timeline
Two prerevisionist maps
A Historian's Guide to Elder Dragons
Convocations #1
The Homelands Document
The Legends of Magic
The Forgotten Archive
The Lat-Nam Kerfuffle
Of Trolls and Chinese Whispers

More entries will be added as the number of reviews grows.

Sunday, 4 January 2015

List of Sources

This is a list of every single M:tG storyline source I know. If you know of any others, which is very possible considering the myriad forms of media that the canon has sampled, please notify me so I may one day complete my collection and by extension this site!

Some notes about this list:
  • I try to keep as much things canon as possible. The older novels have some problems with their depiction of planeswalkers, and there have been times when the editors appear to have been asleep considering the number of continuity errors (Scourge, Test of Metal), but in my opinion everything that was supposed to be canon should be considered canon if it is at all possible. I will deal note continuity errors and suggest explanations in my reviews.
  • What I do not consider canon are the following things: prerevisionist comics that have been replaced by revisionist novels (Antiquities War, Jedit Ojanen), third party remakes of Wizard of the Coast novels (The manga versions of The Brothers' War and The Purifying Fire) and stuff where the creators clearly didn't care about matching the story to established canon (Usually videogames, like Magic the Gathering - Battlegrounds or Duels of the Planeswalkers 2012.) I will still review the now out of continuity comics though, for the sake of completion. They were canon before their replacements came out after all.
  • In addition to stories you will also find a number of articles on this list. I do not intend to review every single article ever produced on MTG lore. I'll stick to just the stories and actually published sources, unless a the backstory of a set or a important event was only covered in an online source. This is the case with Mirage, Innistrad for example.
  • Any entry with a behind it is a source I do not own (yet). The novels I will buy when the time comes to review them. Stuff like old magazines and calendars will probably be left out for now. I'll hunt them down and add them eventually, but since they can be tricky to get a hold off I can't promise I'll get them any time soon.
Now, to the list proper

Saturday, 3 January 2015

20 years of stories: a behind the scenes overview

Why was the Magic storyline spread out over so many mediums? Well, let's take a look at the different approaches Wizards of the Coast and other companies have had towards the storyline. Currently we are in a time when storyline and cards are very closely related, but in the past the level of connectivity between the two has fluctuated quite a bit. I hope this article will give you some insight into why the stories of Magic ended up spread out over novels, comics, games, websites, magazines and more in a manner that can be very confusing for new readers.

AND YEA HE DOTH SPAKE: "LET THERE BE MAGIC"
Our story begins, as they all do, with Richard Garfield. When creating Magic, he came up with the idea of planeswalkers and the multiverse. In the first issue of Duelist magazine he explained how to him, the set up of mages constantly discovering new world seemed like a perfect fit for a collectable card game. He didn't come up with much more lore however. During playtesting most cards had very dull names: Skeleton, Angel, Troll, etcetera. When Garfield realised he might want to make other, similar creatures in later expansions he and the playtesters made up a whole bunch of names that just sounded cool. So while Alpha introduced familiar Magic names like Urza, Serra, Sengir, Hurloon, Benalish and Keldon, they really had no meaningat the time. Then when the first expansion rolled around, mister Garfield took inspiration in a real life source. So while Arabian Nights features some more cool-sounding-but-meaningless names (Serendib, Juzám), it also brought in actual characters from the stories of 1001 nights, such as Aladdin and Ali Baba. Clearly there was not much thought put into coming up with a coherent story for Magic.

Friday, 2 January 2015

Multiverse in Review!

So what is this blog?
The Magic storyline has snaked its way into novels, anthologies, e-books, comics, videogames, old calendars... and all this stuff was published by various companies, not always in chronological order, and with varying levels of thoroughness from the editors in trying to make everything fit together. You can find the complete list here. This blog is my attempt to have it all make sense!

For each story I will provide a summary, a review and a discussion of any continuity issues. I am going through the various sources in roughly the order in which they were released, though I'm grouping related sources together. So for example I plan on first reviewing all the stories in the Weatherlight Saga, before going back and reviewing any other stories released simultaneously.
If you want to see how far I've gotten, or if you want to start reading the reviews in a logical order, I suggest you start with my table of contents, which provides links to every review I've done so far.

As a side project to all of this I am also creating a complete timeline of all the Magic stories. It can be found here, but be aware that it is still very much a work in progress!

The start of, hopefully, something big!
My motivation
I love Magic: the Gathering. I've been playing it since I was 10, never stopped. For almost as long I've been intrigued by the storyline behind the cards. I especially love how broad it is. The stories span dozens of worlds, ranging from high-fantasy locales like Ravnica to the horror of Innistrad or the pseudo-sci-fi of Mirrodin. The timeline between Antiquies and the current set stretches across some 5000 years and sees the rise and fall of many civilizations. Magic hasn't yet reached the level of history something like the Marvel Universe has, but it has made impressive inroads during the last twenty years!

There is a downside though, which is that the storyline is also sprawling in how it was published. As I mentioned above, it is spread out among quite a lot of types of media and made by several publishers. On storyline forums we quite often see new Magic players who want to get into the storyline but don't know where to start. That question isn't easy to answer either. Various sagas run through the franchise, some stories heavily dependent on what came before, others essentially standalone stories. And the older stuff can be quite tricky to get.

For me though, that's an additional reason to love the storyline. Yes, I know how odd that sounds, but it's true. I am a collector (obviously), so I love hunting down obscure parts of the storyline. I am also a historian, so I love digging into the lore and seeing how it all fits together. And finally I am a long-time comic book fan, so I'm used to coming up with explanations for apparent contradictions in long running franchises. Since I spend so much time reading these stories and thinking about them, I figured I might as well try to do it on a blog, to lessen the confusion of players trying to get into the storyline and to preserve knowledge about old, obscure sources. Hell, if Fnord12 can do this for the entire Marvel Universe, I should be able to do it for Magic.



A short introduction to the storyline
"You are a planeswalker". Most people who have played Magic have heard that phrase at one time or another. But what does that mean? Well, you know all those dozens of Magic sets? Those actually represent different, unique worlds full of spells, creatures and artifacts for you to explore. Places for you to "gather" your "magic", as it were. Planeswalkers are wizards with the ability to leave their birthplane and explore the entire Multiverse. They are the driving force behind the stories of Magic, sometimes as main characters, sometimes merely as plot instigators.

Ever since Shards of Alara, the storyline has focussed on the planeswalkers that have been printed in the game: Jace, Chandra, Lilliana, etc. These are almost all mortal wizards who are only different from other wizards by their Spark, a mysterious thingy in their soul that gives them the ability to walk through the multiverse. Only one person in a million possesses the spark, and only one in a million of those Ascend and gain the ability to leave travel between planes. That they are this rare is probably a good thing, for they seem to be enormous trouble magnets. Almost every set introduces some huge calamity to the plane it's set on (Elder Gods rising, vampires threatening to end humanity, time travel altering the history of the plane), and there is always a planeswalker right in the middle of it.

Before Future Sight, planeswalkers were different. They still caused planewide disasters on a regular basis, but this was to be expected as the old-school 'walkers were all immensely powerful. Though Urza, Serra, Freyalise and the others all started out as mortal wizards, once their Spark ignited they turned into immortal beings made of pure magical energy. Since they were so stupidly powerful, Wizards of the Coast figured they couldn't print them on cards (after all, the players represented the planeswalkers. How could you summon another player?), and often relegated them to being the shadowy powers behind the plot. The main characters of these old stories were usually mere mortals, like Gerrard, Khamal or Glissa, who had to deal with the mess left by some passing planeswalker. Since Wizards eventually realised it was a bit stupid that planeswalkers couldn't be represented in the game nor be main characters, they revamped their powers. The in-story explanation of this can be found in the novels of the Time Spiral cycle. Well get there eventually.

If you want a more in-depth look at the history of the Magic storyline, do feel free to check out this other article I have written on the subject.