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The ’90s Revisited – Magic: The Gathering – The Shadow Mage #2

[I’d ‘revisited’ this series as a whole back in August/September 2012 for a group blog that doesn’t exist anymore. And due to a personal issue with Boom Studios’ comics I refuse to buy their new Magic series. So, instead of buying THOSE new comics, and to have my content covering this series fully on my own blog (so as to not disappear when an external blog shuts down), I’m revisiting–as single issues–the ORIGINAL Magic: The Gathering comics published by Acclaim through their Armada imprint back in 1995!]

magicthegathering_theshadowmage_002Desolate Angel

Writer: Jeff Gomez
Pencils: Val Mayerik
Ink: James Pascoe
Painted Color: Mark Csaszar
Letters: Adam Niedzwiecki
Editor-In-Chief: Bob Layton
Cover Painting: Val Mayerik
Cover Date: August 1995
Cover Price: $2.50

Well, one thing to notice straight away is that you really need to pay clooooose attention to years to know what sort of time has passed! The first issue opened on "Autumn of 1265, by the reckoning of the Sages of Minorad." That issue referenced time in relation to that–a week later, a month later, seven years later. This issue opens in "late Summer, 1280 by the reckoning of the Sages of Minorad." So it’s been nearly 15 years since the events that opened the first issue…and doing the math, we’re opening some 7-8 years after the previous issue ended! So quiiiiite a gap, there.

The young Jared Carthalion is now 14ish, having spent the last 3/4ths of a decade training to take on Ravidel. However, while Ravidel knows where and how to find Jared, knows that Jared’s got access to magic, and even declared that their final duel had begun…he apparently decided to kick back and leave Jared alone for awhile, rather than finishing his would-be opponent while he could.

So we get some verbal exposition–as Jared is pained using his magic, Ezer has had him attempt to train physically so he can put up SOME sort of fight, if not magically. A giant spider is summoned to them and attacks–Ezer immediately recognizes it as "a minion of Ravidel" because of course. This is the last straw, and NOW Jared determines to fight back, and summons a Hurloon Minotaur. In the midst of the giant spider attack, the Minotaur and Jared discuss what’s happening, share introductions (the minotaur’s name is Sings Two Ways, and he and his people were granted a boon by the elder Carthalion that they cannot repay, and thus Sings Two Ways gladly fights in defense of Jared and Ezer). Jared sees the spider apparently winning and steps in and the two slay the creature.

The spider defeated, Sings Two Ways laments he must leave…he’s been poisoned and will die unless Jared returns him to his people. Their home destroyed, Jared and Ezer are now homeless in the rain in the streets of Arathoxia. Jared spots a beautiful young woman and laments his raggedness by comparison. Before long, he and Ezer are in a hospice, the older man dying, and Jared determined to seek out some way to save him. Leaving the hospice, he’s set upon by Yorgo and his gang, and Jared summons some goblins, but is then horrified when they nearly kill the boys and laments, wondering if butchering others is what his power can do. We get a page of Arathoxian politics re: Ravidel, and then find Jared speaking with the Vizier’s wife in House Carthalion, where he has ventured for help. She references "the battle of Aster Fall" (which contextualizes the previous issue a bit) and shows him a Black Lotus, but they’re interrupted by the vizier’s return so she gives him an Alabaster Potion and sends him off. Jared steals the Black Lotus, recognizing its power, but while he tries to figure out how to use it, is greeted by that beautiful young woman–who invites Jared to Beggartown that evening.

After giving some of the potion to Ezer, Jared meets her there, where we find a whole community of thieves/beggars, including Yorgo’s group…and they’re none to happy that Liana has brought Jared into their space. But Jared offers some of the remaining potion to one of the boys hurt by the goblins earlier, though it earns him no thanks. The city’s guards descend on the group from nowhere, and Liana stops Jared from using his magic as that would bring the wrong sort of attention. As the crowd flees…Jared and Liana are suddenly confronted by none other than Ravidel himself! Jared lashes out immediately, but the more experienced planeswalker casts a spell and defeats Jared. Liana steps in–apparently she and Ravidel have some history–and drives the planeswalker off after revealing she has multiple moxes and referencing "The Treaty of the Shard." Ravidel claims a proper duel now would run counter to his plans, so leaves. Hours later, Jared and Liana pose for the page, as we see she’s second-guessed what she was going to tell Jared, as the boy realizes he’ll have to go it alone.

Well…that’s a loooong summary, and I’m sure I really glossed over some key details! There’s enough going on here to fill 3-4 issues in terms of modern comics’ pacing and such. This is a really dense story…and one that relies on the reader to have picked up on and remembered a number of subtle details! The reader also gets to fill in a lot of blanks, between the 7-year-gap between issues to imagining the details of Sings Two Ways’ relationship to Jared’s father, to the nature of House Carthalion. There’s also the curiosity of Ravidel allowing so much time to pass without expending much effort to personally confront Jared until he’s begun finding apparently-powerful allies, such as Liana! While I have some meta-textual knowledge of "The Shard," I’ll leave that to discuss more as it comes up in other Armada Magic issues, since I’m going issue-by-issue through one series at a time here.

The story continues to hold more potential than what it executes…it’s not bad, but feels too dense, too "compressed" for me after 20 years of "decompressed" storytelling in comics, and more years removed from the depths of Magic: the Gathering knowledge. Back in 1996, I was fresh into the game and fairly steeped in knowledge of the various cards and bits of lore. Taking stuff month by month, where the game had only even existed for a little under two years, it was a whole different thing back then than now, some 25 years later reading this from a muuuuch different vantage point!

The art is good, and I feel like I liked it better in this issue than the previous, though it’s the same art team! Perhaps because–while dense story-wise–this issue didn’t have to cover 7+ years, so there was more of a sense of consistency…and I’m beginning to get a better sense of characters, now that things have settled a bit, and been able to build a bit on what’s come before, which I suppose allows me to appreciate the art more, not being as overwhelmed with "everything."

This definitely looks like a fantasy comic, and continues to remind me a bit of Barry Windsor-Smith‘s art for some reason.

I was also interested to note ads in the issue…particularly for the Chronicles set. This was the set, after all, that released in August or so 1995, offering white-border "unlimited" editions of previously-limited black-border cards from the Arabian Nights, Antiquities, Legends, and The Dark expansion sets…and which led to Wizards of the Coast establishing their "Restricted List" that persists to this day.

We have the addition of Liana–apparently a planeswalker herself–to the story, and it seems obvious something bigger is afoot. There’s the general knowledge displayed by House Carthalion of the battle of Aster Fall; their possession of a Black Lotus; and Liana having history with Ravidel. At the second issue here, that suggests "the world" of Magic is about to get a whole lot bigger than Jared’s little corner of things.

As mentioned in covering the previous issue…this story is one built around the cards…rather than the cards being built around the story. The issue–as with the first (though I didn’t get into it)–has a bit of "backmatter" with words from the editor to the reader, as well as a mini-column "Seer Analysis" by Shawn F. Carnes where Carnes looks at the issue from the point of view of Magic: The Gathering the game, pointing out details such as a Hurloon Minotaur being a 2/3 creature, while a Giant Spider is 2/4, and so while the two creatures would indeed damage each other, neither would one-shot-kill the other.

Also like the first issue, this issue’s cover announces the inclusion of a genuine Magic: The Gathering card. UNlike the previous issue, though…this one has the card in a clear plastic insert/wrapper stapled into the issue itself, rather than being loose in a polybag. This certainly allows a better situation wherein one can READ the issue itself and choose whether or not to remove the card! It may be a crapshoot if you find this issue "in the wild" on whether it includes the card or not, but it’s more likely, perhaps, than if you find #1 in the wild. [Edit to add: the card this issue comes with is a 4th Edition Blue Elemental Blast]

I also have a certain amount of personal sentimentality to this issue, as I recall a visit to my grandmother and having this comic with me, as I associate this cover with that visit; it also puts me in mind of an aunt, who had tried to show interest in my comics for my sake. I know I had consciously recalled bits of the first issue, as well as this issue from its cover (and it’s great that the cover shows something from the issue itself–a Hurloon Minotaur vs. Giant Spider!). I don’t have the same conscious recollection of the covers, even, of the 3rd and 4th issue of this series, nor even the story or how things turn out…even consciously recalling having re-read this series a few years ago!

Two issues down, and we’re halfway through this entire mini-series…

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The ’90s Revisited – Magic: The Gathering – The Shadow Mage #1

[I’d ‘revisited’ this series as a whole back in August/September 2012 for a group blog that doesn’t exist anymore. And due to a personal issue with Boom Studios‘ comics I refuse to buy the new MAGIC #1. So, instead of buying new comics, and to have the content fully on my own blog to not disappear, I’m going to re-revisit–as single issues–the ORIGINAL Magic: The Gathering comics published by Acclaim through their Armada imprint back in 1995!]

magicthegathering_theshadowmage_001The Aster Fall

Writer: Jeff Gomez
Pencils: Val Mayerik
Ink: James Pascoe
Painted Color: Mark Csaszar
Letters: Bethanne Niedz
Editor-In-Chief: Bob Layton
Cover Painting: Val Mayerik
Cover Date: July 1995
Cover Price: $2.50

To the best of my understanding, this is THE first Magic: The Gathering comic. Though its story may not chronologically be the first, it was the first-published, kicking off the Armada imprint from Acclaim, and introducing the (comics) world to MTG in the spring of 1995. The game itself had premiered in October 1993, some 18 months earlier…and with its setting as a “multiverse,” it was certainly a ripe thing to bring to comics!

The issue opens on an active battlefield. We meet Lord Carthalion, Ezer, and a Lieutenant as they witness a falling star–a bad omen. A magic-powered ship bursts onto the scene, carrying Battlemage Ravidel…the enemy of this Lord Carthalion. The two engage into a “duel” and exchange spells to weaken and harm the other…culminating in Carthalion sacrificing himself to buy time for Ezer to flee with baby Jared…last heir to the Carthalion name. In the aftermath of the battle, Ezer has been artificially aged to a wasted old man, though the baby is relatively unaffected. As Ezer laments their situation–drinking himself into a stupor–we see the baby apparently work some protective magic to save his own life against the intrusion of a (dire?) wolf. Later, city guards at Arathoxia do not believe that this frail old man is in any way who he claims to be, nor the child with him…functionally banishing them from what should have been a life of relative luxury (despite their losses) to that of lowly street-rats, scrounging for food and living off the scraps of the city.

7 years pass, and the young Jared Carthalion is an able thief, stealing food for himself and father-figure Ezer to survive (barely) on. He is bullied by others his age and in no way “included,” existing all but alone. Even after the years that have passed, Ezer tries to keep alive the flame of who Jared really is, where he’s come from, though the boy can’t even envision anything ever getting better…which enrages the old man, who strikes the boy. Meanwhile, using a scrying device, Ravidel spies on the boy and his guardian, and opts to arbitrarily send a summoned minion to kill the boy. When the berzerker bursts in on the pair, Ezer works some magic…as does Jared! The boy has “tapped!” This excites Ezer–the boy WILL be able to avenge his house! However, Ravidel revels in this as well, declaring that their FINAL duel begins.

The last time I read this series, I blew through all four issues pretty quickly, glossing over details and simply taking it in as a totally generic fantasy story with too-fast pacing, lack of characterization, and largely being Magic in little more than name-only. This time through, sticking to this single issue and looking back over stuff and taking it in as a singular thing, I enjoyed it a bit more.

Story-wise, this IS a fairly generic thing. There’s hardly room in ~21 pages to worldbuild when the entire issue encompasses a massive battle, travel, and spans more than seven years.

We’re introduced to Lord Carthalion–the patriarch/leader of the Carthalions. He seems to have some magical ability…but is a mere mortal, compared to the power of a PLANESWALKER in Ravidel. We never get a rason for this battle, for Ravidel’s assault. He’s a two-dimensional villain for the sake of being a villain, apparently. An opponent because their MUST BE “an opponent.” We also get no real sense of what a “planeswalker” is, or WHY a “planeswalker” is and so on. Meta-textually, the reader probbbbbbably knows what one is–the allure of a Magic: The Gathering comic is almost certainly to expand on the cards and game one already knows.

Now in 2021, I’m looking back on this comic from 25 years later, as a person 25 years older, and with 25 years and a number of additional comics as well as dozens of novels and quite a few short stories, and “newer resources” such as Wikipedia and a Magic: The Gathering -specific fan-wiki, and podcast resources/interviews with creators, and generally a heckuva larger understanding than 14/15-year-old Walt had. And I can “appreciate” this issue as the first bit of a much larger thing, rather than something to be taken in total isolation.

The art doesn’t overly impress me–though it’s not bad, really. It’s absolutely better than anything I could produce, but none of these characters are REALLY all that singularly-recognizable and are far from “iconic” visages. The overall visuals certainly evoke a certain mid-90s feel…perhaps due to thinking of the artist recently as I read this issue, I see hints of Barry Windsor-Smith, and overall early Valiant here…though it’s obviously other creators.

While the visuals try to evoke very specific cards and their in-game use; and a column in the back of the issue elaborates on very specific Magic: The Gathering cards represented in the action–I’m far enough removed from early MTG and these cards and any such knowledge I was steeped in as a kid reading this, so it reduces the cards’ representations to generic fantasy-ish magic effects and some random-ish action that meant little to me in the reading.

The cover gives us Lord Carthalion in full strength wielding a sword in one hand, casting a fireball (presumably) from the other; while we also get a representation of the baby facing a looming wolf in a wooded space. This is relevant to the issue–Carthalion’s duel, and Jared’s fate…so it’s not just some arbitrary, random, unfocused magic-user. This is a singular cover; to this day, I am only aware of–get this: ONE SINGLE COVER for this issue. My copy has “Direct Sales” in the barcode…hence this came from the “direct market” or “comic shops.” There may be “newsstand sales” for the issue–copies that sold through newsstands or non-comic shop locations (Bookstores like Waldenbooks or B. Dalton, or found at a grocery store or such). But the difference would be the barcode itself…NOT a different cover image!

The issue originally came polybagged with a 4th edition Fireball card–an actual, playable card from Magic: The Gathering . This was from right as Revised Edition was fading away and 4th Edition was ramping up…I don’t recall for certain but I believe this FIreball may have been the first 4th edition (or 4th edition-STYLE) card I owned for the game. Unlike many such comics at the time, despite the polybag, there’s a banner across the top of the cover itself proclaiming the inclusion of the “free” card. So minus the bag and card itself…the banner remains.

The card was not a unique card “exclusive” to the comic or anything; it wasn’t some limited edition or variant or whatnot. It was just…a card. For the game. Playable. A little piece of the game included with a comic based on the game. What a far cry from more recent Magic comics with alternate-art cards shrink-wrapped with an issue and prompting an extra-sized cover price for the inclusion of a sheet of cardboard, the card itself, and shrink-wrapping in addition to the other regular costs of producing a comic (referencing the IDW-published Magic comics from 2012 or so).

This first issue of The Shadow Mage kicks off a story set in the “world” of Magic…but it’s a case of the story referencing the cards, rather than the cards referencing a story. I’d put it as well that this is from when the entirety of Magic: The Gathering was a more vague “idea” than concrete story, and what would eventually develop was still BEING developed.

There’s not really much of anything to this issue to make it a destination-read or something to seek out…unless one specifically wants to go back to the beginning of Magic’s appearance in comics. Or snag the first appearance of Jared Carthalion, Battlemage Ravidel, the first Elder Dragon represented in a comic (Chromium Rhuell’s corpse being part of the planar barge), and so on.

That said…it’s actually not a bad read–and I certainly enjoyed it much more than I did Gerrard’s Quest #1 that I read last year!

After an apparently-failed launch of “modern” Magic comics a couple years ago by IDW, Boom Studios got the license and has just launched a new series, titled simply Magic (dropping the “: The Gathering” part) and I haven’t a clue where they’re gonna take the story. After a brief 2-book return to the world of printed novels, Wizards of the Coast went right back to digital-only to tell the story of card sets, so this new Boom series is a different return to print…and some “hype” I’ve seen suggests they’re hoping for a Mighty Morphin Power Rangers level resurgence of the property in comics. However…it’s that comparison that seems to have sparked hype on THIS original series with some crazy activity on The Shadow Mage #1 in graded condition and such with speculators apparently flocking to it in hopes that something from that issue pops up and becomes The Next Big Thing in modern Magic comics.

Me?

I’m gonna sit back and enjoy re-reading original 1990s’ Magic: The Gathering comics, and appreciate the lack of overhype, lack of variants, and (relative) lack of pure, greedy speculation.

magicthegathering_theshadowmage_001_blogtrailer

The ‘90s Revisited: Magic the Gathering: Gerrard’s Quest #1

90s_revisited

magic_the_gathering_gerrards_quest_001Gerrard’s Quest Part 1: Initiation

Written by: Mike Grell
Pencils by: Pop Mhan
Inks by: Norman Lee
Letters by: Michael Taylor
Colors by: Dave Stewart
Separations by: Lisa Stamp, Stu Hiner, Brian Gregory, Harold MacKinnon
Cover by: Mark Harrison
Editors: Peet Janes and Ian Stude
Cover Date: March 1998
Cover Price: $2.95
Published by: Dark Horse Comics

I’ve been “aware of” this series for over 20 years. The original MTG comics were published by Acclaim, under their Armada imprint. Those lasted a couple years with a number of mini-series and specials. This, too, is a mini-series…but by late-1997/early-1998, the license had moved to Dark Horse. Also by this point there was a move toward a unified “whole” in the MTG continuity/story, rather than everything being a mash up of fantasy tropes and generic fantasy-style stories.

Here we begin “Gerrard’s Quest.” Despite that being the story title (even in the indicia!) it is NOWHERE on the cover of the issue. While the “issue’s chapter” IS “Initiation” that is what’s on the cover…where usually it would be interior-only, or in addition to the series’ subtitle. This is solely billed (cover-wise) as Magic the Gathering #1 of 4. Nothing to indicate anything came before…nothing to indicate (now long after the fact) that this is the first chapter of Gerrard’s Quest (as the long-outta-print collected volume is titled and the story referred to in general).

Without even looking back, I’m quite sure that even the Armada books had subtitles on the covers and/or the subtitle logos of whatever set the issue(s) contained stories for. So that’s a huge dislike of this to me from the start. Having only the MTG logo and the title “Initiation” at the bottom of the cover, it suggests to me that the issue is ABOUT some initiation. Into what, though? Is it the reader being initiated into the “I-read-Magic-the-Gathering-comics” portion of the comics audience? Is it about someone joining some group of planeswalkers banding together to save the multiverse? By the cover alone, the ONLY thing really of interest to me would be the MTG logo. The rest of the cover just looks like some generic fantasy-ish thing and even knowing the broad strokes (having read loads of the novels and re-read a bunch of the novels in the last 17 months or so) I’m not immediately sure who any of the characters/entities on the cover are supposed to be, outside of Gerrard.

The story in the issue is choppy and all over the place. It’s rather loose, and really seems little more than hitting bullet points. I’d have to practically re-write the issue to give it a proper summary here. Suffice it to say that it picks up with Gerrard lamenting others dying for him, and the burden of the artifacts that are his birthright, the “Legacy.” The ship he’s on gets to Rath, a lotta fighting happens, someone he apparently knew dies, other stuff happens and…yeah. Having read the anthology/novel Rath and Storm at least twice now (once back in 1999 or 2000, once back in late 2018 or early 2019) I have a vague idea from memories of THAT as to who THESE characters are and what’s going on.

Early in the issue I get the sense that the crew is on their way to Rath and the Stronghold to save Sisay. And then there’s some scene with people related to Crovax and then suddenly the Weatherlight and its crew are there…and after Rofellos dies, Sisay is with them.

What the heck did I miss?!?

This feels like little more than a generic visual review/overview of a prose story. And sure, it ends on a cliffhanger-like note with a to-be-continued promise…but strictly in terms of this issue, I’m not invested in any of these characters. I don’t KNOW who any of these characters ARE from this issue. (I only know the characters because I’ve read the prose novels!) Other than the clear sense that Gerrard’s upset about involvement with his “Legacy,” it’s just…pictures and dialogue.

I like the art well enough despite my clumsy attempt to describe it ahead: the layouts get sorta interesting and creative. The inks and colors work well. The overall visual experience seems a bit rough and angular and almost “gritty,” if that’s the word I’m looking for. It’s not awful, but it doesn’t have the smoother, sleeker sense of shiny wonder and just SOMETHING I can’t find the words for.

I finally tracked this mini-series down recently via a site I didn’t realize I COULD order comics from. Pulling this issue to read, I had visions of covering this whole mini-series…but assuming the subsequent 3 issues are on par with this one…I’m gonna be floundering for words and repeating myself and it’ll generally be a mess! The only REAL reason I would even suggest anyone track this issue/series down is if you’re a COMPLETIST on MTG comics.

Seriously.

In place of this, I would recommend tracking down the book or ebook of Rath and Storm, edited by Peter Archer, and read that instead. And that’s disappointing enough to say, given this is written by Mike Grell. But if you like his writing in general…find something else he’s written and read or re-read that and you’ll probably appreciate it more. I may yet read the rest of this mini, and maybe I’ll change my mind. But as of just this issue alone…it’s a disappointment and far more in the vein of “early MTG” than the far more epic, storied stuff that would come not long after in the novels and such.

magic_the_gathering_gerrards_quest_001_blogtrailer

Unboxing a Dominaria Bundle Pack

dominaria_bundle_unboxing_20180429a

2018 is Magic the Gathering‘s 25th anniversary year. And with the anniversary comes a new set going back to the world of Dominaria–the plane (or world) that most of the game’s story was set on for its first several years and card sets.

Though this post is looking at cards, if you want comics content, here are some links to posts I did a few years ago (and stuff I may revisit again in the near future–but time will tell!)

The Shadow Mage | Ice Age | Fallen EmpiresArabian Nights | Nightmare | Antiquities War | Urza-Mishra War | Elder Dragons | Homelands | Dakkon Blackblade


dominaria_bundle_unboxing_20180429ab

Chloe insisted on visiting with me as I began opening packs, and even made quite a fuss when I wouldn’t let her onto the table. The photo above shows her on her "pedestal" looking around, having come running at the sound of me opening the first booster pack…which admittedly probably sounded very similar to me opening a packet of kitty-treats.

When I opened the first booster, I was just curious to really look at the spread of cards, where I first really noticed that there seemed to be a great mix, with each booster having at least one of each color and an artifact! I knew already that there’s specifically at least one "Legendary" character in each pack, but I hadn’t fully paid attention to the mix in individual boosters. I was impressed, and decided to "document" the entire bundle…mostly for myself, enjoying going through such a huge stack of boosters, and curious about being able to look back and see what I’d gotten with what else in which pack(s).

Then I realized that even though I am NOT a video blogger, I could show off an "unboxing" in this way. So…as said above, if you don’t care about Magic: The Gathering as a card game and such, there are some links to my 2012 coverage of a bunch of the original comic books, published by Armada (Acclaim Comics).

I’ll show the cards from each pack, note the Rare, and whatever other thoughts occur to me from going through.


Pack #1:

dominaria_bundle_unboxing_20180429b

This pack was where I first noticed the "balance" in the packs specifically. Artifact, Black, Blue, Green, Red, White–even a multi-color Legend as the Rare!

I wasn’t overly thrilled with this one, as I already had a Grand Warlord Radha and would have preferred some others I didn’t already have…but that’s a theme that’ll run through opening most booster packs!

Rare: Grand Warlord Radha


Pack #2:

dominaria_bundle_unboxing_20180429c

The second pack yielded a foil as well as a rare. This is my second foil Island of Dominaria; not bad, though, as I tend to like Blue. Not much else of huge note to the pack. The rare is the Legendary. While not as cool as some other stuff, it’s got some potential to me, especially in a White deck.

Rare: Evra, Halcyon Witness

Foil: Island


Pack #3:

dominaria_bundle_unboxing_20180429d

I think this pack was the first I got Tetsuko Umezawa in a booster. Also got another Serra Angel, which I believe gives me a full 4-copy "playset" of the card in this edition. I like the art on the Urza’s Ruinous Blast; and it certainly represents a key moment in MTG history!

Rare: Urza’s Ruinous Blast


Pack #4:

dominaria_bundle_unboxing_20180429e

This was definitely the best pack of the bundle! An Artifact, at least one card for each color, a multicolor, two of the Memorial to ____ lands… AND a foil!

And the foil, at that, is a rare. FURTHER…it’s a Mythic Rare!

This is the first time I’ve gotten a foil-anything that wasn’t common; for it to be a foil of a Mythic Rare is fantastic! It’d probably be asking way too much for it to have been a foil of Karn, Scion of Urza, but as Jhoira was a card I’d started out wanting, I’m quite happy with it. (though I have two non-foils of her previously).

Added bonus to this pack is it also came with a non-foil Rare, the Helm of the Host, which creates a token copy of whatever creature has it equipped…which has some fun potential to it!

Rare: Helm of the Host

Foil Rare (Mythic): Johira, Weatherlight Captain


Pack #5:

dominaria_bundle_unboxing_20180429f

Very little could "hold up" to the previous pack! Some fun for this one, though, includes the Rat Colony, which I definitely want to build a deck around. I built my first "Rat Deck" back in July 1995, when the only rats in the entire game were Plague Rats, Pestilence Rats, and Bog Rats. I even had to use Vampire Bats to flesh the deck out a bit, reasoning that bats were "rats with wings." Since this new Rat Colony allows one to have any number of it in a deck…for purely casual play, I don’t even need any other rats. Just load up with this, have some support spells, and basic lands, and voila!

This pack gives me a new token as well, with the Cleric. I’ve got plenty-ish of the Saproling and Knight tokens (verrrry glad I had not ordered any Saprolings online.

I’m not overly keen on lands as the rare card I a pack…but at least the Cabal Stronghold is new-to-me!

Rare: Cabal Stronghold


Pack #6:

dominaria_bundle_unboxing_20180429g

This pack has a couple of cards for my inevitable "Fungus Deck" from the set. Fungal Infection essentially deals a damage while also generating a Saproling; while Sporecrown Thallid gives +1/+1 to Saproling and other Fungus creatures.

Aryel, Knight of Windgrace will be a nice addition for a "Knights deck."

And look–another foil! Shiny…

I’m a bit amused at the art for Arcane Flight…perhaps simply the ridiculousness of a cat sprouting wings and taking flight. Talk about a nightmare for birds!

Rare: Aryel, Knight of Windgrace


Pack #7:

dominaria_bundle_unboxing_20180429h

Not much to stand out for this pack. Jaya’s Immolating Inferno definitely has a lotta potential in a Red deck, and definitely makes me want to get Jaya herself all the more!

Rare: Jaya’s Immolating Inferno


Pack #8:

dominaria_bundle_unboxing_20180429i

The timing for getting the Dread Shade here was good…I’d just been reading part of the serialized fiction on WotC‘s website that had characters pondering facing one of these. So that makes for a "fun" pull. Also cool to get Llanowar anything for the nostalgia (though I’d prefer the "classic" Llanowar Elves by name–another card in this set, but not this booster).

This pack also yields my first Knight of Grace, which is a counterpart to the Knight of Malice, and I look forward to using them in a "Knights deck."

Rare: Dread Shade


Pack #9:

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Here’s another fun pack! For one, Traxos, Scourge of Kroog is a card I liked the look of and was definitely interested in! I believe it’s basically a dragon engine…regardless, it puts me in mind of them, which is a great bit of nostalgia.

After just marveling at my first Knight of Grace, this pack had another one. Better yet, this time in the same pack I also got the Knight of Malice. Nice little pairing, there!

And this pack has another Token I hadn’t realized existing: Jaya‘s Emblem, I believe from her "main" Planeswalker ability. Now that I have this…definitely want the actual card all the more!

(Note for this photo: I had Traxos on the Black pile rather than the Artifacts pile. Oops!)

Rare: Traxos, Scourge of Kroog


Pack #10:

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Final pack of the box, last one to get anything "good!"

And…not much of interest for me in terms of opening-the-pack excitement. I believe the saga card The Mending of Dominaria is new to me; but it didn’t really live up to the "potential" that a "final pack" COULD have had.

I don’t think I’d particularly noted if I got any of the other ones, but I’ve realized/am guessing that the handful of cards with the "planeswalker" symbol watermark (like seen above on Final Parting) denote key "story moments" for the set.

Based on an "ad card" (backside of a token) there’d been something about "following the story" that referenced several cards including Final Parting; one of which is either a holdover or a "spoiler" for the set’s serialized story!

Rare: The Mending of Dominaria


The Rares:

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Ten boosters, 11 rares…the "extra" being a Mythic Rare…not bad!

And of course, beyond simply being 10 boosters…the bundle came with a "spindown counter" (20-sided die/D20 with the Dominaria set symbol as the "20"), a pack of 80 or so basic lands (which’ll be quite handy for building decks!) as well as a "fancy" storage box that I really like the art for.

Given the price of the bundle’s basically the same as buying 10 individual boosters…I’m liking the bundle better for the "extras" it comes with…and that it seems like each bundle has a Mythic Rare in it, plus several foils.


Favorite Pull of the Bunch:

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And of course, for "rarity" as well as just being a really pretty Blue/Red card combined with the foil effect, and being a character I was interested in getting from the start, Jhoira, Weatherlight Captain is my favorite pull of the bundle!

While I "suspect" there’s a fair bit of "value" to the card as a foil of a Mythic Rare…I figure the "sentimental value" is enough for me to hang onto the card. I pulled her from a booster, and how many Mythic Rare foils are there really out there like this? (other than specially-packaged Planeswalker Deck cards)

For me…this card is extra-unique in/for my collection.


That’s that for now… ten boosters in a bundle; the bundle now "unboxed!"

It’s cool that the Dominaria set came out RIGHT as I was getting pulled back into the game/story/etc. Even if just feeding the OCD and money I shouldn’t really spend…this was a worthwhile purchase for the time, and likely future time actually going through the cards, deckbuilding, and hopefully actually playing the game.

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Revisiting The Brothers’ War – a Magic: The Gathering novel

I pulled this off my shelf a few weeks ago after re-reading some of the earliest Armada Magic: The Gathering comics. (The Shadow Mage, Ice Age, Fallen Empires, and Antiquities War). Something about the Antiquities War mini-series reminded me of the acknowledgements in the novel to prior versions of the story of The Brothers’ War. And rediscovering that the comics left the “whole story” incomplete–Armada only got to publish 2/3 of their planned arc for the story–my interest was reignited.

A few years ago, I read Time Spiral, the first book in a trilogy of novels covering that block of Magic: The Gathering card sets; part of what really drew me in was that it revisited the world of Dominaria, which seemed to have been largely left behind after the Invasion block. And not really having read any of the books since Apocalypse, I was interested in seeing where Dominaria had wound up.

Anyway, The Brothers’ War.

This is easily one of my favorite books of all time–this is at least the third, maybe the fourth or fifth time I’ve read the novel cover to cover…something I do very rarely and with so few books.

This came out in 1998 or so, kicking off a huge line of MTG novels from Wizards of the Coast. There’d been another line of MTG novels (published through HarperPrism) several years earlier–but those were (for the most part) generic fantasy novels with the MTG “branding.” This line provided the actual story of the cards, the continuity of the game itself.

At least with the early MTG expansions, as WotC was world-building and beginning to pull everything together into one continuity (albeit across a multiverse), everything came back to the war between Urza and Mishra. Much of the detail was vague and loose–but what was clear was that a conflict between these brothers had caused much destruction and deeply impacted their world. An unnatural ice age actually descended on the world after the conflict, and the world itself was cut off from the multiverse for centuries.

But this novel went back to the beginning–Urza and Mishra as young boys, arriving at Tocasia’s school, where they began learning of artifacts and the Thran (an ancient civilization). They grew into the school–Mishra learning of the Fallaji, a desert-dwelling people while Urza focused on his inventions. Eventually, they visit an ancient cave, where they discover intact Thran artifacts, and are introduced to Phyrexia–a plane of living machines. They also each gain a half of an incredibly powerful Power Crystal. Mishra’s becomes known as the “Weakstone” as it can weaken artifacts while Urza’s becomes known as the “Mightstone” as it strengthens them and brings life to the machines.

From there, the brothers each covet the other’s half, leading to a rivalry that lasts the rest of their lives as the entire world eventually pays an astronomical cost for the brothers’ jealousy. Their rivalry results in the death of their teacher, sending the boys onto their own individual paths: Mishra into the desert where he becomes a part of the Fallaji, while Urza returns to “civilization” and marries into royalty. Eventually rising to top levels of government in each culture, the brothers have immense resources to throw at each other, draining the world’s resources in the process, until the only thing left is destruction.

The novel’s story is told in sections, each encapsulating a period of years in the brothers’ lives. All told, the novel spans over 60 years, following the brothers from being young boys into old age; a lifetime of conflict. Structurally, I find it interesting to see stories that do span characters’ entire lifetime (or the majority of it)…something to it seems more interesting and complete to me than just continuous stories all bunched into a small span of time.

This story also seeds the foundation of stories to come, as we are introduced to a number of prominent concepts that play out across much of the Magic: The Gathering continuity. We’re also introduced to some core concepts from the cards–getting backstory on prominent cards and locations, nicely “transforming” the source material into essentially adaptation material; that is, the book’s story draws from concepts set forth in the cards, but does so in such a way that the cards then can seem like they were adapted instead from the book.

This book is marked as the first volume of the Artifacts Cycle, but it truly stands alone as a self-contained story. There’s no “to be continued” or traditional-cliffhanger sort of ending. The end does leave an opening to transition into the larger MTG continuity, but you’d pretty much have to know where it goes to truly pick up on that; even knowing it myself, it’s a bit of a disconnect, like taking a standalone movie and then 15/20 years later making a sequel. The sequel can work and validly pick up the story, but the sequel is far from any sort of “essential” to the original.

For a 1998 book–now 14ish years old–this held up remarkably well. This could have been written in 2012 if I didn’t know any better. This has been reprinted in a “trade paperback”-sized edition combined with another early MTG book, The Thran. While I would definitely love to have a standard-sized hardback of just this novel, I’m not terribly interested in the “collected edition.”

What also proved surprising (and very disappointing) for me was that this book is NOT currently (late October 2012) available as an ebook. Perhaps I’m an extreme minority, but I would gladly have paid the $6-$8 for a nook-book edition, for the convenience of re-reading this on my phone’s nook app. Instead, I spent 4-5 weeks carrying my 1998 mass-market paperback edition around, which of late has been a less than ideal prospect.

I’m fairly tempted to re-read several of the other books from this series, though I lack (by far) the kind of time TO read that I had in late high school and early college. Honestly, the primary drawback is that these are not ebooks–if they were available that way, I’d be further tempted with the ability to buy/download them and have them on my phone, to jump into “whenever” spur of the moment.

If you’re into fantasy–even if you don’t care a lick about Magic: The Gathering the card game or anything from the past 10 years from MTG in general, this is well worth reading. For me, it’s been worth reading at least three times, and I enjoyed it as much now as I did in 1998 and 1999, with a number of scenes and “moments” having stuck with me that I’d forgotten came from this book.

MTG

Revisiting Fallen Empires on the World of Magic: The Gathering

Full post at FantasyRantz.wordpress.com.

A 2012 look at Acclaim/Armada‘s 2-issue mini-series from 1995 that detailed events during the Fallen Empires setting of Magic: The Gathering.

Ice Age on the World of Magic: The Gathering Revisited


Full post at FantasyRantz.wordpress.com
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A 2012 look at Acclaim/Armada‘s 4-issue mini-series from 1995 that detailed the world and history of the Ice Age setting of Magic: The Gathering.

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