Tag: mtg (page 1 of 3)

Reignition, Part 3

Art courtesy Steve Argyle
Art courtesy Steve Argyle

[spoiler effect=”blind” show=”Disclaimer” hide=”Close”] The following is a non-profit work of fan-fiction. Magic: the Gathering and its attendant characters, locations, terminology, and events are owned by Wizards of the Coast, Richard Garfield, Mark Rosewater, et al. All rights reserved. Please support the official release.


[/spoiler]

Previously…

The darksteel tendrils rattled and growled like living things as the prisoner struggled against her restraints. She’d woken up a bit earlier than usual, so Jor Kadeen was not only annoyed at the noise, but also the hour. He scowled as he walked into the wan light of the cave, looking up at the small prison several Vulshok had struggled — and some had died — to construct.

“It’s too early in the morning for this foolishness, Glissa.”

“Release me, fool!”

Kadeen shook his head. “I know you’re not an idiot, elf. You were captured by us, we’re not just going to release you on a whim.”

Glissa snarled, frothing at the mouth, infectious ichor oozing down her chin.

“I will feast on your throatmeat!”

Kadeen’s face went sour. “Woke up on the wrong side of the bed, I see. Fine.” He drew his sword and, with a small effort of will, set it aflame.

Courtesy Austin Hsu
Artwork Courtesy Austin Hsu

“Let’s start over. Where have the Praetors gone?”

“Torture me if you wish, fleshling! All you will get from me is death!”

Kadeen’s mood darkened even more. Apparently, Glissa had used her most recent portion of rest to regather her resolve and put up a fresh front of bravado. Death had never held much fear for the elf, and now emboldened by her ‘perfection’ at the hands of the Praetors of ‘New Phyrexia,’ the corrupted traitor feared even less. Jor took a step forward.

“I won’t torture you. But I will tell you what I’ll do. I’m leaving, and I’m going to melt the Tangle.”

Glissa stopped struggling. She stared at the Mirran warrior.

“I will take my blade, which burns with the desire to see Mirrodin restored, and I will watch the copper branches and leaves of the Tangle blister and peel. The home you failed to protect will be utterly destroyed. Not ‘perfected’, not saved, destroyed. And it will be your fault. You’ll be even more of a traitor to your birthplace than you are now.”

“No.” Glissa strained against her bonds. “No! Release me!”

Jor turned and walked away from the darksteel lattice, ignoring Glissa’s screams.

“Was that really necessary?”

He turned, finding the slender form of Melira leaning against the cavern wall around the corner from the tunnel to Glissa’s chamber.

Courtesy Min Yum
Artwork Courtesy Min Yum

“We have to reach her somehow. Personal threats don’t work. I was hoping she still feels some sort of connection to the Tangle.”

“Even if she does, it would only be to corrupt it. To reshape it in Phyrexia’s image, even moreso than it is now.”

Jor shook his head. “Even if I meant to carry out my threats, it’s a dangerous place. I wouldn’t want to get stuck there.” He paused. “But we have to do something. I don’t like that the Praetors are moving in ways we can’t see. And Koth…”

“Oh, don’t start again.”

“We need action!” Jor’s anger flared. “We’ve skulked in the shadows long enough! The sooner we strike out at Phyrexia, the sooner we can draw the Praetors back out, and we can fight them and we can win! We’re well past the need for caution and circumspection!”

Melira looked at Jor evenly. “I’ll remind you that I lead here while Koth is away. Not you.”

“Then give me leave to do what must be done.”

“I’ve given you leave to question Glissa and gather intelligence. Not to reignite the fires of war.”

Jor gripped his sword more tightly. “You would have me sneak through the dark like some thief rather than bring my sword down on the necks of those who have torn apart all we hold dear… still, after everything we’ve been through…”

Melira wasn’t listening anymore. She was looking past Jor. He noticed, and turned to see a pair of amber eyes moving towards them in the dark. As the form approached, more molten glow appeared, in the hands and arms of the planeswalker Koth.

Courtesy Eric Deschamps
Artwork Courtesy Eric Deschamps

“If you want to rant about revenge and the necks of our enemies, do so at me.” Koth’s voice was weary, but every bit as strong as it had been when Jor had first met him, a voice that originated somewhere around the base of a mountain. “Melira has better things to do than pay you heed.”

Without another word, he walked past the pair into the tunnel. They followed. Koth stopped in front of Glissa and crossed his arms.

“Why are they going back to Dominaria?”

Jor and Melira blinked at Koth. Jor spoke first. “How did you…?”

“Later.” Koth thrust his chin at Glissa. “Speak.”

“They now have all they need,” Glissa hissed. “They have their guide. They have their knowledge. They have the perfected vector to return to the world that denied them, and make it their own, just as they have conquered this cold world of metal and simpletons.”

Jor scowled and moved to advance on Glissa. Koth’s arm did not seem to move — one moment it was across his bare chest, the next it was blocking Jor’s path, solid and unbreakable as darksteel. Jor took the hint.

“Explain.”

“If I did not tell your little blonde lapdog, why – ?”

“Because your body may no longer feel pain, but your soul does. And I can tear it out and scorch it.”

Both Jor and Melira stared at Koth. He continued as if he didn’t notice.

“I am a Planeswalker. I exceed any mortal power. And the Praetors, fearsome they may be, are mortal. As are you. Explain, before I remind you of that. This is a lesson you do not want.”

There was silence in the chamber. Then:

“They kept his corpse, Koth of the Hammer. The Spark was gone. But he remained. And like me, he was twisted, broken, reshaped, sent forth.” Glissa looked up. Her eyes were now haunted, not defiant. “They sent him home. And they follow.”

Koth stood like the mountains of his home. Then, he turned and stalked out. Small molten spots marked his footsteps.

Jor and Melira followed hurriedly. “What did she mean?” Jor asked at the same time as Melira’s “Where are you going?”

“It means I have to go kill a friend,” Koth said. “I’m going to kill Venser.”

Mondays are for making or talking about art.

Credits: Magic the Gathering copyright Wizards of the Coast. Glissa the Traitor art courtesy Xoaba. Jor Kadeen art courtesy Richard Wright. Melira, Sylvok Outcast art courtesy Richard Wright. Koth of the Hammer art courtesy Richard Wright.

Reignition, Part 2

Art courtesy Xoaba
Art courtesy Xoaba

[spoiler effect=”blind” show=”Disclaimer” hide=”Close”] The following is a non-profit work of fan-fiction. Magic: the Gathering and its attendant characters, locations, terminology, and events are owned by Wizards of the Coast, Richard Garfield, Mark Rosewater, et al. All rights reserved. Please support the official release.


[/spoiler]

Previously…

Dominarian taverns always felt like home, moreso than just about anywhere else. Save maybe its crypts.

She stepped through the doors, glancing around and stretching out her senses. A Planeswalker never truly lost their connection to home, even if something horrible happened to it. Nissa’s crisis on Zendikar and Chandra’s on Kaladesh were prime examples. Her manor might be located on Innistrad, but she wasn’t about to act like Sorin Markov and just… ignore a problem on the plane of her birth. It would definitely be nice if nothing like that happened here. And if she could avoid the attention of that accursed Raven Man or any of a number of demons, that’d be even better. Hence borrowing one of Jace’s spare cloaks — he had a closet full of the things, surely he wouldn’t mind the loan, even if she’d taken it without permission. It looked better on her, anyway. This one was enchanted to conceal the wearer from passing notice. He’d crafted it after he failed to sneak around Innistrad.

Not that such precautions were necessary in the current setting. This tavern was particularly raucous and chaotic. The infamous Festival of Estark was right around the corner, and many of the commoners were caught up in the excitement and preparing for the event with drink and the occasional friendly (or not-so-friendly) brawl. She kept her hood up as she navigated the loud and somewhat smelly interior of the tavern. It was a modest affair, a waystation and inn about halfway between Kush and Barbar, which partially explained the shouting.

On the floor in each of the tavern’s four corners were circles laid out in brass, laid into the wood and measuring about a two meters in diameter. They were meant to contain the spells of the fighter-mages of Kush’s Houses who tested their skills and fought for cash. Three of the circles were occupied in such contests. One had a mage in brown pitching a group of gibbering goblins against their gray-clad opponent’s swarm of plague-ridden rats. In the opposite corner, a mage in turquoise watched as a squad of spear-wielding pixies probed the floating spirits of a patient-looking mage wearing orange. The last circle was being paced by a short man in a ragged coat, who alternated between calling the action to the raucous onlookers and shilling for bets, and admonishing the young turquoise mage, who was locked in a battle of wills with a purple fighter three times his senior.

Liliana opted against joining any of the circle crowds, and instead made for the bar. Sitting apart from everyone else, nursing a mug of ale, was a tall man in a half-cloak, its edge embroidered with subtle swirls of metal thread. He didn’t radiate power as much as quietly seethe with it, and that alone made him worth her attention. Perhaps he was what had tickled her instincts across the planes.

She perched on the stool beside him, carefully not drawing attention as the barkeep approached.

“Care for a drink, miss?” The man behind the bar was amiable, and his breath didn’t stink too much. A minor miracle, that.

“Wine, if you have any,” she replied. The bartender looked a bit puzzled, then dropped out of sight to begin rummaging through bottles. He eventually produced a dark bottle covered in a fine layer of dust. He dug up a glass after some loud rummaging, and wiped it clean with the corner of his apron. The bottle’s label depicted an armored warrior in Estark’s iconic Arena doing battle what some sort of wyvern or dragon whelp. She picked up the bottle, frowning at the gaucheness of the spectacle in general and this bottle in particular, and poured.

At least it didn’t taste too terrible.

Having paid for her seat, she turned her senses to the man next to her. Following the scent of mana to this location hadn’t been difficult — it was removed enough from the common folk that the House fighter-mages could practice their skills in relative anonymity against members of other Houses. But this man, far from the revelry, was the most likely source of what she’d felt way out in Ravnica.

Along with the inscrutable and unwelcome dread that twisted in her stomach.

Her perception brushed up against her neighbor’s soul the way a teasing dancer would brush silk against a handsome member of their audience. What are you all about, handsome?

His response, metaphorically, was grabbing her wrist and staring into her eyes.

A chill ran down her spine and she broke contact as his head turned her way. A single eye burned under his brow, the other concealed by a dark patch, decorated with subtle swirls of embroidery that matched those of his half cloak. Liliana knew containment enchantments when she saw them. He wasn’t just hiding something. He was holding something back.

“Who are you, and why are you here?” His voice was quiet, crackling with power, tinged with weariness.

She rested her chin on one hand, the glass of wine in the other. “My name is Liliana Vess. And I’m here because I’m like you — powerful and misunderstood.”

His mouth twitched. “I highly doubt we’re anything alike.”

A smile touched at her lips. “Best way to find out is to get to know one another.” She crossed her legs, letting the slit of her skirt spread towards the floor.

It barely got a glance from the man. Liliana had to fight down a disappointed pout. Jace is more fun.

“I’m not in the mood for this sort of thing. Get to the point.”

The pout emerged like a ghoul from the shadows. “You really know how to take the wind out of a girl’s sails.”

His eye closed and he took a deep breath. “Miss Vess, I don’t mean any disrespect. I am simply trying to keep to myself and drink. I wanted to avoid attention. Which is why I came here.”

“Oh, I understand that entirely.” She took a sip of wine. Letting it breathe had helped reduce the bitterness. “I’ve spent a long time avoiding the attention of some truly heinous beings.” She studied his face for a moment. Not unattractive, and the silver shot through his dark hair and featuring especially at his temples made him look distinguished. “You know, when a lady gives you her name, it’s customary to give yours.”

He nodded. “Most would call me Garth.”

“And what do you call yourself?”

“Widowed.”

Pieces snapped into place in Liliana’s head. Her expression did not change.

“What was her name?”

“Rakel.”

“She must have been quite a woman, to get through that tough veneer of yours.”

He said nothing, but drank deeply of his ale.

A cry went up from the circle where the battle of wills had been taking place. Garth turned. The young turquoise mage extended a hand to the weary-looking purple man, who shook it. The caller in the raggedy coat gleefully collected bets from the crowd. A ghost of a smile, an expression of pride, flickered across Garth’s face.

Curiouser and curiouser. What are they to him?

Before she could investigate further, the door of the tavern began to shake in its frame. Repeated, strong blows from outside rattled against it. The fighter-mages dismissed their summoned servants as they turned towards what could be a real threat. When the door splintered, the source was revealed: several figures, elves and humans, all bearing various metals in their skins that looked like infections. Liliana felt the dread in her stomach turn to acidic horror. At least when she took control of servants, they were already dead, mindless and bent to her will since they had none of their own. Jace’s cloak must have carried some of his telepathy, because she could feel the torment of these living things pressed into the service of some insidious, cold agenda, bound to a hive-mind of boundless ambition and callous disregard for life.

Garth shot to his feet. His jaw twitched. Magic surged within him, a feeling undeniable to the planeswalking necromancer.

“Hammen,” he snapped.

Both the man in the ragged coat and the young turquoise mage moved to join him. Garth flung half of his cloak aside, freeing his right arm, and swept his hand in an arc before him. A circle of protection shimmered into being around them as Liliana drew in her power, light from the scars of her contracts burning to life.

At the same time, the other fighter-mages and some of the commoners rushed the intruders.

They never stood a chance.

Screams of the dying and infected rang through the tavern. Liliana seized the dead with her power as they fell, raising them again to protect her and the others on their side of the tavern from the onslaught. Garth summoned knights and spirits, some resembling elves, others treefolk. The invaders that reached them were rebuffed by Garth’s circle, save for a bestial thing that crashed through it undeterred. Before anyone else could act, Garth let out a savage bellow, lashing out with pure power to smash it to the ground, shattering it to pieces. He staggered back, grunting, a hand to his head.

That was something Liliana hadn’t felt in a while. It was an assault that had lacked Jace’s practiced, smug precision or Tamiyo’s patient, whimsical aplomb. It had been raw, unfettered psychic might, to a degree that it harmed the user almost as much as the target. She looked down at the circle that was protecting them from the infected elves; none of the humans had made it past the other fighter-mages.

This was old magic. Powerful spells unseen in the planes in some time.

Who are you?

Liliana turned her attention back to the fight at hand, rending the lifeforce from the infected elves, considering it a mercy to end their miserable servitude. No sooner had the last few crumpled to the ground than the whole wall of the tavern was smashed, the support beams barely keeping the roof intact. Some foolish youngster had conjured fire, and it was spreading. By the flickering, dangerous light, Liliana and Garth could make out the sight of a hulking form that had made its explosive entrance. It was a dark, spindly, horrible thing, and as fighter-mages lashed out with damaging spells, they fell away, power disintegrating from their minds. Unable to coordinate their strikes, the horror kept coming, straight for Liliana and Garth.

More horrors poured in after it. Liliana felt the dread within her growing to a nearly overwhelming level. The pressure of these things’ presence meant there was no time to planeswalk to safety. She raised every single corpse within sight and threw them between the circle and the oncoming horrors.

One of them reached for the man in the ragged coat, who cried out as he tried to raise a circle of his own.

“Damn it.” Garth’s jaw could have been set in stone. His neck muscles strained against his skin. His tension was a palpable thing, a bowstring drawn so taut it might snap in two. “Damn it all.”

He reached up and ripped the patch from his eye. Liliana glanced his way. The eye under the patch was intact, but it was golden with a vertical slit, glowing in the firelight, a start contrast to the dark, natural blue of the other. The skin around the golden eye was covered in scar tissue. A flare of power went out from the very center of the man. A Spark. A bright light in the oncoming darkness.

Garth left hand dove into the satchel hanging at his side, pulling out a golden ring. From it hung seven gems. Liliana’s appraising eye almost instantly recognized each one — Diamond. Emerald. Jet. Opal. Pearl. Ruby. Sapphire. Her breath caught in her throat. Garth made a fist in his right hand, took a moment to concentrate as the circle of protection collapsed, and looked up at the oncoming horrors bearing down upon them. He made a pushing gesture, his fist opening in an instant, and with a flash of light and a sound like an iron gong, a sphere resembling a full solar eclipse blossomed into being near the ceiling of the room. Pulled towards it, the horrors began to vanish, disintegrating into nothingness, along with the infected invaders, Liliana’s zombies, and all of the other summoned servants in the burning tavern. Liliana felt the cold pull of a void between the planes, and staring at the source, fought down a surge of terror.

Merciless Eviction, art by Richard Wright

“Run,” Garth said.

The four of them bolted out of the tavern, which began to crumble into the merciless singularity behind them, consuming flames, wood, corrupted bodies, insidious metal — all things. It even began to pull at those too wounded to move quickly, and the bystanders trying to help them. Garth gestured, and the maw to nowhere snapped shut. He turned to the two other male survivors.

“Master,” the man in the ragged coat breathed. “You…”

“This isn’t the time for half-measures or hiding what I am,” Garth said, returning the gems to his satchel. Liliana watched carefully — his use of such power had left him almost translucent, as if he’d been pulled towards another plane against his will. Only returning the gems and their power to his satchel kept him on Dominaria. Interesting.

Garth continued. “These things may be unknown to me, but it’s clear why they came. They came for me, for my experience, for what I paid for in blood so many years ago. Now, as before, I won’t let them fall into the wrong hands. I will not let Rakel’s sacrifice be in vain.” His paused, visibly holding back a tide of emotion. “I need you to take Hammen, and get as far away from me as you can.”

“But, Father…”

“I won’t hear it,” Garth told the young mage. His expression softened. “You fought bravely, both in the ring and against these creatures, and I’m very proud of you. Your mother would be, too. Now, please. Go with Uncle Hadin.”

“I… yes, Father.”

“Master,” Hadin repeated. “You swore to her. You swore never to use Kuthuman’s powers or treasures again. The cost…”

“I didn’t take back what he stole from Oor-tael to keep it tucked away when we’re under such an attack. Nor did I scour the world for the means of our survival just to die now, in this time.” His otherworldly eye flashed dangerously. “This is my home, and I’m going to defend it.”

“It’s mine as well.” Liliana pulled down the hood of Jace’s cloak. “I was born here. I was made here. And I’m not letting these things turn it into some sort of abomination.”

Garth smirked, his first expression even approaching mirth since Liliana had met him. “A necromancer talking about abominations in such terms?”

Liliana leveled her best withering glare at him. “Let’s not get into a competition of hypocrisy. We’ll be here all night.”

“Come on, Hammen,” Hadin said with a note of resignation in his voice. “Your father’s right. As much as I hate to admit it.” He looked up at the tall planeswalker. “I wish I could go with you.”

Garth laid a hand on the smaller man’s shoulder. “I’ve run from threats like this before, old friend. I helped us all run. But we can only run for so long before what we flee catches up with us. This is worse than anything else we’ve seen. And I won’t have it consume you or the rest of us. I need to find out how it was stopped before, and do the same, to the best of my ability. I hope you can understand that.”

Hadin nodded. “I can. We’ll be safe.”

The two turned away and Hadin conjured a portal for them to step through. Garth turned to Liliana.

“I haven’t… walked the planes in quite some time.”

Liliana smiled.

“It’s like falling off the world. You never really forget.” She looked down at the cloak she’d borrowed. Yes, that was the word. “I have some… allies I’d like you to meet. I think they could help.”

Garth nodded. “Let’s not stay away long. I feel like time is going to run out on us very quickly.”

“It always does.”

Mondays are for making or talking about art.

Credits: Magic the Gathering copyright Wizards of the Coast. Liliana Vess art courtesy Xoaba. Merciless Eviction art courtesy Richard Wright.

Reignition, Part 1

Art courtesy Tyler Jacobson

[spoiler effect=”blind” show=”Disclaimer” hide=”Close”] The following is a non-profit work of fan-fiction. Magic: the Gathering and its attendant characters, locations, terminology, and events are owned by Wizards of the Coast, Richard Garfield, Mark Rosewater, et al. All rights reserved. Please support the official release.


[/spoiler]

Hundreds of years invested in study and spellcraft, and yet, I am scrambling for time.

Teferi was never one to panic. He went about his work diligently but in an unhurried fashion. While his temporal senses were definitely in an agitated state, he himself maintained his control and delicately worked the observation of the timestream. It was precise work: one misstep or incomplete calculation, and he could throw all of Dominaria — and perhaps multiple planes — into absolute chaos.

Perhaps more than any other Planeswalker, he was keenly aware of not repeating the mistakes of the past.

He worked alone. The presence of other mages would have been a distraction, and he could afford no division of his focus. Tomes and scrolled hovered in open states around him as he made his preparations. It would be one of the most powerful and reality-bending spells of his career, but it was necessary, if his home plane was to survive what was coming.

What irked Teferi, in the back of his mind, was the vague nature of the portents. He only knew something was coming. Something both familiar and unfathomable. He’d heard rumors of eldritch horrors on other planes. His research and curiosity had made him oblivious to the details, and disinclined to investigate, until his instincts had grown to insistent to ignore. As one of the most adept archmages with time, wasting it was perhaps Teferi’s biggest pet peeve. And now, even as he made slow and careful motions with his arms to pull the threads of mana together, he felt an urgency that threatened to overcome his concentration with irritation.

There was nothing else for it. Time was running out.

Teferi closed his eyes and let his mind sink into the timestream. It was an old, familiar feeling, a comfort more than anything else. It felt like slowly sliding into a cool, running stream of fresh water, the babbling of the currents a pleasant white noise. So many events and tragedies and triumphs flashed through the mind’s eye of the archmage as he began to search for his objective.

The past was a fragile thing. As he sped through the decades gone by, Teferi kept his mind focused and calm. He had no desire to disrupt the timeline, to split things into fractured alternate possibilities. Truly, if he was to preserve the future of Dominaria, he had to preserve its past as well. He decelerated in his mental movement, his astral form holding up its hands to slow the flow of time as it had been.

There.

One hundred and three years in his past. He was in the right time. Now to the right place.

He spread his astral arms and shot across the surface of the plane like a Bird of Paradise. He left colors of mana in his wake, bleeding the magic he had gathered to make his journey. Again, precision was the watchword; overshoot his destination, and he wouldn’t have enough mana to work the spell he’d spent so many sleepless nights preparing for this moment. The deep greens and pulsing power of Skyshroud was, thankfully, hard to ignore, and he dove towards his final destination, slowing time as he did.

This was the work of split-seconds, of the tiniest fractions of time. He followed the mana, the moments, until he found who he sought. And then, he waited, counting microseconds. He watched movements in slow motion. In his mind’s eye he could see synapses firing, decisions being made, resignation settling in along with satisfaction and acceptance. His heart twinged. This would be hard. He knew it would be difficult to accept. But his choices were few and his time was short.

Now. The space between heartbeats, after the spell had been completed and before the explosion took place.

He reached out with his own mana, the power screaming from his soul. He wrapped himself around the Spark in front of him and pulled. He had done this sort of thing before, giving up his own Spark to save Dominaria when he sealed the time rift over Shiv. This was different, but the concept was similar enough that he’d been able to cobble together this spell. The Spark resisted, having accepted its fate. Teferi set his astral jaw and pulled harder. The moment stretched almost to infinity as the mages fought. Finally, Teferi prevailed, and he mentally tugged the life-line of mana that connected him to the present, taking the Spark with him.

In the present, he pushed the Spark out away from him, despite the hole in his heart calling to it. To take it upon himself would be to completely obliterate the soul attached to it, or at the very least, cast it into the dark void between planes, scattered and fragmented, shades of its former self. This was the last step of his plan, and the most difficult one, as green and white mana had never been his strongest suits.

Sweat on his physical brow, short of breath, Teferi summoned the last of his strength. He drew the remnants of his mana reserves into the final spell, and though his fingers ached and his eyes watered, he finished the incantation and pushed his power into his intent. Slowly, before his eyes, a nervous system began to appear, floating in midair, an eerie scene made all the more macabre when bones and muscles spread from the bright light of the Spark. His teeth ground together as he carefully followed the patterns of the spell and tapped the very foundations of his strength and knowledge. Finally, in a burst of power, with a soft thunderclap and an explosion of force, a body crumpled to the floor before him, naked and steaming and gasping for breath.

He managed to find the green cloak he’d set aside and spread it over the figure before him before he, too, collapsed.

Freyalise art courtesy Adam Paquette

“Hello… Freyalise.” The words came out cracked and halting, his mouth dry and his lungs burning.

“How…” The half-elf’s own voice was wracked with pain and confusion. “How dare you.”

“I had no choice,” Teferi said, managing to sit up. “Don’t worry — you finished the spell. Skyshroud was still saved. Your sacrifice was not in vain.” He reached up to a workbench, pulling down an eyepatch to hand to his friend.

She snatched it from his grip angrily. “By all of the gods in all of the planes, you are an arrogant son of a bitch.”

“I had —”

“No choice, I know.” She donned the eyepatch and sat up herself, pulling the cloak around her more due to the chill in the study than self-consciousness. “You could have taken my Spark for yourself, to do whatever it is you need to do.”

Teferi shook his head. “That is not my fate.”

“Hypocrite!” Freyalise spat on the floor. “You dare speak of fate when you do this to me?”

“You completed your fate,” Teferi replied. “But your particular skills, passion, experience — they are what will be needed to face what is to come.”

“And ‘what is to come,’ Teferi?”

A shiver ran down Teferi’s spine. “I don’t know.”

Freyalise stared at him, the fire in her eye changing from anger to confusion.

“You… don’t know?”

Teferi shook his head.

Freyalise paused. He could see her emotions shifting. They had been allies, once, and had come to know one another well. Her expression softened.

“You’re afraid.”

Teferi nodded.

“That’s something I never thought I’d see.” She rose, looking around the study. “Do you have any clues? Any at all?”

Teferi, slowly, got to his feet. His legs almost didn’t cooperate. He reached out with a tiny, well-practiced spell, and pulled his staff to him with his mind. His mana, at least, was returning.

Not quickly enough.

“I know that something is about to happen here that is both unprecedented and familiar. Revenge and horror wait on the edges of my perception. While I cannot discern details, I know that without you, the plane will fall.”

Freyalise studied the archmage. “What must I do?”

Teferi had always admired Freyalise. In the time leading up to her sacrifice in Skyshroud, she had put aside her selfish ambitions and her pride in light of their association. Her anger at him had been a knee-jerk reaction based on old patterns. Now that she was here, she was ready to give even more to save their home. Teferi had been counting on that, but still felt a bit less terrified seeing it for himself.

Hope is all I have.

He turned to a bookshelf nearby, stepping over the fallen tomes and scrolls he’d needed to rescue Freyalise in that split-second between completing her spell and dying for Dominaria. He found the spellbook he sought, turned, and handed it to the half-elf.

“You need to take this to Karn. Find him, bring him here, and help him study the text. He’ll understand.”

“How do you know?”

“That’s the only thing I know for sure about the future. It’s so dark for me. And I think I know why.”

Before he could elaborate, the study shifted around them. Bookshelves groaned and flagstones rattled, slowly lifting from the hardwood beneath as the grout splintered between them. The mages turned as one towards the undeniable source. Freyalise reached instinctively for a weapon, and murmured an elven curse when she found none.

“Go,” Teferi said. “Get out of here.”

“I am not going to leave you after you just saved my life.”

“I did not save your life only for you to lose it here.”

“You are too weak,” Freyalise insisted. “I can help!”

“Help me by finding Karn!” Teferi looked over his shoulder. “Please! Go!”

Freyalise stared at her ally, swallowing. Teferi managed a smile.

“Seeing you here, Freyalise… I’m not afraid anymore. I can face this. Please. Go.”

After a moment in which she might have protested one more time, Freyalise nodded. With a soft pop of imploding air, she was gone. The trail of mana lead back to Skyshroud. Teferi worked a brief spell to mask that trail, mixing it with the ambient noise of magic in his study. The effort almost made him pass out. Freyalise was right — he was weak.

But he would face this the way she had faced her sacrifice a century before. Bravely, calmly, knowing he had done all he could to save his home.

The bookshelves bent out of the way of a dark, swirling gateway to another plane. Teferi turned to face it, mouth twisting in disgust. It had neither the elegance nor cleanliness of a Planeswalker’s transition from one plane to another. Dull, shadowy metal tendrils reached through the portal’s edges to keep the portal open as small creatures crawled through, chattering one to the other in an odd machine tongue. Darksteel Myr, carrying an undeniable corruption.

Teferi gripped his staff, readying what mana he could.

It all dissipated when the figure stepped through the portal behind the myr.

He — it? — was tall. Piercing blue eyes studied Teferi, dark brown hair rustling in the unnatural wind of the portal. Beneath the sideburns, Teferi could see tendrils of darksteel sunk into pallid flesh like claws. The figure’s clothes were a hodgepodge of magical armor and bare skin, married with splotches consistent with phthisis and more swirls of seething darksteel. Teferi felt tears sting his eyes.

“No.” His voice was a whisper. “Not you.”

“Teferi of Jamuraa. You have been chosen by the Expeditionary Forces of New Phyrexia. You shall serve as an example of the glorious new order.”

The response was not conveyed in one voice, but many. He heard grinding gears, skittering legs, bubbling oil. He heard the screeching of corrupted birds, the hiss of insidious soldiers, the soft whispers of Praetors.

And, under it all, the anguish of an old friend.

“No. Venser. Oh, no.”

The figure smiled. It was a parody of an expression. It was as if the Praetors knew how human expressions worked but were ignorant of their meaning. It was a chilling sight.

“The one you call ‘Venser’ serves as our voice in this plane,” the Phyrexians said. “He has been perfected in line of our unified vision. All shall be aligned under the banner of Phyrexia. From this moment forward, you too shall serve us.”

“I would rather die.”

“You cannot serve us if you are dead. You cannot help us bring peace if you our dead. Submit to us and you shall not feel pain.”

Teferi set his jaw. He knew this battle would be short and full of anguish. But he was buying Freyalise time. He was buying Karn time. He knew others would come, to stand against a new invasion, a re-ignition of old threats to Dominaria.

But other ignitions would take place. That much, now, he could see.

They were lights of hope in the darkness of his future.

“Come on,” Teferi said to the Phyrexian marionette made of his old friend. “Show me this ‘new order’ of yours. And I will show you how Dominaria will respond.”

The ‘perfected’ Venser hadn’t stopped smiling.

“There is no response to Phyrexia save submission. And you will submit just as Dominaria will submit. All shall be Phyrexian. All shall be beautiful. All shall be peace. That is the future you cannot see. Come; let us make you a part of it.”

Mondays are for making or talking about art.

Credits: Magic the Gathering copyright Wizards of the Coast. Teferi, Temporal Archmage art courtesy Tyler Jacobson. Freyalise, Llanowar’s Fury art courtesy Adam Paquette.

From The Vault: Tabletop as Brain Food

I’m working on some board game write-ups and reviews, and it’s worth remembering why board games are an awesome way to spend our time.


SmallWorld with the 'rents

I’ve put myself on a path to improve my physical well-being. Being more mindful of what and how much I eat, walking with the intent to start running, looking into a local gym, and so on. Mostly, I fear the atrophy that comes with a sedentary day job and an equally low-impact life at home, and if I’m honest, I’m unhappy with the amount of flab I currently have on my frame. However, making such a change is relatively easy. The body can adapt to adjustments in schedule and activity rather well, all things being equal, and it’s really a matter of establishing and sticking to habits than anything else.

But what about the brain? The most vital of organs also needs maintenance and attention as we age. It’s important to keep the mind engaged and not just feed it something distracting or shallow all of the time. I mean, I won’t begrudge people who really enjoy “Dancing With The Stars” or “Two And A Half Men”, some people do need to unwind with that kind of fare. I’m simply not one of them. As much as I like the occasional campy pleasure like Flash Gordon, more often than not I look to have my brain fed, to keep it trained, to present it with challenges it must overcome.

That, in part, is why I enjoy tabletop games so much.

It took me a while in my youth to really grasp how important it was to me to keep playing them. For a time, I simply enjoyed spending time with my dad, even if I would sometimes let myself get bored between moves rather than studying his strategy and planning my response. Nowadays I can’t imagine sitting entirely idle during an opponent’s turn, though I do occasionally get distracted. Not only is it necessary to pay attention in order to look for victory, it’s an exercise in putting yourself in another’s position, or imagining the other as a complex being instead of just someone to beat. That, to me, is just as important as winning.

I am quite fortunate to be in a place where I can spend time around other gamers who are engaging in this way almost constantly. My co-workers play and even design games on a daily basis. A fantastic store is within easy driving distance to present all sorts of challenges. My father lives a bit further up the road. When I get home, I have the option to play something like Civilization V, Magic: the Gathering – Duels of the Planeswalkers, or Blood Bowl with other human beings. And on rare occasions, a game of Chez Geek or Dungeon Roll might break out.

To me, the important factor in this is that other people are involved. No programmed response or solitaire experience really throws a wrench into your thought processes like another live human being. It makes the problem solving more complex, and thus more rewarding, even when you lose. On top of that, being in a situation with another person as your opponent builds character and social skills. Trite as it may sound, we learn more from losing than from winning, both about how we play and how we act. It’s one thing to gnash your teeth and swear at something like Super Meat Boy or Hotline Miami; doing so at a stranger or even a friend is quite another issue. Fun as it can be amongst people who know you to engage in name-calling for the sake of in-game banter, when it comes to playing with strangers or in a competition it’s important to know your limits and when and how to gracefully bow out of things, or the optimal way to accept and celebrate victory in front of those who’ve lost. You can only get that through this sort of play, and you learn it as your brain is trained.

Boring as it may seem to some outside observers, when I’m engaged in a game like this, I assure you, I’m never really bored.

Making Magic More Metal

Courtesy Wizards of the Coast

It’s been a few months since I’ve even considered looking for more than a few minutes at truly competitive gameplay. There’s been a lot going on, and I haven’t really taken the time to consider how that could be helpful to me. Things like constructing a deck in Magic and building efficiently in a RTS game are good structural exercises for my mind. Taking those skills into a competitive environment keep my attention sharp and teach me how to be a more gracious loser. Because I know I won’t always win. But that doesn’t mean I won’t try, dammit.

For the better part of a year, I haven’t seriously tackled the Magic: The Gathering format of Legacy. I was considering a few potential decks a while ago, but most of those plans fell by the wayside. After the release of the Modern Masters set, and some prompting from a friend, I’ve come back to the notion of putting a deck together to take with me to official events and the occasional Saturday night at my friendly local gaming store.

Legacy isn’t the only format out there, though. Between it and the ever-changing Standard is a format known as Modern. There are a few decks out there that have cards that span both formats. The one that appeals to me the most is called ‘Affinity’. I’ve liked artifacts for a long time, because they’re not dependant on colors and can get around a lot of obstacles if played correctly.

I tried putting together a list that didn’t subscribe to most common color combinations for the deck. However, a few suggestions and lists introduced me to [mtg_card]Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas[/mtg_card]. An ambitious and cunning artificer, Tezzeret has always been friendly to metal decks. As an agent of resident big bad dragon daddy Nicol Bolas, he’s slightly more insidious. The deck takes some of the basics of other Affinity decks in terms of creatures and mana sources, which gives me a few options.

[mtg_deck title=”Tezzeret’s Affinity”]
// Creatures
4 Arcbound Ravager
4 Ornithopter
4 Memnite
4 Vault Skirge
3 Etched Champion
3 Steel Overseer

// Spells
4 Thoughtcast

// Planeswalkers
4 Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas

// Artifacts
4 Chalice of the Void
4 Mox Opal
4 Cranial Plating
3 Springleaf Drum

// Lands
4 Vault of Whispers
4 Seat of the Synod
4 Ancient Tomb
3 Glimmervoid

// Sideboard
3 Oblivion Ring
3 Perish
3 Ethersworn Canonist
3 Whipflare
3 Tormod’s Crypt
[/mtg_deck]

The deck can push damage past defenders with the [mtg_card]Etched Champion[/mtg_card] or fly over them with [mtg_card]Ornithopter[/mtg_card] or [mtg_card]Vault Skirge[/mtg_card], any one of them benefiting from carrying [mtg_card]Cranial Plating[/mtg_card]. However, the deck also has a win condition that has nothing to do with creatures. Tezzeret can drop very early in the game, and his ultimate ability syncs well with artifact lands, 0-cost cards, and other low-cost options. Remember, X is twice the number of artifacts. So, if I have 5 artifacts in play, I gain 10 life and my opponent loses 10 life. That’s a 20-point swing, which can be difficult to overcome.

The deck is, of course, not invulnerable. It has no counter means save for Chalice of the Void, creatures can trample over the Champion no matter how much protection he has, and faster decks like burn can probably beat me to the punch or take wind out of my sails. Still, I think it has a lot of potential, and that potential doesn’t stop with Legacy. In Modern, the Chalice goes to the sideboard and illegal cards like Perish and Tormod’s Crypt have to go. Still, the play of the deck will be largely unchanged. I’m looking forward to putting it together and seeing how it plays.

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