Dominaria is such a hugely expansive set, one article could not hope to contain all the flavor. It took me thousands of words to do brief dives into the flavor of just The Sagas and Sorceries of Dominaria! Today I'm going to examine my picks for the most flavorful cards of Dominaria. Note that while the entire set is chock-full of goodies, I had to draw the line somewhere. In this article, I'm going to try to hit every major reference I've caught over the past month of previews. Please note, I won't be covering the legends discussed in Living Legends of Dominaria or Legacy Legends of Dominaria, so make sure to check those out for the background lore of surviving characters and some major legacies. I don't talk about every legend here, as the collected bios say enough about many of the new ones that I might miss.
So here's my problem. There's just too much. This set is a masterwork. I can't comment on the amazing flavor of something like On Serra's Wings referencing Serra's Embrace, despite the Vorthos connection of even having more lines from the same canto of the Song of All. There are a ton of references to old Magic set names, too.
The Church of Serra and Benalia
Danitha Capashen, Paragon by Chris Rallis
Danitha Capashen, Paragon shares a named with another famous Dominarian character you might remember, Gerrard Capashen. Triumph of Gerrard seems to indicate Gerrard is remembered fondly by modern day New Benalia, and both Danitha and her brother (discussed later) are keenly aware of that legacy. Danitha's sword emulates Gerrard's (with a stained glass twist), but her style evokes the original Benalish Hero. Also, it seems like people on Dominaria really like shaving the sides of their heads.
Aven Sentry and Serra Disciple tell the story of the avens of New Benalia. Originally from Otaria, they were forced to flee sometime in the last two centuries following the Karona War. Skirk Prospector and Memorial to War also hint at this devastation. The Avens were part of the Order, a militant religious sect devoted to a divine being known as the Ancestor. When the Avens finally found a new home in Benalia, it appears their faith was subsumed into the Church of Serra.
Sursi is a nation to the southeast of Benalia on Aerona, known for the Pegasi in Mesa Pegasus. This history is reflected in Mesa Unicorn and Pegasus Courser in the new set. It's also known as the place where Serra died and the Cathedral of Serra is located, referenced in Isolated Chapel.
Clifftop Retreat is probably one of my favorite cards in the set, honestly. I've talked about From the Library of Leng: Serra Angel before in The Song of Serra (which anyone who wants to know more about the Serrans should read); but, in short, the town of Epityr on Terisiare had been occupied by the Sheoltun Empire from Aerona for decades. Their prayers resulted in a flock of Serra Angels blocking out the sun and driving out the Sheoltun, which would collapse soon after. From the ashes of the Sheoltun Empire, Benalia would be born. To honor the angels that helped them, the people of Epityr carved a sculpture of Serra into the mountain you see in the card.
Other White Cards
Baird, Steward of Argive is one of our few non-Yavimaya Terisiare references this set. The nation of New Argive was formed near the end of the Ice Age (not long after the events depicted in Time of Ice), when Darien, King of Kjeldor's daughter Alexandrite and Lovisa Coldeyes's son Lothar united the Kjeldoran and Balduvian nations. Baird's costume draws from both nations, wearing Kjeldoran armor and standing in front of Kjeldoran architecture, but with the blond hair, furred cape, and round shield typical of the Balduvians.
Evra, Halcyon Witness is a cool card on multiple levels. I want to talk a lot about avatars (and deity-like beings in Magic in general) in the future, but for those of you who aren't aware, an avatar creature is a projection of some greater power. They exist all over the multiverse, and what's important to note is that power can be abstract and doesn't have to be sentient. In Evra's case, she's an avatar of Dominaria's Null Moon, an ancient Thran device co-opted by Yawgmoth and used to draw off the excess White mana unleashed by his superweapons. The word Halcyon refers to the Thran capital city destroyed by Yawgmoth's final weapon, but has a second meaning about a period of time where things were idyllic. I personally think that was an exceptionally clever choice for an avatar as ancient as Evra.
Kwende, Pride of Femeref by Daarken
Kwende, Pride of Femeref is a whole lot of references in one. In the story, he held a grudge against Teferi for 'destroying' Zhalfir, despite never having been there himself. He's the descendant of the Zhalfiran general Mageta the Lion (although Mageta looks more human in Mageta's Boon), and his name is a cute lion pun as pointed out by Andrew Weisel. Kwende wears a Sun Clasp and wields the blades of a Talruum Champion, fully embodying what was lost when Zhalfir was phased out of existence.
The Tolarian Academies
Naru Meha, Master Wizard is a pretty obscure reference to the Legends II cycle. Kolo Meha was a relatively minor character from Bogardan who was an ally of Tetsuo Umezawa. Kolo taught Tetsuo some Bogardan fire magic, the Meteor Hammer spell, which Tetsuo used to defeat the elder dragon Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker. Although The Eldest Reborn reminds us that the elder dragon's death didn't take, it appears Bolas's wrath against the Umezawa clan didn't extend to the Meha clan.
Rescue and Fire Elemental are both by Joe Slucher, who set them both in a Tolarian lab where apparently an experiment didn't go as planned. Rescue references Hurkyl, of Hurkyl's Recall fame, who was among the first on Terisiare to rediscover magic at the College of Lat-Nam. Her legacy stretches into the modern day, as the College became the City of Shadows, then the School of the Unseen under Jodah, Archmage Eternal. In the modern day, Lat-Nam is host to a campus of the Tolarian Academies.
Rona, Disciple of Gix by Tommy Arnold
Rona, Disciple of Gix is one of the most interesting legacies in Dominaria. Gix was originally an untouchable among the Thran who became one of the first Phyrexians. During The Antiquities War he emerged through the newly reopened gate to Phyrexia and manipulated both sides of the conflict through the Brotherhood of Gix. Each Priest of Gix had been cybernetically augmented, although not truly compleated in the Phyrexian sense. At the close of the war, Gix fled back to Phyrexia but lost his hand. The Brotherhood found the Claws of Gix, and though they would fade from the scene, the same pseudo-Phyrexian influence would again show up among the Soldevi Adnates of the Ice Age. Rona represents the modern incarnation of those fascinated by the fusion of flesh and artifice, something she probably only half-understands. There are a bunch of references in her art, from a Mishra's Bauble to a modern take on the Staff of the Ages. She seems to be what was referred to as a Shadow Tolarian, an artificer who chafes at the restrictions imposed by the main Tolarian campuses.
Other Blue Cards
Merfolk Trickster is the legacy of the planeswalker Bo Levar. Near the end of the Phyrexian Invasion, Bo Levar was an uncommon kind of planeswalker. He'd retained his humanity, taking to sailing and smuggling goods rather than engaging in plane-changing affairs. When Yawgmoth manifested on Dominaria, he knew his power was worthless against Phyrexia's mad god. Instead of fleeing or wasting his power in a futile struggle, he sacrificed himself to create a barrier of protection around a small merfolk enclave called Eliterates, a barrier which would grow as big as the settlement did and protect all those within who wanted it.
The Cabal and Urborg
Cabal Evangel may just be a 2/2 for two mana, but the flavor text tells you basically everything you need to know about Belzenlok. He's taken the titles of various villains of Magic's past. Evincar of the Stronghold was a title given to the ruler of the artificial plane of Rath, essentially a governor installed by Phyrexia. Both Volrath the Fallen and Crovax the Cursed were Evincars at one point. Scion of Darkness was an avatar of Kuberr, the black Numena worshipped by the original Cabal. Doom of Fools was a title for the planeswalker Tevesh Szat. Lord of the Wastes was a Dominaria word for Yawgmoth. Master of the Ebon Hand references the Order of the Ebon Hand, a black-aligned organization from Sarpadia that worshipped the Ebon Praetor and their founder, Tourach. Eternal Patriarch of the Cabal is a reference to . . . well, the Cabal Patriarch, Virot Maglan, who founded the organization centuries ago.
Whisper, Blood Liturgist is a reference to both the art of the From the Vault: Lore Cabal Ritual, and the original naming convention of the Cabal. In the Cabal, names had a certain kind of power, which is why characters like Braids, Cabal Minion and Chainer, Dementia Master instead had names based on defining features. According to Whisper's bio, this tradition is still alive among the modern Cabal.
Muldrotha, the Gravetide is one of my favorite references in the game. During the Phyrexian Invasion, Multani, Maro-Sorcerer teleported a five mile stretch of Yavimaya from its home island to Urborg. The elves, kavu, Phyrexian Woodmen (more on them later), and apes, as well as the trees themselves, all aided in the final battle there. That chunk of land has remained to the modern day, and whatever metaphysical feature of the plane caused Argoth, Yavimaya, and Llanowar to create their own elemental avatars has affected this patch, as well. Except Urborg isn't exactly a lush forest, and Muldrotha has grown . . . different. Of note, Urborg has also taken on a Miyazaki-esque spirit culture, and Muldrotha fits right in there, too.
Goblin Chainwhirler by Svetlin Velinov
Goblin Chainwhirler is the clearest example of a trend I think might go all the way to Eternal Masters, but that I only saw pointed out in the lead-up to Dominaria. Goblins on Dominaria have interbred with the hulking Mogg race of goblins. The Moggs were larger and stronger than the common goblin, bred by the Phyrexians on Rath as foot soldiers. During the Rathi Overlay, they were all transplanted onto Dominaria proper. After over three centuries, it seems that the Mogg forehead crest has become a staple of many goblins of otherwise Dominarian features.
Bloodstone Goblin and Bloodstone Cameo are just a weird case of an incredibly minor reference that feels really resonant to me. Like, what is this mysterious stone? Also, I really love the difference between Isel, a (presumably) human craftsman and the goblin's reaction to the darkness and fire.
Goblin Warchief's flavor text references Pashalik Mons, of Mons's Goblin Raiders fame, one of only a few characters that has existed since the origins of the game. If he's one of the oldest named characters in the game, though, why hasn't he appeared in more than three flavor texts in all this time? Probably because he's a pretty direct reference to developer Mons Johnson, who has excellent taste in creature tribes.
Grand Warlord Radha by Anna Steinbauer
We learn a lot about Grand Warlord Radha's Keld in Champion of the Flame, Run Amok, and Warlord's Fury. The Book of Keld foretold an end of days where their honored dead, sequestered in the Keldon Necropolis, would rise again. But in the Keldon Twilight, it was Phyrexia who raised their dead, and left Keld a broken nation. Radha began a campaign of conquest around the time of the Mending, and has reforged Keld from their marauder past into a nation of self-sufficient smiths.
Valduk, Keeper of the Flame represents Radha's new Keld, that of the forge. You can make out one of the elementals made by Valduk in the background, and the token shows the elemental breaking out. Garna, the Bloodflame, by contrast, represents the Keldons who want to return to the old ways.
Other Red Cards
Fight with Fire is just an incredibly clever reference to Sizzle's flavor text. Very appropriate, since by hitting up to ten potential targets, Jaya Ballard is essentially fighting everything with fire.
I'm not sure his parents, Verix and Karox, would approve. What's neat is that between this card and Blackblade Reforged, it establishes the 'Grandeur' legends of Future Sight as having happened all across the timeline. Korlash's time wielding the Blackblade is in the past, while Tarox has not yet become the tyrant we've seen.
Gaea's Protector is a Phyrexian Woodman, which is sort-of explained in the flavor text. It's just a really neat bit of lore, so I wanted to share the background story here in a little more detail. During the opening waves of the Phyrexian Invasion, the Phyrexians threw everything they had at the sentient forest, and Multani, along with Gaea herself, kept throwing surprises back. One of the first was the capture and transformation of the Phyrexian shock troops, zombie knights like Order of Yawgmoth and Marauding Knight, into wooden elementals that then turned on their fellows. It's cool to see one finally represented here.
Primordial Wurm is itself not much of a flavor gem, although it does feature a truly draconic wurm. The gem is the name Jenson Carthalion in the flavor text, another legacy character from the Carthalion Lineage. For those of you unaware, it all starts with Dakkon Blackblade's comic, where a young man called Carth. Over a millennia later, Carth's lineage continued with Jason Carthalion, who dueled Freyalise in the frozen kingdom of Storgard, defeating her, but her spark ignited in the process. Five hundred years later, Jason's descendant Jaeuhl was enlisted by Freyalise to help banish Tevesh Szat. The lineage continued centuries later with Jared Carthalion, who became Kristina of the Wood's lover and was the first (known) Carthalion to ascend as a planeswalker. Jenson's existence is a major nod to the Armada Comics line and the central lineage there.
Territorial Allosaurus is awesome because without sentient life, Yavimaya has essentially become Dino Island from Super Mario World populated with Yoshi and Toads.
Elfhame Druid shows what happened to the Yavimaya Elves that were chased off by their island home. They migrated, along with their Kavu, to Llanowar, which explains the bond between the two creatures. I'm glad so many Kavu appear in the set, despite only a couple getting cards of their own. This is a really logical extension of the bond created during the Phyrexian Invasion when the Kavu were unleashed from beneath Yavimaya to fight later waves of Phyrexians.
Other Green Cards
Gaea's Blessing is the sword from the original version of the card, overgrown. It's also a great Legend of Zelda reference, in honor of Breath of the Wild. I have no idea if that second part is true.
Krosan Druid reveals not everything is bad on Otaria.
Kazarov, Sengir Pureblood by Igor Kieryluk
Kazarov, Sengir Pureblood is a reference to Baron Sengir, the progenitor of the Sengir bloodline. While the Baron himself was last seen on Ulgrotha, his lineage is spread across several planes. The vampires of the Sengir lineage adhere more closely to the classic vampire tropes, with batlike features and an aversion to sunlight. So what does being a Sengir Pureblood mean? Well, the lineage tends to deteriorate the more and more removed you are from Sengir himself in the bloodline. Kazarov must be pretty closely related to the Baron to get this title. Also note, he turned Arvad the Cursed, but Arvad's proximity to the Serra's Realm powerstone on the Weatherlight has seemed to restore much of his humanity over time.
Lord Windgrace was a Panther planeswalker from Urborg who fought in the Phyrexian Invasion, and eventually sacrificed himself sealing the time rift over Urborg. He imbued some of his essence into the land, and his legacy lives on through his acolytes. Windgrace Acolyte is almost a direct reference to a panel in Gathering Forces Part 3 showing a panther warrior riding a similar dinosaur creature. Their mission? Destroy all artifice in Urborg to prevent Phyrexia from rising again.
Although the theme doesn't come across very strong, I think it's pretty neat to see the creatures that overran Sarpadia way back in Fallen Empires represented in Dominaria. Homarid Explorer has a pretty interesting story for how it was created. My friend Andrew Weisel just happened to have amazing timing, sending a homarid puzzle at just the right time to help get this card in the set, according to Mark Rosewater. The homarids themselves were deep-sea creatures migrating from the cold and overran the Vodalian empire, forcing them to flee to the oceans around the Domains. Feral Abomination seems to be a scarier version of Thrull Champion. The Thrulls themselves were created by Endrek Sahr, Master Breeder of the Order of the Ebon Hand, but the quickly overwhelmed their creators. Similarly, the thallids (like Sporecrown Thallid) were created by the Havenwood elves as a food source as resources dwindled leading into the Ice Age, but they rebelled. Last we heard the Thrulls and Thallids were the only inhabitants of Sarpadia.
Navigator's Compass is very careful to point out that the Weatherlight can no longer planeshift. The metaphysics of interplanar travel changed after the Mending, rendering all such technology useless.
I've seen a lot of speculation about Thran Temporal Gateway, but honestly I don't think it has any story significance, and the flavor text is careful to make clear it just sends things into the future. To be clear, that's not the same thing as pulling things from the past.
Traxos, Scourge of Kroog is a Dragon Engine not unlike Ramos, Dragon Engine. Mishra gained control of several Phyrexian Dragon Engines during the Brothers' War, which he used to destroy the capital city of Yotia, the titular Kroog. What's not clear is whether or not Traxos is one of the original Phyrexian Dragon Engines, or one of the imitations Mishra created. In the novel, his attack on Kroog was before he created his own Dragon Engines. It's possible that it's a minor retcon or a minor continuity issue, or just that not all Phyrexian Dragon Engines were as sleek as Ramos. The exact provenance of Traxos matters little, honestly.
Aaron Miller got tired of waiting for people to discover all his references in Urza's Tome, so I'll just show you his tweet, here.
That's it for today, folks! After months of Dominaria-centric lore articles, it's time to start looking ahead to Core 2019! I'm going to be honest, here. It's a bit of a relief. Dominarian lore consists of dozens of novels (I believe I counted over 40), comics, and random articles and lore tidbits spread across a decade of sources. Going to back to lore that you can mostly find on the Mothership will be a relief. I'm not quite done with Dominaria yet, though, as I'll be recapping the story once it ends.