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Magic Story 100: Pre-Mending Reading Guide

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Welcome back, Lore Seekers, to the next lesson in your Magic Story 100 course. Today's lesson follows-up on Magic Story 100: Where to Start (you can find links to my story summaries there!) and Magic Story 100: Pre-Revision Reading Guide. In the past I've provided links to Magic Story resources, but today I'm going to look a little more closely at those resources to help guide you in what may or may not be relevant. Today we're looking at what was commonly known by the fandom as the "Pre-Mending" Era of MTG. Please note that I can't possibly cover everything in the word count allotted, and there will be a number of corner cases I miss.

The Pre-Mending moniker comes from the event known as the Mending, which fundamentally changed the nature of planeswalkers from near-divine beings to mortals with a bit more oomph. The most famous storyline during this era is The Weatherlight saga, which I'll cover below. The first story, however, is that of Mirage. Note: If any of the below links don't work, trying plugging them into the internet archive of your choice. While almost nothing the Pre-Revision Era is available digitally, it's hit-or-miss for the Pre-Revision era, making tracking down complete stories difficult.

Mirage

A very early image of Teferi from the 1998 Magic Calendar.

Art by Tony DiTerlizzi

Mirage and Visions were the first internally-developed set story efforts at Wizards of the Coast. If you're interested in characters like Teferi or Sisay, this is a key moment for them, although one that was quickly overshadowed by the Weatherlight Saga. Given that it's only two story summaries, I highly recommend checking it out as it's one of the most underappreciated Magic settings. The basic gist is that Teferi accidentally phases out his island, triggering a war between three powerful mages on his home continent of Jamuraa. The big hero of the war is Captain Sisay of the mysterious Weatherlight, which becomes more relevant very soon.

The Weatherlight Saga

The final page of the Mercadian Masques teaser comic.

TopDeck #1 comic art by Kev Walker

  • Tempest: Into the Storm (Character Profiles)
  • Maelstrom
  • Torment
  • Rath and Storm (Ebook)
  • Gerrard's Quest #1-#4 (Dark Horse Comics)
  • Mercadian Masques
  • Mercadian Masques (TopDeck #1 Comic)
  • Nemesis
  • Nemesis (TopDeck #4 Comic)
  • Prophecy
  • Prophecy (TopDeck #8 Comic)
  • Invasion (Ebook)
  • Invasion (TopDeck #12 Comic)
  • Planeshift (Ebook)
  • Apocalypse (Ebook)

The Mirage Block served to introduce the Weatherlight, with Weatherlight itself being a prologue of sorts for the Weatherlight saga proper. This is the iconic Magic story that changed hands several times over the four years it was told. The core story begins with Sisay's kidnapping and the crew deciding to find an old crewmate, Gerard Capashen, in the two prequel stories that originally appeared in the Duelist magazine (Wizard's periodical at the time). The core story is above, although thanks to changes in the roll out, the story took a dive into the past before finishing up with Invasion. The overall plot here features the crew of the Weatherlight up against a horrific Phyrexian plot to invade Dominaria.

There are a few comics associated with the Weatherlight Saga, including Dark Horse's Gerrard's Quest, which vaguely handles the plot of Tempest but with a lot of backstory thrown in. From Mercadian Masques through vaguely Apocalypse, we also saw short comic teasers in Duelist's successor, TopDeck magazine. Those are fairly easy to google online, if you're interested.

Let me level with you here. The Weatherlight Saga is wildly uneven and I don't recommend reading all of it. For the most part you can get away with just reading the Invasion cycle (and some of the artifacts cycle, which I talk about below) and get the majority of what you'd want from this story. Lots of story summaries exist (including my own!) and I personally don't really like Rath and Storm through Prophecy.

The Artifacts Cycle

Karn rescues Jhoira from the ruins of Tolaria.

Duelist #32 Cover Art by Mark Zug

The Artifacts cycle is more-or-less the story of the Urza's Saga block, when Magic interrupted their ongoing narrative with a year-long prequel series. The core books, along with some summary stories available in player's guides are available above. These stories cover everything leading up to the Weatherlight Saga and provide a lot of context. The Thran was actually released during the Invasion block, after the others, although chronologically it's the first story in the series. In my opinion, the Artifacts cycle is a better read than most of the early Weatherlight stuff. As long as you get the broad outline of what came before, you could reasonably skip from Bloodlines to Invasion.

That said, which of them is actually worth reading? The Thran follows stupid, sexy Yawgmoth, Thran Physician in a convoluted backstory that was rendered pointless when just a few months later, Apocalypse blew up Yawgmoth and all the Phyrexians. The Thran sucks as a people anyway, so no one is really sympathetic in the story. It's also the book most likely to get me yelled at for not recommending it to new readers. The Brothers' War is easily one of the better early novels, but it has some problematic plot elements, like Urza's wife sleeping with his brother to avoid an invasion that happens anyway, and then spending the rest of the book debating Urza's son's paternity. Planeswalker is pretty good, especially if you're interested in Xantcha, Sleeper Agent, and Time Streams is essential if you're a fan of Jhoira, Karn, or Teferi. Bloodlines is just kind of there, if you want to read it, it's fine, but it's mostly there to make you hate Urza.

Loran's Smile is a short story that the card Feldon of the Third Path is based on. It's just a bittersweet short story following-up on The Brothers' War. I definitely recommend reading it if you read the Brothers' War. It was originally part of one of the anthologies I'll talk about later.

The Ice Age

Sorry Marit Lage fans, the dark avatar trapped in the Ice gets like, three total offhand mentions.

Dark Depths by Mathias Kollros

For a few years, Magic released stories for earlier Magic blocks alongside the ongoing narrative. The first of these, the Ice Age cycle, began publishing around halfway through the Weatherlight Saga. These are a sort-of spiritual successor to both The Brothers' War (also by Jeff Grubb) and the Ice Age comics from Armada (covered in my last article), taking place between the aforementioned War and the Weatherlight Saga. The Gathering Dark features Jodah, Archmage Eternal, a descendant of Urza, getting embroiled in a plot by Mairsil the Pretender. Jodah becomes immortal, and millennia later we see him in The Eternal Ice (covering Ice Age), which also features Jaya Ballard, Task Mage and Lim-Dul the Necromancer. This book takes place around and minorly retcons the old Ice Age comics, but there is value to reading both and the book deliberately skirts around the events of the comic for the most part. My love of Jodah, Jaya, and Lim-Dul is pretty well known at this point, so I recommend reading them IF you can find them at a reasonable price.

The Shattered Alliance picks up the story of Alliances with the returning of Mairsil/Lim-Dul. Note that this novel goes for a LOT of money as it was underprinted, and generally isn't worth picking up for more than the cover price. Coldsnap doesn't have an associated novel (what with coming out seven years later) but it does have some short fiction that takes place a couple years after Alliances which I've linked to above. It doesn't make much sense if you're not familiar with Ice Age era characters.

The Mirari Crisis

If I have to explain Karona to you I'm going to go cross-eyed.

Karona Avatar by Saejin Oh

  • Family Man
  • Odyssey
  • Chainer's Torment
  • Judgment
  • Onslaught
  • Legions
  • Scourge

The Odyssey and Onslaught blocks followed the Weatherlight saga, but never had quite the same reach. It follows the war that breaks out when an artifact of great power called the Mirari is discovered on the continent of Otaria. While the Cabal has been relevant again, you don't need a good understanding of the lore of these blocks to get anything else. I would recommend skipping it, but I should note there are strong supporters of these books - although pretty much everyone admits it contains some of the best and worst Magic fiction ever produced. For WotC's part, they blew up the continent and pushed anything cool elsewhere in the plane for Dominaria.

Legends I Cycle

  • Johan
  • Jedit
  • Hazezon

The Legends I cycle is a retelling of the Jedit Ojanen comic by one of the original Magic authors (from the HarperPrism days). It's pretty universally unloved (for a number of reasons) and hasn't ever been relevant again, so I don't recommend tracking it down.

Legends II Cycle

  • Assassin's Blade
  • Emperor's Fist
  • Champion's Trial

Legends II is where Nicol Bolas went from book reading nerd to one of the major antagonists of the multiverse. It's also part of a semi-cycle (alongside the Kamigawa block and Time Spiral block) that covers the Umezawa lineage and the Myojin of Night's Reach. Basically, it's the story of how Tetsuo Umezawa kills the elder dragon planeswalker.

Anthologies

  • Colors of Magic
  • Myths of Magic
  • Dragons of Magic
  • Secrets of Magic
  • Monsters of Magic

There were also a number of anthologies produced over the years that are, I guess, canon. Only a few of the internal stories matter or are interesting to me, though, and I wouldn't recommend trying to obtain them.

The Mirrodin Cycle

I'll only talk about Mirrodin continuity if you buy me some top shelf whiskey first.

Eyes of the Watcher by Ron Spears

  • Moons of Mirrodin (Ebook)
  • The Darksteel Eye (Ebook)
  • The Fifth Dawn (Ebook)

The Mirrodin cycle follows-up on the Invasion and Odyssey stories, with Karn, Silver Golem, now a planeswalker, having transported the Mirari from Odyssey to the plane he created (Argentum, later renamed Mirrodin) for safekeeping. The story follows the transformed Mirari, now Memnarch in its mad quest to obtain a spark. There are hints here and there setting up the return of Phyrexia down the road.

My opinion on the Mirrodin cycle is that it has two very strong novels worth of plot stretched out over three. The second book essentially retraces the path of the first book only for the characters to end up, essentially, in the same place they ended the previous book.

From Mirrodin forward, everything is available digitally, so there's no more spottiness and no price gouging if you want to check out even the bad novels.

The Kamigawa Cycle

Kamigawa is a severely underappreciated setting. The novels are quite strong despite the card set being the opposite. It has a very fun story and a lot of pretty good worldbuilding side fiction as well. It's technically a prequel, taking place over 1,000 years before the Mending (and about 400 years before Legends II), and features the ronin Toshiro Umezawa (reluctantly) aiding Michiko Konda, Truth Seeker in bringing balance back to Kamigawa, which had been embroiled in 20 years of war with the spirit realm. While it's not particularly relevant today, being divorced from earlier fiction gave it a lot of room to do different, weird stuff that's a lot of fun to read. It ends with Toshiro being brought to Dominaria, if you've ever wondered why we have Umezawas on both planes.

There was a huge amount of side fiction with Kamigawa, many of which are well worth the read.

The Ravnica Cycle

The original Ravnica cycle was goofy fun, ranging from mad science plots to buddy (angel) cop stories. I highly recommend it to anyone who has interest in the plane, they're just fun, easy reads (although trying to summarize Dissension gives people aneurysms). They take place about seventy or so years before the modern day on Ravnica, and many of the characters are still alive (notably Teysa Karlov). The side fiction can be read whenever, it's not particularly tied to anything else other than being guild stories.

The Time Spiral Cycle

Venser, huh? *Cries into my Mirrodin whiskey*

Venser, Shaper Savant by Eric Deschamps

Finally, there's Time Spiral. There's a LOT going on here, as it deals with pretty much the entire breadth of Magic canon that came before. The threads picked up by these novels include elements and characters from the Artifacts cycle, Invasion cycle, Odyssey cycle, Mirrodin cycle, Ice Age cycle, Legends II cycle, and even the Kamigawa cycle. In fact, the only Pre-Mending story that doesn't factor in somehow is the Legends I cycle and the Ravnica cycle.

The main characters are Teferi and Jhoira, but it brings in others from across Magic continuity, including basically every surviving planeswalker. It ended with the Mending, an event that depowered planeswalkers across the multiverse. It also re-established Bolas as a major threat, Eldest Reborn depicts the story moment where the elder dragon is resurrected (and promptly cuts Teferi to ribbons). I absolutely don't recommend it unless you spend some time reading the stories that came before (not all of them... but enough to appreciate what's happening). Like the card set, the novels are very unforgiving to those who aren't already immersed.

Next Time: Post-Mending

Next time we'll move on to the era after the Mending, as we deal with the ramifications of the Mending and the return of Nicol Bolas! See you then, lore fans!

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