Welcome back, Lore Seekers, to the next lesson in your Magic Story 100 course. Today's lesson follows-up on some previous articles. Today is our look at the beginning of the modern era of Magic storytelling, covering the seven year period from Lorwyn through Dragons of Tarkir. To catch you up until this point, be sure to check out the last few reading guides I put together, linked below.
- Magic Story 100: Where to Start
- Magic Story 100: Early Magic Reading Guide
- Magic Story 100: Pre-Mending 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 going to look at the era of Magic storytelling known as "Post-Mending", the stories taking place after Future Sight. I'm putting down a dividing line here at Magic Origins, as that's the most recent and easily accessible era (which I'll be referring to as either the Origins or Gatewatch era), so I'll only be covering what led up to Magic Origins today.
Please note, due to the explosion of short fiction in this era, I'll only be including stories relevant to the main narratives of each block here as well as worldbuilding articles. If you want short fiction, see the links to Savor the Flavor below.
Savor the Flavor and Uncharted Realms
While I won't be covering it in detail here, roughly coinciding with this era was an article series called Savor the Flavor. This article series provided weekly flavor and worldbuilding content on the mothership (the main Magic website) from a couple years before the Lorwyn (then under the name Taste the Magic). It eventually evolved into a purely short fiction series called Uncharted Realms, which continued through 2019 (although during the Origins era it became Magic Story).
Lorwyn is a gorgeous plane I hope we see again one day outside of reprints.
Bitterblossom by Jesper Ejsing
- A Taste of Lorwyn
- Lorwyn Survival Guide
- Champions of Goldmeadow
- Bog is for Boggart
- Folk of the Non-Pines
- The Shadowy Pendulum
- Saving the Queen
- The Mysteries of Eventide
Lorwyn is the bridge between the Pre-Mending 'planeshopping' era (the years of jumping from plane to plane with little continuity between them) and the Post-Mending Era. While the original five planeswalkers were printed in this block, we wouldn't see them in a true story until much later ( despite one particularly weird what-if story starring Jace). There are four novels in the Lorywn cycle, but it's not actually a quadrilogy. Shadowmoor is an anthology, while Eventide picks up the plot from Lorywn and Morningtide.
This was also Magic's first big dip into putting up a lot of worldbuilding content on the web, which would coalesce in the first Planeswalker's Guide for Alara. Unfortunately, Lorwyn hasn't been relevant in the decade plus since these stories debuted. Its weird positioning means it's never gotten a digital release, and the lack of relevancy means it is a very easy skip for story fans. This recommendation would obviously change if we see a Return to Lorwyn.
A Planeswalker Story
Agents of Artifice and The Purifying Fire set the tone for the next decade of Magic's story.
Agents of Artifice cover by Aleksi Briclot
- The Raven's Eye (Liliana's Original Backstory)
- The Hunter and the Veil
- The Veil's Curse
- The Wild Son
- The Seeker's Fall (Tezzeret's Backstory)
- Agents of Artifice (Ebook)
- Fuel for the Fire (Takes place concurrently with Agents of Artifice)
- The Purifying Fire (Ebook)
- Test of Metal (Ebook)
Following Lorwyn, the novels scaled back considerably from 3-4 per year to merely two - one covering a planeswalker story and one covering the block's plot. The story itself began to focus more on the characters than the settings. There were two routes for this: a webcomic series and the "A Planeswalker Novel" series. These stories followed the new planeswalker characters in plots disconnected from the most recent set. I would rate all of these Planeswalker stories, save Test of Metal, as pretty essential if you want to dive deeper than Magic Origins. These stories cover Liliana, Garruk, Jace, Gideon, and Chandra's backstories, as well as Tezzeret's. The webcomics were later collected as "Path of the Planeswalker" volumes 1 and 2, if you want them to sit on your shelves.
Test of Metal is as non-canonical as a story can be without being explicitly confirmed not to be canon. I'm not going to get into why here, but while there are people who enjoy the story it's pretty divergent from continuity for reasons that are obvious when reading.
Shards of Alara
Nicol Bolas would be a central villain to Magic stories for a decade.
Alara Unbroken cover by Chris Rahn
- Honor Bound (Elspeth's Backstory)
- The Flight of the White Cat (Ajani's Backstory)
- Alara Unbroken (Ebook)
- A Planeswalker's Guide to Alara
- Perfection Through Etherium
- The Soul of the World
Alara is pretty essential as the first block story of the modern era, although the general story beats with Nicol Bolas are repeated in the Gatewatch era. Nicol Bolas is pretty omnipresent in this era, with the elder dragon having at least a minor role in almost every block's story. I personally enjoy Alara a lot, it's fast paced and fun. Honor Bound and The Flight of the White Cat give some background on major characters like Elspeth and Ajani, who both star in the novel as well.
Shards of Alara also features the first Planeswalker's Guide, although it was a print-only book available with the Fat Packs of the time and has never been fully reproduced digitally. It's a shame, because Alara has some pretty cool background lore. Worth picking up if you can find it, but don't break the bank.
My original article series was named after this fantastic trap card.
Archive Trap by Jason Chan
- Journey to the Eye
- Enter the Eldrazi
- Zendikar: In the Teeth of Akoum (Ebook)
- The Battle of Fort Keff
- A Planeswalker's Guide to Zendikar (Full Links Here)
- Gods and Monsters
- The Defiance of Angels
- The Three Brood Lineages
Zendikar's story was a bit fractured, with the novel following a different plot than the webcomics leading up to it. I would recommend reading the webcomics, but In the Teeth of Akoum isn't really worth the cover price. All you need to know about it is that Nissa and Sorin venture to the Eye of Ugin and then Nissa, not trusting Sorin, shatters the final seal on the Eldrazi prison and they break free. That's it. Zendikar's Planeswalker's Guide is fantastic, with sections for every continent on the plane. It's a bit outdated (The Art of Magic: the Gathering - Zendikar was published after the period this guide covers, but supersedes the planeswalker's guide). I've included some random Savor the Flavor articles here, just because they function as a Planeswalker Guide addendum covering Eldrazi lore.
Scars of Mirrodin
The continuity of Mirrodin is a mess.
Scars of Mirrodin Bundle Art by Jason Chan
- Phyrexia and the Vaultlord
- Corrupted Conscience
- Gathering Forces
- Dark Discoveries
- Scars of Mirrodin: The Quest for Karn (Ebook)
- Mirrodin Worldbuilding
- The Human Cultures of Mirrodin
- The Non-Human Cultures of Mirrodin
- New Phyrexia Worldbuilding
- Phyrexia: The Strong and the Scattered
- A Planeswalker's Guide to New Phyrexia
- The Machine Orthodoxy
- The Progress Engine
- The Steel Thanes
- The Vicious Swarm
- The Quiet Furnace
- Getting to Know the Praetors
Mirrodin is the setting that wakes me up in a cold sweat. It's the setting that gives me nightmares, not because Phyrexia is that scary, but because I might have to re-read the Mirrodin stories and make sense of the continuity. Do not, under any circumstances, read The Quest for Karn. While its Zendikar predecessor is simply boring, this novel is physically painful. The side stories and webcomics you should absolutely read, though. Scarred overlaps with the novel, but gives you the basic gist in a much cooler way (the rest of the novel is a slog through the depths of the plane, ending with Venser dying to save Karn).
The worldbuilding is pretty cool to read, but note that if you decide to ignore my advice, very little of it factors into the novel. Praetors aren't mentioned. If you're a Glissa or Geth fan, they appear but only as generic villains. Even if you like Koth, Elspeth, or Venser - just read the webcomics and leave it at that. Just don't bother reading the novel.
Arena of the Planeswalkers was an underrated game that produced some artwork gems.
Avacyn Art from Arena of the Planeswalkers by Bastien L. Deharme
- Liliana's Mission (Recap of Liliana's story)
- Sorin's Homecoming
- The Guardian, the Witch, and the Angel
- The State of the Faith
- The Prison of Silver
- Preview Article: Mikaeus Unhallowed (Details the assault on Thraben)
- The Cursed Blade
- Angel's Rise and Demon's Release
- Magic: the Gathering (IDW Comic) (Ebook)
- The Spell Thief (IDW Comic) (Ebook)
- A Planeswalker's Guide to Innistrad
- A Backstory Update for Dark Ascension
- A Planeswalker's Guide to Avacyn Restored Part I and Part II
Innistrad marked the first setting that didn't receive an accompanying novel. The set was massively popular, but the novel line had been cancelled and no story was produced, leaving only story summaries and worldbuilding articles for fans to consume. Those articles are worth reading, and the plane was explored in the first IDW comic series (starting Dack Fayden). There's also a fair amount of planeswalker guides, all linked from the central one I listed above, and an update for Avacyn Restored. It's worth noting, like in Zendikar, the Viz Art Book supersedes the planeswalker guides.
Krenko wounded Gideon, a feat even the Eldrazi could not accomplish.
Krenko, Mob Boss by Karl Kopinski
- Odric, Master Tactician (Serves as an epilogue for Innistrad)
- Krenko, Mob Boss (Serves as a prologue for Return to Ravnica)
Intermission time! Odric and Krenko were legends premiering in M13, and each got a piece of short fiction that also acted as an epilogue to one block and a prologue for the next. Odric's story marked the beginning of Uncharted Realms, the short fiction series that would evolve into Magic Story, carrying the ongoing plot forward. For now, though, Uncharted Realms consisted mostly of side stories. Krenko's stories don't really have anything to do with Return to Ravnica's plot other than to introduce the villain (Mr. Taz = Lazav), but I got Krenko onto a book cover amongst the greatest Magic legends of all time and frankly I just wanted to get his artwork and story in here, too. It's not like you can stop me.
Return to Ravnica
Fan favorites Ral and Vraska are a smidge more murdery the first time we meet them.
Dragon's Maze Bundle Art by Eric Deschamps
- The Shadows of Prahv Part I and Part II
- Return to Ravnica: The Secretist Part I (Ebook)
- Gatecrash: The Secretist Part II (Ebook)
- The Greater Good
- Teysa Karlov
- Barrin's Tall Tale
- The One Hundred Steps
- Dragon's Maze: The Secretist Part III (Ebook)
- Battle for the Ninth
- The Gorgon and the Guildpact
- Path of Vengeance (IDW Comic) (Ebook)
- A Planeswalker's Guide to Return to Ravnica Part I, Part II, Part III
- A Planeswalker's Guide to Gatecrash Part I and Part II
- Ravnica, Then and Now
Ravnica had a good mix of stories that brought back classic Ravnica characters like Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind or Teysa Karlov, and introducing new ones like Ral Zarek and Vraska the Unseen. I think it's all worth a read: The Secretist is fun, even if the plot thread of Jace, the Living Guildpact doesn't really go anywhere other than to make Jace feel guilty about not actually doing the job he gets at the end of the novel. It also introduces the beginning of a plot thread with Teysa that pays off years later when we return to Ravnica again. If you're a more recent fan, though, you might get some whiplash from the portrayals of Ral and Vraska compared to who they are by War of the Spark. It's worth mentioning that RTR was Magic's first foray into ebook-only publishing, dividing a single novel-length story into three ebooks.
The same disclaimer about the Planeswalker's Guides from Zendikar and Innistrad applies here, the Viz Art book expands greatly on the relatively small Guild segments here. One particularly useful article is Ravnica, Then and Now, which covers the intervening time (about 70 years) between the end of the original Ravnica block and the beginning of the new Ravnica block. Especially useful when wondering how and why the Simic changed so much. The next phase of the IDW comic takes place on Ravnica as well, and provides a tidy conclusion to Dack's initial character arc.
Theros included the first tentative moves to put the story back on the cards.
Elspeth Art from the erstwhile Planeswalker Points Page
- The Lost Confession
- Theros: Godsend Part I (Ebook)
- Kiora's Followers
- Ajani, Mentor of Heroes
- Journey into Nyx: Godsend Part II (Ebook)
- Ajani's Vengeance
- Building Toward a Dream Part I and Part II
- Dreams of the City
- Theros (IDW Comic) (Ebook)
- A Planeswalker's Guide to Theros Part I, Part II, Part III
- A Planeswalker's Guide to Born of the Gods
- A Planeswalker's Guide to Journey into Nyx
Theros picks up Elspeth's story following Scars of Mirrodin, and is definitely worth the read. Note that some of the side fiction ties directly into the ebooks, so what I have linked above is all worth reading. While the ebooks are shorter (two novellas instead of three), I genuinely enjoy the stories and can't recommend it enough. It was also the last attempt at long-form fiction for the next five years.
Building Toward a Dream and Dreams of the City are the only fiction to date to feature Ashiok (as an actual character), and the IDW comic for Theros was notorious for leaving off on a cliffhanger. The Planeswalker Guides here are really handy, but even though there is no accompanying Viz art book, Mythic Odysseys of Theros covers the same topics and expands on them greatly.
Garruk spent his first decade being repeatedly 'cured' for the Chain Veil's curse.
Magic 2015 Key Art by Brad Rigney
- Beast (Takes place before Odric, Master Tactician, possibly retcons it)
- Nissa, Worldwaker
- Veil of Deceit
- The Hunter Cannot Pity
- Duels of the Planeswalkers 2015
- Dreams of the Damned
Magic 2015 was an interesting experiment, tying together with the video game release of Duels of the Planeswalkers 2015. It's the only of the DotP releases that matters to the overall story (sorry, Ramaz fans, he's dubiously canonical at best), and it sets the stage for what's to come in the Gatewatch era. Beast downplays the more optimistic ending of Odric's story (retreading the same 'Cure Garruk' plot that had been his character arc for a decade). Nissa, Worldwaker is the key piece of Nissa's character arc from xenophobe to hero that many people miss. Veil of Deceit sets the stage for Liliana's ongoing Chain Veil saga, while The Hunter Cannot Pity, Monster, and DotP 2015 give Garruk more air time than he'd gotten in years. Importantly, Dreams of the Damned sets Ob Nixilis up for where we meet him in Battle for Zendikar. These are all pretty important stories that are usually overlooked.
Despite the cancellation of the IDW Comic, Dack Fayden's home plane of Fiora is put to good use in the Conspiracy sets (despite not being able to spell his hometown's name right in Drakestown Forgotten). While it only had a handful of stories (and one story retroactively set on the plane), it's one of my favorite settings as the main characters vie for power.
Khans of Tarkir
Bolas's involvement with more than half of the settings up to this point led to some real fatigue.
Crux of Fate by Michael Komarck
- The Story of Tarkir Block
- A Planeswalker's Guide to Khans of Tarkir Part 1 and Part 2
- A Planeswalker's Guide to Fate Reforged
- A Planeswalker's Guide to Dragons of Tarkir Part 1 and Part 2
Tarkir block made my life easy by doing a story summary of their own! I link to it above, it also notes which stories are plot essential and which are worldbuilding. One very important note, Khans of Tarkir DID NOT HAPPEN. Please, it's spelled out in the summary there exactly how things went down. It's the year 2020 people, the only Khans that existed were the ones from Fate Reforged before the dragons took over. Let's never have another time travel plot again, please, because this continues to be one of the most misunderstood plot threads to date.
Our last stop before Magic Origins is some origin stories for Nahiri and Ob Nixilis. They're both worth reading, but there isn't much else to say about them.
Origins and Beyond
The Magic Story site has you pretty much covered from this point forward, although weirdly the story that began the Gatewatch saga, Project Lightning Bug, is missing and should be your first story - the rest of the stories leading into Battle for Zendikar are under the Zendikar section of the story page. The only stories not on the site currently are The Gathering Storm, which is the main story on Ravnica leading into War of the Spark, and the brief Chandra comic series from IDW.
There's also the line of incredible Viz Art Books, all of which I recommend (although if you had to pick just one, Dominaria's is the most useful, followed by Zendikar and Innistrad), and the line of Abrams ComicArts books (the next of which, Legends, has a familiar name as the author). For now, I'm not going to cover the Gatewatch era and beyond simply because we're still in it, and it's mostly self-explanatory. When and if that changes, I'll update with a new Magic 100 about the Gatewatch era and beyond.