CoolStuffInc.com

Undercover Sale
   Sign In
Create Account

Magic Story 100: Where to Start

Welcome, Lore Seekers, to Magic Story 100. This is an entry level series on Magic’s lore that I hope will be useful to long-time players and newcomers alike. One of the most common questions I see about Magic’s Story is where and how to get started (there’s one every couple days on Reddit, for instance). The Magic Story Archive on the main website helps, but it’s not exactly a ‘how to’ and it takes over a dozen clicks to get you back to just Magic Origins. There have been official attempts at articles designed to catch people up, like Checking in on the Planeswalkers or The Story of Tarkir Block, but these tended to fall by the wayside as time goes on and other priorities take resources. With the popularity of Magic Story, however, that core question of “How do I get started?” has only gotten more difficult as we put more and more years between us and Magic Origins. It’s even worse when you consider it has been over 25 years since Magic began, and there’s been a story in one form or another for almost the entire time. The good news is you don’t have to have read everything to enjoy Magic! I certainly haven’t.

With this article, I’m attempting to put together a guide to get started with Magic’s Story that can be a single reference point for years to come. To that end, I’m not going going to inundate you with a list of links that will be outdated with the release of the next story article. Instead, check out my Magic Storyline Resources thread over at MTG Salvation, which I’ve been keeping up to date over the last few years. There are dozens of novels and hundreds of story articles set in the Magic multiverse, and it’s not always clear what’s relevant and what isn’t. So this edition of Magic 100 is geared toward helping you find what to read first, or what to read next. Let’s talk about the ‘Eras’ of Magic storytelling to give you some background, first.

It’s best to figure out what interests you most and dive in from there.

Lore Seeker by Jason Felix

The Eras of Magic Story

Magic Story is best divided into several eras of storytelling, where certain themes, mediums, or characters were dominant. While it would be impossible to cover everything in a single article, please be assured that you absolutely don’t have to read two decades of lore to understand and enjoy the current story. I can’t emphasize that enough, and I’ll keep repeating it throughout this article. This is a daunting amount of backstory, but only a few themes and characters carry over into the modern story. Even then, the modern story tells you everything you need to know about them and their past.

If you’re brand new, Magic is set in a multiverse made up of a wide variety of pockets of reality called planes. The focus of Magic’s story has predominantly been on beings capable of traversing from one plane to another, aptly named planeswalkers. For the first decade or so of Magic’s story, the plane of Dominaria was the focus on the majority of the action, but over the last decade the focus has shifted to feature many more planes.

Pre-Revision Era

The first few years of the story were told through the Armada Comics line from Acclaim and through novels published by HarperPrism. Two video games connected to the comics, Shandalar and Battlemage, were also released in this time period. When Wizards of the Coast took over the story internally, many of their early releases contradicted or entirely rewrote these early stories (hence the nickname that has stuck ever since: the revision). The stories of Arabian Nights through Alliances were the subject of this period of time, although the story of the Brothers’ War and the Ice Age were later retold. Some short fiction during this period was available online through the Encyclopedia Dominia and occasionally through Wizards of the Coast’s official magazine, The Duelist.

I would not recommend you invest time or money tracking any of these materials down unless you’re really dedicated. In general, Pre-Revisionist materials are still canon unless contradicted by another source. They’re occasionally referenced (Dominaria had a few obscure references to the comics), but you don’t have to have read these to understand the story.

Planeswalkers before the Mending wielded god-like power.

Apex of Power by Slawomir Maniak

Pre-Mending Era

During the Mirage block (a block is a series of connected Magic sets), Wizards of the Coast took over Magic’s story internally. Detailed story summaries for Mirage and Visions were available on the Wizards website, covering the events of the Mirage War. But it was with Weatherlight that Magic’s first epic narrative began, kicking off the Weatherlight saga.

The next four years, from Tempest in 1997 through Apocalypse in 2001, would follow the story of the legendary Skyship Weatherlight and her crew. Phyrexia, the dark world of artifice, was an ever-present looming threat during this time period. This culminated in an all-out invasion, where the forces of Dominaria (led by the planeswalker Urza) faced off against the overwhelming might of Phyrexia. To tell this story, Wizards of the Coast launched a novel series that tackled the story of each set. The cards became a detailed (sometimes too detailed) storyboard of plot points. A secondary cycle (series of novels) of novels every year was also released around this time, as well as a series of anthologies, resulting in around a half dozen novels per year.

Following the climactic events of Apocalypse, Odyssey would see a dramatic shift in how the story was expressed, following the events surrounding a mysterious artifact known as the Mirari on the Dominarian continent of Otaria. Unlike the Weatherlight saga, which sometimes went too far in depicting events from the story as cards, the next decade of the story would disappear from the cards almost entirely. When the Odyssey storyline concluded two years later in Scourge, the story would drop Dominaria as the central narrative focus. It would also drop the secondary novels, focusing only on the plot of each block.

The next few years entered what is typically known as the Planehopping Era. Mirrodin, Champions of Kamigawa, and Ravnica: City of Guilds each spent a block on a new plane, eschewing the god-like planeswalkers as central characters. It was clear this was an era when the story was experimenting for what was to come next: the Mending.

In the Time Spiral block, the story returned to Dominaria to deal with damage from catastrophic events caused by planeswalkers. A network of time rifts had formed over the millennia, and the planeswalkers of Magic’s past (those who were relevant post-revision, anyway) returned to undo the damage. When the last rift was sealed, the fundamental nature of the multiverse and the planeswalker spark changed. Planeswalkers were drained of their god-like power and immortality. The elder dragon planeswalker Nicol Bolas foresaw this change, and began taking steps to protect himself.

Fraying Omnipotence by Slawomir Maniak

Post-Mending Era

We wouldn’t actually get to see these new, de-powered planeswalkers in action right away, however. The first story of the Post-Mending Era was Lorwyn, a self-contained story more evocative of the Planeshopping Era than what would follow. It was with Shards of Alara that we would finally see the ramifications of the Mending.

Alara would also see a shift in how the block stories were told, transitioning from one novel per set (the paradigm for the previous decade) to one novel per block and the “A Planeswalker Novel” series, which were stories about the new characters not tied to a particular set. Nicol Bolas would become a recurring antagonist in his quest to regain his god-like power, with many early plot lines tracing back to Bolas’ machinations. This continued for several years until the novel line was cancelled prior to the story of Innistrad. This period also featured a series of webcomics featuring the new cast of characters (later titled Path of the Planeswalker for trade circulation). The webcomics were cancelled alongside the novel line.

With the cancellation of the novels, Innistrad featured a handful of short fiction and a few overall plot synopsis articles reminiscent of Mirage. In an effort to continue delivering lore content, Magic 2013 featured the debut of Uncharted Realms, a weekly short story column. While Magic had featured short fiction online in the past, this was the first regular feature. With Return to Ravnica on the horizon, the team attempted to self-publish ebook novellas with every set, but by the end of Theros block that had proved not feasible for the team to sustain. During this timeframe, worldbuilding articles called ‘Planeswalker Guides’ were released for each world. A short lived IDW comic series featuring the planeswalking thief Dack Fayden was released alongside the main story. Duels of the Planeswalkers 2015 was the first and last video game of this era to have a serious story component.

The story shifted entirely to Uncharted Realms for Khans of Tarkir block, and the main plot was interwoven with the usual Uncharted Realms side stories. This proved popular enough that Magic Origins made the transition to online serialized storytelling permanent. Designed as a jumping-on point for new fans, it proved immensely popular. After a brief stint as “Official Magic Fiction”, Uncharted Realms was renamed Magic Story.

This would become the era of the Gatewatch, a group of planeswalkers formed in opposition to interplanar threats, and whose story brings them on a collision course with Nicol Bolas. While the official stories moved onto the website, The Art of Magic: the Gathering series from Viz would move the worldbuilding from Planeswalker’s Guides to massive hardcover collector’s editions.

This is, by no means, a complete history of the story, it does give you a rough idea of how the story has changed over time.

Where to Start Reading

The first, and most obvious place to start reading Magic’s Story is with the current one, or with whichever plane you like the most. There are a lot of good jumping on points, and typically the beginning of a story arc is good place to start. If you find you want to know more about these characters, there’s always time to go back and read the earlier stories later. The Magic Story Archive is your first stop, scroll down to the first story for whatever set, and get started. You can also dip your toes into the MTG Wiki, but be warned that like any wiki, it’s communal writing. Not everything in there is 100% canon, but it will give you a good starting point for anything you’re interested in learning about, especially if you want to focus on a specific character. I’ve spent a lot of time covering these stories, and you can find my story summaries in the A Vorthos Guide to MTG thread. Lore summaries are a great way to get caught up or learn about the story without having to devote the time to reading hundreds of thousands of words.

Do you like what you see? Want to learn more? Already invested? Let’s jump back a little bit for the best starting point for the Gatewatch.

The Gatewatch’s Origin

If you’re reading this, chances are you’re looking to learn more about the Gatewatch, the roster of heroic (and not-so-heroic) planeswalkers that have dominated the story for the last decade (although the Gatewatch itself is newer). Magic Origins is the place to start. The five stories there tell the tale of how each of the five main characters became planeswalkers. This was important, as these origin stories would shape the Gatewatch’s story going forward. This set was designed as the best possible story on-ramp for Magic fans. Don’t miss Project Lightning Bug, Limits, Catching Up, Unkindess of Ravens, and Offers to the Fire, which are easy to miss but function as a prologue for Battle for Zendikar. From there, it’s gotten easier to follow the story forward because they’re all packaged with their respective sets.

But for the curious fan, you’ve noticed there’s a lot of backstory even for these relatively new characters. What’s Tezzeret’s beef with Jace? How did the Eldrazi get free in the first place? What is New Phyrexia and why should I care? Things start to get a bit more complicated.

The Post-Mending Era

The next jump takes us to the beginning of the Post-Mending Era. There are a few disparate plotlines that would become more and more entangled as time goes on (before finally solidifying into the Gatewatch story), and honestly you can start with whichever of them you wish. Go back to my Magic Storyline Resources thread and start with the Post-Mending Chronology if you want to read them in order, but it’s not strictly necessary. If you’re not ready to make a financial commitment, you could read the webcomics first and fill in any gaps with the novels later.

If you’re ready to jump into a novel, Agents of Artifice, The Purifying Fire, and Alara Unbroken should be your first stops, depending on which characters you’re more interested in learning about. I would also highly recommend the IDW Magic: the Gathering comics, which are fun side stories to Innistrad, Return to Ravnica, and Theros blocks.

Some of the novels in this period were aggressively bad or so far out there that they’re only canon in the most broad strokes sense. In the Teeth of Akoum and The Quest for Karn are best avoided, and Test of Metal is at best dubiously canonical. For the most part I don’t want to review novels in this series, but you’ll save yourself time and money by reading story summaries instead. No, seriously, In the Teeth of Akoum misspells the main character’s name on the very first page. They’re not good. Skip over them to the ebook novellas Godsend and The Secretist.

The Pre-Mending Era

So you’ve decided you want to learn more about the Multiverse back in the day. Let me emphasize that you absolutely don’t need to. Even the returns to Ravnica and Mirrodin don’t rely heavily on the plots of the original blocks. Even Dominaria didn’t require you to have read the Weatherlight saga to understand what’s happening. You can check out the order of these stories, again, in my Magic Storyline Resources, under “List of Pre-Mending Sources”.

I wouldn’t recommend starting with Time Spiral or its sequels, Planar Chaos and Future Sight, until you’re at least passingly familiar with some of Dominaria’s other lore. I got a lot more out of it when I didn’t feel like I was playing catch-up. It’s a great story, but a lot of the emotional weight depends on already knowing many of the characters. Please note that the availability of many of these novels can be hit or miss, and the harder to find novels go for pretty exorbitant prices. Stick with ebooks whenever possible. A great place to start is with the so-called Planeshopping Era.

Planeshopping Era

The stories of the original Lorwyn, Ravnica: City of Guilds, Mirrodin, and Champions of Kamigawa blocks are all relatively self-contained cycles. You can start with any or all of them without missing anything. They’re all available in ebook format as well, making tracking them down much easier. While Ravnica and Mirrodin obviously connect to their sequel counterparts, the ties are loose and don’t really add much. The main characters from these stories may reappear in the more recent stories, but they’re generally minor characters in the newer stories whose entire history you don’t need to know. For instance, Glissa Sunseeker is the protagonist of Moons of Mirrodin, The Darksteel Eye, and Fifth Dawn, but in The Quest for Karn has become Glissa, the Traitor, a Phyrexian leader. This tragedy ends up being less interesting than it sounds, as the switch happens entirely off-screen and nothing about Glissa’s past comes up in the more recent novel.

Legacy Weapon by Terese Nielson

The Weatherlight Saga

The sweeping epic of the Weatherlight saga extends over twelve novels, divided between the main story and the four novels of the Artifacts cycle. The Artifacts cycle sets up the events of the Weatherlight saga and gives a lot of necessary context. Chronologically and thematically, it’s best to begin with the The Brothers’ War, then move to Planeswalker, Time Streams, and Bloodlines. The Weatherlight Saga proper begins with Maelstrom and Torment, short fiction prologues for what is to follow: Rath and Storm, Mercadian Masques, Nemesis, Prophecy, Invasion, Planeshift, and Apocalypse. The Thran is a prequel taking place around 10,000 years before the Phyrexian Invasion, and it’s entirely optional if you want to read it or not. I wouldn’t recommend reading it until after the Artifacts cycle, however. All of these novels are available as ebooks, so dive in.

The Mirari Crisis

The story of the Odyssey and Onslaught blocks (Odyssey, Chainer's Torment, Judgment, Onslaught, Legions, Scourge) are known for having some of the best and worst Magic fiction around. They tell the story of the mysterious Mirari, an object of great power that becomes a central point of conflict on the one continent to survive the Phyrexian Invasion relatively intact. They’re not available as ebooks and the entirety of the plot is briefly recapped in Future Sight, so it’s probably not worth trying to track down the six novels involved here. They haven’t been made into ebooks yet.

Side Stories and Anthologies

Alongside many of the novels of the main sets, supplemental stories were told through other series. These three trilogies covered The Dark, Ice Age, Alliances, and Legends. The Ice Age cycle, The Gathering Dark, The Eternal Ice, and The Shattered Alliance feature Jaya Ballard and the Archmage Jodah, two of my favorite characters in Magic, as they fight against dark powers who threaten Dominaria, frozen by the conclusion of The Brothers’ War. They work as indirect sequels to The Brothers’ War (written by the same author) as well.

The Legends I cycle, including Johan, Jedit, and Hazezon retells the story of an earlier comic, featuring the catfolk warrior Jedit Ojanen. The Legends II cycle, including Assassin's Blade, Emperor's Fist, and Champion's Trial are our real glimpse at Nicol Bolas when he was a god-like planeswalker, and how his hubris lead to his downfall at the hands of Tetsuo Umezawa. Of note, the Kamigawa trilogy is a distant prequel to this story, but both can be read entirely independently. The Kamigawa cycle and Legends II cycle form a loose trilogy concluding with the Time Spiral cycle, in which Nicol Bolas is resurrected and gets revenge on the Myojin of Night's Reach, who brought Tetsuo’s ancestor, Toshiro Umezawa, to Dominaria. Again, these are all very loosely connected (and separated by centuries) so you don’t need to read them all.

The “ . . . of Magic” Anthologies were full of flavorful short stories with various themes (Colors, Myths, Dragons, Secrets, and Monsters), and outside of a handful of exceptions don’t have much lore baggage (although often seeded future stories). They can be read independently, but aren’t available as ebooks yet.

The Pre-Revision Era

If you’ve gotten to the point where you really want to dive into Pre-Revisionist continuity, here’s what you really need to know. The Armada comics were one long, loosely connected series that was leading to an epic finale called the Planeswalker War that never happened. The Story of Battlemage Ravidel sums up the majority of the plots of these comics. Unfortunately, the comic series was cancelled before the story was concluded. Given it’s been over 20 years, it seems unlikely that it ever will be. The events of these comics are referenced again, however, especially in Dominaria.

The novels by HarperPrism are largely standalone, with the exception of Whispering Woods, Shattered Chains, and Final Sacrifice, which feature the story of a character named Greensleeves. Arena, the very first Magic novel, remains pretty popular among those that have read it, but the lack of availability in ebook format makes tracking it down a challenge. It’s worth noting that outside of consulting these novels to make the map of Dominaria these novels aren’t mentioned or referenced again.

While I’m not going to dive too deeply into the issues here, I should note that there are some pretty major inconsistencies with later lore when it comes to timelines, summoning, and the nature of planeswalkers. During this time period, becoming a planeswalker was largely a matter of how much power you could accumulate, and summoning creatures called the actual creature, which meant ripping sentient beings from their lives and homes. The timeline was reworked after being taken over internally.

A Note on Quality and Continuity

I tried my best here to avoid too many critical judgments regarding the quality of the stories I talked about here. I’ve found that people’s tastes are very different when it comes to Magic fiction, and so I don’t want to dissuade you from a story you may love because I didn’t. Magic’s lore is wide and varied, so there’s something for everyone to enjoy. If you find yourself not liking a novel, skip it. The writing and plotting varies between stories, so it may just be that you don’t like that particular author or storyline. That said, if the story isn’t available electronically, it’s probably not worth tracking down physically, and it’s definitely not worth paying more than MSRP for.

A lot is made of Magic’s continuity, but in terms of ongoing shared universes, Magic’s continuity has been comparably tight. Most of what has changed over time have been relatively minor things (usually more worldbuilding than story). Obviously, with 25 years of history, there are going to be continuity errors, but the broad strokes of Magic’s story has been a consistent ongoing narrative for two decades. Don’t let talk of ‘retcons’ dissuade you from reading anything (except maybe Test of Metal). Magic’s canon has never been rebooted, although ‘soft reboots’ like the Mending or Magic Origins have given the story (relatively) fresh starts for newcomers, while still incorporating lore that goes back decades for oldtimers.

Not The End

There is so much I didn’t cover here. When I put out a call on my twitter for what people would have liked to know when they started getting into the lore, I was overwhelmed by the diversity of responses. I’ll be back with Magic Story 101 to cover more of the topics people have asked for sometime soon.


Magic Core Set 2019 is Now Available!