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Magic Story 101: Jargon and the Multiverse

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Welcome, Lore Seekers, to Magic Story 101. In Magic Story 100: Where to Start I broke down the various phases of Magic's story over time and where to start reading if you're new. In this course, we're going to talk about some Jargon and the basic metaphysics of the Multiverse. If you've started to dig into Magic's lore, you've probably heard a lot of terms that aren't really clear. Let's start with the term fans of Magic's story use to refer to themselves: Vorthos.

What is a Vorthos?

The term Vorthos originated way back in 2005, in Matt Cavotta's article Snack Time with Vorthos. There have been numerous follow-ups since then, but the simple answer is that a Vorthos is anyone who appreciates Magic for its aesthetics, for the flavor, art, lore, or story. It's a catch-all term for people who are fans of Magic beyond the mechanics of the card game. There's no wrong way to be a Vorthos: if you only care about Magic's fantastic art, or only follow the story through the cards, you're still a Vorthos.

What is Flavor?

I mentioned flavor when describing the kinds of things a Vorthos is, and I should take a second to explain what I mean by that. Flavor is, essentially, any part of the game that makes it feel more than a series of rules interactions. Magic would be just as playable as nothing but rules text printed on cards, but the flavor is what brings cards to life. The art and flavor text, even the card frame itself and the creature types are all there to serve the purpose of making Magic feel like a living multiverse. There are all sorts of ways flavor is important, but that's a whole different article! For now, I just want to try to define these terms.

Magic is so jargon dense it can sometimes feel inaccessible.

Living Lore by Jason Felix

What is Lore?

Lore is a term I use a lot, but what do I mean by it? While other people's definitions may vary, I use lore to talk about Magic's overall worldbuilding, including story, flavor text, art, everything. That's distinct from story, which are the short stories, novels, comics, and other narratives told about Magic's multiverse.

What are Canon and Continuity?

Canon and Continuity both refer to elements of Magic's lore that 'count'. Magic is a brand with a 25 year history, and creative control has changed hands frequently in that timeframe. While for the most part, everything still 'counts' to a greater or lesser extent, the vast amount of worldbuilding in Magic means there's bound to be things that don't line up. The dreaded retcon isn't used all that often in Magic, at least in the sense that most people think of it, and there are only rare stories (like the novel Test of Metal) that just can't fit into continuity anymore.

The Metaphysics of Magic

Now, I've already used some terms here that may not be entirely clear to newcomers. That's okay! If you're at all familiar with Magic, you should already know some of the basics. Magic's multiverse is divided up into different settings referred to as planes. The beings who can travel between those planes are the aptly named planeswalkers. You know that to cast spells you need a resource called mana, and that resource comes from land. What you might not know is how all of that connects together, so let's break it down from top to bottom.

What is the Multiverse?

Magic's lore takes place across a vast multiverse made up of different planes. These planes are not parallel worlds or timelines (although some of those shenanigans can happen, too), but instead pockets of reality floating in an abstract realm called the Blind Eternities. While the multiverse is vast, it is not infinite.

The Blind Eternities are difficult to navigate.

Omniscience by Jason Chan

What are the Blind Eternities?

The Blind Eternities divide the planes, making them inaccessible to all but a small fraction of sentient beings. The usual definition of what we call 'reality' doesn't apply in the Blind Eternities; and, if there are rules, they're not entirely clear to the mortal beings who inhabit planes. There is no true physical distance inside the Blind Eternities, although travel does take time and some planes are harder to reach than others depending on where you start. The Blind Eternities are filled with a volatile magical substance called Aether, which can seep through the boundaries of planes.

For most planar beings, entering the Blind Eternities is impossible, and even if they did, they'd quickly find themselves obliterated by the forces at work there. A mysterious ecosystem seems to be at work in the Blind Eternities, as there are beings that reside there, like the Eldrazi.

What is a Plane?

A plane is best described as a bubble of what we would call reality floating in the Blind Eternities. Planes can be any size or shape and can be as big as a universe or as small as a moon (although the action usually only takes place on one terrestrial body per plane). The physics and metaphysics of each plane can vary greatly, although most planes we visit have mostly the same rules as what we would consider reality - there's still earth-like gravity, for instance.

The lifeblood of each plane is mana, a magical energy balanced between five colors: white, blue, red, black, and green, each pulling from a particular type of geography and empowering certain mindsets and magic. Spellcasters access their magical abilities through The Mana Bond, a metaphysical connection to the land. Mana isn't just there for magic tricks, however, without it a plane will eventually die.

Mana is the fundamental building block of magic.

Manamorphose by Adam Paquette

What is Mana?

Mana is the main source of magic in the Multiverse. While the nature of magic may vary from plane to plane, the fundamental building block, mana, is constant. Mana comes from the land, and spellcasters (consciously or not) draw from that power to fuel their spells. Knowledge of mana varies greatly throughout the Multiverse. While more scholarly magical schools (like the Tolarian Academy) may understand the nature of the colors of Magic, that isn't always the case.

Planar beings, even those without any magical ability, have an innate connection to the colors of mana through both their home and their personality. For animals without sapience, this usually means their color is the color of their home (although not always). For sapient beings, this usually corresponds to their core personality. For both, it's not a static characteristic and can change over time.

Magical power is determined not only by innate ability and skill, but the strength of a spellcaster's mana bonds. Access to more or better sources of mana has often been the deciding factor in battles, and it's here that planeswalkers have the advantage. Beings capable of travelling the planes naturally have access to more sources of mana (although pulling mana from off-plane sources is more difficult).

What is Aether?

We don't actually know all that much about aether, but we do know that it's a powerful and volatile fuel for magic. While it is located primarily in the Blind Eternities, aether seeps into planes as well and is frequently a vital component of magic. The people of Kaladesh use aether to fuel their magical inventions, while the people of Esper capture it as part of the process of creating Etherium, a powerful metal.

The moment a planeswalker's spark ignites tend to be pretty epic.

Chandra's Ignition by Eric Deschamps

What is a Planeswalker?

"You Are A Planeswalker" has been a slogan in Magic for a long time. Magic's flavor casts the players as rival planeswalkers engaged in a duel (although how true that might still be is debatable). Magic's story has primarily followed, or at least been driven by, the actions of planeswalkers. But for some, it's not entirely clear what a planeswalker is, or how they've changed over time.

In the past, planeswalkers were god-like beings, given to megalomania and capriciousness. Even the 'good' planeswalkers frequently did as much damage as the villains. When their planeswalking spark ignited, they gained access to vast amounts of power beyond what their mana bonds would ordinarily allow. Their bodies became mere extensions of their wills, and they all had the ability to shapeshift. Some had even discovered how to create their own planes. That was all before the Mending, however.

What is the Spark?

I mentioned earlier that most beings in the Multiverse would be torn asunder by the forces of the Blind Eternities, if they could find a way to reach it. Planeswalkers are beings whose souls have been touched by the aether and can travel between planes at will. That touch of aether is known as the spark, and it's what keeps them from being destroyed by the Blind Eternities and fuels their connection to it. For most, the spark will linger, dormant. But for some, their sparks will ignite in moments of transcendence, usually through extreme trauma, but it is also possible through positive emotions. Only when their sparks ignite will they have the abilities of a planeswalker.

What was the Mending?

Sixty years ago, an event known as the Mending changed the fundamental nature of the spark and perhaps the Blind Eternities itself. Abuses of power on the nexus of the multiverse, Dominaria, led to the creation of time rifts across millennia of damage, until the plane could no longer sustain the damage. Planeswalkers were forced to give up their sparks or their lives to seal these rifts, and only a few survived the process. When the last rift was sealed, the Mending healed the Multiverse but severely depowered planeswalkers. No longer gods, they were relegated to mortality once more, spellcasters with the ability to move between planes. Nahiri described it in Stone and Blood as the walls between planes being higher and thicker. There are various nicknames for planeswalkers before or after the Mending, although 'oldwalker' is the most common term used these days for pre-Mending planeswalkers.

How does Planeswalking work?

One big question I frequently get is how planeswalking works. Essentially, planeswalkers use mana to open a hole for themselves to the Blind Eternities, although the exact metaphysics of it are deliberately vague and frequently subject to artistic license. If a planeswalker knows a plan well enough, they can appear at a specific location at will. This is sometimes used to 'teleport' by exiting a plane only to reenter it again at another location.

The Flavor of the Game

I've received a ton of questions that cover the entire spectrum of Magic lore, and it's going to take me a few articles to answer them all. Now that I've covered the basic metaphysics of the Multiverse and the most common Vorthos jargon, next time I'm going to talk about the flavor itself. What does it mean to summon a creature? What's an instant? What's a planeswalker card represent? We'll talk about how Magic handles the flavor of the mechanical aspects of the game and more. In the mean time, send me any other Magic Story 100 topics you'd like to see for my growing introductory guide to Magic lore.