Rivals of Ixalan is just around the corner (next week, in fact!), and a little avian dinosaur told me you may not be caught up with the story yet. Fear not! Today we are going to talk about Ixalan itself, the four factions competing for Orazca and the prize inside, and just what that prize (known as the Immortal Sun) might be. We'll also talk a little bit about Ixalan's history and what's happened since Jace was first marooned on this tropical continent. If you'd rather do some background reading on your own, I'll link to the best sources to do so.
Ixalan: Plane or Continent?
The best place to learn about Ixalan is from the Plane Profile, Ten Burning Questions from the Ixalan Story, or from the article Planeswalker's Guide to Ixalan, Part 1 and Planeswalker's Guide to Ixalan, Part 2. But if you're here, you probably want a condensed version. Simply put, Ixalan is the name of both a plane and a continent located on that plane. It's the continent of Ixalan where the action is taking place this block. For the first time in over a decade, an official map has been provided for a new plane, and while it only covers the continent of Ixalan, we know that another continent called Torrezon lies to the east across the ocean. The continent of Ixalan is split between small islands on the outer Stormwreck Sea and the sparsely inhabited Inner Sea.
The last plane we got a 'map' for was Kamigawa... and that wasn't exactly accurate.
Ixalan Map by Jared Blando
Control of Ixalan is divided between four factions: The Sun Empire, the River Heralds, the Brazen Coalition, and the Legion of Dusk. The Sun Empire controls the eastern coast of Ixalan, called the Sun Coast, as well as their three major cities along the coastal region. The merfolk River Heralds are aptly named as they control the nine major rivers of Ixalan, meaning their territory includes most of inland Ixalan. The pirates of the Brazen Coalition don't control much territory outside of the outlying islands in the northeast and their floating capital of High and Dry. The vampires of the Dusk Legion control the southeast coastal region, called Queen's Bay. They've established a number of forts and outposts along this region, most famously Adanto, the First Fort.
Ancient temples and cities litter the landscape, including Azcanta, the Sunken City and the Temple of Aclazotz. None are more sought after than Orazca, the golden city that reputedly houses the Immortal Sun.
The Four Factions
The Sun Empire is currently ruled by Emperor Apatzec Intli III. The Empire lives among dinosaurs of all shapes and sizes, controlling them through magic. Huatli, Warrior Poet is their premiere warrior, who wishes to become Warrior-Poet, a unique position meant to inspire the people and reporting directly to the Emperor himself. The Empire worships the Sun in three aspects: Kinjalli, the Wakening Sun; Ixalli, the Verdant Sun; and Tilonalli, the Burning Sun. While the Empire repels outsiders, they consider the greatest achievement to be victory without killing their opponents. The Empire is in a time of expansion, looking to reclaim old territories and regain their former strength. They search for Orazca and the power within to help foster their renewal.
The River Heralds are divided into nine tribes led by Shapers, merfolk wizards and shamans who have taken the name of one of the nine tributaries of Ixalan. Tishana, Voice of Thunder is elder among them and speaks as leader of all nine tribes. The River Heralds believe they were entrusted with the protection of Orazca by the Last Guardian, believing the power contained in the city to be dangerous in mortal hands. Shaper Kumena disagrees with tradition and believes the only way to protect the power of the city is to take it for themselves.
The Brazen Coalition is a loose affiliation of four pirate fleets: Fathom, Storm, Deadeye, and Dire. The pirates are the descendants of refugees who fled the Legion of Dusk in Torrezon a century before, believing they could find sanctuary on Ixalan. When the locals proved less than receptive, the refugees turned to piracy to survive. Now they live in search of treasure (and the freedom of the seas), and many search for Orazca and the Immortal Sun for its value as treasure.
The Legion of Dusk are the rulers of Torrezon, who have come to Ixalan to reclaim the Immortal Sun, which they believe was stolen from them centuries before. They've come seeking Saint Elenda, the first vampire, who is reputedly the guardian of the Immortal Sun. The Legion is ruled by a Church and Monarchy, led by Queen Miralda. While most of the Legion of Dusk is human, the nobility and clergy are vampires, turned in a ritual reserved for only the most deserving. Their dogma is to feed on enemies and criminals, and their constant expansion has left them with no short supply of either. They believe that the Immortal Sun will transform their vampirism from everlasting undeath into eternal life.
This art of a female vampire outside what appears to be a Temple of Aclazotz seems important.
Art by Chris Rahn
The History of Ixalan
Piecing together Ixalan's past was not an easy thing at first. Thankfully, between the Planeswalker's Guides, the Player's Guide, and the story, we have a fair idea of how things led to where we are today. We don't know when or why, but at some point in the distant past the Immortal Sun was brought to the plane of Ixalan and left in Torrezon, then just a small country on the continent that would eventually bear its name. The Immortal Sun is many things to many people, but it also happens to power a planar barrier (shown in Ixalan's Binding) that prevents anyone from Planeswalking away from Ixalan.
The power of the artifact lead to prosperity, but also jealousy. When Pedron the Wicked (whose name I will never get tired of saying) attempted to steal it, a winged beast appeared and took it across the sea to the continent of Ixalan. One of the monks, a woman named Elenda, is said to have given chase across the sea. In the interim, a war of succession called the Apostasine War erupts on Torrezon. On Ixalan, the first Emperor Apatzec Intli is given the Immortal Sun but it becomes clear that he's not fit to use it. The Immortal Sun is entrusted to the River Heralds for safe keeping, and not even they know it's final location. The Sun Empire's power begins a long decline.
Elenda would return to Torrezon about 500 years ago, ending the Apostasine War and gifting vampirism to the Legion of Dusk. They set about conquering all of their home continent, but Elenda returns to Ixalan for unknown reasons. Their war of conquest would last until about 60 years ago, displacing the refugees who would go on to become the Brazen Coalition. There was a period of relative peace on Torrezon until the Legion of Dusk launched their invasion of Ixalan. There, they have to contend with a newly resurgent Sun Empire, River Heralds divided over how best to protect the Immortal Sun, and the pirates of the Brazen Coalition.
At some point, Angrath, best dad in the multiverse, found himself trapped on Ixalan. He's been murdering his way across the plane ever since, trying to find his way home to his little girls.
My unabashed support for Angrath has helped me realize I, too, am a dad.
Hijack by Svetlin Velinov
Ixalan is a great jumping on point for Magic's story. There isn't a whole lot of background you need, given that the main character is an amnesiac. If you've been hesitant to dive into Magic's serialized storytelling, this is the best place to do it since Magic Origins. If you're not familiar with Jace or Vraska, here's a brief history.
Jace Beleren is originally from the plane of Vryn. When his telepathic powers were discovered, he was apprenticed to Alhammarret, High Arbiter. Years into his apprenticeship, he discovered that Alhammarret had been using him to prolong the war and line his own pockets. He finally broke free of his mentor's control, but in the ensuing duel he made Alhammarrett forget how to breathe at the expense of his own memories. He woke up on Ravnica after the duel with only the most vague idea of who he was.
Jace was later recruited into the Infinite Consortium by Tezzeret the Seeker, who ended up teaching Jace a lot about his abilities but was violent and prone to fits of rage. Jace escaped Tezzeret, but was manipulated by Liliana Vess into taking down Tezzeret's organization. It turns out the whole thing was orchestrated by Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker, who reclaimed Tezzeret as his minion. Jace kind of meandered for a bit, but was partly responsible for the Eldrazi's release. Through a strange twist of fate, he became Ravnica's Living Guildpact after solving the puzzles put forth by the original creator of the Guildpact, Azor. During this time he was challenged by Vraska the Unseen, who had her own plans for Ravnica. You can read more about them in the collection of stories simply titled Vraska the Unseen.
Fellow Planeswalker Ral Zarek alerted Jace to his Planeswalker detecting technology, which led to Jace and Gideon Jura meeting. Faced with his responsibility to address the Eldrazi crisis, Jace and Gideon returned to Zendikar together, where they met Nissa Revane. The three attempted to reseal the Eldrazi, but were thwarted and captured by Ob Nixilis. Chandra Nalaar came to join her friends late, and ultimately freed them. Together they formed the original members of the Gatewatch and destroyed two of the Eldrazi titans. On Innistrad, they were joined by Liliana and sealed Emrakul into the silver moon (although it appears Emrakul meant to be imprisoned). They also stopped Tezzeret's greater ambitions on Kaladesh, and were joined by Ajani Goldmane in the process.
Arrogant on their successes, they agreed to rendezvous with Ajani on Dominaria while they slipped off to Amonkhet to try and confront Nicol Bolas himself. They were not prepared. Previous successes had relied on luck and some very specific circumstances, and during the battle fractures within the team immediately became apparent. The elder dragon targeted Jace first, who planeswalked away on the verge of mind death from the dragon's mental assault.
That symbol's triangle and circle design is definitely reminiscent of the Azorius.
Ixalan's Binding by Chase Stone
The Story of Ixalan
- Jace, Alone
- A Question of Confidence
- The Talented Captain Vraska
- The Shapers
- Something Else Entirely
- The Race, Part 1
- The Race, Part 2
On Ravnica, Vraska receives a strange invitation. Following the directions, she ends up on Nicol Bolas' Meditation Realm. There, she's given an offer she can't refuse to travel to Ixalan and find something for him. When she's found it, she's to cast a spell alerting another of his agents to its presence and that agent will retrieve it. He downloads knowledge of sailing directly into her mind, and she's off, unsure of her new patron. On Ixalan, she builds a pirate crew and begins following the Thaumatic Compass she was given, when it suddenly points her to a small island.
Jace wakes up, alone and without any memories, on a deserted island. He instinctively tries to Planeswalk away, only to find it impossible. He quickly learns that he is a mage, and his subconscious keeps conjuring visions of the past. He builds himself a raft, hoping to escape, but crashes ashore a rocky outcropping in the middle of nowhere. He begins to believe all hope is lost when fellow Planeswalker Vraska stumbles across him with her pirate crew. Seeing her old enemy so thoroughly beaten down, Vraska takes pity on him.
Meanwhile, Huatli is a young warrior with aspirations of becoming the Sun Empire's Warrior Poet. She has just returned from a successful campaign against the Dusk Legion, driving them from the Empire's shores. But instead of being rewarded with a position going after the Legion, she and her troops are left guarding the shores against further incursions. Angrath, greatest dad in the multiverse, surprises her with his strange powers and nearly kills her. Her spark ignites, and she sees a vision of Kaladesh that she believes to be Orazca before Ixalan's Binding pulls her back. Angrath is shocked to meet another Planeswalker, and unsuccessfully tries to get her help locating the Immortal Sun. When she returns to the Emperor, he bids Huatli set out on an expedition to find Orzaca in secret.
Jace doesn't fit in with the crew at first, but when Vraska realizes he has no memories of their previous encounters, she starts to put his illusion powers to work. She even finds she likes this version of Jace, unencumbered by his history. He's instrumental in their raid on a Dusk Legion ship, and is made an official part of the crew.
Vraska's crew returns to High and Dry for rest and relaxation. Vraska takes Jace aside and fills him in on her mission... as she related it to her crew (leaving out mention of Planeswalkers). The two bond, and she talks of Ravnica (although not the fact that it's a different plane of existence). Jace eagerly learns about her history and Vraska is encouraged by his understanding. When they set sail again, Jace examines the Thaumatic Compass and discovers that whatever it's pointing to must be an object of massive magical power. Before he can share this revelation, however, their ship is scuttled.
Among the River Heralds, Kumena decides that the only way to protect Orazca against those seeking to claim it is to take it for themselves. Shaper Tishana tries to stop him, but Kumena proves too crafty and launches his plan. He attacks two ships on the horizon before knocking Tishana out and heading out to find Orazca.
Jace and Vraska jump overboard and swim to shore. It's clear the storm that hit them wasn't natural, and was probably summoned by Kumena. Vona, the captain of the other ship, attempts to attack Jace but is put to sleep or turned to stone. Vraska and Jace steal a dinghy while her crew fights off the vampires. Huatli finds Tishana and wakes her up. They strike an uneasy alliance, with the merfolk promising to kill Huatli if she senses the Planeswalker will try to use Orazca for gain. Tishana senses Jace's illusion, and they all head toward the the general direction of Orazca.
Vona steals the compass from Jace and Vraska. Huatli and Tishana give chase when they learn the compass has been taken by the vampires. Huatli manages to stop the vampire, reclaiming the compass, but she in turn is captured by Vraska's crew. Tishana abandons Huatli and heads out to Orazca herself, while Vraska and crew reclaim their compass and move on. Angrath finds Huatli again, much to Huatli's dismay. In the midst of all of this, someone reaches Orazca first, opening the city as massive earthquakes wreak havoc on the region. Jace is thrown into a river and falls down a newly created waterfall. In the aftermath, strange visions begin to appear to Vraska, and the closer she gets to where Jace fell, the stronger they become.
With a dawning realization, Vraska realizes the trauma has brought back Jace's memories.
And in the distance, massive roars fill the air as something, or some things awaken.
Who is the dragon on Huatli's banner, and the mural in the bottom right? Who am I kidding. I think it's Ugin.
Rivals of Ixalan Key Art
I've talked about The Mysteries of Ixalan at length, so if you want some theorycrafting about what's next, check that out. For now, I want to examine more personal angles I didn't touch there.
When the story of Ixalan closed, we were left with more questions than answers. What will Jace remember? Will he remember everything he'd previous lost, all the way back to Vryn? I think it would be interesting after knowing two different amnesiac Jaces for so long, we finally see Jace fully restored, with all of his training and experience, more powerful than ever but also more grounded. Up until now, we've only known a Jace unsure of his place in the world. Jace's time on Ixalan gave him a new perspective, free of the traumas of his past. Will this new attitude carry over? And how will he react to Vraska? Will his memories of their previous encounters outweigh their bond over the last few months? Or will he find a middle ground of some kind?
For me, the most important question is whether or not Angrath will find his way home to his little girls. He's clearly willing to help other Planeswalkers out for mutual gain, which makes me wonder if maybe Angrath might be a Gatewatch candidate. I think everyone has been assuming that Vraska would replace Liliana... but it's not so clear. If Jace and Vraska can't reconcile, we might see Vraska as a sympathetic enemy, not as an ally.
For Orazca itself, control is being awarded the faction that does the best in the Geocaching challenge. That means there's not much point speculating on that front, since it'll be decided by the community. It also means that the more personal stories, the ones that will carry over to other planes and other sets, are likely to be unrelated to who controls Orazca, but instead who controls the Immortal Sun. The real race, between Vraska and Jace, Angrath and Huatli, is on.