This article is part of a series of profiles of major characters in recent Magic sets. Today we’re looking at the life and death of Elspeth Tirel, a knight who fought evil and injustice across the Multiverse.
Elspeth grew up on an unknown plane that had been conquered by the Phyrexians. As a child, she was taken from her family and tortured until her Planeswalker spark ignited. She planeswalked to Theros, where she witnessed a fight between Heliod, God of the Sun, and Purphoros, God of the Forge. The gods noticed her picking up a sword that Purphoros had dropped, and she planeswalked away in fear. She wandered the Multiverse for some time after that, seeking a safe place to live, until she arrived on Bant, a shard of the plane of Alara.
On Bant, Elspeth trained as a knight in the kingdom of Valeron, and soon became renowned as a healer and military leader. During this time, she met Ajani Goldmane, a leonin Planeswalker from the shard of Naya, who warned her that trouble was coming. She didn’t believe him until the Conflux began, collapsing Alara’s shards into a single plane, and a neighboring kingdom was conquered by agents of Grixis.
Elspeth fought to defend Bant from invasions by both Grixis and Esper, and was eventually able to kill Malfegor, the demonic ruler of Grixis. But protecting her new home required her to use her magic in ways that broke Bant’s code of honorable combat. The war hadn’t just changed her; Conflux had also brought chaos to Bant, making it no longer the peaceful home she needed.
Elspeth began wandering the Multiverse again and eventually allied herself with fellow Planeswalkers Koth and Venser. Her new friends planned to find Karn and rescue him from the Phyrexian invasion on Mirrodin. Returning to Phyrexian territory brought back traumatic memories of the torture Elspeth had experienced as a child. This made it hard for her to fight effectively, but she found new purpose in protecting the Mirran healer Melira, who had the power to cure Phyrexian corruption.
But the Mirran resistance failed, and Elspeth and her new friends were left to make a desperate last stand against Phyrexian forces. Venser sacrificed himself to give Karn a new spark, untainted by phyresis, and allow him to escape; Koth protected an injured Elspeth until she, too, could planeswalk away.
Elspeth returned to Theros, thinking that the presence of the gods there would provide the stability she needed. But she still carried Purphoros’s sword, which attracted Heliod’s attention. Heliod challenged Elspeth and tried to kill her, but he was shocked when her magic protected her. Heliod named Elspeth his champion and transformed her sword into a blessed spear called Godsend.
As Heliod’s champion, Elspeth performed many heroic feats, including slaying the hydra Polukranos and saving the city of Akros from a zombie invasion. But her reputation was subverted by another Planeswalker, the satyr Xenagos. Xenagos manipulated the gods into trying to steal Godsend and tortured Elspeth with nightmares of her childhood, forcing her to unwittingly kill her lover Daxos. Elspeth fled Akros and took refuge in Theros’s leonin community, where she was reunited with Ajani. Together, Elspeth and Ajani traveled to the edge of the world, where Elspeth undertook the Ordeal of Erebos to enter Nyx, the realm of the gods. While in Nyx, she fought and killed Xenagos, who had used the chaos he’d created to become a god himself.
Elspeth had restored order to Theros, but Heliod was terrified of the power he’d given her—if “Godsend” was now “God’s End,” could she use that power to kill him, too? Fearing that Elspeth and her weapon might be too powerful, Heliod killed her with her own spear, trapping her in Nyx.
Elspeth’s story does not end with her death. When the people of Theros die, they either remain in Nyx forever, or return to Theros as the masked zombies known as the Returned, with no memory of their previous life. The concluding trailer for Theros block ends with an image of a Returned mask set with the gems from Godsend’s hilt, implying that Elspeth would eventually return as a Returned.
The Mythic Edition printing of Elspeth, Knight-Errant shows her in Nyx, holding the mask but not wearing it, which suggests a third option. Her new card in Theros: Beyond Death shows what that option is: Elspeth returns as the Sun’s Nemesis, out to get revenge on Heliod. She comes armed with a new version of Godsend and an Escape ability that lets her return from the graveyard when she runs out of loyalty. Her Showcase art includes reliefs of her killing Xenagos (on the left) and Heliod (on the right).
Elspeth certainly has some work to do, and I’m excited to see her do it.
You Don’t Have to Fight Alone
The following decklist represents Elspeth’s legendary ability to command soldiers in battle. It combines Soldier tribal synergies with token copying and group buffs that make Elspeth’s army unstoppable.
4 Clifftop Retreat