Nicol Bolas: A History

Simon IrvingMagic Story

The shadow of Nicol Bolas looms large over the history of the Magic storyline. The elder dragon planeswalker has been part of the game’s rich lore since Legends in 1994. Alongside the Eldrazi and the Phyrexians, he’s considered one of the three greatest threats to the multiverse. In Hour of Devastation, we see Bolas making a rare center stage appearance, but his claw marks are all over the history of Magic. Bolas is a master manipulator, a being who has schemes operating within schemes, always working toward the goal of acquiring as much power as possible. Today, we’re going to dig back through Magic‘s story and discover the influence of Nicol Bolas.

Nicol Bolas became a planeswalker millennia before the events of the current Magic story. At that time, planeswalkers were beings of nearly unlimited power, much unlike the current planeswalkers of the Gatewatch. Bolas held a strong rivalry with another dragon planeswalker, Ugin. This rivalry eventually became all-out war, culminating in Ugin’s defeat on Tarkir. Bolas left Ugin to die, stealing knowledge of the alien Eldrazi monsters in the process.

During these early years, Bolas also rose to power as the emperor of Madara, a continent on the plane of Dominaria. After several centuries of totalitarian rule, he was finally defeated by an alliance of Madaran resistance fighters, including Tetsuo Umezawa (descendant of the owner of a famous jitte) and the cat-dragon Wasitora. Although he was ousted as emperor and defeated soundly in battle, Bolas did not die. Instead, he recuperated and waited, as eons of events went by.

Then came the Mending, the event which forever altered the nature of planeswalkers, resulting in the likes of NissaGideon, and the rest of the characters we know today. Instead of nearly god-like powers, planewalkers were now simply beings who could move between planes – no longer immortal, no longer free to rule without challenge. For an ambitious dragon like Nicol Bolas, this was the worst loss possible. We will see that much of Bolas’ plans throughout the modern Magic story arcs will center around his quest to restore his lost powers.

Bolas met with another planeswalker who’d been stripped of her powers – Liliana Vess. Bolas served as a broker of sorts, facilitating contracts between Liliana and four different demons who promised her power. He also established the Infinite Consortium, a interplanar smuggling operation. Even without his old powers, Bolas was once again carving out a space that put him in a position of power – the mastermind at the center of a vast network.

The broken plane of Alara offered the first opportunity for Bolas to restore his powers. With the five shards of Alara – Bant, Esper, Grixis, Jund, and Naya – all merging into one whole plane again, Bolas believed he could absorb an immense amount of power and be restored as the god-like being he yearned to be. Ultimately, the actions of Ajani Goldmane and Elspeth Tirel thwarted this plan, but his involvement in Alara introduced him to two planeswalkers who would prove key pawns in future plans – Sarkhan Vol and Tezzeret.

At first, Tezzeret proved difficult to work with. Tezzeret took control of Bolas’ Infinite Consortium, and recruited a young telepath named Jace Beleren to help protect against Bolas’ inevitable attacks and mental magic. Tezzeret’s dreams of power were ended quickly when Jace learned the truth behind the Consortium’s structure, and defeated Tezzeret soundly. The wounded Tezzeret found his way back into Bolas’ claws. Tezzeret was next dispatched to the emerging New Phyrexia, where he was tasked with keeping an eye on the Phyrexian power struggle, reporting back to Bolas should the Phyrexians finally emerge with clear (and potentially dangerous) leadership.

Meanwhile, Bolas sent Sarkhan to Zendikar, the plane that held the three imprisoned Eldrazi titans deep within its mountains. Through his vast network of agents, Bolas manipulated Jace and Chandra Nalaar into crossing paths with Sarkhan with the Eye of Ugin. The immense clash of magic between these three planeswalkers awakened the three Eldrazi titans, setting much of the modern Gatewatch story into motion. We still don’t know why Bolas wanted the Eldrazi to emerge, but his influence in their awakening is undeniable.

As far as we know, Bolas remained removed from the stories of Innistrad, Return to Ravnica, and Theros. Sarkhan would go on to rewrite the history of Tarkir, traveling back in time and saving Ugin from defeat at Bolas’ hands. Whether Bolas has become aware of this tampering with the timeline is still unknown. Surely, he can’t be too pleased with the return of his old nemesis, Ugin.

The stories of Kaladesh and Amonkhet have seen a new Bolas plan come to light. On Kaladesh, he had his agent Tezzeret create a magical technology that could transport objects, and possibly even people across the planes. On Amonkhet, we have now discovered his transformation of the whole plane into a zombie factory, training the finest warriors for their whole lives, before killing them and resurrecting them as a lethal army of zombie eternals. Surely, these two pieces of information together hint that Bolas plans to invade another plane with his Amonkhet army. And with Magic returning to Dominaria next spring, we may see the sites of some of his greatest victories and defeats.

We cannot predict what the future holds for Nicol Bolas. However, we can count on him to always be trying to manipulate events for his own gain. He is an elder dragon, a God-Pharaoh, and a planeswalker – and he will stop at nothing to reclaim the power that was taken from him.

To learn more about Nicol Bolas, be sure to read the Official Magic Story every Wednesday on the Magic homepage! Additionally, I recommend the following novels for Bolas lore:

Assassin’s Blade by Scott McGough
Emperor’s Fist by Scott McGough
Champion’s Trial by Scott McGough
Time Spiral by Scott McGough
Alara Unbroken by Doug Beyer
Agents of Artifice by Ari Marmell