This year has been a momentous one in the history of Magic Story. We saw some intense shifts in characters we’ve known for decades. We met new, exciting characters and received insights into the most and least powerful denizens of the Multiverse. Given the many stories we’ve seen this year, it’s hard to pick just a few that are memorable. However, writing a compendium of all this year’s stories would take forever…and bore the living daylights out of most readers. So let’s explore just five of my favorite moments this year in Magic Story!
#5 The Rage of Vivien Reid
Coming in at number five is Cassandra Khaw’s “Unbowed, Part Three”: the epic conclusion to Vivien Reid’s rampage on the vampire island of Luneau. The last survivor of the plane of Skalla, a rage-filled Vivien seeks revenge on Nicol Bolas for destroying her home. Meanwhile, Vivien and her magical weapon, the Arkbow, have been separated and imprisoned by the decadent vampires of Luneau. After tricking her jailers into letting her use the Arkbow, Vivien lets loose arrows filled with the souls of the animals of Skalla. The souls take physical form and destroy the island, leaving no stone unturned in Vivien’s wake.
Cassandra Khaw’s lush prose creates a dissonance between Vivien’s stampede of giant creatures and the “civilized” trappings of Luneau. Through Vivien’s efforts, we Green at its most primal: “At the end of the day, life has always been a contest of raw might.” While we usually consider Green to be the most natural and straightforward of the Magic colors, this story celebrates the raw power that Vivien Reid brings to the table in a gorgeous, descriptive way.
#4 Revenge & Wonder: The Twins
Fourth is Kate Elliot’s debut work for Magic Story: “Chronicle of Bolas: The Twins.” Painting the brutal world of Tarkir and Dominaria in straightforward, stark language, Kate Elliot sets up a series of parallel themes and framing devices worthy of the Arabian Nights. We explore the story of two pairs of twins: Baisha and Naiva of the former Temur clan, and the elder dragons Nicol Bolas and Ugin. Kate Elliot gives us a clear picture of who these characters are from the moment we meet them, along with a focused idea of how they’ve evolved over time. This gives us insight into the character of Nicol Bolas, who witnesses the death of one of his siblings with his twin, Ugin. Though hatched from the same egg, the twins take very different attitudes to the experience they’ve just had:
Ugin does not reply. He stares all around at the landscape. The world is not new, but they are new, like infants whose eyes cannot fully understand what they see: green forest, yellow-green grassy plains, the silver threads of rivers winding their way across a wide plateau. All sorts of creatures wander this wide world. Everything waits to be discovered. Ugin shifts his gaze upward and for the longest time stares at the heavens above.
…When [Nicol] thinks of the dead sister, he wants to tear all the hunters and dogs to pieces, but maybe the fault doesn’t lie with them. They just took the opportunity to get something they wanted. Maybe the fault lies with the dragons who didn’t survive…Dying isn’t wonderful. It’s bad. But being the hunter: that’s a better thing….he’s already getting a sense for this world, for the way invisible winds and currents can help you find your path.
This story establishes the conflict between two of the most powerful creatures in the Multiverse – Ugin and Nicol Bolas. We can also see glimpses of what the Multiverse will become, should one or the other succeed.
#3 Teferi: A Planeswalker and Father
Teferi’s journey through fatherhood comes in third in my best Magic Story moments in 2018. Martha Wells’s “Return To Dominaria, Episode 7” digs deep into the time mage’s recent history, revealing the changes in his psyche after he gave up his spark to phase his homeland of Zhalfir out of existence. Though he knows it to be the right choice, Teferi’s severely reduced magic prevents him from bringing Zhalfir back. Now an ageless Planeswalker without a spark or a home, Teferi tries to move on by creating a family, and a new path for himself. However, as any parent knows, trying to decide what’s best for your child is never a straightforward decision.
Niambi bolted for the fountain but her sandal caught on a loose stone and she started to fall. Teferi cast the spell out of pure instinct and Niambi froze in mid-air.
He stepped forward and circled Niambi, carefully examining her angle and trajectory, making sure there wasn’t anything sharp or hard in her path. When he let her fall, she would land on the grass, possibly get a bruise or two, and hopefully learn a lesson about running in her sandals on the court’s uneven flagstones. There was no other choice, really.
But he thought how once there had been a choice, between Zhalfir’s devastation and removing it from the world, preserving and trapping it. Thinking of Niambi preserved and trapped like a bone in amber turned his stomach. He couldn’t keep her safe at the cost of her freedom and growth. It seemed obvious.
….He stepped around in front of Niambi and released his spell. As time moved around her again, she landed in her father’s arms and laughed with delight.
In this story, Martha Wells explores the consequences of difficult decisions, and how hard it can be to make decisions for others. In the end, we can only do what we think is best to help those we love.
#2 Nick Drayden Confronts Ravnican Prejudice
Nicky Drayden’s “Clans & Legions” comes in second for my favorite story of the year. Rather than focus on Ravnica’s major players, Nicky brings average citizens to life and highlights the world’s darker realities. “Clans & Legions” gives us a window into the world of the Boros officer Wojek Weslyn. Newly promoted and tasked with a counterintelligence mission, Weslyn deals with microaggressions while wrestling with a legacy of family trauma.
Though the Boros Legion stands for justice and merit, Weslyn’s situation shows how easily prejudice can thrive. Nicky cleverly explores the themes of discrimination and bias with this story, giving voice to the many small, uncomfortable experiences that affect women, people of color, disabled and queer individuals. In this way, Ravnica becomes a mirror of our own world.
#1 Jace & Vraska: United in Empathy
Alison Luhrs’s tremendous work on Ixalan’s story crowns my list of Magic Story moments and has become some of my favorite Magic writing of all time. (It also unfailingly makes me cry.) Through her words, we’ve seen the mind mage and telepath Jace Beleren at his most vulnerable and empathetic.
In her story “The Flood,” Jace has barely survived an enormous fall and has regained all of his memories, telepathically projecting them into Vraska’s mind as he struggles to gain control of himself. The gorgon experiences each of Jace’s memories with him, watching others abuse, torture and manipulate him throughout his life. Shaken and weak, Jace remembers everything and struggles with who he is right now. Seeing his life laid open like a book, Vraska gives her perspective to him:
Vraska poured truth into her words as she spoke. “The Jace I met listened to me in a way that no one ever has. Do you realize how special that is? No one has ever listened to my story, or cared that I had one in the first place.” She could see the glint of sadness in his eyes as he shook his head slightly, upset on her behalf. She continued, “That Jace believed that everyone has it within themselves to reinvent who they are. That Jace is still in you, and I think that Jace is who you really are.”
“That is who I would rather be,” he said.
“Don’t you have a say in how you turn out?”
“I want to believe I do, but how can I choose to be who you think I am when I remember how many times I’ve let people take advantage of me? How many people I’ve hurt . . .”
“No one ever chooses to be a victim,” Vraska interjected. “You are not weak because you were taken advantage of. And the cruelty of what they made you do reflects on them, not you.”
I’ve written before about how powerful this moment is – not just for Jace, but for Vraska. These two former enemies have laid aside their suspicions and are fully open with one another for the first time. After years of established backstory – Jace is an insufferable, introverted know-it-all; Vraska is a cold-hearted killer – Alison Luhrs has shown us a deeper, more compassionate side to these characters and their color identities. Additionally, Vraska’s words as a survivor of trauma offer a way forward to those who identify with her experience. I hope that we will see a return to these deeper themes in the future.
As we look back on 2018, I’m grateful for the effort Wizards has put into Magic Story. After all, while I enjoy Magic’s design and mechanics, the story, philosophy and characters are what make it the best game in the world to me. I look forward to seeing what 2019 holds for us all!