Tuesday, October 14, 2008

History of Magic:Nicol Bolas

Special thanks to the fine folks at MTGS.com for not only providing most of the content of this little history lesson, but also the inspiration. I have always been an avid learner of history. and I find that the history of Magic is no exception. I love to spend hours on the wiki learning new connections and interations of the story lines, and people which make up the Magic multi-verse. I have taken the liberty of leaving the hotlinks inthis article to take readers back to the source data. My intention is to give credit where credit is do, and to encourage others to spend some time in this digital library readingg about their favorite corners of the multi-verse.

The planeswalker Nicol Bolas was the most powerful of the Elder Dragons to survive the Dragon War. He later became the emperor of Madara until he was defeated by Tetsuo Umezawa. Bolas most recently rose again near Talon Gate and defeated Teferi, and closed the Talon Gate Rift, escaping to a plane of his own design and bent on seeking revenge on the Clan Umezawa, and any one else connected to it.

Dragon War and Ascension
The chronologically oldest bit of Magic lore we have is that about the Elder Dragon Wars, a conflict that shook the planes and killed most of their kind, some twenty-five thousand years before the Brothers' War, The Elder Dragons were ancient dragons of Dominia. Their vast power rivaled that of planeswalkers. Nicol Bolas emerged victorious and during this time became a planeswalker. The other know survivors of the Dragon Wars are Nicol Bolas’ siblings; Chromium Rhuell, Arcades Sabboth, Palladia-Mors, their cousin Vaevictis Asmadi and possibly Piru. The winners of the war became the ancestors of all dragons and drakes, while the losers were stripped of their wings, limbs and most of their power and became the Elder Land Wurms, which spawned all other wurm species. Viashino are also descendants of them, although it is unknown how.

Madaran Emperor
Some thousands of years later, Bolas fought against a demonic leviathan in the first duel between planeswalkers on the still-young plane of Dominaria. The fight lasted a month, reduced Madara to a third of its former size, and created the first rift. In the end the dragon used his magic to defeat his foe. After the battle Bolas feasted on the remains of the leviathan over the course of a year, absorbing its power in the process. When he finished, not much was left of the leviathon corpse besides what eventually became known as the Talon Gates.
On Madara three mana lines, blue, black and red, intersect at a single point. The empire was founded by a warrior-queen who styled herself a god-empress. Because of the three mana lines that met, Nicol Bolas thought Madara would be a good place to start a foothold on Dominaria. Bolas was such an ancient planeswalker that he needed a strong base of his main colors to remain on a plane for long. The dragon took the empire, becoming a real god-emperor. Bolas took over the Empire of Madara and erected his Imperial Shrine on this focal point.
The Imperial Shrine was the place where the highest ranking officers in the Madaran Empire had their audiences with emperor Nicol Bolas. The elder dragon needed tremendous amounts of mana to stay on a plane for long, so he usually only manifested partially in the shrine, which was located in the middle of three strong mana lines: blue from the Suido River, black from Madara’s various swamps and red from the Gitte-Yatay Mountains.

Connection to the plane of Kamigawa
For around 400 years Bolas ruled Madara through three individuals: the imperial assassin, the imperial champion, and the high general of the kentsu army. The dragon later realized this system was becoming obsolete as assassin Ramses Overdark was successfully replacing the other imperial officers with his own minions. Bolas then made a new system with only one placeholder of the emperor: imperial regent Ramses Overdark.
Tetsuo Umezawa was the imperial champion of the Empire of Madara around the time of the Mirage War. Tetsuo was a distant descendant of Toshiro Umezawa, ender of the Kami War. Toshiro Umezawa was exiled to the coast near the Talon Gates at Madara, Dominaria. He was trained in many martial arts and magical techniques and was arguably the most powerful human of his time. Raised with a strict honor code, he was oft torn between his honor and his master, the vicious emperor of Madara, Nicol Bolas. Tetsuo renounced his title of champion and swore vengeance. In the following weeks Tetsuo spent most of the time training on the Meditation Plane, where Bolas couldn’t find him.

After being promoted to imperial regent Ramses Overdark stayed in the Shrine, and it was there that he fought, and lost, his final battle against Tetsuo Umezawa. The Shrine was destroyed shortly after that by Tetsuo’s Meteor Hammer spell. When the dragon chased him, following him to the Meditation Plane, he was killed by Umezawa in his weakened state. A remnant of his life force still lingered in the rift by the coast. This resulted in the exile of Nicol Bolas, destroying that system as well. After this the empire plunged into chaos, with various nobles buying parts of the kentsu as their personal armies and oppressed islands and tribes rebelling. Tetsuo set out to restore balance to the empire, but how this ended was never revealed. Madara is currently overrun with the cat-dragon race, the nekoru. The humans of Madara exist solely as servants, clerics, and slaves.

Time Rifts
Bolas remained present in his land during the time rifts, existing under the name of Sensei Ryu. His home was overrun by cat-dragons (nekoru) and their followers. When he sensed that Teferi was lost in a rift and had left behind his companions he arranged for them to arrive on the Madaran beach near the Talon Gates. Using Venser's spark he was able to escape his prison and was reborn. After Teferi located his companions, he challenged the dragon to a duel in an effort to stay his revenge. Bolas easily won, but when Teferi shared his thoughts with him he saw the severity of the rifts. He quickly left and swore a vow to devour take vengeance by destroying on anyone related to the Umezawa line, and anyone who had ever come into contact with it, then presumably left to Kamigawa.

Bolas returned to Madara, where he was ambushed by Leshrac, who challenged him to a planeswalker duel; the later was defeated and imprisoned in the mask of the Myojin of Night's Reach. It was implied by Bolas that he had stripped most of that spirit's powers but she had managed to escape.

After closing the Madaran rift, Bolas left for a plane of his own devising, separated from the rest of multiverse. He escaped there, believing that nothing could stop the collapse of the multiverse. Although the multiverse survived, Jeska's Mending spell changed the nature of the planeswalker's spark, making Bolas the last true planeswalker known to exist.
It is unknown if he will ever reappear as a character since his plane was going to be isolated from the rest of the Multiverse. The current theory is that this plane of his own crafting may be Grixis, one of the Shards of Alara.

For more information regarding the recent exploits of Nicol Bolas, please read this article on the mother ship.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

History of Magic: The Houses of Kush

Recently, I was involved in a conversation centered around what people thought was the best Magic set ever. One particular answer really struck me. It was his opinion that Ravnica was the best set ever made. Now this opinion is arguable and is probably a popular opinion among many, but it wasn't the answer itself, but the reason which struck home with me. He felt that this was the best set, because wizards had finally acknowledged enemy pairs for deck construction.

Now clearly this is a post revisionist player. Long before there was Izzet, Boros, Golgari, Orzhov, and Simic, Wizards had told us a different story. This was the time before the great rules revisions, between Revised and Fourth when there were only 5 expansions to Magic. There was a story of a one eyed stranger in the city of Estark in the nation of Kush in the southwest portion of the Aerona continent of Dominia. It was the time of festival, when mages from all across the land came to compete. Most mages, like this stranger, were hanin or "without house", and came to festival to watch the arena battles. They also hoped to pledge to one of the great houses in hopes of becoming house fighters. Most had a meager magical ability, some as few as a single spell, but the houses offered the opportunity to gather mana, and learn new spells.

Magic at this point was far more simple. Most players used only single color or allied dual color decks for battles, because they were easier to pilot. More advanced players, like the house fighters of Kush, had found that enemy paired decks offered more power and flexability. These were the advance concepts demonstrated by the Houses of Kush. Ingkara, Fentesk, Bolk, Kestha, and the lost house of Oor-teael. These names are listed in the same order as their Guild counterparts listed above.

These were the power concepts which led magic from it lowest times to the 6th addition revision. Before their was a stack, DCI, or story lines in sync with the card sets, there were the Five Great Houses of Kush. The Fighters of Bolk, lead by Kilen, and later by Naru wielded the combined powers of green life and blacks death. Use of spells like Fog, Scryb Sprites, War Mammoth, Dark Ritual, Drudge Skeletons, Howl from Beyond, Pestilence, and Weakness were common place even amongst their lowest rank of fighters. Fighters who had proven their abilities to be of an uncommon caliber made use of spells like Channel, Desert Twister, Hurricane, Tsunami, Wanderlust, and Animate Dead. They held creatures like Thicket Basilisks, Black Knights, Hypnotic Specter, Sengir Vampires, within their control like so many chess pieces. Their most accomplished fighters wielded the things of dreams and nightmares alike. They summoned creatures like Lord of the Pit, Nightmare, Nether Shadow, Royal Assassin, Sorceress Queen, Cockatrice, Elvish Archers, Force of Nature, and Fungasaur then battled to control that which they had summoned.

Even though the times of spell duels had come to an end, and the ancient powers of the lotus and the moxen were already becoming the stuff of legends, it was very much a wild time. Walls still matter, because any creature which could, visited the red zone with regularity, and spells which could fundamentally alter or out right destroy your mana abounded. Rare spells were really rare, because even the most season of players had collections reaching only 1000 plus cards, and most people played with what they had, trading only within their limited community. Online brokers were still far of in the future. It was a good time, and should not so easily be forgotten. So too, now you will remember that before there was Golgari, there was Bolk.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Shards of Alara: Budget Collection Deck Building

Welcome back. Today we will attend the Shard of Alara prerelease event and use our $20 budget to participate in the open dueling event. I am pleasantly surprised to find that in addition to the 41 card Intro deck, and 15 card booster pack, that we also receive the foil promo card for the event. Although Wizards definitely trumped my last article, I really feel like I nailed the content of the new intro packs pretty well, and find myself in familiar territory sitting down for this article.

I have selected a Bant Intro pack for our purposes. Although it is not the most budget friendly of the intro packs, I feel like it's theme lends itself to the budget/new player the most and is really easy to play. For our $12 investment in the prerelease open dueling event we will get the intro pack, a random booster, and the foil prerelease card. I'm also going to recommend something a little different, and visit our local budget friendly game store and pick up a play set of the none chase commons for $4 in cash. We also need to put our promo card up fro trade, since it is off shard.

The remaining chase commons of Oblivion Ring, Relic of Proginitus, and Wild Nactal can easily be hard for $6 in trade. Pack contained Knight of the White Orchad, Bant Charm, Quasali Ambusher, and an off shard land that we trade for a Seaside Citadel. I recommend putting the Knight of the White Orchid , and the Knight-Captain of Eos up for an additional $7 in trade.

With my trade stock I will pick up 2 Bant Charms, a Quasali Ambusher, a Rhox War Monk, 3 Sigiled Paladins, and a pair of Whispersilk Cloaks. I'll use my remaining cash to pick up 2 each of Bant Battlemage, Dawnray Archer, Jessian Infiltrator, and Rhox Charger. In an unexpected last minute trade I was able to give up 2 wild griffin for a third Quasali Ambusher.

This now gives us a complete set of Shards commons
3 Bant Charm
3 Quasali Ambusher
3 Seaside Citadels
4 Rhox War Monks
4 Sigiled Paladin
2 Bant Battlmage
2 Dawnray Archer
2 Jessian Infiltrator
2 Rhox Charger
Angelic Benediction
Kiss of Amesha
Battle Grace Angel
2 Suntail Hawk
2 Pacifism
2 Whispersilk Cloak

This really gives us an incredible card pool to work with. A complete set of commons, 25 uncommons and a rare is really a lot to get fro $20, but is very attainable for somebody willing to invest a little time. Our rare and uncommons are clearly focused on our initial deck build, but we have a common base to explore and develop our collection as the block evolves. Clearly our deck is going to focus on the Bant shard, and the exalted mechanic. My next budget article will suggest a basic deck build using only this card pool, and develop a side board for competative play.