By Roberto Moser • August 17, 2016
The story so far
One of the most important aspects of Magic the Gathering is the extremely rich setting where all its stories take place. A nearly infinite environment, filled with an unfathomable number of worlds, is at the core of every aspect of Magic’s lore. Each new set brings us to one of these worlds, leading players to discover a new corner of the Multiverse, or to revisit a beloved Plane from a previous set. Much like the characters from Star Trek, the players experience a new reality with (almost) each set, discovering new ecosystems, new characters and new storylines. A whole new world every six months or so.
The concept of a Multiverse is becoming increasingly popular throughout different medias and nowadays the idea of a setting based on different, coexisting worlds is widely considered a staple in many fantasy-themed stories. Dungeons and Dragons, Marvel and DC Comics all have their own Multiverse, with parallel worlds often playing a key role in the development of complex storylines.
While most of the connection between Magic’s Planes have been represented, so far, by the characters travelling from one world to another, the existence of multiple worlds has allowed Magic’s R&D to dive into different design concepts and approaches. From the top-down design of Gothic Horror to the bottom-up design of a Plane’s ecosystem functioning around specific Colour pairs, we have seen a fantastic range of ideas transformed into tangible expansions. Every now and then, one or more Planeswalkers are brought into a new reality and we are able to explore the vast forests of Zendikar, or the shifting environment of Lorwyn, the metallic landscapes of Mirrodin, or the skies of Tarkir.
With Scars of Mirrodin, Return to Ravnica, Battle for Zendikar and Shadows over Innistrad, Wizards of the Coast has sacrificed the possibility of discovering a new Plane for the chance to revisit a fan-favourite world. And each time, the hype has been beyond the roof, with players speculating on new story arcs, beloved characters and, of course, potential reprints. Nowadays, Wizards is carefully balancing these “Returns” with the opportunity for new Planes. Since Scars of Mirrodin, we have seen an almost equal ratio of new and old settings.
Everything I have said so far in this column is likely known to most of the readers. Almost every Magic player with some experience can probably list every single set from the past five years or so. So where does this takes us?
The short answer is, of course, Kaladesh. Announced on May 16th, the set scheduled for a release during fall of 2016 will take players to the home Plane of Chandra. While we have already taken a glimpse into the word of Kaladesh as part of Magic Origins, this is the first time we really visit the Plane. All we know is that the set will have a strong Artifact theme and that its aesthetic will be inspired, to some degree, by Indian culture. Hopefully, Magic rules and mechanics will combine with the rich culture of India, to create a never-before-seen environment to explore in all its characteristics and flavour.
And then what? With two sets coming out every single year, speculations abound and many players are trying to guess where the story will take us in one, two, ten years.
We could start fantasizing about Returns, new sets, revisits and everything in between. Doing it improperly, we would end up with a huge number of ideas and little to no concrete theory on where the story will take us. What I want to do, on the other hand, is to try and structure a reasoning about where realistically the story will take us, based on what we know and what we can assume.
Join me on this journey, because it will most definitely take us very far away.
Head to Head: Future Worlds
The best starting point is definitely to check what we know could be in store for the next brand-new Plane. Mark Rosewater has been posting “Head to Head” polls on his Twitter account for quite some time, savouring the players’ preferences on Planeswalkers, mechanics, complementary products and potential theme for future sets. This last one is particularly interesting; as it probably provided Wizards of the Coast with a good glimpse into our preferences, given a set of potential new Planes to explore.
So let’s take it one step at a time. Let’s take a look at the sixteen potential Future Worlds we were asked to express our preferences on.
Despite the promising concept, Water World was defeated by what turned out to be the ultimate winner of the Head to Head. The idea is in and on itself really intriguing, potentially depicting a world with little to no land and a never-ending ocean. If you have seen 1995 budget busting bomb “Waterworld” you probably have an idea of what we’re talking about. If you haven’t seen the movie, you were probably living under a rock, back then. Let’s just say a world completely covered in water is one extremely promising idea, with the whole civilization trying to survive on the surface of an infinite ocean and mysterious abyssal monsters lurking underneath. While I would really like to see this set being developed, I wouldn’t envy the designer tasked with coming up with a way of portraying White, Red and Green cards, in a world with no plains, mountains or trees.
India World is a very interesting culture-based concept that might already be overshadowed by an upcoming Magic set. India has a long history and a really rich culture that I am sure would translate phenomenally into a Magic set. With that out of the way, Kaladesh will bring a lot of India-inspired aesthetic to the Multiverse of Magic, so, before rushing through speculation, I would just wait for the release of the September 2016 set.
On the other hand, a concept that is far from printing – as much as we know – is Underground World. Just imagine a world with no sky, no open air, no “outside”. If you are familiar with Tsutomu Nihei’s masterpiece “BLAME!”, you probably already have an idea of how eerie and oppressing this world would be. There is no way to get “out” and no sunlight. Creatures live in a boundless dungeon that ranges from vast caves to small corridors. With Claustrophobia affecting almost everyone, this is a world I would really love to see represented in a Magic set. A world where flying is an extremely limited keyword and shadow might play a central role.
From one Plane to another, Camelot World offers something completely different to the players. Vast Plains where Knights duel, majestic Mountains where Dragons rest, enchanted Forests protected by Dryads, this would mostly be a “Return” to some of the classic Magic lore. The set, very simple in its concept, would be able to tie together recent keywords and traditional card designs, embracing most of Magic’s history with a “classic fantasy” feel. Take the flavour of Black Knight and add some exalted action and the set almost builds itself.
Keeping the historical side of Magic alive, Roman World would provide a chance to work on one of the most famous periods in history. Either showcasing Magic’s take on the republic of Rome or the times of the Roman Empire, the concept seems full of potential. On the other hand, it is essential to remember how ancient Roman culture was strongly influenced by Greek lore and religion, with a pantheon looking very similar. In terms of Magic sets, this means that a Roman World would run the risk of feeling very similar to Theros, aside for crucial elements regarding the military compartment, social aspects and politics. I guess the hardest part would be to visually differentiate the set from Theros, considering how many similarities exist between Greek and Roman art, architecture and even clothing styles.
Moving to a completely different historical period, Wild West World opens up a whole world of possibilities and, to be honest, problems. As a fan of Spaghetti Western movies I must confess I would love the setting, with sheriffs and outlaws, mercenaries and gunslingers playing a key part in the story. That said, how would this translate to Magic? Would the portrayal of a gun in Magic terms being something we are interested in, as players? As much as the setting would be iconic and full of possibilities, the portrayed elements themselves would really feel out of place in a game like Magic. Sure, we already have Goblin Charbelcher, Lux Cannon and other cards that portray fire weapons of some sort, but most of them are inherently magical and, probably, more appropriate for a game like Magic, than a standard handgun.
If you think the sky if the only limit, you will surely enjoy Sky World. The idea itself – possibly inspired by the Elemental Plane of Air from Dungeons and Dragons – is absolutely intriguing, with the depiction of a world where little to no solid ground exists. Aside for the obvious “every Creature would have flying” comment, this would open up to quite a number of design challenges. Would Green have to break the Colour Pie and have a lot of flying Creatures? Where would the few non-flying Creature live? And if the solution is to have floating cities around the Plane, how do you make sure it doesn’t just look like Zendikar? Emeria, the Sky Ruin is a phenomenal piece of art, but the possibility to have an entire Sky World is such a big opportunity, I would hate to see it translated into “just a new Zendikar”.
One concept I thought was really original was Prison World. While I have no idea how that would translate to actual gameplay and mechanics, a set focused on the Tortured Existence of the Multiverse’s most dreadful captives would be fantastic. To this day we do not know of any interplanar organization capturing wanted individuals throughout the Multiverse, but what if we found out that there actually is a Multiverse-embracing police force? Or what if a Plane was ruled by a caste of mad guards, hell-bent on imprisoning all the citizens for some mysterious reason? If you are familiar with Dungeons and Dragons, you might know of a Plane known as Carceri – which literally means “prisons” in Italian, thank you! – a world inspired by Greek mythology’s Tartarus and entirely made of a multi-layer prison. Scary and awesome at the same time.
Fairy Tale World somehow defeated the amazing concept of Prison World, reaching quarterfinals. Of all the concepts portrayed, this is the one I would be the most unsure of. While Magic and fairy tales really go hand in hand, the problem here is that many of the concepts have already been used elsewhere. Lorwyn was a set based on Celtic folklore, but it managed to excellent portray Faeries as a tribe. Scorned Villager and Lambholt Elder are the Innistrad version of Red Riding Hood and her grandmother. Dragons, Knights, Witches and Wizards are already staples of the game. While mashing up Pinocchio, Snow White, Peter Pan, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty would definitely provide something new to the game, the result would probably feel like the non-horror version of Innistrad. Definitely a set to look forward to, if you are a fan of ABC’s “Once Upon a Time”. Beyond that, not necessarily something that would feel game changing.
Brace yourself, because this next one might be one of the most unexpected concepts mentioned by Mark Rosewater. Noir World is the one option that confused me the most, when the Head to Head brackets were published. To my knowledge, modern noir as a concept has never been associated with any official Magic set, for a multitude of reasons. First of all, noir stories mostly take place in 20th Century metropolitan environment, a reality that has never been portrayed in Magic – Ravnica does not count. Secondly, noir stories have mostly been targeted at an adult audience: while Magic is not a game of kids, a noir and “too mature” storyline could lead to younger players feeling alienated. Third, a story about Magic-based investigation would run the risk of feeling very similar to Shadows over Innistrad. Though I would love to see investigate return, I would hate to see it used just to justify the portrayal of a detective story. That said, if Wizards decides to develop a Noir World, I would be extremely hyped for the possibility of having a set unlike anything before. Though it might really be a hit or miss, I think it’s an experiment I would love to see.
A concept I must admit I had never taken into consideration was Meso-American World, which reached quarterfinals after defeating Camelot World. The concept and aesthetic of the Mesoamerican civilizations have almost never been explored in Magic and we could really see some interesting concepts with the portrayal of various empires at war against each other. The overall set might end up similar to Khans of Tarkir, with Magic versions of Incas, Mayas and Aztecs playing a pivotal role, alongside their cultural characteristics and differences. Science, astrology, sacrifice, economy, religion, prophecies and politics could be the top concepts, with an end result falling between Theros and Khans of Tarkir. While Mesoamerican history is often less advertised than, for example, Greek or Roman history, this could really be a great opportunity to explore a culture that is rarely associated with modern fantasy.
A very promising concept that was defeated in the quarterfinals was Prehistoric World. This concept has been always very popular among players, with cards like Imperiosaur hinting at an entire world of dinosaurs and prehistoric beasts. The Plane of Muraganda – mentioned in Future Sight – was never properly visited, but players have been curious to see this world in paper for years. The problem with a set filled with dinosaurs, is that their keywords would be inherently limited. A Pterodactyl has flying, a Tyrannosaurus has trample and rampage, Velociraptors have banding – do we really want to go there? – and a Gallimimus might have skulk, but most of Magic’s most interesting keywords would be hardly applicable to dinosaurs. This could be easily solved by having humans and dinosaurs coexisting, but, to keep things “really prehistoric”, we would need to have a bunch of primitives walking around, with shamans being the most folks people around. Am I speculating on a Deathrite Shaman reprint?
Fourth place goes to a concept many already love in Magic: Pirate World. Piracy has been a pretty popular theme in the history of the game, but we have never seen a world completely focused on scoundrels and corsairs. While expanding on the aforementioned theme of a water-covered Plane, Pirate World could be the opportunity to develop new mechanics centred around naval battles, treasure hunts, betrayals and villainy. The charm of pirates – or Piracy Charm, if you will – is already pretty popular in modern culture, so an effectively advertised storyline based on pirates could turn out to be immediately popular among players. Let me just say that I would demand magic to play a key role in this world: flying ships would be an essential requirement, but I would also love to see magical treasure hunts and world-bending Sorceries wrecking you opponent’s fleet. Yarr!
Coming in third place, we have a concept that has almost always been popular within the nerd community: Steampunk World. While some might argue that Ravnica and Kaladesh both seem to feature some steampunk elements, a dedicated Magic set would offer a chance to explore concepts rarely seen in the game: science and technology. While machines have appeared in many Magic sets, we have always seen mechanical beings as some form of magic-infused entities. A steampunk world, on the other hand, could explore the idea of machines being non-magical, but an act of pure science. While, yes, we are still playing a game called “Magic”, this would be a fantastic opportunity to explore the roles of magic and technology: can they coexist? Would they inevitably clash against each other?
In second place, we find a really interesting idea: Viking World. While Ice Age and Coldsnap already depicted snow-covered warriors, the concept of a sea-based society of proud raiders and excellent explorers would be absolutely amazing. The concept itself of navigation playing some kind of role among the key mechanics of the set could be insane. How about game elements portraying the raids on the opponent’s shores? With a fantastic and very popular pantheon, a rich culture and a flavourful mix of honour, savagery, pride and adventure, this set could be phenomenal. Just imagine different tribes – much like the clans from Tarkir – racing each other to reach foreign shores. That’s a set I would love to see.
The most voted Future World and ultimate winner of this Head to Head was Egyptian World. Believe it or not, the players expressed an insane amount of love for this concept, which ended up winning every single poll. So what’s to be said about this concept? To be honest, I was one of the few players who were not particularly attracted to this idea. Not because it’s not interesting – because, seriously, Egyptian history is kind of awesome – but because the main themes we might explore, here, are not too far away from elements we have already seen. While the history of Egypt is extremely rich, most of the players link the Egyptian Empire to concepts like religion, tyranny, astronomy, pharaohs and slavery. A society strongly divided in castes, living on the shores of Nile, building marvellous structures and laying the foundation for many modern sciences. While this ancient civilization is absolutely fascinating, many of these concepts have already been explored. The really strong concept that would be new would be the importance of astronomy and science, but I have a feeling it would be easy to end up with something similar to the Theros block and Journey to Nyx, in particular.
If I were to put my money on any of these concepts seeing a printing in the near future, I would probably bet on the ones that would feel more unique and, at the same time, have been positively received in the Head to Head. If these assumptions are true, we might be close to a Viking-themed, a Steampunk-themed or a Pirate-themed set. I do not really get the vibe of an Egyptian set, but maybe Wizards will surprise me with something stunning.
If, on the other hand, I were to pick my favourite design concept among the ones suggested by Mark Rosewater, I have to say I could not resist the idea of an Underground Prison set. I feel like visual and psychological oppression would be interesting themes to explore.
Popular Planes that still need a Return
Magic, of course, is not all about new sets. While Returns play a key role in the ecosystem of the Multiverse, there is still a number of Planes we have only visited once. Among them, the one I think could be revisited in the near future is definitely Lorwyn.
The setting of the shifting Plane is really interesting, with light and darkness balancing each other in an ever changing cycle. The flavour itself of the Plane is absolutely unique, with cards like Bitterblossom providing us with a taste of what this world feels like: “in Lorwyn's brief evenings, the sun pauses at the horizon long enough for a certain species of violet to bloom with the fragrance of mischief”. The juxtaposition of visual elements of sunset with the perfume of Lorwyn’s flowers perfectly summarizes the overall feeling of this world. In addition, many pieces of art from the set aged extremely well and have a very distinct visual style that helps linking reprints, such as Faerie Macabre, to the original environment they appeared in.
The original Lorwyn set also marks the first printing of the Planeswalker cards. This itself would really be a fantastic opportunity to revisit those initial designs, possibly releasing new and updated versions of the “Lorwyn Five”.
While the set introduced hybrid Mana as a concept, this element has been represented on many other Planes, including Ravnica and Tarkir. So while a Return to Lorwyn could mark a massive return of hybrid Mana in Standard, it is also true that such a reprise could happen with almost any other sets.
One of the most crucial elements of Lorwyn, however, was the printing of Tribal cards. The concept is very flavourful and quite impactful in eternal formats, for example providing some additional buff to an already huge Tarmogoyf. That said, I find Tribal to be quite counterintuitive to newer players, who often have a hard time perceiving its value outside of Lorwyn Limited. During a game of Commander a new player asked me why Bitterblossom was a Tribal Enchantment: we spent a good ten minutes discussing the card type and its implications, ending up with a very confused playgroup and a couple of players just eager to resume the game.
To wrap things up, if I were to guess on the likelihood of a Return to Lorwyn in the near future, I think I would say something like “definitely within the next five years”. There is so much design space to enjoy and a lot of story arcs that can be introduced. The visual characterization of the set is almost unparalleled; so I am sure many Magic art enthusiasts would be happy with a revisit of the Plane.
Another set that will likely be revisited in future Magic sets, to me, is Alara. The story of the set had five different realities – yes, I know, they are not parallel realities, but fragments of the same world – converging into one chaotic amalgam of Dragons, Knights, Artifacts, Zombies and Beasts. While the set started with five very distinct shards, the end saw the plane of Alara reunited into a single multi-coloured reality. The story ended there, leaving fans wondering how the new Plane would survive the inevitable clash between the people and Creatures of Bant, Esper, Grixis, Jund and Naya.
While being the first set to properly introduce the concept of a shard and the naming convention behind a combination of three Allied Colours, the world of Alara is also strongly connected to many characters, from Tezzeret the Seeker to Sarkhan Vol and Gideon Jura to, of course, Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker. While the recently formed Gatewatch has been busy fighting the Eldrazi on Zendikar and Innistrad, we haven’t seen Nicol Bolas in quite some time, aside for some mentions on Tarkir.
What is he up to? Is he going to passively accept the time travel shenanigans of Sarkhan, Unbroken and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon? Or is he going to “fix” what happened on Tarkir, either sending one of his minions or intervening first-hand in the situation?
To me, this is where things get a little blurry. I am almost certain we will see another visit to Alara, mostly to discover what happened after the insane chaos that erupted with the Conflux. On the other side, many characters linked to Alara have some kind of business on Tarkir, so there is a good chance the now Dragon-filled Plane will be revisited as well. I mean, Dragons are cool and everything, but Wizards has been pretty clear on the fact that Dragons of Tarkir does not necessarily represent the “better timeline”. Sure, Ugin, the Spirit Dragon is now alive, but Dragons have enslaved the population of Tarkir and I guess not everyone is happy with the change.
With the Gatewatch promising to play a key role in future Magic sets, I think it’s worth mentioning that Sarkhan, Unbroken, Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, Narset Transcendent have not been invited to the party. Not only that, but Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker and Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas have been quiet for so long, now. All these elements seem to point toward either a Return to Alara or a Return to Tarkir – or both – in the very near future. Once again, if I were to guess, I would say either of the two Returns is likely to happen within the next three years.
One more Plane that is sure to be revisited in the near future is definitely Theros. Journey into Nyx ended on an extremely dramatic tone, with Elspeth Sun’s Champion wielding Godsend against Xenagos, God of Revels and then finding her ultimate demise at the end of Heliod, God of the Sun.
The final teaser trailer for Journey into Nyx explicitly hinted at Elspeth being doomed to return as an undead, rather than being dead for good. Whether or not her return will be a triumphant rebirth or a grim reanimation, it is up to fate and those who can affect it.
Ajani, Mentor of Heroes is likely going to try to save Elspeth from a destiny of endless Zombie roaming, but we do not know who else might want to join him. We know she has fought alongside Koth of the Hammer and Karn Liberated on Mirrodin, so we might see a new team of heroes gathering to rescue her from the Underworld. While I do not think the Gatewatch would immediately join them, I would really be excited for the formation of the Elspethwatch, a second team of heroes focused more on personal battles, rather than saving the whole Multiverse.
Thematically, Theros might have a lot to offer, but mechanically it would be really hard to present a second take on a Plane that has already given us so much. Between heroic, monstrous, devotion and constellation, a lot of the Greek-inspired themes have been vastly explored, so the question, from a design standpoint, is simple: what else is there to develop?
While I am absolutely sure a Return to Theros will happen in the very near future, I am also extremely curious to see what new mechanics and card designs will be presented.
I will spout out my best theory right away: I want to see someone ascending to Theros-God-status in a single card. Let’s just say Elspeth loses her Spark when she is returned to the world of the living as a Zombie. Then Ajani and the Elspethwatch manage to fully revive her, but her Spark is lost forever. They all team up to defeat Heliod, God of the Sun and, joining forces, they succeed in dethroning him. Elspeth now ascends to God-like status, becoming Theros’ new divinity of Sun.
Mechanically, this all culminates in a double-face card, showing Elspeth in Creature form on the front and Elspeth, God of the Sun on the back. With the devotion mechanic only represented on the backside of the card.
You heard it here first, guys. It’s going to happen and I think it’s going to happen pretty soon. If I were to guess, I would say Theros is the next Plane to receive the “Return to” treatment. I would also guess the name of the set to be “Underworld of Theros” or something like that.
One final Return that will likely happen at some point is definitely a revisit of – what is left of – Dominaria. One of the most – if not the most – iconic Planes in Magic history, Dominaria is always mentioned by veteran players when discussing potential future sets. The trick, here, would be to find a way to also involve newer players in a context that is far away from the presently exploited storylines.
I have often found myself struggling to explain the story of Dominaria to newer players, as the source material is extremely vast and spans over multiple narrative arcs. Should Wizards announce a “Return to Dominaria”, I am convinced the majority of players would feel deeply confused by a setting they only know by name. The nexus of the Multiverse, the core or many stories of yore is a difficult environment to explore, if you are not familiar with the original storylines. Between the Thran, the Brothers’ War, the Dark Age, the Ice Age and the Phyrexian Invasion, there is an insane amount of narrative arcs to pay homage to. But how to involve a new player into a storyline that echoes events from a set released fifteen years before? Let me start by introducing three potentially archetypical players.
Let’s take, for example, Clark (the name is purely fictional). Clark is a huge fan of Magic, he has been playing since Magic Origins and, because he is really into the game, he grinds Booster Drafts and Standard tournaments, quickly acquiring good results, thanks to his great analytics skills.
We also have Denise (yes, another fictional persona). Denise has been playing Magic since Theros and has experimented with Standard, Modern, Legacy, Commander and, of course, Limited. While the initial hype for the game might be behind her, she still plays at least once or twice a month and loves discussing Magic, both from a competitive and from a casual perspective.
Finally, we have Annie (guys, these people are all fictional). Annie has been playing Magic since Homelands and has a collection of cards that spans over decades. She has always played Magic, maybe quitting once or twice, but returning to the game every time, after a couple of years. She loves the story and enjoys discussing the game with newer players, to whom she feels like a mentor.
With these three archetypical players in mind (who might be inspired by actual people from my Local Game Store, but I will deny that forever), who would be excited for a Return to Dominaria? Surely Annie, who would be able to reprise a setting she only saw during her first years of Magic. Denise might be happy to visit a Plane she knows was very popular back in the day, while Clark might just feel confused by a name he only heard once or twice among veteran players.
Bridging the gap between Annie and Clark would be the real trick, here. One easy option, of course, would be tying together modern and classic storylines, but I have to say “Jace visits Dominaria” would feel cringeworthy at best. On the other side, presenting a new story with classic characters would feel unrelateable to all those players who have no idea who Urza, Mishra and Yawgmoth were. The grey area, here, is represented by a character that intrinsically manages to combine newer and older storylines, having been around for quite some time.
Almost every Magic player knows Karn. Either for its presence in Modern, its playability in Commander or its iconic role in many Magic stories, the Silver Golem could easily be the key for a Return to Dominaria.
Putting everything together, I feel like a successful structuring of the storyline might happen with, first of all, a Return to Theros involving Ajani, Koth and Karn, and, later on, either a return to the Plane of Mirrodin, or to Dominaria. We will see what the future brings, but I feel like it’s time to shine a light on some other characters, after a full year of Gatewatch adventures.
Returns to Returns
While many Planes have already received the “Return treatment”, I feel it’s quite likely that we will revisit some of them in the future. Many of the most beloved Planes in Magic history have been visited twice, so I think it’s quite safe to assume a third instance might happen at some point. From this point of view, it is worth mentioning how most of the “Return to” storylines have not exhausted all the material that is available on the Plane in question.
Mirrodin – or should we say “New Phyrexia”? – is a world destined to be revisited at least once, with hopefully a dramatic narrative arc focusing on the desperate attempt to regain the world from the Phyrexians. We have beloved Planeswalkers and fan-favourite villains on the Plane, so a revisit would give Wizards a chance to review Karn and Koth, as well as the Praetors. What has Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite been doing in the past few years? Have the scientists of Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur discovered something new, maybe involving the Spark that was ripped from Karn?
Battle for Zendikar has apparently closed the narrative arc of Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger and Kozilek, the Great Distortion, but Ob Nixilis, Reignited is still seeking vengeance on Zendikar and, to be honest, I feel like the threat of the Eldrazi is not completely behind us.
Speaking of which, Emrakul, the Promised End has been trapped in the moon of Innistrad. Willingly, apparently. This should definitely ring a bell to all of the flavour fans, considering how the last cage used on the Plane was ultimately broken and all its prisoners set free.
Emrakul will see freedom once again, it is only a matter of time. This time around, I would love to see her pitted against some other evil entity for the sake of the Multiverse. Not just wrecking havoc on the world of Innistrad, but actively fighting against some other despicable force – perhaps the Phyrexians? – to prevent the annihilation of everything. Ideally, we will also get Ken Watanabe proclaiming “let them fight”, seconds before the pivotal battle of the story arc.
A man can dream.
One final “second Return” I would be interested to see actually leaves me quite puzzled. The Dragon’s Maze narrative arc has essentially closed most of the storylines happening on the Plane of Ravnica. While there is always something new to see on the City Plane, I would love to see something completely new taking place on the Plane. A Guild Feud is always an interesting story to dive into, but what if we could see something else, aside from politics and intrigue? What if, for example, some of the Guilds went on an all-out war against each other, breaking the boundaries between Colour pairs and mixing everything up? What if all the Guilds were suddenly disbanded and chaos was to ensue on the Plane? What if the Gateless were to suddenly gain power, waging war against the Guilds?
Possibilities are countless, but, as of today, there might not be a real hurry to revisit Ravnica, in the overall economy of the Multiverse.
As I already mentioned, of all these “Returns to Returns”, the one that feels more likely to happen in the near future, to me, is a new journey to Mirrodin. The battle for the Metal Plane was lost, but the war against the Phyrexians is far from over. Will the Gatewatch unite to face the Phyrexians? Or will a new team of heroes, led by Koth of the Hammer and Karn Liberated fight for the liberation of Mirrodin?
Bonus round: the Ruins of Makhal
Before I leave you with more questions than answers, I would like to share one final piece of (potential) future Magic Lore that could be very interesting for future narrative arcs. It is an idea I have been toying with for quite a while and I think it could work as an interesting pitch for a future Magic set.
We have visited so many Planes throughout the years of Magic: worlds of nature and artificial lands, cities and towns, glacial wastelands and vast landscapes. All these worlds have always had one thing in common: life. Life has been an always present force in Magic, pushing narrative arcs forward, with new heroes, new elements, new villains, new quests and new goals.
But What if we visited a world devoid of life?
This idea has been stuck in my head for quite a while, so I guess I’ll take this opportunity to share a brief summary of this very general concept that I’ve been toying with.
The story opens with our main characters – ideally Nissa, Jace and Chandra, but others would be absolutely appreciated – inadvertently travelling to a previously unseen world. It is a world never before visited by a Planeswalker, a world that was left untouched for millennia. A world that crumbled under the weight of its own ambition. Welcome to the Ruins of Makhal.
When our heroes reach Makhal, they find nothing but a barren Wasteland, disseminated with ruins of a once glorious civilization. However, there is no life in sight and Mana flows free, with nobody to harness its force. Century-old remains of buildings and Buried Ruins constellate the surface of the Plane, but there is no one to inhabit what was once a marvellous world. The sun itself is overshadowed by constructions that still appear to float in the sky, but everything artificial on this world seems to have lost its purpose centuries ago.
However, the abundant Mana is struggling to reignite life in a world that appeared dead on first sight. White Mana spontaneously gives life to Spirits, Blue Mana is a catalyst for ephemeral Illusions, Black Mana resurrects century-old Zombies to brief moments of unlife and Green Mana, the most savage of all, only generates fading life, in the form of Blastoderm-like Creatures, that exist for moments, then decay.
Only the Planeswalkers appear unaffected by the death that surrounds and permeates everything, thanks to the Spark they possess. However, their search for a cause leads them to discover small communities of Red-aligned survivalists, Humans that try to live under Death Clouds and Plague Winds. They live a miserable life, one brief generation after another, telling the story of the fall.
These nomadic communities reveal to Planeswalkers the glorious and magnificent past of the world of Makhal, once a splendid society of illuminated scientists, living in voluntary isolation from the rest of the Multiverse. Their marvellous cities were a beauty to behold, the vast landscapes a shrine to nature. With a collective effort towards progress, the society was able to engineer the most amazing creations, including machines that could ensure eternal life. However, the demands of Mana and energy kept increasing, to the point where every form of power was harnessed. A Caged Sun, surrounded by the Magic equivalent of a Dyson Sphere, still floats in the sky, as a symbol of the arrogance of this ancient people. The civilization eventually collapsed under its own desire for progress. All life on the Plane was consumed to sustain the civilization, until the world itself was unable to withstand the ambition of its inhabitants. The ecosystem collapsed and life was almost completely wiped out.
Centuries later, Mana now flows unbound throughout the world, with nobody consuming it. The Planeswalkers venture to what was once the capital city of Makhal, only to discover that one being, the Architect, has been alive for centuries, slowing down its inevitable decaying process with what is left of the technologies of yore. This once human creature now appears before the Planeswalkers as an abomination of flesh, technology and magic: it is this entity that had lured Jace, Chandra and Nissa to Makhal, in a desperate attempt to seek the help of individuals possessing a Spark.
The first set ends here, with the Planeswalkers willing to help this civilization regain its long lost marvel and spark new life on the world, resurrecting the century-old technology that could, maybe, restore Makhal to its past glory.
The second set of the block – the Hope of Makhal – takes a sudden turn, when we discover that the Architect is not trying to save the Plane, but is only interested in acquiring a Spark to leave Makhal to its destiny and escape to another world. Deeming its home world lost forever, the Architect seeks nothing but a way out. During the confrontation that ensues, the Architect reveals to also be the ultimate artificer of the downfall of Makhal, as it in fact was the one person behind the mad quest for progress that ultimately devastated the world.
The battle that ensues is tragic and epic. The Architect uses everything it can to fight the Planeswalkers who, taken by surprise, are not immediately able to defend themselves. The Architect reveals to have its essence embedded in part of the still existing machinery of Makhal and turns the ruins of the civilizations against the heroes.
The Spark of one of our heroes – ideally Nissa – is extracted and stolen by the Architect, who is however unable to fathom and harness the power it holds. In a desperate attempt to utilize the Spark, the Architect forcefully implants it in the machines that are part of its body, but this only manages to overcharge its twisted entity, resulting in its explosive demise.
The remaining Planeswalkers – ideally Jace and Chandra – manage to save the life of Nissa, who, however, seems to be unable to regain the Spark, now forever bound to the Plane. The Spark, on the other hand, seems to now work as a catalyst to provide a new breath of life to Makhal, with all the Mana of the Plane now resonating to the strong power implanted in its ancient machines.
The story ends with Nissa accepting her role as the new Architect of the Plane. But this time, she is an architect devoted to Nature and the respect of the essence of the Makhal. She now works towards a rebuilt of the ancient civilization, aiming for a peaceful balance between science, Magic and nature, rather than a desperate race for progress.
That is pretty much the overall idea of a potential new set, which I wanted to throw out for your amusement. The overall setting would give Wizards a chance to really shake set balance up, with a diminished focus on permanent Creatures and a strong commitment towards environment-warping effects. Fading would play a crucial role in Green, many Blue creatures – being Illusions – would be very non-resilient, Black Zombies would be extremely slow and might require the exiling of a Creature from Graveyards to keep existing, while White Spirits would mostly involve unreliable Tokens. One or two Wrath effects could be printed and the dream would definitely be to have Pestilence-like cards appearing somewhere in the set – probably bumping them up to Uncommon or even Rare.
All the mechanics would be focused, for the first expansion, on decadence and the ephemeral life of Makhal, while the second expansion would include a renewed sense of hope.
And, of course, the storyline would have a massive impact on at least one of the main Planeswalkers, removing his or her Spark and essentially confining the character to Makhal, until a new alternative comes up. I would like to have Nissa ending trapped on Makhal, but that’s probably because I would hate having Chandra stuck somewhere, with limited chances to continuing her fiery adventures throughout the Multiverse.
The future of Magic is sure to hold a plethora of amazing worlds and fantastic adventures that the players will be able to enjoy for many years. While it is hard to precisely predict what exactly will happen and in what order new and old Planes will be visited, we can try and guess what the overall structure of the next years of Magic will look like. So brace yourselves, because in this final section I'll try to put some order in my thoughts and lay out an extrmely tentative scheme of the next years of Magic.
We know that the fall of 2016 will be dedicated to Kaladesh and the first set of 2017 will see the release of Aether Revolt, the second set in the Kaladesh block. This block will probably dive into the past of Chandra and, hopefully, will also introduce a couple more storylines to be exploited in the following years.
The spring and summer of 2017 might either see the visit of another new Plane - either a Viking-themed world or a Pirate-themed world, if not the fan-favourite Egyptian world - or a Return - which I think would be less likely, given the double Return of Battle for Zendikar and Shadows over Innistrad of 2015 and 2016. Let's therefore assume the spring and summer of 2017 are dedicated to a new set. This, to me, could lead to a Return to Theros in September of 2017, where we will see Ajani again and, maybe, a couple more beloved Planeswalkers (#Elspethwatch2017).
The new Theros story arc would allow us to then bridge into a Return to New Phyrexia in 2018, were a reformed team of heroes will battle against the iconic villany of New Phyrexia. The other set of 2018 will likely be another new world, diving in another one of the widely appreciated themes suggested in Mark Rosewater's Head to Head.
The further I push my predictions, the blurrier things get. I assume a Return to Tarkir will happen within 2020. A Return to Lorwyn might also take place at some point in the future, but this would require Wizards to give our beloved Planeswalkers a reason to revisit the Plane. Could another multidimensional threat surface on the shifting Plane of Lorwyn?
So what do you think will happen? Is there any Return I missed? What Planes would you love to see? As always, let me know what you think and let's see if we can predict the next years of Magic! May our speculations be as awesome as the future of our favourite game!
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