Where do stories come from? Many cultures have variations on the same tales, told time and again from one generation to the next. The details of the stories vary from time to time and place to place but the morals and revelations shared remain the same. Join me for a familiar tale from an unfamiliar place in an inconsistent timeline.

Stave One

Entering the arch burned Sarkhan like nothing he had ever felt before in his brief existence. The flames of dragon’s breath engulfed him, but this was not something new for the wild planeswalker. Sarkhan had met dragons before, including the monstrous Nicol Bolas, perhaps eldest among their kind. This fire felt different however, as if it were somehow insubstantial. Ghostfire. The word came to Sarkhan like a whisper.

Sarkhan Vol was not sure how long it had been since he entered the arch. He remembered the sight of Zurgo, his former Khan, and the rage and anger that had engulfed him. Then the flames came and the archway ignited and everything became a blur. Here in this place that seemed like it was not a place, but also not the Blind Eternities, everything was burning to ash. Even Sarkhan. Even time itself.

As a planeswalker, Sarkhan was used to this feeling, and focused his mind as if he was walking between the veils of the Blind Eternities. But he had no idea where he was going. He needed a guide. Didn’t he have a guide, back on the other side of the arch? His vision of Zurgo changed and shifted to a crumpled body at Zurgo’s feet. Narset. She was his guide.

The vision of Narset slowly rose to its feet. It may have taken seconds or eons but eventually an apparition of the fallen Khan of the Jeskai floated down to Sarkhan’s level. It made painful scratching noises as it moved, dragging the weight of time and space with it as it struggled to bring Sarkhan a warning.

“This place,” the ghost of Narset began, “is crumbling into itself. Time itself is being consumed by the vortex of the Spirit Dragon and has been for many years now. If you do not find your way to the center of the vortex, all will be lost and a fate far worse than any you’ve imagined will befall Tarkir.”

“I have no direction here. Even the Spirit Dragon’s voice has left me. I cannot find my way in this darkness,” Sarkhan replied, full of anger and chaos.

Narset’s ghost smiled, somehow menacingly. “The Spirit Dragon’s voice has left you because the Spirit Dragon is now all around you. Sarkhan Vol, walker between worlds, you will be visited by three incarnations of the Spirit Dragon. They will lead you through this place and show you the things you’ve never known, the things you’ve known all too well, and the things that can never be.”

Narset’s ghost vanished and the ghostfire engulfing Sarkhan began to swirl into a tumultuous vortex. Apparitions of countless people Sarkhan had seen die in his time on Tarkir blinked before him as he burned like he’d never burned before.

Stave Two

The flames of the Spirit Dragon began to slowly coalesce and the form of a mighty dragon appeared before Sarkhan Vol. Ground materialized beneath his feet and suddenly they both stood, face-to-face, on a field of battle.

He was ethereal, unlike any dragon Sarkhan had ever laid eyes upon. His size, nearly 40 feet long, was on par with the largest among their kind as well. There was no doubt that this was Ugin, the Spirit Dragon.

“Greetings, Sarkhan Vol, and welcome to Tarkir,” the Dragon’s voice boomed from above, strong and unmistakable from the whispers that had followed Sarkhan for so long.

“Why did you bring me here?” the young human dared to ask, fearing no dragon, not even Ugin.

A battle raged all around them as Ugin contemplated Sarkhan’s question for a few moments. He pensively answered, “It was not I who brought you here, at least not right now. Perhaps in another time I sent you here for some purpose. Though, you are not really here are you?”

Sarkhan took a step back and as he did a flaming arrow fired across the field of battle. It seemed to move in slow motion as it pierced Sarkhan’s heart. He looked up at the Spirit Dragon and asked, “What is going on here?”

“This,” Ugin began, “is a field of battle. Your ancestors are waging a war against my kind. You are an apparition, made of ghostfire, a fragment of myself displaced from time.” Sarkhan looked down and saw himself still engulfed in the ethereal flames that Ugin seemed to be wreathed in. He remembered the burning and felt himself being pulled apart. Ugin snorted and Sarkhan managed to pull himself back together.

“Why did you… I mean… why will you send me here?” Sarkhan inquired. He looked around and saw dragons and humans and orcs and many other of Tarkir’s inhabitants engaged in a bloody battle. The dragons were winning.

“You are asking the wrong question young planeswalker. Think carefully about your next question: you don’t seem capable of maintaining yourself in this place for much longer.” Ugin’s gaze surveyed the battlefield.

Sarkhan also looked around and saw the land he knew so well. Tarkir. But something was different. Things were much more vibrant and alive than he had ever known them to be.

Sarkhan’s eyes grew wide as he realized what the right question was. “Tell me Spirit Dragon. What is the year?”

“It is many centuries before your great grandfather was even a thought in his father’s mind.” The Spirit Dragon of the past answered, and with a deep breath he released a torrent of ghostfire upon Sarkhan Vol who found himself ripped asunder and returned to the vortex of flame that he found on the other side of the arch. As the flames spiraled around he could here the ancient dragon’s final warning “this is not the way things have to have been.”

Stave Three

The ghostfire began to settle to what Sarkhan perceived to be the ground and soon he found himself looking upon the Spirit Dragon’s tomb back on the other side of the arch. He feared momentarily that he had somehow been expelled from the vortex, but glancing down he saw that he was still engulfed in the dragon’s flames.

Sarkhan blinked in amazement as the bones seemed to come alive before him and the ghostfire formed into an apparition of Ugin himself. This ghostly dragon however was only half the size of the one that Sarkhan had seen in his full majesty in Tarkir’s ancient past.

“It is good to meet you again, Sarkhan Vol.” Ugin bowed his head slightly, something that struck Sarkhan by surprise.

“Am I back in the present? What tricks do you play with time?” Sarkhan’s mind was still spinning from the vortex’s pull upon him.

“It is three days before you entered the archway. Things on Tarkir are at a terrible crossroads. The Khans of the five clans are losing their grasp on the delicate balance that they have maintained for centuries,” Ugin exhaled some ethereal fire and Sarkhan found himself hovering high above a gathering of the Mardu clan. Zurgo was in the process of punishing a young goblin in front of the rest of them.

“Zurgo,” Sarkhan growled through clenched teeth.

“Yes, your former Khan may very well be the harbinger of Tarkir’s end. We are watching him three days before he killed Narset for her role in bringing you to me. After you vanished into the arch he became insane and visited the Khans of the other three clans.” Ugin sighed heavily and as he did the exhalation of ghostfire clouded Sarkhan’s mind with visions of Zurgo, on a murderous rampage across Tarkir. Alone, the Helmsmasher raged across the land and ruthlessly murdered the Khans of the Sultai, Temur, and Abzan. Upon returning to the Mardu he killed his most trusted advisers and then sat upon his throne of bones.

“I must return and stop him. I never should have let Narset fight him alone,” Sarkhan’s mind became chaotic, and for the second time he could feel the torrent of the vortex tearing him apart. Again, Ugin exerted his will to keep Sarkhan together.

“No, young planeswalker. If you want to prevent all of this, and it can be prevented, then I’m afraid you must make one last journey.” Ugin breathed a small cone of ghostfire upon Sarkhan, and he found the visage of Zurgo spinning wildly as the sun rose and set and rose and set countless times. Zurgo aged and aged and became an old orc before his very eyes. The Spirit Dragon who showed Sarkhan the images of the present day vanished in a poof of ghostly smoke and Sarkhan found himself alone, face to face with himself.

Stave Four

Sarkhan looked down at himself and saw he was still engulfed in the ghostfire, but standing across from him, and across from the old Zurgo, was another Sarkhan who was no longer on fire. His eyes burned with rage.

The corporeal Sarkhan appeared once again to be the mad raging lunatic who Bolas had toyed with and manipulated. His mind seemed to be fractured and he exuded a burning rage directed at Zurgo. The ghostly Sarkhan, observing quietly, could not understand how his counterpart had arrived here. Zurgo was nearly thirty years older than the night that Sarkhan entered the arch. The night Zurgo murdered Narset.

Then something caught his eye and he saw it, a wispy trail of smoke spiraled out of the physical Sarkhan. It was an tiny visage of Ugin. The diminutive Spirit Dragon landed gently on the Sarkhan’s ethereal shoulder. “This is all that remains of me now, young planeswalker,” the remnant of the Spirit Dragon whispered into Sarkhan’s ear. “I traveled with you, back through the arch. Consumed by rage and anger you tried to return back in time to put an end to Zurgo’s reign. Instead, you ended up here, several decades into your own future, long after Zurgo had laid waste to Tarkir.”

“No, this cannot be,” the ghostly Sarkhan whispered as he fell to his knees. Before him, his corporeal self battled violently with Zurgo, exchanging blow after blow of rage and madness. In his convoluted state he was no match for the massive orc, even though he was old and growing weak. Zurgo landed a final killing blow and then slumped back in his throne. His life’s work complete, the land of Tarkir wasted, his heart simply no longer had a reason to beat.

Sarkhan’s jaw dropped open and he pleaded with Ugin, “You cannot allow this to happen, you must do something to stop it!”

Ugin fluttered in front of Sarkhan Vol’s eyes and whispered, “Only you can save Tarkir now.” And with that, the final wisp of the Spirit Dragon of the Future blinked out of existence and Sarkhan found himself being pulled back into the distant vortex.

Stave Five

The flames of ghostly fire swirled now in a violent twister surrounding Sarkhan. He was at the eye of the storm and understood now that there were two paths he could choose. The licks of flame pulled him in a multitude of directions trying to tear him apart and all of Tarkir’s time with him. However, the two paths became clear to him, as if Narset’s third eye were leading the way.

Below him, in the bottom of the twister, spiraling ever downward, was all of Sarkhan’s rage and hate and anger. There lied the archway back to Tarkir, to Zurgo, and to his inevitable fate. The flames tempted Sarkhan, as if they had been laid there as a trap by Nicol Bolas. They told him that the Spirit Dragon’s visions were lies, and that Sarkhan could easily return to his own time before Zurgo had a chance to destroy his home.

“No. No more tricks.” Sarkhan resolved himself and pointed his ethereal being upwards, to the top of the vortex.

There, swirling upwards and out of the funnel was the history of Tarkir. Along the way Sarkhan saw his spark being ignited, Zurgo’s rise as Khan of the Mardu, Sarkhan’s birth. The vortex moved faster, trying to draw him back in, but Sarkhan pushed ever upwards, quicker through the blur of Tarkir’s history. On the other side was Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, and Tarkir’s past. Before the dragons were all killed. There lay the time in which Sarkhan could truly make a difference, and reforge the fate of his home.

The rest, as they say, is history.

The Quick Hits

  • Matt Sperling is advocating for lifetime bans for players currently being suspended for 18+ months [Rule of Law]
  • Jared Yost takes a look at the financials of the $100 Duel Decks: Anthology [MTG Price]
  • Danny Brown considers whether or not Magic can be a successful spectator sport [Quiet Speculation]
  • Patrick Chapin wrote a doctoral thesis on cheating at the World Championship. No seriously, go read this right now if you haven’t already [Star City Games]
  • Eric Froehlich has some suggestions for improving the quality of the World Cup and World Championship [Channel Fireball]
  • Guo Heng Chin went on a journey to some illustrious Magic sites in Tokyo and shares his story of rarities and oddities with us [MTG Price]
  • Jacob Wilson recaps his year in Magic in 2014 [Force of Wilson]
  • Nick Vigabool presents the top seven cards in Standard for 2014 [Standard Snapshot]
  • Melissa DeTora reviews her 2014 and looks forward to her new life in 2015 working for Wizards R&D [TCGPlayer]
  • Ross Merriam lays out his pro Magic goals for 2015 [Star City Games]
  • Mike Rosenberg looks ahead to the 2015 Grand Prix circuit [Daily MTG]
  • Kelly Reid has assembled a collection of guides to how to spot cheating and counterfeits and other ill-will [Quiet Speculation]
  • Natasha Lewis Harrington shares several exercises for improving mindfulness in our lives within and without of Magic [Gathering Magic]
  • Wizards made two announcements on Christmas, the first of which was about non-basic lands in the basic land slot for Fate Reforged [Daily MTG]
  • The second was about a certain Spirit Dragon [Daily MTG]
  • Cliff Daigle presents his naughty or nice list for 2014 [MTG Price]
  • I thought this card was spoiled a while ago, but Jason Alt is sharing it again [Quiet Speculation]
  • Pete Jahn looks back at how 2014 was for Magic the Gathering Online [PureMTGO]
  • Last, but certainly not least, Huey Jensen shares some Magic-themed Christmas carol adaptations (this was the original idea for my column this week, based not on Huey’s column but on a bunch of climate change-themed carols in the New Yorker) [Magic Carols]

Wallpaper of the Week

Still no new desktop wallpaper. Thanks Obama Christmas holiday vacation.

Grade: F

What We Learned is a weekly feature here at Hipsters of the Coast written by former amateur Magic Player Rich Stein, who came really close to making day two of a Grand Prix on several occasions. Each week we will take a look at the past seven days of major events, big news items, and community happenings so that you can keep up-to-date on all the latest and greatest Magic: the Gathering community news.

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