Welcome to our 2016 52 in 52 series. This year I will be reading 52 Magic: the Gathering novels spanning two decades of Vorthos lore. Each week I’ll share my review of the book along with a synopsis for those of you who are just interested in the core of the story.

52 in 52

Planeswalker is an awkward coming-of-age novel in which our protagonist begins as a naive inexperienced youth, becomes an outcast in their own home, sets out for an amazing journey with a strange individual, meets her natural foil along the journey, and ultimately discovers themselves and the power of love.

This story isn’t about a planeswalker however, it’s about a Phyrexian newt.

by Lynn Abbey

Our story focuses on a Phyrexian newt named Xantcha. We learn early on that a newt is an uncompleated Phyrexian , made entirely of flesh, and decanted by the priests of Phyrexia. We also learn that Xantcha isn’t a proper name. Phyrexians don’t have names. Xantcha is a number, and it is the number of the place that Xantcha is meant to sleep.

The narrative of the novel intertwines two different tales, both from Xantcha’s perspective. Both stories involve the Phyrexian’s travels with Urza Planeswalker. The first tale, the main narrative, involves Xantcha’s efforts to cure Urza of his madness, and of his obsession with the past, hoping to push him to focus his energies on the present day. The second tale is a series of flashbacks which tell the story of Xantcha’s beginnings in Phyexia, meeting Urza, and their journeys across the multiverse which brought them back to Phyrexia, to Serra’s Realm, to the edges of the multiverse, and finally back to Dominaria.

You might read Planeswalker and be led to believe this is the story of Urza, and in a way it is, but in most ways it is not. Urza’s story is like a Michael Bay movie. There are a lot of dramatic poses, training montages, and huge explosions. But, there’s not a lot of substance in Urza’s story. Urza is devastated at the end of the Brother’s War so he decides to find and destroy Phyrexia. He spends centuries building a massive dragon engine to do so and when he invades the artificial plane he is defeated. He then spends the next two millennium hopping planes looking for answers before finally confronting Gix at the Caves of Koilos. Nothing to see here.

Xantcha’s story, ironically, humanizes the novel. I say ironically because Xantcha is Phyrexian and Urza makes sure to bring this up constantly. Urza is constantly telling Xantcha that Phyrexians have empty minds and no imagination. But where Urza fails to learn things because he cannot find libraries or schools, Xantcha learns by talking with the inhabitants of the new planes they travel to. At one point while searching for traces of Phyrexians on a new world, Xantcha tells Urza that the Phyrexians have never been here. Urza complains that he could not find any scholarly sources of this information and Xantcha simply tells him that none of the local languages have a word for war. Urza is so flustered that he planeswalks away to throw a tantrum.

An interesting aspect of the novel is Xantcha’s relationship with Gix, by which she defines her own gender. Xantcha was decanted in one of Gix’s earliest batches of newts which were intended to travel to other planes as sleeper agents. The early batches were physiologically gender-less since Phyrexians have no concern for gender. This would later be changed for the sleepers because local born-folk were obviously suspicious of strangers with no sex organs. Xantcha eventually met Gix, who as we know from reading The Thran was once a man. He invades Xantcha’s mind and tries to control her. It is at this time Xantcha decides she is female and the counterpart to Gix’s male dominance.

The dominance/submissive relationship between Gix and Xantcha is mirrored in her relationship with Urza and later her relationship with Ratepe, a young dominarian who she convinces to pretend to be Mishra reborn to try to help Urza. This is why I feel that Planeswalker isn’t just a fantasy story about Urza, but it’s really a coming-of-age story about Xantcha. At a young age she defines herself as Gix’s opposite. As female. She spends the next three-and-a-half millenium trying to figure out what her identity really is.

Overall Rating: 2.5 — Planeswalker suffers from a number of identity crises. First there’s the actual identity crises that Urza goes through. Then there’s Xantcha’s struggles to find real relationships. Finally there’s another actual identity crises as Ratepe struggles to maintain his own identity while pretending to be Mishra. But there’s also the overall crises of the human story of Xantcha and the action-film-like story of Urza.

The biggest failing of Planeswalker though is that it is a forgettable story and more-or-less just a footnote in the history of Urza. It’s as much his coming-of-age story as Xantcha’s but when you think of Urza you normally think of two things: the Brothers War and the stories of the Tolarian AcademyPlaneswalker bridges these two tales and explains how we got from one point to another but ultimately it will likely feel superfluous to the legacy of Urza Planeswalker.

Next Week’s Book—Time Streams by J. Robert King

Next week we dive into one of the most Vorthos stories of all as we meet the Tolarian Academy, Barrin, Karn, Teferi, Jhoira and the dreaded Phyrexian Negators. Towards the end of Planeswalker when Urza finally has his sanity back he realizes how much effort will need to go into defending Dominaria. In Time Streams we will see the extent of that plan begin to unfold.

Full Disclosure: The images of books in this review will take you to Amazon.com where you can purchase these books (and many more items, so I’m told). If you do so, Hipsters of the Coast will receive a small percentage of your money which will be used to ensure columns like this and many others can continue to exist. Please note that if you click the link then anything you purchase from Amazon in the next 24 hours (even if it isn’t this book) will provide us with a small percentage, so if you want to help support Hipsters of the Coast and need to buy a new vacuum cleaner then click away!

52 in 52 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.

Don't Miss Out!

Sign up for the Hipsters Newsletter for weekly updates.