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

It all begins thousands of years after Yawgmoth’s last stand against The Thran. Two brothers find themselves dumped on the Argivian Archaeologist Tocasia, who is an old friend of the boys’ father. They bicker and squabble as all brothers do but there is something different about these brothers. The older one is studious and smart and quickly becomes as knowledgeable about the ancient Thran artifice as his teacher, Tocasia. The younger one, not even a full year younger, is passionate and emotional and has a natural gift for identifying how the ancient artifacts operate. The older one surrounds himself with the scholars of the camp. The younger one prefers the company of the nomadic tribal diggers and laborers. One day a rift would explode between them, almost literally, and their story would become legend. This is the story of Urza and Mishra.

The Brothers War
by Jeff Grubb

When Urza and Mishra first arrive at Tocasia’s camp, at the ages of 11 and 10 respectively, they almost immediately point out and correct a design flaw in Tocasia’s Onulets. These beasts of burden are the pinnacle of what Tocasia has been able to make of the ancient Thran technology. Tocasia also has parts of a Su-Chi machine, but isn’t sure how to make it work. Urza and Mishra quickly endear themselves to Tocasia and become the most important archaeologists in the camp. Eventually they make the most important discovery of their youth when they find and rebuild the first Ornithopter. Soon they’re flying over the desert land of Terisiare when they discover something startling. There are massive Thran glyphs carved into the land and they all point towards the same place.

Tocasia and the brothers travel to the caverns and their lives will never be the same. They discover a treasure trove of Su-Chi warriors but also something vastly more important. A pedestal with a metal book on top and a powerstone set atop it. Those of you who read The Thran know exactly what that stone is. As the brothers approach it something strange happens. From Urza’s perspective, Mishra reached out to take the stone and Urza stopped him. From Mishra’s perspective the exact opposite happened. Regardless of who tells the tale the result is the same. The stone split into two pieces and each brother awoke with one half of the stone. Urza’s half had the ability to imbue artifacts with great power. Mishra’s half had the ability to weaken artifice and bring it under his control. Urza dubbed them the Mightstone and Weakstone respectively, something Mishra always resented.

Thus began the decades-long battle between the two brothers to acquire each other’s stones. They separated while still teenagers. A fight in the middle of the night escalated to the point where they battled each other with the power of the stones. Tocasia tried to intervene and ended up being killed in the ensuing explosion of power. Urza stayed to continue her work but the camp quickly dissolved after her death. Mishra fled that night, presumably never to be seen again.

Years later Urza has made his way to Yotia where he is working as an apprentice to a clockmaker while Mishra is a slave of the Fallaji people he once worked side-by-side with. Urza quickly endears himself to the Yotian king and princess through his artifice while Mishra similarly does the same with the king of the Fallaji. The pieces of the story quickly fall into place. Urza seeks nothing but knowledge to learn more and more about the Thran and artifice. He even marries the Yotian princess when he discovers that her dowry includes an ancient book of artifice lore. Mishra, in the meantime, is appointed to tutor the young Fallaji prince and becomes the chief wizard of the Fallaji king.

Both brothers are continually manipulated for their knowledge. First Urza is manipulated by the king of Yotia who takes his Ornithopters and turns them into weapons. Mishra is manipulated behind the shadows by an old friend of ours from Phyrexia: Gix. War erupts when the two sides meet to discuss peace and the Yotian king ambushes the Fallaji. Mishra blames Urza for the attack and Urza vows to bring peace to the people he thought he was protecting. The Brothers War is now in full swing.

If there is a hero in the Brothers War it is neither Urza nor Mishra but perhaps one of the peripheral players. First we have Tawnos, the apprentice to Urza who tries to keep his master’s humanity in check by serving as friend and advisor to Urza and his Wife. When Yotia falls to Mishra’s army, Tawnos saves Urza’s wife Kayla and her unborn child. Next we have Ashnod, the apprentice to Mishra who dedicates her life to biological artifice but tries to save Mishra from himself and from Gix, but it is too little too late. In the end though she gives the Golgothian Sylex to Tawnos to put an end to the war. Finally we have Loran, an Argivian scholar who was friends with Urza and Mishra in their youth at Tocasia’s camp. In her scholarship, Loran worked closely with Feldon and Hurkyl to discover a way to end the war. They discovered the Golgothian Sylex and the use of Mana. Hurkyl developed a spell to remove artifacts from existence but it was the Sylex which would end the war.

Ashnod stole the Sylex from Loran and then she tried to use it to regain Mishra’s good graces. By now though Mishra had been completely given over to the Phyrexian demon Gix. Ashnod instead gave the Sylex to Tawnos, her only friend and confidant, before she faced Gix alone to try to save her former master. Tawnos, in turn, gave it to Urza who immediately discovered how to work it. It was an apocalypse device which Urza knew would ravage the land but destroy everything he and Mishra had worked for. Urza was reluctant to use the device until he confronted Mishra. They battled with the Mightstone and the Weakstone and Urza should have won the battle. But then Urza discovered that his brother was no longer human but was more machine than man. He had ribs of metal and a serpentine neck. Gix had begun the process of trying to compleat Mishra, and for that Urza activated the Sylex and ended The Brothers War.

Overall Rating: 4.0 — From a Vorthos perspective, The Brothers War is an interesting study. In today’s Vorthos lore the creative team works very closely with the design team to craft pivotal story moments into the cards themselves. Before the current innovation we had a system where the creative team would give authors early access to the story but not necessarily the cards, and while there was a strong correlation it wasn’t always clear. This time we have something somewhat unique. The Antiquities expansion came out in March of 1994. The novel The Brothers War was published in June of 1998. The story elements already existed and had to be crafted into a novel after-the-fact, a somewhat unique experience in Vorthos history. The result is a tale that is masterfully woven full of card references. Amulet of Kroog, Ashnod’s Battle Gear, Clay Statue, Coral Helm, Dragon Engine, Feldon’s Cane, and so on all appear as artifacts in the story. There are also incredible story moments featuring Hurkyl’s Recall, Tawnos’s Coffin, and of course, the Golgothian Sylex.

The Brothers War is a treasure trove of Vorthos lore but how does it stand as a story? I think it holds up pretty well. War ravages Terisiare and Dominaria will never be the same. No one wins. Everyone loses. It is a grim look at how artifice and war can destroy the land and the kind of drastic measures that need to be taken to ensure it never happens again. Whether you side with Urza, or Mishra, or Ashnod, or Tawnos, or the Sages of Lat-Nam, the story is universal in its message, and it’s a message that holds up very well.

Next Week’s Book—Planeswalker by Lynn Abbey

Our story continues five years after the end of The Brothers War. Urza died when he destroyed everything he and his brother had built, but in that moment of death and destruction Urza’s planeswalker spark ignited. Combined with the power of the two gemstones Urza became an incredibly powerful planeswalker. Now he is in search of answers. Why did he and his brother go to war. Who was pulling the puppet strings of Mishra? And how can he find and destroy Phyrexia?

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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.

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