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.

Test of Metal
by Matthew Stover

Test of Metal is a story that serves a good example of a book trying to be too clever for its own good. We begin with Tezzeret on an island made entirely of etherium, though his own right arm has been restored to flesh. Soon, Nicol Bolas arrives at which point a surprisingly calm and collected Tezzeret informs Bolas that the artificer will kill the elder dragon at some point.

Thus begins a very, very strange tale involving a lot of riddles and a lot of time travel paradoxes. A lot of the confusion, unfortunately, comes not just from the time travel but from the framing of the story. We go back and forth from Tezzeret and Bolas (and future guests) on the island of etherium to flashbacks of the story told from the perspective mostly of Tezzeret and a little bit of Jace Beleren.

As if this back-and-forth wasn’t enough to confuse a reader, the time-travel is even worse. The magic known as clockworking plays a central role in the story. This magical ability lets the wielder see both into the future and into parallel timelines and allows them to pick-and-choose the most desirable outcome and make that their reality. For example, lets say you’re browsing Grubhub and don’t know if you want to order pizza or tacos. You fire up your clockworking ability and find a future reality in which you’re most pleased with your decision (or spend the least time regretting it in the bathroom) and then pick that reality. Good job!

The problem in Test of Metal is that most of the major characters keep using this to pick the best possible outcome but somehow that best possible outcome still involves those characters being outsmarted by Tezzeret because Tezzeret infused his own blood with the crystallized blood of dragons who died fighting Nicol Bolas.

Haha I didn’t make up that last part one bit. Seriously. Tezzeret creates a device that’s basically an I.V. Drip of dragon’s blood to make himself super powerful so that he can keep up in a fight with someone who can use clockworking. Because the time travel bullshit wasn’t enough.

Anyways. None of this touches on Jace Beleren’s involvement or the fact that Jace now runs the Infinite Consortium and has brainwashed Baltrice into working for him. Nor does it touch on Liliana Vess’s involvement or the fact that Liliana (or at least some of the Lilianas in some parallel timelines) are now under Bolas’s control. Nor does it touch on Doctor Jest, the part of Tezzeret’s brain that Nicol Bolas has given sentience to in order to watch over Tezzeret to make sure he completes his mission.

Oh right, the mission. Bolas has recovered the body of Tezzeret (left on Kamigawa by Jace) and restored his brain so that he can set Tezzeret to the task of seeking out and finding Crucius the Mad, the planeswalker/sphinx who invented etherium. That’s why he’s called Tezzeret the Seeker. Thus begins a journey that only Tezzeret could undertake full of riddles that only Tezzeret could solve in order to reach the conclusion that Crucius is actually Tezzeret (maybe) and that he put himself on this quest (possibly).

I actually still don’t really know what happened, but it doesn’t matter. It ends in a completely non-committal way with none of the characters dying (none of the major characters at least) or being changed in any tangible way. Jace, Baltrice, and Liliana go their separate ways. Bolas thinks he won. Tezzeret thinks he won. Who knows who actually won? No one does. That’s who.

Overall Rating: 1.5 — I’m not really sure what Wizards was trying to do with Test of Metal. It’s a very strange attempt at being ‘edgy’ through vulgarity and sexual innuendo. But that’s not why I gave it a 1.5 out of 5.0 rating. The reason for that is because the entire story, it seems, has become non-canon.

For starters, Tezzeret’s planeswalker biography is completely missing any mention of this story. It covers the events of Agents of Artifice at the end of which Jace nearly kills Tezzeret. It even covers Bolas restoring Tezzeret to life, which is the beginning of Test of Metal. However, the next part is Bolas sending Tezzeret to New Phyrexia, not sending him to find Crucius the Mad Sphinx.

To back up this tale we can also refer to the October 5th episode of the Magic Story: Release. In this story, Ajani visits the plane of Kamigawa and visits Tamiyo to share a recounting of his recent travels, as does Tamiyo. One of the children living in Tamiyo’s home is a nezumi named Nashi. She explains to Ajani that Nashi’s village was burned down by planeswalkers (Baltrice in Agents of Artifice) who worked for a criminal named Tezzeret. Ajani says that Elspeth had run into Tezzeret two years prior on Mirrodin, which lines up with the official biography. Tamiyo says that is impossible because the remaining members of Nashi’s tribe killed Tezzeret three years ago, and a dragon bargained for the corpse.

The last clues come in the story In This Very Arena where we meet Tezzeret again face-to-face for the first time in a long time (two years in-story at least). One of the distinctions made in Test of Metal is that Tezzeret has become a nice person who exhibits mercy as opposed to the angry and cruel person he was in Agents of Artifice. Now, on Kaladesh, the Tezzeret we meet is the one from the Infinite Consortium. This is not the nice Tezzeret.

All of this leads me to conclude that Test of Metal has become non-canon and that makes sense. The entire notion of ‘clockworking’ as some kind of time-magic is not only absurd but completely contradictory to the stories of both Urza Planeswalker and Nicol Bolas himself. If this sort of time manipulation was a canon part of Magic’s lore, then it would more or less undermine the abilities of every other mage.

I suppose we’ll learn more in Amonkhet block when Nicol Bolas finally returns to the main story, hopefully to be reunited with Tezzeret (which might even happen as soon as Aether Revolt). But for now, Test of Metal was both a disappointing story and also one completely devoid of any usable vorthos content.

Next Week’s Book—In the Teeth of Akoum by Robert B. Wintermute

I’ve been dreading this for some time now. We’ve come to the part of our journey where we will read the two Magic the Gathering novels written by Robert B. Wintermute. First, next week, will be In the Teeth of Akoum. The following week will be The Quest for Karn. These are not highly regarded books.

I’ve never read them before, but I’m certainly interested in learning more about Zendikar and the release of the Eldrazi, a story which features Nissa Revane and Sorin Markov as well as guest appearances by Liliana, Jace, Chandra, Sarkhan, and Nicol Bolas. However, I have a feeling we’ll all be somewhat disappointed with what we learn.

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.