Ahoy planeswalkers! As much as I’ve been enjoying Amonkhet’s story, I’d like to try something different this week. My first five columns have focused on educated guesses about what might be coming up in the fairly immediate future (the next half-year of sets and story). It’s a bit harder to make longer-term predictions, but with Announcement Day coming up next month, I think it’s time to share a theory I’ve had kicking around for a while now. A pretty darn crazy theory, if I’m being honest. So hold on to your tin foil hats, y’all, because I’d like to talk about the next Phyrexian Invasion!

It always seems like the Phyrexians are lurking just around the metaphorical corner; after all, they are among the game’s greatest villains. Bruna and Gisela talking about “the great work” on Innistrad, echoing the words of the Phyrexians on Mirrodin? The Phyrexians are coming! Kaladesh is an artifact-centric plane with portals and Tezzeret? The Phyrexians are coming! Heck, back when the set had just been announced, I entertained the theory that Hour of Devastation was going to be about the Phyrexians finding a way to attack Amonkhet after Bolas used Tezzeret to meddle in the conquest of Mirrodin, and the attack would force Bolas to work with the Gatewatch—he to preserve his power over his plane, they to protect its inhabitants.

But I do think we are drawing closer to our next Phyrexian invasion. This might be the fresh dose of Serum Visions that Modern Masters 2017 has given us talking, but I think I can see the day when the Magic community’s dreams will come to comple(a)tion! Yes, I tell you, I believe we will see the Phyrexians invading another plane…

…In 2019.

Why 2019? Open your eyes! The clues are right in front of us, in the codenames for the upcoming sets!

It’s very possible I’m just being crazy; after all, Mark Rosewater has claimed repeatedly that the codenames typically predate any knowledge about the set’s contents and have no outward meaning. Nevertheless, there have been odd synergies between the code names and the set themes and stories in recent years. Theros, the Ancient Greece-inspired block, was “Friend, Romans, Countrymen”; Roman mythology drew heavily upon Greek mythology, and the block’s plot featured a high-profile assassination that might echo those lines from Julius Caesar, with Heliod murdering Elspeth. Tarkir was “Huey, Dewey, and Louie;” it gave us essentially three versions of the same plane (five warring clans, but in different times/timelines and with different leaders), much the way Scrooge McDuck’s nephews are palate-swaps of the same character model. Battle for Zendikar was “Blood and Sweat,” appropriate for the harsh battle of the scrappy Zendikari against the Eldrazi. Shadows Over Innistrad was “Tears and Fears,” and it delivered the tragic fall of Avacyn, the horror tropes of Innistrad, and the cosmic horror of Emrakul. Kaladesh, a world featuring an authoritarian consulate that over-tightened its grip, was “Lock and Stock.”

The next four blocks after Amonkhet have had their codenames released: “Ham and Eggs” (Fall 2017-Winter 2018), “Soup and Salad” (Spring-Summer 2018), “Spaghetti and Meatballs” (Fall 2018-Winter 2019), and “Milk and Cookies” (Spring-Summer 2019). Rosewater has shared that there is a theme to these codenames: they are meals from different times of day (breakfast, lunch, dinner, midnight snack). Hmm, a motif built around a journey from day to night? What could that mean?

Ah! Yes! I can see it now! A race against the clock, a sense of impending doom and falling darkness, as our heroes prepare to face the multiverse’s greatest threat! This is, admittedly, a pretty darn flimsy theory. There are other reasons beyond the codenames that make me think this sort of timeline and story is plausible, though. While the Gatewatch’s parallels with superhero teams like the Avengers and the Justice League are quite prominent, the way in which it hearkens back to the Weatherlight Saga feels like it gets less attention. With the Mirage, Tempest, and Mercadian Masques blocks, Wizards devoted years to the adventures of the Weatherlight’s crew, building up to the invasion of Dominaria in Invasion block. This seems like a story ripe for a Gatewatch reboot, especially since it has been nearly six years since we last saw the Phyrexians in a standard-legal set.

Amonkhet could be the perfect block to launch a story like this, too. Bolas knows about the Phyrexians: he sent Tezzeret to Mirrodin to keep an eye on what was happening there during the events of the Scars of Mirrodin block. As a powerful dragon planeswalker who has schemes within schemes, it seems probable that Bolas would have plans for what he might do if Mirrodin did fall to the Phyrexians. He’s also certainly not afraid of unleashing powerful, dangerous forces upon planes if doing so suits his schemes (see the Eldrazi). If nothing else, unleashing a Phyrexian invasion upon another world seems like a good way to keep a group of meddling do-gooders busy while he puts other plans into motion.

Speaking of which, remember this card?

Pay attention to the flavor text. The story about Liliana’s duel with Tezzeret left this comment out, but Tezzeret did seem oddly unconcerned by Liliana showing up, and didn’t really put up much of a fight against her. It seems terribly likely that Tezzeret had already sent something through the portal. And, given Tezzeret’s association with New Phyrexia and the historical Phyrexian Portal thing, New Phyrexia certainly feels like one of the most likely destinations for Tezzeret’s gift, whatever it may be.

So, try this one on for size: the Gatewatch gets trounced by Bolas during Hour of Devastation’s climactic battle, but they learn about a plan he has in the works to help the Phyrexians attack another world (perhaps Bolas even straight-up tells them because he wants them out of his way). Having just taken a drubbing because they failed to take Ajani’s advice (that they should gather more allies before facing Bolas), the Gatewatch shifts into recruitment mode, visiting different planes in an urgent quest to strengthen their ranks enough to fend off an adversary that may be even more dangerous than Bolas.

Along the way they help potential Gatewatch members with their own planar and interplanar problems, earning their trust and their support against the coming invasion. The possibilities of a story like this are rich. Firstly, this kind of impending threat would give the Gatewatch’s missions a type of urgency that would justify the group splitting up, which could help spread out the planeswalker cards for Gatewatch members and cut down on character fatigue (something Mark Rosewater has said Wizards is going to do going forward). There have been hints that a Return to Dominaria may be in the works for Magic’s twenty-fifth anniversary in 2018, which might bring an old favorite like Teferi or Karn into the Gatewatch.

A Return to New Phyrexia could make perfect sense for Spaghetti and Meatballs as the twenty-fifth anniversary companion to a return to Dominaria: it would allow Wizards to spotlight the Phyrexians as part of the festivities, and an appearance by Karn on Dominaria could be the perfect lead-in to a story about some Gatewatch members attempting to rescue Koth from New Phyrexia (where, as Conspiracy 2 recently revealed, he is alive and fighting in the Phyrexian Arena. Wouldn’t that be something different: the Gatewatch having to keep a low profile on a stealth mission, while the praetors jockey for power in the lead-up to a new invasion! (It might bear noting that New Phyrexia came in at a viable five on Mark Rosewater’s Rabiah scale, and it has gotten a fair amount of world-building support in recent Commander sets with the likes of Ezuri, Claw of Progress and Atraxa, Praetors’ Voice.) The possibilities don’t end there, however: they could go help rescue Elspeth from Theros’s underworld, or recruit other popular planeswalkers like Kaya and Narset, or try to cure Garruk.

And then, in Fall 2019, it all comes to a head: as the codenames enter a new era with Archery and Baseball, we get the return of the Phyrexians, invading a known plane. The Gatewatch starting their fifth year with the biggest battle of their lives! A popular plane threatened with its destruction! The first death of a Gatewatch member! And as far as which plane they might invade? Well, I have a few ideas. But they will have to wait for a future column.

Enjoy the Pro Tour, everyone! I’ll be back in two weeks to celebrate the end of Amonkhet’s story by looking ahead to Hour of Devastation with a few burning questions and hot predictions!

Beck Holden is a Ph.D. student in theater who lives in the greater Boston area. He enjoys drafting, brewing for standard, and playing 8-Rack in modern. He also writes intermittently about actually playing Magic at beholdplaneswalker.wordpress.com.

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