Ahoy planeswalkers! The full spoiler for Dominaria dropped yesterday; and boy, I love this set! It’s a Vorthos’s dream: it brings back beloved characters of the past, depicts key moments in Dominarian history that never got proper cards, and has unveiled a large cast of new, dynamic characters. I’ll be doing a proper flavor review in two weeks, but in the meantime I’d like to spotlight some of my favorite things that we’ve seen so far.

Our Story Thus Far

We only get four story spotlights this time around, but they pack a punch. Starting with this one:

Nissa’s out. The Vorthos Cast had a very good conversation about how Nissa’s departure makes sense from a character development standpoint, but I’m interested in it as a traumatic reaction (picking up on a Twitter thread from Michelle Rapp of the Loregoyfs). Nissa has been a loner for a while. During Amokhet, she directly told Chandra that being a friend is challenging for her, and something that she’s still working on.

By leaving the Gatewatch—at least one of whom she considers a friend—she is retreating into her comfort zone, and it’s fair to question whether that’s an entirely healthy choice. (Really, via Martha Wells’s writing of this scene through Gideon’s eyes, we see all four remaining Gatewatch members in that scene struggling to be their best selves.) How the Gatewatch gets Nissa back is now a hanging thread that will provide a good hook for future adventures.

And, in case you’ve forgotten, I’m a fan of the Nissa/Chandra ship, and Chandra tracking down Nissa to try bringing her back to the Gatewatch could be really good for the development of both characters. It can be an opportunity for the guarded Nissa to really let someone else in, and an opportunity for Chandra to give Nissa the sort of support Chandra needed from Nissa during the events of Kaladesh and Aether Revolt.

Liliana kills Josu with The Chain Veil. I don’t have a lot to say about this one, except that I really enjoyed the story.

Wait, this is the third story spotlight? What’s going on here? Demonlord Belzenlok is the dominant villain of this set. And Liliana—who doesn’t expect to be able to kill him one-on-one after using the Chain Veil on Josu—is just straight-up killing him? What gives?

Oh. Oooooohhhh. That checks out.

Jay Annelli gave a very good hot-take about how this serves really well to build Bolas up even more as a master schemer, but I want to look at how this outcome makes sense for Liliana. At he very start of the Gatewatch era, during the lead-up to Battle for Zendikar, Liliana went to Jace to try getting him to go over her demonic contract. He never did, though, because she would not ask for help and he got pulled into the events on Zendikar with Gideon. So Liliana missed a clause in her contract about what happens if her demons get killed? Yeah, I buy that. It was set up at the beginning of this journey that she did not have a full lawyerly grasp of her contract. There’s also an odd poetry to it: Vraska, Jace’s new friend and potential crush, is a sleeper agent for the Gatewatch in Bolas’s employ, and now Bolas has now taken Jace’s ex-lover from the Gatewatch. It will be very interesting to watch how this plays out as we move closer to the final showdown with Bolas.

Tyler Jacobson’s Use of Color

Tyler Jacobson is rapidly becoming one of my favorite Magic artists, and I think it comes down to his expressive use of color. Hapatra, Vizier Of Poisons was, artistically, one of the standout legendary creatures of 2017, the green shadows upon her conjuring the sense of a lush oasis amidst the desert within her—powerful, confident, and life-giving, all things she would prove to be to her people as she used her poisons to help shepherd Naktamun’s survivors into the desert. And Jacobson brought his A-game for Dominaria.

How does the color red tell a story?

Here it starts with the echo of the red flames and red banners—the triumph of Josu’s army (which is what I read the red banners to represent) is the destruction of this town. A line of red runs through Josu’s horse too in his reign, which helps to pick up the red tones of the horse’s russet hair.

Amidst this red, set off by the black casing of Josu’s armor, there is the purple glow of necromantic magic. It is at once different from and part of the red—it is a distinct color, and yet red is part of purple, and its texture echoes the flames. It seems to me to highlight Josu as the source of the flames destroying this town. All this from the way Jacobson has textured and arranged his colors within this art’s composition.

Look at the layers of framing of blue and white here: from Teferi’s blue-and-white garb to the white statue to the blue sky to the white clouds at the edge. Teferi before his statue gives the theme of the piece—the contrast between Teferi’s great power and heroism as a planeswalker and the more mundane life he now leads—but the use of the sky and the clouds at the edges to expand the color pattern, for me at least, opens the scope of Teferi’s decision even more. It projects him to an even greater place in the world in the multiverse. He has done so much, but there is also still much more that he may yet do.

Speaking of which…

Teferi Takes The Oath

Magic Story has thus far focused on Jhoira’s new Weatherlight crew and Liliana and Gideon’s adventures, but Teferi’s personal journey looks poised to be one of this story’s highlights. The second Dominaria trailer offers a compelling snapshot of Teferi as a character who has moved on from his former life as a hero, and Opt captures this ambivalence beautifully.

He also may be exactly the person the Gatewatch needs. The Gatewatch is largely a young bunch: Gideon, Jace, Nissa, Chandra, and even Ajani are fairly young; and Liliana, the one member who can remember when planeswalkers were once gods has hardly lived a life of heroism. Teferi has made colossal mistakes: the Zhalfirin Void ensures we remember the cost of some of the things he’s done, and the words of his oath recall the homeland that he phased out of Dominaria.

He is also a hero who has fought to protect a world from nigh-unfathomable threats. If anyone can help this team grow up and grow together, it’s him.

And a Note on Magic Story

This week, Ajani was not mad, just disappointed as Gideon told him about the Gatewatch’s failed excursion to Amonkhet. Ajani then opted out of Gideon’s and Liliana’s quest to take down Belzenlok, setting off to recruit new members for the Gatewatch.

Also of note? Ajani reported to Jhoira with news of Karn’s escape from New Phyrexia and Venser’s death. So, Ajani knows about New Phyrexia—a plane upon which a premium Gatewatch recruiting prospect is imprisoned, in Koth Of The Hammer. And after a visit to Magic’s most iconic plane to start off the twenty-fifth anniversary? Wouldn’t a visit to the latest incarnation of its most iconic villains be a fitting continuation of the year?

Between this and the cycle of powerful rare creatures with three mana symbols in their casting costs—almost like they’re being planted for a returning mechanic that rewards players for running multicolor decks? Let’s just say I’m feeling good about my prediction of Theros and New Phyrexia being on the docket for the 2018-2019 Magic year.

Beck is a financial aid counselor and theatre history Ph.D. student who lives in the greater Boston area. He believes in playing standard like a Johnny, drafting like a Spike, and only playing modern decks that involve the number eight.

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