Ahoy planeswalkers! As August continues on and Guilds of Ravnica draws closer, death is still on my mind—especially with the recent announcement that in November we will be getting a comic presenting the adventures of Chandra as she struggles to process the events of Ravnica III. With major character deaths likely looming, I’d like to take a few minutes to look at some trends in character death in the post-Mending era.

Magic has not historically been shy about killing off characters. The Weatherlight Saga saw many of its crew members die—Mirri, Cat Warrior; Starke Of Rath; Hanna, Ship’s Navigator; Gerrard Capashen. (Squee was also made immortal specifically so that he could be killed over and over.) The invasion also claimed Urza, Barrin, Rayne, and a host of Dominarian planeswalkers, to say nothing of the numerous villains who also fell over the course of the saga (Crovax, Ertai, Yawgmoth, Volrath). The multiverse’s next major crisis—the events leading up to the Mending—also brought about the deaths of some major characters (who, granted, had not been featured on cards), including Jeska, Lord Windgrace, Freyalise, and Leshrac.

Since then, Magic has become comparatively death-averse. Most blocks kill off only one or two characters who appear on cards. The last year might especially seem like the culmination of this progression, as Ixalan became the first block in a decade to feature no character deaths (excluding Vona’s non-canon death from an alternate ending) and Dominaria, in spite of its immense cast of legendary creatures, killed off only three mono-black antagonists in Demonlord Belzenlok, Josu Vess, and Whisper. Based on recent trends, however, there is reason to suspect that the relatively deathless 2017-2018 year is a bit of an outlier.

We have now had ten years of Standard-legal sets since post-Mending planeswalkers took center stage as the main protagonists of Magic’s stories. Let’s take a look back at the trends in Magic character deaths over that time. (I do need to note here, I have relied heavily upon the Magic: the Gathering wiki to track the fates of legendary characters depicted in sets before the Gatewatch era/sets where I wasn’t following the story yet, and I apologize for any inaccuracies that may result from that.)

The First Five Years

The first block that saw the integration of the new generation of planeswalkers into the game’s plot was Alara. During the events surrounding the Conflux, Malfegor and Rakka Mar, both antagonistic characters manipulated by Bolas, died. Then, for all its “adventure world” danger, only one character from Zendikar died canonically (Tuktuk The Explorer).

It wasn’t until the third year of the new era that a protagonist died, and even then that was a little bit strange. The Scars of Mirrodin block ended with Venser sacrificing himself to free Karn, but even so the triumph of New Phyrexia took surprisingly little toll on the Mirran resistance, at least in terms of body count: Melira, Jor Kadeen, Ezuri, Kemba, and Thurn all evaded death (at least in terms of officially canonical story, although Commander 2015 did reveal that Ezuri has since been compleated).

Our first visit to Innistrad was similarly light on major character deaths. Geralf killed Mikaeus, who Liliana raised in her quest to find and to slay Griselbrand. Griselbrand himself was the block’s only other casualty. Return to Ravnica meanwhile, featured only one character death, with Ral Zerek killing Melek, Izzet Paragon in order to usurp Melek as the maze runner for the Izzet (although Jarad has, presumably, since been executed by Vraska with Bolas making good on his promise to make Vraska the Golgari guild leader).

The Last Five Years

From Alara to Return to Ravnica, each two-year span featured no more than three character deaths. Theros did more than that in one year, with Elspeth, Xenagos, Polukranos, and Daxos all dying over the course of the block’s story. Tarkir then doubled down on this increase in character deaths. Fate Reforged saw Tasigur turned into Dragonlord Silumgar’s favorite piece of jewelry and Shu Yun frozen by Ojutai, while the new timeline of Dragons of Tarkir revealed that both Sidisi and Anafenza had been killed off by their respective dragonlords.

Battle for Zendikar block took a surprisingly light hand with its legends, as all of the Zendikari champions survived the fight against the Eldrazi. Ulamog and Kozilek were the only legendary creatures printed in the set to die (although Lorthos from original Zendikar also died during the events of the block). The storytelling took another dark turn in Shadows Over Innistrad, however, as three beloved angels from the original block, Gisela, Bruna, and Avacyn, became corrupted by Emrakul and got destroyed during the events of the block.

Kaladesh offered a brief respite. Its optimistic tone, numerous automatons, and high-tech nonlethal combat options helping to set up a block in which no one died in combat. (Well, the Skysovereign was destroyed by Kari Zev and a skywhale, if that counts.) The only character to die was Yahenni, succumbing to the naturally short lifespan of the Aetherborn at the story’s conclusion. The break Kaladesh offered, however, was followed by the bloodiest block of the post-Mending era. Amonkhet and Hour of Devastation saw no fewer than eight deaths, including five gods, Neheb the Eternal, Razaketh, and Temmet (although his death was kept off-screen).

Leading up to Ixalan, we went through four years of Magic killing an average of three and a half characters per block. That’s twice the rate of the previous five years. Indeed, after seven total character deaths in five years, we saw eleven or twelve characters die who could reasonably be considered good-aligned over the course of four years: Elspeth, Daxos, Shu Yun, Anafenza, Avacyn, Bruna, Gisela, Yahenni, Rhonas, Oketra, Kefnet, and arguably Temmet. Ixalan’s lack of major character deaths is an outlier compared to the overall trend of recent years, and seems likely to be both a palate-cleanser from all the death on Amonkhet and the calm before the storm brewing on Ravnica.

Where Are We Now?

As we approach Ravnica once again, a few trends are converging. We have had an overall uptick in character deaths over the last half-decade, an unusually light period for character deaths over the last year, and an upcoming clash between a team of heroes and an immense obstacle. That last one is most similar to the Phyrexian Invasion and the Mending in earlier Magic storytelling—in other words, big time stuff. With three large sets coming to tell this story, I’m going to say three to four planeswalker deaths is the minimum we will see, as well as a smattering of mid-level to major Ravnica characters getting killed off. (I’m looking at you, Niv-Mizzet.)

On that note, be sure to come back in two weeks for . . . [drumroll] . . . the Gatewatch Deathwatch.

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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