Phyrexia: All Will Be One, what appears to be the penultimate chapter in what is debatably Magic’s longest running story arc, is almost upon us. I say debatably, because in one way of looking at it, this story is the culmination of a saga that began in Magic’s earliest days, with 1994’s Antiquities. That’s a lot of plot to digest to get the sense of what’s at stake in Phyrexia: All Will Be One, so to help us pull all these threads together, Hipsters is endeavoring to provide a short prologue or “prehistory” of Magic’s newest set. For the history of this long story arc prior to 2010-2011’s Scars of Mirrodin Block, please see Rich Stein’s story roundup. In this first of two parts, I’ve opted to begin my summary with the Mending, highlighting sets and stories where one can look to get a deeper sense of these story beats. Part two will pick up with Kaldheim.

The Mending

Detail from “The Mending” by Adam Paquette

The being that is Karn is a pastiche of pieces and parts from a diverse and storied history travelling across planes and through time.  Karn’s silver body was designed by Urza, who integrated a personality core derived from the Phyrexian sleeper-agent Xantcha’s heartstone. Karn’s trips across space and time to fight the Phyrexians and protect his friends were not without a cost however, and it became apparent during the events of Planar Chaos and Time Spiral that rifts in time and space had to be mended via the use of planeswalkers’ sparks. When Karn sacrificed his first spark, inherited from Uzra, he felt the taint of Phyrexian oil from Xantcha’s heartstone for the first time. Fearing what this corruption could do to his homeworld of Dominaria, he fled to the core of his artificial plane, Mirrodin.

Mending Era Year 57: Mirrodin / New Phyrexia

Corrupted Conscience by Jason Chan

On Mirrodin, the corruption that Karn had brought to Mirrodin long ago, when it was still called Argentum, continued to grow, and a new breed of Phyrexian took root in the planets core, perhaps accelerated by Karn’s presence. The corruption spread quickly over the span of mere decades, gradually terraforming the plane itself into a haunting echo of Old Phyrexia, a series of nine Dantean layers, or spheres. At the center of this corrupted plane, Karn became trapped in his own mind, and was worshipped as the Father of Machines by the corrupted elf Glissa and the newly-emerged Praetors. These new Phyrexians sought to assert total domination of the plane and went to war with uncorrupted Mirrans. Among these Mirrans was the planeswalker Koth, who traveled to Dominaria to recruit allies in the struggle against the growing Phyrexian threat.

Detail from “Venser the Sojourner” by Eric Deschamps

On Dominaria, Koth met Elspeth Tirel and Venser, and persuaded them to come to Mirrodin to aid the Mirran resistance. Elspeth and Venser each had personal reasons for helping Koth. Elspeth’s planeswalker spark initially ignited during her childhood, when she was a captive of Phyrexians on another plane. For his part, Venser was acquainted with Karn, having been the last person to speak with him before he disappeared to Mirrodin. Once on Mirrodin, Koth, Venser, and Elspeth met an outcast named Melira, who was immune to the power of the glistening oil, and possessed the ability to share this immunity with others. Fortified by this immunization, the part continued fighting the Phyrexian threat.

Scars of Mirrodin by Jason Chan

In a lucid moment, Karn was able to reach out to those searching for him. While Melira was able to purge partial corruption, Karn’s corruption was too deep, having taken root in his heart. To save him, Venser sacrificed himself and gave Karn his now oil-proof spark. Liberated from the influence of Phyrexia, Karn surveyed his plane’s downfall, and set out to find a way to purge the Phyrexian corruption from his creation. Still harboring an enmity against the phyrexians, Elspeth remained behind with Koth for some time as part of the resistance, but was forced to planeswalk away after an assassination attempt on the praetors failed. Now, the survivors of the Mirran resistance find shelter and small victories where they can, unable to win an open war against the praetors’ forces.

Mending Era Year 59: Theros

Heliod Kills Elspeth by Tyler Jacobson

After her expedition to save Mirrodin, Elspeth traveled to Theros, where she had initially found her sword, Godsend, in a personal quest for belonging. Despite making her his champion, the sun god Heliod ultimately grew jealous of Elspeth’s great power, and killed her, trapping her in Theros’s underworld.

Mending Era Year 60: Dominaria

The Sylex Crater, as seen on “Nature’s Spiral” by Florian de Gesincourt

We would not return to Karn’s quest for seven years, but when we did, it would be in 2018’s Dominaria. Dominaria saw heroes from all over the multiverse converging on Magic’s first setting to find artifacts that might help them in their respective missions. In the intervening years (three years, in game), Karn had seized upon the fabled Golgothian Sylex as the means by which to defeat the New Phyrexians and purge the world once known as Argentum of their corruption. Teaming up with Chandra Nalaar and Jaya Ballard, Karn excavated the Sylex from Yavimaya, and secreted it away aboard the Weatherlight to learn how to detonate it.

Karn’s plans were briefly interrupted when the elder dragon planeswalker Nicol Bolas activated a Planer Beacon to summon planeswalkers from around the multiverse to Ravnica in a bid to harvest their sparks and become a god.Thanks to a heroic effort on behalf of the Gatewatch and numerous new allies, Bolas was stopped, and Karn returned to Dominaria to continue researching the Sylex.

Next Time …

The story lead-up to Phyrexia: All Will Be One continues, returning to Elspeth’s fate and the mysterious appearance of praetors where we’d have never expected them. Stay tuned!

Jacob W. Torbeck, Ph.D. (he/him) is a researcher and lecturer in philosophy and theology. Jacob hails from the Greater Chicago area, and loves playing Commander and Limited Magic, especially his Old School (93/94) and spooky cubes.

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