It’s been a long time since I’ve regularly written about the Magic: the Gathering Story and while I’m not necessarily an expert on the topic I have, in the past, written about it extensively. In fact, seven years ago I embarked upon a journey whereupon I read a Magic novel every single week for an entire year. As if reading a full-length novel wasn’t enough work each week, I also reviewed each book and shared my thoughts on this very website.

With Phyrexia: All Will be One stories underway, we thought it would be good to catch people up on what they may have missed. One of our resident experts, Jacob Torbeck, will be covering in detail what has happened to our heroes from the Mending up until now that has brought them to their fate on New Phyrexia. However, I felt that it would be helpful for fans who may not be familiar with the Old Phyrexia to learn a bit more about that story.

This story is most commonly referred to as the Weatherlight Saga because much of it revolves around the various adventures, triumphs, and calamities involving the skyship of the same name. However, I like to refer to this story by the title I used for this article: How Did Urza Mess Up This Badly? I’m going to try to recap everything as succinctly as possible. Feel free to click on the links to my more in-depth reviews on each story.

A bit of a content warning of sorts: These are fantasy novels from the mid-to-late 90’s and early 00’s. As such the use of women to advance plotlines runs rampant. If you’d rather avoid a storyline where all of the main female characters die so that the male protagonist can complete their goals then feel free to skip all of this. Rebbec, Xantcha, Serra, Jhoira (who only survives because Teferi owes her one), Rayne, Mirri, Sissay, Hanna and Orim all deserved a much better fate than what Urza would give them.

Part 1: Before There Was Urza, There Was Yawgmoth

The first stop on our journey brings us to the time before Dominaria’s recorded history, the time of the ancient Thran civilization. Even though this story takes place thousands of years before Urza’s birth, this is where his fate will begin. This is the story of a cruel eugenicist named Yawgmoth, a genius engineer named Glacian, and the even more ingenious architect Rebbec. In a tale as old as time, Glacian and Rebbec were married. Yawgmoth worked in a hospital healing the sick alongside Rebbec while Glacian oversaw the mines. Yawgmoth tried to seduce Rebbec but when she rebuffed his advances Yawgmoth instead decided to kidnap a planeswalker, dissect her to try to discover an anatomical spark, become enraged upon learning he could not simply will himself to become a planeswalker, corrupt an entire artificial plane to become his own sanctuary, create the all-consuming plague known as phyresis, and then threaten Rebbec with the deaths of the entire Thran civilization if she didn’t acquiesce to his desires. Rebbec and Glacian succeeded at trapping Yawgmoth on Phyrexia by using the Mightstone and the Weakstone to seal the portal between Phyrexia and Dominaria. The Thran all died out.

Part 2: Urza Planeswalker

Urza’s story, in which he is the main protagonist, is essentially two coming-of-age stories. The first is fully encapsulated within The Brother’s War and it deals with Urza’s mortal life in which he is a brilliant but introverted engineer who unknowingly with his brother unlocks a portal to a literal hell only to become a King and wage a never-ending war against his brother who leads the forces of the hell they opened. The war almost destroys the plane but not nearly as much as Urza’s final act which literally destroys everything in the near vicinity and sets off an Ice Age. Urza learns virtually nothing from his mortal life other than how to ignore his wife, ignore his best friend, ignore his brother, and kill everything and everyone he possibly can all in the name of “saving the world.”

The second coming-of-age story is Planeswalker. Planeswalker is about Xantcha, one of the very first Phyrexian newts, created by Gix to be a sleeper agent. She is fiercely independent and even though Urza believes her to be a threat, she spends the next 3500 years traveling the planes with Urza trying to learn what it means to be human from the people Urza interacts with (definitely not from Urza himself, who is the farthest thing from human one can possibly be). In my mind this story, though meant to fill the void between the Brothers’ War and the Tolarian Academy, is the real point where everything goes south for Urza.

Despite being omnipotent, Urza is fueled by his anger and rage at Phyrexia. It’s always been odd to me that Urza is depicted in the Azorius slice of the color-pie, and sometimes in the Esper-slice, when I think he is much more of an Izzet-mage than people give him credit for. Even though he is methodical, and diligent in his work, he is ultimately motivated by his emotional bonds to Phyrexia through the corruption of Mishra and Xantcha.

This is why Urza loses, ultimately. He never really spends any time on an actual solution to Phyrexia. Maybe a way to protect planes from interplanar travel? Maybe a cure for phyresis? No, Urza’s singular focus in his immortal life is the complete destruction of the plane along with its master, Yawgmoth. This is, ultimately, why he fails. For all of the times he’s represented as a brilliant and rational being, Urza is short-sighted and narrowly focused.

Part 3: Karn, Jhoira, and Teferi

Time Streams and Bloodlines tell the story of Urza’s first attempt to go to war with Phyrexia. This time he’s determined to be more prepared, and not to do it on his own. In fact, he’s come up with a brilliant plan: travel back in time and prevent Yawgmoth from ever creating Phyrexia! To accomplish his short-sighted goal he creates Karn, the Silver Golem. Almost comically, the experiments to send Karn back in time combined with some sabotage by a phyrexian sleeper agent who seduces Jhoira results in a massive temporal cataclysm at the Tolarian Academy and forces Urza to abandon his research into time travel (research that Teferi will begrudgingly resume in the modern story).

Unable to go back in time, Urza instead decides to try to breed a perfect hero, or crew of heroes even, to be the front-line in the war against Yawgmoth. This novel again highlights that Urza is willing to do anything, even use Phyrexian technology itself, to destroy Phyrexia. The novel ends with the creation of the Capashen bloodline.

Part 4: The Weatherlight Saga

If you’re looking for some good old fantasy storytelling, it’s finally here. Gerrard and the crew of the Weatherlight versus the artificial plane of Rath and the inevitable doom that awaits everyone as Yawgmoth plans to merge Rath and Dominaria, using Rath as a staging ground for the entire Phyrexian army to invade and destroy Urza (and Yawgmoth)’s home.

The story starts strong with Rath and Storm, a series of short stories. They get intriguing with Mercadian Masques and Nemesis, where we can start to see things going south for our heroes, and the growing realization that they aren’t actually going to win sets in. And then it jumps off a cliff with Prophecy because Urza comes back. All of a sudden it’s no longer a fantasy novel but a science fiction thriller with the kind of mechanized warfare we saw in The Brothers’ War.

Part 5: The Invasion

Invasion, Planeshift, Apocalypse. While this may very well be one of the most defining limited formats in the game’s entire history, it is a terrible series of novels. All of Urza’s mistakes are finally on the table. Pretty much everyone dies. Yawgmoth dies. Thankfully. Urza dies. Thankfully. Everyone else but Karn dies. Sigh. I don’t want to talk too much about the story or it will give me PTSD. Suffice to say, Urza fails, because while Phyrexia no longer exists, a piece of it does, ticking like a time bomb, because despite being an artificial being, part of Karn was part of Xantcha, and ultimately Karn will carry the Phyresis disease with him.

Part 6: Mirrodin

When Urza died, Karn took his eyes, the Mightstone and the Weakstone, and became a planeswalker himself, essentially inheriting Urza’s spark. How does a spark exist inside of an artificial being? Good question. Jin-Jitaxis would like to know as well. Either way, all you need to know is that Karn, who is a lovable teddy bear but is also the unwitting focal point of Urza’s mistakes, created an artificial plane, inadvertently brought Phyresis to it, also unknowlingly made its protector, Memnarch, go insane, and ultimately led to the creation of New Phyrexia, which is where we are now.

The next major events in the story will pick up with Jacob’s article tomorrow, starting with the Mending in Time Spiral and then the transformation of Mirrodin into New Phyrexia. From there he’ll cover the events bridging War of the Spark to Phyrexia: All Will be One and get you ready to read the entire Phyrexia story which should be available later this week.

Rich Stein (he/him) has been playing Magic since 1995 when he and his brother opened their first packs of Ice Age and thought Jester’s Cap was the coolest thing ever. Since then his greatest accomplishments in Magic have been the one time he beat Darwin Kastle at a Time Spiral sealed Grand Prix and the time Jon Finkel blocked him on Twitter.

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