Wednesday, November 7, 2018

The 5th Sin: The Jacetice League

Sadly the image in the middle of this card is lost to time, so I need to stick with this.

As you might remember, in my previous article, (sorry for the delay btw, life happens), I had an amazing quote by none other than Jesper Myrfors who talked about IP's, and it versus art. I won't re-post the quote here, instead it made a point about Magic, and the story around it.

In the beginning, their was literally no story, none at all, involving MtG. Names were given vague definitions, idea's were simply thrown around, combined with vague flavor texts, it was literally a large part up to the player to fill in the Holes. What is Serra? Is Samite Healers doctors without borders? Does Urza have two heads, or two sets of eyes, or is he simply wise enough to change his glasses as needed? What's the rest of Benalish society like? In fact, it's first Expansion 'Arabian Nights' didn't have a story attached to it at all, instead burrowing from familiar sources, Garfield's wedding party, and 1001 Arabian Nights. Legends almost went the same route, with real world legends being the cards you'd summon (that was scrapped relatively early though). In fact, the first expansions with a story was Antiquities, The Dark, and Fallen Empires, each having a 'archeological' feel to them, with elaborate flavor text in the past tense, as if you were reading and seeing a piece of time.

By the mid-90's this had largely changed. It was decided that money was in, well, Intellectual Properties, and while the Magic Comics were varied in both quality and interest, the story behind them were scrapped for the weatherlight crew.

The Weatherlight Crew is largely a deconstruction of established archtype's (Gerrard being an anti-hero, the goblin is actually smart) or cliche's (Minotaur is an asshole brute, cat girl is cat girl, boastful wizard, ect), however, they are memorable in their own right, and should be credited where credit is due.

According to sources, Mark Rosewater, and Michael Ryan, wrote the initial concept for the crew, as well as helped flesh out their personalities and backstories. Then 'something' happened, what exactly that was is a mystery, and remains so, since he has largely been tight lipped about it.

However some changes from the main story that have been leaked over the years include:

  • The rathi Portal was suppose to time travel, with an Ancient Ertai sitting their, instead of getting the badass Phyrexian Opportunist Ertai.

  • Mirri was going to eventually win over Gerrard, and they'd have a half breed child (rumor), Mirri wasn't suppose to die.

  • Crovax was going to get a redemption arch (as depicted in Planar Chaos), instead of becoming one of the biggest badass's in the Weatherlight Saga, and pre-teen's self favorite token sweeper.
  • Phyrexia and Urza had nothing to do w/ Gerrard and the over-arching story of the Weatherlight. Infact, Gerrard was the 'Korvecdal', the uniter of the three human tribes on Rath against Volrath.
  • Volrath would turn into Tahngarth, leaving him tortured in Rath
  • Gerrard's often forgotten Hourglass Pendant played a more important role in his story.

There is an unconfirmed rumor that's sat in the back of the Internet for well over a decade now that The Weatherlight is a ripoff of 'Pirates of the Dark Sea', a old TRS cartoon. 

I also found this interesting piece of trivia: 
"The first times the name Weatherlight appeared in flavor text in Mirage, it was translated as "Brise légère" (Light breeze). When the ship became the main focus of the story in the Weatherlight expansion, the translators found this name was too joyful for the dark mood of the plotline and chose to rename it "Aquilon" (Boreal wind). They justified the change by adding a special flavor text to the french version of Jabari's Banner in which Gerrard explain he made the change when he became captain."

Ironically according to nautical Superstition, changing the name of a ship is bad luck, which might explain alot.

However, after several years, this story finally raps up, with an apocalyptic war between two (and a half) planes, Urza vs Yawgmoth, and in my humble opinion, as far as stories go, it was awesome. Then Planeswalkers in stories took a back seat.

You had a setting of post-apocalyptic Barbarians, sci-fi metal plane, tribal race wars, fantasy Courasant, and not-Japan. These were better or worse, depending on opinions. Then came Time Spiral. In a goal to win back older players, it was the 'nostalgia' expansion, and Planeswalkers came back. The mechanic concept was simple, make a lot of throw backs to fan favorite old cards from yesteryear, include legends of loved characters who didn't get love in their own time (I was delighted to finally get a Kaervek and Tivadar card). However, they made the Planeswalkers, each and everyone of them, over powered Mary Sue's, each as powerful as Urza Planeswalker (who in the old lore was suppose to be the most powerful Planeswalker), as well as bring back Nicol Bolas. Then they had the 'Mending' an act that would  change the nature of the 'spark' bringing them back to the powerlevel they had as of the Invasion block.

This was done to introduce what commonly was called the Brady Bunch, named for the creator of them, Brady Dummermuth. Planescrawlers were another common name thrown. They were extremely unpopular, first for their uninteresting and stereotypical designs, but also because this introduced with it, a new card type, Planeswalker cards.

The 'Lorwyn 5'.

For the first time, since the games creation, Planeswalkers were represented clearly in cardboard, sure their was that cycle of Enchantments, and Dakkon Blackblade, but these were, more like mini-players then enchantments and creatures, and for a few years, even a 'bad' planeswalker could win you the game over sheer attrition.

With little being printed to deal with them directly (the two common ones being O-Ring and Hexmage), the only way was to swing, or burn directly at them, or if you were in blue, counter them, they disrupted the frail balance of the game between control, aggro, and combo, shattering the base entirely. It's hard to overstate how powerful these cards are, especially if you never played with them before. Basically, imagine them as enchantments that can take combat damage for you, guarantee you small free spells each turn, and generate card advantage each turn simply by existing.

This spicy boi destroyed an entire format.

However, they also removed the player, the 'planeswalker' from the equation entirely, granted not right away, that came later.

The Jacetice League didn't even exist under Brady, instead they were scheming and conflicting characters, each with flaws, ambition, and  goals unique to themselves. However, after a certain incident, Dummermouth was fired, and umm.... I'll just post the image.

"Rid me of this curse, witch, or die with me."
—Garruk Wildspeaker

You see, Garruk had a back story, where he encountered the black planeswalker Liliana (she originally wasn't associated as a necromancer, but a generic power at any cost black planeswalker). She on her own mission to get out of a contract with numerous demons for eternal youth, found a powerful artifact called 'the chain veil', and in their encounter, curses Garruk, so he relentlessly hunts her through the plane, assuming that if he kills her, the curse will be lifted.

This even had a companion piece:

"I've seen corpses prettier than you, beastmage."
—Liliana Vess
However, at this time (2012) there was a strange influx of new players, as a series of video games and focused marketing managed to make ground among a new generation of gamers who might have overlooked it. The above image of Garruk choking Liliana 'triggered' certain games, and they complained.

"Regarding Triumph of Ferocity: Wizards and I apologize for the upsetting situation related to card imagery. In light of the community conversation it can clearly be viewed in a way that is in direct opposition the brand image we strive to maintain. This was absolutely not our intent, but intentions don’t override the real emotional reactions our fans have. While the bigger story provides context, individual cards are seen in isolation. That is the standard each card needs to live up to. In hindsight this story point could have been depicted in a less real-world related and emotionally charged way. We will take this as a learning opportunity and strive to do better in the future."--Elaine Chase, Brand Director for Magic: the Gathering.

This controversy would sadly get Dummermuths 'position terminated', as well as a major retcon of the characters and backstories known as 'Magic Origins'. Although all the characters had major retcon's, the most sited and controversial is none other than Nissa. 

Originally, Nissa was an elf-supremist, who had a 'my shit don't stink attitude', who simply allied with a vampire because the alternative was death. In the Zendikar book, she largely berates him, and flaunts how much better she is, which brings another point, about Nahiri, and stolen IP, but I'll leave that for another time. 

Now Nissa is a generic elf druid, who hugs trees and loves life.