Duels of the Planeswalkers

2 souls, in life known as James the Dark and Eric the Amish but that was before names lost meaning. They speak to each other; speak of violence and war. They speak of souls and worlds unborn.

Wordless, a swamp of death spawns from the empty space between them. As if by response, a jagged mountain range grows from the south. Two forms, one black, reeking of burnt flesh and slick with moist rot, the other red, glowing with the fires of the core and weeping magma, emerge from the earth. From the mountain the unmistakable bellow of a Nyxborn Rollicker calls.

Another mountain juts from the north, but this one is not the red of iron. This one is cold and damp at the base, snowcapped at the summit and smelling of fetid death as the mountain range to the south grows. Smoke and ash belch from the newest of the peaks.

Suddenly the mountain face collapses, revealing a subterranean lake underneath. However, this lake has never known fish and a baleful evil radiates from the depths. Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth has been revealed. Gasping, baying, a Goblin Rabblemaster rounds the mountainside and looses a bellow that could only have been forged in the rage of a volcano, calling the first of the horde from below. A lone goblin answers, charges through the swamp and bashing the now humanoid form of Erik. A single chunk of iron chips loose from revealing pale flesh underneath. As this happens, the Nyxborn Rollicker’s eyes go blank and ignite with the rage of the Everflame Eidolon. The wrathful beast’s eyes gleam with destructive will as the monster within surveys the swamp.

Suddenly the begins to tremble. The black form in the swamp shatters, diffusing it’s consciousness throughout all of the lands of the north. The fetid swamp in which it stood bubbles and churns as a temple of epiphany rises from the muck, glowing red and drawing lighting from the heavens. From it’s entrance steps a man with long black hair and beard. James the Dark is known to the world. The Goblin Rabblemaster leaps from it’s place at the base of the mountain and lands with a light, padded thud on the roof of the temple as another goblin answers his great horn. Joining the first’s assault on the entity to the south. He is intercepted by the Nyxborn Rollicker and dispatched with haste as the first goblin continues hacking at the iron form of Erik.

This guy is charging. 1-10, how screwed are you now?

Upon the second blow to Erik’s form it explodes, revealing a pale skinned man bearded with flame. Erik, now extant in his blazing glory, immediately leaps back and away from the goblin. Before it can give chase a great spire of rock shoots up between them. From the summit a Fanatic of Mogis explodes into existence. Before James can retreat into his temple he is broadsided with 3 tons of rock from the shattered peak to the south. When his dizziness subsides James looks to the peak of this new mountain in time to see the Fanatic of Mogis leap from the summit of the stone spire and crash into the ground in a plume of dust and debris. When the Minotaur emerges from the cloud Erik leaps from it’s back the ground.

“Delightful…” James utters as his hands begin to glow. To the east of the mountain range a Shivan Reef bubbles into existence. Still recovering from his head blow, James takes a seat at the base of the pillar of his temple as another goblin climbs down from the mountain. Joined by the survivor of the last assault they both charge Erik only to be intercepted and destroyed by the Nyxborn Rollicker and the Fanatic of Mogis. Both are showing signs of fatigue but stand firm between the temple to the north and their master to the south.

“More!” Erik calls as the fanatic of Mogis’ eyes begin to glow… but just as the minotaur’s flesh begins to shimmer with the heat of the Everflame Eidolon, James utters a litany of ancient, unknowable syllables, invoking Silumgar’s Command. Within seconds the flesh of the Nyxborn Rollicker begins to wither, becoming pale and brittle as he collapses into the ground and the Everflame Effigy within rises triumphantly from his corpse. As this happens, the flesh of the Minotaur becomes ephemeral and fades into an orange mist, which is absorbed back into Erik’s form.

See? Not all red creatures are ugly.

Suddenly the unmistakable cry of a Boltwing Marauder calls from the blackened mountain. Just as it’s crest becomes visible through the choking clouds a goblin emerges from below, answering the continued call of the Goblin Rabblerouser. Emboldened by the cry of the Boltwing, the goblin charges across the swamp, into the mountains and brings it’s stone club down on the shoulder of Erik. This was a blow that would render a mere man to paste but Erik is not a man, he is a Planeswalker and
while he is battered down by the mad goblin he feels naught more than the memory of pain. Erik immediately discorporates upon hitting the ground and reforms 15 paces away from the goblin and channels the soul of a Spearpoint Oread into the standing Everflame Eidolon. Along with the Fanatic of Mogis, the 3 stand ready before the growing horde of James.

James’ closes his eyes as he conjures the memory of a long dead world. With great strain and with great focus he opens his eyes. They radiate… something that can not be described as a ‘glow’ so much as a hole into which light and life plummets. A Priest of the Blood Rite slowly crawls alongside a hulking fiend with sickly gray skin from the flooded morass that is the opening of Urborg. Both take a stand before James who slowly stands from his seat against the pillar of the temple. Another mighty cry shrieks mightily as another goblin emerges from the mountainside. Erik grimaces as 2 goblins, the boltwing and the fiend charge headlong into his line of protectors. One goblin is met by an Everflame Eidolon and both are unmade. The second goblin is met by the other Eidolon. Knowing he can win this clash, the goblin swings his mighty club at the head of the Eidolon but, instead of reverting to glowing ash like his brother, the second Eidolon blocks the goblin’s assault with a hand that glows with the might of the Spearpoint Oread. It is then that the Eidolon reaches it’s semi-corporeal arm in into the goblin’s chest, seizes his heart, and crushes it. Erik watches on as the Eidolons fail to intercept the Marauder who breathes a pillar of unholy fire upon Erik.

Erik, now glowing with rage and smoldering with the heat of the Marauder’s flame desperately considers his options. One mountain, inspired by his rage, shatters from it’s base and floats into the sky revealing a reborn Fanatic of Mogis bearing a massive boulder. The Fanatic hurls the boulder at James who merely discorporates on contact, reappearing filthy with dust but no worse for wear once the boulder has slammed into the side of the Temple of the Epiphany. The triumphant Eidolon continues to stand guard as his form begins to glow brighter due to the soul of a Nixborn Rollicker now suffusing his his being.

I named it after my physical therapist, Fred.

James takes one more step forward but stumbles as the Priest of the Bloodrite takes his profane toll on James’ corpus. The shivan reef to the spreads into the space beyond worlds as a Thunderbeak Regent takes flight from it’s shores. Under the banner of the Boltwing Marauder, another goblin joins the legion of the Rabblerouser as the demon of the Blood Priest soars forth and strikes the failing corpus of Erik. Suffused with the rage of the mountain, Erik decides its better to discorporate than be destroyed. His flesh ignites and the world that was theirs fades back into nothing.

The two souls, once again nameless, once again formless, bid farewell in the spirit of peace.

Today I am starting a new column. Storytelling Through Game Design. Every week I will tell a story using the play-by-play of a Magic : The Gathering match as a framework. Thats right, what you just read was not just a story set in the MTG universe, it was a match. It followed all of the rules and was recorded play by play.

This week we will start from the top. At the beginning of an MTG match both players are placed in the role of Planeswalkers. Each starts at 20 life, which can fluctuate in either direction. I would tie this to a concept in another game, called corpus, in Wraith the Oblivion. See, Corpus is this ephemeral stuff made of ectoplasm that holds in a spirit’s shape. Its why ghosts look like Idealized (read your Plato, guys) versions of themselves in life; with older Wraiths looking less human due to their memories of life fading away.

Seriously, if you don’t play this game, at least read the book.

Such is how I visualize the form of a Planeswalker (more on the cards another day). This allows for the same Planeswalker to manifest between different storylines in different shapes. Today, James the Dark, playing a black deck with blue/red buffers takes the form of an ever growing mass of black flesh with hollow eyes but tomorrow his corpus could take the form of a stone giant with a halo or an angel with a blazing sword. The idea of a Planeswalker possessing corpus instead of a physical body also allows for health totals over maximum because, instead of representing bodily health, life totals can be used to symbolize the solidity of a Planeswalker’s image as opposed to Hearthstone which visualizes player health as vitality, which makes concepts like overhealing difficult to implement.

So a bit short this week but I think I’ve given you enough to chew on. Lets try some homework. I want to know what your Planeswalker looks like. Feel free to post a comment or drop me a line at SomethingWickedGamers@gmail.com. I will see you next week.

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Haile Carson is a student of game design from Taunton MA. He is the president and founder of his local game design club and has been a passionate fan of the medium for nearly 30 years.

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