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The ‘90s Revisited: Magic the Gathering: Gerrard’s Quest #1

90s_revisited

magic_the_gathering_gerrards_quest_001Gerrard’s Quest Part 1: Initiation

Written by: Mike Grell
Pencils by: Pop Mhan
Inks by: Norman Lee
Letters by: Michael Taylor
Colors by: Dave Stewart
Separations by: Lisa Stamp, Stu Hiner, Brian Gregory, Harold MacKinnon
Cover by: Mark Harrison
Editors: Peet Janes and Ian Stude
Cover Date: March 1998
Cover Price: $2.95
Published by: Dark Horse Comics

I’ve been “aware of” this series for over 20 years. The original MTG comics were published by Acclaim, under their Armada imprint. Those lasted a couple years with a number of mini-series and specials. This, too, is a mini-series…but by late-1997/early-1998, the license had moved to Dark Horse. Also by this point there was a move toward a unified “whole” in the MTG continuity/story, rather than everything being a mash up of fantasy tropes and generic fantasy-style stories.

Here we begin “Gerrard’s Quest.” Despite that being the story title (even in the indicia!) it is NOWHERE on the cover of the issue. While the “issue’s chapter” IS “Initiation” that is what’s on the cover…where usually it would be interior-only, or in addition to the series’ subtitle. This is solely billed (cover-wise) as Magic the Gathering #1 of 4. Nothing to indicate anything came before…nothing to indicate (now long after the fact) that this is the first chapter of Gerrard’s Quest (as the long-outta-print collected volume is titled and the story referred to in general).

Without even looking back, I’m quite sure that even the Armada books had subtitles on the covers and/or the subtitle logos of whatever set the issue(s) contained stories for. So that’s a huge dislike of this to me from the start. Having only the MTG logo and the title “Initiation” at the bottom of the cover, it suggests to me that the issue is ABOUT some initiation. Into what, though? Is it the reader being initiated into the “I-read-Magic-the-Gathering-comics” portion of the comics audience? Is it about someone joining some group of planeswalkers banding together to save the multiverse? By the cover alone, the ONLY thing really of interest to me would be the MTG logo. The rest of the cover just looks like some generic fantasy-ish thing and even knowing the broad strokes (having read loads of the novels and re-read a bunch of the novels in the last 17 months or so) I’m not immediately sure who any of the characters/entities on the cover are supposed to be, outside of Gerrard.

The story in the issue is choppy and all over the place. It’s rather loose, and really seems little more than hitting bullet points. I’d have to practically re-write the issue to give it a proper summary here. Suffice it to say that it picks up with Gerrard lamenting others dying for him, and the burden of the artifacts that are his birthright, the “Legacy.” The ship he’s on gets to Rath, a lotta fighting happens, someone he apparently knew dies, other stuff happens and…yeah. Having read the anthology/novel Rath and Storm at least twice now (once back in 1999 or 2000, once back in late 2018 or early 2019) I have a vague idea from memories of THAT as to who THESE characters are and what’s going on.

Early in the issue I get the sense that the crew is on their way to Rath and the Stronghold to save Sisay. And then there’s some scene with people related to Crovax and then suddenly the Weatherlight and its crew are there…and after Rofellos dies, Sisay is with them.

What the heck did I miss?!?

This feels like little more than a generic visual review/overview of a prose story. And sure, it ends on a cliffhanger-like note with a to-be-continued promise…but strictly in terms of this issue, I’m not invested in any of these characters. I don’t KNOW who any of these characters ARE from this issue. (I only know the characters because I’ve read the prose novels!) Other than the clear sense that Gerrard’s upset about involvement with his “Legacy,” it’s just…pictures and dialogue.

I like the art well enough despite my clumsy attempt to describe it ahead: the layouts get sorta interesting and creative. The inks and colors work well. The overall visual experience seems a bit rough and angular and almost “gritty,” if that’s the word I’m looking for. It’s not awful, but it doesn’t have the smoother, sleeker sense of shiny wonder and just SOMETHING I can’t find the words for.

I finally tracked this mini-series down recently via a site I didn’t realize I COULD order comics from. Pulling this issue to read, I had visions of covering this whole mini-series…but assuming the subsequent 3 issues are on par with this one…I’m gonna be floundering for words and repeating myself and it’ll generally be a mess! The only REAL reason I would even suggest anyone track this issue/series down is if you’re a COMPLETIST on MTG comics.

Seriously.

In place of this, I would recommend tracking down the book or ebook of Rath and Storm, edited by Peter Archer, and read that instead. And that’s disappointing enough to say, given this is written by Mike Grell. But if you like his writing in general…find something else he’s written and read or re-read that and you’ll probably appreciate it more. I may yet read the rest of this mini, and maybe I’ll change my mind. But as of just this issue alone…it’s a disappointment and far more in the vein of “early MTG” than the far more epic, storied stuff that would come not long after in the novels and such.

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Unboxing a Dominaria Bundle Pack

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2018 is Magic the Gathering‘s 25th anniversary year. And with the anniversary comes a new set going back to the world of Dominaria–the plane (or world) that most of the game’s story was set on for its first several years and card sets.

Though this post is looking at cards, if you want comics content, here are some links to posts I did a few years ago (and stuff I may revisit again in the near future–but time will tell!)

The Shadow Mage | Ice Age | Fallen EmpiresArabian Nights | Nightmare | Antiquities War | Urza-Mishra War | Elder Dragons | Homelands | Dakkon Blackblade


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Chloe insisted on visiting with me as I began opening packs, and even made quite a fuss when I wouldn’t let her onto the table. The photo above shows her on her "pedestal" looking around, having come running at the sound of me opening the first booster pack…which admittedly probably sounded very similar to me opening a packet of kitty-treats.

When I opened the first booster, I was just curious to really look at the spread of cards, where I first really noticed that there seemed to be a great mix, with each booster having at least one of each color and an artifact! I knew already that there’s specifically at least one "Legendary" character in each pack, but I hadn’t fully paid attention to the mix in individual boosters. I was impressed, and decided to "document" the entire bundle…mostly for myself, enjoying going through such a huge stack of boosters, and curious about being able to look back and see what I’d gotten with what else in which pack(s).

Then I realized that even though I am NOT a video blogger, I could show off an "unboxing" in this way. So…as said above, if you don’t care about Magic: The Gathering as a card game and such, there are some links to my 2012 coverage of a bunch of the original comic books, published by Armada (Acclaim Comics).

I’ll show the cards from each pack, note the Rare, and whatever other thoughts occur to me from going through.


Pack #1:

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This pack was where I first noticed the "balance" in the packs specifically. Artifact, Black, Blue, Green, Red, White–even a multi-color Legend as the Rare!

I wasn’t overly thrilled with this one, as I already had a Grand Warlord Radha and would have preferred some others I didn’t already have…but that’s a theme that’ll run through opening most booster packs!

Rare: Grand Warlord Radha


Pack #2:

dominaria_bundle_unboxing_20180429c

The second pack yielded a foil as well as a rare. This is my second foil Island of Dominaria; not bad, though, as I tend to like Blue. Not much else of huge note to the pack. The rare is the Legendary. While not as cool as some other stuff, it’s got some potential to me, especially in a White deck.

Rare: Evra, Halcyon Witness

Foil: Island


Pack #3:

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I think this pack was the first I got Tetsuko Umezawa in a booster. Also got another Serra Angel, which I believe gives me a full 4-copy "playset" of the card in this edition. I like the art on the Urza’s Ruinous Blast; and it certainly represents a key moment in MTG history!

Rare: Urza’s Ruinous Blast


Pack #4:

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This was definitely the best pack of the bundle! An Artifact, at least one card for each color, a multicolor, two of the Memorial to ____ lands… AND a foil!

And the foil, at that, is a rare. FURTHER…it’s a Mythic Rare!

This is the first time I’ve gotten a foil-anything that wasn’t common; for it to be a foil of a Mythic Rare is fantastic! It’d probably be asking way too much for it to have been a foil of Karn, Scion of Urza, but as Jhoira was a card I’d started out wanting, I’m quite happy with it. (though I have two non-foils of her previously).

Added bonus to this pack is it also came with a non-foil Rare, the Helm of the Host, which creates a token copy of whatever creature has it equipped…which has some fun potential to it!

Rare: Helm of the Host

Foil Rare (Mythic): Johira, Weatherlight Captain


Pack #5:

dominaria_bundle_unboxing_20180429f

Very little could "hold up" to the previous pack! Some fun for this one, though, includes the Rat Colony, which I definitely want to build a deck around. I built my first "Rat Deck" back in July 1995, when the only rats in the entire game were Plague Rats, Pestilence Rats, and Bog Rats. I even had to use Vampire Bats to flesh the deck out a bit, reasoning that bats were "rats with wings." Since this new Rat Colony allows one to have any number of it in a deck…for purely casual play, I don’t even need any other rats. Just load up with this, have some support spells, and basic lands, and voila!

This pack gives me a new token as well, with the Cleric. I’ve got plenty-ish of the Saproling and Knight tokens (verrrry glad I had not ordered any Saprolings online.

I’m not overly keen on lands as the rare card I a pack…but at least the Cabal Stronghold is new-to-me!

Rare: Cabal Stronghold


Pack #6:

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This pack has a couple of cards for my inevitable "Fungus Deck" from the set. Fungal Infection essentially deals a damage while also generating a Saproling; while Sporecrown Thallid gives +1/+1 to Saproling and other Fungus creatures.

Aryel, Knight of Windgrace will be a nice addition for a "Knights deck."

And look–another foil! Shiny…

I’m a bit amused at the art for Arcane Flight…perhaps simply the ridiculousness of a cat sprouting wings and taking flight. Talk about a nightmare for birds!

Rare: Aryel, Knight of Windgrace


Pack #7:

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Not much to stand out for this pack. Jaya’s Immolating Inferno definitely has a lotta potential in a Red deck, and definitely makes me want to get Jaya herself all the more!

Rare: Jaya’s Immolating Inferno


Pack #8:

dominaria_bundle_unboxing_20180429i

The timing for getting the Dread Shade here was good…I’d just been reading part of the serialized fiction on WotC‘s website that had characters pondering facing one of these. So that makes for a "fun" pull. Also cool to get Llanowar anything for the nostalgia (though I’d prefer the "classic" Llanowar Elves by name–another card in this set, but not this booster).

This pack also yields my first Knight of Grace, which is a counterpart to the Knight of Malice, and I look forward to using them in a "Knights deck."

Rare: Dread Shade


Pack #9:

dominaria_bundle_unboxing_20180429j

Here’s another fun pack! For one, Traxos, Scourge of Kroog is a card I liked the look of and was definitely interested in! I believe it’s basically a dragon engine…regardless, it puts me in mind of them, which is a great bit of nostalgia.

After just marveling at my first Knight of Grace, this pack had another one. Better yet, this time in the same pack I also got the Knight of Malice. Nice little pairing, there!

And this pack has another Token I hadn’t realized existing: Jaya‘s Emblem, I believe from her "main" Planeswalker ability. Now that I have this…definitely want the actual card all the more!

(Note for this photo: I had Traxos on the Black pile rather than the Artifacts pile. Oops!)

Rare: Traxos, Scourge of Kroog


Pack #10:

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Final pack of the box, last one to get anything "good!"

And…not much of interest for me in terms of opening-the-pack excitement. I believe the saga card The Mending of Dominaria is new to me; but it didn’t really live up to the "potential" that a "final pack" COULD have had.

I don’t think I’d particularly noted if I got any of the other ones, but I’ve realized/am guessing that the handful of cards with the "planeswalker" symbol watermark (like seen above on Final Parting) denote key "story moments" for the set.

Based on an "ad card" (backside of a token) there’d been something about "following the story" that referenced several cards including Final Parting; one of which is either a holdover or a "spoiler" for the set’s serialized story!

Rare: The Mending of Dominaria


The Rares:

dominaria_bundle_unboxing_20180429l

Ten boosters, 11 rares…the "extra" being a Mythic Rare…not bad!

And of course, beyond simply being 10 boosters…the bundle came with a "spindown counter" (20-sided die/D20 with the Dominaria set symbol as the "20"), a pack of 80 or so basic lands (which’ll be quite handy for building decks!) as well as a "fancy" storage box that I really like the art for.

Given the price of the bundle’s basically the same as buying 10 individual boosters…I’m liking the bundle better for the "extras" it comes with…and that it seems like each bundle has a Mythic Rare in it, plus several foils.


Favorite Pull of the Bunch:

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And of course, for "rarity" as well as just being a really pretty Blue/Red card combined with the foil effect, and being a character I was interested in getting from the start, Jhoira, Weatherlight Captain is my favorite pull of the bundle!

While I "suspect" there’s a fair bit of "value" to the card as a foil of a Mythic Rare…I figure the "sentimental value" is enough for me to hang onto the card. I pulled her from a booster, and how many Mythic Rare foils are there really out there like this? (other than specially-packaged Planeswalker Deck cards)

For me…this card is extra-unique in/for my collection.


That’s that for now… ten boosters in a bundle; the bundle now "unboxed!"

It’s cool that the Dominaria set came out RIGHT as I was getting pulled back into the game/story/etc. Even if just feeding the OCD and money I shouldn’t really spend…this was a worthwhile purchase for the time, and likely future time actually going through the cards, deckbuilding, and hopefully actually playing the game.

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Revisiting The Brothers’ War – a Magic: The Gathering novel

I pulled this off my shelf a few weeks ago after re-reading some of the earliest Armada Magic: The Gathering comics. (The Shadow Mage, Ice Age, Fallen Empires, and Antiquities War). Something about the Antiquities War mini-series reminded me of the acknowledgements in the novel to prior versions of the story of The Brothers’ War. And rediscovering that the comics left the “whole story” incomplete–Armada only got to publish 2/3 of their planned arc for the story–my interest was reignited.

A few years ago, I read Time Spiral, the first book in a trilogy of novels covering that block of Magic: The Gathering card sets; part of what really drew me in was that it revisited the world of Dominaria, which seemed to have been largely left behind after the Invasion block. And not really having read any of the books since Apocalypse, I was interested in seeing where Dominaria had wound up.

Anyway, The Brothers’ War.

This is easily one of my favorite books of all time–this is at least the third, maybe the fourth or fifth time I’ve read the novel cover to cover…something I do very rarely and with so few books.

This came out in 1998 or so, kicking off a huge line of MTG novels from Wizards of the Coast. There’d been another line of MTG novels (published through HarperPrism) several years earlier–but those were (for the most part) generic fantasy novels with the MTG “branding.” This line provided the actual story of the cards, the continuity of the game itself.

At least with the early MTG expansions, as WotC was world-building and beginning to pull everything together into one continuity (albeit across a multiverse), everything came back to the war between Urza and Mishra. Much of the detail was vague and loose–but what was clear was that a conflict between these brothers had caused much destruction and deeply impacted their world. An unnatural ice age actually descended on the world after the conflict, and the world itself was cut off from the multiverse for centuries.

But this novel went back to the beginning–Urza and Mishra as young boys, arriving at Tocasia’s school, where they began learning of artifacts and the Thran (an ancient civilization). They grew into the school–Mishra learning of the Fallaji, a desert-dwelling people while Urza focused on his inventions. Eventually, they visit an ancient cave, where they discover intact Thran artifacts, and are introduced to Phyrexia–a plane of living machines. They also each gain a half of an incredibly powerful Power Crystal. Mishra’s becomes known as the “Weakstone” as it can weaken artifacts while Urza’s becomes known as the “Mightstone” as it strengthens them and brings life to the machines.

From there, the brothers each covet the other’s half, leading to a rivalry that lasts the rest of their lives as the entire world eventually pays an astronomical cost for the brothers’ jealousy. Their rivalry results in the death of their teacher, sending the boys onto their own individual paths: Mishra into the desert where he becomes a part of the Fallaji, while Urza returns to “civilization” and marries into royalty. Eventually rising to top levels of government in each culture, the brothers have immense resources to throw at each other, draining the world’s resources in the process, until the only thing left is destruction.

The novel’s story is told in sections, each encapsulating a period of years in the brothers’ lives. All told, the novel spans over 60 years, following the brothers from being young boys into old age; a lifetime of conflict. Structurally, I find it interesting to see stories that do span characters’ entire lifetime (or the majority of it)…something to it seems more interesting and complete to me than just continuous stories all bunched into a small span of time.

This story also seeds the foundation of stories to come, as we are introduced to a number of prominent concepts that play out across much of the Magic: The Gathering continuity. We’re also introduced to some core concepts from the cards–getting backstory on prominent cards and locations, nicely “transforming” the source material into essentially adaptation material; that is, the book’s story draws from concepts set forth in the cards, but does so in such a way that the cards then can seem like they were adapted instead from the book.

This book is marked as the first volume of the Artifacts Cycle, but it truly stands alone as a self-contained story. There’s no “to be continued” or traditional-cliffhanger sort of ending. The end does leave an opening to transition into the larger MTG continuity, but you’d pretty much have to know where it goes to truly pick up on that; even knowing it myself, it’s a bit of a disconnect, like taking a standalone movie and then 15/20 years later making a sequel. The sequel can work and validly pick up the story, but the sequel is far from any sort of “essential” to the original.

For a 1998 book–now 14ish years old–this held up remarkably well. This could have been written in 2012 if I didn’t know any better. This has been reprinted in a “trade paperback”-sized edition combined with another early MTG book, The Thran. While I would definitely love to have a standard-sized hardback of just this novel, I’m not terribly interested in the “collected edition.”

What also proved surprising (and very disappointing) for me was that this book is NOT currently (late October 2012) available as an ebook. Perhaps I’m an extreme minority, but I would gladly have paid the $6-$8 for a nook-book edition, for the convenience of re-reading this on my phone’s nook app. Instead, I spent 4-5 weeks carrying my 1998 mass-market paperback edition around, which of late has been a less than ideal prospect.

I’m fairly tempted to re-read several of the other books from this series, though I lack (by far) the kind of time TO read that I had in late high school and early college. Honestly, the primary drawback is that these are not ebooks–if they were available that way, I’d be further tempted with the ability to buy/download them and have them on my phone, to jump into “whenever” spur of the moment.

If you’re into fantasy–even if you don’t care a lick about Magic: The Gathering the card game or anything from the past 10 years from MTG in general, this is well worth reading. For me, it’s been worth reading at least three times, and I enjoyed it as much now as I did in 1998 and 1999, with a number of scenes and “moments” having stuck with me that I’d forgotten came from this book.

MTG

Revisiting Fallen Empires on the World of Magic: The Gathering

Full post at FantasyRantz.wordpress.com.

A 2012 look at Acclaim/Armada‘s 2-issue mini-series from 1995 that detailed events during the Fallen Empires setting of Magic: The Gathering.

Ice Age on the World of Magic: The Gathering Revisited


Full post at FantasyRantz.wordpress.com
.

A 2012 look at Acclaim/Armada‘s 4-issue mini-series from 1995 that detailed the world and history of the Ice Age setting of Magic: The Gathering.

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