Lore and Order - Going Back to Theros : Part 3
The main Magic story is made up of planeswalkers, able to travel between the worlds and bring a connection between different card sets, but once within a world, the story creators aren’t limited to the planeswalkers for their characters. As Theros’ story developed, so did the cast.
The Love Story
It’s a tale as old as time, and no Greek-inspired world would be complete without a love story running through the centre of it. Here, the central character is Daxos of Meletis, a young oracle whose life is intrinsically linked with Elspeth’s. He’s there when she first comes to Theros as a young girl, and he joins her once more to become her lover for the rest of the tale.
His life is woven with the Gods too; an oracle of Heliod and the mortal loved by Nylea, Daxos stands at the centre of the action.
All of this means it’s not entirely great that Elspeth kills him.
Like the love story, a war is needed to drive the tale on! With little nods to the famous tale of Troy, a siege is laid upon the city of Akros. On one side are minotaurs driven to conflict by the machinations of Xenagos, and on the other are the soldier humans, driven to action by the, umm, machinations of Xenagos!
Ah yes, playing the humble servant on one side and the violent tyrant on the other, Xenagos weaves his own tapestry, causing a war as a focus of power and eventual night of revelry. After all, what are the winning side going to do but party and play in thanks?
It’s a strange need he has, and one that will get him ascended unto godhood.
It is important that these events aren’t too heavily influenced by the Gods - after all, what point is a mortal conflict if a celestial being can just reach down a hand and set things right? But they are consigned to Nyx, for a period which the mortals refer to as ‘The Silence’. That’s all sorted, then!
Weaving mechanics and story - the route to Xenagos’ ascension
From chroma to devotion
Mark Rosewater has spent the majority of the last twenty years giving us a look at the behind the scenes world of Magic creation, and if you are going to talk constantly about something for twenty years, chances are you start repeating yourself and stories that were once an interesting anecdote become a well known snippet. Such is the case with devotion, but for those who haven’t heard the tale or need a quick recap:
In Eventide, the design team tried out a mechanic called ‘chroma’ and it was an abject failure. Even though there were some decent cards, like Light from Within, for example, the chroma mechanic was considered confusing and didn’t really gel with anyone. It was consigned to the junk pile.
Reworked and rebranded as ‘devotion’, the chroma mechanic really shone. It did exactly what it needed to, which was to cement the idea that the Gods depended on the worship of their people in order to manifest themselves - or indeed to have any power at all.
Devoted to Xenagos
Ascending himself to godhood then, was a matter of devotion for Xenagos. The great king of revellers, his orchestration of a war and subsequent feasting for the victors was enough chaos and power to break through the ceiling of Nyx and propel him to the stars. While it was a little erratically written by Jenna Helland in her book, Journey into Nyx, the feel of the moment fought its way through and the planeswalker-to-God moment was complete. Not that it wasn’t with a bump or two in the road on the way.
Back to New Phyrexia
I love this card:
Back many years ago, I was a big fan of a turn one Dark Ritual into Phyrexian Negator, so the homage to that 5/5 craziness with the downside made all upside was fantastic. Sure, it lost the whole three-mana-turn-one aspect, but it kept the rest. What a scary beast (plus, bonus points for devotion, happily enough!).
In the moments directly prior to his rise, Xenagos goes after Elspeth in a cruel way. There’s a little mental take over (yes, far more blue mana than red/green but we have to allow some artistic license) and he throws our heroine into a nightmare of her own making where she imagines herself being hunted and attacked by an obliterator. Desperate to defend herself, she strikes out both in her mind and in Theros itself, and that’s when she kills Daxos. Yes, it’s an accident. A tragic one. Very Greek.
Ashiok weaving nightmares?
Jenna missed a beat here. Surely, surely, it isn’t Xenagos messing with minds and causing nightmares here but the other Theros planeswalker who seems to have no part in the storyline. Couldn’t it be that Ashiok sees fit to help the satyr in his strive for immortality and chooses to be the conductor for the whole Elspeth/Daxos tragedy?
Couldn’t it? I hope it’s just due to deadline issues or another real-world need that meant the blue/black planeswalker didn’t get his moment here, even though the moment did.
Either way, we’re going to see a lot more from Ashiok soon!
Dealing with a new God (and an angry pantheon)
Xenagos doesn’t even get time to pat himself on the back before the combined forces for good and order are after him. Elspeth, miserable after the death of her lover, runs off only to run into the waiting arms of Ajani who seems to be visiting his longtime friend the King of Oreskos. With a friend onside, Elspeth shakes off the blues for a little while and together they decide to go to Nyx and wreak revenge on Xenagos. Remember, Elspeth is still running around with a spear made by the Gods, so she’s equipped for it.
God’s End or God Send?
The word play on the weapon is great, and though it is referred to as Godsend throughout as ‘sent by the Gods’ it’s hard to miss the fact that it is going to be used to end a God. Cute.
Journey to Nyx
Xenagos went the long way around. Elspeth and Ajani spend little to no time in determining the route that will do what everyone says is impossible, and physically take them into the constellations. There’s a bit of an adventure on the way, involving Thassa, Kiora (yes, she’s around too, so gets a quick mention), and Callaphe who is described as ‘the mariner’ and is meant to have the knowledge of how to get into Nyx.
Only Callaphe isn’t Callaphe, it’s Kiora in disguise. At least, it is here. Plus, I don’t think Thassa particularly likes either of them... Hmm... Never mind, it’s all pretty skippable as the important part is that Elspeth and Ajani manage to get themselves to Nyx.
Erebos and the Underworld
Elspeth is depressed. All the poor woman wants is a peaceful life and everything seems to conspire to get in her way. She’s spent a life running from (and fighting) phyrexians, she’s killed her lover, she’s blamed for all the woes of Theros and now she has to fight a God.
Erebos is the God of Despair, so it’s little wonder Elspeth turns to him.
“I’ll do a deal,” she sort of says, “let me into Nyx, let me kill Xenegos, and then when I’m done you can have me if (and only if) you release Daxos back to the world of the living.”
What a martyr!
“Sure,” says Erebos, “sounds good.”
Let’s face it; he has his fingers crossed behind his back. They don’t call him ‘liar’ for nothing.
Fight! Fight! Fight!
Elspeth with a little help from Ajani and Nylea manages to kill Xenagos, but not without sustaining some rib-cracking injuries herself. As the God-for-a-minute leaves the stage, Elspeth collapses onto Ajani who needs to bring her back to the mortal realm before she dies. Except she isn’t going to die, because it’s just a few busted bones.
The whims of Gods
It wouldn’t be a Greek tale without the final chapter bringing us full circle to the petty ways of the Gods. Enter Heliod from stage left, determined to have the final word. “You know too much,” he says, and kills Elspeth just like that. It seems she was destined to be sent to the underworld no matter what. Still, at least Erebos has to keep his promise and release Daxos.
Only he’s a sly one and though we see Daxos once more in the waking world, he’s one of the Returned, a soul-less Theros zombie.
Crafting the Greek set
As the players take their final bow, it’s easy to see once more just how much effort has gone into making Theros ooze Ancient Greece. The story plays out like many of the myths and legends of that time, and the characters exhibit similar traits. Gods are all-powerful and whimsical while still being very human in character, humans are flawed and devoted, monsters are monstrous and the world is filled with wonder.
It’s not just a good set for flavour; it’s an amazing set, where even the flaws seem intentional.
And it’s been too long since we last visited.
I can almost smell the boosters. There are only hours left between this writing and the first games of Theros Beyond Death. Our favourite characters are back with Elspeth, Daxos, Polukranos, Heliod and Erebos all stepping forward once more, the starfield of Nyx is back in the sky and it’s all steeped in the gorgeous flavour of Ancient Greece - fantastic!
And don’t be surprised if we start to hear a little more of the Phyrexians...