Lore and Order - Part 8: The Sixth Planeswalker
Following on from Lorwyn block was Shards of Alara. Released in 2009, it was a multi-coloured set that took place on a world split into five shards – each missing the influence of two colours of Magic and embracing the other three.
In terms of Magic storyline, Alara is where the post-Mending, new planeswalkers storyline really kicks off. The holiday that was Lorwyn is very much over.
Of course, the first thing that players wanted was to see the new planeswalkers. Shards of Alara didn’t disappoint:
Smashing the proverbial ball well out of the park, the four new cards gained immediate popularity, both for their significant in-game impact, but also for their stories and flavour.
Tezzeret – Artifact Expert
Immediately creating a second blue planeswalker meant that Wizards had to look at aspects of the colour that weren’t already part of their idea for Jace. Already established as the telepath, with card drawing and milling abilities on his card, Jace had claimed some of the more classic blue traits.
With counterspelling (the other main blue arena) difficult to do with a planeswalker due to the need for instant-speed interaction, Wizards looked to another of blue’s affinities: artifacts.
It made immediate sense. With the story of the blue-centric shard, Esper, centred on artifacts, a planeswalker who interacted with magic objects was perfect.
Mono-blue, but as far from Jace as it was really possible to get.
Born on Esper
The Shard of Esper – it was a world of continued augmentation and physical self-improvement through metal – always in search of perfection. Tezzeret was born here, in the Tidehollow as one of the scrappers – social outcasts and the low life of the elitist society. Discontent to remain downtrodden, Tezzeret strove to become one of the respected Seekers of Carmot.
Sometimes it isn’t enough to strive…
The Force is Strong with This One
Tezzeret’s first story is told in the webcomic The Seekers Fall which was written in 2009 – a good few years before this:
It could be said that any similarities between Tezzeret and Kylo Ren are purely coincidental, but there’s no doubt that some aspects of the wannabe seeker were taken from the most famous lord of the Dark Side – Darth Vader.
From the moment we see Tezzeret and his signature metal arm, the tie to Vader shows up. Here is a young man, crawling his way up from life as a street rat, desperate to show his worth and prove to anyone who will listen that he’s a powerful human who wants to be heard. And he’s got an arm which rather than being natural, is a machine part in a personal search for perfection.
If the references to Anakin Skywalker are too subtle, the parallels in Kylo Ren are unmistakeable. They even lose their temper in a similar way, though Tezzeret is cold in his execution where Kylo Ren shows more red tendencies. At the end of the first chapter of Tezzert’s introductory webcomic, he decapitates his headmaster in a chilling reactionary outburst.
It’s just the sort of thing Star Wars’ latest villain would do, give or take the tantrum.
Only the timing of the two pieces – The Force Awakens being some years behind Shards of Alara – stops me from calling plagiarism on the whole thing. Maybe someone at Wizards should be knocking on Disney’s door.
Like his cinematic alter-egos, Tezzeret will stop at nothing to get what he wants. He fails to impress with his power and so he becomes frustrated and manipulative.
He then teams up with the greatest evil in the multiverse, becoming his right-hand-man (spoiler!).
Darth Tezzeret, indeed.
Despite learning with the Seekers, Tezzeret is never really one of them. Forever outcast, he builds rivalries rather than friendships, especially with Silas Renn, the clear top student in the academy. Obviously loved by players as much as his teachers, years later Silas Renn was eventually depicted on a card, in Commander 2016:
Like Tezzeret, Silas Renn’s skills lie with artifacts – a key trait of the Esper. Unlike Tezzeret, Silas Renn was promoted to be one of the Seekers and obtained all the privilege of rank.
Beaten by Silas, Tezzeret was dismissed by the Esper masters, his skills belittled and his aspirations out of reach. He returns home devastated and needing support from his father but there is nothing to be had from a man who is settled in his position as one of the downtrodden scrappers.
Tezzeret’s conversation with his father leaves him belittled, determined and desperate - a man with little to lose who goes that evening to demand respect from the academy. When he is deemed little more than irrelevant by the headmaster and expelled from the institution, he reacts the only way he knows – with cold violence.
This is the moment where he disconnects the tutor’s head from his body – protecting himself from being expelled and enabling his continued education, such as it is.
Though unsaid, care is taken in the art of the webcomic to depict the headmaster as a true Etherium-enhanced Esperite – there’s no blood to accompany the violent act, merely a nod to the cyborg-esque quality of the seeker.
The Secret of the Seekers
Years later, as Silas attains the rank of Adept, Tezzeret is still in the shadow of his classmate. As part of the ritual, Silas Renn attains his Etherium heart – a significant moment in the young Seeker’s life, and Tezzeret questions his belief in the men he has longed to join.
Determined to learn the truth, the desperate loner barges his way into the secure vault of the seekers, to see the codex that governs them and read the words himself.
Finding nothing there, Tezzeret is enraged. One secret revealed leading to nothing but questions and a desperate sense of betrayal. He has little time to ponder on the situation, however, before the guards burst in and use the situation as a reason to rid themselves of the outcast forever. There’s no sign of ‘reasonable force’ here – they decide to kill Tezzeret without trial.
The resulting fight triggers his spark and his first planeswalk.
Shards of Alara
Unlike most of the other planeswalker stories, Tezzeret doesn’t actually go far on his first ‘walk. Though the scenery is alien to him, it is Grixis, one of the other shards that form Alara, where he finds himself. Weakened from injury and under a new relentless attack by the various denizens of this new world, Tezzeret isn’t going to last long, despite his obvious power and strength.
He fights off a stream of creatures of increasing size and fights his way up an abandoned tower, no doubt seeking sanctuary. There on the roof he successfully blasts away the demon that seriously threatens to bring about his end for about the second time that day, and recovers himself enough to stand victorious on the rooftop.
Which is when Nicol Bolas turns up…
Watching the Action
Telling stories is a lot to do with words. As we sift through the vast history of Magic lore, a great deal of it is down to words.
Every now and then, however, something like this happens:
And all the words in the world can’t quite do it justice.
First of all, there’s the impact. Here’s Bolas, fresh from all that stuff I wrote about at the beginning of the year– this is, in fact, the first time we see him after all that. He’s all massive size and overwhelming power - Tezzeret is there in this shot somewhere but he is diminished to true irrelevance - one of the tiny little marks on the top of that tower!
Then there’s the sheer beauty in the art. It looks almost casual, like it’s somehow still in the sketching stage even though it’s a fully developed and coloured piece. The swirling brushstrokes serve to emphasise the chaotic eddies of the world, and make us wonder if they are part of the nature of Grixis or a reaction to the aura and influence of the dragon himself.
Finally, there’s the subtle behind the scenes brilliance of the choice of artist. This piece (which forms the final panel of Tezzeret’s webcomic introduction, The Seeker’s Fall) is painted by none other than Aleksi Briclot.
Who’s that? I hear you ask.
Well, fellow Magic history afficiando, Aleksi Briclot made his debut to Magic art in the original Ravnica block but it wasn’t until a few years later in Lorwyn, that he rose to Magic art fame – Mr. Briclot illustrated all five of the five Lorwyn planeswalkers, as well as arguably the most famous card from that entire block:
Ah, the insidious nastiness of a faerie sifting through your dreams. It’s like being back on Lorwyn!
So yes, in painting this piece, Aleksi Briclot made his mark on the sixth planeswalker, not content with dominating the first five!
It’s a combination of factors that Magic has managed to get right a number of times over the years, whether through intention or accident, and it’s always a thrill to see.
The entire third act of The Seeker’s Fall is an example on the importance of visuals over the text. There are less than a hundred words scattered through its pages yet the story is told with elegant precision. We have no doubt that Tezzeret is at his very limit when he reaches the parapet, and the arrival of Nicol Bolas marks his eventual defeat and unconditional subservience.
Our wannabe Anakin Skywalker bows to his Darth Sideous.
Slowly but surely, all of the threads begin to intertwine. Tezzeret becomes Nicol Bolas’ right-hand-man (a major irony, given the man’s Etherium adjustments!) and steps out into the multiverse reborn – just as Bolas intimates with his first words. It is a resurrection, and Tezzeret the Esper Seeker really is finished now, to be replaced with something a little darker.
Subsequent cards depicting the artifact-specialist planeswalker have him in Dimir colours – still blue but very much embracing his black side. Of course, this progression in Tezzeret’s story leave Jace, once more, as the sole mono-blue ‘walker.
Well, until Tamiyo, but we’re a long way from that!
For the first time in many years, in 2009 Wizards of the Coast released a Magic novel not directly tied to a Magic set: Agents of Artifice brings together our planeswalker threads, as Tezzeret’s first mission for his new master has him meeting both Jace and Liliana.