Into the Wilds…
I’ve been tossing up whether to start this article with either “Once upon a time” or “A long time ago”. Yeah, fairly obvious or even corny openers given the plane of Eldraine is based on fairy tales, but for some reason neither quite seem to fit. This is our second visit here and the events taking place are quite fresh and recent – kicking off a new phase in the ever-evolving mythos of Magic: the Gathering.
Wilds of Eldraine takes us away from the Arthurian-inspired royal courts that were the main focus of the previous set Throne of Eldraine, and delves into the wilds beyond where dwell faeries, giants, and wicked witches.
This set is the first in a new major story arc, the 4th in modern Magic’s history. The three previous arcs dealt with different story antagonists – the Eldrazi, Nicol Bolas, and the Phyrexians respectively, so we don’t yet know who we’re up against this time around.
The previous standard set March of the Machine was the culmination of the Phyrexian arc. In it, the Phyrexians simultaneously invaded almost every plane in the Multiverse, including Eldraine; but ended up being defeated – thanks mainly to the hubris of the white praetor Elesh Norn.
In his article about the mini-expansion March of the Machine: The Aftermath, head designer Mark Rosewater notes that there were many impacts from the failed invasion, but the two biggest are that:
- Most Planeswalkers lost their spark, and
- There are now Omenpaths allowing non-planeswalkers to travel between planes.
“Before the Mending, there were planar portals (a rarity in most cases) that allowed non-Planeswalkers to move between planes. The Mending changed that and shut down all the portals (save the Planar Bridge, but even that couldn’t transport living tissue). The Phyrexian invasion—with the use of the Invasion Tree—has opened up Omenpaths (formerly only on Kaldheim) between many of the planes.
Now, the Omenpaths can vary quite a bit. Some can be tiny, some huge. Some permanent, some temporary. Some stable, some moving. They present a great risk for non-Planeswalkers, as there’s no promise of a way back. And not every plane is connected to every other plane, so some trips can be quite a journey. All that said, traveling between planes is no longer limited to Planeswalkers.”
Story Time – Part 1
The story for Wilds of Eldraine kicks off with 2 newly desparked Planeswalkers. Will and Rowan Kenrith just managed to return in time from the academy of Strixhaven on the plane of Arcavios back to their home plane Eldraine before losing their sparks.
Their parents – the high King and Queen – lost their lives battling the Phyrexian invaders, so as heirs to the realm, they start working towards reuniting the shattered courts. However, it doesn’t take long for them to begin having differences of opinion on the best way to re-unite the court.
While the Royal Courts bore the brunt of the Phyrexian Invasion, Talion, Lord of the Fae worked with 3 of the realm’s strongest witches to create a powerful curse: the Wicked Slumber. Fortunately for the denizens of Eldraine, this ultimately proved to be the most effective weapon in the battle, saving many lives. Unfortunately for the denizens of Eldraine, when the Phyrexians were defeated and the invasion ended the curse did not – it continued to spread.
The other major thread of the storyline sees the Fae-Lord Talion realises their error and summon a young villager named Kellen to offer a bargain – go on a quest in exchange for a boon. The quest? To locate and destroy the three witches who helped him create the Wicked Slumber.
Kellen accepts, and with the help of some friends he meets along the way manages to push the witch Agatha into her cauldron, thaws the witch Hylda’s frozen heart and recovers her icy crown, and then converges with both Rowan and Will for the final showdown with the third witch, Erriete of the Charmed Apple.
An Artistic Interlude
In the leadup to the release of Wilds of Eldraine, WOTC invited a few journalists in the Asia Pacific region to attend an artist summit, featuring Magali Villinueve and Artistic Director Deborah Garcia.
Magali was one of a handful of artists involved in the concept push, putting together a world guide that was used as a reference for the other artists working on the set.
Deborah didn’t originally start on Wilds but saw it to completion after being handed the reins from the previous artistic director Andrew Vallis.
Megali is an incredibly talented artist who has done quite a number of pieces for Magic the Gathering in her approximately 10 years working for Wizards of the Coast. Checking on Scryfall returns 199 unique cards, though some of those cards use the same art in different ways. Her portraiture work is probably her specialty though she certainly isn’t limited to that, as evidenced by her work on the saga “The Hunstman’s Redemption” (left).
It was really interesting to hear about the art design directly from some of the people responsible. It has caused me to pay a lot more attention to pieces in the set than I possibly otherwise would have. If you get a chance to do the same, keep an eye out for the common worldbuilding themes like the purple haze of the Wicked Slumber or signs of the scars left by the Phyrexian Invasion.
Story Time – Part 2
The final chapter of the Wilds of Eldraine story takes place at Castle Ardenvale, the ruined former seat of the High King Kenrith. Here we find the story’s antagonists gathered – the witch Erriete, her new apprentice Rowan Kenrith, a small army of knights being controlled through the Wicked Slumber, and someone who apparently has been pulling the strings behind the scenes – the planeswalker Ashiok, who unlike the twins managed to pull through the “Desparkening” intact.
At the end of the day, it’s the antagonists – Will Kenrith and Kellan – who manage to gain the upper hand. Rowan escapes, Ashiok planewalks away, and Erriete is captured. Briefly. This skirmish is obviously just the opening act of a much larger engagement.
As the story draws to a close, we find out a little bit more about Kellan, who is going to play a larger role in the upcoming storyline.
Rather than drawing on the boon granted by Talion, he returns to his mother and asks about who his father really is. Surprise twist – it’s actually Oko, the fae planeswalker who caused so much disruption in Throne of Eldraine (both in the story and in gameplay). So when an Omenpath appears before Kellan, he doesn’t really think twice about jumping through.
Archetypicial Faerie Tales
Wilds of Eldraine features draft archetypes that are based around 10 different fairy tales, one for each of the colour pairs.
- Beauty and the Beast – Green/White – Enchantments and auras.
- Cinderella – Red/White – Aggro, based around the new keyword Celebration, which gives benefits for playing two or more permanents each turn.
- Hansel and Gretel – Black/Green – Food themed creatures and food token interactions.
- Jack and the Bean Stalk – Green/Blue – Cards with Mana Value > 5.
- Little Red Riding Hood – Red/Green: Creatures with power > 4.
- Pied Piper of Hamelin – Black/Red – Rat Token Aggro.
- Sleeping Beauty – Blue/Black – Faeries and life drain.
- Snow White – White/Black – Sacrifice subthemes, including the new keyword Bargain where you get an improved spell effect if you sacrifice something.
- The Sorcerer’s Apprentice – Blue/Red – Instants and Sorceries.
- The Snow Queen – White/Blue – Tapping and stunning your opponent’s creature
Each of the colour pairs has a sign-post uncommon legend who is the protaganist of their tale and who embodies the theme. Here are a few of them, including one who has been on his own journey through an Omenpath:
There is so much more I could talk about – the new and returning mechanics, different frame treatments available, the new Enchanting Tales cards… But the set has been out for several weeks now, and I’m sure you’ve already seen most of what’s on offer. I’ll leave you with some different variants of one of the denizens of Eldraine who is probably one of my personal faves of the set…
Thanks to the local team at Double Jump and of course Wizards of the Coast for providing us with the cards and a truly fairy tale-esque event for us to try them out amongst other Magic lovers.
You can find out more about the Wilds of Eldraine here.