Teferi: Behind the Magic

Posted in Card Preview on June 12, 2020

By Magic Creative Team

Teacher. Student. Traveler. Father. Time mage. Planeswalker. From attending classes at the Tolarian Academy to saving the Multiverse as a member of the Gatewatch, Teferi has lived a long and fascinating life—one that's stretched over 1,200 years. Using a bit of time magic of our own, we were able to secure interviews with key figures from throughout Teferi's storied history. What makes Teferi . . . Teferi? Let's find out. This is Behind the Magic.

THE TOLARIAN ACADEMY

To call Teferi a gifted child would be like calling Karn a talented paperweight. His magical potential was so great that he was recruited as a member of one of the first classes of the Tolarian Academy. Founded by the Planeswalker Urza and the master wizard Barrin, the Academy was created for the purpose of fostering a generation of elite mages capable of standing up to the looming Phyrexian threat. They needed powerful, disciplined students. Which isn't exactly what they found in Teferi.

We sat down with Barrin, one of the co-founders of the Tolarian Academy.

BEHIND THE MAGIC: It's a pleasure to have you here, sir.

BARRIN: Yes, yes. What did you want to talk about? I'm busy today. Also, every day.

BTM: We had some questions about your student, Teferi.

BARRIN: You mean my ex-student, Teferi?

Barrin rubs his temples.

BARRIN: Very well. Ask away, but make it quick.

BTM: What kind of student was Teferi?

BARRIN: Smart kid. A bit of a prankster. Arrogant, but with the brilliance to back it up. Genius, even. I haven't seen so much raw talent in one place since . . . well, do not tell him I said this, but some day he could surpass even Urza. Did you know that in his first week here, he created a spell that no one on the staff had ever seen before?

BTM: Teferi did? If he has such a brilliant mind, then why is he an ex-student?

BARRIN: Creating a new spell is one thing. Using that spell to sneak thousands of gnat eggs into your instructor's office so they all hatch at once is quite another. Of course, that was another magical breakthrough, so I can't help but laud him for that, despite any other feelings I may have. But the fact of the matter is traditional education is not right for everyone. He'll teach himself more than any professor here.

BTM: So, he was expelled?

BARRIN: I won't go into the exact details, but later, after years of similarly challenging events, Teferi went into Urza's office a student of the Academy and left his own man. Whether he quit or was expelled is frankly not your business, and I wish only the best of luck to my most frustrating and favorite pupil.

BTM: Thank you for your time.

BARRIN: Yes, it is quite valuable.

Although he left the Academy, Teferi had learned (and taught himself) enough to become a powerful time mage. When he returned to his homeland of Zhalfir, located in Jamuraa, he quickly became a royal mage of the Zhalfirin court. As his power and influence grew, he used it to conduct risky experiments related to time magic and phasing—until one of them went horribly wrong. But instead of disaster, something else struck in its stead. Something inside of him activated. A Spark ignited. Teferi had become a Planeswalker.

THE MIRAGE WAR

Teferi was elated about his newfound power. He could escalate his experiments even further, doing whatever it takes to find a way to defeat the Phyrexians. He left his position as court mage and retreated to a hidden island where he could work in earnest. And his work began, indeed. With his enhanced magical powers, Teferi made breakthrough after breakthrough, discovering more and more things about the nature of time magic. Then, one day, he and every other living object on his island phased out of existence and disappeared.

This was the inciting event for one of the longest and bloodiest wars in the history of Jamuraa. The magic of Teferi's spell attracted three powerful individuals: Mangara of Corondor, Kaervek of the Burning Isles, and Jolrael of the Mwonvuli Jungle. We talked to Mangara about what happened next.

Mangara, the Diplomat | Art by: Howard Lyon

BEHIND THE MAGIC: Thank you so much for joining us, Mangara.

MANGARA: Please, the pleasure is all mine. Would you like some tea?

BTM: Uh, this is our studio, so I don't—oh, he has conjured some tea. I'm good but . . . it looks like our sound guy will take some. Here you go, Jeff. Wow, they don't call you the Diplomat for nothing.

MANGARA: This? A simple hospitality spell—think nothing of it. Now, what shall we talk about together?

BTM: What happened that day on Teferi's Isle?

MANGARA: Ah, yes. I was having some tea, much like I am now, and I felt the strangest thing. A spell of massive proportions that seemed to call to me. So, I finished my cup, and I traveled to the source of the feeling. And the island, when I arrived, was completely barren. No trees, no grass, not even the smallest insect. It was utterly deserted. At the same time, two other powerful mages arrived. There was Jolrael, the empress of beasts, a woman who lived alone in the jungle, residing in a palace of her own construction with only animal servants to keep her company. The other mage was Kaervek, a man with dark ambitions and powerful enough allies in Urborg to back them up. The three of us were perplexed by what had happened here. None of us had met Teferi yet, so we knew nothing of his experiments. We all agreed to settle nearby in Jamuraa and investigate the island together. It could have been such a fruitful partnership.

BTM: I understand that Jamuraa didn't provide the ideal working conditions for you.

MANGARA: Oh, it was challenging. I was trying to focus on unraveling Teferi's spell, but there were all these wars happening. So, I did the sensible thing and negotiated peace between all the nations of Jamuraa.

BTM: All of them?

MANGARA: Every last one. Of course, Kaervek took offense. He was planning on conquering them, the sly dog, so my peace was rather inconvenient. He convinced Jolrael—who was unused to the deceptions of man, what with living in the jungle alone and all. He convinced Jolrael that I was a conqueror, not a peacemaker, and together they sealed me away in a prison of amber.

Kaervek, the Spiteful | Art by: Daarken

BTM: Excuse me?

MANGARA: I was rather shocked, myself. But this isn't about me, this is about Teferi. Let's skip forward a bit. War wages for some time, and then poof, Teferi and all the living creatures of his island reappear as if they never left. I'm still in amber, but Jolrael, who has realized she was being tricked, goes to the returned Teferi to ask for help.

Jolrael, Mwonvuli Recluse | Art by: Izzy

MANGARA: Made cautious by his recent failure, Teferi is nervous to leave his experiments untended lest they cause more trouble. He's stuck on the island and can't intervene directly. So, what does the man do? In a move I would describe as absolute genius, Teferi decides to send visions to the leaders of Jamuraa to guide the war to its close. A masterful tactic! The leaders follow his instructions, I am freed, I trap Kaervek in the amber which is just a delicious bit of irony if you ask me, and the war is over.

BTM: Did you spend some time with Teferi afterward? What can you tell us about the man?

MANGARA: I met him once the war died down and we sat and spoke a while. He deflected with humor, as I understand is his nature, but I saw a man slowly becoming acquainted with the idea of greatness. Few expect to be gifted with godlike powers, and fewer still can handle it well. I think, in time, he will grow into his abilities and change the world for the better.

BTM: Thank you for your insight.

MANGARA: Call, and I will answer.

Time marched inexorably onwards, as it is wont to do, and Dominaria's greatest fear came to pass: the Phyrexians were preparing to invade. The Planeswalker Urza had long prepared for this moment, and Teferi had a part to play. Let's hear it from the man himself.

Teferi's Tutelage | Art by: Ilse Gort

TEFERI: You're really doing a whole . . . thing about me? I mean, I'm flattered, but . . . oh, it started?

Teferi clears his throat.

TEFERI: I am Teferi, the greatest mage of all time. Just kidding. I mean, I am Teferi, but I'm not that Teferi anymore, if you catch my meaning.

BTM: You've mellowed out with age.

Teferi laughs.

TEFERI: Exactly. I learned a smidge of humility in my 1,200 years.

BTM: 1,200 years can change a person.

TEFERI: Exactly.

BTM: We do want to talk about something that happened a long time ago. When you were a little more, say, overly confident.

TEFERI: I see where this is going. Well, which one is it?

BTM: The Phyrexian Invasion.

TEFERI: Oof. The Invasion. Not my proudest moment, but I'd rather you hear it from me than someone else.

BTM: Tell us what happened.

TEFERI: Well, we all knew it was coming. Urza and Barrin had been preparing for it for a very long time, and I was privy to some of their plans.

BTM: You kept in touch after the Academy?

TEFERI: Of course. I was very close to both of them. Did you talk to—

BTM: We talked to Barrin.

TEFERI: That old coot. I still haven't lived as long as he did, and I'm ancient. I'm sure he had nothing but nice things to say about me.

BTM: A beacon of positivity.

TEFERI: Mmm. When the Invasion began, I was assembling Zhalfir's defenses with my former classmate Jhoira. Then Urza arrived, demanding I aid him in his plan to save Dominaria . . . at any cost. That cost had already destroyed Benalia—I was not going to let him sacrifice Zhalfir.

BTM: What happened?

TEFERI: The Phyrexians were closing in on my homeland, and Urza had plans elsewhere that needed Phyrexia distracted . . . and Zhalfir was the bait. So, I did what I felt I had to and phased Zhalfir out of existence. The entire nation. I could not allow my people to fight and die at Yawgmoth's hands. Metaphorically speaking, I don't think Yawgmoth had hands, more like smoky black tendrils.

Then I went over to Shiv, and I did the same thing. Phased it out of existence. To protect them.

BTM: To protect Jhoira's homeland?

TEFERI: It was many people's homeland.

BTM: So what happened next?

TEFERI: Well, and this is one of the greatest regrets of my life, I left. It took all of my power to phase both nations, and I had nothing left to use against the Phyrexians, so I left. If I was the man I was today, I would have stayed and fought no matter what, but I wasn't, so I didn't.

BTM: One could argue that this lingering regret is part of what makes you the man you are today.

TEFERI: If they were feeling generous, sure.

Teferi laughs.

TEFERI: No, you're absolutely right. It drives a lot of my decisions, these days. But I'm sure you're wondering how I brought Zhalfir and Shiv back, right?

BTM: Well . . .

TEFERI: Yeah. And here comes my other great regret. Turns out that phasing entire nations out of existence using time magic isn't very healthy for the nature of reality itself. I was so concerned about Urza's arrogance, I hadn't considered my own. Ironic, right? Time rifts started opening up all over Dominaria, and I had to sacrifice my Spark to bring Shiv back and seal the rifts.

BTM: And Zhalfir?

TEFERI: Zhalfir . . . it's still out there, somewhere. Its people . . . my people are still out there, somewhere. Someday Zhalfir shall be restored by my hand.

BTM: So, you lost your Spark and were no longer a Planeswalker. What did you do?

TEFERI: I hate to say it, but I hid. I was accused of wiping out an entire country, and for all intents and purposes that was the truth. I couldn't hold myself up as a public figure, even if I wanted to. My powers were a fragment of what they had been, but centuries of time magic ensured that I would age extremely slowly. I wandered Jamuraa, a castaway on the seas of time.

BTM: How did you find purpose again?

TEFERI: Like so many others before me, I found solid ground in the arms of a loved one. In my travels, I met a woman named Subira. She was a caravan leader, head of the oldest caravan in Jamuraa—it's existed in some form since before even I was born. Subira's wit was as sharp as Talruum crystal, and twice as lethal if she chose to turn it on you. Although when I met her, she did think I was a murderer, but once I convinced her I didn't casually kill people, we got along great.

Subira, Tulzidi Caravanner | Art by: Leesha Hannigan

TEFERI: I decided to travel with the caravan for a week, and that week became a month, and that month was the happiest month of my entire life. We were wed soon after that, and had many simple, happy years. We had an incredible daughter, Niambi who reminds me so much of her mother. But, I . . . miss her terribly. You know, I think this is a good time to take a break.

BTM: I agree. Thank you for sharing so much with us.

Teferi the all-powerful Planeswalker. Teferi the family man. These two identities are so disparate, it can be hard to see how they belong to the same person. We've heard much about the former, so we contacted Teferi's daughter Niambi to hear about the latter.

Niambi, Esteemed Speaker

NIAMBI: What kind of father was Teferi? I couldn't ask for a greater man. He is kind, understanding, and finds joy in every facet of the world.

BTM: What was your childhood like? Did he have to keep the family hidden?

NIAMBI: No, no. It was nothing like that. It was long enough that few recognize him, as long as he uses a different name. My mother and father left the caravan and settled down long enough to have me. Sadly, my mother's heart belonged to the road most of all, and she returned to the caravan when I was very young. She visited as often as she could, but my father is the one who raised me.

BTM: How did Teferi feel about his wife's absence?

NIAMBI: It never seemed to bother him much, or at least he didn't let it show. I believe that he has seen countless people come and go in his many years and was able to appreciate that she still came back. They loved each other until she passed, this I know.

BTM: Did Teferi ever tell you stories about his past?

NIAMBI: When I was a child, he told me the most fanciful stories. It wasn't until I was an adult that he told me they were all true. He is a different man than the one in the stories. The memory of Zhalfir haunts him and influences every action he takes.

BTM: You're about 50 years old. Is it odd that your father looks the same age?

NIAMBI: The only odd thing is that I'm the mature one.

Niambi laughs.

NIAMBI: No, watching him barely age for my first 40 years was enough. He could come home an Urborg spirit and I wouldn't bat an eye.

Some fifty years after the birth of his daughter, Teferi's past caught up to him. Jhoira, flying the famed ship Weatherlight, brought him two life-changing surprises. The first was his Spark, captured in a powerstone and ready to be reclaimed. The second was his future comrades—the Gatewatch Planeswalkers Gideon, Liliana, and Chandra. Together, and with the aid of many other Planeswalkers, they would go on to defeat the elder dragon Nicol Bolas and save the Multiverse.

We wanted to sit down with Chandra to ask her some questions about her new colleague, but her schedule was jam-packed. Thankfully, we were able to speak to her for a few minutes while she was at work.

BTM: Chandra, is this a bad time?

CHANDRA: Nah, I'm just battling this giant monster. Why would it be a bad time?

Chandra stands before a large reptilian quadruped, at least three times her height. The battle has raged for a while, now. The monster is singed, and Chandra is beginning to tire out. It seems she may have tired of us before the interview even began.

BTM: We'd like to ask you some questions about Teferi.

CHANDRA: Teferi?

We've caught her interest. Unfortunately, at the same time, the monster catches her with a giant scaled tail right in the ribs. Chandra is flung back. She turns to us.

CHANDRA: Just one moment.

She turns back to the monster, eyes (and hair) blazing.

CHANDRA: I'm in the middle of an interview!

Chandra raises her hands, releasing a primal wave of flame that engulfs the monster. A high-pitched squeal fills the air, not entirely dissimilar to a boiling lobster. When the flames clear, the monster is a charred husk on the ground. Chandra leans against the beast-turned-briquettes, out of breath.

CHANDRA: What . . . did you want to ask . . . about Teferi?

BTM: He's a more recent acquaintance of yours, right? What kind of person is he?

Chandra takes a moment to catch her breath, before launching into a response at high-speed.

CHANDRA: Have you ever met someone and just knew you'd get along? That's how it is with Teferi. He's fun to talk to, and it's so much easier to torch something if he's holding it still. He's kind of like a magic time dad. Do you have any water? I'm parched.

Chandra turns down an imported carbonated water and quickly drains an offered waterskin.

CHANDRA: You know, just the other day he told me I reminded him of himself when he was young. Then he sighed deeply, which was a little worrying, but he seems pretty happy overall. If I live for 1,200 years, I hope I end up like that.

BTM: He's gone through a lot.

CHANDRA: He has, but . . . he's a hero, you know. He won't call himself that, but I saw what he did on Dominaria and I saw what he did on Ravnica. He may have messed up in the past, and I'll let him tell me about that when he's ready, but the man he is today? That's a hero.

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