The Dominarian Roots of Masters 25

Posted in Feature on March 14, 2018

By Chas Andres

Chas Andres is a freelance writer and MFA student living in Wilmington, North Carolina. When he's not at his keyboard dreaming up stories, you can find him playing with his cats, listening to records, or building yet another Magic deck.

Masters 25 releases Friday, and it's an absolute home run for anyone who loves the game's flavor and story. There are 35 new pieces of art, including some straight-up masterworks like Doomsday and Ensnaring Bridge. Want some sweet new flavor text? The set has plenty of that as well.

To me, one of the most exciting aspects of Masters 25 is how the set takes us back to Dominaria in some new and exciting ways. If you're hungry for a fresh look at the plane that started it all, you don't have to wait until Dominaria comes out. Dominaria—the plane, that is—is beautifully represented in Masters 25. In fact, let's spend a few moments looking at the most interesting and flavorful Masters 25 cards with deep Dominarian roots.

One of my favorite aspects of Masters 25 is how many of the new pieces of art and flavor text recall some aspect of the original card. Take Exclude, which was originally printed in Invasion. Invasion is set against one of the most action-packed moments in Dominarian history; a time when Urza and the crew of the Weatherlight battled an army of invading Phyrexians.

The original version depicts Teferi casting a spell on a Phyrexian Rager, complete with a quote from the powerful mage. While Teferi isn't shown the latest version of the card, we once again see a Phyrexian Rager obliterated by a blue spell. Even the landscape in the background appears the same. It's possible that the Masters 25 version of Exclude actually depicts the same event—a few seconds into the future, perhaps, and seen from a slightly different angle.

Both versions of Exclude feature a quote from Teferi, each echoing his penchant for temporal manipulation. "I don't have time for you right now," he says on the Invasion version of the card. "Terrifying, but thankfully temporary," he says in Masters 25. Both sentiments echo Teferi's unique response to the Phyrexian invasion, which was to protect a large section of Dominaria by removing in from the time stream instead of joining Urza's bloody war against Yawgmoth.

Sticking with the Invasion era of Dominarian history, let's take a look at Kavu Climber. The Kavu are an ancient species of reptiles that spent thousands of years in hibernation beneath the surface. They emerged during the invasion and began eating as many Phyrexians as they could.

Most Kavu have six legs, which you can see clearly on the Masters 25 version of the card. They don't appear superfluous, either—since we're now below and in front of the Kavu, we can see how it uses its extra limbs to perch on a tree and prepare for attack. And based on the art, we now seem to be its intended victim!

The change in flavor text seems to indicate that the Kavu have now been a presence on Dominaria for quite some time. While the original text references their emergence during the war, we now see that the Kavu have become entrenched in the local culture. The fact that "The Kavu might be above you" means "Keep an open mind" also seems like a fun nod to the fact that the Kavu originally came from below the ground.

I want to journey a little farther back in time and talk about Balduvian Horde and Pillage. These two powerful red cards were first printed back in Alliances, and both originally featured a quote from Lovisa Coldeyes, the Balduvian Chieftain in the waning days of Dominaria's Ice Age. They've been given new life in Masters 25, each with a new Lovisa quote and stunning new art.

The updated flavor text evokes the era before the Balduvian/Kjeldoran alliance formed New Argive, back when Lovisa's people were in a state of near-constant war. While neither card pictures Lovisa herself, (She is blonde; most Balduvians, including those depicted on Pillage and Balduvian Horde, have dark hair) her strength and ferocity is deeply felt in these words.

Echoes of the original art are felt in each new piece as well. By changing the angle and widening our field of vision, the new version of Balduvian Horde looks more like . . . well, a horde of Balduvians. The sense of kinetic motion present in the original still exists in Daarken's new piece, though, and the thin layer of frost kicked up by the advancing horde evokes the white plumes of breath emerging from the mouths of the Barbarians on the original card.

While the Alliances version of Pillage focuses on the gleeful face of a Barbarian doing his thing, the Masters 25 version takes place a little bit later—the Kjeldoran building is already burning down, and Lovisa's people are in a moment of quiet denouement. This newer piece also gives us a welcome glimpse at the architecture and clothing of Ice Age–era Terisiare.

The Masters 25 version of Will-o'-the-Wisp doesn't have new art (this piece originally appeared in Ninth Edition), but I can't resist taking a moment to gush about how the new flavor text completely recontextualizes the card.

Will-o'-the-Wisp was first printed back in Limited Edition (Alpha), and it references a real natural phenomenon, mysterious swamp lights, that have been part of European folklore for generations. The flavor text on the original version of the card, written by English poet Samuel Coleridge, is a nod to these real-world origins.

In Masters 25, however, we are given a uniquely Dominarian take on Will-o'-the-Wisp. This new quote is from a book called The Fall of the House of Vess, and it details a piece of Dominarian folklore that developed in the wake of Liliana's post-spark disappearance. The local culture created a new story about these swamp lights based on what they assumed was Liliana's tragic death, allowing us to appreciate Will-o'-the-Wisp in a whole new way.

The relatively small and wild Dominarian continent of Otaria was the setting for both Odyssey and Onslaught blocks. It was one of the few places to weather the Phyrexian invasion without sustaining too much damage, and it soon became a refuge for many of the war's survivors. It was also home to the Cabal, a black-aligned organization that put on massive pit fights and gladiatorial displays, among various other dark deeds.

Slawomir Maniak's Undead Gladiator is one of my favorite new pieces of art in Masters 25. This is a different Undead Gladiator than we see in the original Onslaught card, but the fight is clearly set in the same place—note the runic columns behind the Zombie. In fact, we can now see that it is most probably Otaria's Grand Coliseum, the same place where Arcanis the Omnipotent and Rorix Bladewing once plied their trade. The Undead Gladiator itself is now much more clearly engaged in the spectacle of combat, either in the process of making a showy entrance or soaking in victory.

"The Cabal loves encores" is also a very evocative piece of new flavor text. Might it refer to the fact that Undead Gladiator's mechanics keep it coming back to fight another day, or is it a coy reference to the fact that the Cabal itself has been resurrected by Belzenlok, one of the four Demons Liliana is hunting? I'm sure we'll learn more in the coming months.

Speaking of potential foreshadowing, take a look at Unearth. This card was originally from Urza's Legacy, and Hazeltine's art features a hand emerging from a grave. In Masters 25, however, we get the fearsome Phyrexian Negator, face in shadow, crawling from an otherworldly rift beneath the ground. According to the new flavor text, "No matter how deep your bury it, some evil refuses to stay dead." Is this a reference to the Phyrexians re-emerging at the time of Urza's Legacy, prior to the invasion, or might they be about to return once again?

Regardless, I love that Phyrexian Negator is the card being featured here. Unearth returns a card that costs three mana or less from your graveyard to the battlefield, and Phyrexian Negator was the most overpowered three-mana card in Urza block. For years, this was the creature that best represented the Phyrexian threat to Dominaria. If you want to slay like it's 1999, throw these two cards in a deck together—and add a couple of Dark Rituals for good measure.

Let's finish up with a couple of white cards that hint at current state of the Serran faith on Dominaria.

Renewed Faith originally appeared in Onslaught, showcasing a member of the Order on Otaria that opposed the Cabal. The card then appeared in Amonkhet, depicting the moment when Gideon first glimpsed the radiance of Oketra.

In Masters 25, Renewed Faith features a similar stained-glass pattern to the one that we saw on New Benalia back in Future Sight. Disenchant gives a new verse in the "Song of All," the thousand-canto song featuring all of Serra's wisdom that appeared most prominently on flavor text in Urza's Saga. Finally, the Masters 25 version of Angelic Page showcases a place that appears similar to but distinct from Serra's Realm—note the New Benalia–style stained glass on the windows here as well.

Dominaria is an exciting plane with a rich and vibrant history. While I'm excited to see where things stand today, don't forget to check out Masters 25 and take a look at all of the cards with deep Dominarian roots!

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