The Golem's Legacy

Posted in Feature on April 25, 2011

By Doug Beyer

Senior creative designer on Magic's creative team and lover of writing and worldbuilding. Doug blogs about Magic flavor and story at

We often look to the past in order to predict the future. But sometimes, one has to glimpse what is to come in order to understand what went before. Karn's future, and the future of the plane now known as New Phyrexia, hold secrets that shine light on ancient events. So it is with the future that we begin.


In a time soon to come, Karn will be liberated.

The tendriled throne of Phyrexia will no longer bind the silver golem, nor will the plane itself. The shackles will fall, and he will know that his would-be servants were actually his captors.

But this new freedom will come at great cost. A mission of conscience will beckon him, guiding him to retrace his own tainted steps through the multiverse. He will bear the crushing grief of an entire world, with a splinter of knowledge lodged in his mind that a plane of his own creation has fallen to the very enemy he was created to help defeat.

The future will not be an easy path for him.

He was made to withstand the ravages of time, but correspondingly, his memories endure through time as well. He will set his mind to make things right, but he will carry with him the wrongs he has caused. He will learn that some wounds cannot be mended, and that some losses will never be reckoned, even if this enemy can be defeated one day. Hardest of all, he will be forced to admit his own role in Phyrexia's victory.

Soon, this future shall be upon him.

And with it, from an unlikely source, a spark.


At the present moment, it is a time of Phyrexia's triumph.

The silver golem Karn experiences flashes of lucidity while bound into the throne of the Father of Machines. In these moments, he grasps his whereabouts and his situation, and can utilize the full power of Phyrexia's reconnaissance to observe the state of the plane around him. He understands that he must free himself, somehow, from the yoke of Phyrexia, lest he lead them to their dark goal of conquest. But his faculties return just in time for him to see the bitter truth.

They've already won.

Under the leadership of the Praetors, the Phyrexians advance across the metal-plated landscape. Exarchs and vat priests oversee the conversion of Mirrans into Phyrexians. Obliterators mercilessly shred all attempts at resistance. Birthing pods generate ever more grotesque Phyrexian life forms, and the former vestiges of Mirran civilizations are melted down in the deep furnaces.

Through his own eyes and with his own mind, Karn witnesses the conclusion of Phyrexia's triumph over Mirrodin. The Phyrexians roam at will now, spreading throughout every cranny of the plane, claiming it as their own. Those brave natives of the metal world, the Mirrans, are now a scattered handful of resistance fighters, seeking refuge like prey species.

Even for Karn, a metallic artifact creature crafted by Urza, it's too much. His mind cracks at the horrible irony, and the oil permeates his body. Unable to muster resistance, he yields to Phyrexian whispers.

If no one intervenes, he truly will become the Father of Machines, betraying everything he stands for.


Not many who live can say they accomplished the exact task they were created for. Not many can claim they were able to realize their destiny. But many years ago, in one blinding moment, Karn realized his.

Karn stood at the epicenter of the Legacy. The storied artifacts were brought together from across many worlds, forming a weapon capable of a fateful act of destruction. Karn was the unifying principle, the lynchpin, the cauldron in which the reaction could take place. And when all was assembled and assimilated into him, he became the barrel of the cannon.

Yawgmoth, the Father of Machines, was obliterated. Dominaria was saved from the Phyrexian invasion.

In the act of Yawgmoth's defeat, Karn became a planeswalker, and the seed of future events was planted. Karn, the only artificial planeswalker, became capable not only of traveling from world to world, but of creating a world himself. He would go on to create a shining world of metal that he dubbed Argentum, later known as Mirrodin.

But Karn doomed his own creation. Karn himself was the germ of Phyrexia's growth on Mirrodin, inadvertently bringing the contagion to the plane. He left it to grow and spread, and when he returned, it was too late.

As Karn fell to his created world, all seemed lost. His planeswalker spark was gone—sacrificed to seal a massive rift in time. His mind was gone—finally succumbing to the power of the oil that lurked within him. His hope was gone—shredded by seeing his creation tainted by the growth of his sworn enemy.

Deep in the planar core, Phyrexians took Karn prisoner, and constructed for him a throne.


Three timelines. Three chapters of Karn's fate. Now—how about three abilities?

Today's highlighted card represents Karn of the near future, after the events of the Scars of Mirrodin: The Quest for Karn, this setting's block novel by Robert B. Wintermute. The book hits shelves this week, so of course I won't reveal all that happens in that story. But today one part of the endgame becomes clear: that Karn will become a planeswalker again.


Karn stands tall in the history and lore of Magic. Karn Liberated represents the next stage for this important character, and yet it connects to the accomplishments of his past. His abilities tie to his time-spinning adventures and to his connection to the famous Legacy artifacts. He remains the Multiverse's only artificial planeswalker, and he is also the game's only planeswalker card that costs only colorless mana. Beyond being a probe for Urza's time-travelling experiments, a cog of the Legacy, or a pawn of Phyrexia's scheming praetors, he's a powerful and subtle weapon in his own right. Freed from Phyrexia's grasp, possessing his full mental faculties, and now able to planeswalk once more, Karn is truly a force to be reckoned with.

Karn's "plus" ability gains him a whopping 4 loyalty a pop, cranking him up to ten sturdy loyalty counters the turn he comes down. While the "exile a card" ability seems to do a strange Liliana Vess impression, and can certainly be used to suppress your opponent's hand turn after turn, it's really setting up something much more clever. Think of it as sending a card through time—a feat only an Urza-crafted silver golem could pull off. Note that this ability exiles instead of causing discard, and note that you can target yourself with this ability. Remember that. In the meantime, just know that Karn can heal himself fast. That +4 ability makes him unbelievably sturdy in the face of pesky damage, all while letting you get ahead on cards.


Karn's middle ability is the attention-grabber, the dream-wrecker, the wallop upside the head that can turn around your position on the battlefield. It is not just a garden-variety Vindicate, but a Vindicate that leaves behind a planeswalker after you cast it. If you wish, you can use Karn Liberated as a back-to-back pinpoint Lux Cannon to wipe out unpleasant permanents, as he has just enough loyalty (barring shenanigans) to do that trick twice. Or you can blast something and reload with his plus ability, threatening a string of two more Vindicates. That kind of firepower is reminiscent of his Legacy Weapon days, and now that he's Liberated, he's definitely ready to obliterate some bad guys again. Grudge time. Note, again, that this ability exiles, a la Legacy Weapon, rather than destroys. That's important.


Karn's ultimate ability represents the true power of this planeswalker who once traveled through time. It costs a monstrous 14 loyalty to achieve, but it does something we've never seen before in the history of Magic. Only the Richard Garfieldian Shahrazad comes close to what this ability accomplishes, and thanks to Karn's other abilities, Karn can be much, much more.


Karn wipes the slate of history clean. The game starts over. You pack up the game, shuffle up, draw seven, and start the game again—except there's a twist. Everything Karn "sent through time" for you with his other abilities enters the new game right there in front of you. Karn alters time for you, in a way going back to a time when your opponent could be defeated, bringing along with him a few choice permanents that he banished from your previous time-stream-I-mean-game.

Did you use Karn's first ability to exile a few lands from your opponent's hand, or a Myr Battlesphere from yours? Did you use his middle ability at some point to exile a troublesome Grave Titan, Sword of Feast and Famine, or opposing planeswalker? If you did, those time-flung permanents are now under your control after Karn rewrites history. Imagine it: you're starting the game, choosing a land from your hand to make your "first" land drop, and you already have your opponent's Grave Titan sitting there. It can even attack this turn. (See the FAQ below.)

Karn Liberated | Illustration by Jason Chan

Of course, Karn costs seven mana. That's the cost of being a combination Legacy Weapon and time machine. So you'll have to play him in decks that are prepared to get to seven, either by fast ramping, slow controlling, or some creative combination thereof. (Might I mention that one of each of the Urza lands—Urza's Tower, Urza's Mine, and Urza's Power Plant—sum up to seven colorless mana? Just saying.)

If you can muster his cost, Karn Liberated is a planeswalker packed with power. Here's hoping you liberate one at the New Phyrexia Prerelease.


* Karn's first and third abilities are linked. Similarly, Karn's second and third abilities are linked. Only cards exiled by either of Karn's first two abilities will remain in exile when the game restarts.

* A game that restarts immediately ends. The players in that game then immediately begin a new game. No player wins, loses, or draws the original game as a result of Karn's ability.

* In a multiplayer game (a game that started with three or more players in it), any player that left the game before it was restarted with Karn's ability won't be involved in the new game.

* The player who controlled the ability that restarted the game is the starting player in the new game. The new game starts like a game normally does:
-- Each player shuffles his or her deck (except the cards left in exile by Karn's ability).
-- Each player's life total becomes 20 (or the starting life total for whatever format you're playing).
-- Players draw a hand of seven cards. Players may take mulligans.
-- Players may take actions based on cards in their opening hands, such as Chancellors and Leylines.

* After the pre-game procedure is complete, but before the new game's first turn, Karn's ability finishes resolving and the cards left in exile are put onto the battlefield. If this causes any triggered abilities to trigger, those abilities are put onto the stack at the beginning of the first upkeep step.

* Creatures put onto the battlefield due to Karn's ability will have been under their controller's control continuously since the beginning of the first turn. They can attack and their activated abilities with {T} in the cost can be activated.

* Any permanents put onto the battlefield with Karn's ability that entered the battlefield tapped will untap during their controller's first untap step.

* No actions taken in the game that was restarted apply to the new game. For example, if you were dealt damage by Stigma Lasher in the original game, the effect that states you can't gain life doesn't carry over to the new game.

* Players won't have any poison counters or emblems they had in the original game.

* In a Commander game, players put their commanders into the command zone before shuffling their deck.

* The number of times a player has cast his or her commander from the command zone resets to zero. Also, the amount of combat damage dealt to players by each commander is reset to 0.

* If a player's commander was exiled with Karn as the game restarted, that commander won't be put into the command zone at the beginning of the game. It will be put onto the battlefield when Karn's ability finishes resolving.

* In a multiplayer game using the limited range of influence option, all players are affected and will restart the game, not just those within the range of influence of the ability's controller.

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