You could argue—and I would—that the character who brought class to Magic's Vampires was Baron Sengir, revealed in Homelands as the source of the mysterious name of Alpha's only bloodsucker. Magic's Vampires have explored both ends of that spectrum, from Skyshroud Vampire to Szadek, Lord of Secrets, but the Baron himself remains the very icon of vampiric charm in Magic.
This, in turn, underscores the power of Magic's legendary creatures to set the tone for entire races and settings. Ulgrotha, setting of the Homelands expansion and adopted home of Baron Sengir, had an extensive cast of characters, including the Baron's twisted relations, whose personalities shaped the setting and story behind the set.
Back "in the day," The Duelist magazine had a feature for a while called "From the Library of Leng." Each installment looked at one legendary creature in terms of its role in the story, its game play, and even the artist's rumination on the card's art.
For Vampire Week, we've dug up the "From the Library of Leng" entry on Baron Sengir himself. And while we were in the archives, we found two equally interesting pieces about the Baron's green-aligned adversary Autumn Willow and his rough contemporary, the equally evil Lord of Tresserhorn, who actually manages to bring a little class to Zombies as well.
The storyline sections use some antiquated terminology ("Dominia" rather than "the Multiverse," for example), but they shed light on what might otherwise be just big dumb fatties. The "Artist's Perspective" sections come straight from the source, providing a little artistic insight from three great Magic artists. The "Playing With" sections are obviously out of date ... but on the other hand, they'd be a great place to start gathering ideas for Elder Dragon Highlander decks centered on these three legendary creatures.
Daily MTG Editor
From the Library of Leng: Autumn Willow
Autumn Willow, Caretaker of the Wood
Autumn Willow is the ruler and protector of the Great Wood in the Homelands. A legend in her own time, she is an incarnation of the power of the forest itself, and those creatures who live among the trees are living extensions of her will. Part of Autumn Willow's strength comes from her unity with nature, for she can only be affected by spells that also affect the land with which she shares her life.
Originally a simple forest spirit, Autumn Willow grew to her current status because of Feroz's Ban, the spell that protected the Homelands from meddling outsiders. Much as placing a rock in a slow-moving stream causes a pool to back up behind it, the mana pouring into the Homelands was backed up when Feroz cast his world spell. As a result, Autumn Willow grew incredibly powerful and achieved sentience and physical form.
She ultimately became the guardian and protector of the place that is the embodiment of her will. The Folk of An-Havva believe that Autumn Willow is a creature of Faerie. Numerous tales surround the living legend of Autumn Willow and the creatures with whom she interacts. Tales about one of her creations, the Daughter of Autumn, are common throughout the Homelands—stories of a beautiful woman appearing out of the misty air, leading children from danger, or a ghostly apparition freeing an injured woodsman from his own trap. Others tell of encounters with the Willow Priestesses, assumed to be servants of Autumn Willow. Often seen wearing gowns of luminescence and gossamer, these beings seem no more tangible to mortals than a shaft of soft moonlight in the trees. The Spectral Bears that roam the Great Wood are believed to be the personal guardians of Autumn Willow and are often seen escorting caravans from the river bridge to An-Havva. The mere sight of these beasts causes most goblins to flee, for there is a tale of a great Spectral Bear that once consumed an entire goblin village, shacks and all, in a single night of feasting.
Autumn Willow gained a motherly affinity for the Folk of An-Havva, but with the settlement of these fragile creatures came new raids from the goblins to the east. She created new creatures from nothingness—giving life and hunger to the Hungry Mist and breathing the host of Faeries into existence—to watch over her Wood. Traders and travelers were allowed to walk the twisty roads, but any creature or being who entered into her foreboding Wood intent on pillage or war rarely returned—presumably hunted down by Spectral Bears, or consumed by Root Spiders, huge arachnids rumored to be as intelligent as small children and capable of catching and eating small horses. On the evening that Feroz died, Autumn Willow had a vision of Baron Sengir marching the survivors of a terrible war into another world. The sending rang so loudly of prophecy that she had to act upon it. She redoubled her efforts to keep the vampires and undead from traversing through her Wood and worked harder at maintaining her defenses. Shortly thereafter, Feroz's Ban started to fail, and she felt the energies that sustained her begin to fade. She knows that with her current strength, she may have a chance at restarting the mana channels, thus, over time, turning the world from a wasteland back into one rich with life. However, this will likely cost the lives of every creature in the Homelands. She is willing to destroy herself and Baron Sengir for the greater good, but she cannot bear to kill the Folk of An-Havva. But if Autumn Willow doesn't use her power, then the strength of the Homelands will fade until even she ceases to exist, and what she saw in the vision may indeed come true. Now Autumn Willow is at a loss for what to do and is trying to find some third option, some miracle, because to destroy all the ones that she loves brings a cruelty that even a creature derived from balance and nature cannot endure. So she waits for a miracle that will keep her from using the very primal forces of nature against those that she loves more than life.
At first I imagined Autumn Willow as a woman in regal robes. After I read the Homelands background, however, I found the story of her waning power a sad one and decided that a softer, romantic portrayal would be more appropriate. I also chose to paint her as a human figure due to my background in classical and Renaissance art history, periods in which dryads and forest goddesses were depicted as women.
I felt that Autumn Willow should be an identifiable person, with her own idiosyncrasies of face and figure, rather than a generic fantasy character. I had wanted to paint artist Kaja Foglio for some time, and this seemed the perfect opportunity. I shot the reference photos in the Foglios' yard, with Kaja wearing a creamy white blouse and a fluorite, amethyst, and sterling-silver necklace I designed. I took the photos at sunset, and that contributed a great deal to the mood I wanted to create.
When I painted this picture, I worked with one of my favorite themes of combining three-dimensional figures that break the flat surface of the paper with two-dimensional patterns that reconfirm its flatness. As I painted, I enjoyed working with the many colors that went into the white of Kaja's shirt and the flesh tones of her face as a result of the reflected light and shadow. The light also changed the color of her hair to a rich gold. So what might have been a rather pedestrian picture of a woman in a white blouse became one of my favorite works as a result of the early evening light.
Playing with Autumn Willow
Creatures are one of the most effective means of dealing damage in Magic, but they're also extremely vulnerable. Most decks have some way to deal with them, using direct damage or cards such as Terror or Swords to Plowshares, but what if a creature cannot be targeted at all? A "bulletproof" creature is not only a difficult- to-stop source of damage, but it also makes cards such as Terror and Swords to Plowshares effectively dead draws for your opponent.
Autumn Willow is such a creature, a formidable damage-dealer that's invulnerable to spells and effects that target it. As such, Autumn Willow can provide the backbone of a very effective deck, and another nearly invulnerable creature, Blinking Spirit (: Return Blinking Spirit to your hand), can provide a nice complement. With these two creatures to deal damage, the deck needs to be filled out with cards that maintain defense and control. Both Autumn Willow and Blinking Spirit have fairly high casting costs, so you want to protect yourself early on in the game until you have a chance to play them. One method of protection for slower decks is to gain as much life as possible, and cards like Fountain of Youth, Ivory Tower, Reverse Damage, Spirit Link, and Zuran Orb are excellent for this. You may also need to destroy creatures, arti- facts, and enchantments, so Arenson's Aura, Disenchant, Swords to Plowshares, Hurricane, and Wrath of God are good choices as well. Finally, you want to have control of what's on the playing field. Cards like Sylvan Library, Forgotten Lore, Jalum Tome, Barbed Sextant, and Land Tax help you quickly cycle through your library.
Your main concern is to keep in mind Autumn Willow's strengths and keep from inadvertently countering them. For example, while Fyndhorn Elves or Llanowar Elves seem like good additions to the deck—they provide fast mana for getting out your expensive creatures—your opponent will probably have a hand full of anti-creature cards that she hasn't been able to use on Autumn Willow and Blinking Spirit. This deck capitalizes on your opponent's having dead cards in her hand, and if she can't use her Terror on Autumn Willow, she will most certainly use it on Elves.
From the Library of Leng: Baron Sengir
Baron Sengir is misunderstood by most people of the Homelands. Quite unlike the ravenous hordes of flying, devious Sengir Vampires, the Baron is the very model of a modern Dominarian gentleman. This local hunter of the night has class. The Baron would rather have you to dinner and entwine you in political theory than go for your throat. Strolling the battlements of Castle Sengir discussing philosophy and dwarven engineering is far more important to him than terrorizing the countryside and kidnapping villagers for fiendish plots.
However, the Baron does have a bit of the cruel streak that comes with eternal life. Feeding hapless villagers to carnivorous coach steeds is a perfectly acceptable pastime, and transforming double-dealing wizards into ravaging werewolves is all part of a day's work on the moors. Stealing an entire boatload of settlers bound for An-Havva and forcing them to relocate to the deltas around Castle Sengir is a matter of business and enterprise, not of some darkly repressed streak of undead melodrama.
The Baron is a watcher of time, but his patience is unmatched by most mortals. Ever since he was abandoned in the Homelands centuries ago after being summoned during a planeswalker duel, he has known of the Dwarven Gate deep beneath the dungeons of Castle Sengir—a one-way portal leading to an entirely different world. Walking through the gateway would be simple for him, but why walk through the passage alone when he could bring an army instead? It will only take him a few more decades to subjugate all of the peoples of the Homelands, and during that time he can improve his sorcery skills with the aid of Grandmother Sengir. Though the humans who live in the squalid muck are important to Baron Sengir for the work they perform, their more valuable trait is that they all eventually die. Because mortals are always full of tricks and are constantly plotting the Baron's downfall, they are far more useful dead—as undead servants in his castle, as unwavering warriors who guard Koskun Falls, or even, occasionally, as coat racks. Furthermore, the Baron enjoys the occasional flailing human for a snack—even the most well-mannered of undead dictators must keep their strength up.
Using the strengths of his subjects isn't Baron Sengir's only concern, though; he is also heavily involved in politics. Beyond the dark walls of his ill-gotten castle, Sengir has spies in Aysen who fuel the rift between the Serrans and the altruistic Death Speakers. A number of the students in the Wizards' School have begun to succumb to his offers of dark power, without meddling Reveka's even knowing of his machinations. At the request of his master the Baron, Veldrane endlessly stalks the wood, searching for the fabled grove of Autumn Willow and her priestesses. Additionally, Joven and Chandler still sell the artifacts they steal to the highest bidder, unaware that the mysterious third party is none other than the Baron himself, arming himself for future conflict. Haling, a dwarven trader, occasionally visits Castle Sengir to exchange information and stories from An-Havva for jewels and dwarven treasures. Even Eton the Relentless is unaware that his trade agreement with Aysen is tenuous and that many of his caravan guards are on Baron Sengir's payroll.
It's all a matter of waiting. Until the day when Baron Sengir has exclusive power in the Homelands, he will continue to enjoy life, watch the sunset, and occasionally bicker with his subjects over their obsessions with wooden stakes and swamp garlic. Life as an undead is good, but someday, Sengir knows, he will escape from the restrictive domain of the Homelands.
SENGIR—I remember thinking it was a cool name from the first time I held one of those prized Sengir Vampires back in late '93. In the original set, some of the best-looking cards were black, and Sengir Vampire was one of the prize catches in that color, not least because of Anson Maddocks' memorable art.
My chance to extend the Sengir line came in March '95 when I spoke to Homelands designers Kyle Namvar and Scott Hungerford about the upcoming set and discovered the tale of Baron Sengir. Because I was visiting the Seattle offices, I was in a prime position to ask the art director if I could paint the Baron. The answer was yes, but only if I was prepared to do the other members of the Sengir family as well. Naturally, I agreed.
From the start, I knew the Baron's portrait had to be a departure from the gothic look that has predominated in the depiction of vampires. I envisioned Baron Sengir as a general in control of his vampiric army, and from this came the idea of his wearing a breastplate. You probably won't be surprised to discover that the breastplate's ornamentation resembles a stylized bat. I based the Baron's features upon Anson's original vampire, adjusting it to make it less feral and to give the face a sense of nobility (the good looks were a bonus). The most dramatic additions were the ponytail and the small, hooked beard. Finally, the crystal ball was a good way to hint at the momentous intrigues the Baron is involved with, and it also served as a strong light source to give some drama to the piece.
Baron Sengir is probably my most popular card to date, though I feel Grandmother Sengir is a better painting. Still, the Baron has done me many favors, including giving me the chance to work in Dominia Continuity at Wizards of the Coast. Now I help build the stories, past and present, which surround the multiverse that is Dominia.
Playing with Baron Sengir
Baron Sengir is one of the most intimidating character cards in Magic. It's cool, smooth, and powerful without an annoying upkeep. Although the deck here doesn't depend upon the Baron alone, when you do get it into play, watch the look on your opponent's face; there's a reason for that look of fear. With its ability to regenerate Vampires, Baron Sengir makes Krovikan Vampires worthy opponents and enhances the already formidable Sengir Vampires. Dead Men Walking isn't a World Championship–class deck, but it will make your opponent start looking for holy water and a stake.
Dead Men Walking isn't designed to give you life, so it's a race to eliminate your opponent before she butchers you first. If you play your cards correctly, your opponent will have some tough choices because if she doesn't block your creatures, she will probably die. If your opponent does block, however, her creatures will be decimated, and she'll eventually die anyway.
Secure your smaller blockers early in the game—Vampire Bats, Armor Thrulls and Will-O'-The-Wisps—and start laying down your Ebon Strongholds and Bad Moons. Try to hold on to any Dark Rituals, however, so you can use them to summon Sengir Vampires and other high-casting-cost creatures in one fast wave, unnerving your opponent. Get out those Krovikan Vampires so you can control the dead, and don't forget Grandmother Sengir to weaken any remaining adversaries. Finally, Baron Sengir completes the nightmare, turning your Vampires into a regenerating force of darkness.
There are several decent combos in this deck, each designed to give your opponent the heebie-jeebies. Krovikan Vampire + Baron Sengir = creature control, while the same combo with Sengir Vampire makes for a fast-growing Vampire. Use your Terrors against any dangerous non-black, non-artifact creatures, and use Unholy Strength or Feast of the Unicorn to give your small creatures enough clout to attack with confidence. Finally, Soul Exchange used with Armor Thrull brings a dead creature straight into play, bigger than before.
Single-color decks are notoriously vulnerable, which is why sideboarding is so important. When playing against a white deck, switch in four Glooms along with Ihsan's Shades and Irini Sengirs. Against green decks, use Irini Sengirs and Deathgrips to limit non-creature cards. If playing against a black deck, take out Bad Moons and Terrors and put in Bog Wraiths. And if playing against a "weenie-madness" deck, well—it's feeding time for Dead Men Walking.
From the Library of Leng: Lord of Tresserhorn
A Forced Ally
Every night, when the last rays of sunlight are vanquished by the coming evening, most of the undead of Tresserhorn Keep leave their resting places to gather about the eternally blazing fire pit in Tresserhorn's throne hall. Black-lacquered skeletons and struggling zombies cluster about the room, swaying gently like loosely tethered puppets. A Will-O'-The-Wisp darts about overhead in the rafters, casting pale shadows throughout the crowded chamber.
Their lord, a creature animated by necromancy and built with the flesh and bone of a dozen Kjeldoran heroes, strides into the Great Hall and confidently takes his place upon the huge black throne that dominates the room. There, as he does every night, the Lord of Tresserhorn listens as the zombie scouts give their patrol reports, and then hears the lengthy speeches of the Keepers as they account for what has gone on in the castle since the previous dawn.
When he is weary of such matters, he silences them with a wave of his arm and begins to speak in a guttural, growling voice that makes the very stones tremble. He speaks of battles old and treasures gained and of the great Lim-Dûl, their master, now absent for nearly twenty years. He speaks of how he personally destroyed and ate those who sought to slay Lim-Dûl during the Time of the Eternal Snows, and of the crippling wounds he received during the pitched battles while he protected his master. With each telling, the stories grow more valorous and heroic—the deeds become mightier and the opponents more despicable and devious.
Shortly before sunrise, never sleeping, the Lord of Tresserhorn finishes his tale and rises from his great throne. Alone, he walks through the halls of Tresserhorn as if they were his own rather than his absent master's. Occasionally, when struck by melancholy, he quietly sings Kjeldoran battle hymns from the past or fingers the fine tapestries, now moldered and faded from decades of hanging across dirt-grimed windowpanes. He is Lord of Tresserhorn, second only to his master, Lim-Dûl. Until his master's return he is the master of combat and skill of arms, a general over a waiting army of hundreds of undead warriors.
I've depicted Lord of Tresserhorn as though he's just been slain by Lim-Dûl and turned into an undead. His face is nearly gone, and his body is gaping with holes, yet I wanted him to still carry all of his noble majesty, even as Lim-Dûl worked his puppet strings. Though his stance and demeanor are threatening, I imagined his former troops to be in a state of helpless confusion, still loyal to their beloved lord even after his adoption by the evil Lim-Dûl.
Lord of Tresserhorn is a powerful minion of Lim-Dûl; thus, I wanted to create an atmosphere thick with doom and despair. One technique for doing so is to obscure conventional elements that allow you to read someone's personality and intentions. Light wraps around Lord of Tresserhorn from the side, giving him form, but there's less detail in his face, making him look more serious and ominous. He's not in comic-book perspective—he's not in-your-face threatening. Rather, I tried to paint him to appear content with the fact that you're going to be next on his chopping block.
Playing with Lord of Tresserhorn
Lord of Tresserhorn is a little like Marlon Brando: impressive, but sometimes unwieldy. When the card comes into play, you have to pay 2 life and sacrifice two creatures, and a target opponent draws two cards. The deck below, affectionately called "Apocalypse Now," utilizes the card's strong points. Burn your opponents' land with Magical Hack and Flashfires and waste their creatures with Withering Wisps. After Withering Wisps has damaged your own Spiny Starfish (from Alliances) a few times you should have enough 0/1 Starfish tokens to sacrifice to Lord of Tresserhorn when it comes into play. The Lord is hard to get out, but once you do get it out, it'll quickly take out any remaining blockers. Sol'Kanar, the Swamp King can also help out, and a single Magical Hack can make it unblockable. The deck even has a light spicing of direct damage and countering ability!