In These Desperate Times: A Backstory Update for Dark Ascension

Posted in Feature on January 2, 2012

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

What do you tell yourself when bad becomes worse?

Art by Jason Chan

How do you hold onto hope when your worst fears turn out to have been a mere overture for what is to come?

Art by Jason A. Engle

When the power of light fails you, what atrocities might you contemplate to curry favor with darkness?

Art by Michael C. Hayes

The Crumbling Lie

The people of Innistrad were accustomed to living in a world plagued by evil. The protective wards held monsters at bay, keeping the villages relatively safe. Prayers and holy oaths banished geists and skewered vampires where they stood, allowing humans to control nests of horrors when the danger got too great. Thanks to the presence of the archangel Avacyn, hope and belief held real power to smite the darkness, and so hope and belief flourished.

Even after Avacyn disappeared and the fiendish creatures of the night advanced, the people of the four provinces survived. The power of the wards waned, but the Church recruited new holy warriors to take up arms and fight back. Prayers to the angels went unanswered, but villages closed their borders and shut down the roads into the fog-cloaked wilderness. The ghouls and geists had gained an advantage on humans, and things looked bleaker than they had for generations. But together the people of Innistrad presented a united front, able to keep humanity safe almost as if Avacyn had never forsaken them.

But safety on Innistrad was a comforting fiction. Among the sinister forces of the world, word has spread.

Art by Volkan Baga

Ascending Darkness

The horrors of Innistrad have learned the weakness of their prey. The howlpacks have tested the defenses of the country villages and found them pathetically thin. Now, werewolves terrorize hamlets across the countryside without fear of wolfhunters or weapons of blessed silver. Vampires pick and choose their human prey as they see fit, letting the vampire families gain in ascendancy across every province. Geists appear undaunted in the bedrooms of children and saints. The walking dead pierce the defenses of even Church-dominated towns. Monstrous flesh-constructions lurch unimpeded into protected sanctuaries, slaughtering innocents who relied on Avacyn's promises. As humanity's defenses crumble, Innistrad's tale of horror has become ever more dire.

Art by Peter Mohrbacher

The Undying Threat

The humans now face a dark new twist in the fight against the fiends. It's not just that the wards and prayers no longer bind these creatures. Now even the bonds of death no longer hold. Apparently slain werewolves have begun to stagger back to their feet, their hunger only renewed by their seeming destruction. Geists return after being exorcised by the clerics' most powerful banishment spells. Vampires laugh off stakes and fire, rising in spite of every trick and country secret known to kill them. Reassurances from the Avacynian Church fall on impatient ears as, more and more, the old lore no longer applies.

Art by Kev Walker

Wavering Devotion

Even more distressing, there are signs that the people of Innistrad might be losing hope. The Elgaud Grounds report fewer and fewer recruits to become undead-slaying cathars. Statues of the beloved archangel are found toppled, not by the random attacks of rampaging werewolves, but by despondent humans. Demonic cults have gained in membership as people seek some power, any power, on which they can rely. Entire ships full of evacuees sail into the mists in search of some far harbor, never to be heard from again. Some villages have taken to making offerings of their own weakest members, hoping that innocent lives chained to posts will mollify the hungering beasts in the night.

There is no safe refuge from the monsters anymore, even in the hearts of the citizenry. And the monsters know it.

Art by Gabor Szikszai

Infernal Risings

But the darkest news of all may be the emergence of infernal forces. Cults such as the Skirsdag beckon forth demonic beings from the deep abysses of the world. Cracks in the earth, such as the Ashmouth, spew forth demons and devils who spread mayhem and death wherever they go. Emboldened by Avacyn's long absence and the waning potency of holy magic, the demons have begun to use humans to further their whims, sacrificing innocents to fuel dark magics. Humans have become the playthings of the fabled monsters they once spoke of only in scare-tales and campfire yarns.

Art by Svetlin Velinov

The Eleventh Hour

If anything good has come of this dark time, it's that humanity knows the stakes of its plight. Humankind's collective back is to the wall, so the few parish priests, pitchfork-wielders, and fiend-slayers who remain have learned to dispense with the traditional pleasantries. Avacyn might no longer support their feats of faith, but their magic has become enhanced by desperation, as the threat of death encroaches. Those practitioners of magic have learned to hurl the despair of their spiraling losses into their spells, giving them the strength to slice through the ranks of the dead rather than join them. The humans have even learned from their enemies, discovering new ways to tap into the tempting power of the grave and to cast deathly spells with amplified strength.

Art by Karl Kopinski

The Role of Planeswalkers

The planeswalker Liliana Vess has been on the trail of the powerful demons to whom she owes her soul. She has found that the demon Griselbrand is here, on Innistrad, but beyond that the trail has gone cold. Her next step will be to find someone who knows the secret of his location, and that quest will lead her to confront the very highest echelons of the Avacynian Church. Meanwhile, as Liliana exploits the dark artifact known as the Chain Veil and succumbs to its temptations, she may be trading one set of masters for another.

Garruk Wildspeaker, cursed by Liliana with the power of the Chain Veil, has tracked the death-witch to Innistrad. Wracked by a slow transformation into a monstrous perversion of his former self, he's running out of time. He has always been a matchless hunter, but Liliana is a different kind of prey than he's used to, and the local humans have been attacking him on sight. For once, he's questioning whether he'll be able to track down his quarry before she escapes into the Multiverse again, leaving him to wonder whether he'll be able to survive his own next planeswalk.

Finally, there is another planeswalker whose presence will impact—and already has extensively impacted—the tale of Innistrad. His past is woven with the history of this world, and his return after an extended absence will uncover long-buried secrets. Although his humanity was cast off long ago, his purpose on Innistrad will reveal surprising allegiances. His identity is secret for now, but we will learn what role he has to play in the fate of Innistrad very soon.

Staring Boldly into the Eye of Evil

Art by James Ryman

Where do you turn when the horrors of your waking life surpass your worst nightmares?

How do you pray when you're not sure the angels have even been listening?

What do you do when the last sanctuary is breached, the last holy symbol loses its shine, and the last candle flickers out?

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