Posted in Feature on January 17, 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 http://dougbeyermtg.tumblr.com/

Most believe the trolls have gone extinct.
As long as I live, they're wrong.

Inscribed in the skin of Thrun, the Last Troll

Battle Lines Drawn

There's a sound a man makes during the moment when he comes eye-to-eyesocket with the possibility of his own death. As he stares into that skeletal face, a quick breath escapes him, and a whisper of his innocence escapes with it.

What you're hearing on Mirrodin now is the roar of an entire civilization making that same sound.

Art by Steven Belledin

Two civilizations seek to call Mirrodin their own. To the Mirrans, the metal world of Mirrodin is everything they've ever known—it is the globe under their feet, the suns in their sky, and the plane of their birth.

To the Phyrexians, Mirrodin is a stepping-stone to the Multiverse. It is the substrate for their reawakening. It is the host organism that will allow them to multiply, mature, and if possible, metastasize to other worlds.

Only one side can call Mirrodin home. There will be no negotiated settlements, no prison camps or reparations. There will be the utter devastation of one side by the other. A new phase of that war starts now.

A New Breed of War

Phyrexia has seeped like a stain across the world, silent as blood. Phyrexian creatures crept forth from the dark spaces of the world, their origins unknown. At first the Mirrans only encountered necrometallic brutes, fiends possessed only of a crude, vicious intelligence. This first wave tore through remote outposts and silenced isolated tribes.

Art by Daniel Ljunggren

A few brave messengers managed to escape death, carrying the incomprehensible news back to Kuldotha, Taj-Nar, and Lumengrid. Reports flowed in, and a picture emerged. Black oil. Biomechanical monsters. An infectious, wasting disease. The spreading borders of the Mephidross, and odd new growths in the Tangle ... Phyrexia had come to Mirrodin.

After a few disastrous early encounters, the Mirrans learned that through valor, skill, and careful containment, these plagued minions could be defeated. The Mirrans used their natural proficiency with Mirrodin's metal as their edge in battle. Myr automatons left over from Memnarch's mad reign became allies against the Phyrexians. Levelers and golems left masterless by the Vanishing were recruited to defend the plane. Auriok blademasters and elvish archer-adepts learned to slice and slay the Phyrexian brutes while Sylvok druids and goblin shamans blasted them to crumbling ash.

But now a new wave of Phyrexians has appeared. The shock squads of Phyrexian beasts have been seen taking direction by necrofiends of higher rank and crueler acumen. The Phyrexians' assaults have been deployed not only with cold brutality, but also with calculation, foresight, and strategy.

Furthermore, Phyrexia's mana identity is changing. The Phyrexians' color alignments have been seen to bleed beyond sadistic black into predatory green, cunning blue, and even hierarchical white—perhaps as they become exposed to the mana of Mirrodin's five suns. Phyrexia is nothing if not adaptable, and the Mirrans are witnessing the adaptation firsthand.

But it gets worse. Mirran scouts have observed something even more terrifying at the lacunae, the massive apertures that pierce deep into Mirrodin's crust. The source of the Phyrexian assault has been discovered, and the implications are overwhelming.

Rotten to the Core

The wisdom of Tel-Jilad cannot die, even if its etchings become tainted.
The history of Mirrodin cannot end, even if its heart goes foul.

—Inscribed on the skin of Thrun, the last troll

Mirrodin is spherical, and below several miles of metallic crust, its core is hollow. It is from this vast space that the plane's roiling mana suns once erupted, and it is from the core that Memnarch once monitored the plane in his edifice of surveillance, the Panopticon.

And it is here, deep inside the core of Mirrodin, under the glimmering mana of the endless mycosynth columns, that a drop of the Phyrexian oil spawned the revival of an entire civilization. A touch of residual oil from Mirrodin's creator was all it took to plant the seed, and the mana and protection of the core nurtured it.

Venser, the Sojourner | Art by Eric Deschamps

As the planeswalkers Koth, Elspeth, and Venser have discovered, the core of Mirrodin is infested with Phyrexia. The core has become a hellish labyrinth crawling with witch engines, massive wasplike strider-beasts, and cultlike congregations of Phyrexian fanatics. The branching fibers of mycosynth have begun to coalesce into stable, nested layers. And somewhere deep within, under the lurid glow of noxious death-foundries, the leaders of the Phyrexian factions machinate, scheming to ring in a new era of Phyrexian supremacy. They are the Praetors, and to the Phyrexians, their word is as prophecy.

Few Mirran beings possess the wisdom to perceive the threat Phyrexia represents. But one of them is a troll named Thrun.

The Demise of the Trolls

Long ago the trolls of Tel-Jilad, that vast metallic "tree" known as the Tree of Tales, were venerated as wise protectors. They helped maintain Mirrodin's history, etched into the massive Tangle tree's coppery surface, and the Viridian elves valued the trolls' vast perspective. But the time would come when the trolls would have to leave Tel-Jilad to rise up and fight, and they would face the extinction of their race.

Tree of Tales | Art by John Avon

During the reign of the mad guardian Memnarch, the elf Glissa Sunseeker used the Kaldra artifacts to summon the Kaldra champion, a powerful avatar. However, Memnarch treacherously took control of the Kaldra champion, and Glissa ended up having to fight it herself. The trolls left Tel-Jilad and came to Glissa's aid, buying Glissa time to reach the Radix and trigger the explosion that set free the green sun. Many trolls were destroyed in the process, but those who returned to the Tangle found that the elves had become suspicious of the trolls and their teachings.

The elves blamed Glissa for the vast destruction caused to the Tangle during the Radix explosion, and they distrusted the trolls for their association with her. The trolls possessed knowledge to vindicate Glissa, but the elves broke off contact with them, rejecting the way of life that had grown up around Tel-Jilad. (More on what became of Glissa another time.)

Then, as Memnarch's soul traps triggered, almost all of the remaining trolls disappeared, returned to their home planes, in the event known as the Vanishing. Today, most of the elves, and all other denizens of Mirrodin, assume that the trolls have died out completely. But one solitary, curmudgeonly, seemingly immovable member of the once-proud race still remains.

Thrun, the Last Troll

The one who once saved this world was branded as a Traitor,
and a Traitor she became.

—Inscribed on the skin of Thrun, the last troll

The troll Thrun lives like a hermit even as his home in the Tangle becomes tainted by Phyrexian intrusion. In his heart he carries the truth of Glissa's innocence and of Memnarch's treachery, and he bears it on his skin as well—he has tattooed this and many other tales onto his copper-plated hide. He's come to understand the nature of the Phyrexian threat, and because of his age and wisdom, he knows exactly what the Phyrexians will do to the world. He must decide whether to be a harbinger of the destruction or continue to shun contact in his dark lair.

And until he makes up his mind, nothing—nothing—is going to budge him.

Preview Card Time

The troll is always a Magic creature type that's hard to get rid of—their characteristic regeneration ability keeps them ticking through any ordinary licking. Mirrodin's Troll Ascetic expanded on this theme by being untargetable by anything your opponent would want to do—and Scars of Mirrodin's Asceticism in turn expanded on Troll Ascetic by granting "trollshroud" to your entire army.

The legendary troll Thrun expands on them both.

On a scale from one to unsolvable, Thrun scores a solid despairing chair-slump. Opponents everywhere will be racking their brains trying to figure out how to end this guy. He can't be countered on the way down. He can't be targeted while on the battlefield (except by you, in case you want to equip or enhance him for better fightin'). He can't be killed in ordinary combat or blasted by non-targeting board-sweepers as long as you have the traditional trollish up. Infect creatures still wither him away eventually, but about the only way to reliably wipe out Thrun is to cast Thrun, thereby legend-ruling him out of existence.

Thrun, the Last Troll | Art by Jason Chan

Thrun has no particular means of evading blockers other than his knack at survival and "the way out is through" attitude. But if turning his factory-standard 4/4 frame sideways isn't enough for you, he's also very, very good at wielding Equipment. Perhaps arm him with a Basilisk Collar to deathtouch his way through a field of 6/6s, or unsheathe a Sword of Vengeance so he can waltz into the Red Zone all untapped and 6-power-of-tramply. He is a control-hating precision weapon specially designed to deliver 4-point chunks of damage come hell or High Tide, and he does all this for a sleek .

Thrun thrives in an environment full of stuff he's immune to. Thrun lumbers through barrages of removal like a tank through a snowball fight. Mana Leaks and Doom Blades ricochet off his hide, and Jace, the Mind Sculptor just stares at him, bounceless. Thrun can even regenerate from the Day of Judgment itself, should it come to that—and it shouldn't. Mostly all those dead cards will frown sadly at Thrun from their permanent home in your opponents' hands, while you use removal to pick off the few blockers who manage to impede Thrun's errands of pain.

The Time of War

The isolated scuffles and tentative sorties are over. The plane is engulfed in war, and the bad news for the Mirrans is that the armies are now of equal strength. Mirrodin Besieged is split down the middle—equal numbers of Mirran and Phyrexian watermarks across the set.

The Mirrans have banded together—differences of clan and race have melted into one unison cry of battle. They now understand that their very survival as a civilization is at stake. The Phyrexians have spilled forth—the core of the world has burst open like a cancer, pouring ever more sophisticated Phyrexian designs into the conflict. The shadowy Praetors lurk below; orchestrating the assault on Mirrodin while whispering tainted counsel into the unstable mind of a former planeswalker.

Witnessing all of this is Thrun, the last troll. He knows the fate of Glissa. He carries in his mind the Tree of Tales. He has seen Phyrexia emerge from Mirrodin's core, and he knows the danger is profound. He's discovered a protégé, a strange Sylvok girl whose body is an aberration on Mirrodin—she is pure, completely untouched by metal. He's training her for war, honing her skills in combat and healing, such that her odd gifts may prove to tip the scales for the Mirrans in the conflict to come. In the meantime, he may have to plod out from under the boughs of the Tangle trees and crash through some Phyrexians himself.

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