It's no surprise that MagicTheGathering.com is an especially popular place during card previews. People are itching to see the new cards, and they will wade thigh-deep through any style of writing to get to that precious, relief-inducing tidbit of information. I'm always excited for preview season and all those additional eyeballs, because it's a chance to reach out to readers who perhaps weren't fully aware that they're flavor fans. Goobing out over the details of worlds and characters and stories is not a sin. It can actually—prepare to gasp—be fun. Sometimes it just takes inoculating those card-preview-seeking optic nerves with a little taste, and you can grow a whole new Vorthos.
On top of that, this article was fun for me to write personally. It was not only a preview that showed off a tournament-powerful creature, but also an opportunity to tie together the nature of Innistrad's geists, its angelic history, the rise of its demon cults, and the role of its Avacynian Church all in one Spirit Cleric package. In our setting world guides, we often get to talk encyclopedically about individual elements of a plane. But we don't often have the chance to tell a story that brings together many of those elements at once. If you scrolled past all that just to see the white-blue Innistrad mythic rare, no problem. But now that you know the card, you might want to look a bit closer.
Have a safe and happy New Year and I'll see you again soon!
Concept art by Steven Belledin
Traft was a young priest in the Church of Avacyn. Strong and valiant, he vanquished all manner of evil creatures, specializing in fighting demons along the Ashmouth (a sulfurous pit that leads down into the bowels of the world). Traft's prowess with the sword and his skill with evil-destroying magic was renowned—so renowned, in fact, that the angels themselves honored him. Avacyn's own ranks of warrior-seraphs trusted Traft's skill in battle and fought soul-hungry demons alongside him.
Together, Traft and Avacyn's angels hunted evil along the Ashmouth, slaying demon after demon. Traft's exploits became famous, and he became recognized as a saint before his fortieth year. But as Saint Traft came to learn, demons on Innistrad do not stay away for long. Kill a demon, and it returns to the world in another form in short order—usually with a grudge. When Saint Traft would slay a demon, the black mana bound within it would be released, and safety would be restored to the nearby villages for a time. But that dark mana would coalesce again in some sunless corner of the world, and another demon would be born. Alchemists and theologians of Innistrad wonder whether demonic energy might be an eternal, unchanging quantity, able to change forms but never waxing or waning.
Art by Steve Argyle
So where is Saint Traft now? Since Avacyn went missing, and since much of her angelic host vanished along with her, the world of Innistrad could use the talents of a vampire hunter and demon slayer. But I'm afraid I cannot bring you a preview card of this great saint; sadly, Saint Traft died generations ago.
Yet Traft is indeed my preview card today. Here is his tale.
Traft, the celebrated slayer of fiends, had become a thorn in the side of demonkind. While the act of being destroyed was not a permanent obstacle for the demons, Traft's repeated slayings had frustrated their plans to corrupt human minions, gather eternal souls, and feed their lust for power. So, as demons do, they laid a trap and plotted their revenge.
One night, Saint Traft returned home to the human village of Shadowgrange in Stensia. The first thing he noticed was that an angel of Avacyn was perched on the roof of his tiny cottage, her sword drawn as if ready to leap into the air and fight. Angels often accompanied him to battle infernal forces, but none had ever visited his home. The wards above his door had been scratched out and neutralized, and the door hung ajar. The lock had been ripped free of the latch.
The angel didn't speak, but her concern was clear. She was ready to hunt down whatever had breached his cottage. Traft touched the Silver Collar symbol that hung around his neck and greeted the angel with a nod. Then he went inside, and made a horrible discovery.
Spread across his small kitchen table was a map of Stensia. A jagged, demonic dagger had been jammed into the table right through the map, stabbing into the infamous mountain pass known as Needle's Eye. Letters of blood ringed around the dagger, spelling out a message:
COME • WITHOUT ANGELS • OR WE SEND • THE REST OF HER
Resting near the words was the finger of a young girl.
Traft never removed his scabbard from his belt. He turned and left, closing the door behind him carefully, readying his horse to leave for Needle's Eye immediately. But there was the matter of the angel.
A saint rarely lies. But Saint Traft knew he must choose the lesser evil—lying to an angel—in order to prevent a greater one—the death of a child. The dark choice also meant he knew it must be demon's work, tempting him to do wrong.
He looked up to the warrior angel on his roof. "It's nothing," he told her. "I'll handle it."
He got on his horse and rode away, not knowing whether his message was clear.
The angel had sensed the lie, but she also sensed the urgency in Traft's voice and trusted the saint's skill in battle. She did as he wished, and did not follow.
Concept art by Vincent Proce
Needle's Eye was a path humans only used in emergencies. It was beset by vengeful geists and blood-lusting vampires, and Traft was alone, without his angelic attendant. Saint Traft used Avacynian magic to protect himself from a cloud of skeletal bats, and had to sacrifice his horse to escape a vampire that had gone mad from blood rage. But he made his way to the highest point of the pass: the crest of Needle's Eye.
He saw a gathering of cultists in robes, their hoods pulled up over their faces. They danced in a jerky, crazed circle around a young girl. The girl was missing her left index finger, and her eyes had rolled into the back of her head. With a flourish, the lead cultist enshrouded her in the same kind of robe that the rest of the cultists wore, and cast a withering grin at Traft. Before Saint Traft could act, the cultist-priest drew from his sleeve an intricately carved dagger made from bone.
"You call your angels, and she dies," said the cultist.
Then the cult-leader uttered a string of syllables and cast a spell. A black, ash-flecked fog gushed from the earth, covering the mountain pass in malevolent darkness. The shuddering, reeling cultists and their victim disappeared into the gloom, leaving Traft blind. From within the cloud came an unearthly voice, a booming laugh that sounded like the echoing rumble of an infinite pit.
This is when Traft would have summoned the host of Avacyn. flights of angels, trusting his call, would have appeared from the clouds and swept the mountain with holy light, purging the monsters.
But Saint Traft was not willing to endanger the child. He didn't even utter a warding spell, fearing that to call upon Avacyn's protection would risk bringing the attention of an angelic flight. He merely drew his sword and stepped forward, wracking his brain to remember where the entranced child stood and where the dancing cultists had been spinning.
Within the dark fog, Traft's blade found cultist after cultist. Each one shrieked with an eerie cackle, their bodies falling to the ground one by one. Finally he slew what he believed to be the lead cultist, putting his sword through the man's heart and letting him drop to the ground, and the fog cleared away.
To his great relief, the girl remained. The cultists had put a spell on her to make her dance, making her indistinguishable from the cult members in the gloom, but he had not touched her. The bodies of the dead cultists bled out onto the ground.
But to Traft's horror, his hand did not hold his sword, but the bone dagger of the cult-priest—and now it was covered in the blood of many sacrifices. He began to hear that echoing laughter again, booming up from below him like infernal thunder.
Art by Donato Giancola
Betrayed. Tricked into doing a demon's bidding yet again.
Traft dropped the dagger on the ground, and the ground began to crack at that spot, splitting like shoddy fabric. The cultist's bone dagger disappeared into the crack, swallowed by earth.
Saint Traft rushed to unbind the child. He called on Avacyn's aid to dispel the possession spell they had cast on her, and she groggily came to as if awaking from a dream.
"What's happening?" she said.
"Go," he told her. "Run, child. Run home."
As the girl ran down the path toward the village, Traft found his sword hidden in the lead cultist's robe. He turned to face the shattering crack in the earth. As the horns and spreading wings of a great demon rose from the rent in the ground, Saint Traft finally said his withheld prayer, calling on the aid of the angels of Avacyn.
An angel arrived, the same one who had perched upon his cottage. But she was too late. The demon Withengar had destroyed the living saint, the famed slayer of demonkind. With the help of more angelic attendants, the angel pushed back the demon-lord Withengar, unleashing her fury upon him and destroying him for a time. But Saint Traft was no more, and Withengar, no longer bound by ancient magics, began to torment the world once more.
The angel was consumed with sorrow and regret, and Traft's spirit burned with restlessness at having played into a demon's scheme. After Traft was buried, he never passed into the Blessed Sleep, and instead became a geist to haunt the world.
The Geist of Saint Traft still appears around Innistrad, particularly around Stensia and near the Ashmouth, the infernal gateway not far from Needle's Eye. One can visit a Shrine of Traft in Thraben, and occasionally receive aid in the form of prophecy and omens.
Saint Traft's geist still strikes at demonkind and other creatures of the night, looking brave and zealous just as he did in life. Although as a geist he does not possess the same holy skill he had in life, it's said that wherever his apparition appears, a certain angel is never far behind, always watching over him and always matching his every movement with her own.
Geist of Saint Traft | Art by Igor Kieryluk
So Let's See the Card Already
As I mentioned, I can't show you a preview card of the famed Saint Traft, as he met an unfortunate end long ago. But I can show you how he appears still today—as a geist. And true to form, wherever that restless ghost appears, so does his warden, his guardian angel.
This Spirit packs a punch—or really, his formidable guardian Angel token does most of the work. For three mana, you get a hexproof Cleric who swings in with the force of a Mack truck. The Angel token will be repeatedly troublesome to your opponents, because she appears when Traft attacks and disappears soon after. Meanwhile, your opponent can't target Traft himself (the spectral remains of him, that is), while you're free to suit him up with Equipment or protect him with spells. The combination is a potent offensive force.
The former Saint Traft demands white and blue mana, meaning he may work best as a quick threat in a control strategy, or as a scary finisher to cast with mana up to protect him. Traft might also do well in a quick, disruptive deck armed with efficient weenies, threatening to put the hurt on any deck that takes too long to find an answer.
Also, while there are ghostly beings across many colors in Innistrad, Spirits tend to be centered in blue and white, so any Spirit-matters mechanics will be friendly with the Traft-man—for example, the Angel of flight Alabaster, who can rescue poor Traft if an attack goes awry.
Art by Winona Nelson
In case you want to get crafty with Trafty, you can also use that repeatedly-appearing 4/4 Angel token for your own advantage. Throw it at your opponent with Fling or Brion Stoutarm before it poofs into thin air. Gain life from it with Angelic Chorus or Suture Priest, or sacrifice it to Culling Dais, Birthing Pod, or Greater Good. Cascade into Saint Traft with Stormcaller's Boon, then sacrifice the Boon to let him fly over for a sneaky Angel-fueled attack. You can even have the two of them attack differently: use the Angel token to attack a planeswalker while the Saint Formerly Known as Traft attacks a player's regular-old life total, leading to divine high-fives all around. I'm sure you will have even cleverer plans for when this Saint goes marching in.
Here's hoping you open this ghostly saint at the Prerelease the weekend after next! Remember to curse the name of Withengar when you attack for 6 on turn four.
See you next week!