The Terms of Engagement

Posted in Savor The Flavor on September 22, 2010

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

After a scant few rotations of our globe, Scars of Mirrodin Prereleases will begin. Scars of Mirrodin cards are scheduled to show up in Gatherer this very day. Mirrodin's time draws near.

So it's time to arm yourself. And I don't mean with adventuring gear and grappling hooks—that's so last year.

Two entire civilizations, Mirrodin and Phyrexia, are on the brink of discovering one another. Each is a civilization founded on the fusion of flesh with metal. Each can claim rights to the shimmering plane of Mirrodin. Each has fractally complex internal structures, a network of factions and subfactions, and deep histories that trace back to the exploits of planeswalkers of old.

This year, more than anything else, you need to come armed with knowledge.

To that end, today we present you with a glossary—nay, a lore arsenal—er, no, on second thought, glossary's fine—überglossary? nah—of Mirran and Phyrexian terms. Study it well, and even if you weren't plugged in to Magic flavor eight years ago, you too will be able to distinguish Ish Sah from the Kha and an Auriok from a Moriok.

This glossary is actually adapted from an internal document we use to inform our translators what we mean by various words on the cards. But I've filled it in with a little more background, so you can actually use it as a mini-reference to the flavor of the setting and the brutal conflict to come. Ready? Let's start from the top.


The original name for the plane of Mirrodin when it was created.


The white-aligned Mirran humans, characterized by their tan skin, white hair, and golden metal weapons and armor.


Tiny, bioluminescent, insectile creatures native to Mirrodin. Blinkmoths are used in the creation of a fluid known as "serum." Blinkmoths have been farmed almost to extinction for the production of serum.


A dark gray, indestructible metal that can be made into weapons, armor, or other artifacts. Darksteel objects often have motes of magical energy that orbit around them.

Father of Machines, the

The role of the leader of Phyrexia, formerly occupied by Yawgmoth. After Yawgmoth's death, Phyrexia was defeated on Dominaria. At this time, the civilization of Phyrexia on Mirrodin has not found a new Father of Machines.


A group of Viridian elves, a term derived from "renegade."


A vast area of flat, interlocking metal plates where little organic metal grows.

Glistening oil

See Phyrexian oil.


Mirrodin's goblins believe in a pantheon of higher entities represented by the five mana suns. They employ a philosophy of metal recycling, even melting down the metal in their own bodies to generate new inventions and new goblins.

Ish Sah

The Vault of Whispers, the structure enclosing the black lacuna, and the haven of undead warlord Geth.


The legendary silver golem, created by Urza, who created Argentum, later called Mirrodin.


The term for the leader of the leonin prides on Mirrodin. The former kha, Raksha, disappeared in the Vanishing, leaving the leonin Kemba to serve as regent in his stead.


The Great Furnace, which encloses the red lacuna.

Knowledge Pool, the

A torus-shaped pool of serum that floats above the blue lacuna deep inside Lumengrid.


A large cavity in Mirrodin's surface through which one of the five suns emerged from the mana core. There are five lacunae, one for each color of mana, and one for each of Mirrodin's five suns.


A race of white-aligned lion humanoids, led by a kha.


A race of white-aligned elephant humanoids.


The isolated capital city of the vedalken, a structure of chrome and crystal in the Quicksilver Sea. Site of the Knowledge Pool and the blue lacuna.


Mirrodin's former warden, an artifact creature who created much of Mirrodin's metallic landscape and artifact creatures. Memnarch craved to possess a planeswalker spark, and was driven mad by a few drops of a mysterious black oil. In his madness, he brought beings from other planes using devices called soul traps, seeking to find one with the planeswalker spark and steal it from them. Memnarch was eventually defeated by the elf Glissa Sunseeker.


A small artifact creature whose design resembles Memnarch.

Mephidross, the

Mirrodin's swamp environment, characterized by chimneys that vent necrogen gas.


A native denizen of Mirrodin, including the myr, many metal golems and constructs, blinkmoths, and various wild creatures. It also includes any sentient descendants of those brought to Mirrodin by the soul traps that remained after the Vanishing.


The black-aligned humans of Mirrodin, native to the Mephidross.


A race of autonomous artifact creatures first developed by Memnarch. Myr come in a variety of physical designs to fit their various functions.


The greenish, toxic gas emitted by chimney-like structures in the Mephidross. Necrogen gradually turns normal human beings into nim zombies.


The blue-aligned humans of Mirrodin, characterized by their serum tubes and translucent blue eyewear. After a series of attacks that destabilized the Synod, the Neurok have agreed to an uneasy truce with the vedalken.


The ravenous zombies of the Mephidross, transformed from normal humans by necrogen gas.

Oxidda Chain

Mirrodin's vast "mountain" range made of enormous rusted iron structures.


The painful, gradual process in which a non-Phyrexian creature is transformed into a Phyrexian.


Any of several types of abominations of fused flesh and metal, either a creature that has been converted to the cause of Phyrexia via the process of phyresis or one that has been generated "natively" in Phyrexian birth vats. Some Phyrexians are slavering, mindless horrors, but others possess intellect, culture of a sort, and plans for the future.

Phyrexian oil

The black, glistening, oil-like substance responsible for spreading the Phyrexian contagion and causing phyresis.


One of Phyrexia's hidden leaders, some of which plot and scheme to subvert and overtake Mirrodin.


A pterodactyl-like flying creature ridden as mounts by the leonin.

Radix, the

The area in the Tangle that surrounds the green lacuna. Since the rise of the green sun, the Radix has become a verdant area of strange, fleshy new growth.

Razor Fields

Mirrodin's plains environment, characterized by low, rolling expanses covered in sharp metal "razorgrass."


An intellect-expanding liquid derived from blinkmoths. Used first by Memnarch and later employed by the vedalken in their research.

Soul trap

One of Memnarch's devices designed to abduct a species from another plane and bring it to Mirrodin. When Memnarch was defeated, his soul traps were reactivated, causing an elder generation of Mirrans to return to their worlds of origin, which the orphaned younger generations call "The Vanishing."


The green-aligned humans of Mirrodin, characterized by their copper scale armor. The Sylvok possess a deep reverence for nature and can be fierce shamans and druids.

Synod, the

The vedalken brain trust that once controlled the Knowledge Pool in Lumengrid.


The ancient den built at the white lacuna, and the center of leonin culture. Taj-Nar was almost totally destroyed, but has been rebuilt under direction of the regent kha.

Tangle, the

Mirrodin's "forest" region composed of tall, copper "trees" covered with greenish verdigris.


The Tree of Tales, a giant copper "tree" in the Tangle that is etched with the history of Mirrodin. Most of the Tel-Jilad trolls, shamans devoted to the preservation of the etchings, died out during Memnarch's rule. Most Viridian elves now reject Tel-Jilad as the center of their culture.

Vanishing, the

The mysterious disappearance of the elder generations of Mirrans after Memnarch's defeat. The Mirrans that remain on Mirrodin have different names and theories for what caused the disappearance.


A blue-skinned, four-armed race on Mirrodin and other planes. The vedalken value knowledge above all else.


The artifact-hating elves of Mirrodin, native to the Tangle. Many of those who survived the Vanishing now call themselves the Resurgents, and have organized themselves into groups called "gades."


The red-aligned humans of Mirrodin who live in the Oxidda Chain. The Vulshok are organized into several sub-tribes, each of which is named after a type of weapon or blacksmithing tool.

Letter of the Week

Today's question comes from Tsilini, who has questions about Phyrexians and subtypes.

Dear Doug Beyer,

There's a question I've been thinking about since the Lorwyn creature type update, and with Scars of Mirrodin block featuring the creatures in question, I think now's a good time to ask.

Why don't the Phyrexians have a shared creature type? You'd think with their common grounds as the manufactured and grown servants of the glorious Lord Yawgmoth, as well as the glistening oil running through their veins, that they'd be affected by magic that can affect entire tribes.

After all, the multitudes of Beasts (which are all over the place, from dromaeosaurs and giant creatures that scrape the clouds to Zeppelids and a giant undead leech (Blind Creeper) to Baloths and Gnarrs to Cosmic Larva and Thoctars, and all kinds of creatures of all shapes, sizes, and body configurations) can have a Shared Triumph, Insects (which includes beetles, ants, wasps, maggots, roaches, robotic ants, centipedes, a Giant Solifuge, and whatever Clickslither is supposed to be, but oddly enough not Spiders) can share their Steely Resolve, and Spirits, which range from your standard ghosts to the kamis, can succumb to Peer Pressure, but the minions of the Father of Machines aren't able to follow a Brass Herald, create a global Conspiracy, sneak under the Cover Of Darkness, or launch a Coordinated Barrage with each other.

Is there any particular reason why, other than the fact that the word Phyrexian is rather long?

There's no doubt there'd be utility in having a Phyrexian creature type, Tsilini. Seeing the word right on the card could lend some built-in flavor; it would be automatically clear what was a Phyrexian and what wasn't, and make it clear that this creature was a particular kind of Zombie or Horror. Furthermore, it could lend itself well to card designs that mention that creature type. There could be "lords" that give abilities to all Phyrexians (a la Hand of the Praetors), or on the other side, effects that wreak havoc on Phyrexians (a la Undead Slayer). Those are the "pros."

The first "con" is work. Although there's never been a Phyrexian creature type before, and although those involved with the Grand Creature Type Update a few years ago chose not to create one, Scars of Mirrodin represented another opportunity to investigate the issue again. It would have taken some serious work in Oracle to give all of the past Phyrexian-flavored cards the Phyrexian type, and there would have been some judgment calls. But that by itself was not enough of a reason; it would have been hard, but we could have done the overhaul necessary.

A more important "con" is the precedent set by the many Phyrexian creatures of the past. Phyrexia is mentioned on cards as far back as Antiquities, and was covered heavily from the Tempest block through the Invasion block. Phyrexian creatures are Horrors, Golems, Zombies, Carriers, Constructs, Skeletons, Insects, Beasts, a Dreadnought, and more. The effect of all those types is to give Phyrexia an impression of extreme diversity, even as it appeared almost exclusively on black and artifact creatures. It's unified in virtue of its disunity. Still, that's not really enough of a reason, either—the subtype "Phyrexian" could have been tacked on top of those other types while preserving their type diversity. "Phyrexian" is a long word, and it might have generated text-length issues with long type lines like "Artifact Creature — Phyrexian Blah" or "Legendary Creature — Phyrexian Blah," but those could have been dealt with case-by-case.

I feel there's another "con" in that giving a common creature type to every member of a civilization creates a strange, hard-to-follow precedent. Phyrexia isn't really a species of creature; it's not a race or a class. It's an empire, a force—a coalition of many kinds of creatures, from all walks of (what you might loosely call) life, all from a common origin and more or less unified toward a common goal. If every Phyrexian shares a type, then every Kamigawan should, too, and every Alaran (or Bantian?), and so on, even though those civilizations have deep schisms, subfactions, and internal conflicts within them. We want to portray Phyrexia as a real culture, kind of a "world in search of a plane," and a creature type on all of them sort of demotes Phyrexia to a one-sided bad guy.

A final "con" is that we got a lot of the functionality we wanted out of the watermarks. As you'll note at the prerelease, almost all of the Scars of Mirrodin cards have watermarks lightly traced behind the rules text that indicates which faction they belong to, either the Mirran side or the Phyrexian side. These will help you keep track of what's what even without a creature type, and even lets you identify artifacts and spells as being on one side or the other.

I'm not sure that any one of those "cons" would have been enough to kill the idea of a Phyrexian creature type, Tsilini, but taken together they tipped the scales for us. The benefits of a new subtype didn't outweigh the costs, especially once we decided we were going to do the Mirran and Phyrexian watermarks for the set. Watermarks can't do everything a creature type could do, but they did enough while disrupting little of Phyrexia's storied past.

Have a great time at the Prerelease, everyone. If you end up building a deck or making a play that feels especially Mirran or Phyrexian, let me know about it via the email link below! See you next week!

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