A Planeswalker's Guide to New Phyrexia: The Quiet Furnace
This section describes the Quiet Furnace, the Phyrexian faction associated with red mana.
"What is our purpose? To reforge. Nothing more."
—Urabrask the Hidden
Mountain | Illustration by Tomasz Jedruszek
The vast majority of red-aligned Phyrexians dwell in the so-called Furnace Layer, a relatively new, interstitial layer between Mirrodin's outer surface and inner core. This layer's creation was one of the first steps in transforming Mirrodin into New Phyrexia, built from the ancestral memory embedded in the glistening oil.
Effect of the Red Sun
In its original incarnation, Phyrexia had access only to black mana. It did encompass concepts beyond those central to black mana, such as hierarchy and flame, but without access to the vital red mana behind those concepts, its core ethos was unified and unchallenged. Access to all five of Mirrodin's mana-rich suns has led to diversification and disunity, damaging the Phyrexian singularity of purpose. Of all the energies Mirrodin introduced to the Phyrexian ethos, the mana from the red sun has been most challenging, because it's the force that lies behind the concepts of individualism, compassion, emotion, and freedom.
Priest of Urabrask | Illustration by Kev Walker
The mana from the red sun gave rise to Phyrexians who had just a glimmer of concern for other lifeforms—not full-blown compassion, but enough empathy to cause hesitation, a phenomenon more or less alien to Phyrexia. Beings of varying levels of sentience reacted to this impulse differently. Among nonsentient creatures, this primitive empathy simply caused moments of confusion before action, but fully sentient Phyrexians found themselves deeply conflicted and even ashamed of their concern for others. Make no mistake—Phyrexia, even when influenced by the red sun, is still a brutal and horrific system. Most Furnace Layer denizens do what they were created to do: tend the molten slag and turn the scraps of Mirrodin into the hellish landscape of New Phyrexia. But the influence of red mana has caused this part of New Phyrexia not to fall in lockstep with the other factions.
Slag Fiend | Illustration by Mike Bierek
"The fiend had me in its grasp, and I could feel the heat of the furnaces. I was resigned to meet my death, but then something strange happened. It paused for a moment and then unclasped its pincers, releasing me. I slumped to the ground, exhausted, too wounded to run. It regarded me for a time, and although it had no features familiar to our world, I felt as if it was confused. Then it turned and left me there. I'll never understand why."
—Kardem of the Spear
The Safety of Industry
Faced with impulses and hesitations they didn't know how to cope with, the Phyrexians of the Furnace Layer cleaved tightly to their function: to keep the fires of the furnaces burning, to incinerate dead and failed organisms, to reprocess the metals of former Mirrans, and to turn those metals into the raw materials for new Phyrexians and new nested layers of the plane. This adherence to labor afforded the conflicted Phyrexians a measure of resolve in the face of their sublimated dissent against the broader Phyrexian disregard for individual beings.
For the least sentient of them, apathy toward other beings became the norm. For the most sentient, industry became a means of demonstrating to other Phyrexians that they were part of the system, that they were functioning correctly, that they had a use, despite their secret doubts.
Then the Mirrans came.
A Secondary Invasion
The furnace denizens cooperated with the Phyrexian invasion of Mirrodin's surface world; they aided exactly as much as asked and no more. When the Mirrans on the surface found themselves outnumbered and outgunned, a few did the only thing they could do to survive: they retreated into the lacunae, especially through Kuldotha and Taj-Nar, but also at Lumengrid and the Araneas Altar. Only Ish-Sah was blocked off completely to Mirrans.
Rally the Forces | Illustration by Steve Belledin
"Their forces are unknown to us. The Moriok or the nim that emerge from the necrogen bogs—those we understand. These horrors which pour out of the canyons use weapons, tactics and magic that are alien to even our most capable generals and seasoned warriors. Our armies are scattered. We have no choice but to hide and survive."
—Jor Kadeen, the Prevailer
In the initial days of the appearance of Mirrans at the lacunae, the furnace Phyrexians killed and incinerated them. But as the days passed and more and more refugees appeared, a hesitation grew. The sentient beings appealed to their praetor, Urabrask, for guidance. Urabrask took days to reply. When he did, his three-word decree stunned the others: "Let them be." But none dared challenge his decision, and most tacitly agreed, although their subordinate nature prevented them from voicing that agreement.
Urabrask the Hidden
Urabrask is called "the Hidden" because he seeks no audience with other Phyrexian leaders or with Karn. He will cooperate when his presence is requested or demanded but speaks as little as possible. His responses to questions about the Furnace Layer operations are detailed and thorough, but he never elaborates or speculates. Urabrask is quick to anger, and his might and temper deter others from prodding.
Urabrask the Hidden | Illustration by Brad Rigney
Neither Sheoldred, the other thanes, nor Vorinclex give Urabrask much thought—or the Furnace Layer generally, for that matter. Elesh Norn and her orthodoxy see Urabrask as nothing more than a glorified factory boss, serving the Great Work in toil and fire. Only a couple of key researchers under Jin-Gitaxias suspect that Urabrask has any other agenda beyond tending the furnaces, and this suspicion is still formless and hasn't yet prompted any action.
Urabrask himself lacks a grand plan; foresight is not his strong suit. For now he has commanded the furnace legions to turn a blind eye to the Mirrans among them. But more Mirran refugees arrive every day, and as they do, his status inches from neglect to betrayal of Phyrexia. To buy some time, Urabrask has made only one thing clear to the other factions of Phyrexia: No others are to enter the Furnace Layer, lest the metal be made impure, the Great Work disturbed, the grand system interrupted. For now, the rest of Phyrexia respects his territory and heeds his command.
"Destruction purifies. The furnaces cleanse. Words can always be twisted, but the fire cannot."
—Urabrask the Hidden
The Mirrans had a choice on the surface: Flee into the hearts of the capitols and down into the lacunae, or die screaming. The first of them that entered the lacunae fully expected to die and were instead awestruck and terrified to see the hellish landscape that had developed under their feet. Many were killed by Phyrexians that saw them as a threat to their forges, an impurity to be cremated. In the initial days, scores of Mirrans were killed as they tried to enter the Furnace Layer.
Vulshok Refugee | Illustration by Wayne Reynolds
But after Urabrask's decree, things abruptly changed, and from the Mirran point of view, the sudden change in behavior was bewildering and inexplicable. The furnace dregs simply passed by the Mirrans as though they weren't there. The towering virons wouldn't change their paths to avoid Mirrans or their makeshift shelters, but they wouldn't they change their paths to crush them, either. It seemed as though the Furnace Layer suddenly found the Mirrans invisible.
Slowly at first, the Mirrans set up camp amid the furnaces and Phyrexians. They were then joined by more refugees, and more. Through trial and error they learned quickly to settle near but not too near the lacunae, and away from the largest furnaces. They also learned to keep their encampments small—settlements too large for the Phyrexians to ignore were destroyed.
"We blindly stumbled into the crevasse and hauled our wounded far into the dark interior of the mountain. We did not care where we were going, only that we were fleeing a horrific death and the echoes of our comrades' screams. After what seemed an age, we arrived here, this giant hollow space filled with lakes of fire. It's not home—home is gone. But for the moment, we are safe."
—Sakasha, Leonin sunspear
Phyrexian Roles in the Furnace Layer
Because industry is the primary purpose in the Furnace Layer, Phyrexians there have been adapted from their prototypical forms to more specialized functions.
Ogre menials are compleated ogres who have found new purpose in gathering scrap and ore from both the surface and the core and bringing it to the furnace. They are stupid, violent and dangerous. Urabrask favors them because they rarely speak, never question orders, and are quite willing to smash anything that gets in the way of their task.
Ogre Menial | Illustration by David Rapoza
Furnace dregs are perpetually half-molten humanoids responsible for taking the scrap, ore, and other materials from the ogre menials and loading it into a variety of furnaces and smelters. In a pinch they also protect the raw materials from interlopers. As a last-ditch effort, a furnace dreg can detonate itself, sending out a semi-directed spray of molten metal.
Squealstokes, a kind of compleated goblin, have gleefully seized the task of stoking the furnace fires both at Kuldotha and within the furnace layer. They frantically race about, building spiny contraptions to fan the flames. They sometimes fuel the furnace with a little too much zeal, occasionally throwing each other into the furnaces, or anything else that happens to be lying or scurrying around. If their efforts fall short, they will throw themselves into the furnace, achieving the dual purpose of feeding the fires and avoiding more painful punishment at the hands of their overlords.
Artillerize | Illustration by Johann Bodin
Ingot slaves are the native Phyrexian humanoids, hooded, leather-clad, and mostly faceless, who cast and extrude the metal from the furnaces. They vary somewhat in size and shape, but all speak minimally, and when they do speak, the sound is a guttural scratching that only other ingot slaves can understand. The ingot slaves have recently been curious about Mirran humanoids, particularly Vulshok, who they furtively observe while working when possible.
Slag harvesters are large, brutish creatures that gather up the dead for reprocessing. They begin the smelting process on their way back to the furnace dregs by eating most of what they find. The flesh is digested and the metal sits in the gut. It's later regurgitated for the furnace dregs, who load it into the furnaces. Slag harvesters also escort the largest living furnaces through the Furnace Layer, clearing debris that would pollute the resulting metal from their efforts. They're also quite capable of combat, although not quite as quick to anger as the ogre menials.
Virons, the towering, spindly creatures that wander the Furnace Layer, struck abject terror in the hearts of the Mirrans who first encountered them. In reality, although these creatures are many stories high, they are not among the deadliest threats in the Phyrexianized mountains. The most dangerous aspect of the virons, beyond getting crushed underfoot, is the tendency of mana-storms to gather around their upper bodies. These creatures' purpose is to keep the floor and ceiling of the Furnace Layer richly charged with mana, and they do so by creating a kind of "mana microclimate" around them. These pseudo-electrical storms discharge into their bodies and the charge then flows upward and downward into the metal of the layer.
Flameborn Viron | Illustration by Svetlin Velinov
The Great Furnace on Mirrodin's surface is now fully Phyrexian. It serves both as the main access point for Urabrask's Phyrexians to reach the surface and as the main conduit of molten iron from the surface to the Furnace Layer below. As expected, squealstokes run amok here, and the whole structure is filled with vaporized oil and smoke at all times.
The unexpected development at Kuldotha is that the structure itself has begun to demonstrate biological traits, likely as a result of the Spore bound up in the metal it melts down. It already had a sort of digestive system, and as time passes it seems to have moods and tempers as well. Too many impurities sicken it, and a steady supply of rich, pure ore and metal keep it quiet. How this quasi-alive state will evolve is anyone's guess.
Moltensteel Dragon | Illustration by James Ryman
Phyrexians in the Oxidda Chain
Although the denizens of the Furnace Layer are specialized in purpose, they are not the only mountain-dwelling Phyrexians on the plane. Urabrask has encouraged the development of a wide variety of predators and territorial constructs to prowl the Oxidda Mountains. These creatures are morphologically divergent from the Phyrexians in the furnaces; they vaguely ape the forms of Mirran life before the taking of the surface. This deployment of monstrous, animalistic creations around Oxidda is no folly for Urabrask—these creatures kill indiscriminately but don't kill each other. In other words, they serve as intrusion countermeasures. They protect Kuldotha from Phyrexians of other factions and enable the furnace-dwellers to come and go as they please between the surface and Furnace Layer. The free-roaming creatures meet with the approval of Vorinclex, who sees them as an adaptation of his own methods.
Slash Panther | Illustration by Matt Stewart
The number of survivors scraping out an existence in the Furnace Layer is small, and the number of those who remain uninfected by Phyrexian corruption is even smaller. Those in the middle to late stages of infection will likely die, but are cared for by those less sick in the meantime. Those in the earliest stages of infection live in hope that they will join the ranks of the Incorruptible before it's too late.
Jor Kadeen, the Prevailer | Illustration by Austin Hsu
The last hope for Mirrodin is a small group of individuals who have become immune to the effects of phyresis. Some of this group are Auriok and Vulshok humans. Others are leonin and goblins, and the rest are a broad assortment of lost Mirrodin's other humanoids: elves, Sylvok, Neurok, vedalken, loxodon, and even several Moriok. With no other choice, these refugees have become resistance fighters. They eke out a life in small encampments close (but not too close) to the lacunae, where they can make forays to the surface to search for food and additional survivors. Their immunity stems from a single woman on whose life the future of Mirrodin may depend: the healer Melira.
"Why I am different I do not know, but if I can save a single life from being corrupted by the oil, I will gladly do it. My life belongs to the people of Mirrodin."
Ruthless Invasion | Illustration by Svetlin Velinov
Slagmaw. This is the largest of the camps, situated near the Great Furnace. A place at this camp is coveted because it's thought to be the safest because it's the most distant from the other lacunae (through which Phyrexians pass regularly). It gets its grim name from the fact that it is situated inside a large, dead creature that was once a "living furnace"—a husk that the Phyrexians tellingly don't reprocess. Because of its substantial shelter from the surrounding environs, this camp is much better outfitted and protected than the others.
"As long as we remain on Mirrodin, there is a shred of hope that our world will one day return to its rightful occupants. Maybe these rotting tyrants will grow weary of one another and eat their own. These hopes may be foolish, but for now, we cling to whatever lies keep us going, and we work to ready the minds of the young ones for the future they face."
—Jor Kadeen, the Prevailer
Lowlight. Named by surviving leonin abunas, this encampment is as close as the resistance dare settle to the once-sacrosanct Cave of Light. The camp is shielded from the blistering heat by a cluster of enchantments that surround it like a shimmering bubble. Inside are simple lean-tos of scrap, skins, and geomantically raised crests of the floor's metal. The camp is occasionally beset by squealstokes looking for things to burn, and its residents have no choice but to let them take what they want, lest they draw reprisal. They make furtive journeys to the surface to replace what they've lost.
Seedling. The sylvok Melira described something to the others that Thrun had described to her: a young tree that grew skyward. She called it a seedling, and this camp was named after that concept, alien to Mirrans but representing a new beginning and a new natural world. Seated near the site of the Radix, this camp is dangerously close to a group of ingot slaves who are curious about the life that struggles to grow within the Furnace Layer.