From Legends to Dominaria and Everything In Between - Part 3
- Gianluca Aicardi
When Magic sets began to revisit past planes, the legendary permanents came along for the journey as a regular feature of each and every outing. It would all culminate this year with the mother of all returns: the one coming full circle to the original plane where everything had started.
Previously on From Legends to Dominaria: Part 1 of this series kicked off our history of the legends with the eponymous ancient set and the others from the age of the old border; Part 2 saw the legendary supertype conquering the modern card layout, raising to new levels during the Kamigawa explosion, then setting on a regular pattern that would connect the game directly with its narrative by embodying characters, places and items from the storyline.
The current decade of Magic sets opened with Scars of Mirrodin block, whose 14 new legends (not counting planeswalkers, as we'll keep doing from now on, since those weren't legends at the time) had the Phyrexian Praetors, and especially Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite, as their high points; but also archetype-defining cards like Mox Opal (for Robots), Melira, Sylvok Outcast (for Pod) and Ezuri, Renegade Leader (for Elves). For its part, the following block, the horror-themed Innistrad, added key legends like Griselbrand, Geist of Saint Traft, Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, Olivia Voldaren and Sigarda, Host of Herons. The sheer power level evoked by these names is a clear reminder of how far the legends had come since the times of Lord Magnus.
These are also the years when legendary permanents show up massively on ancillary products (the only meaningful example from the past being Portal Three Kingdoms with its historical Chinese characters). The Commander series, whose focus on legends is obvious, debuted in June 2011, followed three years later by the Conspiracy series with its Italian Renaissance setting on the plane of Fiora. The core sets, which starting from Magic 2010, began to include new cards rather than only reprints, have room for new legends as well, beginning with the monocolored cycle from Magic 2013, released in July 2012.
That same year Magic goes back to one of its most beloved planes thanks to the unsubtly named Return to Ravnica, which revisited the ten Guilds, represented once again by two legendary creatures each, which includes new versions of familiar characters like Teysa and Niv-Mizzet (of these, only Obzedat, Ghost Council can be deemed successful).
The Gods Themselves
The next block, Theros, was a top-down design based on myths from ancient Greece. Heroes and the divine pantheon that fuels their larger-than-life deeds were the proper terrain for the legendary supertype to thrive, which lead to one of the largest focus on it with 35 new non-planeswalker legends, twice the amount of the average block from this era. Those included the new creature subtype Gods (e.g. Nylea, God of the Hunt); the tools of their otherworldly trade, which became the first, and to date only, cards to feature both the artifact and the enchantment type at once (Bident of Thassa); and even famed rulers and monsters like Brimaz, King of Oreskos and Polukranos, World Eater. The legendary land Nykthos, Shrine to Nix is one of the most relevant of its kind since a long time, singlehandedly defining entire devotion archetypes.
A few months before the launch of Theros, the release of Magic 2014 in July 2013 had changed the legend rule once again, this time disengaging it from the other side of the battlefield, as each player became entitled to their own copy of any legendary permanent; should a second copy appear under the same player's control, that player could pick and choose which one to keep. And though M14 itself didn't contain any legendary permanent, M15 one year later would do a new cycle, this time including cards for each color and also a colorless and multicolored one. True to its name, Magic Origins would go on to become the core set with the wider focus on legends, debuting 13 new ones, most notably the transforming planeswalkers in creature form, the very first instances of a legendary creature with transform (following the noncreature artifact Elbrus, the Binding Blade from Dark Ascension; plus of course Garruk Relentless, the moment the planeswalker cards retroactively got assigned the legendary type).
In the meantime, the Central Asian-themed time travel narrative of Tarkir block injected even more legends in the Magic universe, with highlights such as Tasigur, the Golden Fang, Sidisi, Undead Vizier, Anafenza, the Foremost (and her time-reforged version Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit), and quite literally tons of Dragons, especially the powerful Elder Dragonlord cycle from the last set. More underwhelming was the legendary allotment for the first ever two-set block, Battle for Zendikar, whose more prominent specimens bearing the supertype would end up being Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet (new incarnation of the character from the original Zendikar visit); a new cycle of legendary enchantments representing the foundation of the Gatewach (e.g. Oath of Nissa); and new versions of two of the three Eldrazi Titans: the extremely formidable Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, and the mostly irrelevant Kozilek, the Great Distortion.
The Loudest Roars
The missing Eldrazi Titan was going to show up on Innistrad, in time for the latest comeback block, Shadows over Innistrad. Several legendary cards from this pair of sets are similarly over the top: transformer Archangel Avacyn, melded Brisela, Voice of Nightmares, and Ormendahl, Profane Prince, emerging from non-legendary land, Westvale Abbey. Along with Avacyn, the three “Powerpuff Angels” are also back, with Sigarda being the only one to maintain her good alignment. Thalia is now known as Thalia, Heretic Cathar, while Ulrich of the Krallenhorde is a long-awaited legendary Werewolf. A few of the legends from this block are linked to different kinds of expansions, like Gisa and Geralf descending from Commander 2014's Ghoulcaller Gisa and Stitcher Geralf (both were referenced in cards from the original Innistrad block, though), and Odric, Lunarch Marshal being the new version of Odric, Master Tactician from Magic 2013. Unrelated to any previous card, the Spider queen Ishkanah, Grafwidow made a big impact as a finisher in Standard.
In keeping with its main theme, many of the best legends from Kaladesh block (out of the 21 it brought along) are either artifacts, like Aetherworks Marvel and examples of the new vehicle subtype such as Skysovereign, Consul Flagship and Heart of Kiran; or artifact-related, like Depala, Pilot Exemplar or Chandra's own mom, Pia Nalaar (this time with no husband in tow). However, Baral, Chief of Compliance and Rishkar, Peema Renegade are strong showings from the milieus where non-permanents and creatures matter, respectively. Whereas our subsequent visit to Nicol Bolas's Egyptian-looking plane, Amonkhet, legends-wise mostly gave us a new brand of Gods and their Monuments.
The legend count for the heavily tribal block Ixalan, the Mesoamerican home of pirates, dinosaurs, and vampiric conquistadores, is complicated by two cycles of legendary lands, often mimicking the effects of older lands like Gaea's Cradle or Maze of Ith, and resulting from the transformation of legendary enchantments, a novel concept that gave birth to outstanding yet flavorful cards like Search for Azcanta / Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin. The plane's dwellers make for good legends, too, especially the Elder Dinosaurs of the Primal cycle.
And with this we've come to legends-filled Dominaria, the first standalone expansion set (in the main line that would later define the rotation of the Standard format) since 1994's Fallen Empires, marking a number of debuts: the legendary type applied retroactively to all planeswalkers (with the legend rule replacing the old “planeswalker uniqueness rule”, which means now planeswalkers with the same subtype but different names can coexist on the battlefield); a new card frame specific for legendary cards; legendary sorceries, which are just sorceries that require the presence of a legendary creatures or planeswalker to be cast; and the collective keyword “historic” that encompasses legendary cards, artifacts and the new enchantment subtypes “saga”. Dominaria, which contains more legends than any other set ever printed, is meant to celebrate 25 years of Magic by going back to its roots; and after this 3-part overview, we can safely say legends have been a non-irrelevant part of this game throughout the years, and they certainly came a long way since those first 61 from Legends. And the rest, as they say, is history.
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