Sometimes it's nice to look back and see just how far things have come since the early days of Magic: The Gathering. To that end, we're bringing you a series of short videos that highlight Magic: The Gathering expansions throughout the years.
Previously, we looked at Tempest, the first set in the block known as "The Rath Cycle." This time around, it's out of the frying pan and into the fire as we check out the second set in the block: Stronghold.
You can check it all out in our retrospective video (below).
Out of the frying pan and into the fire. Stronghold, the second set in The Rath Cycle, released in February of 1998 and picked up (story wise) where Tempest left off.
Gerrard and his merry band of Weatherlighters have infiltrated Volrath’s Stronghold and are now searching around to rescue their lost crew members, including the kidnapped Captain Sisay, as well as reclaim ownership of the stolen pieces of the Legacy, which includes none other than the silver golem itself, Karn.
The party splits with one group - Gerrard, Crovax, Starke, and Mirri – serving as the rescue party and the other minding the Weatherlight with plans to meet at a garden above the stronghold for their eventual escape. All the while, Karn and Tahngarth are imprisioned and are being tortured by Volrath and his minions.
Making their way across the ensnaring bridge that serves as the prison tower’s defenses, the party quickly locates and frees both Karn and Tangarth (though both a worse for wear one way or another), and continues on into the Dream Halls where the dark angel Selenia – once the protector of nobleman Crovax’s family back on Dominaria before being kidnapped and corrupted by the Phyrexian-backed Volrath – attacks and aims for Crovax. Mirri tries to save him by intercepting the blow, receiving a potentially fatal wound to her abdomen. As the dark angel attacks to end the cat warrior, Crovax parries Selenia’s sword and fights the angel one-on-one, slaying her. Her demise, however, curses Crovax to transform into a vampiric version of his now former self.
After that, part of the rescue party return to the Weatherlight now that they've broken Karn and Tahngarth out of Volrath’s prison tower, including a very wounded Mirri and a Crovax who is slowly suffering a vampiric change. Along the way, Karn senses and reclaims another part of the Legacy and returns it to the skyship as well.
Meanwhile, Gerrard and Starke are still in Volrath’s Stronghold in search of Sisay and Starke’s daughter, Takara. In exploring the Stronghold, they stumble upon familiar scenes from Dominaria and get a clue as to what the artificial plane of Rath is really for. Then, while in the Dream Halls, Volrath materializes before Gerrard. It’s here that Gerrard suddenly recalls how his step-brother from Jamuura, Vuel, departed through a planar portal to become evincar of Rath, courtesy of the Phyrexians. Enraged, Gerrard moves to attack Volrath, who dematerializes to reveal a ready-for-combat Sisay (under Volrath’s control) and naïve-but-scrappy Takara behind him.
Gerrard successfully subdues Sisay and successfully disarms Takara, but not before she slashes Starke’s face, blinding her father. After the brawl, Volrath returns only to be slain. His body falls to the ground and begins to melt apart, proving to not be Volrath but rather a shapeshifted duplicate of the evincar instead.
Of course, this isn’t the end of the story. After all, there is one more set left in this block. But it is the end of Stronghold’s story.
But that’s not all there is to say about Stronghold.
Tempest ’s buyback and shadow abilities return and are expanded upon, and the en-Kor race get a new unnamed ability inspired by the now-abandoned Banding mechanic that allows for free damage redistribution. Slivers, licids, flowstone, and spikes are all also expanded upon.
Like Tempest before it, there are a number of rather good cards in Stronghold, though not nearly as many and (possibly due to that) players felt there was a large drop off in power level between the two sets. And that’s despite the likes of Mox Diamond, Sliver Queen, and Ensnaring Bridge topping the list.
Other singles, such as Voldrath’s Stronghold, Intruder Alarm, Grave Pact, and more are still popular in decks still today (though that’s mostly due to formats such as EDH and Oathbreaker). The set also contains six reprints – all of which come from the beginner-level set, Portal.
With Stronghold, Wizards of the Coast continued their new practice of releasing preconstructed ready-to-play theme decks in conjunction with the set. Because Stronghold isn’t a stand-alone set like Tempest is, however, the Stronghold theme decks contain cards from both sets.
Stronghold marked one major end for a major practice with Magic: The Gathering sets. It was the final set with which card rarity was not signified by the color of the set symbol. Rather, the set symbol (as it had been for all of the previous expansions that had one) was the default black.
That practice would change with the next set, but we’ll wait to cover that until the Weatherlight crew make their exodus from the plane of Rath.
Is Stronghold one of your favorite Magic: The Gathering sets? If so, let us know in the comment section below.
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