Friday, 24 April 2020 07:35

Magic History: Taking a look back at 'Urza's Destiny'

Written by
Magic History: Taking a look back at 'Urza's Destiny' WOTC/MAGIC UNTAPPED

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 Urza's Legacy, the second entry in the infamous Urza's block.  This time around, we take a few minutes to look back at Urza's Destiny, the final set in what is considered by many as the most broken Magic: The Gathering block ever released.

You can check it all out in our retrospective video (below).

Video transcript:

The final set in Magic: The Gathering’s iconic Urza block, Urza’s Destiny, came out in June of 1999.

Concluding the Weatherlight Saga prequel storyline, the set picks up where Urza’s Legacy left off both in terms of story and in power level. In fact, Magic won’t see another set of such a high power level for a number of years.

The story of Urza’s Destiny is mirrored in the novel Bloodlines. For the most complete storyline experience, we recommend you give it a read. Otherwise, here’s the condensed version:

Urza is hard at work back at the Tolarian Academy as he looks to create the final part of his Legacy: A mortal heir who would be worthy of his lineage. Essentially, this was a Thran-inspired genetic engineering project that would “improve” humans to be the best and most advanced ever to exist on Dominaria. For safe keeping, the planeswalker voluntarily scattered the pieces of his Legacy across the multiverse to prevent it all from falling into Phyrexian hands while we worked towards his goal – pieces his would-be heir would need to locate and reassemble.

Seeking the best starting point possible, Urza zeroes in on the Capashen Clan of Benalia as they are the most respected, intelligent, brave, and advanced in all the land.

Using Thran DNA stolen from some Phyrexians, Urza also created a new race known as Metathran. These metathran were many times more powerful than humans. Featuring blue skin and white hair, they would serve as some of Domanaria’s most elite protectors.

While Urza was meddling around with his bloodline projects, an academy tutor named Rayne was quickly rising through the ranks. Eventually being named the academy’s chancellor, Barrin, the school’s Master Wizard, took note upon her. They eventually married, but Rayne isn’t exactly thrilled with the genetic experiments her husband’s friend, Urza, is doing. In fact, she is downright disgusted by it all and has her husband confront the planeswalker about her opposition.

Meanwhile, another academy tutor, a man known as Gatha, was conducting his own genetic manipulation experiments. Moving off campus to the land of Keld, Gatha’s twisted experiments yielded quick results with strong subjects, but they also proved to be quite unstable. With each new generation of Gatha’s creations came even more powerful and dangerous results. Gatha’s final generation yielded a champion so powerful that this new race got noticed…

…by Phyrexia.

While all that was going down, an elvish emissary from Llanowar named Rofellos was dispatched to Yavimaya in the hopes of establishing an alliance in preparation for the upcoming invasion. Bringing lavish gifts to sweeten the pot, Multani decreed that the two forests will work together in defending the realm.

Let’s venture for a moment to the plane of Rath. An artificial plane of Phyrexian creation, it’s the staging area for the eventual invasion of Dominaria.

Overseen by Croag, a member of Yawgmoth’s inner circle, the entire purpose of the plane was to have an immense army ready and waiting for the plane of Rath, which was made of ever-expanding flowstone, to outgrow its own capacities and merge with its nearest neighboring plane. In this case, that plane was Dominaria.

When this Rathi overlay would occur, it would bring all of the forces assembled on Rath along with it for an invasion of a global scale.

Davvol, a once human elder who betrayed his people and joined the Phyrexians willingly, was one of Croag’s closest underlings. He would perform planeshifting experiments for the overseer, bringing would-be Rathi troops to the plane from across the multiverse. Of course, it didn’t always go as planned, which resulted in the Shadow races found in the Tempest block.

Croag and Davvol took note of Gatha’s genetic experiments and the super-strong Kelds he had been creating. They, along with a squad of fearsome Phyrexian Negators pay him a visit and succeed in destroying nearly every thing and everyone. Croag was seriously wounded in battle with the Keldan Champion. The Phyrexian’s attack in Keld got Urza’s attention with just enough time for the planeswalker to follow the victors back to Rath.

Now on Rath, Urza happens upon one of the shadow folk: A Soltari Emmisary known as Lyna. She filled Urza in on what the plane really was as well as the overall invasion plans the Phyrexians had for Dominaria.

Croag’s recovery took a very long time – long enough to allow Davvol to declare himself evincar of Rath, taking command of the plane. Upon his recovery, however, the usurped overseer learns of Davvol’s treachery. After defeating the new evincar’s negators, Croag bided his time for the perfect chance to strike at Davvol. As fate would have it, however, an accident at a flowstone factory found Davvol trapped in a pile of rubble. Using the Grafted Skullcap that had been installed on Davvol’s scalp, Croag absorbed all of Davvol’s knowledge then left him to die.

Returning to Dominaria from Rath, Urza is shocked to find that horrible misfortunes had occurred in his absence. Benalia is now destroyed and the planeswalker could find only one survivor: A baby boy named Gerrard Capashen. The baby was taken by Karn to the deserts of Jamuura for his own safety where he would find an adoptive family in the tribal leader Sidar Kondo.

Sidar raised Gerrard as his own child alongside his existing son, Vuel. While the two ultimately got along, Vuel was always a tad jealous of his adopted brother.

As Gerrard grew older, Karn would visit and teach him about his true purpose – about the Legacy and how the fate of Dominaria would someday fall onto his shoulders.

Eventually, the time had come for Vuel to take over for his father as leader of their clan. In order to do so, he needed to succeed in a trial of strength that involved climbing unassisted up a rocky cliff. Failure or accepting any sort of aid would result in his banishment from the clan.

Little did he know that Stark il-Vec, a saboteur and overall shady character from Rath, poisoned Vuel’s ceremonial body paint. The weakness Vuel experienced from the poison eventually caused him to fall from his climb. Gerrard attempted to assist his brother, but Vuel, knowing the rules, resisted. Rather than see his brother fall to his death, Gerrard forcibly pulled Vuel to safety and set in motion his eventual exile for violating the rules of the trial. In Vuel’s mind, Gerrard was now no longer his brother. Rather, he was now his enemy as the disgraced Vuel was banished and ex-communicated from the clan.

On his own in the Jamuuran desert and plotting vengeance against Gerrard and the clan as a whole, Vuel is met by none other than Starke who encourages him to start his own war clan. He does, and Vuel’s fearsome clan attacks Sidar Kondo’s by surprise. Seeking personal injury to Gerrard, Vuel steals the parts of the Legacy that Gerrard now possessed.

Gerrard sends Karn after Vuel to reclaim the stolen property. The golem catches up to them at a celebration. While observing, Karn knocks over a cart which lands on kills a child. Horrified at what had just occurred, the golem takes a vow to never take another life no matter what. Vuel then pacifies the golem – freezing him in place by using a piece of the stolen Legacy called the Touchstone.

The silver golem dealt with, Vuel attacks the Kondo clan once more. Sidar senses something odd this time and sends Gerrard out of the camp and into the nearby Yavimaya Forest. Once Vuel and his forces attack, they raze the camp and Vuel personally slays his father.

Frustrated that he cannot do the same to the now-missing Gerrard, Starke advises the hot-headed war chief once again. This time, suggesting he step through a portal that just so happens to lead to the plane of Rath.

Once there, Vuel is taken in by Yawgmoth. He is assimilated and completed in Phyrexia into a form that Magic fans are far more familiar with: A being known as Volrath.

Back on Dominaria, Gerrard mourns the deaths of his father and clan mates. Multani finds and consoles Gerrard. The maro-sorcerer had been watching for quite some time and anticipated Vuel’s actions. He instructs Gerrard in the magical arts and introduces him to Rofellos of Llanowar and Mirri, a brave cat warrior.

The three were inseparable and worked alongside Multani for a number of years until the maro-sorcerer one day came up missing, his refuge destroyed. Now homeless and without direction, the three wandered the land as mercenaries until they were confronted by a woman who was looking for a trustworthy crew for her ship.

That woman? Sisay. And that ship? It’s none other than the Weatherlight, the very ship made by Urza with the help of Multani and a key piece of the Legacy.

On behalf of the trio, Gerrard agrees. But, only if she can best him in a contest. In short, he loses and the three board the Weatherlight as Sisay’s newest crew members.

Thus, Urza’s destiny is all but complete. Of course, that’s not where the story ends. To pick up where Urza’s Destiny leaves off, you’ll want to look at Weatherlight, a set that came out nearly two years before Urza’s Destiny. We did a video on it a little while back and you can find a link to it in the description.

But, what about the story about Urza’s Destiny as a set?

Consisting of 143 cards, Urza’s Destiny was the first and only set after Arabian Nights to have a solo designer. In this case, that would be Mark Rosewater himself. It was also the first expert-level tournament-legal set to be printed under the then-new 6th Edition rules changes – the most notable of which were changing “summon” spells to “creature” spells and the elimination of the “interrupt” card type.

The block’s previous keyword abilities (cycling and echo) return and are further evolved. A variant of cycling, something referred to as “cycling from play,” gets introduced on cards like Heart Warden and Brass Secretary as the cycling happens not from a player’s hand, but from the battlefield instead.

Urza’s Destiny also introduced to the game “reveal” cards. These debuted in two ways: Creatures known as Seers and spells known as Scents. Whenever you use a “reveal” ability, you show your opponent any number of cards of the specified color that are currently in your hand with that quantity determining the power of the effect.

There were also growing enchantments for each color that become more powerful the longer they’re in play, and lobotomy spells for each color that exile all instances of a specific card from a player’s graveyard, hand, and library.

The set also had a graveyard sub-theme with a number of permanents that have special abilities that trigger when put into the graveyard from play, such as Aura Thief stealing enchantments for you or Yavimaya Elder, which lets its player search for two lands upon death.

Most notably, however, are a handful of cards that seemed only to further the very high power level ceiling that the previous two sets, Urza’s Saga and Urza’s Legacy, had established.

There’s Donate, a key part of a deck known as Trix, that, when paired with the Ice Age enchantment Illusions of Grandeur, can nearly guarantee a win in Magic’s extended format.

Then there’s Phyrexian Negator, an extremely aggressive card and a key part of the popular and powerful Suicide Black decks that can get the 5/5 creature out on turn one with the help of a Dark Ritual.

There’s also Yawgmoth’s Bargain. A seemingly “fixed” version of the incredibly powerful Ice Age card Necropotence, it proved to be quite the staple of the set and paired quite well with another card found in Urza’s Destiny: Academy Rector.

In fact, a deck that ran both Academy Rector and Yawgmoth’s Bargain, along with a lot of fast mana sources, was taken to that year’s Magic Invitational tournament piloted by one of Magic: The Gathering most famous players: John Finkle.

Even Mark Rosewater fell victim to the pair’s allure.

((Sound bite: Academy Rector story from Drive to Work))

But that wasn’t the only deck where Yawgmoth’s Bargain found success, though it would require the inclusion of one other Urza’s Destiny card, Replenish, to really send things over the top. With easy ways to send powerful enchantments to the graveyard only to be brought back through Replenish, a number of the decks to make top eight at the 1999 U.S. Nationals featured the card.

There’s also the card Opalescence, a white enchantment that animates non-aura enchantments (at the time known as “global enchantments”). It was also a common inclusion in Replenish decks. Often times, the pair would give players 20 or more damage worth of creatures all at once with opponents typically having only one turn to come up with an answer.

Replenish, by the way, would receive an extended format ban in spring of 2001 for being “Severely undercosted to begin with” and doing “too much for too little cost.” It wouldn’t be until June of 2007 that the card would be un-banned in Legacy.

Other powerful cards include Masticore, Plow Under, Opposition, Elvish Piper, Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary, Yavimaya Hollow, Treachery, and Metalworker, a key card in many artifact-focused decks of the time and a key card in the 2000 Magic World Championship Tinker deck piloted by (you guessed it) John Finkle.

((Sound bite: Finkle tournament win))

Metalworker also got the ban hammer in 2004 for the extended format and, when Legacy was introduced later that year, was pre-banned there as well and would remain a such until finally becoming un-banned five years later.

Looking beyond the rares, Urza’s Destiny wasn’t short on noteworthy commons and uncommons, either, despite the set’s small size. Thieving Magpie, Keldon Champion, Thran Dynamo, and Bubbling Muck all saw serious play in one format or another.

There’s more to Urza’s Destiny than just its story and collection of powerful cards, however. The set is the final in Magic: The Gathering history to be included on the controversial Reserved List, which is a definitive list of the cards that Wizards of the Coast has publicly stated would never again see print both in specific and in any functionally identical form. There are 14 cards from Urza’s Destiny on the list, including many of the set’s top cards. All-in-all, 41 cards from across the Urza’s block exist on the list.

Interestingly enough, one reserve list card (Phyrexian Negator) did see reprint in 2010’s Dual Deck: Phyrexia vs the Coalition in the form of an alternate-art foil card as the policy at the time did allow for “premium versions” of reserved list cards to be made. One year later, Wizards ended this practice.

Urza’s Destiny was the final piece of a block that pretty much everybody in Magic agrees was pushed extremely high in terms of power level with over-efficient spells and super fast mana. But, as the saying goes, what goes up must come down. And things are going to come down hard and fast as players rejoin the crew of the Skyship Weatherlight, freshly escaped from Rath, on the new plane of Mercadia.

Is Urza’s Destiny one of your favorite Magic: The Gathering sets? If so, let us know in the comment section below.

And be sure to subscribe to Magic Untapped on YouTube and support us on Patreon for more great Magic: The Gathering content.