Wednesday, 05 August 2020 14:20

Before they were famous: Looking back at Magic: The Gathering’s Elder Dragon Legends

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Before they were famous: Looking back at Magic: The Gathering’s Elder Dragon Legends WOTC

Since some of Magic: The Gathering’s earliest days, the Elder Dragon Legends from the set Legends have held a certain level of allure and curiosity about them.  Who are they?  What’re their stories?

While all save for the would-be planeswalker Nicol Bolas would fade into obscurity in the decades since their debut, they got new life a couple of years ago as they were re-imagined for Core Set 2019.  And, even a few years before that, it was discovered that Nicol Bolas had a twin brother, Ugin.

While we’re saving Ugin’s story for its own article, the story of the original five legendary elder dragons is well worth the read as you’ll get to discover a bit about them before they became “famous” (as it were).

Arcades Sabboth

Most recent printing: Arcades, the Strategist (M19)
First seen: Arcades Sabboth (Legends)
First creature printing: Arcades Sabboth (Legends)

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Alphabetically the first of Magic: The Gathering’s legendary elder dragons, Arcades Sabboth is also the most peace-minded of the bunch.

As a youth, he wasn’t all too interested in his brethren.  He was, though, fascinated by humans.  So much so, in fact, that he took up residence in a human fort.  The humans there worshipped him as their dragonlord and, in return, Sabboth taught them “a better way of life, one ruled not by their own primitive, violent tendencies.”  Under his watch, his human realm thrived in an era of peace and order

Then the great dragon war came.  Tempted into the fray by whispers from fellow elder dragon Nicol Bolas, the otherwise peaceful dragon threw himself into the fight.  Near the end of the war and on the continent of Jamuraa, Sabboth and his forces were on the losing side of a massive battle against none other than Bolas.  His draconic rival, however, gets distracted by the sudden arrival of his twin brother and Sabboth makes a strategic retreat.

After the war and his sibling, Bolas’, departure, he welcomed in all of Dominaria’s forces under his wings (as it were) and ruled as the plane’s de facto ruler up until his death.  It didn’t all go quite so well this second time as, due to paranoia setting in on the dragon’s aging mind, his regime became a dictatorial police state as time went on.

Sabboth’s death presumably came at the hands of the planeswalker Kristina in her duel with Leshrac after the dark planeswalker summoned an the aged elder dragon into the fight.

Chromium Rhuell

Most recent printing: Chromium, the Mutable (M19)
First seen: Chromium (Legends)
First creature printing: Chromium (Legends)

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The second dragon spawned by the Ur-Dragon, Chromium set out early on to study the nature of his native plane, Dominaria.  At a young age, he taught himself to shapeshift into human form, thus allowing him to walk among the people of the plane’s fledgling nations.

When his sibling, Nicol Bolas, incited what would become the great dragon war, rather than joining his brethren and fighting, Chromium instead chose to shift into his human form and live among them.  In doing so, he became one of the very few dragons to survive the conflict.

A little later in life, the dragon Chromium and his life partner, Piru, became servants for the planeswalker Geyadrone Dihada.  While in battle against another planeswalker, Dakkon Blackblade, Dihada summoned both dragons to fight by her side.  After Chromium resisted Dakkon’s attempts to control his mind, the dragon found himself suddenly teleported away instead.

A while later, Chromium pledged his allegiance to yet another planeswalker.  This person, Faralyn, wasn’t exactly the most upstanding person and, along with Leshrac and Tevesh Szat, were setting a trap to get another planeswalker killed by encouraging infighting amongst the planeswalkers on Dominaria.  While no planeswalkers ultimately died during the Summit of the Null Moon as Faralyn had hoped, Chromium did at the hands of Szat.

His corpse was then taken by the planeswalker Ravidel and fashioned into what he called a “Planar Barge” with which he would carry his army when planeswalking.

Nicol Bolas

Most recent printing: Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God (War of the Spark)
First seen: Nicol Bolas (Legends)
First creature printing: Nicol Bolas (Legends)

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There is a lot to be said about Nicol Bolas and we're not even about to attempt that all here.  Like with Ugin, we'll cover Bolas in depth in his own article.  Unlike with Ugin, however, we will give you a basic primer on the character.

Born of the Ur-Dragon, he was hatched alongside his twin brother, Ugin.  Whereas dragon eggs typically only hold one whelp per egg, Bolas' held two.  As such, both were quite undersized.  At a young age, the dragon witnessed many of his brothers and sisters being slain by hunters.  While his twin brother had a desire to seek knowledge and understand the world around him, Bolas adopted a "hunt or be hunted" mentality.

He learned much from his older and larger brethren, such as how to hunt and fight, but it wasn't until he spent time with the human-loving Arcades Sabboth did he realize the ability to manipulate humans to further his own goals.  Bolas pitted the human hunting clans against one another and, eventually, took over as their draconic leader.  As such, Bolas began to use his twin brother as little more than a useful tool.  This treatment by his own brother would ultimately ignite Ugin's planeswalker spark.

A while after his brother's departure, an older and wiser Bolas helped to kick off the thousand-year-long Elder Dragon War that began when the brood of one of his cousins took up arms (wings?) against he and his followers.  While the feud began as family quarrel, Bolas' power of manipulation quickly brought others into the fray with most of them finding their death over the course the war.  By the end, there were only five Elder Dragons remaining (Ugin notwithstanding) and Bolas ruled over half of Dominaria.  In what would be the final clash of the war, Bolas and Sabboth were engaged in combat on Jamuraa with Bolas quickly proving the victor.  Sabboth, too, would have been slain had it not been for Bolas' twin, Ugin, planeswalking into the battle and saving Sabboth's life.  Enraged and envious of his brother's actions and powers, Bolas' own spark ignited and he planeswalked off of Dominaria, thus ending the war.

Now a planeswalker, he traversed the multiverse.  He visited Ugin's Meditation Plane where he would eventually slay his brother (though he wouldn't technically stay dead for long), he would many times return to Dominaria and wreak havoc as he furthered his own plans and grew stronger and stronger, he would venture to Tarkir where he would find a willing pawn in the Kahn of the Temur Clan, Yasova Dragonclaw, and end the plane's draconic rule (slaying Ugin a second time in the process).  He would later return to Dominaria and rule over the empire of Madara before being all but slain by his one-time vassal, Tetsuo Umezawa.

He would remain in the Meditation Realm in spirit form until Dominaria's time rifts, an after-effect of the plane-altering events on Dominaria such as that of the Brothers' War and the Phyrexian Invasion.  The rifts allowed Bolas to return to the plane in shade form before being able to reconnect with his body from another time stream, allowing the thought-dead dragon to regain his form and former planeswalker abilities.  Once again whole, Bolas ventured to Kamigawa, vowing to destroy any and all who claim to be part of the Umezawa line.

Upon his return, he did battle with fellow planeswalkers Teferi and Leshrac who were lying in wait to destory him, the latter being defeated and imprisioned in the mask of the Myojin of Night's Reach that Bolas had brought with him from Kamigawa.  He would then use Leshrac's captured spark to close the plane-threatening rift above Madara in order to save his own before departing for (presumably) the plane of Amonkhet.  Shortly after setting up shop there and besting the plane's god-like protectors to assume rule of the plane itself, the nature of the planeswalker's spark would change forever thanks to Jeska's great mending spell.

Temporarily departing from his new home base of Amonkhet, Bolas meets Liliana Vess.  A fellow "old-walker," she's jealous that Bolas seems rather unaffected by the mending.  Sensing an opportunity, Bolas brokers a deal between Vess and four demons who (in exchange for a price to be named later by Bolas), restored some of her lost power and youth.  Vess' price would come to light after she slayed all four of her demon benefactors as she became one of the dragon's vassals upon her breach of demonic contract.

There really is so much more to say about Bolas.  There's his time on Alara, his influence on Mirrodin as the new Phyrexians begin to corrupt the plane, his time on Zendikar, his return to Amonkhet, plans on Ixalan, and then his invasion of Ravnica as he tries to harvest the sparks of various planeswalkers, Liliana in tow.  We'll leave all that for an expanded Nicol Bolas article.

What we will say, though, is that after the events of the War of the Spark, his own twin brother, Ugin, banished a powerless (and now nameless) to the Meditation Realm, now reclaimed by the Spirit Dragon planeswalker.  There, Ugin would become the now nameless dragon's jailer as he lives out the rest of his mortal life on the plane and (theoretically) never again becoming a threat to the multiverse. 

Palladia-Mors

Most recent printing: Palladia-Mors, the Ruiner (M19)
First seen: Palladia-Mors (Legends)
First creature printing: Palladia-Mors (Legends)

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A vicious reddish-green dragon with curling horns, Palladia-Mors is the sister to Arcades Sabboth, Nicol Bolas, Ugin, and Chromium Rhuell.  Uninterested in other dragons, she only cared about two things: hunting and eating.  Unfortunately, she was also easily impressionable.  It’s her ease of taking the suggestions of others that she was one of the first to partake in Dominaria’s great dragon war.

After the conflict, she and her brother had taken up residence in a cave on Mors Ridge.  According to legend, when a human youth entered their cave and appeared unafraid of the dragons, Chromium was fascinated.  Mors was annoyed.  Then, when the townsfolk came looking for the youth, they found them in the dragons’ cave and promptly attacked them.  Mors flew out of the cave and attacked the town, killing hundreds.  During her attack, a mysterious mage cast a sleeping spell on her, causing her to fall to the earth.  The surviving townsfolk then buried her alive.

Eighty years later, the warlord Red Donald (at the behest of his dragon whelp familiar) began to dig in and around the mound in which Mors slept.  This awoken the elder dragon.  Afterwards, it’s discovered that the whelp is actually Mors’ cousin, the elder dragon Vaevictis Asmodi who had been cursed into the form of a dragon whelp, and needs her help to change him back to normal.  She does and soon after both elder dragons begin wreaking havoc on the population of Mors Ridge.

The mysterious stranger returns and we learn that this magic wielder is none other than Chromium in human form.  He convinced Asmodi to turn on Mors, but the dragon reverses one of her cousin’s spells, causing him to disappear from combat.  Shortly thereafter, Chromium was able to put the sleep spell back on Mors, who was once again buried under the ridge.

Vaevictis Asmadi

Most recent printing: Vaevictis Asmadi, the Dire (M19)
First seen: Vaevictis Asmadi (Legends)
First creature printing: Vaevictus Asmadi (Legends)

WOTC

The cousin to the other legendary elder dragons, Vaevictis Asmadi and his siblings marauded around Dominaria.  They were highly territorial and very aggressive.  Asmadi himself is said to be the ancestor of modern-day Shivan dragons.

Years later, seven of Asmadi’s descendents raided lands controlled by his cousin, Nicol Bolas.  Bolas defeated them all and confronted his cousin in retaliation for the incursion.  Battles went back and forth, pitting one elder dragon and their brood against another.  By the end of things, only five elder dragons survived: the siblings Palladia-Mors, Chromium Rhuell, Nicol Bolas, and Arcades Sabboth, as well as their younger cousing, Vaevictis Asmadi.  Ugin, Bolas’ twin brother was also alive afterwards, but was not present for the war.

Much later in life, Asmadi was transformed into a little dragon whelp by the planeswalker Faralyn.  The whelpish elder dragon then befriended a human canned Red Donald and pretended to be his familiar, all the while manipulating the man to get to Mors Ridge to free his cousin, Palladia-Mors so that she could break his curse.  Once she’s released, she cures him in exchange for being presented with a black mana battery.  Afterwards, the two go rampaging around the area.

As one of his other cousins, Chromium, attempted to intervene in the two dragons’ marauding, Asmadi attacks him.  Chromium, however, gets into Asmadi’s mind that Mors is just using him.  He then attacks Mors instead, but disappears into nowhere as Mors reflects one of his attack spells back at him.

Asmadi’s death was finally confirmed during a personal reflection of Nicol Bolas during the events of War of the Spark.

Don't forget to check out the previous chapter of our "Before They Were Famous" series, featuring the likes of Yawgmoth, Tahngarth, and more!