Friday, 25 December 2020 08:00

Magic History: Taking a look back at 'Torment'

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Magic History: Taking a look back at 'Torment' 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.

In this video, we take a look back at Torment, the second set in Magic: The Gathering's Odyssey block as continue the story of Otaria and the Mirari Conjecture.

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

Video transcript:

The second set in the Odyssey block, Torment consists of 143 cards and was released on February 8, 2002.

The set symbol looks like some sort of circular serpent sort of thing.  Officially, it’s a nightmare, which is meant to evoke the set’s dark themes.  We’re not ones to argue.  Nightmare… serpent… whatever.

Torment is both a prequel and a sequel to Odyssey, telling the backstory of the character Chainer while also picking up where the Odyssey story leaves off with all of the events of the first set and story taking place simultaneously as many of those in Torment.

The complete tale can be experienced by reading the Scott McGough novel Chainer’s Torment.  Aside from that, here is a brief summary.

Beginning before Kamahl ever left his mountain home to seek fame and fortune, the story opens with a young cabalist named Chainer who is exploring an abandoned villa outside of Cabal City.  He locates a mysterious relic and, ever loyal to the cabal, takes it back with him.  He presents the artifact to The First, the leader and patriarch of the organization, who accepts the gift and begins to take on a personal interest in Chainer’s development within the cabal.

The First makes the artifact, called Mirari, the grand prize in a large pit fighting tournament as a way to lure fighters in.  Among the first to arrive is the barbarian Kamahl and The First immediately sees great promise in the warrior.  He commands Chainer to befriend the barbarian and he does so quite easily.

The First then sets Kamahl up to be the tournament favorite and, in the end, his biggest money maker.  Before the tournament can end, however, a Krosan dragon attacks and ruins the Cabal patriarch’s plans.  During the draconic attack at the fighting pit, Chainer is assigned to protect the vault that contains, among other riches, the strange artifact he found.

The dragon soon dealt with, The First names an avian lieutenant from an opposition group called The Order the ultimate winner and grants him any object of his choosing from the Cabal’s coffers.  He chooses the Mirari and departs for home with three others – Kamahl, the centaur Seton, and merfolk Ambassador Laquatus – in pursuit.

Chainer, however, stays behind and trains to become a champion pit fighter.  In a pit fight, he faces two opponents from the nearby Pardic Mountains: Jeska, sister of Kamahl, and Balthor, Kamahl’s mentor.  The two knew of Kamahl’s participation in a recent tournament at the fighting pit and had come to Cabal City in order to locate him.  Despite Jeska burning Chainer’s arm during the bout bad enough that the cabalist required an artificial replacement, he provides the two the information they seek.

Content with knowledge that Kamahl is alive and, as far as they are concerned, safe, the pair returns to their mountain home.

Shortly thereafter, Kamahl returns to Cabal City.  A cabalist known as Braids returns as well, Mirari in hand having recently stolen the item from the Mer kingdom.  The orb is returned to The First who, once again, puts the artifact up as the grand prize – this time the Cabal’s popular Anniversary Games.

Kamahl reunites with Chainer and while the two train together in the pits in preparation for the games, other characters begin to plot.

Ambassador Laquatus starts a civil war within the Mer Empire, taking advantage of the state of disarray the empire is in after its partial devastation from the Mirari.  Seeking a political ally, launches schemes with both the Cabal and Order, independently promising each side exactly what they desire as he advances his own cause.  The makes plans to infiltrate Cabal City, while The First provides Laquatus with a new champion to replace the merfolk’s former one who had died during the empire’s disastrous Mirari event.

Unfortunately for Laquatus, his efforts to rule over the Mer Empire are scuttled as the estranged empress of the realm returns to her homeland, her forces ultimately overwhelming Laquatus’.

The First also calls on Chainer to bring out Kamahl’s savage barbarian side but before he can do this, the Cabal patriarch first needs to rid Chainer of his mentor, Skellum, who was planning on taking the young cabalist into the Krosan forest to finish his initiation with the Cabal.  He pulls this off by arranging a fixed fight in which Skellum is slain in the pits.

Chainer is devastated by the loss, but decided to go through with the ritual anyhow.  Kamahl accompanies him in Skellum’s place.

Together, the pair travel to Krosa.  While there, Chainer succeeds in becoming a full-fledged dementia summoner, killing and claiming countless of the forest’s inhabitants.  During the process, Chainer fell into a trance.  While the cabalist is out, Kamahl discovers the corpse of one of the forest’s druids and is reminded of his old centaur friend, Seton, and begins to wonder if he’s made the right allegiances.

When the two return to Cabal City, they find it under attack by the Order.  They assist in repelling the invasion with Chainer once again defending the Mirari.  While he easily survived the attack, Kamahl emerged seriously injured.

The First sends Chainer into the camp to which the Order had retreated from their failed attack.  The dementia summoner kills everyone there.  As a reward, The First permits Chainer to use the Mirari’s power to heal his injured friend.  Chainer’s nightmarish magic does, indeed, heal Kamahl’s wounds, but instead of flesh, the barbarian’s skin is replaced with the scales of a snake.  Repulsed, Kamahl tears and burns away the unnatural “gifts” of his friend and disappears.

As time passes, Chainer begins to show signs of insanity.  Unable to sleep and experiencing hallucinations, the summoner begins to plot revenge against The First for the death of his former mentor, Skellum.  Using information he was able to dig up on The First’s past (including his actual name), Chainer attempts to kill the cabal patriarch using the very artifact that he had found and given the man earlier: the Mirari.

Despite the artifact’s immense power, Chainer was unable to slay the seemingly immortal head of the Cabal and, instead, exiles him to the undead-infested city of Aphetto.  Chainer assumes leadership of the Cabal despite his growing madness and his increasing corruption from his repeated use of the mysterious Mirari.

Despite The First’s disappearance, the Cabal Anniversary Games proceed as planned.  As his insanity grows, his control over his dementia creatures become more and more unstable.  Before long, all of Cabal City is overrun by feral nightmares.  Chainer finds glee in the chaos.

It’s now that his old friend, Kamahl, comes back into the scene.  The barbarian attempts to snap his mad friend back into his sane mind by offering to fight him in the pit for old time’s sake.  Chainer, however, is lost to reason and summons all of his dementia creatures into the fighting pit all at once, intent on unleashing them upon his one-time friend.  The Mirari, however, interferes and instead of attacking Kamahl, the nightmarish creatures fuse with the summoner.

Before Kamahl’s own eyes, Chainer becomes a squirming mass of nightmare and corruption.  Just as the summoner is about to meet his end, he has a flash of sanity.  He realizes that the Mirari is too dangerous an artifact to ever be used.  With his dying breath, he pleads with Kamahl to take the relic and keep it safe and away from future misuse.

Kamahl buries his friend and departs from Cabal City, Mirari in tow.

Meanwhile, Braids, who had received a vision to leave the city before Chainer’s nightmares overran it, was traveling down a road away from the city.  It’s here that she find The First, the exiled patriarch’s nighmare escorts deceased from Chainer’s own passing.  He sends the loyal Braids ahead to Aphetto to prepare the city for his arrival…

Hence, the story of Chainer’s Torment ends, but there’s much more to tell about Torment as a set.

For example, did you know that Torment is known as Magic: The Gathering’s “black set.”  Why is this?  Well, unlike pretty much every set before and since which are more-or-less balanced between the colors, Torment was deliberately black heavy due to its thematic and mechanical emphasis on the color.  Of course, to make up for this, the numbers of non-black cards were greatly reduced.  In fact, while the set has 40 black cards, there are only 28 blue cards, 28 red cards, 21 white cards, and 21 blue cards, in addition to a handful of colorless cards such as the set’s five non-basic lands.

Despite the set’s black cards nearly outnumbering any one non-black color almost two to one, in hindsight, the set’s design team could probably have pushed it even further as despite the set’s heavy presence of black cards and strategies, the mood of the set sometimes got lost.

((Maro DTW: Torment1 – 8:57 “I don’t think we went far enough…push it a little more.”))

As a heavy black oriented set, the color also bled over into the set’s other four colors in the form of possessed creatures, which are creatures with the threshold ability that eventually turns them black, makes them stronger, and allow them to destroy a creature of their former color, and the set’s cycle of tainted lands, which tap for colorless or, if their controller also controls a swamp, tap for either black or one of another color.

((Maro DTW: Torment3 – 29:03-45 “The idea was…sort of way…”)

As the second set in the Odyssey block, Torment took the mechanics and abilities of the first set (threshold and flashback) and expanded upon them.  The set also introduced a brand new mechanic called madness, which allows players to play cards as they are being discarded.  Like flashback, the madness ability would prove quite popular, making returns in Time Spiral, Shadows over Innistrad, Eldritch Moon and Commander 2019.

In fact, some of the most memorable cards from the set are cards with madness abilities, such as the popular burn spell Fiery Temper, Basking Rootwalla (which can be played for free via madness), and the above-average counter spell Circular Logic.

Other powerful and noteworthy cards found in Torment include the powerful, non-targeting removal spell Chainer’s Edict and the two-drop Nantuko Shade – both of which being key cards in the strong mono-black control decks of the time – as well as Cabal Coffers – one of the best black mana producing lands ever printed.  Grim Lavamancer also made its debut in Torment and is considered by many to be a staple in many Legacy burn builds.

And, for the first time since Magic’s Fourth Edition all the way back in April of 1995, the iconic Sengir Vampire card was reprinted.  Despite the card’s popularity, however, it wasn’t as warmly received as the folks at Wizards of the Coast were expecting.

((Maro DTW: Torment 3 – 24:14 “People weren’t that excited about Sengir Vampire…at the time.”))

So, that was a bit of a whiff.

Another whiff was the set’s prerelease card, Laquatus’ Champion, as the card never saw much play.  It is rather nifty, however, that Wizards of the Coast continued their practice of printing prerelease cards in a language never before seen on a Magic card.  This time around, that language is Cyrillic, which is used by many of the world’s Slavic peoples.

One final thing of note about Torment is that it is the third Magic: The Gathering set to share its name with a card that isn’t actually in the set.  In this case, that would be the card Torment from Stronghold.  The other two sets are Visions and Prophecy, which share their names with a card from Legends and Homelands, respectively.

So, is Torment amongst your favorite Magic: The Gathering sets?  If so, let us know in the comment section below.

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