Friday, 26 March 2021 08:06

Magic History: Taking a look back at 'Legions'

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Magic History: Taking a look back at 'Legions' 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 at Legions, the middle set in Magic: The Gathering's Onslaught block.

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

Video transcript:

Magic: The Gathering’s Onslaught block made its continuation with the release of Legions, a 145-card set, on February 2, 2003.

The second set in the block, it tells the story of a two-sided war between the angel Akroma and her forces on one side, and the ruthless cabalist Phage and hers.  Caught in the middle is Kamahl, a barbarian-turned-druid who is partially responsible for both sides of the conflict.

You can read all about it in the J. Robert King novel, conveniently also titled Legions.  For those who just don’t have the time, though, here’s a story summary.

The beginning of Legions begins right where Onslaught just about where left off.  Phage is back at the Grand Coliseum of Aphetto awaiting orders from the cabal’s patriarch.  Kamahl has returned to Krosa and is meditating, trying to figure out what his next move will be.  Akroma, having discovered her creator, Ixidor, nowhere to be found as he has been consumed by one of Phage’s deathwurms.  She assumes control of Topos.  Braids, who was gleefully riding on the back of deathwurm before it was absorbed into Phage’s body, suffered serious injury from her fall.  And the refugees from the joint Cabal-Krosa army happen upon a magnificent, yet abandoned city and, under the leadership of Zagorka and Stonebrow, decide to settle there and establish for themselves a new home.

Despite her creator gone, Akroma continues to follow his last order and works towards her goal of killing Phage.  She tracks down the deathwurm that swallowed Ixidor.  Unable to defeat it, she’s content to seal it to the ground.  Shortly thereafter, the angel happens upon a wounded and feeble Braids and brainwashes her into becoming one of the angel’s followers, learning many Cabal secrets in the process.

Meanwhile, Phage receives order from The First to locate the refugee city, now called Sanctum, to convince them to the Cabal’s side.  Like she does with many of the cities across Otaria, she sets up gambling operations and begins to corrupt the populace to see things the Cabal’s way.  Stonebrow greatly disapproves and the giant centaur travels to his old home of Krosa to ask Kamahl for assistance.  The druid declines, having decided not to interfere, and the centaur returns to Sanctum just in time to see Akroma’s arrival.

The angel openly declares war on the Cabal and is able to get the ear of her opponent, Phage.  She informs the high-ranking cabalist what Braids told her: that Phage is to be the mother of the would-be reincarnated Cabal god, Kuberr.  Phage then returns to Aphetto.

There, she is welcomed back by The First who considers her a prize promised to her by his Cabal god.  After some courtship, the two get down and dirty with one another.  Afterwards, however, The First realizes that Phage is immune to his touch.  Unaware that, by this time, she is with his child, the Cabal Patriarch plots her murder, though ultimately is unable to succeed in pulling it off.

Back in Sanctum, Stonebrow resolves to handle the city’s Akroma problem by himself.  The giant centaur makes the decision to take on all of Topos by himself and is predictably overwhelmed.  Beaten, he is brainwashed into becoming a follower of Akroma and, the angel currently indisposed as she is trying yet again to best the deathwurm that ate her creator, Ixidor, takes over as the city’s leader.  Almost immediately, he takes up arms against Sanctum.

Sanctum, meanwhile, tries its best to remain neutral.  The mysterious glowing glyphs that have appeared across the city, however, tell of an era of great strife.  It’s unsettling to the city’s inhabitants.

Months later, a pregnant Phage takes it upon herself to locate and, if possible, kill Akroma.  She first visits Sanctum and finds the broken cabalist, Braids.  She’s rescued or captured, depending on how you look at it, and is escorted back to Aphetto by some of Phage’s entourage.  Phage then departs for Topos.

Meanwhile, Akroma, who is still trying to deal with the deathwurm that ate Ixidor, herself gets swallowed by the beast.  Trapped inside the beast, she finds not just the soul of Ixidor’s slain love, Nivea, but also Ixidor himself living inside the belly of the beast.  Raving, he demands that she leaves.  The angel complies.

Just as soon as she returns to Topos from being swallowed whole by the deathwurm, Phage attacks.  Stonebrow also returns and attempts to kill both women, though all he can manage to do to the angel and the cabalist is merely injure them.  Phage, wounded and weakened by her fast-advancing pregnancy, flees back to Aphetto.  Akroma resumes control of Topos.  Stonebrow, having regained his wits, returns to Sanctum to defend it – unaware that the city’s mysterious glyphs have morphed into glass men that have overrun the city and tell that their master, Averru, will soon reincarnate as the city itself.

Back in Aphetto’s Grand Coliseum, The First provides poisoned admission to all of the attendees.  As one might expect, they all die, providing the Cabal with a rather sizable undead army with which to attack Akroma and her forces.

Shortly thereafter, Phage manages to make it back to the city (though just barely).  She gives birth to Kuberr almost immediately after her arrival.  While The First again makes numerous attempts to take Phage’s life and each time the influence of the newly-born god protects her.  Realizing this, The First separates her from the baby and tries to kill her yet again.  This time, however, a recovered Braids summons a dementia monster that devours the Cabal Patriarch, ending him once and for all.

Phage and Braids then take joint control of the Cabal in Kuberr’s stead.

Meanwhile, two of Ixidor’s unmen who had fled from the previous battle rather than returning home to Topos to serve, as well as a third that Akroma had sent after them, encounter Akroma’s army.  While on their little adventure, the three began to yearn for corporal bodies of their own.  The angel grants the wish to the two deserters, only to kill them once and for all.  The third unman jumps in the way of the angel’s spear, forcing the other two through his one-time-use-portal of a body, saving them but killing himself in the process.

Back in Sanctum, the glass men who had taken over the city evict or kill all those living in the city.  All save for Zagorka, who, as the city’s leader, see as the mother of their lord, Averru.  Once each and every refugee (save for Zagorka) have either been slain or otherwise removed from the city, Averru is reborn as the city takes sentience.

Stonebrow, having been able to escape the slaughter at Sanctum, returns to Krosa.  There, he finds an almost mummified Kamahl, the druid still in deep meditation after all this time.  He rouses the druid and, this time, is able to convince him to take yet another try at slaying Akroma and Phage.

Back in Aphetto, Kuberr tells Phage that she must go to battle against Akroma with the city’s large, undead army as every death the Cabal causes will age him a day -  drastically accelerating his growth and maturity.  Obedient to the young god of the Cabal, she goes on the march with a vast army behind her.  Akroma, too, is on the move and the two forces meet at Sanctum, which has become a rather twisted reflection of its former self thanks to the rebirth of Averru.

There, the forces of Aphetto and those of Topos fight without mercy with the chaos and bloodshed not just helping to better grow Kuberr, but Averru as well as they make up two-thirds of the Numena – a trio of powerful mages of ancient times who each slew one of Dominaria’s primeval dragons, absorbing their god-like powers in doing so.

With the battle in its full fury, Kamahl, Stonebrow, and a handful of Krosans arrive at Sanctum.  They fight their way to where Akroma and Phage are battling.  Zagorka, imprisoned in a tower just above where the two women are fighting, decides to commit suicide mid-battle and jumps from her tower window.  Kamahl, wielding the Soul Reaper axe that was created specifically to slay the angel, Akroma, takes a mighty swing at both her and Phage.  Zagorka’s body crashes down on the two women just as the Soul Reaper strikes its mark, killing all three of them in one fell swoop.

The result is both unexpected and disastrous.  Between the Soul Reaper’s own power and the combined souls of the three slain women – Akroma, Phage, and Zagorka, a being who calls herself Karona is created, telling the battlefield:

“Behold, Otaria.  Behold, Dominaria.  I am Karona.  I am magic.”

As will be discovered in the third and final chapter of the Onslaught block, she will be the "scourge" of the entire plane.

But that’ll be for another video as there’s still more yet to tell about Legions.

As mentioned earlier, Legions is the middle set in the three-set Onslaught block.  As such, it takes the themes and mechanics of the first set, Onslaught, and progresses them such as with morph creatures and cycling.  The set also introduced three new ones:

  • Amplify, which is an ETB triggered creature ability that allows its controller to reveal creature cards that share a creature type with the played card in order to add a specific number of +1/+1 counters to it;
  • Double strike, a now-evergreen ability that allows a creature to deal both first strike and normal combat damage, and;
  • Provoke, a keyword static ability inspired by the Stronghold card of the same name which can force a specific creature to block it during combat.

Though, those three new abilities weren’t even the most notable thing about Legions.  That honor would go to the fact that Legions was a set comprised 100 percent by creatures.  No instants, sorceries, artifacts… none of that.

((Maro DTW: Legions – 1:00 “The idea was…every single card’s a creature.”))

To get around the set not having any non-creatures, a number of the set’s creatures had abilities that triggered either upon entering the battlefield, upon morphing, or upon death.  Goblin Assassin, Echo Tracer, and Celestial Gatekeeper, respectively, are all examples of this.  Furthermore, saboteur creatures such as Dripping Dead and cycling creatures like those in the gempalm cycle also help to handicap the set’s creature-only composition.

Legions also continued Onslaught’s tribal themes, carrying over not just those of the first set like goblins and clerics, but also ones new not just to the block, but the plane of Dominaria as well.

((Maro DTW: Legions – 4:50 “The big one was slivers got added…there’s a bunch of slivers in the set.”))

The set featured three mono-colored cycles of slivers which were either 1/1s, 2/2s, or 3/3s (depending on rarity) and, being slivers, had abilities that it confers to all slivers just like they did when the creature type was introduced in Tempest years earlier.

And why Slivers?  Well, largely independent from the main storyline is the Riptide Project, which is private research being done by the Mer Empire.  Some odd fossils were found in Urborg and were brought to the empire’s Riptide Laboratory for research.  The researchers then began to recreate these strange, almost alien creatures using the lab’s replicator.  But, unbeknownst to them, without a Sliver Queen to command the slivers’ hive mind, they went berserk and wrecked the place.  You’ll find a tease of slivers in the Onslaught card Riptide Replicator and (finally) a new sliver lord in the next set, Scourge, in the form of Sliver Overlord.

Getting back to Legions specifically, the set also features three other mono-colored cycles:

  • Gempalms, which are creatures with tribal cycling-triggered abilities;
  • Invokers, which are creatures that each have a powerful ability that cost a whopping eight mana (seven generic plus one of that creature’s color), and;
  • Muses, perhaps the most popular and powerful cycle of creatures in the set. Each muse has a powerful but unusual ability.  Seedborn Muse and Windbord Muse are both considered to be the best in the cycle, though arguments have been made for Dreamborn Muse as well thanks to its milling ability.

Despite not having any non-creature spells, Legions boasts a handful of notable cards with arguably four having quite the impact on the tournament scene:

  • White Knight, an “O.G.” Magic card that hadn’t seen print since 5th Edition made its return and was a key card in white weenie strategies;
  • Goblin Goon, a 6/6 four drop with a drawback, the card found a home in the powerful goblin tribal decks of the time as the deck’s only big beater;
  • Caller of the Claw, which is a 2/2 elf with flash that can create an immediate army. It often saw inclusion in Worldgorger Dragon decks as an alternate win condition and was a common inclusion in sideboards as an answer to Wrath of God and other board sweepers, and;
  • Akroma, Angel of Wrath, a 6/6 legendary creature with a whopping seven keyword abilities. Despite her high casting cost of eight mana, she was quite popular thanks to her durability and reputation for being a late-game finisher.  Despite her popularity, not everyone was a fan.

((Maro DTW: Legions – 20:35 “I did not…people loved Akroma.”)

In addition to those four hugely impactful cards, Legions also featured a handful of others of note such as Krosan Cloudscraper, a 13/13 creature that was the largest overall nontoken creature in all of Magic until the set Rise of the Eldrazi introduced the 15/15 Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, the “every creature type” Mistform Ultimus that inspired the changeling creatures that would be introduced years later in the Lorwyn block, Phage the Untouchable, and Timberwatch Elf, a common creature that has seen play not just in EDH elf tribal decks, but competitive ones as well.

And, like with Onslaught before it, the set’s prerelease promo, Feral Throwback, saw nearly no play despite it featuring two of the set’s novel abilities.

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

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