Friday, 28 May 2021 08:03

Magic History: Remembering 'Mirrodin'

Written by
Magic History: Remembering 'Mirrodin' 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 Mirrodin, the first black-bordered Magic set to employ the modern card frame, as well as the first set in its namesake block.

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

Video transcript:

The first set in the Mirrodin block, the set Mirrodin came out on October 2, 2003.  It is the 30th expansion in the game’s history and sees the game move from its Dominaria-centric story to the plane of Mirrodin – a place that Magic players got a glimpse of during the events of the previous set, Scourge, as a place that was (at the time) known as the artificial plane of Argentum.

Featuring an artifact-heavy theme, Mirrodin not only introduces a new card frame to black-bordered Magic, it also brings with it a new card subtype as well as a wholly new storyline.

The story of Mirrodin can be experienced by reading Will McDermott’s novel, The Moons of Mirrodin, and we do recommend you give it a read.  It’s not half bad.  Regardless, here is our summary.

Memnarch, the artifical being the planeswalker Karn created from the Mirari to protect his artificial plane, wanders around Argentum.  To Karn’s credit, entire artificial world is perfect.  Too perfect, in fact, and it annoys Memnarch.  It finds itself fascinated by blinkmoths, the only things on Argentum that Karn imported rather than created himself, and gets inspired to bring more lifeforms over from other realms.

Before Memnarch can get to work on his newfound project, however, it notices a oily-like smudge.  It wipes the substance away, but not before the mysterious oil infects the guardian.  Causing an immediate change to Memnarch, it decides to rename the plane Mirrodin after itself…

Quite some time later, we find that the plane has changed quite a bit from the perfect, pristine world that Karn had created.

Glissa, an elf warrior, questions the customs of her people such as the rebuking ceremony in which the Trolls of the Tangle help the elves forget their most painful memories.  While most elves get flares of their suppressed memories, Glissa has memories of a different world – one where organic life and metal aren’t infused as one.

Seeing her as special, the trolls kidnap Glissa.  As it turns out, however, this kidnapping is to save her life from the levelers – giant and ruthless killing machines that come around every 100 years and wreak havoc on the Tangle.

The trolls tell Glissa that she has a destiny and it is because of this that they cannot let the levelers kill her.  Rather than being gracious, however, Glissa is angered that the trolls are more than happy to have the levelers kill all those without this supposed destiny.

She steals a sword from the trolls and escapes, though it’s all for naught.  She is too late.

Her family slain, she tries to fight off the few remaining levelers when, suddenly, the giant mechanical horrors simply stop fighting and begin to move out of the area.  Injured, she is dragged along with them only to see a four-armed silhouette before blacking out.

She awakens in a cave, the deactivated levelers dormant all around her.  Shortly thereafter, Glissa meets Slobad, an outcast goblin, who notices that the elf needs aid.

He takes her to the leonine city of Taj-Nar for healing, her wound now infected.  Once the arrive, they find the city is under attack from the nim – cyborg-like zombies that come from a decaying area known as the Mephidross.  The pair manage to find their way into the city and, shortly thereafter, a leonine seer informs Glissa that she will be involved with the end of the world.

Despite this, Raksha, the leonine leader, sides with the elf as he was also attacked by levelers and remembers seeing the same four-armed stranger.  The leonine seer then has a vision of the Mephidross.  Raksha sends Slobad and the now-healed Glissa there to investigate.

The pair manage to make their way to the swamp-like region and, after fighting off some of the native nim, discover a golem submerged in much.  After fishing it out, the artificer goblin cleans it up and reactivates it.  Though speechless and lacking any sort of memory, the golem – whom they would later learn is known as Bosh – offers to join their party.

Before they can leave the Mephidross, however, the trio are ambushed.  A beast known as a Dross Harvester attacks, but thanks in part to the golem’s strength, they not only kill it, they also capture the person controlling it.

Now with the upper hand, they force their captive to take them to Geth, the leader of the Dross, who resides at a place known as the Vault of Whispers.  They are attacked by a vampire which Geth keeps as a sort of pet, but are able to dispatch it before finally confronting Geth himself.  Convincing the warlord that they can do the same to him as they did his vampire, Geth reveals that he was paid off with serum by a vedelken – one of those four-armed beings – to capture Glissa.

The elf then takes a vial of the serum and the trio depart.  As they do, Bosh says his first word since his rescue: “Memnarch.”

The three return to the city of Taj-Nar, but find it yet again under attack.  Noting that it’s not safe for them to stay, Glissa takes Slobad and Bosh back to the Tangle and to its Tree of Tales.

Once there, she speaks with Chunt, the leader of the trolls, who tells her she is a “nexus of great power.”  He also takes note of the vial of serum the elf now possesses, telling her that it can unlock the mysteries of the cosmos, but warns her of its corruptive nature and suggests she never make use of it.

Chunt then begins to tell her about Memnarch, but before he can say much on the topic, he is fatally shot by a corrupted troll elder as to prevent him from saying anything more.  With his dying breath, he informs Glissa that the world on which they live is, in fact, hollow.

Chunt now deceased, Glissa chases down his killer.  Just as she is gaining ground on him, however, a vedelkan appears and kills not just him, but also a nearby elf who was on guard duty – a close friend of Glissa’s names Kane.

Seeing this, Glissa freaks out.  She unleashes a blast of magic that destroys the vedeklen before passing out.

She awakens a while later, Slobad having taken her to a supposedly safe place – the lair of the Krark-Clan goblins.  He informs her that the Krark believe the world to be hollow just as the slain troll leader, Chunt, had mentioned upon his death.  Almost immediately after, the lair is attacked by a group of other goblins – the rest of the species on the plane considering the Krark-Clan to be heretics due to their beliefs.

Slobad and Glissa escape, but the golem, Bosh, is captured.  He and the Krarks are taken prisoner and brought to the Great Furnace to be thrown into its molten interior.  Glissa and Slobad catch up and, after some fighting, manage to save their golem friend and the captured Krarks from certain doom.  It’s right after this that the trio discover the red lacuna – a giant hole that appears leads into the center of the world.

Glissa and company take the rescued Krarks to Slobad’s hideout inside of the leveler’s cave for their own safety, then depart off to the quicksilver sea intent on somehow getting to the pool of knowledge at the center of the area’s seat – a location known as Lumengrid – so that they may get answers to the many questions they now have about their world.

After some struggle and harrowing encounters, the group arrive at Lumengrid.  Shortly after their arrival, however, Glissa is captured by Pontifex, one of the most respected of the vedelken researchers.  With Bosh’s help, however, Slobad, ever the inventive goblin, manages to set off a series of explosions in the area, allowing the captured Glissa to turn the tables on a now-distracted Pontifex.

They force him to lead them to the Pool of Knowledge.  Once there, the group is ambushed by a vedelken known as Janus – the very same vedelken who has been trying to slay Glissa since the beginning.  In the battle, Pontifex is thrown into the pool and Janus eventually gets the upper hand.  As he is about to finish the elf off, Glissa has another mysterious outburst of magical power.

Suddenly defeated, Janus confesses he has been trying to kill Glissa to protect the vedelken way of life.  He tells her that Memnarch, whom the vedelken revere as a god, will use her to destroy Mirrodin and it is the vedelken’s duty as the master race to protect the world from the threats posed from the other races – Glissa’s elvenkind included.

Pontifex emerges from the pool of knowledge, having learned some interesting truths, and witnesses Glissa land a killing blow on Janus.  Having since learned that Janus was planning to use the elf to usurp Memnarch’s role as ruler of all of Mirrodin, the researcher attempts yet again to capture Glissa with the intent of turning her over to Memnarch himself.  Bosh, however, comes to the rescue and knocks the wizened researcher out cold.

As the crew looks to flee from Lumengrid, they happen upon another mysterious thing: the blue lacuna.  Like the one they had discovered at the Great Furnace, this large hole also seems to lead to the hollow center of Mirrodin.  Deciding they need to track down Memnarch to finally get the answers they seek, they venture into the planet’s core.

As they make their way down the lacuna, Bosh speaks again – this time informing Glissa and Slobad that, thanks to the pool of knowledge, he now remembers everything.

And while there’s much more to the overall story of Mirrodin that just what was in the first book, there’s even more to say about the set itself.

As mentioned earlier, Mirrodin is the first black-bordered Magic set to employ the new card frames (though they officially debuted in the white-bordered set, Eighth Edition, a few months prior).

In all honesty, initial reaction to these new frames was mixed.  Some really likes how sleek and clean they looked.  Others thought they lacked the personality and “oldness” of the original card frames.  Either way, nearly everybody agreed on one thing:  the new artifact frame just wasn’t right.

As stated in an October 2003 article on the Magic: The Gathering website, the release of Mirrodin proved to Wizards R&D that a mistake had been made.  These new, light-colored card frames employed by artifacts were simply too similar at a glance to the new, light-colored frames used on white cards.  While this mistake would repeat itself in the next set, Darksteel, WotC had enough time to darken the artifact frame for the block’s final set, Fifth Dawn.

And on the topic of artifacts, Mirrodin introduced the new Equipment sub-type.  It was a new way to express items that are usable by the creature wielding them, but done in a way cleaner than before the sub-type existed with cards like Zelyon Sword and Ashnod’s Battle Gear, which played like normal equipment and tapped to provide their effect.

Equipment took cues from aura enchantments, but in a fixed way that more-or-less solved the card disadvantage that auras sometimes provided players.

[DTW: Artifacts & Enchantments 20:12-38, 21:05-16  “During the design of Mirrodin…it was an artifact.” ”We ended up…to the ground.”]

Mirrodin also introduced three other new mechanics:

  • Affinity, which makes cards cheaper to cast by one generic mana for each permanent controlled by its caster of a certain type (such as Frogmite and Myr Enforcer having affinity for artifacts);
  • Imprint, which allows you to exile a card from your hand and “imprint” its attributes onto an artifact, and;
  • Entwine, which appears on modal spells as an extra cost, allowing its caster to use both effects rather than having to choose between them.

Mirrodin featured a wide variety of card cycles.  Eleven of them, to be exact.  This includes, among others, mana-producing myrs, spell-inspired replica creatures, spellbombs, dual-mana producing talismans, and artifact lands.

And it’s that final-mentioned cycle, the artifact lands,that really made a mess of things.

In fact, they proved so powerful (thanks largely to the set’s Affinity mechanic) that they were all banned in Standard in March of 2005 as well as by default in Modern.  They are also banned in Mirrodin block constructed play.

[DTW: Banned 9:13-10:04 “It turns out…banned them all.”

The card Disciple of the Vault, which had amazing synergy with artifacts and played very well with a card that would be printed in the next set called Arcbound Ravager would also be hit with the ban hammer in March of 2005.

As for notable cards in Mirrodin that didn’t get banned, the set boasts a good number of them (no surprises that most of them are artifacts, of course). 

  • First, there’s Mindslaver – a key card in blue Tron decks and a card for which new rules had to be created for how a player could control another player’s turn;
  • Chalice of the Void – a staple in legacy prison decks, modern tron decks, and others;
  • The only-legal-in-Legacy, Vintage, and Commander Chrome Mox;
  • The Black Lotus inspired Gilded Lotus;
  • The cannot-lose-the-game Platinum Angel;
  • Reiver Demon, lauded as for its mass removal ability and strength as a finisher,;
  • Chimney Imp. As a five-costed 1/2 with a woefully underwhelming ability, it is considered one of the worst creatures ever printed in the game.

Mirrodin also features a number of reprints and some of them are worth a mention, such as:

  • Atog, which debuted in Antiquities and hadn’t seen print since 5th Edition;
  • Bottle Gnomes, which was first seen in Tempest;
  • Brown Ouphe, a card from Ice Age which has an interesting interaction with artifacts;
  • Icy Manipulator, a classic card from the game’s original printing;
  • The “O-G” zero drop artifact creature, Ornithopter, and;
  • Triskelion, which debuted in Antiquities but hadn’t seen print since 4th Edition.

And we’d be remiss not to mention Solemn Simulacrum.  The “sad robot,” as it’s been nicknamed, is illustrated by Greg Staples and features the likeness of Jens Thoren – winner of the 2002-03 Magic: The Gathering Invitational Tournament.

The set’s pre-release promo is Sword of Kaldra, which is part one of a three-part mega cycle that spans the block’s three sets.  What’s interesting about the card, though, is that it is not only the first non-creature card to be featured as a pre-release promo, it is also the first time Wizards of the Coast put out a pre-release promo with alternate artwork – something that the company would continue to do from time to time still today.

So, is Mirrodin one of your favorite Magic: The Gathering sets?  If so, let us know in the comment section here on YouTube.

And please subscribe to Magic Untapped and toss a buck in our tip jar on Patreon for more Magic: The Gathering content.