Friday, 11 June 2021 08:00

Who is... Nicol Bolas? (Pt. 5 - Sensei Ryu and the Time Rifts)

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Who is... Nicol Bolas? (Pt. 5 - Sensei Ryu and the Time Rifts) WOTC/MAGIC UNTAPPED

Welcome to the second season in Magic Untapped's "Who Is..." series.

In this eleven-part series, we explore the origins of the dragon who would become one of Magic: The Gathering's greatest antagonists, Nicol Bolas.  In this fifth episode, we watch as Nicol Bolas gets "reborn" and how he schemes to take revenge on the Umezawa clan for the inconvenience.

Enjoy the show.

Video transcript:


Welcome back to “Who is” on Magic Untapped as we explore the backstory and evolution of Nicol Bolas.

The draconic planeswalker, now trapped in ghostly form between plains, finds himself a second chance at physical life and uses it to exact revenge, only to ultimately lose his ultimate powers in the end.

Stay tuned, and I’ll tell you about how the Dominarian time rifts and the plane of Kamigawa fit into Bolas’ story.


It has been more than a hundred years since Nicol Bolas’ former champion, Tetsuo Umezama, had all but slain him, leaving him trapped in spiritual form between planes, semi-anchored to Dominaria only through his connection to the temporal rift above the islands of Madara.

In that time, numerous more time rifts have either appeared or grown in size and intensity above the plane.  The Madaran rift was no different, and was eventually large and powerful enough that Bolas – even in spirit form – was able to manifest on the plane again (albeit as a shade of his former self).

In this form, he took on the identity of Sensei Ryu.  As Ryu, Bolas not only sensed that another planeswalker, Teferi, had become lost in one of the time rifts, separated from his traveling companions, but also that these companions, too, had planeswalker essenses.  Using what power he had, the planeswalker shade arranged for Teferi’s companions to arrive on the Madaran coast not far from the Talon Gates.

Using his skills and powers to influence the minds of others, Ryu was able to take control of the latent mutated planeswalker spark of one of Teferi’s companions, a curious wizard named Venser, to bring the full essence of Nicol Bolas back to Dominaria.  Now reborn, the draconic planeswalker planned to “reward” Venser and his traveling partners, Radha and Jhoira, for their assistance in his release.  Were it not for Jhoira’s diplomacy and the sudden appearance of Teferi, who had found his way out of the rifts, Bolas would have succeeded.

Teferi challenged Bolas to a duel.  His companions watched helplessly as Bolas easily defeated his opponent, getting into his head and tearing his mind apart.  A dying Teferi shares his knowledge of the time rifts with Bolas and, realizing the severity of the issue, the dragon allows Teferi to live so that he may deal with the multiverse-threatening temporal rifts.

Bolas then sets himself a new goal and planeswalks away to Kamigawa, taking advantage of the time rifts, so that he may exact revenge on the Umezawa clan.  His plan?  To find and presumably kill the spirit responsible for sending the Umezawas to Dominaria before she would have the chance to do so.

The spirit, a powerful kami known as the Myojin of Night’s Reach, found herself constantly pursued by the draconic planeswalker and enlisted the help of another planeswalker, one known as Leschrac Nightwalker, to aid her against Bolas and she presents him with a magical porcelain mask with which to drain Bolas’ powers.  Whether the dragon was successful or not in slaying the Myojin is unknown, but he soon returned to Dominaria, his quarrel with the Myojin seemingly over.

Almost immediately after his return, however, Bolas is ambushed by Leshrac – the latter’s ambitions leading him to think that if he could defeat Bolas he would become the most powerful being in the multiverse.  The battle was intense, and Leshrac was proving to have the upper hand.  He had Bolas trapped between the Talon Gates, negating the dragon’s planeswalker powers and allowing him to use the porcelain mask given to him in Kamigawa to rot away the dragon’s body.

Bolas now drastically weakened and mortally wounded, Leshrac prepared one final spell to end the draconic planeswalker once and for all.

Not even a moment before his ultimate demise, however, Bolas swung the skeletal remains of his tail, impaling Leshrac.  The dragon then revealed that he had succeeded in defeating the Myojin of Night’s Reach and was in possession of her original porcelain mask.  Leshrac’s mask, as it turns out, was merely an inferior copy.

Using the mask’s powers, Bolas regenerated himself before capturing Leshrac within it.  Mere minutes later, Bolas uses the power of the mask and the essence of Leshrac it contains – planeswalker spark and all – to close the final rift above Madara, thus ending Leshrac Nighwalker’s existence.

Sensing that, despite the closing of Dominaria’s time rifts, the multiverse was still doomed, Bolas planeswalked to a new realm  (presumably the yet-unknown Amonkhet) to focus on his own preservation.

Not long thereafter, another planeswalker involved in Dominaria’s mending, Jeska, cast her spell of mending, healing most of the damage caused by Dominaria’s temporal rifts, but also forever altering the nature of the planeswalker spark.

Like all other “old” planeswalkers who survived the mending, Bolas lost much of his god-like powers.  And while he still possessed his natural powers as an Elder Dragon as well as his dizzying intellect, he wanted more.


But there’s still a little more of the story of Nicol Bolas before Jeska’s mending spell stripped him and all other planeswalkers of their god-like status.

In the next episode, we’ll see Bolas’ ventures on Amonkhet as well as how he responds to losing much of his power shortly thereafter as “Who Is” continues on Magic Untapped.