Friday, 25 June 2021 08:00

Magic History: Remembering 'Darksteel'

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Magic History: Remembering 'Darksteel' 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:

Released on February 6, 2004, Darksteel is the second set in the Mirrodin block.

The set continues the extremely heavy artifact theme of its predecessor, Mirrodin, as well as picks up story-wise where the previous set left off.

You can read the story for yourself in the Jess Lebow novel The Darksteel Eye.  And, as usual, we have a quick story summary for you at the ready and it picks up almost exactly where the previous book, Moons of Mirrodin, left off with Glissa and company fleeing down the blue Lacuna – the giant hole that leads under Mirrodin’s surface – with several vedalken in pursuit.

They reach the bottom and find themselves in the artificial planet’s center.  There, they are attacked by Malil, a golem who is the eyes and ears of the plane’s de-fact ruler, Memnarch, and his army of levelers.  For reasons yet unknown, Memnarch has a keen interest in the elf and seeks her capture.  Glissa’s mysterious artifact-destroying power ignites yet again, taking care of their assailants and clearing the way for them to return to the surface by way of the Lacuna.

They emerge back in Lumengrid after fighting they way through the vedelken who followed them down the hole to begin with and finally have a chance to rest.  As they do, they discover that Bosh, the iron golem, is beginning to turn from iron to flesh.  Puzzled, Glissa, Bosh, and the goblin Slobad return to the wise trolls of the Tangle for answers.

There, they are greeted by Drooge, the troll’s new leader, who informs the party that all of the traitors on the council have been dealt with.  She is then informed that the sword she liberated from the previous troll leader upon his death is none other than the Sword of Kaldra -  a sword that is connected to a powerful warrior.  The troll gifts Glissa the Shield of Kaldra to aid her in her quest and instructs her to venture to the Vault of Whispers to find and collect the Helm, thus completing the set and allowing the elf to summon Kaldra’s avatar as an ally in her fight against Memnarch.

Just as Glissa received the instructions, the Tangle is attacked.  Malil had survived Glissa’s previous outburst and has tracked her back to the Tree of Tales.  The golem and its levelers attack.  The trolls help Glissa and Bosh escape, but Slobad gets kidnapped in the chaos.  Luckily for the goblin, a large, talking wolf enters the story and saves him before joining the party.

Meanwhile, parallel to Glissa’s adventure, readers are presented with more and more of Memnarch.  Completely addicted to serum and slowly turning from metal to flesh, he finds himself ruling over his twisted metallic plane, all the while ranting and arguing with imaginary illusions of his own creator, the golem-turned-planeswalker, Karn.

Through these rants, we discover Memnarch’s end game: Seeing as Karn was able to achieve planeswalker status when he and Urza were destroyed together in the Legacy blast on Dominaria, then that must mean that he can also achieve such a feat.  To do so, he supposes that if he and Glissa (who supposedly has a latent planeswalker spark of her own) are likewise destroyed together by the creation of Mirrodin’s fifth sun, then he, too, will ascend to planeswalkerhood.

All he needs is to capture the elf and bring her to his fortress and have her there with him when the plane’s final sun is born.  He sends his right-hand-golem, Malil, after Glissa to fetch her at all costs.

The Darksteel Eye also has a third parallel storyline.

Pontifex, the vedalken researcher, now sits on the Synod, the ruling vedalken body.  The Synod’s other two members, however, simply do not like they guy and force an election to add a fourth member to the board.

Pontifex then travels into the plane’s center for an audience with Memnarch himself.  The golem informs Pontifex that he requires Glissa for her “piece of divinity” in order to turn himself into a Planeswalker.  Despite the vedalken not understanding much of what Memnarch is saying, Pontifex offers up his own body for his golem benefit.  The offer is denied.  Instead, Memnarch instructs the vedalken to assist in the capture of the elf.

Pontifex has a mental break of sorts and blames Glissa for his rejection by the being he sees as a living god before he and Malil go on their way to capture Glissa, the golem’s metal shell becoming more and more flesh-like, just like with Bosh’s and Memnarch’s.

The separate plot lines all begin to converge as Glissa’s party is venturing across the Glimmervoid as the venture towards the Vault of Whispers.  Here, they are attacked by yet again by vedalken under orders from Pontifex who, despite instructions to capture Glissa, instead wants to kill her.  Thankfully, due to the timely arrival of some Neurok allys, the party escapes the attack and makes their way into the Mephidross and, eventually, into the Geth’s throne room inside of the Vault of Whispers.

Here, they are met by not just Geth, but Pontifex himself along with Malil and some levelers.  After striking a deal with Geth, Glissa is able to locate her prize: the Helm of Kaldra.  Slobad manages to align the three artifacts just right and a giant glowing avatar known as the Kaldra Guardian appears.  It makes short work of their assailants as Pontifex flees the scene.  Sadly, the party’s wolf friend, Al-Hayat, doesn’t survive the encounter.

The remaining heroes venture through the black lacuna and into the center of the plane intent on slaying Memnarch and putting an end to his madness.

Meanwhile, Pontifex returns home to find that, in his absence, a change of leadership has occurred.  The Vedalken Empire has now become the Free Republic of Vedalken and he is wanted for “crimes against the people” and the republic’s leaders – the three other vedalken on the Synod – attempt to imprison him.

Pontifex manages to slay the two original Synod members who were there when he joined the former empire’s ruling body as he makes his escape along with his second-in-command, Marek.  As he does, Pontifex has another mental break that sends him over the deep end.

Back with Glissa and friends, they now find themselves on Mirrodin’s interior and are quickly attacked by constructs known as threshers.  She attempts to use her special talent to destroy them, but finds she cannot as the threshers’ metallic hides and innards have all turned organic.

She is captured and taken to Memnarch.  About this time, Pontifex and Marek, arrive on the scene.  Pontifex destroys the thresher so that he can slay the elf personally.  This proves to be the last straw for Marek, who realizes that his master is actively defying their living god.  The two vedalken get into a vicious fight and Glissa is saved from murder as the two men kill each other instead.

Glissa then catches back up with the remaining members of her party as they finally make their way to the mad golem.

Memnarch, using his gift of control over artifice, takes control of the Kaldra Guardian.  Bosh sacrifices himself to slow it down, allowing the rest of the group – Glissa, Slobad, and Bruenna – a chance to flee.

Bruenna returns to her Neurok homeland, while Slobad and Glissa return to the Tangle, believing that they would have a better chance of destroying Memnarch on their own turf.  Once there, they are greeted by trolls who direct her to the Radix, an area where the green mana of the Tangle is the strongest. 

Very soon thereafter, the Memnarch-controlled Kaldra Guardian arrives, intent on capturing Glissa once and for all.  The trolls of the Tangle sacrifice their own lives as they attempt to impede the avatar’s progress until the guardian is right on top of the elf and goblin.

Just then, an immense burst of green energy emerges from the Radix as the green sun emerges from underneath.  It obliterates the guardian as it ascends and catapults Glissa and Slobad onto the ground nearby before sailing through Memnarch’s fortress and up into the Mirrodin sky.

Glissa and Slobad, injured and dazed, lie recovering on the Tangle floor.  Memnarch, half destroyed from the sun going through his fortress, wakes up a dazed Malil, telling his golem servant that they have a lot of work yet to do.

As for what the mad ruler of Mirrodin has planned, that’s a tale for the final chapter in the story as the plane experiences its fifth dawn.

But as for Darksteel, there’s still more yet to tell.

The first of Magic’s “small” expansions to have 165 cards (up until now, all small expansions 143 cards save for Legions, which had 145), Darksteel employs the use of a shield as its set symbol – specifically, the Shield of Kaldra.

Darksteel carried over equipment, affinity, imprint, and entwine from Mirrodin and introduced two new keywords: indestructible and modular.

Indestructible is a static ability that is rather straightforward.  Simply put, something that has indestructible, such as artifact creature Darksteel Colossus, cannot be destroyed by damage or destroy effects, meaning that cards like Shatter wouldn’t have any effect against things like the colossus.

For the most part, cards with this ability were made of the set’s titular metal: Darksteel Brute, Citadel, Colossus, Forge, Gargoyle, Ingot, Pendant, and ReactorMyr Matrix and Shield of Kaldra also have the indestructible ability, so (for flavor purposes) let’s just assume they’re made of the same metal.  Also, the legendary creature Slobad, Goblin Tinkerer, is able to grant the ability to artifacts, so let’s just assume he’s a darksteel dabbler.

The indestructible ability has since become an evergreen keyword in Magic, which means that it can be used in any set.

<<MARO EVERGREEN, 34:46-35:00 “Originally it was just…it was a keyword.” >>

As for modular, it’s an ability found on artifact creatures.  Artifact creatures with the ability come into play with a specific number of +1/+1 counters on them.  If the artifact creature is put into the graveyard from play, those counters are then moved onto another artifact creature.

<<MARO BANNED, 13:16-13:44 “Modular was a riff…just +1/+1 counters.”>>

Arcbound Ravager, an artifact creature with modular, proved to be extremely popular on the tournament scene and was usually found in the extremely powerful affinity decks of the time thanks to its amazing synergy with Mirrodin’s Disciple of the Vault by providing an easy sacrifice outlet, growing larger as it eats up your artifacts while the Disciple pings your opponent to death.

<<MARO BANNED, 13:10-14:00, 12:50-13:05, 12:44-12:48 “When I made it…did it in a different way.”  “One of the things it would be…another archbound ravanger.” “Arcbound Ravager proved to be mega powerful.”>>>

Darksteel also brought with it four card cycles:

  • Affinity golems, which are artifact creatures that have an affinity for a specific basic land time, such as Spire Golem having “affinity for islands;”
  • Echoing spells, which affect all of the chosen cards with the same name, such as Echoing Ruin destroying all artifacts of the same name as the one targeted;
  • Lucky charms, which is slang for a type of artifact which gains its controller life whenever a spell of the appropriate color is played such as Angel’s Feather gaining its controller one life whenever a white spell is cast, and;
  • Pulses, which is a cycle of rare spells that have a chance of returning to the player’s hand should a specific condition be met such as with Pulse of the Tangle, which provides its caster with a 3/3 token creature before returning to its owner’s hand should an opponent control more creatures at the time of resolution.

Aside from those cycles, all of which found a home in one deck or another, Darksteel also featured a nice selection of legitimately good and powerful cards – many of which are still in use in top-tier decks today.

This includes:

  • Æther Vial, a staple in legacy and modern Death & Taxes decks;
  • The aforementioned Arcbound Ravager;
  • The indestructible cards Darksteel Citadel and Darksteel Reactor, the latter being an alternate win condition that is sometimes seen in certain EDH decks;
  • Skullclamp, a card is still banned today in Modern, Legacy, and Mirrodin block play;
  • Sword of Fire and Ice;
  • Sword of Light and Shadow, and;
  • Trinisphere, which is seen in professional-level decks such as MUD, Ravager, and Dragon Stompy.

And of the three reprints that appear in the set, only two are worth a mention:

  • Fireball, the classic direct damage X spell which, at this point, hadn’t seen print since 5th Edition some seven years prior, and;
  • Juggernaut, a once-powerful artifact creature that had last been seen in 1994’s Revised.

Finally, like with Mirrodin, another piece of the Kaldra equipment set – the Shield of Kaldra – was highlighted as the set’s pre-release card, complete with alternate art.

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

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