Friday, 30 July 2021 08:00

Magic History: Remembering 'Fifth Dawn'

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Magic History: Remembering 'Fifth Dawn' 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 Fifth Dawn, the final set in the Mirrodin block.

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

Video transcript:

Fifth Dawn, the third and final set in the Mirrodin block, released on June 4, 2004.  The 165-card set included 162 new cards along with three reprints and closed out the three-set Mirrodin story arc.

This closing section of the Mirrodin Cycle can be experienced by reading the novel The Fifth Dawn by author Cory J. Herndon.  Feel free to give it a read if you’d like.  Otherwise, here’s a quick summary of the story.

Glissa and Slobad are recuperating after the emergence of Mirrodin’s green sun along the edge of the newly formed green lacuna.  Looking around, they discover that the massive wave of energy released as the sun made its escape can caused mutations to the Tangle and its wildlife.  Soon thereafter, the pair are captured by the native elves – Glissa’s own people – and put on trial back at her home village.

As it turns out, since the time that Glissa departed the Tangle on her quest, many elves have gone missing.  Furthermore, Glissa’s sister, Lyese, blames her for their parents’ deaths at the metallic hands of the levelers.

Glissa provides her defense, telling the tale of her adventures and her efforts to find and defeat Memnarch.  Many of the elves believe her, but not Lyese.  She attacks her sister, separating the two of them, along with Slobad, from the group just in time for the first wave of a surprise attack again the elven village begins.

Soon into the sisterly scuffle, the Neurok, Bruenna, shows up and informs the sisters and goblin that levelers have destroyed the village and are now on their way to the Tangle itself.  They soon arrive, led by Menmarch’s second-in-command, Malil, and Glissa is captured.

They take her into the world’s interior.  There, she witnesses the insides of Mirrodin are being transformed by countless creatures busy at work.  The elf manages to escape, but Slobad isn’t so lucky.

The goblin is tortured for a while, then Malil is sent back to the Mirrodin surface to (once again) retrieve Glissa while also retrieving Memnarch’s Soul Traps – devices Memnarch used to populate Mirrodin by literally abducting inhabitants from other planes – and also simply conquering the Mirrodin overworld at large.

Glissa, Bruenna, and Lyese venture to the Leonin city of Taj-nar only to find it (yet again) under siege by the Nim, though this time things are different as the Mephidross – the Nim’s native land – is expanding into the Glimmervoid acre-by-acre.

It is decided that the “good” forces of Mirrodin must band together to fight the “bad.”  Glissa, Lyese, and the leonin leader Raksha head out to the Oxidda Mountains to rendezvous with the Krark-Clan goblins, but along the way are attacked by a band of goblins lead by a vulshock barbarian known as Vektro.  After the assailants are dealt with, they are greeted by a familiar face.  Well, head.

Geth – or, rather, what’s left of Geth in the form of a decapitated-yet-still-alive head – informs the group that a man named Yert (the very same man whom Glissa had met during the events of Moons of Mirrodin) had been transformed into a vampire and has not only usurped control of the Mephidross by beheading yours truly, but has also captured their friend Bruenna who had traveled to the Vault of Whispers seeking to enlist him as an ally.

Glissa departs her friends and ventures to the Vault of Whipsers with a few Leonin sky-knights and Geth’s head in a bag in tow.  Shortly after reaching her destination (and after some scuffles here and there), Glissa is able to locate her friend hooked up to some sort of machinery.

She is able to rescue the mage, unplugging her from the rigging.  Doing so, however, sets off a trap.  Yert, it seems, wasn’t working for his own glory, but rather for Memnarch’s.  A trap was set to capture Glissa and Bruenna was the bait.

Five years later, after release from stasis, Glissa finds the world she knows to be very different than she remembers.  Taj-Nar had fallen, the Mephidross covers half of the globe, and the last major holdout against Memnarch that stands is that of a goblin/Leonin alliance in the Oxidda Mountains.

As for Slobad, he has been tortured and brainwashed into working for the mad golem Memnarch.  Limbless and hanging from a wall, he is now wired into Mirrodin itself, controlling Memnarch’s busy-bee myrs, memnites, and other artifact creatures as they are busy at work transforming the plane into one giant machine capable of transferring planeswalker sparks out of their host bodies and into Memnarch’s.

Memnarch, himself, has spent much of the last half-decade in hibernation, bathing in the mind-altering serum and ridding his metallic body of any semblance of flesh. And, as fate would have it, it’s about time for Memnarch to be waking up from his hibernation.

This intel gets back the Mirrodin rebels who come up with a plan to hijack the Miracore – the machine Yert uses to control the Mephidross’ various nim.  They aim to take control of the zombies for their own purposes (and that includes turning them on Memnarch himself).

Just as the group is about to set their plan into motion, their mountain stronghold is attacked by the entirety of Memnarch’s forces – Yert included.  Glissa takes the opportunity to personally slay the Mephidross leader, taking the nim-controlling Miracore just in time for Memnarch’s second-in-command, Malil, to literally yoink it out of her hands as he sped by on a flying device of sorts.

The elf and the former Leonin leader, Raksha, pursue Malil into the Tangle.  On the way there, Raksha catches Glissa up on some things she’s missed while away, including that the Vulshock who had attacked them five years prior had been nothing but a mindless shell controlled by a body-possessing minion of Memnarch’s named Vektro, who had afterwards taken over the mind and body of her sister, Lyese, and had been with the rebels the entire time since as a double agent.

Once the duo arrived at the Tangle, they follow Malil down into the hollow center of the plane where they finally catch up to and, after some doing, finally end not just the golem, but the many iterations of it they find along the way.

Then, Glissa finds what’s left of Slobad.  Distracted by shock, Glissa is captured by another Malil iteration – this time one controlled by the body-possessing Vektro just in time for Memnarch to emerge from his long slumber.

The golem-god of Mirrodin promptly slays Vektro, citing him as “the creation of a tainted mind” before preparing to activate the Ascension Web – the device divined by Slobad to use the alignment of Mirrodin’s five suns and the power of Memnarch’s soul traps to harvest Glissa’s planeswalker spark.

Just then, Geth sends an army of nim into the area.  Slobad gets a flash of sanity and begins to rebel against his metallic captor, using his connection to Mirrodin’s artificial beings to attack Memnarch as well.  With a newfound fury, Glissa arms herself with the Miracore and channels green mana through it, flinging herself at the mad golem and knocking both of them into the Mirrodin core, causing an explosion that destroys all life on the plane, as well as Memnarch’s soul-stealing traps.

Glissa’s spark, though, does get harvested.  It finds its way to Slobad, who is still attached and in control of the plane’s artifice.  He finds himself whole again and, for a moment, with godlike powers.  That’s when Karn finally shows up.

Despite the plane and its keeper, Memnarch, being of his own creation, he had been locked out of returning to the plane after departing to explore the multiverse with the newly-ascended planeswalker, Jeska, so many years ago.  In his madness and paranoia, Memnarch had erected a barrier around the plane that kept Karn and others like him from entering.  The best he could do was connect with Glissa by sending her periodic visions.

With Memnarch now gone, the barrier had fallen and Karn was able to appear on the world once again.

The silver golem offers Slobad the opportunity to become his apprentice, but the goblin, seeing no point in living on without his dear friend, Glissa, declines.  Instead, he forfeits his spark, using his newfound power to resurrect all those killed on Mirrodin and send them back to their home planes.

Karn then locates Memnarch and decommissions the golem, melting it down to its core to reveal the Mirari underneath before unceremoniously departing yet again.

Shortly thereafter, Slobad and Glissa awaken on a mostly uninhabited Mirrodin.  They find Geth’s head sitting – now attached atop a memnite that serves as his new body – sits upon a box containing two final soul traps along with the Mirari.  Geth relays to the pair Karn’s final message:  They can choose to smash the two soul traps and return to their home planes, or they can stay on Mirrodin and await for Karn to return and collect the Mirari.

The pair decided to stay on the plane and, along with Geth, became the Guardians of Argentum (Mirrodin’s name before Memnarch’s meddling) and of the Mirari itself.

And, thus, the story of Mirrodin comes to a close.  For now, at least.  We’ll return to the plane for a new story arc, but those sets won’t come out for another six years or so.  Besides, there’s still a bit left to tell about Fifth Dawn as a set.

Like the sets before it, Mirrodin and Darksteel, Fifth Dawn had a heavy emphasis on artifacts.  Unlike its predecessors, however, Fifth Dawn also had a prominent “five color matters” theme.

The set also fixed the artifact card frame problem from when the game switched away from the old original card frame by darkening the card type’s card frame as to minimize any future confusion as to whether a card is an artifact or a white card.

The set carries over almost all of the set’s previously-introduced mechanics (Affinity, Entwine, Imprint, and Modular) with only Darksteel’s Indestructible being left out.  It also continues the use of the Equipment artifact subtype – something that will be a Magic mainstay from here on out.

In addition, Fifth Dawn introduces two new mechanics (both of which came from the mind of then-rookie Magic designer Aaron Forsythe):

  • Sunburst, which appears on artifacts and allows them to come into play with counters upon them equal to the number of colored mana used to cast it, such as the case with Skyreach Manta and +1/+1 counters, and;
  • Scry, a now-evergreen keyword action that allows a player to look a the top however-many cards of their deck, then put them back on the top and/or bottom of their library in whatever order they please, such as with the card Magma Jet including Scry 2 on it, allowing for two cards to be seen and sorted by its caster.

<DTW-Scry. 10:08-11:09, “Aaron was really…get your synergy.”>

The set also featured a trio of cycles:

  • Beacons, which are rare sorceries and instants that have a rather powerful effect and, afterwards, get shuffled back into its owner’s library, such as Beacon of Tomorrows giving a player an extra turn before the card gets shuffled back into the deck;
  • Bringers, which are rather large creatures that each cost a whopping nine mana, but could be brought into play with an alternate cost of one of each color mana.  Each Bringer also has trample as well as an ability that fires off during its controller’s upkeep, such as Bringer of the Black Dawn having a Vampiric Tutor-like ability, allowing its controller to tutor for any card and put it on top of their library in exchange for two life. And;
  • Color-aligned equipment, which, in addition to having their own unique abilities, have an alternate equip cost called “attach,” which can be fired off at instant speed at a cost of two of the same color mana.  Cranial Plating is considered by far to be the superior of this group.  It’s banned in Magic’s Pauper format.

<DTW-Banned, 30:18-44 “I originally designed…sorta powerful.”>

And speaking of cycles, Fifth Dawn completed the Kaldra Equipment mega cycle with the printing of Helm of Kaldra (also the set’s pre-release card with alternate artwork).  The three equipments can combine to make a token creature known as Kaldra, which is only a 4/4 vanilla creature, but all of the Kaldra equipment become automatically attached to it, so that 4/4 tends to become rather powerful with a ton of abilities courtesy of the sword, shield, and helm.

While Fifth Dawn was not considered to be an overall powerful set – especially when compared to Mirrodin and Darksteel, there are a number of cards that either made an immediate impact on the game or have grown in popularity since the set’s release.

  • Condescend, a decent X-casting counterspell with Scry 2 tacked on,
  • Crucible of Worlds, which was kind of scoffed at initially, but has since found a home in a number of decks, including vintage MUD, Legacy Pox, Modern Tron variants, and so on,
  • Engineered Explosives, a popular sideboard card;
  • Eternal Witness, which has been a staple inclusion in a wide variety of competitive decks;
  • Krark-Clan Ironworks, a key inclusion in the once-extremely powerful KCI combo decks, such as those that won Grand Prix Hartford and Grand Prix Las Vegas in 2018 and Star City Games Team Open in Columbus, Ohio, in 2019;
  • Magma Jet, a burn spell with Scry that sometime sees play in Modern and block burn decks;
  • Rude Awakening, a once-finisher in Ramp and Gift Control decks;
  • Serum Visions, a popular card for Delver, Storm, and certain Jeskai builds;
  • Equipment tutoring Steelshaper’s Gift, and;
  • Vedalken Orrery, a popular card for EDH.

And, in terms of reprints, Fifth Dawn only had three:

  • Circle of Protection: Artifacts, which probably should have been printed in the block’s first set rather than it’s last;
  • Magma Giant, which first saw print in the beginner level set Portal Second Age, and;
  • Relic Barrier, which was first printed in Legends almost a decade prior.

And as the artifact-centric Mirrodin block ends, a new feudal Japanese block will follow, but that is a story for our next Magic History video here on Magic Untapped.

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

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