Friday, 31 December 2021 09:00

Magic History: Remembering 'Guildpact' (ft. Mark Rosewater)

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Magic History: Remembering 'Guildpact' (ft. Mark Rosewater) 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 (along with special guest, MTG senior designer Mark Rosewater) take a look at Guildpact, the second set in Magic: The Gathering's impactful original Ravnica block.

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

Video transcript:

<MARO soundbite>

Guildpact releases on February 3, 2006, and continued (story-wise) where its predecessor, Ravnica: City of Guilds left off while, at the same time, having its own unique identity and feel, setting it apart from its block’s first set.

Guildpact’s set symbol is that of a three-pronged wrought-iron design meant to evoke the set’s three-guild setup as well as the block’s overall urban theme.

The set’s story can be enjoyed by reading Cory Herndon’s novel of the same name.  And, as per usual, here is a quick summary of it all.

Decades before Ravnica’s decamillennial, a member of the Izzet guild flies over a zone within the plane-spanning city known as Utvara.  He attempts to activate an explosive of sorts above a plague-ridden zone within in order to cleans the area and kill all life within while keeping its structures intact.  The zone’s native Gruul, however, attack and bring the aircraft down.  Rather than exploding, however, the device implodes, killing all of the Gruul in the area and creating a strange fold in space that begins absorbing the ghosts of all who die in Utvara.

Fast forward to twelve years after the decamillennial.

Teysa Karlov is pulled from her job within the Orzov Syndicate by her uncle to help him with the redevelopment Utvara, land which he owns outright.  In exchange, she becomes the area’s baroness until her uncle dies, upon which time she will assume his place on Orzhov’s ruling body, the Ghost Council.

She, along with her uncle, his right-hand man, Melisk, and an Izzet courier named Crix are venturing through the zone destined for a location known as Cauldron, where an Izzet magelord named Zomaj Hauc lives and works.

Meanwhile, a Gruul bandit named Aum Yom is laying in wait with plans to attack the transport they are riding, but Yom meets an untimely end thanks to an invisible assailant only for his body to (somehow) get right back up again.

During their journey, Uncle reveals that, many years ago, he had Hauc drop a bomb in Utvara to destroy all life in the zone (including the plague), thus allowing redevelopment to begin sooner rather than later.

That’s when the reanimated Yom and his thugs attack the transport.  The goblin, Crix, makes an immediate escape, but is quickly apprehended by Vor Golozar, a much less bloodthirsty Gruul than Yom and his gang.

In another area within Utvara, the imp Pivlic has built himself a new bar, his previous establishment having been destroyed by the now-illegal-to-exist Ghostmen.  Agrus Kos, the retired Wojek lieutenant from the Boros Legion, now works as the club’s bouncer.

Late in the night, Teysa and Melisk enter the venue, carrying the corpse of her Uncle – apparently killed in a Gruul attack.  Kos is relieved of his bouncing duties for the night and heads home.

On the way, he meets an old Gruul centaur named Trijiro.  Kos tells him that he should warn his people because the Orzhov will probably want revenge for one of their people slaying their patriarch.  Trijiro retorts, saying that the man these newcomers had brought to Pivlic’s bar was still breathing when they arrived in town.

Her uncle now deceased, Teysa, Melisk, and Pivlic perform a ritual to send his ghost to the Ghost Council.  Teysa then settles into her role as the new Utvara baroness.

She orders a mansion be built for her within Utvara.  She then learns that the large Selesnyan tree in the center of town keeps keeps the plague from entering within its limits and tasks a local Simic doctor with coming up with a cure for the plague so that they won’t need to rely on the Selesnyan Conclave’s help due, in part, to a contract the Orzhov have with them stating that they must clean up the zone by a certain deadline or hand the zone back over to the Selesnyans.  Of course, the presence of a 10,000 year old Yore-Tiller Nephilim in the area isn’t helping things.

Kos, suffering from anxiety and an aging heart, continues his long-standing search for his angelic ally, Feather, and the Parhelion, the flying fortress in which the city-plane’s angels reside.  While he doesn’t find them, he does spy the Gruul, Vor Golozar, along with his goblin captive, Crix.  The retired lieutenant informs Teysa, who sends he and Pivlic on a rescue mission to free the Izzet courier, seeing it as a way to improve relations with the area’s Izzet leadership.

Not long after, Kos and Crix’s parties converge on one another.  Pretty quickly, Kos learns that her Gruul captor was actually her escort and is taking her to Cauldron to be reunited with her boss, Zomaj Hauc.  Apparently, the Gruul also want good relations with this Izzet magelord.

That’s when the combined parties are attacked by the bloodthirsty Aun Yon and his band of goons.  They manage their escape, but not before realizing that Yon and his thugs have been zombified.

Teysa, meanwhile, goes to see the Doctor Nebun, the same Simic doctor she had tasked with developing a cure for the plague.  She has been having bouts of narcolepsy and thinks he can help.  While there, the doctor informs her that he has had a cure for the plague this whole time, which he sells to Teysa for an amazing sum.

Fed up with the headaches she gets every time she is reminded of the Gruul who killed her uncle, she decides to confront him.  Well, his ghost upon the Orzhov’s Obzedat council, anyhow.

He agrees to tell her, but only if she swears absolute allegiance to the Obzedat, which she does.  He reveals that, since suicide is forbidden within the Orzhov, he had his right-hand man, Melisk, mind-control her so that she could kill him, thus allowing him to take his place on the council.  He then tells his niece of a deal the Obzedat brokered with the Izzet a number of years back before revealing to her that she doesn’t have narcolepsy at all, but rather thank Melisk has been off-and-on controlling her mind for years, abusing her and wiping her memory of it.  The Obzedat return Teysa’s memories to her, which infuriated the baroness.  She immediately breaks her oath to the council, swearing to herself she’ll kill Melisk at first chance.

Now at Cauldron, Kos, Crix, and the rest are taken prisoner by Hauc.  He shows them a trio of dragon eggs and tells them that he plans to use the power of the souls that have been becoming trapped in the Schism – the fold in space accidentally created decades prior – to bring them to life, as per the deal the Obzedat made with the Izzet parun, Niv-Mizzet, many years ago.  He also tells them that Niv, using the spell that the courier, Criz, has on her, plans on taking control of the dragons to lay waste to civilization – something that is most definitely not part of the deal Orzhov leadership made with the Izzet.

The mutated plague afflicting the area, apparently, is nothing more than a method for making the Ravnican air breathable for ancient dragons and that he worked with the Simic, Dr. Nebun, on evolving it.

He summons Crix to accompany him, then orders the rest killed.

Back in the Utvara township, Teysa begins rallying members of all guilds to rise up and form their own alliance against Cauldron, turning her back on the Obzedat’s plans and finding the goings-on there far too dangerous to be allowed to proceed.  As her ranks grow, she administers the Simic’s plague vaccine to all who enlist in her aid.

A small army behind her, she marches upon Cauldron, only to be intercepted by Melisk and some thirty Taj – Orzhov ghost assassins who had been possessing Aun Tom and his tribe.  Teysa’s pure Orzhovian blood allows her to easily assume control of the Taj and has them tear Melisk limb from limb as retribution for all of the abuse he had caused her over the years.

Satisfied, she turns her attention back towards Cauldron.

There, Hauc’s minions fire up the machines to awaken the ancient dragons.  At the same time, Kos, Golozar, Pivlic, and a re-imprisoned Crix attempt a jailbreak, wrecking a number of Hauc’s machines in the process.

During this chaos, Teysa and her conscript army arrive and join the fray.

The baroness happens upon Pivlic and informs him that the zone’s airborne plague is actually so that Hauc’s dragons will be able to breath once they’re brought to life.  She inoculates him against its affects and instructs him to vaccinate everyone else, knowing that the Selesnyan tree back in town can’t filter out the pathogens until there’re no unvaccinated left to incubate the illness.

Just then, a section of Cauldron collapses, crushing one of Hauc’s three ancient eggs.  Before the other two eggs can be damaged, however, they hatch.

Hauc uses the spell delivered by Crix to take control of one and immediately rides it towards town, intent on burning down its air-purifying tree.  Teysa reads off the spell as well, entrancing the other dragon to do her bidding and sends it after Hauc.  Kos and Crix steal Hauc’s flying machine and follow.

In the plague-filled skies above Utvara, a battle ensues.  Hauc disables the stolen flying machine, sending it ands its two occupants, Kos and Crix, crashing to the ground below.  Hauc gets bucked off his dragon mount, however, and is thrown hard against a nearby cliff wall, killing him on impact.

The late magelord’s dragon then attacks the one controlled by Teysa, both simultaneously dying as they are both impaled by the outcropping of a building as they are entangled among one another.

From the wreckage on the ground, a dying Kos looks up to the sky.  From the distance flies a familiar form.  It is Feather, his long-lost ally.  Heavily, the retired Wojek lieutenant raises his arm and manages a single wave of his hand before his body, too, retires for good.

Many attend the funeral of Argus Kos, including the daughter of his late partner, Fonn, and the Golgari leader, Jarad, as the storied, late member of the Boros Legion is laid to rest.

Elsewhere, the spirit of Zomaj Hauc awakens, hearing the voices of a vast number of other spirits calling for him.

And, thus, Guildpact’s story comes to a close just in time for Ravnica’s final three guilds to voice their “Dissension.”  Of course, that’s not to say there isn’t more about Guildpact the set that has still yet to be said.

<MARO soundbite>

The first of two small sets in the original Ravnica block, Guildpact brings 165 cards to the table, including a pair of reprints: Cremate (last seen as an uncommon in Invasion) and Savage Twister, which (at the time) hadn’t seen print since its debut in Mirage.

While the set continues the multicolor themes and hybrid mana from Ravnica: City of Guilds, it does not build upon the mechanics and abilities of the block’s first set as follow-up sets typically do.  Rather, it introduces three new abilities (which makes sense seeing as Guildpact features three of Ravnica’s two-colored guilds that were not featured in City of Guilds).

Whereas the first Ravnica set featured four guilds – Boros, Selesnya, Dimir, and Golgari – Guildpact’s include the black/white Orzhov Syndicate <MARO soundbite>, red/blue Izzet League <MARO soundbite>, and green/red Gruul Clans <MARO soundbite>.

Each of those guilds, of course, came with their own brand-new mechanic:

  • Haunt for Orzhov, which returns a card from the graveyard “haunting” another permanent in play. When that latter permanent is put into a graveyard, the haunting card’s ability triggers;
  • Replicate for Izzet, which puts copies of a given instant or sorcery spell onto the stack dependent on how many times that card’s replicate cost is paid, and;
  • Bloodthirst for Gruul, which puts a number of +1/+1 counters on a permanent as an enter-the-battlefield ability so long as an opponent has been dealt damage up to that point in the turn.

<MARO soundbite>

Despite its smaller size, Guildpact boasted more cycles than City of Guilds.  Double, in fact – four to Ravnica’s two.  This includes:

  • Rusalkas, 1/1 uncommon spirit creatures that each have an activated ability that includes paying one of its color of mana and sacrificing the creature. In real life, by the way, rusalka have roots in Slavic mythology and is typically a water-associated feminine entity that is often malicious towards mankind;
  • Magemarks, which are auras that give its enchanted creature +1/+1 as well as an additional ability, save for Guardian’s Magemark, which has flash instead;
  • Leylines, a cycle of powerful rare enchantments that cost four mana apiece, but can come into play for free at the start of the game if they’re in a player’s opening hand, and;
  • Nephilim, Magic: The Gathering’s first-ever creatures to have a casting cost of four different colors of mana.

<MARO soundbite>

Of course, Guildpact’s cycles aren’t the only cards of note that are in the set.

For starters, there’s:

The set’s pre-release promo is Djinn Illuminatus and its release promo card is Gruul Guildmage.

Guildpact also had a pair of notable misprints that made it out into the wild:

  • Some copies of the foil version of Thunderheads were printed with the letters “y” and “w” missing from the card’s flavor and reminder text, and;
  • The red/blue card Hypervolt Grasp was printed with a Gruul watermark rather than an Izzet one.

So, is Guildpact amongst your favorite Magic: The Gathering sets?  If so, let us know in the comment section.  Please remember subscribe to Magic Untapped here on YouTube and toss a buck in our tip jar on Patreon.

And, finally, a big thank you to Mark Rosewater for sharing his insight with us.