Magic History: Invasion

Magic Untapped takes a look back at the set Invasion.

Wizards of the Coast's popular and long-standing collectible card game, Magic: The Gathering, has been out since 1993.  That stated, it's nice to look back at older sets to reminisce and see just how much the game has changed over the years.

In this video, we look back at Invasion, the first set in Magic: The Gathering's Invasion block.

Check it out:

Video Transcript:

The 21st expansion in Magic: The Gathering history, Invasion release in October of 2000 and kicked off the Invasion block.

The set’s expansion symbol is that of the coalition, which is a cooperative effort of forces from across the plane of Dominaria from all five colors as they band together to defend their home from Yawgmoth and his invading Phyrexians.  The set also brings the Magic’s attention back to the Weatherlight crew, freshly escaped from Mercadia.

The story of Invasion can be discovered by reading J. Robert King’s novel by the same name.  For those who just want the key story points, here is a quick summary:

The Weatherlight is back on Dominaria and is speeding towards Benalia.  Unfortunately, their journey is interrupted as massive Phyrexian portals open up in the sky with massive transport ships coming through soon thereafter.  The invasion, it seems, has begun.

Realizing that they can’t take on the massive number of ships, the crew flies directly into one of the portals, emerging on the other side back in Rath.  The crew quickly does what they can do to destroy what they can of the fleet from behind enemy lines before deciding it’s time to escape back to Dominaria.

Once they finally reach Benalia City to warn the populace of the Phyrexian invasion, the crew gets imprisoned for Gerrard’s desertion.  In jail with them is a oddball blind seer who was doomsaying nearby where the Weatherlight had landed.  Predictably, war quickly comes to Benalia.  As the Phyrexian forces, commanded by Tsabo Tavoc, rout the Benalish defenders, the crew and the seer escape.

The crew quickly recruit help among some of the Benalish prisoners and return to the Weatherlight.  On board, they face Tsabo themselves but are able to escape, though not unscathed as the ship’s navigator, Hanna, gets infected by the Phyrexian plague.

But the action isn’t just occurring in and around Benalia.  Rather, the violence is happening all over the globe.  As such, Urza and Barrin awaken the Metathran that Urza had created during his bloodlines projects many years prior and sends them to Koilos, where Tavoc had set up her base of operations.  Unfortunately, Tsabo captures the Metathran commander, Thaddeus, and ruthlessly analyzes him. 

In Zhalfir, Teferi has a plan.  He convinces Urza to teleport in and out of the Phyrexian portals above Jamuraa in order to disrupt them.  The time mage then uses the energy released from the failing portals to phase out his home nation in northwestern Jamurra, as well as a section of Shiv, thus saving them from the invasion.

Urza is not pleased.

As far as he’s concerned, all Teferi succeeded was in handicapping the Dominarian coalition’s forces by removing these two powerful nations from the fight.  But, at least the half of the Mana Rig that didn’t get phased out turned out to be a lava-spewing mech of sorts, so at least Urza’s got that going for him.

In the Yavimaya Forest, the maro-sorcerer Multani has returned from his absence and is now leading the defensive efforts there.  Yavimaya succeeds in turning a good number of the Phyrexian invaders into wood and, in doing so, creates a new army that assist in defeating the rest.  His forest saved, the maro-sorcerer quickly travels to Llanowar to assist.  It’s here that he meets the former Skyshroud leader, Eladamri.

As it turns out, Eladamri, Lin Sivvi, and Takara have been in the area for a month or so and have been warning the locals of the impending invasion ever since.  The Llanowar king doesn’t like the commotion the trio have been stirring up, but just as he’s about to have Eladamri arrested, the skies open over Llanowar and the Phyrexians begin raining hellfire on the nation.

Llanowar’s king dies very early in the battle and Takara, who herself was suffering from being infected by the Phyrexian plague, shortly thereafter as she was attempting to save a little girl.  Multani leads the efforts to defend Llanowar as the forest’s own maro-sorcerer, Molimo, reluctantly lends his own aid.  Eladamri and Sivvi lead what Llanowari they can deep underground into a network of mysterious caves. 

Shortly thereafter, the Weatherlight appears after yet another trip to Rath where the crew successfully collected Phyrexian specimens from which the ship’s healer, Orim, was able to make a vaccine for the plague.  Llanowar is inoculated, but the vaccine was finished too late to save Hanna, who had fallen into a coma.

Meanwhile, Urza is gathering a group of eight other planeswalkers to his cause from both Dominaria and elsewhere.  This includes the Ulgrothan planeswalker Daria, Taysir of Rabiah, and the Dominarians Freyalise, Kristina of the Woods, Tevesh Szat, Lord Windgrace, Bo Levar, and Commodore Guff.  Urza takes the group to Tolaria where they learn to use the Titan Engines he has created for them all as he prepares them for their own invasion of Phyrexia.  This, of course, gets the attention of the Phyrexians.  Urza and company flee the island, leaving the island and all that’s on it to the invaders.

The party ventures to Koilos and meets up with the Weatherlight crew and finds that Eladamri has now become Thaddeus’ replacement as the Metathran general.  Urza also calls Barrin and his forces away from defending Urborg.  While the Master Wizard is displeased to be abandoning the fight, he finds solace in the fact that he can finally be reunited with his daughter, Hanna.  Urza, however, informs him that she has passed away.

Barrin snaps.

He recovers his daughter’s body and teleports back home to Tolaria, which is not overrun with Phyrexians.  He places her body next to his wife, Rayne’s, in the family tomb, then turns his attention to the Phyrexians.  Out of pure hatred and grief, he obliterates the island and everything on it – himself included.

Back at Koilos, a battle commences.  A number of Coalition warriors manage to get inside Tsabo’s lair including Agnate, the other Metathran general.  Once inside, Agnate is forced to mercy kill his friend and former comrade, Thaddeus, which mentally shatters the general.  Tsabo is able to use Gerrard’s grief over losing Hanna to control his mind.  Karn, ever the pacifist, breaks his vow to do no harm and causes a distraction that frees Gerrard from her control.  Squee passes his a sword and Gerrard nearly kills Tsabo, but the Phyrexian commander manages to escape through the cave’s portal before being run through.

Shortly thereafter, the Blind Seer returns.  He finally reveals himself to be none other than Urza in disguise.  Together, he and Gerrard destroy the Caves of Koilos’ centuries-old portal.

The battle won and the Phyrexian commander fled, the Coalition forces take a reprieve, thinking that the worst is behind them.  That is, of course, until the Rathi Overlay occurs and the real invasion of Dominaria begins…

But that doesn’t happen until the next set.  As for this one, Invasion has quite a bit of interesting information behind it.

Looking for ways to make Invasion really stand out (especially after the relative failure that was the Masques block), the set’s design team, which consisted of Bill Rose, Mike Elliot, and Mark Rosewater, looked to an unpublished Magic set designed by former original Magic playtester Barry Reich.

<<Sound bite MaRo DTW: 6:07-6:25, 13:14-13:34, 14:21-14:27>>

Invasion’s “Domain” mechanic, for example, was lifted from Spectral Chaos and called “the Barry mechanic” during development because it was created by Reich.  Furthermore, to boost Domain, there even was a Barry’s Land. It was a land that tapped for one colorless mana and counted as a basic land. For ruling reasons, it was never printed (save for as a playtest card in 2019’s Mystery Booster set), though the basic land Wastes from 2016’s Oath of the Gatewatch bares an eerie similarity to it.

Kicker gets introduced into the game with Invasion which, for an additional cost to a spell’s casting cost, will enhance what the spell does.  For example, for 1R the card Breath of Darigaaz deals only one damage to each non-flying creature and each player, but if you also pay the two generic mana kicker cost in addition to the 1R, it’ll deal four damage instead.

A concept colloquially referred to as “divvy” was introduced in Invasion as well.  Inspired by the Alliances card Phyrexian Portal, this officially unnamed mechanic has a player separating a number of cards into two piles with another player choosing what to do with them.  The card Fact or Fiction is arguably the strongest such card printed in the set.

Invasion also introduced split cards – something originally designed for the never-released set Unglued 2 – to the game of Magic and saw the return of multicolored cards, which have been surprisingly absent since Stronghold was released a couple of years earlier.  In fact, Invasion’s major themes actually revolve around multicolor decks and strategies.  And, in keeping with the focus on multicolored cards, Invasion also introduces the gradient dual-colored land text boxes for lands that produce two different colors of mana as can be seen on cards like Salt Marsh and Shivan Oasis.  It’s largely agreed upon that the combination of the popularity and appeal of multicolored cards along with higher, yet balanced power level is what made Invasion such a popular Magic: The Gathering set.

Part of this popularity is likely due to a cycle of rare multicolored dragons featured in the set that feature the five Primeval Dragons of Dominaria: Treva, Dromar, Crosis, Rith, and (most famously), Darigaaz.  Vorthos-wise, they are the second generation of dragons descended from the Ur-Dragon with the original Elder Dragons from Legends being considered the first.  Each of these newly-printed dragons featured an ability that would fire off when dealing combat damage to a player so long as its cost was paid and were considered quite strong at the time.

But multicolored cards and strategies weren’t the only draw for Invasion as the set introduced a brand new creature type which would prove to be quite popular.  The Kavu, which are a specific type of ancient beast or sorts, make their debut in the set, though the Kavu that would make the biggest impact wouldn’t see print until the next set.

Invasion would, however, have a number of impactful cards that are not Kavu.  This includes Absorb, a staple in legacy and (currently) standard blue/white control decks, Artifact Mutation, popular in commander and in vintage, Dueling Grounds, Fires of Yavimaya, Fact or Fiction, Sabertooth Nishoba, Tribal Flames, which tends to find a home in legacy five-color zoo decks, and Urza’s Rage.

In fact, Tom van de Logt’s 2001 World Championship winning deck, “Machine Head,” featured a number of cards from Invasion including not only Urza’s Rage, but also Blazing Specter, Crypt Angel, and others.

There were also a number of notable cards for storyline purposes, including the first on-card appearance of key characters such as Captain Sisay and Hanna, Ship’s Navigator, as well as others unique to the story of Invasion Empress Galina, Tsabo Tavoc, Reya Dawnbringer, the then-leader of the angels who fled from Serra’s Realm during the events of the Urza’s block, and Urza himself in the form of the Blind Seer.

Not everything in the set were winners, though, as could be evidenced by the cycle of Leech cards.  At the time considered under-costed, they were balanced by causing its controller’s spells of a certain color to cost one more of that color – literally leeching mana away from the player.  Unlike the Fallen Empires card Derelor, which saw modest play during its time and likely served as the inspiration for Invasion’s leeches, none of them saw much play nor were even liked all that much.  Not even Alabaster Leech, which is considered the best of the bunch.

Another card of note is the set’s pre-release card Raging Kavu, or “Kavu Furens” as the entire card was printed in Latin.  Interestingly enough, it’s also the only card in the set to show a copyright line of “1993-1999” as Invasion itself was printed in the year 2000.  Oops.

It’s one thing to shift languages for a pre-release card.  It’s another thing altogether to shift planes, but a plane shift is exactly what’s going to happen next.  As such, we’ll leave that for our next Magic History video.

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

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Barry White

Barry White is a longtime Magic: The Gathering player, having started in 1994 shortly before the release of 'Fallen Empires.' After graduating from the University of Nevada, Reno, he went on to a 15-year journalism career as a writer, reporter, and videographer for three different ABC affiliate newsrooms.