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Who Is: Garth One-Eye

Illus. Micah Epstein

Magic Untapped takes a look at Garth One-Eye, one of Magic: The Gathering's earliest protagonists. 

Video Transcript:

Welcome back to Who Is on Magic Untapped as we take a look at the backstories and origins of characters from throughout the Magic: The Gathering multiverse.

In this episode, we zero in one whom, despite being the main character in the very first Magic: The Gathering novel, Arena, from 1994, didn’t actually appear on a Magic card until 2021 in the set Modern Horizons 2.

Here’s a look at Garth One-Eye.

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A wandering wizard arrives in Estark, a brutal city where the populace’s favorite pastime is the watching and wagering upon brutal battles both officially in the arena and unofficially out in the streets.

This wizards, named Garth, befriends an old man named Hammen who leads Estark’s brotherhood of pickpokets and other such scoundrels.  Garth then gets roped into a street fight – one that he easily wins.  So impressed were the spectators that they gave him a nickname, “One-Eye,” as the mage had obviously lost one of his eyes at some point in the past.

Before we dive any deeper, though, it should be pointed out that Estark hosts an annual tournament at its arena called the Festival of Estark, headed by the arena’s grand master, Zarel.  While, in the past, this festival was a means for the city’s five houses to display their skills against one another, things have changed over the past couple of decades thanks to the fall of one of the city’s strongest houses, the House of Oor-tael.

Now run by a cruel planeswalker named Kuthuman, the festival now features Estark’s four remaining houses fighting in bloody, often fatal battles with the festival’s ultimate victor joining Kuthuman on an inter-planar trip (though the winner never managed to make it back from the trip for some reason…).

Now, getting back to Garth, he witnesses another informal battle on the city’s streets.  A Benalish warrior comes up the victor despite her opponent fighting dirty.  Immediately after the battle, a spectator quickly moves in on her, intent on stabbing her from behind.  Garth intervenes, saving the woman’s life.

Grateful, she introduces herself as Noreen and explains to Garth that she has entered the city to earn a reputation as a hero so that she might escape the limits of Benalia’s caste system.  But, before the two could get much more acquainted, Hammen more-or-less runs her off.

As time passes, more duels continue to erupt throughout the city as they had been for years.  And, during this time, Garth found himself joining one of Estark’s houses and fighting on their behalf, only to eventually leave it only to join another.  In the end, Garth manages only to stir up discord amongst Estark’s populace.

Now considered an undesirable and suspicious, Garth is captured and tortured by Grand Master Zarel whom whishes to know exactly what it is Garth is up to.  Thankfully for Garth, he’s made some friends in his time in the city and he is freed by not just Hammen, but also Norreen and Varena, a fighter whose respect he had earned while dueling for one of Estark’s houses.

Not too long after this, the time for the Festival of Estark arrives.

As is customary, each of the city’s four remaining houses sent their representative to the arena.  Garth, too, ventures there and enters as the long-lost survivor of the fallen fifth house.

It’s now revealed just how and when Garth One-Eye, whose real identity is Galin, Son of Cullinarn, lost his eye.

It was 20 years prior during an incident that would become known as the Night of Fire when Kuthuman led a massacre against House of Oor-tael.  Grand Master Zarel, whom is a servant of the cruel planeswalker, gouged a young Galen’s eye out as a means of tormenting his father, leader of House of Oor-tael.

His eye bleeding, Galen had ran into the house mansion, which had been set ablaze, supposedly killing everyone within it.

This news, though, wasn’t exactly well received by the Arena Grand Master, nor the tournament’s patron, Kuthuman, and Garth is marked for death.

But, as mentioned before, Garth had made a few friends in Estark and Norreen leads an unruly mob into the arena in aid of the one-eyed wizard.

In part to quell the mob’s bloodlust and as a means to kill Garth while maintaining some semblance of order, Grand Master Zarel and Planeswalker Kuthuman announce that every match in the Festival will be to the death and that anyone who opposes this sudden rules change will be put to immediate death for their dissent.

This, of course, puts an end to the chaos and the tournament is allowed to continue.

One-by-one, each house’s champion is felled by another until, in the final match of the tournament, Garth finds himself paired against his friend, Varena.  She makes it clear to Garth that she is honor-bound to follow the rules of the Arena and, as such, they must fight to the death.  It’s a fight that Garth would win as he lays the killing blow against Varena by means of a psionic blast.

Garth now the champion of the Festival, he is whisked away by Kuthuman whom, once away from the crowds, attempts to kill him.  Unsuccessfully so, one might add, which leads Kuthuman to inform Garth that planeswalkers are constantly in a struggle to be more powerful than the next and that his killing and absorbing the power of other mages to be justified.

Garth, of course, disagrees with the planeswalker’s logic and seriously wounds him in revenge for the pain he had caused him and his family some 20 years ago as well as in the time since.  This act of vengeance and redemption causes Garth’s ascension into becoming a planeswalker, himself, and he leaves Kuthuman a bleeding mess.

Back at the arena, chaos erupts.

Each of Estark’s four remaining houses launch an offensive against Grand Master Zarel.  The Grand Master wastes no time eliminating them all.  He does the same with the countless mobs of Estark citizens who have also turned against him.

Just as he is about to slay Norreen and Hammen, Garth returns and stabs Zarel in the chest with a dagger, killing him.

After the battle, Norreen runs up to and embraces Garth.  The two then vanish together from the city.

A life of battle and bloodshed behind them, the two retire to the countryside and have a child, whom they name Hammen after their old friend in Estark.  However, Garth would find the idle life a restless one.

Despite his promise to never leave, he eventually couldn’t help himself as he began to wander the planes.  And it’s during one of these ventures away that Norreen and Hammen were abducted.

It turns out that Norreen, like Garth, was using an assumed name while in Estark. Her real name is Rakel and she and her son were taken to Benalia City by Sabriam, the man Rakel had refused to marry before her disappearance from Benalia.  In the time of her absence, Sabriam had gone up in the world and become the Speaker of the Ruling Caste.

He accuses her of high treason for abandoning Benalia.  Rather than killing her, though, Hamman is held hostage and she is ordered to assassinate the forestfolk Gull and Greenesleeves, whom had an army dangerously close to Benalish borders.

She succeeds in infiltrating their army, but fails at killing either as her deadline passes.  She tries to kill herself, but Gull stops her.  She then confesses everything to him and he and Greensleeves decide to help her and rescue Hammen.

The forestfolk’s camp is ambushed during the night and Rakel once again taken prisoner and back to Benalia City.  Gull and a few others follow not too far behind and get there just in time to save Rakel from torture.  They also rescue Hammen, killing Sabriam in the process before ultimately returning to the Whispering Woods, Gull and Greensleeve’s homeland.

It’s about this time that Garth returns to the scene.  He had returned home to find his wife and child missing and was on the warpath searching for their kidnappers.

Assuming Gull and Greensleeves to be the culprits, he attacks them.  After a brief scuffle, Rakel calms him down and confesses to him her past life and the events since the abduction.

Now seeing his family through new eyes, Garth vows to never again use magic and, instead, focus his energy on caring for his wife and son and tending to their vineyard back home.

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Garth then shares his knowledge of the multiverse with the wizard, Greensleeves, before departing home with his wife and son, presumably to live a life of peace from then on.

Thank you for watching this episode of Who Is.

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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.