Kald as Steel: Phyrexians on Kaldheim - A Primer on Phyrexians
Kaldheim, the newest set of Magic: the Gathering's release cycle, has finally hit the shelves. And what this means for us is a plethora of brand-new, never-before-seen cards ripe for us to speculate over! "How will Tundra Fumarole fare in the Standard format? Is Cyclone Summoner just a Limited bomb? How can Orvar the All-Form break my mono-blue flicker Commander deck?" The set is super exciting mechanically, for sure, but for a moment I'd like to have a real look at one of the characters being re-introduced to the story, and what ramifications it will have on the coming story.
As the Kaldheim spoilers kept coming, the set introduced Kaya, once again, as a main protagonist to the plane. Last time we saw Kaya, it was after the catastrophic War of the Spark on Ravnica, where she was tasked by Karn to chase down a fleeing Liliana, who had previously overtly betrayed the gatewatch, causing the death of one of the most well-known and loved characters in the multiverse. Kaya is able to phase through anything with ease, which was incredibly impactful during the events on Ravnica. In fact, thanks to her powers, Kaya might be the only planeswalker suited for the task she'll be given on Kaldheim, which we will 99703794198401000830905 into now.
Introducing the main point of this article, Kaldheim has revealed that there is a new threat to our intrepid heroes. Well, maybe not a "new" threat, but a recently awoken one. Vorinclex, Voice of Hunger, a Phyrexian Praetor first seen in New Phyrexia, has reared its ugly (and I mean UGLY) head as Vorinclex, Monstrous Raider. This is huge. Phyrexians, in the past, have proven to be one of the biggest threats to the entire MtG multiverse ever introduced to the story. Beyond mere armies of Giants, beyond mere world-eating wolves, and far beyond the scope of Kaldheim's innate dangers. Now, for those in the back screaming, "Wait, what's a Phyrexian? Why should I care about them? What makes them so special?" let me give you a short history lesson.
We start with a story literally as old as Magic itself, with the ancient planeswalker Urza and the mad cleric Yawgmoth fighting over the life of the entire multiverse.
In the beginning, before he even knew what an "Urza" was, Yawgmoth was a Physician of the Thran Empire, a Cleric who helped the bureaucrat Glacian heal his people from a radioactive poison affliction caused by magical stones with untold power, appropriately named Powerstones, that Glacian had installed into all aspects of the Thran Empire's power grid. The Radiation was causing mounds of metal to "grow" out of the hosts, weighing them down until they were too weak to walk, and would eventually succumb to the sickness and, not much later, death. Yawgmoth came to the conclusion that if the sickness grew out of flesh, then "simply" replacing all of the weak, fleshy parts of their people with grafted machinery would counter this "Phthisis", as he had called it, that plagued them. Glacian was like, "sure that makes sense" and allowed Yawgmoth to absolutely ruin everything.
What happened next gets a little... dicey. Yawgmoth betrays Glacian, collects a large amount of Powerstones, creating a device to open a gate to an empty plane nearby and basically reconstructs the entire plane into his own image, utilising this new metal-grafting technology to warp the citizens into horrors of flesh and steel. He begins declaring it "Phyrexia", and uses the very same Plane-Punching technology to create (essentially) spaceships that can travel throughout the multiverse, in the slips between planes, so he can advance on the rest of the multiverse and reskin all to his metallised image.
They attacked a world called Dominaria, but thanks to The Coalition (a group of friends involving a super-soldier named Gerrard, Talruun the minotaur, the immortal goblin Squee and their captain Sisay) they, along with the all-powerful planewalker Urza, used a superweapon built from Urza's still alive head, filled with Powerstones, that Gerrard decapitated in a clever-ruse-gone-wrong scenario (long story), his silver golem Karn (who will become very relevant very soon) and Gerrard Capashen's life to blow up most of the plane of Phyrexia, leaving it a desolate landscape. At this time, Yawgmoth had grafted himself to the plane, becoming a gigantic monstrosity, pumping power throughout it. He was essentially its heart. Fortunately, he did not survive the blast. Unfortunately, neither did Urza nor Gerrard.
Skipping ahead a good few years (hundreds, easily), Karn had survived the weapon's attack, a being made entirely out of magical silver. At the point Urza died, Karn engulfed his creator's planeswalker spark (and his powers with it), and with nothing to drive him, was wandering aimlessly around the multiverse, trying to learn what he could about the meaning of life, the universe, everything. He came to the conclusion that he would build a plane of his own, made entirely of steel and silver, autonomously kept by small machinations without feeling or emotion to corrupt their souls, using the same metal that Urza used to build him. He named his new creation Argentium.
Using an incredibly powerful artifact, the Mirari, Karn created a "warden" of sorts for the plane, and named it Memnarch. Karn, after some time, is needed elsewhere, and leaves the plane over Memnarch's watchful eye, and things immediately turn south. Karn hadn't realised this entirely, but earlier in the story he was given a heart by a friend, someone he trusted and had saved from certain death, but this turned out to be a horrible plant, and this "friend" was a sleeper agent of Phyrexia. His new heart was contaminated with the same contagion created by Yawgmoth, and Karn had dripped this same glistening oil that ruined (or in Yawgmoth's words, "Compleated") the original plane of Phyrexia all over his new plane of Argentium, and who else would stumble across the oil but Memnarch.
Twisted by the corrupting oil, Memnarch went to work warping Argentium into a new plane, which he named after the same artifact that created him, the Mirari. The plane would be declared "Mirrodin" and would be Memnarch's magnum-opus. It brought a new era to the plane, full of metallised creatures pulled from all over the multiverse. Human races existed, like the Vulshok, Elves had a place in the Sylvok, but they all shared the same affliction. After Karn returned and teleported a third of the entire plane's population off the plane for reasons we won't get into now, a race of monstrous creatures, hiding under Argentium's (now Mirrodin's) crust, made their advance.
These (finally) were the Phyrexian Praetors. Monstrous beings of almost pure metal, they were a governing force, each representing and sharing a philosophy with a different colour of mana, that plunged Mirrodin into a deep war as they besieged the now almost defenseless plane, attempting to "compleat" all life on the plane into their twisted image:
- Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite was a praetor of white mana, operating in the open, declaring order over all else. Her twisted ideals of compleation pushed the praetors into this war, and her ambition would never cease. She was intent to win.
- Jin Gitaxias was the blue Praetor, experimenting on the people of the plane day after day, trying to find not just compleation, but perfection far beyond what his "silly brothers and sisters could fathom".
- Vorinclex, mentioned earlier, was the green praetor, believing in the brutal strength of metallic beasts over the weak schemes of his brethren.
- Sheoldred, the Whispering One, was a black praetor, intent on learning everything there was to learn about their enemy, peering deep into their psyches to reveal all she could.
- And finally, the red praetor was a smaller creature named Urabrask the Hidden, but after deciding against helping Elesh Norn wipe out her enemies, he was was hastily... removed from the equation.
After a monumental loss to the ever-increasing Phyrexian forces, and Mirrodin being completely overrun. Karn eventually was forced to seal off the plane, now known as "New Phyrexia", both from the outside and the inside, locking them in their desolate land they created. That marked the end of New Phyrexia. The threat was still there, still pure evil and still very dangerous, but at least it was contained, so how did Vorinclex end up on Kaldheim?
Currently we do not know for sure. We know that Tibalt, a fiend-blooded planeswalker hailing from the Grim-Dark plane of Innistrad, is inciting his chaos again on this new plane, disguising himself as Valki, the Kaldheim God of Lies. Kaldheim is a plane of multiple realms cascading over one another, with powerful weapons and artefacts allowing the stronger denizens of the plane to travel between them as they wish. It's not impossible that the same technology could cut open paths between Kaldheim and other planes, and we know about technology like the "Planar Bridge", allowing entire armies to cross the fabric between planes, but this is just speculation.
We do know one thing though... Vorinclex is up to no good. At the end of the Kaldheim story (spoiler alert) we see Vorinclex holding a bloody and defeated Esika, the Goddess of the World Tree above him, demanding she part with some of her immortality-gifting Cosmos Elixir. When she refuses, he simply throws her to the ground and steals some, reporting, and the teleporting back to some kind of higher authority, who remains a - *cough* Elesh Norn *cough* - mystery. But what can the other praetors be planning?
Are you excited to see Phyrexians on Kaldheim? Do they take away from the Norse fantasy Kaldheim could offer otherwise? I know the whole Singles Team have had plenty to say about the new arrival, and it has kept us all on the edge of our seats as to what this means for the greater story moving forward.