Magic: The Gathering – A Traveler’s Guide to Dominaria

Magic: The Gathering returns to the plane that started it all this week, just in time to celebrate the game’s historic 25th anniversary.

Ahead of the new set’s release on April 27, I thought I’d prepare a short primer for what Dominaria is exactly, and how our return to it will fit into the ongoing M:GT narrative.

What is Dominaria?

Dominaria (roughly translated to “Song of Dominia”) is a plane in the Magic: The Gathering multiverse. Planes are basically these self-contained universes of various sizes that are separated from one another by what’s known as the “Blind Eternities,” a void filled with Aether, mana, and other energies. Only Planeswalkers and a race of creatures known as the Eldrazi are able to safely traverse it, so for the most part, these planes have all developed their own distinct cultures and ecosystems.

Dominaria is arguably the most important plane in M:TG lore, as it’s the believed to be the “Nexus of the Multiverse,” the de facto center of everything. The Serra Angels refer to it as “The Wheel,” as what happens on Dominaria affects the rest of the planes. It also happens to be the original M:TG setting, and the setting for a majority of the storylines over the years.

What’s it like there?

Dominaria is fairly Earth-like, but a little bit larger (their year is 420 days long). It’s the plane that’s been the most thoroughly explored over the years of M:TG stories, so we’ve seen a pretty diverse array of locations ranging from jungles, to volcanic islands, arctic tundras, high fantasy kingdoms, Asian-inspired regions, and beyond.

With the release of Dominaria, Wizards of the Coast also debuted this awesome map, our most complete look at the setting to date:

The Story So Far

As the original Magic: The Gathering setting, Dominaria played host to practically all of the early sets (save for Arabian Nights and Homelands). Many of these sets introduced important worldbuilding elements into the M:TG universe, but things really kicked off in 1997 with the “Weatherlight Saga,” a sprawling story arc that played out over four years and more than a dozen M:TG sets.

This saga chronicles an invasion of Dominaria by the inhabitants of the plane of Phyrexia, led by the dark god Yawgmoth. The lead-up to this war actually occur over a span of millennia however, with Yawgmoth and a powerful planeswalker named Urza seeking to outmaneuver each other ahead of the inevitable clash. Yawgmoth created the artificial plane of Rath, which he used as a staging ground for a massive army of technologically enhanced soldiers. Urza meanwhile worked to build alliances with the factions of Dominaria, assembled a collection of powerful artifacts known as the Legacy, and began experimenting with genetic engineering to create warriors who could face down the Phyrexian hordes.

In the Weatherlight set, this storyline begins in earnest, following Gerrard Capashen (the final result of Urza’s “Bloodline Project”) as he leads the crew of a ship capable of traveling between planes. Together, these characters explored the multiverse, collecting the artifacts of the Legacy in preparation for the Phyrexian invasion.

During the aptly named Invasion block of sets, the Phyrexians descend upon Dominaria after Yawgmoth fuses the plane with Rath. The brutal war that followed culminated in the arrival of Yawgmoth himself (taking the form of a literal cloud of death). Yawgmoth is only defeated after the Legacy is reassembled into a device known as the Legacy Weapon, with Urza and Gerrad sacrificing themselves to power it.

A number of smaller storylines set on Dominaria followed, but the next big leap forward came during the Time Spiral sets, which revealed that the damage done during the Phyrexian invasion had created “rifts,” tears in the fabric of time and space that could destroy the entire multiverse. A number of major characters in the M:TG universe contribute in various ways to closing these rifts, stabilizing the plane and beginning a process called the Great Mending. The biggest consequence of this event though was a big shift in the nature of planeswalkers themselves. Previously, planeswalkers were near-godlike entities wielding incredible amounts of magical power. Today, planeswalkers are still powerful and capable of traveling between planes, but they’re no longer immortal and have far less powers.

We return to Dominaria with the upcoming titular expansion 60 years later, as familiar planeswalkers arrive on the scene to discover that new threats have emerged to threaten the land.

Key Characters & Organizations:

Gideon Jura & The Gatewatch

Gideon is one of the major protagonists of the more recent M:TG storylines. He’s a planeswalker from the plane of Theros, and one of the four founding members of the Gatewatch: an alliance of planeswalkers dedicated to confronting threats to the multiverse. Along with Gideon, the other founding members of the Gatewatch are Jace Beleren, Nissa Revane, and Chandra Nalaar.

After stopping the threat of Emrakul and the Eldrazi, an ancient race of powerful beings that devour planes, the Gatewatch turns its attention towards the Eldar Dragon Nicol Bolas on the plane of Amonkhet. Bolas was ready for them though, and the Gatewatch was easily defeated, barely escaping with their lives. As a result, the Gatewatch splinters, with several of its members leaving to seek a way to stop Bolas on their own.

Liliana Vess

Liliana is a planeswalker from Dominaria, and a bit of an anti-hero in M:TG lore. In the years following the Mending, Liliana made deals with four demons in order to gain power. She’s technically a member of the Gatewatch, although she betrayed them in order to survive their encounter with Nicol Bolas. While Gideon still considers her a part of the team, her actions led to several members going their separate ways.

Now, Gideon and Liliana have teamed up to kill Belzenlok, the last surviving demon to hold one of Liliana’s contracts. Defeating him will unlock Liliana’s full potential, aiding the Gatewatch in its coming battle with Nicol Bolas.

Liliana’s return to Dominaria is more significant still though. In her youth, she was failed to cure her brother of an illness, inadvertently using dark magic to turn him into an undead monster. In this moment, her planeswalker’s spark ignited, and she was transported away to the plane of Innistrad. She now returns to her home plane to finally confront what her brother became, and deal with the consequences of her actions.

Belzenlok & The Cabal

Belzenlok is an Elder Demon, and one of four demons who made a pact with Liliana Vess to grant her power. Belzenlok currently leads a death cult known as the Cabal. The Cabal has a long, long history on Dominaria, but under Belzenlok’s leadership they’ve gained considerable power, and are waging war across the plane.

Belzenlok is vain and greedy. His obsession at the moment is stealing historical artifacts in order to falsely claim responsibility for great feats (such as killing an Elder Dragon), inserting himself into Dominarian history in order to seem more powerful.

The Church of Serra

The Church is an organization founded in memory of a planeswalker named Serra. She died thousands of years ago, although her memory lives on through the plane she created, Serra’s Realm, the place where angels are born from the prayers of those in need.

The Church of Serra is the primary religion in the nation of Benalia on Dominaria, and is closely linked to the Order of the Ancestor, an organization founded by a bird-like people called the Aven. Both organizations are currently fighting an arduous war against the forces of the Cabal, in Benalia and beyond.

Jhoira

Jhoira, also known as Jhoira of the Ghitu, is an artificer from the continent of Shiv on Dominaria. While she’s not a planeswalker, she’s still one of the most powerful people on the plane, due to an incident at the Tolarian Academy (a school for magic users) that granted her near immortality.

Jhoira was the original captain of the Weatherlight, long before the Phyrexian Invasion. In present times, she led an operation to track down the remains of the ship, and successfully rebuilt it. She’s now traveling the plane in search of a crew, and plans to use the ship to fight back against the Cabal.

Teferi

Teferi is a former planeswalker who has lived through many eras of Dominarian history. During the Phyrexian Invasion, Teferi chose to spare his homeland from the devestation, phasing almost an entire continent out of reality. For obvious reasons, this move was pretty contentious, and Teferi remains a controversial figure.

After the war, Teferi attempted to return those lands to Dominaria, managing to return the continent of Shiv by giving up his planeswalkers’ spark, but failing to bring back his homeland of Zhalfir. More recently, he is working with his daughter to research Urza’s secrets, in the hopes of one day recovering Zhalfir.

Karn

Karn is a golem made of silver that was constructed by Urza himself. Over the millennia though, he has developed both sentience and a distinct and independent personality.

During the Phyrexian Invasion, Karn served aboard the Weatherlight, and became the vessel for activating the Legacy Weapon that killed Yawgmoth. This somehow turned Karn into a planeswalker, the only artificial being to gain this status.

Karn later created the plane of Argentum, later renamed Mirrodin, which was eventually lost to a Phyrexian infection. He was eventually rescued through the self-sacrifice of a planeswalker named Venser, and his current whereabouts are unknown.

Jodah

Jodah, also known as the Archmage Eternal, is an incredibly powerful magic user on Dominaria, and a former lover of Jhoira. Over four thousand years old, he’s been around for almost every major event on Dominaria, from the Ice Age through the time rift crisis. He was last seen at the Tolarian Academy.

The Weatherlight & Its Crew

The Weatherlight is one of the most iconic pieces of Dominarian history, and now through the work of Jhoira and her team, it flies once again.

The current crew of the Weatherlight includes its captain Jhoira, her assistant Hadi, Teferi, the angel Tiana, the vampire Arvad, Shanna Sisay, a descendant of the legendary captain of the Weatherlight, and Raff Capashen, a descendent of Gerrard Capashen.

Ajani Goldmane

Ajani is a planeswalker of the cat-like Nacatl race from the plane of Alara. A member of the Gatewatch, he urged Gideon and the other members not to confront Nicol Bolas on Amonkhet just yet. They ignored his warnings, and Ajani chose not to follow them.

Ajani was last seen on Dominaria, seeking out new planeswalkers to join him in the coming battle against Bolas.

Jaya Ballard

An old planeswalker acquaintance of Jodah, Jaya was presumed dead thousands of years ago. She’s reemerged on Dominaria following the Mending.

Key Locations:

Benalia

Benalia is a nation in Dominaria. During the Phyrexian Invasion, it was nearly completely destroyed, but following the war its people have managed to rebuild, and Benalia is now one of the most powerful nations on the plane. As such, the nation is often referred to as “New Benalia.”

They are currently bearing the brunt of the Cabal’s attacks, and are allied with the Church of Serra in combating this new threat. Benalia is often known for its knights, who wear a distinctive white and silver armor.

Urborg and the Cabal Stronghold

Belzenlok commands the Cabal out of a fortress in a region of Dominaria known as Urborg. The stronghold itself used to be a Phyrexian military base, and was located on Rath. After Rath and Dominaria converged, the stronghold was moved to inside of a dormant volcano in Urborg.

The Tolarian Academy

The Tolarian Academy is an institution founded by Urza and a wizard named Barrin as a training ground for mages, in preparation for the coming Phyrexian Invasion. Acting as both a school for magic users and a research facility, the Academy is responsible for training many of the most prominent mages in M:TG lore.

The Academy has been destroyed multiple times during its history, and now several campuses exist across Dominaria.

 

If any of this seems interesting to you, I would highly, highly recommend following along with the new fiction series by Martha Wells, with a new entry published every Wednesday. They’re six installments in so far, with six more to go through April and May.

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