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War of the Spark Trailer: What We See, What We Learn

Yesterday, as part of PAX East, Wizards of the Coast unveiled a trailer of a quality we never saw before for their upcoming set, War of the Spark. It is not only beautifully made, it also contains a lot of elements and characters some Magic players might know... Or not. There's a lot of story behind magic, and a LOT of information in that trailer, even though it doesn't feature any dialog. Let's start by a cursory look at it in case some of you found Magic, or our site, through it. You can skip it if you already feel you've gotten enough, and we'll have a more in-depth look right after.

The Trailer

In this trailer is featured front and center Liliana Vess. She's a planeswalker, ergo being able to travel between the different worlds, called planes, of Magic's Multiverse, and a powerful necromancer . She's leading an army of blue skeleton-like zombies —the Eternals— in the ruins of Ravnica, a giant city spanning an entire world of the same name. She's bound by a magical contract etched into her skin to an ancient dragon planeswalker, Nicol Bolas, who put her in charge of the Eternals. Nicol Bolas is one of the, if not the biggest, villain of the Magic franchise, having been a mainstay and featured prominently in stories since 2002 (and in cards since 1994). 

We see the consequences of Liliana's acts and so can she. The planeswalker Dack Fayden gets stabbed, and the Spark in his soul that makes him a planeswalker is taken from him, and sent to Bolas, as the destruction causes the death of an innocent family and Liliana sends her Eternals to overrun another planeswalker, and one of her rare friends, Gideon Jura. She finally decides to oppose Bolas and turn his undead army against him, at what point he calls upon the contract to compel and hurt her, yet she pushes through it no matter the consequences.

Now, let's see what doesn't jump out of the page in this video, and for that we'll have to take a closer look at some things...

The Characters

Let's delve deeper into a quick rundown of the known characters we see in this scene, starting with...

Liliana Vess

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Liliana Vess is a planeswalker, a person who was lucky enough to be born with an incredibly rare Planeswalker Spark as part of her soul, that later ignited due to an intense emotion (in her case unwillingly bringing her brother back to life as a lich) to make her what she is now, able to travel between the many worlds, or planes, that compose Magic the Gathering's Multiverse, and use the magic and spells from all of those worlds.

She's a powerful 200 year-old self-centered necromancer who fears death more than anything. After she started aging 60 years ago following a Multiversal event called the Mending, that brought down the power of planeswalkers from immortal demi-gods to powerful mages, she extended her life and reclaimed her youth through a contract with four demons decades ago, a contract that was brokered for her by the planeswalker and dragon Nicol Bolas (see below). In exchange for eternal life, youth, and power, Liliana accepted to obey those four demons. To reclaim her freedom, she set out to kill all four of her demons, using for that The Chain Veil, a powerful but cursed artifact she possesses. She finally killed the last of her demons the Demonlord Belzenlok last year at the end of Dominaria's story (the set). She was helped by the Gatewatch, a group of planeswalkers dedicated to fight multiversal threats she took an Oath to join, mostly hoping to be able to use them for her own ends.

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During her time with the Gatewatch, she slowly learned to appreciate the other members, and forged through Dominaria's story a sort of friendship and mutual trust with another planeswalker of the group, Gideon Jura (see below). Unfortunately... After having killed Belzenlok, the Gatewatch (and a few other planeswalkers they met) left Dominaria (the plane) for Ravnica to try to foil the plans Nicol Bolas has there. The Gatewatch already fought and lost against Bolas recently on the world of Amonkhet, right before fleeing to Dominaria. Liliana didn't manage to get to Ravnica, as her last demonic contractor's death transferred the ownership of said contract to the one who brokered it, Nicol Bolas (always read the fine print). In Bolas's Clutches, Liliana is forced to serve the dragon, who put her at the head of the undead army he amassed on Amonkhet.

Nicol Bolas

During the course of his long, long life, Nicol Bolas has been involved in a lot of schemes, plans and horrors. So much so that it would take an entire other article to list them all. To sum things up, he's a 30'000 year old dragon and planeswalker (more or less, with a couple thousands of years margin) and wants to be the most powerful being to ever exist. To this end, he devised a way to steal planeswalkers' Spark to unknown ends, but very likely to increase his own power as well as making sure he's the only planeswalker in existence. The Elderspell (as the PAX panel called it) that allows him to do that is still mysterious, but he seem to have devised it a long, long time ago. The Mending was a big wrench in the cogs of his plans, making him lose a great deal of power in the process, and exacerbating even more his hunger for it. But in War of the Spark, his plans come together.

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He engineered threats in the Multiverse so that planeswalkers would come together to face them. He prepared an undead army that could be a channel to his Elderspell on the plane of Amonkhet. He oversaw the creation of a Planar Bridge able to transport said army from the deserts of Amonkhet to the city of Ravnica. He instilled chaos into said city by placing his agents, and ordered the creation of an interplanar beacon that would call all planeswalkers to Ravnica so he could harvest them. He sent an agent on the plane of Ixalan to get The Immortal Sun, a powerful artifact that would stop any planeswalker from leaving Ravnica once they fell into his trap. And finally, he secured a powerful necromancer, Liliana Vess, to lead his Eternal army to collect planeswalkers' spark through the street of Ravnica, bound as she was by the contract in her skin and her interest only in her continued life. As he stands upon the Emergence Zone of his planar bridge, his schemes unfold.

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Other Characters

Liliana is mainly featured here, as well as Bolas, but we see a couple other characters. Dack Fayden, self-appointed "Greatest thief in the Multiverse", is a planeswalker from the world of Fiora we've seen exclusively outside of sets' main story, mainly in his dedicated series of comic books a few years ago. Gideon Jura, or Kytheon Iora is a member of the Gatewatch, as said previously, and he garnered a friendship with Liliana Vess. His magic makes him indestructible to physical attacks he's aware of, and he's a very strong fighter. Since Dominaria, he now wields the Blackblade Reforged, a powerful, soul-drinking magic sword that was used to slay another Elder Dragon of Bolas's type long ago. The two persons who get crushed by rubble are unknown and probably innocent bystanders, but in no way irrelevant.

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Back to the Trailer

This time, let's go scene by scene and try to pick up any relevant details. First, we see a short shot of Liliana burning, with Eternals running backwards around her indicating we're going back in time. It is followed by a close shot of Bolas in front of something looking like a black hole sucking in ethereal wisps. This placement isn't random. We will soon see what those wisps are, and his position isn't random. Bolas never moves from there, so we can assume he needs to stay there to collect these wisps.

We continue to go back, and we then see (in reverse) Liliana ordering her Eternals to overrun Gideon, who tries to fight them with the Blackblade. Around them is architecture fitting for Amonkhet, but it's Ravnica in the background. Either this was built here since the invasion, or the whole edifice was brought in by the Planar Bridge, which is more likely. Then, we see an Eternal stab Dack Fayden as he tries to call for Liliana, grasp his chest, and pull out a light out of it. Its head then bursts into light and becomes one of those wisps converging towards Bolas. From that, we can deduce that those wisps are at least planeswalker sparks 'harvested' by Eternals, if not the whole souls of planeswalkers. The fact the Eternal bursts as such means that they're certainly an integral part of the collection process, the Lazotep (blue mineral from Amonkhet) covering them being known to have properties allowing it to take on the 'imprint' of one's soul, and in some ways manipulate it, although we only saw that done on undeads so far.

While all of this happens, Liliana is looking the other way, looking distressed. Towards a pile of rubble, from which a hand sticks out with a forearm clothed in blue, in a deliberate attempt to make the viewer consider Jace Beleren's death, another planeswalker. As we continue rewinding, we see the rubble lift up and reveal a pair of unknown people.Two young people, a woman in a dress and a boy, both dressed modestly and trying to flee as Liliana looks at them pass, shocked, and the screen flashes to white. The parallel here is done with Liliana trying to protect her brother, long ago, from such destruction and death, and throwing herself down this path.

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Then, we go back to seeing Liliana send her Eternals to overwhelm Gideon. Time moves forward this time, and she looks up. Not at Gideon; she doesn't look at him while ordering the attack like she didn't look at Dack when his spark was stolen... She clearly isn't alright with those acts. Instead, she looks at Bolas. As the Eternals draw close, we see Gideon slay a few of them before they pin him down by sheer numbers. Liliana and Bolas exchange a look, then Liliana looks back at the rubble and the hand sticking out, towards her past, and seems to remember her past year... And her oath to the Gatewatch.

She then looks sad, then angry. Her decision taken, she looks back toward the present and dragon, and makes a gesture with her hand toward Bolas. Instantly, every eternal turns to face the would-be god. And starts rushing towards him. Gideon, likely shielded by his magic, seems alive, and intact. He looks at the scene, disbelieving it himself. Bolas closes his fist, and his eyes glow orange. They're soon followed by Liliana's markings representing her contract and servitude to him, and she starts burning yelling against Nicol Bolas's roar. Her final fate is uncertain.

Interestingly, both of her hands are on screen, and we do not see her using The Chain Veil to rebel against Bolas, despite him being stronger than her by a mile. Even her act of defiance doesn't move the Elder Dragon from his pedestal, his anger only carried by his roar as he's stuck there for his spell to work.

Wrapping Up

That's it for the trailer and for today! If I missed anything that you saw, don't hesitate to tell me in the comment section. You might notice that I didn't state that Liliana or Dack were dead. That's because we don't see them die on camera. Liliana is burnt by her contract, but she's also one of the main protagonists, and the story of the Raven Man and the Chain Veil associated to her aren't over yet, not that we know. Maybe she'll age again, maybe she'll lose some powers, maybe she'll die and I'm wrong, but I'm not noting a time of death yet. As for Dack, we don't know if the extraction of one's spark goes with the extraction of the whole soul. Rhe stabbing certainly didn't help, but he wouldn't be, by far, the first character of fiction to survive a spear through the chest. He might die, or not, but I'll wait for something more definitive than ten seconds in a trailer, as beautifully made as it is. Wizards gave us more than a treat this time around, and as you read, it's full of delicious flavor.

Until next time!

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