Book Review: The Brothers’ War

Magic: The Gathering, of all the TCGs that I have played, has held on to me more than any other game – more than WWE Raw Deal, the Star Wars CCG, the Star Trek CCG, and even Weiss Schwarz. The reason for that, more than the raw play of the game and the people I was playing with, was the world of the game, the lore of the game and how it was conveyed. While cards would certainly have a degree of humor to them, the game always took the world somewhat seriously.

In particular, what always captured my imagination was the world of the first few expansions – Dominaria. The cards of those expansions hinted at an epic conflict between the brothers Uzra and Mishra, and how their conflict shaped the destiny of the world. However, I never really got enough to spell things out in full. I knew that it involved the Weakstone and the Mightstone, and how their powers complemented and counter-acted each other.

Well, many years after the first few sets came out, Wizards of the Coast put out a series of novels telling the stories of the various Magic expansions, starting with the saga of Urza and Mishra. This is the story that, really, I’d wanted to see told for an incredibly long time, and coming into this book, there was always the possibility that it would leave me disappointed – that the story I had imagined in my mind couldn’t match the story told here.

I’m very glad to say that my expectations were met and exceeded. Numerous epic fantasy series have been set in worlds that had, at some point in the past, suffered some sort of magical apocalypse, whether it’s in the Lord of the Rings with the fall of Numenor, or the Cataclysm in Dragonlance, or the fall of Myth Drannor in the Forgotten Realms. But this – this is truly something else.

The story of the war of Mishra and Urza is truly a man-made apocalypse. It’s like the magical equivalent of global thermonuclear war – and consequently it makes for a story that has far more punch to it than the Old Testament scale destruction of those earlier works. Even with fantasy deities, which have more in common with Norse and Grecian Gods in terms of their relatability, have a sense of distance and alienness to them that blunts the blow a little.

This conflict, however, is between mortal beings, like everyone else, and that changes everything. It turns the story of Urza and Mishra into far more of a tragedy. The start of the conflict is in impulsive actions leading to consequences that can’t be undone, related to the moment where the two get their respective Stones (Urza and the Mightstone, Mishra and the Weakstone). In turn, as time passes, Mishra becomes more and more hungry for power, and things reach a point of no return – if Mishra wins, he will enslave and torture the world, so Uzra feels he has to take more and more drastic actions to stop him. However, this leaves the world more and more ravaged, and less and less hospitable.

It’s an apocalypse that is truly apocalyptic, and makes for one of the most riveting works of Fantasy fiction that I’ve ever read, and I can’t recommend it enough, even if you completely unfamiliar with Magic: The Gathering and Dominaria.

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