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Literature / Bloodlines (Magic: The Gathering)

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Bloodlines by Loren L. Coleman is the fourth and final book in the Artifacts Cycle, following Time Streams and corresponding to the expansion Urza's Destiny. Urza has constructed his ultimate weapon the Weatherlight and the rest of his Legacy, but he has come to realize that his efforts will be worthless without an heir. He initiates the Bloodlines Project, an effort to manipulate the bloodlines of Dominaria’s human population. Meanwhile, Phyrexia is making its own preparations, constructing the artificial plane of Rath.
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By the end of this book, the stage has been set for the Weatherlight Saga, chronicled in Rath And Storm and onward.

Tropes in this book:

  • Adaptational Heroism: Gatha in the book is a good deal less malevolent than the Gatha depicted in the flavor text and card art. He's still a borderline Evilutionary Biologist, mind, but like Ashnod before him we see that he has a dedication to fighting the Phyrexians and is not quite as treacherous as the cards imply.
  • The Ageless: Davvol is granted this by Croag. In keeping with the trope's spirit, he is not invulnerable and is ultimately killed off by Croag.
  • Anticlimax: The book's third act can feel like this, as after the excitement of a Phyrexian invasion of Keld reading about Urza farting around in Yavimaya or the Capashens farting around in Benalia can be a bit of a slog. There's also not much of an ending, as the third act's primary purpose is to set up the Capashens and lead into the Weatherlight Saga.
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  • Asskicking Equals Authority: Gatha's Keldons ultimately grow powerful enough to completely defy Keld's rigid social structure, culminating in Kreig breaking half the doyen on the Warlord's Council to grant Gatha a seat there.
  • Badass Bookworm: Gatha manages to survive combat with a Keldon shortly after arriving in Keld and when the Phyrexians invade centuries later he proves he has grown in strength, fighting alongside Kreig against them.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: Gatha flings himself off a cliff to his death rather than let Croag kill him, but he does so out of pragmatism rather than pride.
  • Blood Knight: All the Keldons to a degree, but none more so than Kreig. Gatha's experiments made him physically strong, but his fighting spirit is all him.
  • Born Winner: Gatha's Keldons are genetically pruned and weeded over multiple generations to cultivate the traits most desirable to the Keldon culture. Kreig, the culmination of these experiments, is the strongest Keldon to ever live, and even by the time of the Invasion Cycle his is still a legendary name in Keldon culture.
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  • Brilliant, but Lazy: Gatha to a degree. He is not lazy in the traditional sense, but lacks the patience to let his work play out at the Long Game rate advocated by Urza and Barrin. This first results in him cutting corners and concealing evidence of his less successful experiments, and then in leaving Tolaria altogether after Barrin attempts to restrict him.
  • Category Traitor: Played with. Gatha is Argivian by blood and Tolarian by allegiance (at least initially) but as a youth his father worked for the Keldons, earning him and his son their distinctive forehead tattoos. After Barrin restricts his research Gatha goes renegade, fleeing to Keld which ends up being much more tolerant of his pace than Barrin ever was, and Barrin flatly considers him a traitor for it. But Urza feels otherwise, and Gatha ultimately proves Urza correct by pulling a Heroic Sacrifice rather than allowing the Phyrexians to harvest his knowledge of Tolaria and Urza.
    • The true example of this trope here is Davvol, who betrays his people and all of Dominaria for the immortality and freedom from his sickly body the Phyrexians promise him.
  • Clock King: Davvol eventually becomes a master tactician when it comes to waging long, patient war, but he is much less skilled when it comes to thinking on his feet.
  • Conflicting Loyalty: Gatha is a strange example. He flees Tolaria to continue his experiments, seemingly loyal to no one but himself, but over his centuries of power he takes no hostile action against Tolaria (despite considering it a few times) and when the Phyrexians come he fights fiercely for both his adopted homeland and for Tolaria (or rather Urza, since he feels that Urza at least appreciated his genius).
  • Cult of Personality: Keldon Warlords are this by necessity, as they draw strength from their followers. Kreig is predictably as charismatic as he is powerful.
  • Death by Irony: Davvol, who spends multiple lifetimes amassing power and becomes such a master of the Long Game that he briefly supplants a Phyrexian praetor's authority, is undone when a factory he is inspecting collapses in on him (in other words, a completely unforeseen situation outside of his usual Clock King planning) and Croag seizes the opportunity to kill him.
  • Defector from Decadence: Gatha is this in the most literal sense of the term. He goes from the sterile, cloistered environment of Tolaria to the harsh and brutal lands of Keld.
  • Designer Babies: A rare fantasy take on this trope.
  • Determinator: Kreig. He doesn't meet an opponent capable of challenging him until Croag, but when he does, he fights to the very end.
  • Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: Though Kreig is not able to kill the Phyrexian praetor Croag, he does severely wound him, to the point where it takes Croag decades to recover.
  • The Dog Bites Back: The reason for Davvol's betrayal. In the past he was once welcomed as one of the ruling elite of his nation, then he succumbed to an illness that deteriorated his health and appearance & was demoted and driven into exile for it. He takes a certain grim joy in selling them out to the Phyrexians.
  • Doom Magnet: Gatha unwittingly becomes this, as his experiments in Keld draw the attention of the Phyrexians, who begin a systematic campaign to destroy everything he built there.
  • Doomed by Canon: Despite being granted immortality, we know Davvol won’t survive the book, because by the time of Rath And Storm, Rath is ruled by Volrath.
  • Elderly Immortal: Urza Planeswalker, who by this time is multiple millennias old. He doesn't show it though, since as a pre-mending planeswalker he can alter his appearance entirely at will.
  • Evilutionary Biologist: Gatha is passionately devoted to Urza's Bloodlines project, but his impatience results in a lot of cutting corners, turning him into this. His success stories are highly successful, but as for his failures, well...
  • Facial Markings: Gatha has a trio of inverted triangles tattooed on his forehead. The tattoos are a mark of Keldon favor and help him get his foot in the door when he first goes to Keld.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare: Davvol gets his start as the historian of a minor Dominarian nation and ultimately becomes one of Rath's first evincars.
  • Generational Saga: The book covers multiple generations of characters in both Keld and Benalia (the Gathans and Capashens respectively).
  • He Who Fights Monsters: Urza’s methods begin to resemble those of Phyrexia. This will come to a head later in the Invasion Cycle.
  • Immortality Inducer: Most of the Tolarian characters, Gatha and Kreig all drink Tolarian "slow-time water" which stunts their aging considerably. And a good thing too, since the book covers a span of time ranging several hundred years.
  • Long Game:
    • Davvol is a master of combining this with the Evil Plan. Unfortunately for him he is not so good at other forms of gambiting, a deficiency which eventually costs him dearly.
    • The entire Bloodlines Project is a Long Game on the part of Urza, who is patiently preparing for the Phyrexian invasion in every way he knows how.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Gatha, Timein, and even Barrin to a degree are all manipulated by Urza For The Greater Good.
  • Mind Rape: Croag can forcibly interface with organic minds and drain their memories and knowledge, a process which the drainee does not usually survive.
  • Moses in the Bulrushes: Karn saves Gerrard, while most of his clan is slaughtered by Phyrexians.
  • Nigh-Invulnerability: Croag, being a Phyrexian praetor of the highest circles, is extraordinarily difficult to even injure, much less kill.
  • Obstructionist Pacifist: Timein, a character designed to be a Foil to Gatha. He is much more moral and ethical in his research than the latter, but he is also prone to endless handwringing about the morality of his work.
  • Poor Communication Kills: This becomes a minor plot point in the Phyrexia storyline when Davvol commissions a Phyrexian negator that understands and takes orders from his tongue rather than the compleat language used by the Phyrexians themselves. This keeps Croag from being able to seize control of the negator from Davvol.
  • Proud Warrior Race: The Keldons.
  • Pyrrhic Victory: The Phyrexians are ultimately successful in destroying Gatha's Bloodlines work in Keld, but they lose thousands of Phyrexians in the effort and Croag himself is severely injured in battle with Kreig.
  • Series Continuity Error: The card Æther Sting presents a fate for Gatha almost completely different to the one he gets in the book. He does "fall" in both versions, but in the book it is a Heroic Sacrifice, while on the card it is implied that he was cast down to be punished by his own creations.
  • Servant Race: The Metathran, though they are much more prominent in the card art and flavor text than they are in the book.
  • The Starscream: Davvol is a very mild example. He rebels against Croag's authority only when the praetor gives him orders that he feels are ill-considered, preferring to operate on a very long, very patient schedule. Croag even wonders why Davvol doesn't simply kill him after he is injured by Kreig and forced to spend decades recovering.
  • Super Breeding Program: This is what the Bloodlines Project is about.
  • Surveillance as the Plot Demands: Gatha learns how to scry on Tolaria, and when he goes to Keld he uses this ability to give the Keldons an incentive to let him set up shop.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Croag is plotting Urza’s death at the end of the book. He is never seen again.
    • After being injured by Kreig Croag goes into hiding, fearful of being executed by Yawgmoth for his failures. While not stated outright, it is entirely possible that his later successes did not redeem him in the merciless eye of the Hidden One.
  • Wistful Amnesia: Because Karn outlives everyone around him and this is very painful to him, Urza has his memory capped at twenty years. Which causes Karn to angst about forgetting Jhoira.
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