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Literature / Onslaught Cycle

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This cycle of Magic: The Gathering novels is the sequel cycle to the Odyssey Cycle and similarly corresponds to the Onslaught block in the card game. The Onslaught Cycle (composed of three novels: Onslaught, Legions, and Scourge) also takes place in the continent of Otaria and immediately picks up where the original trilogy left off. Series protagonist Kamahl has retreated into the Krosan Forest following the corruption of his sister Jeska, who has become the powerful Cabal pit fighter Phage. In the meantime, small-time Master of Illusion Ixidor is cast into the desert to die and gains Power Born of Madness. From there, the story chronicles the further rise of Phage and Ixidor's champion, the avenging angel Akroma. Otaria's story is concluded in this cycle, though it would later be briefly revisited in the Time Spiral Cycle.


Has nothing to do with the 1996 Crisis Crossover Onslaught.

The Onslaught Cycle provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Aborted Arc: A certain very famous Magic character's return in Scourge. Keep reading for the specifics.
  • Ancient Conspiracy: The numena kings Lowallyn, Kuberr and Averru, who are retconned into being three of the sorcerers who imprisoned the Primevals in the backstory of the Invasion Cycle.
  • Anti-Villain: Ixidor is the antagonist in Onslaught, but there's nothing about him that's villainous, and if readers didn't already know Kamahl and Phage they'd be forgiven for thinking the book's heroes are a Villain Protagonist and his evil(er) sister.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: The unmen Sash and Waistcoast seek to become human and eventually are given bodies by Akroma... so she can execute them for deserting Ixidor.
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  • Big Bad: Ixidor in Onslaught. Akroma and Phage form a Big Bad Ensemble in Legions, and Karona is the final Big Bad in Scourge.
  • Big Bad Wannabe: Averru makes an 11th hour attempt to become the final Big Bad in Scourge after Karona kills his brothers for him, but Karona shuts him down effortlessly.
  • Big Brother Instinct: Kamahl's actions during Onslaught are driven by his desire to protect and redeem his sister Jeska. As Phage, Jeska does not exactly appreciate this.
  • Big Creepy-Crawlies: The deathwurms in Onslaught are creepy crawlies so big they threaten the entire continent of Otaria.
  • Break the Cutie: Karona in Scourge (the novel only), bizarrely.
  • Brother–Sister Team: Kamahl and Phage team up to take on Akroma in Onslaught. Kamahl is reluctant, knowing that Ixidor is not evil, while Phage resents the team-up and only goes along with it under orders from the First.
  • Cain and Abel: Though not this originally as Kamahl and Jeska, Kamahl and Phage become this.
  • Canon Discontinuity: One of the most well-known events from Scourge involved Karona opening five portals (one for each color of magic) and summoning champions of those colors, beings she felt were of power comparable to her own. These characters included the maro-sorcerer Multani (Green) from the Weatherlight Saga, the dwarf god Fiers (Red, actually a planeswalker), Ixidor (Blue), Teferi, also from the Weatherlight Saga (White for some reason, even though his traditional color is Blue) and most famously, YAWGMOTH (Black, of course). The Reveal that Magic's ultimate Big Bad was in fact alive, if barely, and slowly gathering power on the shattered plane of Phyrexia was a huge deal. But this was apparently a bit of author license by author J. Robert King, as Wizards did not intend for Yawgmoth to come back. Come Time Spiral, this entire scene was retconned as simply being one big hallucination, with Teferi confirming for readers that he never met Karona.
  • Canon Foreigner: Several characters from the novels have no presence in the card game. Kamahl's sidekick Stonebrow, the redundant Zagorka from Legions and the unmen trio of Sash, Waistcoat and Umbra are all among the novel cycle's original creations. Stonebrow was later promoted to a Canon Immigrant, but the others were poorly received and both Wizards of the Coast and fans are content to forget they exist.
  • Can't Refuse the Call Anymore: After refusing to return to Otaria with Akroma in Legions, Ixidor is forcibly hauled back to the world by Kamahl in Scourge.
  • Cat Girl: Akroma sort of, at least after Ixidor fuses her with a jaguar.
  • Comedic Relief Characters: Sash and Waistcoat, two rogue unmen (living portals) of Ixidor who become Those Two Guys. J. Robert King seems to have been angling to make them something akin to the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of the Magic universe, but their increasing importance to the narrative very much works as a detriment in retrospect.
  • Cool Sword: The Mirari sword, which is carried over from the previous Odyssey Cycle.
  • Doing In the Wizard: J. Robert King does this to Kuberr, who in the cards is an ineffable avatar of darkness only seen in two cards. In the books, he's a petulant child with a Money Fetish.
  • The Dragon: Phage replaces Braids as the Cabal First's Dragon. Braids is not pleased about this, being in Mad Love with the First.
  • Driven to Suicide: Zagorka tries to jump out of a tower to thwart Averru's plans. Sadly even this plays into Averru's hands and by jumping at the exact moment she does, she unwittingly helps reincarnate Karona.
  • Evil Redhead: Jeska becomes one of these as Phage.
  • Exposition of Immortality: The numena kings Lowallyn, Kuberr and Averru all devised different forms of immortality: Lowallyn can reincarnate in Blue-aligned wizards who have been driven into madness, Kuberr can be born and reborn through powerful Black-aligned Cabalist parents, and Averru is permanently based in an ancient city that becomes a Genius Loci if enough beings gather there and are driven to Red-aligned acts of warfare.
  • Fusion Dance: Karona in Scourge is a gestalt being formed from Akroma, Phage and Zagorka.
  • Gameplay and Story Segregation: Legions is dedicated to the struggle between Akroma and Phage, who fight repeatedly without a clear victory. In the card game, Akroma wins any clash with Phage thanks to her Protection from Black.
    • Karona is referred to in the cards as a false god, while in the books she is not only a real god but is in fact the physical manifestation of all magic on Dominaria.
  • Genius Loci: Averru in Scourge. He appears in Legions, but his true nature is not fully revealed until the final book.
  • Getting Eaten Is Harmless: Ixidor survives being Swallowed Whole by a deathwurm and remains alive inside of it for some time. Justified by it being the deathwurm of his lover Nivea, which is apparently sustaining him somehow.
  • Gladiator Games: The Cabal are still at this and, with Phage's help, build a Grand Coliseum to maximize their gladiatorial revenue.
  • Gods Need Prayer Badly: Karona in Scourge needs believers to draw on her Magic, and the more believers she has the stronger she is.
  • Guardian Angel: Akroma is literally created by Ixidor to be his guardian (and later avenger) against Phage.
  • Hate Plague: Karona's presence on Otaria causes its various factions to go to war with one another. In the cards it is implied that Karona is doing this deliberately because she is a jerkass false god, while in the novel she is an Unwitting Instigator of Doom who laments the carnage her presence accidentally causes.
  • The Hecate Sisters: This trope seems to be the reason why J. Robert King created Zagorka: Akroma is the Maiden (young and supernaturally beautiful), Phage is the Mother (and becomes an actual mother in Legions) and Zagorka is there to be the wizened crone. The trope would have more weight if the three characters ever met, though (Phage and Zagorka meet and are even allies for a time, but Akroma and Zagorka never meet).
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Umbra sacrifices himself to save his brothers Sash and Waistcoat from Akroma.
  • I Hate Past Me: Kamahl feels this way about the Blood Knight he used to be. When Ixidor forces the Cabal/Krosan army to all fight their greatest fears, Kamahl is forced to confront his old self as the Enemy Within. Fortunately, he's not the Superpowered Evil Side that Kamahl fears him to be and the good version ultimately triumphs.
  • Immortal Breaker: Soul Reaper, an axe created by Kamahl and the Cabal Patriarch to slay Akroma.
  • The Immune: Being former unmen, Sash and Waistcoat are immune to the Hate Plague effect of Karona. She takes a liking to them as a result.
  • Inexplicably Identical Individuals: Ixidor's unmen are all created in his image, so when Sash and Waistcoat get bodies, they turn into skinny and fat Ixidor doppelgangers respectively.
  • Jumping Off the Slippery Slope: After being exiled from Dominaria, Karona wanders around the multiverse for a while before deciding to return to Dominaria as a conqueror and Take Over the World, starting with Otaria.
  • Killed Off for Real: Balthor's ghost gets killed by Kamahl trying to help him master the Mirari once and for all. And because Kamahl kills him with Soul Reaper, Balthor is very definitively Deader than Dead.
  • Knight Templar: Akroma is one of the most hardcore Templars in the entire Magic pantheon.
  • Let's You and Him Fight: This is Averru's shtick, as he is a living city who draws Otaria's factions to himself and pits them against one another to increase his own power.
  • Light Is Not Good: Akroma is willing to plunge all of Otaria into war to carry out her mission of vengeance against Phage.
  • Lovable Coward: Sash and Waistcoast are written to be this in the vein of the Invasion Cycle's Squee, but as with Squee just how "lovable" they are varies from reader to reader.
  • Mad God: Karona ultimately becomes a Mad Goddess. In the cards she is a False God, but seems to be similarly Mad.
  • Made of Magic: Karona is the physical embodiment of Dominaria's magic and is so vital to the world that when she is exiled she takes all of Dominaria's magic with her.
  • Meaningful Name: "Akroma". Or, "a-chroma"—"no colors". An object is white if it reflects away all colors.
  • Mix-and-Match Critter: After losing her legs to Kamahl, Akroma is combined with a jaguar by Ixidor, both to give her new legs and to give her a predator's heart. Later she loses the jaguar legs and gets a set of steel ones.
  • Money Fetish: Kuberr in Scourge loves money so much that he has a secret escape passage that is a tunnel filled with gold coins that part to allow him to swim through.
  • Moral Sociopathy: Akroma only really cares about the fall of Phage. While her goal is good, her methods not only aren't, but she also doesn't really care about anybody or anything other than her creator.
  • Morality Adjustment: Kamahl, as per his Character Development, goes from a Blood Knight barbarian to a more laid-back shaman type. He's still not a completely pure Face, though, as he is willing to ally with the Cabal against Ixidor and Akroma if it means protecting his sister. The cards reflect this shift, as he goes from being a Red-aligned character to a Green-aligned one.
  • Mutants: A major part of the actual card block, as the Mirari's influences radiates out from Krosa and mutates all manner of creatures. In the book it's influence is only touched upon, but Stonebrow and Zagorka's mule Chester are both made mutants over the course of the story.
  • Our Centaurs Are Different: Stonebrow is a Krosan centaur who has been mutated by the Mirari. He's generally more lively than the Odyssey Cycle's centaur Seton, leading him to be promoted to a Canon Immigrant.
  • Path of Inspiration: After Ixidor's 'death' in Onslaught Akroma founds a religion dedicated to him. It sounds benign, until the reader learns that Akroma is converting people through brainwashing.
  • Power Floats: Karona is depicted floating both on her card art and in the story.
  • Rapid Aging: When Kuberr is born, he ages a day for every legion of Cabalists killed or sacrificed to him. By the end of the Legions book, Phage has led enough Cabalists to their deaths to age him into a teenager.
  • Reality Warper: Ixidor graduates from a Master of Illusion into one of these. Unfortunately, it is a Power Born of Madness.
  • Reforged into a Minion: Braids and Stonebrow are both captured and brainwashed by Akroma. Braids is eventually abducted and shakes off the brainwashing, while Stonebrow willingly embraces it but decides that Akroma is defiling Ixidor's memory and thus still needs to die.
  • Refusing the Call: Ixidor refuses to leave the deathwurm of Nivea when Akroma attempts to retrieve him in Legions. He late attempts to refuse the call again when Kamahl shows up in Scourge to haul him out, but Kamahl is not as forgiving as Akroma and forcibly hauls him out.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Ixidor goes on one of these against the Cabal in general and Phage in particular, using Akroma as his weapon.
  • Superpowered Evil Side: Phage seems to be this, as the original Jeska is still alive beneath her and re-emerges after all of the Cabal corruption is forcibly bled out of her. Sadly she has to re-accept that corruption, as being free of it looses a plague of ravenous deathwurms upon Otaria.
  • Swallowed Whole: Ixidor at the end of Onslaught.
  • Touch of Death: Like the Cabal Patriarch, Phage's touch kills almost anyone.
  • Villain Decay: A common theme to the trilogy, and one reason why it never rose above having a lukewarm fandom:
    • Odyssey Cycle Big Bad Ambassador Laquatus returns... as a mindless Attack of the 50-Foot Whatever reanimated by Krosan magic and the Mirari. Kamahl puts him down for good with little trouble.
    • The Cabal Patriarch, previously ice cold even in the face of Chainer's rebellion, is made into a pathetic figure through his relationship with Phage. He becomes The Paranoiac, thinking that Phage is going to betray him, and is ultimately Killed Off for Real with little fanfare by Braids.
    • Braids gets buried under a mountain in Scourge after being brainwashed by Akroma into a similarly pathetic figure. This hit especially hard, as Braids was one of the most popular characters from the original Odyssey cycle.
  • We Can Rule Together: The Cabal First tells Phage this, and for a time they do rule together.
  • "What Do They Fear?" Episode: Or rather, chapter, as towards the end of Onslaught Ixidor forces the Cabal/Krosan army to all fight their greatest fears come to life.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Several cool characters and plots from the card sets never make it to the books:
    • None of the pit fighter legends from Onslaught appear in that book. Rorix Bladewing in the cards dies between Onslaught and Scourge and is reanimated as a zombie, but he is not in either book.
    • The Riptide Project from Scourge that brings the Slivers back to life is not mentioned anywhere in the book. Likely if it had the book would have been better received.
    • Also from Scourge the card saw was a theme of dragons rising up across Otaria. As with the Riptide Project, this was not mentioned at all, with the book focusing solely on the Karona show.