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Literature / The Brothers' War

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Left: Urza. Right: Mishra.

"The Myth. The Magic. Dominarian legends speak of a mighty conflict, obscured by the mists of history. Of a conflict between the brothers Urza and Mishra for supremacy on the continent of Terisiare. Of titantic engines that scarred and twisted the very planet. Of a final battle that sank continents and shook the skies. The saga of the Brothers' War."

The Brothers' War by Jeff Grubb is the first post-revision Magic: The Gathering novel.

It is one of the earliest novels chronologically (corresponding to Antiquities, the second expansion of the card game) and tells the story of the war between the brothers Urza and Mishra and how it devastated the world. It can be read as a story on its own, but it's also one of the earliest instalments chronologically of the Weatherlight Saga.

Urza's saga is continued in Planeswalker.

The Brothers' War provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Above the Influence: One night, a frustrated and grieving Kayla summons Tawnos to her chambers, gets herself drunk before he arrives, and attempts to seduce him. Tawnos, good-natured soul that he is, refuses her overtures but offers a sympathetic ear so she can vent about how Urza has become even more distant since her father died. He then gives Kayla some advice which helps her rekindle the spark of her relationship with Urza.
  • Adaptation Expansion: Expands heavily on the story of Urza and Mishra, originally introduced in 1994's Antiquities expansion but explored only lightly through flavor text there. Even to this day, since its original 1998 publication, The Brothers' War remains one of the most dense and detailed novels in the Magic line. In 2022, the story was re-adapted into a new set, appropriately titled The Brother’s War.
  • Aggressive Negotiations: The warlord invites representatives of Argive, Korlis, and the Fallaji to a peace summit in neutral territory. Unbeknownst to everyone but his closest advisors, the summit is a pretext to lure the Fallaji's leaders into one place so he can bomb them all to kingdom come using a squadron of Urza's ornithopters. It doesn't quite go as planned, as he wasn't expecting the Fallaji to have a robotic dragon or to catch a terminal case of dagger-in-the-chest, but it does put the Fallaji on the backfoot for a bit.
  • Agony Beam: Ashnod's staff fires waves of energy which disrupt the target's nervous system, wracking them with pain. At higher intensities, it can kill outright.
  • Always a Bigger Fish: The dragon engines are impressive and destructive beasts, but when Mishra travels to Phyrexia to get some more, he discovers that they are nowhere near the top of the food chain. There are much bigger, nastier things roaming the biomechanical jungle, things which the dragon engines rightly fear.
  • Anti-Villain: Ashnod. She does some nasty things, but she does try to justify them with some semblance of morality (claiming that she "saved" prisoners of Urza's forces who were slated for execution by turning them into Transmogrants and only torturing Tawnos because her torture is far less worse than the Fallaji's) and leaves Mishra when it's clear that he's gone completely overboard. She's also the one character to contribute the most to stopping (or at least slowing) the Phyrexians.
  • Apocalypse How: The Sylex sets on an explosion that wipes out Argoth and sends out shockwaves that level terrain and form new mountains thousands of miles away. It touched off both The Dark and the Ice Age, and was so powerful it cracked the Multiverse so that Dominaria and a handful of other planes were separated from the rest of the Multiverse...a problem that wouldn't be fixed until the events of the Time Spiral block, several millennia later.
  • "Arabian Nights" Days: The Fallaji are more than a bit inspired by Arabic tribes. It's the Watsonian excuse for the first expansion, Arabian Nights, which was released before the makers had started putting together their own storylines starting with Antiquities, and so Retconned at least part of it into Dominaria.
  • Arbitrary Skepticism: Mishra, who by this point in his life carries a magical stone that can suck energy out of things and has visited another plane of existence that he first saw at his dreams, dismisses reports of the Teresian scholars' magic as superstitious hogwash.
  • Archaeological Arms Race: Urza and Mishra do build their own machines, but salvaged Thran powerstones are still a vital resource.
  • Artificial Zombie: Ashnod's transmogrants are essentially living people that have been transformed into blue-skinned zombie soldiers through the power of twisted science.
  • Armies Are Evil: Both Mishra and Urza's forces are portrayed this way, Mishra's forces more so.
  • Artifact of Doom: The Golgothian Sylex, an infinitely reusable Fantastic Nuke.
  • Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: Urza is the first person witnessed activating his planeswalker spark, when he activates the sylex.
  • Beam-O-War: Young Urza and Mishra have a Beam-O-War battle between the green magical laser beams of Mishra's Weakstone and the red magical laser beams of Urza's Mightstone. When Tocasia tries to break it up, the resulting explosion leads to her death.
  • Because You Can Cope: Ashnod subjects Tawnos to a "mild" form of torture while interrogating him because they are both under surveillance and if she didn't torture him at all it would arouse suspicion.
  • Behemoth Battle: One of the final battles features a brawl between the two most powerful creatures in Antiquities, Gaea's Avenger versus Urza's Colossus of Sardia.
  • Big Brother Instinct: Urza was very protective of his younger brother Mishra when they were children. Sadly, this protectiveness didn't last as they grew older.
  • Bio-Augmentation
    • Ashnod's transmogrants, applying the art of artifice to the human body.
    • The Brotherhood of Gix replace body parts with machines and seemingly convince Mishra to do the same, though its also possible they killed him and replaced him with a phyrexian construct.
  • Brilliant, but Lazy: Mishra is portrayed as increasingly this the older he gets, reaching the apex of his brilliance when he travels to Phyrexia with Ashnod and after that increasingly relying on brute force to achieve his goals.
  • Bruiser with a Soft Center: Feldon of the Third Path, one of the scholars of Terisia City.
  • The Butcher: Mishra becomes known as the Butcher of Kroog after his dragon engines burn the city to the ground.
  • Cain and Abel: The titular brothers.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Tawnos's Coffin, which ends up allowing him to survive the final battle of the war.
  • Clockwork Creature: Tawnos' clockwork avians, dragon engines, Yotian soldiers... it's an artificers war, so what did you expect?
  • Crapsack World: Terisiare gradually becomes this over the course of the novel as the brothers eat up more and more of their land's resources in their war.
  • Cybernetics Eat Your Soul: The Brotherhood of Gix and Mishra, if the construct Urza faces in the final battle is in fact him.
  • Dating Catwoman: Tawnos and Ashnod are in love, despite being generals on opposite sides of the war.
  • Death-Activated Superpower: Urza's Spark ignites as the Sylex blast obliterates him, turning him into a planeswalker.
  • Didn't See That Coming: When Ashnod interrogates Tawnos, she brings guards who can't speak Argivian so she can discuss the war with Tawnos without fear of being understood, and slip him the tools he needs to effect his own escape without arousing suspicion. Unfortunately for her, the guards have an excellent memory: while they don't understand what she said, they remember every word of it and can recite it almost flawlessly, revealing to Mishra that she had a hand in Tawnos's escape.
  • Double Reverse Quadruple Agent: Ashnod leads a life of this:
    • First abandons her Zegoni employers to join Mishra's Fallaji, who led a siege on Zegon.
    • After being captured, betrays the Fallaji by helping Kayla and Tawnos escape the Sack of Kroog and killing the Fallaji qadir in the confusion (paving the way for Mishra's rise to power).
    • Leaves Mishra aftter he banishes her for helping Tawnos escape and takes her show on the road (capturing and torturing the scholar Loran along the way).
    • Returns to Mishra after he discovers Argoth, but holds back the full extent of her discoveries (wisely so, as it turns out).
    • Arranges a meeting with Tawnos and defects to his/Urza's forces.
    • Holds off Gix long enough for Tawnos to escape him, ultimately sacrificing her life for his.
  • The Dragon: Mishra has two, his longtime Fallaji friend Hajar and, later when she joins, his apprentice Ashnod.
    • Ashnod gets bonus points for her battle gear, which really makes her look like a proper fantasy Dragon.
    • Urza's Avenger, the mechanical automaton he builds for the Engagement Challenge below, becomes this for the warlord. It stands by his side along with Urza in the first round of negotiations with the Fallaji, attempts (though fails) to protect him from assassination, and after its remains are returned to Kroog it is even stated as being "interred alongside the warlord like a faithful dog with its master" (note that it gains its sobriquet specifically because of its attempts to seek revenge against the warlord's murderer).
  • Dragon Tamer: For reasons he can't explain, the dragon engines become docile in Mishra's presence and obey his commands, spoken or otherwise.
  • Electric Torture: When Tawnos is captured by the Fallaji, Ashnod tortures him by wiring him to a device that can send painful electric currents through his body at the flick of a switch.
  • Endearingly Dorky: Ashnod feels that Tawnos is this, so much so that she gives him the nickname of "Duck" for what she sees as his habit of faithfully following Urza as a baby duck follows its mother.
  • Engagement Challenge: The Warlord of Kroog, searching for a powerful warrior to wed his daughter, decrees that whoever can move a giant jade statue from one end of the palace courtyard to the other will win the hand of Princess Kayla. Urza completes the challenge by building an automaton to lift the statue.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": Quite a few of the secondary characters go unnamed and are only referred to by their titles. The warlord of Kroog, the two qadirs, the seneschal, the three captains of the guard (who at least get qualifiers to distinguish them from one another)...
  • Everything Trying to Kill You: Argoth, justified by the brothers both being hostile invaders.
  • Evil Redhead: The Fallaji have an in-universe stereotype about redhaired women being evil or cursed. Ashnod, with her fiery red hair and her willingness to do horrific things in the name of science, does little to discourage such stereotypes.
  • Fat Bastard: Mishra grows fatter and fatter as he slips further into being a tyrannical Evil Overlord.
  • Foreshadowing: When Gix first tries to open the Koilos portal from the Phyrexian side, the portal is unstable, and he's forced to hastily withdraw his arm before it can close on him. When Urza unleashes the Sylex blast, Gix doesn't have time to make sure the portal is fully stable before the blast's aftereffects start bringing the caves down around him. He dives through the unstable portal, and it closes on him as he's partway through, taking off his arm.
  • Gaia's Vengeance: When Urza and Mishra invade Argoth, Argoth fights back.
  • Gadgeteer Genius: Both Urza and Mishra, as well as Tawnos.
  • Gameplay and Story Segregation: At the start of the war, the dragon engines are Mishra's super weapons, capable of destroying entire cities. The card Dragon Engine meanwhile is completely unremarkable.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Hinted at by Ashnod to be Mishra's driving motivation, as while he has to make do with a harsh and nomadic life in the desert Urza gets to settle down in Kroog and establish his own school and laboratory. Years later he makes a point of sacking and destroying the whole city, indicating that Ashnod was more than likely right.
  • Hated by All:
    • When he first arrives in the city of Kroog, Urza is rejected by all the guilds for not being religious enough. After marrying the city's princess Kayla bin-Kroog and producing healing amulets they do an abrupt about-face and declare him "a fine fellow, even for an Argivian".
    • The Fallaji despise Ashnod despite her being Mishra's right-hand woman, both because she's a woman in a position of power within a staunchly patriarchal society, and because she's a Mad Scientist who turns people into horrifying techno-zombies.
  • Hopeless War: The war lasts for decades and devastates the land as the brothers plunder every available resource to fuel their armies of increasingly deadly war machines. Everyone who tries to sit out the war or remain neutral gets destroyed by one side or the other, and everyone involved is exhausted toward the end of it. When the war finally ends, it does so with an explosion that devastates most of the world, and whose aftereffects will be felt for millennia to come.
  • Horrible Judge of Character: Literally everyone else in the story figures out the Brotherhood of Gix is bad news except Mishra. Played with in the Third Path, as the titular Third Path union members all know the Brotherhood to be shady but allow them into Terisia City anyway out of a policy of welcoming any and all knowledge seekers. This comes back to bite them hard when Mishra's army shows up at their gates and the Brotherhood betrays them by swinging said gates open to the enemy.
  • How We Got Here: The opening sequence depicts Tawnos and Ashnod on "the night before the world ended" sitting on the bodies of a dead giant that the islanders of Argoth worshipped as a deity and a mechanical humanoid (the aforementioned Gaea's Avenger and Colossus of Sardia respectively). Most of the rest of the novel is the decades of conflict that led up to that point.
  • Human Resources: With Mishra's permission, Ashnod starts using Fallaji criminals and prisoners as guinea pigs in her experiments. The end result is the transmogrants, which she briefly and unsuccessfully attempts to use to position herself as a power equal to Mishra's Fallaji lieutenants.
  • Insufferable Genius: Urza and Mishra both, but Urza more so owing to his greater lack of social graces. It says something that this is his most sympathetic line:
    Urza: "I just wanted to learn. I just wanted to build my devices."
  • Intelligence Equals Isolation: At one point, Ashnod and Tawnos bond over the fact that their intelligence makes it difficult for people who aren't as smart as they are to understand or relate to them.
  • It Will Never Catch On: Most of the characters are sceptical about Hurkyl claiming to have developed a technique that allows one to channel magical energy by concentrating on a certain land...
  • Kick the Dog: Ashnod has her sympathetic moments, but she also subjects hundreds of Fallaji captives to A Fate Worse Than Death, transforming them into her transmogrants. Later in the story she captures the Argivian scholar Loran and subjects her to horrific torture to learn the secrets of the sylex.
  • Kill It with Fire: Mishra's response to meeting Titania, apparently.
  • Late-Arrival Spoiler: Urza becoming a planeswalker was a surprise twist when this book first came out, but Urza has become such an iconic character of the game that nowadays, everyone who reads the book knows it's coming.
  • Left Hanging: Was the Mishra Urza fought and killed the actual Mishra or a Phyrexian construct? The Planeshift novel features a scene where Urza encounters Mishra on Phyrexia as a prisoner of Yawgmoth, being eternally tortured for failing the Hidden One. Additionally, no less an authority than Magic's creative director Brady Dommeruth has stated that Mishra's fate may have been something else entirely, and that for the moment his fate "intentionally has some unknown elements".
  • Lost Technology: The secrets of Thran artifice have been lost to time.
  • MacGuffin: The Mightstone and Weakstone. They are two halves of a split powerstone but each has power far beyond most whole powerstones.
  • Machine Worship: The Brotherhood of Gix feature this as the cornerstone belief of their cult.
  • Made a Slave: Mishra, after being captured by a Fallaji tribe. His intelligence doesn't go unnoticed, however, and he manages to work his way up to a position of power.
  • Makes Us Even: Ashnod helps Tawnos escape from Fallaji custody after he allows her to escape during the sack of Kroog.
  • Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe: After Kayla has a one-night affair with Mishra, Urza is never certain whether the son born nine months later was his own or his brother's.
  • Marriage of Convenience: Urza initially had no interest in the Engagement Challenge for Kayla bin-Kroog's hand, thinking it was stupid. He changed his mind once he saw that her dowry included a rare Thran tome that he could use to further his research. Once he won the competition and consummated the marriage, he set to work studying the tome, treating his new bride almost as an afterthought.
  • Mechanical Lifeforms: Mishra encounters these on Phyrexia and somehow manages to summon one of them, a dragon engine, back with him. It quickly becomes a cornerstone of his power, though as the war goes on it is eventually damaged beyond repair and he has to make do with inferior replicas.
  • Mêlée à Trois: Once the fighting moves to Argoth, the war becomes a three-way struggle between Urza and Mishra's forces, who both want to plunder Argoth's natural resources, and the denizens of Argoth, who want to kick both these invading armies off their island.
  • Mentor Occupational Hazard: Tocasia.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Urza punched his brother in a fit of anger while they were first arguing over possession of the stones. Urza regretted his actions immediately and tried to apologize, but the damage was done.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: Mishra and Ashnod both acquire these as titles over the course of the war, coming to be known as "Mishra the Destroyer" and "Ashnod the Uncaring" respectively.
  • Nature Spirit: Titania, Protector of Argoth. She is the "Maro" of Argoth, making her in effect this.
  • Neutrality Backlash: Several groups try to sit out the war as neutral parties. They inevitably get destroyed by one side or the other, whether it's Mishra ransacking Terisia City or Urza subjugating the Sardian dwarves and driving them to the brink of extinction.
  • Noble Savage: The inhabitants of Argoth are portrayed this way.
  • Not Enough to Bury: Urza and Mishra are atomized from being at ground zero of the Sylex blast.
  • Not Even Human: The Mishra that Urza faces in the final battle is revealed to be some sort of construct after Urza blasts him with a fireball.
  • Outside-Context Problem: Gix, a Phyrexian praetor who travels to Dominaria and exploits the Brothers' War for his own goals.
  • Please Select New City Name: An early contested piece of land is known as the Sword Marches to the Kroogians and the Suwwardi Marches to the Fallaji (one of their tribes is named the Suwwardi).
  • Precursors
    • The Thran.
    • It's implied that there may have been other, older Precursors that built the Golgothian Sylex. It's inscribed with glyphs in Thran, but also ancient Fallaji and other root languages, implying that it may have been built by a primeval civilization that was the originator of all of them.
  • Pyrrhic Victory: Urza wins. Technically. Except his brother is dead, Argoth has been vaporized, and most of the world is devastated, causing an ice age. In fact, the planescape is so thoroughly shattered by the end of the war that its total effects wouldn't be fixed until the events of the Time Spiral block, about 4500 years later.
  • Rags to Royalty: Mishra is "introduced" to the Fallaji by being captured and forced into slavery by them. He ends up their absolute ruler. Urza also undergoes a less extreme form of this, traveling to Kroog as a humble clocksmith's apprentice and marrying his way into power.
  • Rank Scales with Asskicking: Played with. The Fallaji are heavily based on Arabic warrior cultures, but their qadir, or leader, rules through a line of succession. This is no problem for the first qadir, who is a battle-hardened warrior, but his son is soft and pampered which leads them to look to Mishra for leadership instead. This is especially pronounced after Mishra summons his first dragon engine.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Mishra is red, Urza is blue.
  • Retcon: This novel explores the trope both ways. It superseded the prerevisionist comics Antiquities War and Urza-Mishra War when it was originally released, and while it hasn't been similarly overwritten by later continuity, the 2018 Dominaria set did introduce a card called Traxos, Scourge of Kroog that is apparently Mishra's first and strongest dragon engine (which was never named in the book). The bio card for the thing adds a Plot Hole to the mix by indirectly stating that Mishra created it; in the book, Mishra did not build his first Dragon Engine but instead found it in Phyrexia, and while he made others after the first was irreparably damaged they were stated to be weaker replicas.
  • Robotic Reveal: At the climax of the novel, Urza uses his newly awakened magical powers to set Mishra on fire. Mishra's skin melts and sloughs away, revealing the Phyrexian machinery underneath.
  • Saying Too Much: Ashnod invites Tawnos to her quarters for a midnight rendezvous during the second peace conference. As they get drunk and discuss their respective masters, she unwittingly refers to Mishra's engines, plural, nearly giving away the fact that he now has more than one dragon engine. Soon afterward, her careless words make Tawnos realize that Mishra is enacting a scheme to steal Urza's Mightstone at that very moment, and that Kayla is complicit in it.
  • Slave Mooks: Ashnod's Transmogrants.
  • Stalker without a Crush: Gix follows Mishra to Dominaria to punish him for daring to enter Phyrexia.
  • Stay in the Kitchen: The Fallaji have a staunchly patriarchal society. Mishra's warlords have nothing but disdain for Ashnod because she is a woman placed in a position of power, and they actively conspire against her to get her taken down a peg.
  • Technologically Advanced Foe: Gix of Phyrexia regards the inventions of the genius brothers as things akin to children's toys and can control any of them at will. In the final battle he overrides all of them and pits them against their masters intending to finish Urza and Mishra both in one stroke.
  • The Complainer Is Always Wrong: Drafna of the Third Path, who is noted to be easily the most skeptical member of the group regarding magic. Ironically his wife Hurkyl is the most magically-inclined member of the conclave.
  • The Man Behind the Man: When Mishra befriends the Fallaji qadir's son and earns his trust the qadir orders Mishra killed to prevent him from becoming this. Fortunately for Mishra, the order is delayed and the qadir killed before it can be carried out. True to the warlord's fears, his son quickly becomes a ruler in name only.
  • Torture Technician: Ashnod. Best put on the line of the Cursed Rack card:
    Ashnod invented several torture techniques that could make victims even miles away beg for mercy as if the End had come.
  • Treacherous Advisor: The Brotherhood of Gix are collectively this to Mishra.
  • Trojan Horse: The Brotherhood of Gix act as this to Terisia City, opening the gates from inside after Mishra's army rolls up.
  • Tyop on the Cover: While the German edition of the book has the correct title on the cover (Bruderkrieg), on the spine of the book it's misspelled "Bruberkrieg".
  • The Unfettered: Frighteningly, most of the main characters save Tawnos are all this. Being forced into slavery and having to adapt to the brutal Fallaji culture hardens Mishra into a ruthless warlord and years of war against his brother harden Urza likewise. But the best example by far is Ashnod, who eschews the bloodless artifice of the other characters in favor of experiments that make her a borderline Evilutionary Biologist. As Ashnod herself says:
    Ashnod: "You and Mama Duck Urza don't want to get your hands dirty, to deal with the blood and skin and muscle and nerves and fluids."
  • Unfriendly Fire: Ashnod kills the Fallaji qadir during the Sack of Kroog after he orders his men to kill her. Mishra never finds out.
  • Unwanted Spouse: Urza's wife, Kayla. He was more interested in the relics in her father's vault than her. She's aware of this, but not only did he truly love her at one point, but she rekindles their relationship, which is noted as being something needed so he would stop working tirelessly.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom:
    • Rusko of all people is the one who initially comes up with the idea of weaponizing Urza's ornithopters (they have no offensive power of their own, but as Rusko realizes, they can be used for Death from Above bomb drops). This allows the warlord to make a pre-emptive strike on the Fallaji, setting into motion everything that follows.
    • When Harbin crashes his ornithopter on Argoth, the elf Gwenna watches him in secret. She's obliged to kill him should he attempt to wound the land, but instead she covertly helps him gather the materials he needs to repair his craft so he can leave. This act of kindness ends up dooming Argoth, as Harbin's reports of a lush island with plenty of natural resources to exploit brings the war to Argoth's shores.
  • Used to Be a Sweet Kid: Young Mishra is noted to be more friendly and gregarious than Urza, who is distinctly aloof even as a youth. He ends up becoming a merciless warlord.
  • Villain: Exit, Stage Left: Gix hightails it back to Phyrexia once the sylex goes off.
  • Villain's Dying Grace: Ashnod.
  • War Hawk: Kroog's ruler, who is fittingly only known as "the warlord". Despite being a decent father to Kayla and doing a commendable job of putting up with Urza his hostility for the Fallaji winds up being the spark that sets off the Brothers' War.
  • Watching Troy Burn: The Sack of Kroog.
  • Welcome Back, Traitor: After being banished and wandering Terisiare for some years, Ashnod returns to Mishra's forces as the war nears its end and receives roughly this reception.
  • "Well Done, Son" Guy: Urza's (possible) son Harbin.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Rusko completely vanishes from the story after the Warlord's surprise attack on the Fallaji, with only one sentence addressing his fate, revealing that he survived the events but "would not be returning to Kroog any time soon". Given what ends up happening to Kroog, this probably makes Rusko the fantasy equivalent of Genre Savvy.
  • Wild Card: Ashnod in the final chapters. She brings the sylex into the equation, the one factor Gix hadn't counted on during his decades of patiently playing the brothers against each other. Notably, members of his brotherhood realize the value of the Sylex and convince Ashnod to give it to them. Ashnod hands them a replica that she had made.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: The Brotherhood of Gix manipulate Mishra into having Ashnod banished after she refuses to share her research with them.
  • You Shall Not Pass!: When Mishra's war machines invade Terisia City Hurkyl faces them alone, using her magic to make the entire assembled army literally vanish into thin air. Unfortunately she has no counter for the soldiers that follow...