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Literature / The Thran

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Before the Brothers' War. Before the Five Colors of Magic.

The Thran is the story of the Precursors of Dominaria, the original setting of Magic: The Gathering. The novel focuses on the conflict between Yawgmoth, the future founder and "god" of Phyrexia, and Glacian, the Genius of Halcyon. Caught in between them is Glacian's wife Rebbec (who may or may not be the spirit of Gaea in today's Dominaria). It provides a great deal of exposition about the Thran Empire and other civilizations that shared the plane with it during ancient times.

If you've read any part of the story surrounding Urza and his accompanying blocks in the game, you know that this does not end well.

The Thran provides examples of the following tropes:

  • And Man Grew Proud: The Thran's blind pursuit of progress and lack of ethics destroyed the Empire as much as Yawgmoth did.
  • Apocalypse How
  • Applied Phlebotinum: Powerstones and Clock Punk, mainly.
  • Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: Yawgmoth thinks that the Thran are destined for godhood, and that conflict and destruction are the gateway to this. Rebbec seems to be aiming for this with all her talk of "ascending to the heavens", but when Yawgmoth begins to talk seriously about offering her godhood, she says that she only means that they should become better people who reflect the divine, not actual gods.
  • Balance Between Good and Evil: Played with. Gix argues to Glacian that his precious Shining City will always have an equal dark shadow in the form of the Caves of the Damned. When Glacian enthusiastically declares that powerstones can be used to create whole new worlds without taking up any space, Yawgmoth darkly retorts that they can also be used to annihilate entire cities from existence with the same process.
  • Black Box: The whole Thran Empire relies on powerstones as their source of energy, but even the engineers who work on them don't exactly know how they work.
    Yawgmoth: You don't really know how powerstones work. You've created a whole city that relies on an energy source you do not understand. 'Magic!' you say. 'It's magic!' Oh, how clever. And then when the magic fails, you simply say, 'It must have been more magic!'
  • Break the Haughty: Gix runs the cycle through very quickly when Yawgmoth reveals the powerstones are causing the phthisis. He laughs hysterically at the thought of the Thran getting karma for mistreating the people in the Caves of the Damned, but as soon as Yawgmoth reveals that the disease is also killing Gix's people, he loses it.
  • Call-Forward: When discussing the mechanics of magic with Yawgmoth, one of the healer magicians states that there's a new theory that the magic they use could be separated into 5 different types...
  • The Charmer: One of Yawgmoth's best weapons is manipulation, given his ability to charm other people. He's also described as handsome as a human.
  • City in a Bottle: Glacian imagines the possibilities that could be unlocked by the Empire creating pocket dimensions within powerstones that would have unlimited space for agriculture and such within a grain of sand.
  • Cool Airship: Merchant ships, caravels and warships float throughout Halcyon and other parts of the Empire. The elite ones are described as sleek and shark-like, whereas the more common ones have inflatable canvasses to help their smaller powerstones along.
  • Crapsaccharine World: The Thran Empire looks beautiful on the outside. Scratch the surface, however, and you find all kinds of racism, injustice and a suicidal drive for progress at any cost.
  • Crystal Spires and Togas: The Thran can build almost anything and have a society obsessed with progress and ascetics.
  • Cultural Posturing: The Thran seem to have decent relations with most other civilizations, but they still refer to other races and non-Thran humans as "barbarians".
  • Deadly Doctor: Yawgmoth most certainly knows how to kill, being an expert swordsman in addition to being a healer.
  • Dirty Coward: Gix
  • The End of the World as We Know It: Yawgmoth destroys most of the Empire by dropping uncharged powerstones on enemy city-states, thus wiping them out of existence by absorbing them. He leads the survivors on his side, along with the desperate survivors of the attacking armies, to Phyrexia to remake them into hideous abominations. Some outer parts of the Empire do survive, but even they apparently collapse afterwards due to the upheaval.
  • Evilutionary Biologist: Yawgmoth
  • Eye Scream: At one point, Yawgmoth's airship is accidentally shot down by a gunner on his own side. After barely surviving the long fall, Yawgmoth swears to gouge said gunner's eyes out. He doesn't quite succeed, but the results are the same.
  • Fantastic Nuke: Stone chargers.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare: Yawgmoth starts off as an exiled charlatan, with only 200 followers. The rest of his career makes you wonder if him being banished in the first place and his side losing the civil war wasn't all part of the plan in the first place.
  • Genius Ditz: Glacian, bordering on Idiot Savant. He's a complete genius as far as technology goes, but he's horribly shortsighted, bad with other human beings and refuses to believe in such nonsense as "medicine" (granted, you'd probably not have a good opinion of it either if Yawgmoth was at your bedside...)
  • God-Emperor: Again, Yawgmoth. He did at least claim that he wanted to make everyone a god too, but it wasn't quite what they had in mind...
  • Godhood Seeker: Yawgmoth has this as his ultimate goal in mind and becomes the most powerful being in known existence by absorbing the power of the plane of Phyrexia.
  • Knight Templar: Yawgmoth is unyielding in his beliefs, and is ready to sacrifice everything and everyone to uphold them.
  • Love Triangle: A rather dark example.
  • Magic Versus Science: Well, more like biology versus magic and technical science. In the biology corner, Yawgmoth has the "radical" belief that the body is like a machine and diseases are caused by bacteria/viruses rather than evil spirits. He also believes, like most of the defeated "eugenicist" faction, that improving the body through genetic engineering, vivisection, and bionic enhancements would be the best way to improve the species. In the magic and mechanical science corner, Glacian and most of the Thran believe that magic can cure anything until Glacian's disease shows up (and are very skeptical of Yawgmoth's "witchcraft" of medicine even then). They think that the Thran are best improved by building better machines. It's clarified in the Urza books that the Thran believed that artifice and sentience should be separate, i.e. the opposite of Phyrexia's philosophy.
  • The Magic Versus Technology War: Offscreen. 18 years before the fall of the Thran Empire, two factions with different theories as to how to take the next step in Thran progress (see above) battled it out. Downplayed in that there was never any actual conflict between real eugenicists and real technologists, the conflict came from the fact that the eugenicists were championed by the less fortunate masses and the technologists by the elites of society.
  • Mega City: Deconstructed, as it is only possible due to the designs a more-than-half-crazy inventor, a highly abused goblin workforce, has a huge underclass of dissidents that eventually riot and is slowly killing its citizens with Toxic Phlebotinum.
  • Nightmare Fetishist: Do you even need to be told it's Yawgmoth? One of the things he describes as "beautiful" is a horrific monster who Was Once a Man.
  • Organic Technology: Where Yawgmoth wants to take things.
  • Pet the Dog: Yawgmoth seems to really love Rebbec and wants her at his side. The means he resorts to in order to gain her love, however...
  • Phlebotinum Rebel: Gix wants to show Glacian that the powerstones he uses to build wonders can just as easily be used to cause incurable wounds.
  • Power Crystal: Natch. They were surprisingly difficult to manufacture and understand...the opening scene reveals that a single disaster in the process could very well destroy the city.
  • Precursors: Well duh. The Thran have a system of gleaming city-states traversed by antigravity ships and filled with powerstone-enhanced devices such as lights and hoverchairs. However, they're surprisingly prone to Too Dumb to Live, with most of their soon-to-be Lost Technology (mainly powerstones) built on absurdly unsafe and poorly understand principles.
  • Prequel in the Lost Age: This is the only Magic story to take place for another 5000 years.
  • Rule of Symbolism: Rebbec loves to preach about how Thran architecture does this.
  • Schizo Tech: The Thran can build Megacities that are marvels of engineering, power them with stones that have stable artificial planes inside them and create sentient mechanical clockworks, but believe that diseases are caused by evil spirits and are very shocked when someone tells them that it's really things called "viruses" and "bacteria". Fairly justified though, by the fact that the Thran had recently banned the "witchcraft" of medicine due to the war mentioned above and that their healing magic could cure anything except phthisis.
  • Suicidal Pacifism: The Empire as a whole isn't pacifist by any means, as it has powerful airships, clockwork soldiers and other weapons. However Halcyon, having seen no conflicts since the Civil War nine years prior, has no internal defenses beyond guards with non-lethal blunted polestaffs. That fails miserably when thousands of outcasts from the Caves of the Damned decide to riot...
  • The Time of Myths
  • Too Dumb to Live: Though, in all fairness, being highly knowledgeable and knowing exactly what's coming won't save you from Yawgmoth.
  • Toxic Phlebotinum: The city's powerstone matrixes are causing phthisis ("progressive degeneration") by inhibiting the body's flow of mana and natural regeneration processes.
  • Turned Against Their Masters
    • The Caves of the Damned were originally a prison used to hold dissidents, from genuine psychos to people who merely disagreed with the values of society. They rebelled the first time, turning it into a squalid but fairly independent area. Under Gix, they decide to make several attempts to storm the surface of Halcyon.
    • During the Battle of Megheddon Defile, Yawgmoth takes control of the Null Sphere and makes the rebel Thran's clockwork soldiers turn on them. Cue Curb-Stomp Battle
  • Villain Has a Point: Yawgmoth's cure for phthisis is the only one that works, and his objections to the Thran conception of magic as Black Box are valid.
  • Was Once a Man: The Phyrexians.
  • Wave-Motion Gun: Ray Cannons are designed by Glacian and stolen by Yawgmoth while the former is in a diseased stupor. They prove to be quite the Game-Breaker in the Cool Airship battles. By the time that Urza shows up, they're a staple of the Phyrexian arsenal.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?: Most of the Thran look down on non-human races as savages, though they pretty much have the same feeling about the non-Thran humans. Yawgmoth decided to begin his career by performing hideous experiments that devastated the societies of the Elves, Dwarves, Catpeople, etc. Though given that he does the same to his fellow humans, it might not be this so much that he's just a bastard in general.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Dyfed says as much to Yawgmoth when she confronts him about what he has done using the resources she gave him. The shock of seeing the real extent of what he had done is what gives Yawgmoth the chance to 'kill' her.