Welcome to Magic Arcanum. I'm Ryan Gomez, and I'm here to help you make sense of everything going on in the Magic story.
Today we're looking at Chronicle of Bolas: The First Lesson, which is the second episode in an eight part saga for Core Set 2019.
We pick up a little after last week's story, still following Yasova Dragonclaw, and her twin granddaughters Naiva and Baishya.
They're being followed by an Atarka brood dragon. You see, Atarka is the elder dragon that kind of rules their home lands, and has a sort of peace treaty with the humans so long as they keep providing her with food.
Atarka has her own brood of lesser dragons who act as her enforcers and scouts, and one of them has been following Yasova, probably curious as to why she's making a beeline out of her usual hunting grounds.
Then the group spots a second dragon, this one belonging to a different brood. It's one of Ojutai's kin, which is odd because it's way outside its usual home turf. Ojutai is another elder dragon who has a lot of power on Tarkir.
Yasova decides the party needs a better vantage point so she sends the twins ahead to a raised pile of rocks, where they find a wounded man in strange clothes.
He says he's looking for Yasova Dragonclaw, which means he is the one Ugin was talking about in the previous episode. Most surprisingly, this man is not from Yasova's group of people. He's from what used to be known as the Jeskai.
On Tarkir, the humans are divided into five roughly equal sized groups, each ruled by a different dragon. Now remember, thanks to the planeswalker Sarkhan messing with the timelines, things weren't always this way.
The human tribes used to be in power and had elaborate histories and traditions, but most of that was stamped out by the dragons once they took over.
Our mysterious monk begins to tell a story to Yasova.
He mentions someone named Shu Yun, a leader of the Jeskai. He says much of the history Shu Yun tried to preserve was destroyed by the dragons, who wanted to control which aspects of history the humans know about.
He also tells us about receiving visions from The Spirit Dragon, who encouraged his clan to keep an unwritten history - that way, the dragons could never take it away.
The Spirit Dragon is Ugin, who's Tempests are the source of all these dragons, by the way.
The man gives his name as Tae Jin, and then launches into a retelling of a story that must have been passed from monk to monk, originating with Ugin himself.
"My own story is a simple one. The one I loved best in all the worlds is the one who killed me." he says.
We know Nicol Bolas and Ugin fought, and depending on the timeline, Ugin either died or was saved by Sarkhan. But we're clearly in the version of history where Ugin lived. So why is he talking about who killed him? And, is he still referring to Nicol Bolas?
One bit of mystery surrounding Ugin has always been his title - why is he the Spirit Dragon? Well, one theory is that he's actually died before. I mean, before his battle with Nicol on Tarkir. Maybe he's been like a Star Wars Force Ghost Jedi this whole time? Then this line makes a little more sense, because it would still be true in either timeline.
Tae Jin continues his story about the early days of Ugin and his twin, Nicol. I'm just going to touch on some of the more interesting bits here.
First, it turns out all the other dragons are bigger, and have two names, while Ugin is just Ugin and Nicol is just Nicol. He eventually starts calling himself Nicol Bolas, which he just kind of picks for himself to fit in. Ugin kinda rises above it and just stays Ugin.
So we can add vanity to the list of things that may lead to the downfall of Nicol "I have a second name, I swear!" Bolas.
As the two are practicing their hunting they talk to other elder dragons like Palladia-Mors, and Ugin says something interesting. "Death is merely part of a greater cycle."
So from a very young age, the "Spirit Dragon" understands death is a natural part of life. Wonder if that's going to be relevant in the future…?
We also get to hear about how Ugin and Nicol lived among humans for a while, and learned quite a bit from them.
Ugin befriends a human named Te Ju Ki, who teaches Ugin some basic magic and meditation, but while he's learning that, Nicol Bolas is learning how to manipulate humans.
There are a lot of Magic cards that show Nicol Bolas enslaving, coercing, or straight-up controlling other creatures, so now we see the origins of this part of his character, as he practices on the humans he's living with.
This part of the story is clearly trying to show the differences between Ugin and Nicol. One is fine with just a single name, the other gives himself a second. One is happy to live among humans and learn from them, while the other tries to get them to do his bidding.
These are the building blocks of conflict, and will lead to that decisive fight in the skies of Tarkir.
Before we can get to that though, Tae Jin's story is interrupted by the arrival of a dragon. The dragon's translator is an aven, a type of bird-man, who speaks on behalf of the dragon and says Tae Jin is sentenced to die by ice for the crime of sacrilege.
And that's the story! Talk about a cliffhanger. Tae Jin's telling of Ugin's early days with Nicol gives us a better understanding of their history and upbringing, but we're no closer to knowing what Yasova Dragonclaw will do with this information. If you've got a theory, we'd love to hear it in the comments.