Magic: The Gathering isn’t just a card game. Thanks to the hardworking creative team at Wizards of the Coast and a truly impressive rank of contributing writers—including Brandon Sanderson, Kate Elliott, and Martha Wells—Magic also encompasses one of the most compelling and expansive ongoing stories available to fantasy fans. Magic releases out several new sets a year, each accompanied by new stories that add new narrative arcs to the decades-spanning, multiverse-hopping epic.
The upcoming release of the latest expansion set, War of the Spark, is an especially big deal for fans, promising as it does the highly anticipated confrontation between the villainous Elder Dragon Nicol Bolas and the Gatewatch, an assemblage of Planeswalkers (mages who can travel between the Multiverse’s various “Planes” that are the settings for Magic’s gameplay and story) led by fan-favorite characters Jace Beleren, Liliana Vess, Gideon Jura, and Chandra Nalaar. The Planeswalkers haven’t always gotten along, but with a threat as dangerous as Nicol Bolas and his zombie army ravaging the streets of Ravnica—and the fate of the very Multiverse at stake—they must set aside their differences and put an end to the Elder Dragon once and for all.
For the first time since 2014, Wizards of the Coast, in partnership with Del Rey Books, is publishing a new, standalone Magic: The Gathering novel—Ravnica: War of the Spark. At the helm is Greg Weisman, a writer best known for his work on Gargoyles and Young Justice.
We won’t know for sure how the conflict lays out until the book is released on April 23, but Nic Kelman, head of story and entertainment with WotC, was kind enough to give us a sneak peak at one of the many storylines contained within its pages. Here, we’re introduced to two high-ranking members of the Izzet League—a guild of zany inventors with an explosive thirst for knowledge:
Ral Zarek has been second-in-command of the Izzet League for far too long, but now is his moment to step into the spotlight. Niv Mizzet has revealed his plan to defeat Bolas to the brilliant Storm Mage and, as part of that plan, Ral will finally take over as Guildmaster of the Izzet. Unfortunately, to prove his worth and for Niv’s plan to work, he has to engage in a clandestine mission to unite all 10 guilds in a revision of the Guildpact itself…all while avoiding Bolas’ assassins.
I caught up with Kelman to chat about the new novel, Weisman’s work, all of Ral Zarek and Niv-Mizzet’s shenanigans, and what to expect next for Magic: the Gathering’s story.
(And, since I know I’m not the only one excited for the new set, stick around after the interview for the reveal of several exclusive spoiler cards!)
What can fans of Magic expect from Ravnica: War of the Spark?
Without a doubt, the most epic Magic story to date—as is fitting for the climax to several years of build up! Some will live and some will die, but lots of questions will be answered and the future of the Multiverse will be changed forever…
What about non-fans? Can they read Ravnica: War of the Spark if they’ve never played the game before?
Absolutely, 100 percent. Author Greg Weisman did an unbelievable job of introducing the setting, the backstory, and every character with a context that never feels out of place for the story. You can (and should!) definitely pick this up as a fan of fantasy fiction who knows nothing about Magic: The Gathering. It’s as great an entry point to our fiction as it is a conclusion to the last few years of story.
Ral, Storm Conduit is one of many new Planeswalkers in the set—what does this new card tell us about Ral and his place in the story?
Ral—and his incredibly powerful lightning magic—are central to the novel and to the prequel novel by Django Wexler (which is available for free from the Del Rey website). The idea here was to convey that power and strength in a way that would leave no doubt about Ral’s importance to War of the Spark.
Greg Weisman revealed that Ravnica: War of the Spark will have a dozen protagonists and over 100 named characters. How did Greg and the creative team keep control over such a large cast?
It wasn’t easy. Greg, of course, has experience with large casts working on shows like Young Justice. But beyond that, Greg, myself, Tom Hoeler (the editor at Del Rey), and our Consulting Loremaster, Jay Annelli, went through the outline and manuscript many times specifically looking for tracking issues. Jay, in fact, created a pretty incredible tracking spreadsheet which listed every character and their place in the story in every chapter. It’s my not-so-secret dream to have that spreadsheet turned into an art poster at some point in the future…
It’s no secret that Ral and Niv-Mizzet both have huge personalities and egos to match—they’ve been working together as leaders of the Izzet guild. What kind of fireworks can we expect when things get serious on Ravnica?
A good amount of the prequel novel by Django Wexler dives into this relationship and I don’t want to give too much away, but suffice it to say it develops in ways you wouldn’t necessarily expect. I mean, Niv-Mizzet is the Firemind after all!
Wizards of the Coast has introduced some terrific authors to the fold late, each bringing their own touch to the Magic story. What did Greg Weisman bring with him?
Greg was the perfect choice for launching a new series of Magic novels with War of the Spark because he’s used to handling large casts, complex plots, and to making superhero archetypes feel like real, living, breathing people. Knowing how to balance the real estate between character moments, action, and plot in a novel about an epic battle like this one is a skill that has to be developed over years and Greg has that ability.
Greg Weisman has announced he’s working on another Magic novel following War of the Spark, and Django Wexler announced a prequel book set before War of the Spark—what can fans expect from these books?
Django’s prequel is all about the lead-up to War of the Spark—and did I mention it’s going to be available for free if you sign up for the Del Rey newsletter? It sets the scene on Ravnica and arranges all the “pieces” into the state we find them at the beginning of the war. In many ways, it serves the same purpose for all the local characters that the last few years of short stories have served for The Gatewatch. It’s very much a “cold war” novel, drawing for inspiration on all the cold war fiction classics but with a healthy dose of awesome action too.
We don’t want to say too much about Greg’s second novel just yet, but it is not a “part 2”—War of the Spark is self-contained and book 2 picks up the story after a very clear ending in book 1.
Traditionally, the Magic story has followed the events of the most recent set release for the card game—do these future projects from Wexler and Weisman mean we’ll start seeing stories released that don’t necessarily take place in the same location as the current set?
Yes, that’s correct—we’ll be doing both. Hopefully the fans of Magic story will be excited to be getting more of their favorite characters more consistently instead of having to wait until they rotate back into standard!
What else is coming up for Magic story?
We have some very exciting things coming down the pipe—it’s going to be a big year for fans of Magic story!
We’re also pleased to be able to exclusively reveal three new cards in the new expansion. Let’s take a look:
If there’s anything Ral Zarek loves, it’s casting spells, and this new Planeswalker will let you do that multiple times each game—and make your opponent pay each time you do it with Ral’s powerful static ability. Or maybe you’re looking for that one card in your deck that will close out the game? Ral’s ability to “Scry 1” lets you look at the top card of your deck, and shuffle it to the bottom if you don’t like what you see!
Remember what I said about Ral? He loves to cast spells, but not so much getting bolted in return. This allows intrepid Planeswalkers to dance around their opponent’s most dangerous spells, and maybe even send it right back at them. Ouch.
Izzet is known for two things: damage and card draw. Ral’s Outburst combines the two in a single card that, cast at the right time, could turn the tide of a game. Wonder what Ral’s so upset about?
How are you preparing for the War of the Spark?