Author note: Awhile back we totally on purpose posted a preview of the TL;DR Dominaria Story which only included the first two chapters. After intentionally and deliberately building all of that hype and anticipation, here’s the full version for your reading enjoyment.
The long awaited conclusion of my four-part Dominaria lore series (part 1, part 2, part 3) and the latest installment of the Magic story recaps that started with Ixalan returns this week to close out the chapter of Dominaria. During Dominaria block, the Magic story was entirely written by Martha Wells, an award-winning author who was nominated last year for the Philip K. Dick award for science fiction. This is a deviation from past versions of the Magic story that were written piecemeal by members of the creative team, and therefore the quality was much more variable. If you have the time and dedication, I do recommend the full stories, but if they are too long for you and you just want the shorter recaps then keep reading on!
Return to Dominaria: Episode 1
The story begins with a Cabal minion bringing a blade that slayed an Elder Dragon to a Cabal cleric. When asked whom the blade belonged to, the cleric interrupted the real answer by saying it was Belzenlok who slayed the dragon. There is a chorus of agreement as the disciples chant the many acquired titles of Belzenlok, Lord of Wastes, Slayer of Elder Dragons, Envincar of the Stronghold, Scion of Darkness, Doom of Fools, Master of the Ebon Hand, Eternal Patriarch of the Cabal, and presumably also King of the Andals and the First Men. The blade is given to Belzenlok and he claims the history of the blade as his own.
Elsewhere, Jhoira is aboard a ship at sea on an expedition for the Weatherlight, which they quickly find and excavate with no trouble.
Most of the Gatewatch are on Dominaria because that was their emergency meeting point, except for Jace. Gideon planeswalked there immediately after his defeat at the hands of Bolas in Hour of Devastation, suggesting that the events of Dominaria occur at the same time as Ixalan block. He is badly wounded, but does not want to show weakness to Liliana, Chandra, or Nissa, who are standing nearby.
Nissa accosts Liliana for selfishly leading them to Amonkhet to kill one of the demons to whom she owes a debt and then running when Bolas arrived. The Gatewatch also find out that Belzenlok is another demon owed a debt, and Nissa chooses to quit and return to her home plane of Zendikar when Gideon suggests that they help Liliana again. Chandra, upset that Nissa has left and guilty that her weakness on Amonkhet led to their defeat, then suddenly leaves to “become stronger,” although she does emphasize that she will return. The remaining Gatewatchers set off to kill Liliana’s last demon after Liliana heals Gideon’s wounds in her birthplace of Vess in Benalia.
As she’s treating Gideon, Liliana questions some locals about why the town is so dilapidated now compared to when since she last saw it. She finds out that the town has been overrun with the Cabal despite the efforts by the followers of Serra to prevent it. She also learns that her planeswalker origin story is now an urban legend, and she recalls that she used the same herbs that she attempted to treat her brother with on Gideon. When she is looking for the herbs she realizes that she is near her old manor, and is surprised to see that it is still standing and even more surprised that it is well kept, aside from the mysterious ritualistic candles and massive bloodstains inside.
As she returns to the town, it is again under siege by an undead battalion of the Cabal forces. The townspeople are putting up a weak effort, despite the injured Gideon in their ranks, but Liliana is able to easily break the connection to the undead. As she destroys the remaining Cabal forces, Liliana is devastated to find out that the Lich behind the attack is her brother, Josu. Belzenlok had performed a ritual in her manor and raised Josu to mock Liliana when she returned. For Liliana, this revelation adds anger and revenge to the list of reasons for wanting Belzenlok dead.
Return to Dominaria: Episode 2
Liliana searches for the Raven Man, an unknown apparition that has haunted her since before she was a planeswalker, and eventually she finds him. She accuses him of giving information to Belzenlok. He is cryptic in his responses and she asks him why he manipulated her into turning Josu into an undead. He disappears without an answer as she asks him why he seemingly wanted her to become a planeswalker.
Liliana recruits Gideon to lure her brother back to the Vess manor and explains to him that ending Belzenlok’s hold on Josu will require the Chain Veil and leave her too weak to defeat Belzenlok. Accepting of this setback, Gideon then rallies the townspeople and the angels to their cause. After forming a small contingent of knights, avens, and soldiers, they decide to turn Vess manor into their base. Liliana’s knowledge of death magic is useful for the others who have never encountered the skin-witches and shades that are now commanded by Belzenlok and lived to share their experiences. A lone mage in their ranks creates an illusion around Gideon to disguise him as a skin-witch so he can infiltrate the Cabal forces.
Gideon uses his disguise to ambush a shade, stabbing it where its heart should be and running away in an effort to divide the enemy. While executing his diversion Gideon encounters skin-witches who breathe poisonous fumes at him, but he is able to protect himself with his convenient indestructibility. The shade, who pursued him just as Gideon had planned, kills one witch in anger while Gideon kills the other two.
Elsewhere, Liliana lures her lich brother into their old home and ends the curse at the same spot where it once began. The power of the Chain Veil drops the undead army and its undead commander into complete death, and brings Liliana to her knees in exhaustion. In what remained of the reanimation magic, Josu tells Liliana that she not only caused this curse on him, but when she planeswalked away her family died at the hands of Josu or while searching for her. She is the curse of the House of Vess.
Return to Dominaria: Episode 3
The remains of the Weatherlight were raised and we are introduced to Tiana, the ship’s guardian angel. Jhoira had recruited artificers from all over Dominaria to repair the vessel, and they are relieved to see the source of power still intact. The power source is jumpstarted by Tiana, a skill she did not know she possessed.
Now in need of a crew, Jhoira ventures to Tolaria and finds a lone soldier repelling a dozen Cabal clerics, and she appears immune to their dark magic, apparently an inherited trait. Jhoira easily enlists her to the crew, but she is flatly refused by the next potential recruit in Benalia, the descendent of her other old friend. Eavesdropping on the conversation, Danitha’s younger brother Raff, a novice mage around thirteen years old, offers his services. Jhoira, wanting to have both a Capashen and a descendant of Sisay on the crew again, accepts his offer.
Return to Dominaria: Episode 4
At Tiana’s birth in the Cathedral of Serra, which for angels occurs with them already fully grown and with ingrained knowledge, she received her assignment from an angel from Serra’s realm. She is to protect a complicated water irrigation system for a village who prayed for a guardian for a long time. By the time she arrives to her new home, however, the town was destroyed by the Cabal and there is nothing there for her to protect. Serra decides that instead she would protect the Weatherlight since it was a machine and Tiana had been imbued with mechanical and technical knowledge already.
During the repairs of the Weatherlight, Arvad wandered toward their camp and said that he was drawn there by a mysterious force. He was a Benalish knight that was forced into the curse of vampirism, but maintaining his knightly oath he decided to only feast on the criminals in the Cabal. As he explained this to Tiana, she realized that the raising of the Weatherlight and the activation of the powerstone are what attracted him to the spot. The crew allows him to approach the powerstone and it relieves some of his vampiric symptoms such as reducing his fangs, making his eyes less red, and lowering his sensitivity to the sun. They decide to let him stay until Jhoira returns and let him petition to join the crew. After a phoenix attacks the ship and Arvad saves Tiana and the others, Tiana trusts Arvad and decides she wants to become the permanent guardian angel of the Weatherlight.
Return to Dominaria: Episode 5
Gideon and Liliana travel to Benalia City where they meet Lyra, who reluctantly allows Liliana, an obvious necromancer, into the city where the Weatherlight picks them up. After debriefing their time on Amonkhet to Ajani, who answered with a patronizing and condescending attitude—like all cats do—he leaves to recruit more planeswalkers to fight Nicol Bolas. The crew plus Liliana and Gideon decide to go to the mage school at Tolaria West to catch a Cabal spy and gain intelligence on the Cabal stronghold where Belzenlok is based.
With the help of the school administrators and teachers, they catch a Cabal infiltrator disguised as a weakly student, and Raff uses a forbidden spell to make him talk and tell them Belzenlok’s plan. Part of his machinations included acquiring the blade that killed Piru, the Elder Dragon, and they discover that the weapon now lays within the Cabal Stronghold under heavy guard since it is powerful enough to destroy Belzenlok. Jhoira suggests recruiting a time mage to help them.
Return to Dominaria: Episode 6
Teferi and his daughter Niambi, who now appears to be the same age as Teferi due to his slow aging, were infiltrating a dungeon of Urza’s and battling Legend-of-Zelda-style puzzles and booby traps set by Urza to keep Teferi and other intruders out. Teferi had been trying to solve the puzzle for decades and had just ended another failed attempt when the Weatherlight arrived. Teferi wants to help them defeat Belzenlok but believes that his puzzle is important, so the crew offers to help so that he can join them—an offer the stubborn Teferi eventually accepts. It’s revealed that the puzzle Teferi is attempting to solve is one of many Urza left behind to protect magic artifacts across Dominaria, which Teferi believes will allow his home country to phase back into Dominaria, an action he caused to save it from the Phyrexian invasion but had left it trapped and isolated from Dominaria.
Urza had placed captured spirits in the dungeon, knowing that Teferi could not sense them and that he would be too stubborn to ask for help from others, but Liliana and the others helped him solve the puzzle and obtain the hidden artifact. Jhoira has another powerful artifact from the Thran Mana Rig on board her ship and she reveals that it contains Teferi’s planeswalker spark, but she must first convince him to take it.
Return to Dominaria: Episode 7
Teferi and the other descendants of Zhalfir often return on pilgrimages to a place where their home had created a shadow on Dominaria. There was a time when Teferi was recognized and hated for removing the island from existence, but now centuries later the locals believe that he simply shares a name with the ancient destroyer. Despite his guilt, Teferi never told anyone that he was the destroyer.
After one such pilgrimage, Teferi was confronted by Kwende and Subira, who were investigating the mysterious apparent death of their compatriot, Maket, who in his dying breath said that they should go to meet a man named Teferi, but Teferi does not know why. He offers to look at the corpse, which has oddly not begun to rot and the physician thinks it is due to magic. Teferi concluded that it was actually a poison or other magic made to look like time magic to frame him for the murder.
After repelling a sandwurm attack, which he was subsequently blamed for, Teferi is left too tired to escape. He suspects Kwende is the one who framed him, and Subira agrees to help Teferi, feeling betrayed by Kwende for the plot against Teferi and the lies he told her to move his plans forward. Kwende cuts off his escape and attacks, claiming responsibility for the death of Maket and revealing that he is the descendant of Mageta the Lion, who was in Zhalfir when Teferi phased it away. His family had sworn revenge on Teferi, and despite his good nature Kwende was obliged to execute what he believed was the destiny of his family. Subira intervenes and offers her life for Teferi’s and Kwende allows him to escape, knowing that violence is not in his nature when he refuses to take Subira’s life. It’s later revealed that Subira became Niambi’s mother, although Teferi raised her mostly alone.
Return to Dominaria: Episode 8
Chandra appears on Regatha at her old school with the intent of “borrowing” an artifact that belonged to Jaya Ballard, who Chandra could sense when she was on Dominaria, but she is interrupted by her old teacher, Luti. Motivated to use the goggles to convince Jaya to help them, Chandra explained her plan to Luti and then vanished back to Dominaria as Luti began to tell her there was another way.
She arrives in New Argive, where she traced the aether trail of Jaya, to find the city preparing for an invasion from the Kher kobolds and Prossh. The Steward of New Argive had prepared a defensive force along with a powerful pyromancer, and Chandra rushes to join them. She encounters a Kher ambush and breaks it up. When the Argivians arrive, Baird informs her that Jaya has left the troop recently to find an old friend in Yavimaya.
Following after her, Chandra intervenes in a battle between an automaton and a tree, with the machine being a construct of Karn and the tree being an elemental created by Multani, the injured semi-conscious protector of the forest. The machine says that he might be the friend that Jaya is seeking, just as Luti appears behind Chandra and indicates that she is actually Jaya Ballard.
Return to Dominaria: Episode 9
Jaya explains that she had accidentally started a religion around herself on Regatha and had decided that she owed it to the people—and to her own legacy—to stick around and help them form the pyromancy school in her image. Jaya scolded Chandra for not listening when she thought that the old woman was just old Mother Luti but now wanting her help when she knows she is Jaya. Karn reveals that he and his constructs are digging for the Sylex, which he plans to detonate on New Phyrexia, similar to the one that was detonated by Urza on Dominaria in distant memory.
They finally dislodge the Sylex and Multani sends another stream of elementals to prevent them, this time in desperation. Chandra and Jaya fight off the attack, but one elemental sneaks through and attacks Karn. Before it can harm him, the Weatherlight swoops in at the perfect time to save the day again. Before they leave, Chandra channels her inner Nissa, and speaks to Multani to ask him to wake up from his slumber, which works. Jaya agrees to help Chandra and her friends on their mission to kill Belzenlok after Chandra demonstrates that she has matured, as evidenced by her showing compassion instead of reckless passion toward Multani, who has now come to his senses. Jhoira and Teferi catch Karn up to what’s happened, and Karn shares his regret that Venser sacrificed himself so that Karn would become a planeswalker. Jhoira reveals the powerstone that can return Teferi to his planeswalker status and asks him to take it, but he does not immediately accept.
Jace appears on the ship and everyone is alarmed at the newcomer. He urgently shares the information he gathered on Ixalan about Bolas’s plan, uncharacteristically warning them not to trust Liliana. When they refuse to go with him to defeat Bolas immediately, he vanishes again and leaves them to their mission. To Teferi, the confrontation about how to battle Bolas—his former enemy—is a sign that his past has caught up to him. Believing it is his destiny, he agrees to take the object from Jhoira, which contains his spark.
Return to Dominaria: Episode 10
Minor plot-irrelevant character development happens for Liliana, Arvad, and Shanna through the eyes of Slimefoot, a spore that fell onto the ship in Yavimaya and who used the warmth of the powerstone to grow into an adorable, immature fungus experiencing the world for the first time with its equally adorable saprolings. This filler episode ends with the ship arriving in Urborg.
Return to Dominaria: Episode 11
In Urborg the crew meets a resistance force made up partially of panther warriors, who give them information and a disguise that allows them to blend into the Cabal. Teferi creates a slow time bubble to allow Chandra and Gideon to pass undetected into the inner defenses of the Cabal. Elsewhere, the Weatherlight has gone to a site of a recent massacre and Liliana creates an undead army of the restless corpses, enough to create a distraction for any trouble Chandra and Gideon might get into on the inside. Once the army was risen, another creature rises from the marsh and gets a jump on them, and it is the cause of death for much of the new undead army. Belzenlok created the frog spirit, Yargle, as an example to his other followers, and disposing with this threat would toadally delay their plans.
Unable to stall longer inside the Cabal stronghold, Gideon gets pushed by a crowd into a gladiator arena and his disguise as a Cabal prisoner seems rather unfortunate since a brawl to the death of all the Cabal prisoners is about to take place. A Cabal priest calls the beginning of the fight and Gideon is forced into the arena to the amusement of the crowd and Belzenlok, who sits in the arena surrounding the fighting pit.
Return to Dominaria: Episode 12
Inside the fighting pit, Gideon battles Cabal prisoners and monsters alike, discovering that most of the prisoners have been overcome by madness inducing dementia magic. A few other warriors appear to resist the dark spells, and Gideon—unsurprisingly—joins their phalanx.
At the Weatherlight, the heroes are not faring well against the frog spirit. Slimefoot slimes its way to the stern of the ship and calls to the Urborg forest below, sensing a familiarity with his Yavimaya roots. The spirits respond and offer to bring help to the crew and then kill the demon that invaded their land. Suddenly a giant being—even larger than Yargle—and which the crew mistakes for Multani, grips the beast from behind and begins to pull it down into the swamp where it is powerless to interfere again. They quickly depart to rescue Chandra and Gideon, already running late because of the frog fight.
In the fighting pit, the distraction finally arrives and the Cabal minions begin to take up arms and leave the arena. Chandra and Gideon leave their disguises behind and free the prisoners, who then help kill Whisper. They make their way to the trophy room in the dungeons and claim their prize—the weapon that will end Belzenlok’s reign.
Back on the ship, even though their presence is now fully revealed to the Cabal and Belzenlok, they and the undead panther army make their way slowly through the Cabal defenses. The team of mages seems too powerful for the Cabal to rebuff, until Liliana senses the approach of a specter and its rider in the distance. In the ensuing battle, Slimefoot takes control of the ship while the others fight for their lives. They send Liliana ahead to confront Belzenlok with Gideon and Chandra.
Gideon challenges Belzenlok, Blackblade in hand. Liliana arrives and starts to distract Belzenlok, but Gideon is not adept with the dark weapon and loses his grip once it is lodged in the demon’s leg. Belzenlok, blinded by the hopes for victory now that he has regained the blade, does not notice Liliana lunge for it and despite not normally wielding conventional weapons like the sword, she is able to harness the dark magic it contains and strikes a fatal blow.
Later, the non-planeswalker crew of the Weatherlight continue their mission to eradicate the Cabal from Dominaria. As for the planeswalkers, Teferi agrees to join the Gatewatch while Karn and Jaya agree to assist with the battle against Bolas but want to part ways afterwards. They all planeswalk away, except Liliana, who finds herself unable to. She worries that ending her pact removed her abilities, but Nicol Bolas appears and reveals that he now controls her contract and if she disobeys a command she will die in an instant. Forced into servitude with no other recourse, she follows Bolas away. The others, confused and hurt by her disappearance, join Jace in preparations. He tells them to forget about her help because she probably betrayed them, like he had predicted.
The writing of the Dominaria story was much improved from past block stories, but they were much, much longer than usual (as you can tell by this ~3,800 word summary) and even then, the pacing still felt rushed. For example, the main villain of the entire block, Belzenlok, was confronted and defeated in one chapter. There was also some uncharacteristic behavior from Jace, which was discontinuous with his change in attitude following the story of Ixalan.
Overall though, I enjoyed the references to old characters and places, and thought they were worth the read, which is something I cannot say for all of the Magic stories of the past. The single author for the whole block was successful in their first attempt and I was happy to see it continued into the Magic Core Set 2019 block, which is written entirely by Kate Elliot, who is known for the Crown of Stars and the Spiritwalker Trilogy fantasy series. In Core Set 2019 we’ll be returning to my favorite plane and the set where I first started to play, Tarkir, so I am looking forward to recapping story.
It took many months for me to recap the densely packed lore of Dominaria for you, but I hope that it was worth the wait. Check out future editions of my lore series as I begin to delve into M19!
What was your favorite part of the Dominaria story? How did you feel about the quality compared to stories of the past? Let’s discuss in the comments below!