Friday, 25 November 2022 13:00

Magic History: Remembering Conflux and Agents of Artifice

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Magic History: Remembering Conflux and Agents of Artifice WOTC/MAGIC UNTAPPED

Sometimes it's nice to look back and see just how far things have come since the early days of Magic: The Gathering.  To that end, we're bringing you a series of short videos that highlight Magic: The Gathering expansions throughout the years.

In this video, we take a look back at Conflux, the middle set in Magic: The Gathering's Alara block, as well as the spin-off novel, Agents of Artifice.

You can check it all out in our retrospective video (below).

Video transcript:

Conflux, the second set in the Alara block, released February 6, 2009.

With it came 141 new cards, along with four reprints:

What the set didn’t have, however, was an original story.  In fact, it’s the first expansion since 2006’s Coldsnap to not have a tie-in novel.  Rather, the entire story of Conflux can be found within the novel Alara Unbroken by Doug Beyer.  Instead, Wizards of the Coast released the spin-off novel Agents of Artifice by Ari Marmell, which had its own independent plot separate from the set itself.

<SOT, Beyer, 1:13-31 “Agents of Artifice, we think…the Shards of Alara block.”>

And, while it’s not specific to Conflux itself, here is a quick summary of what happens in Agents of Artifice:

The Infinite Consortium is a shadow organization run by the planeswalker Nicol Bolas that specializes in procuring powerful and unique items from various worlds.  As such, it employed various planeswalkers, including a rather ambitious one named Tezzeret whose spark had only recently ignited.

Tezzeret, however, is dissatisfied being in servitude to the draconic planeswalker.  Power hungry, he successfully attempts a coup d'état, killing and replacing key members of the Consortium that were loyal to Bolas to those loyal instead to himself.  Soon enough, he found himself Consortum’s de-facto leader having silently usurped power and loyalty away from his “master.”

Being in this position of power, however, caused the power-hungry Tezzeret to grow paranoid of Bolas spies and worried about those who would become disloyal to him.

Tezzeret’s agents get wind of a talented telepath on the plane of Ravnica who was using his powers to blackmail the plane’s rich and powerful.  Tezzeret sends the telepath an invitation by way of a faux assassination attempt, hoping the telepath would seek out whomever wanted him done in.

The plan works and Jace Beleren joins, being promised not just wealth, but the opportunity to hone his telepathic skills as well.

Working for the shadowy Consortium, however, has an impact on Jace as he began to regret his decision to join their ranks.  In time, the relationship between Jace and Tezzeret becomes shaky at best.

Eventually, Tezzeret finds himself being called to a meeting in a remote location with Bolas himself.  Tezzeret brings Jace along, thinking that the telepath’s abilities would shield him from Bolas’ own.  The plan, however, fails.  Seeing Jace as unworthy and a waste of time, Tezzeret tortures him for his failure.

Soon thereafter, Jace flees from the Consortium and returns to Ravnica to lay low for a while.  This is when he meets Liliana Vess, a fellow planeswalker who, unbeknownst to Jace at the time, was on Ravnica as a more-or-less freelancer for the Infinite Consortium.

Liliana lays on the charm and Jace finds himself crushing hard on her.  Despite finding that she kind of likes him, too, Liliana conveys to Tezzeret’s Consortium Jace’s location.  Swiftly, agents catch up to and rough up the telepathic planeswalker, who is left badly injured.

Liliana then returns to him and tends to his wounds, both physical and mental.  She talks of revenge, telling Jace that Tezzeret will only continue to harshly discipline him for his disobedience, preying on Jace’s own desire to be rid of the Consortium.

The pair tap an unlikely resource: Nicol Bolas.

Bolas gives them the location of Tezzeret’s home base, which Liliana and Jace unwisely attack.  In the end, Jace is captured and, once again, tortured as Tezzeret tries to control his mind and turn the telepath into little more than a controlled drone.  As he experiments on the telepath, Tezzeret makes clear his relationship to Liliana who, this entire time, was acting under his orders.

The betrayal Jace felt cut deep, and the telepath allowed himself to succumb to Tezzeret’s schemes.

Liliana, however, does indeed have real feelings for the telepath and attempts to rescue him.  Once reaching him, she tries to explain her actions to him.  Jace, who had promised while courting to never use his telepathy against her, believes her pleas.

She busts the telepath out of Tezzeret’s prison and, together, the two go on a rampage inside of the Consortium leader’s main base of operations.

Tezzeret, of course, takes notice of the chaos and confronts the liberated telepath and his cohort.

A scuffle ensues, and a rage-filled Jace gets the upper hand thanks largely to his telepathic abilities.  Rather than slaying his captor and tormentor, however, Jace spares Tezzeret’s life.  His mind, however, was not so fortunate as the telepath wipes clean from Tezzeret all knowledge of the Infinite Consortium and how to run it.

Jace was finally free, looking forward to a new life.  Liliana, however, leaves him yet again as she had other business to attend to.

Business with Nicol Bolas with whom she had made a deal:  Rid the Infinite Consortium of Tezzeret so that he can regain control of the organization and he will help to free her of the pact she had made with four demons to keep her forever young and powerful in the post-mending multiverse.

Bolas, meanwhile, reclaimed the Consortium.  Picking up the broken Tezzeret, he brings him to his meditation plane where he claims dominance over him to once again and forces his submission.

And that about does it for Agents of Artifice.  Like I said, the story has absolutely nothing to do with the plot of Conflux and the Alara block as a whole aside, really, from Nicol Bolas playing a part in each and Tezzeret getting a planeswalker card in the block’s previous set, Shards of Alara.

Now, let’s get back to talking about Conflux in specific.

The set continues the multicolor-heavy theme from Shards of Alara and expands upon it by adding five-color cards – five in total:  Child of Alara, Conflux, Fusion Elemental, Maelstrom Archangel, and Progenitus.

The set also saw the return of the character Nicol Bolas in card form courtesy of Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker.  This was the first time Bolas had ever been printed as a planeswalker and the first new Nicol Bolas to be printed since the original Nicol Bolas card from Legends (not counting its handful of reprints from over the years).

The set was sold by way of not just conventional booster packs, the “fat pack” bundle, and preconstructed intro decks, but also in new six-card booster packs that were sold at retail in these cardboard gravity-feed boxes.  Sold for $1.99 per pack, each six-card pack contained one token/tip card, one land, three commons, one uncommon, and one rare or mythic rare.

In terms of mechanics, Conflux carried over each of the shard-specific keywords from the previous set, but added one more: Domain, which had debuted in the Invasion block as a non-keyworded ability.  Conflux was also the first time the phrase “Protection from Everything” was actually used on a card thanks to the aforementioned card, Progenitus.

Conflux featured eight cycles, including (among others):

  • Enemy-color hosers, such as Celestial Purge which, for a rather low mana cost, can hamper their respective enemy colors.
  • Outlanders, which are 2/2 allied-colored creatures that each have protection from their enemy color, such as Nacatl Outlander having protection from blue (which is an enemy color to green and red), and;
  • Shard-colored rare creatures, each of which contains the colors of each of Alara’s five shards in its casting cost such as the Esper-colored (W/U/B) creature Magister Sphinx.

And Conflux, despite not being considered an especially high-powered set, does still have some cards of note worth calling out, starting with:

  • Ancient Zigguarat, a land that can create one of any color of mana, but only for creature spells;
  • Font of Mythos, a card often found in Turbofog decks;
  • Knight of the Reliquary, which was heavily played in standard at the time and still sees competitive play in Modern and Legacy mid-range decks;
  • Maelstrom Archangel, which allows its controller to play a free spell whenever it deals combat damage to a player.  Back when five-color-control was a deck of choice in Standard, the cards was often used to cheat out the next card on this list;
  • Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker, the first tri-colored planeswalker card ever printed in Magic, it features an ultimate ability that is inspired by the original Legends Nicol Bolas card.
  • Noble Hierarch, which is a great card for mana fixing and tempo;
  • Path to Exile, one of the best white removal spells since Swords to Plowshares was printed back in the “O.G.” sets, the card still sees competitive play in basically every format in which it is legal, and;
  • Progenitus, a large and powerful creature.  A promotional version of the card was handed out as a Magic Grand Prix promo in 2017.

Oh, and just because I wanted to use this video clip, Conflux also introduced the zero-cost equipment card, Bone Saw.

As for the set’s promos, players at Conflux’s prerelease were treated to a foil promo of the demon dragon, Malfegor, while the set’s release promo was Obelisk of Alara, an artifact with five different abilities – one for each color in Magic.

So, is Conflux amongst your favorite Magic: The Gathering sets?  Love it or hate it, tell us your thoughts in the comment section below.

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Thank you for watching.