Four Forms of the Dragon

Who doesn’t love Form of the Dragon? Just ask Sarkhan Vol!

Recently, Doug Beyer and Wizards of the Coast released Return to Ravnica: The Secretist Part One, a return to Magic: The Gathering long fiction after Innistrad’s year-long hiatus since Scars of Mirrodin: The Quest for Karn. I finished it the other day, and I found it to be quite a bit more enjoyable than Doug Beyer’s work in Alara Unbroken. I’m already excited to read parts two and three, though it will probably be six months before we’re able to read the whole story. Nonetheless, reading The Secretist made me excited—even more than usual—about Magic fiction.

So for today, after a couple failed attempts at making Search the City work (seriously, if you can actually do anything useful with this card, please e-mail me!), I decided to create four (unofficial, non-canon) characters, each a member of a different guild of Ravnica, who love dragons and embody in different ways what it means to enter . . . the Form of the Dragon!

Garish the Firebreather of Rakdos

Garish grew up in a mostly guildless area of the city. He was the son of a single mother who worked odd jobs for street vendors and mostly stayed out of trouble. As a child, he was quite chubby and shy, and Garish’s mother was covered in tattoos and scars, and Garish suffered endless ridicule from other children around the district both for his weight and his mother’s deviant appearance. However, the district was quite prone to accidental fires, many of which claimed the lives of the most relentless bullies.

Anthem of Rakdos
Over the years, Garish grew into an ogre of a man, with as much muscle as he had soft tissue—both of which were quite plentiful. His mother taught him tricks of firebreathing, which he performed on district corners to earn extra money for them. One night during his sixteenth year, a mob of black-and-red-dressed roustabouts broke into their small apartment, screeching, laughing, and screaming profanities next to things like, “We’ve found you!” trailing the “you” off into incessant giggling. Garish tried to fight some off, knocking one out with a single swing of one of his meat-fist hands and turning another to ash with a breath of flame, but his mother stopped him. “Stay here. This will be over soon, then run away, and never look back.”

He heeded his mother for several minutes before the noise in the apartment died down. He went out to the front door and peered outside, where a dragon was flying around the district, raining fire down on the streets and crashing into buildings, sending rubble tumbling. The roustabouts were firing dark magic back up at it, melting the dragon’s flesh away. In moments, it was all over. The block was destroyed, leaving nothing but rock, ash, and sputtering fires. The dragon had disappeared in a pile of rubble, and nothing remained of the roustabouts but cinders.

Among the wreckage, Garish found his mother’s corpse, and he took from it a dragon-claw pendant he hadn’t seen before, and he took his mother’s advice, leaving the district and never looking back. Before long, he found a new family. They looked like the roustabouts who killed his mother, but the Rakdos guild appreciated his firebreathing talents and gave him good work and a feeling of acceptance he’d only found before from his mother.

Now Garish the Firebreather performs the grand finale of the carnival show for the Blood Jesters splinter cult, using his mother’s pendant to transform into a dragon, flying around and burning whoever wants to feel the unique sensation of dragonfire coruscating across their skin. In his mind, he sees them as the same black-and-red-dressed roustabouts from his neighborhood years ago.

Ssaivthis Bloodscale of Gruul

Ssaivthis is an old viashino, and he has lived in the Dragon Turf his whole life. But he was not always Gruul, and the place was not always called the Dragon Turf. It was once the Third District, powered by Izzet ingenuity, decorated with Selesnya flora, and arbitrated by Azorius austerity.

And then an ancient dragon awoke, and the ground cracked as it spread its wings. The dragon stood, and the streets shuddered. The dragon roared, and windows cracked, and the sky turned dark. Lightning flashed, and thunder boomed, and the Boros arrived. They struck the hellkite with blinding light and bound its limbs with arresting magic. Ssaivthis was among them, a legionnaire of a grunt rank. He whipped fire and smoke at the beast, the best he could do to distract it as his regiment held it pinned.

Selesnyans responded quickly, binding the dragon in unending vines to protect from it their gardens and guild members. With storms still raging above the dragon, days passed with the giant lizard struggling to wrest itself free before the Azorius passed their mandate, and a dozen lawmages bound the beast in a detention sphere, unable to risk its release for fear of the dragon destroying their district. All were unable to move it, and so the storm-covered area was barricaded off, and all the citizens of the Third District forgot the dragon—all but Ssaivthis.

Something in the dragon’s eyes had called to Ssaivthis as he struck it with his Boros magic. He returned day after day, even after the detention sphere and barricades were erected. The creature didn’t speak, but the viashino legionnaire came to the ancient beast, and it communicated to him. Ssaivthis could sense that it was thousands of years old, having slept for untold years as the city was built above its abode. It had no need for destruction or city-dwelling—it was too old for that. It required only freedom so it could find a new, less crowded home.

After several months, the dragon knew it had a friend in Ssaivthis, but it had given up on escape. With timeless dragon magic, the hellkite transferred its power and spirit into the viashino, and the dragon breathed out its last and slumped into a heap. The Selesnya vines recoiled, the detention sphere faded, the storms above it cleared, and Ssaivthis was enraged. He roared with fury, and the barricades broke. He stomped his feet, and the street cracked. And when the district shrunk below him, he realized that he was now the dragon. The storms brewed again, over the whole Third District this time, and Ssaivthis began a rampage that lasted for weeks. At the end of it, the guilds and the citizens were all either dead or evacuated, and Ssaivthis woke in his viashino body in a coldblooded sweat.

Now the Third District is the Dragon Turf, and Ssaivthis is the chieftain of the Gruul there. Dragon magic has slowed his aging, but generations later, the viashino is old, and others have fought him for supremacy of the Dragon Turf clans. Some have defeated him, but he rests, and he meditates, and he transforms again, bringing storms and restaking his claim each time.

Rannus Morr of Boros

Rannus Morr grew up in his father’s shadow. As a senator of the Azorius, Durraneus Morr IX was of a long line of dedicated Azorius authorities, and he had certain expectations for his son. But Rannus, abbreviating the inherited name and dropping the generational suffix, had different ideas. The life of a bureaucrat appealed to him little, and he took up the role of preserving the peace and safety with the Boros rather than useless legislation and inter-guild payoffs with the Azorius.

But when the sphinx Exuul, known as the Thief of Dreams, was released from interment after a three-hundred-year sentence, Rannus’s family rebellion didn’t save him from the creature’s attempt at vengeance. The court records of the sentencing presented Exuul stating, “I will avenge this sufferance, Durraneus Morr. Your descendants will bear your name, and I shall claim the tenth as my own.”

Fortified Area
However, Exuul and its history with the Morr family had long been forgotten, and when Rannus woke up one day in a labyrinth of tall, white walls, he had no understanding of his predicament. The sky was a swirling mist, and when the mists thinned, he could see only bars, hundreds of yards above him, like a giant birdcage. Rannus wandered for days, not growing hungry or tired, but finding no twist or turn that could earn him escape.

One day, a sphinx flew overhead as he wandered. It circled a few times, peering down at him, and then flew off. Rannus had never been the fire-slinging brand of Boros, but he had dedicated his career to keeping people free and safe, and seeing a creature that he now presumed to be his captor, something burned within him. He imagined what kind of creature it would take to best a sphinx, and a dragon came to mind, and suddenly, he was flying in hot pursuit of the mysterious beast.

They flew above the labyrinth, Rannus breathing fire, and the sphinx responding with psionic blasts. But within a few strikes, Rannus found he could raise the walls of the labyrinth, and he used them like a swordsman to parry the sphinx’s attacks or like a thief to hide for a feint and surprise attack. Minutes later, Rannus struck a finishing blow, and as the sphinx fell, the mists and the labyrinth began to waver and fade, and when the sphinx hit the ground with a thud, it was on the cobbled streets in front of what was left of the Eighth Precinct. The nearby blocks had been rubbled, but the battle’s closeness to the Boros precinct meant the Legion was able to contain the danger and keep most of the citizens safe.

Azorius investigations discovered evidence that over the previous several days, Rannus had been plotting a scheme to disrupt and destroy the Azorius senate, but further inquiry determined that the recently released sphinx Exuul had controlled Rannus during the time period in question, and that in fact, the Boros officer’s escape from the dream cage had prevented further destruction.

Rannus was commended and promoted, and soon, he had mastered his dragon transformation in physical form rather than just in dream form. Using shieldmages and Rannus’s dragon shape, the Boros Legion of the Eighth Precinct created a tactic for extreme measures and disaster control, called the Rannus X Formation, which was reluctantly stamped for Azorius sanction by Durraneus Morr IX.

Del Mellavie of Izzet

Del Mellavie had a lust for power. Not like those Orzhov pontiffs with their endless coins and legions of thrull followers. And not like those Boros army men with their swords and strike forces. No, she had a lust for the kind of power that surges through pipes and out of boilers—that surges through your brain in crashing bursts of mana and spills out in waves of reality-rippling and building-crumbling intensity.

Del joined the Izzet League young, leaving her guildless family at fifteen so she could fix pipes and learn to study the science of magic. At eighteen, she was responsible for managing the steam utilipipes and hydrodistributator enchantments in the Seventh District, and her side duties involved engineering new spells to improve the systems. But it was still all menial work. By the time she was twenty-four, Del had few infrastructure responsibilities remaining, and she spent most of her time on independent research projects for the League. And that meant she could work toward earning the attention of the greatest power of Ravnica: Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind.

Braid of Fire
He was reclusive, but the chemisters announced he would be coming to the Seventh District the next day to observe an Izzet symposium on the formation and usefulness of weirds, and that meant she would have until then to figure a way to charm him. But the answer seemed obvious. What better way to wield the kind of power she’d always wanted than to become a dragon, and what better companion for a dragon—such as the Firemind—than another dragon?

Her work began immediately. She spun a waterwheel and lit her personal blistercoil system, and blue and red lights lit in series along the braided pipes across the ceiling. Ideas raced through her head, and she pulled out a stack of blank, dusty paper and began scrawling notes with a burnpen attached to her mizzium wrist toolset. With a quickly drawn formula down on paper, Del was bored of theories, and she pulled mana from her blistercoils and enacted her first attempt.

Many hours and many more explosions later, Del had made little progress. She could breathe fire—easy stuff—and enacted minor changes—her now-scaly left arm was proof—but there were pyrochemical and psychiomental compatibility problems, and she hated the thought that she wished for the help of a Simic biolgiomancer to discern the physical differences between humans and dragons that she would have to account for.

Hours passed, the sun had set and risen again outside her window, and the clamor of cheering led her to look outside. Del used her scaly arms to pull herself up onto a table. She almost slipped from fatigue, but she caught herself with her new tail and clambered up. A spider web was spun across the window, and she spat fire at it like into a spittoon. The symposium was already in progress, Chemister Kernik was speaking, and Niv-Mizzet sat idly during the presentation.

Del blinked with her horizontal eye membrane and then with her human eyelids. She stared outside, and her mouth fell open. She was too late. She dropped to the table, and one table leg broke, sliding her to the floor with a crash of vials and mizzium. The blistercoils were still burning, though they were new, which meant untested, and she’d been told not to keep them going so long. But she was Izzet, and she couldn’t let things like, “It’s dangerous,” “It can’t be done,” and, “It’s too late,” mean anything to her.

Second Chance
Del ticked into motion the negaclock she’d been working on for years. It wasn’t finished, but why would she wait for it to be finished to try it out? She just hadn’t needed it until now. Outside her lab, time slowed down, stopped, and reversed, ticking back to the previous day before ticking forward again. Inside, things were the same, but the blistercoils grew hotter and hotter, and a day later, after Niv-Mizzet had come to the symposium again and left again afterward, Del reset her clock to continue work, with her growing larger, growing more scales, and growing more intelligent with each pass of her experiments. She would be with Niv-Mizzet soon.

A week later inside the room, Del might have dehydrated or melted from the heat of the ever-increasing intensity of the blistercoils, but she was a dragon now. She had mastered it. She spread her wings and shattered the negaclock. Del threw her head back and roared, breaking through the ceiling and spitting fireworks behind the symposium. She spun and took out the walls to her lab; the blistercoils bent and broke, spewing steam into the streets. She flew and landed onto the symposium stage next to Chemister Kernik as he spoke, next to where Niv-Mizzet had been each of the same mornings when she looked outside.

But this time, he wasn’t there. The spell she’d been building on and draining mana from the blistercoils for broke, and the girl shrunk, shaking from fatigue and confusion. Most of the crowd had dispersed, but a few curious Izzet onlookers remained.

“Where is he?” Del asked, sweating and half-collapsed. “Where is Niv-Mizzet?”

“Didn’t you hear?” Chemister Kernik answered. “He had to cancel. But he said another dragon would come and to give her this.” Kernik handed Del a folded parchment and shrugged before walking idly off the outdoor stage, saving his findings on weirds for a presentation for another time.

Del opened the letter. “Admirable research and passion, my epigone, but you are still just a dragon, and I am the Firemind.”

Phew! That was a lot of work but quite a bit of fun. I hope you enjoyed the glimpses into a few new (but still unofficial and totally non-canon) Ravnica characters and four different ways to build a deck around Form of the Dragon. Let me know if you enjoyed it! It’s certainly not something possible for every week, but it is fun creating a little story and forming a neat deck at the same time.

If you’re into Magic fiction and want more, seriously, read The Secretist. If you want even more and you don’t mind it being unofficial, check out my stories about the planeswalker Cevian Father on my blog or in audio book podcast editionThe Etherium Curse will be out soon!

As for more weird deck-building and Johnny combos, come back next week for Rakdos week! Until next time, I’m Andrew saying, “And . . . yeah, there’ll be a Rakdos deck.”

Andrew Wilson
fissionessence at hotmail dot com