Hello everybody and welcome to another MTG lore guide! With Oozefest upon us, I thought it would be fitting to take a visit to the spookiest plane in the Magic story, this of course being Innistrad. Without further ado, let us jump into the lore of Innistrad!
One of Innistrad's most defining traits is its similarities with Gothic horror from the 18th and 19th century. Many of the cards are in reference to classic pieces of literature, such as the Grimoire of the Dead being the Magic equivalent of the Necronomicon, or Nevermore, which alludes to Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven". To go alongside these references, the plane consists of creatures you would tend to find in these writings, such as vampires, werewolves, zombies, demons, and other monstrosity.
One of the plane's most dominant creatures are the humans, who miraculously survive despite all odds being against them. The majority of these humans rally under the Church of Avacyn, an archangel who had protected them against all the monsters fighting for power. However, Avacyn has mysteriously disappeared and left the humans with no protectors besides themselves. Because of this, there are a few cults that form in hopes of seeking refuge from other stronger beings, such as the Skirsdag, who try to appease any demons they can discover.
Innistrad's moon is also a fairly important factor for the plane. The moon offers not only hope for the humans, but also brings misfortune depending on the type of moon visible. There are three main aspects of the moon that the humans have identified, these being the Harvest Moon, Hunter's Moon, and New Moon. The Harvest Moon results in the moon going from silver to orange/red, and it powers up the vampires. The Hunter's moon, which is Innistrad's winter, makes the werewolves stronger. Finally there is the New Moon, which is when the plane revitalizes itself. Because of this, it is seen as good luck to be born under the New Moon.
There are 4 main provinces on Innistrad, with much unexplored land within them, as well as a great ocean surrounding the continent.
- Gavony, the home of Innistrad's largest city, Thraben. As a result, it is the home to the main the Church of Avacyn as well.
- Kessig, a wooded province stuck in a perpetual autumn. It is known for having a large population of werewolves.
- Stensia, which is controlled by vampires and is the most mountainous of the 4 provinces.
- Nephalia, which consists of a lot of port towns. The residents of this province care about either business, secrets, or solitude.
Due to its roots in Gothic horror, the population consists mainly of humans, vampires, werewolves, demons, ghosts, and zombies. Of all these species, the most interesting are the werewolves and the zombies.
The werewolves on Innistrad, like those in horror stories, are humans afflicted with a lycanthropic curse that cause them to transform into werewolves during the night or when a certain mist is present. Because of this, the werewolves either live on their own or within packs. Of these packs, the notable ones are the Krallenhorde, the Mondronen, the Leeraug, and the Vildin. These are all led by an Alpha of the pack, who leads them on raids on villages and other activities.
As for the zombies on the plane, there are two main types, these being ghouls, who are the run-of-the-mill zombies, reanimated from graves to do the bidding of the necromancer, and then there are zombies more akin to Frankenstein's Monster, being more of an amalgamation of limbs stitched onto each other than a normal zombie. To reflect this, these types of zombies are blue instead as they are created in the pursuit of knowledge. In addition to that, many of them require creature cards to be exiled, representing bodies being stitched together to make amalgamations.
-A human alchemist who, due to his old age, tried to find a way to achieve everlasting life. He and his grandson, Sorin, are the first two vampires on Innistrad.
-A vampire planeswalker native to Innistrad. He protects the plane and makes sure that balance between the humans and the monsters is kept in check.
-An archangel that keeps watch over the plane in Sorin's absence. She was created by Sorin to help enforce the balance he desires.
-A saint who fought alongside angels to defeat the demons that were gaining power across the plane. Even after his death, he fights to help humans in whatever way possible.
-A demon lord who was worshiped by a cult. Before being sealed into a blade, he was able to kill Saint Traft as well as several of the angels fighting him.
-A demon lord who challenged Avacyn to a fight on top of the Helvault. He ends up sealing both himself and Avacyn within it.
-The Lunarch of the Church of Avacyn. He was the only one to know about her disappearance and decided to keep the reason hidden to the public.
-A human planeswalker from Dominaria. She is on Innistrad in order to hunt down a demon she had made a bargain for earlier in her life. She uses the power of the Chain Veil to manipulate and curse those around her.
-A human planeswalker from an unknown plane. He is hunting down Liliana Vess in order to remove the curse she had placed on him, which is slowly turning him into a apex predator that craves the hunt of others.
Gisa and Geralf Cecani
-Gisa and Geralf are both necromancers, with Gisa raising them from their graves while Geralf is more of a mad scientist, stitching them together. They have a sibling rivalry that leads to them amounting a zombie army.
-A human Cathar who's duty is to protect the Helvault, a holy relic of the Church of Avacyn, unbeknownst to what it contains.
Sigarda, Bruna, and Gisela
-Three angels that are treated like sisters to Avacyn. Together, the four of them keep the plane safe and fight to help keep the humans safe.
-A kor planeswalker from Zendikar. She felt betrayed by Sorin and has decided to retaliate by going to his home plane and causing as much damage as he dealt to hers.
-The last Eldrazi Titan to have a physical form. She is able to twist any organic matter, as well as showing the ability to possess people and distort gravity.
-A group of planeswalkers consisting of Chandra, Nissa, Jace, and Gideon. They have taken an oath to help protect the multiverse from danger, which has led them to Innistrad.
-A moonfolk planeswalker from Kamigawa. She travels the multiverse with the goal of learning and writing down as much information as possible. She was attracted to Innistrad due to its silver moon.
Events on the Plane
The first important event on the plane of Innistrad was the birth of the vampires thousands of years ago. This was due to Edgar Markov trying to find a source of everlasting life, to no prevail. This was until he met with a demon known as Shilgenger, who had convinced Edgar to start practicing sanguimancy. While this did give him immortality, it also caused a noticeable dent in Innistrad's population. When he finally got around to giving the same treatment to his grandson Sorin, it was traumatic enough to cause his spark to ignite, turning him into the planeswalker we know today.
For hundreds of years, the plane was left unchecked, allowing the population of vampires to increase while human population slowly dwindled down. This would change when Sorin Markov came back to the plane and realized what his grandfather had done to it. Feeling like the blood was also on his hands, he decided to become the plane's guardian, making sure that balance is kept between the races. To help him with this, he created Avacyn, an archangel to act as the plane's arbiter. Sorin eventually would leave the plane again, leaving Avacyn in charge of keeping the plane safe. One of main ways Avacyn would keep these demons in check is with her staff, which she can use to banish demons to a prison known as the Helvault.
The angels of the plane would occasionally fight alongside notable humans, one of these being Traft, whose exploits had become famous in the plane. This led to becoming a saint before he turned 40. One day when returning to his cottage, he received a threat from a demon, as well as a girl's finger. The threat simply said come to the Needle's Eye without the help of Angels or we will send the rest of the girl here. He did as he was told and stumbled upon a cult, which he then tried to stop. Unfortunately, this had all been a ploy to get him to spill the blood of innocents, which allowed Withengar to be fully summoned and eventually, kill both Saint Traft and a few of the Angels who had quickly come to his prayer. Eventually they were able to seal Withengar, but not without several casualties. In his death, Saint Traft became a geist and still fights on the behalf of humans despite being weaker spiritually.
Thousands of years passed with balance being in check until recently, when a a demon named Griselbrand emerged. He stood on top of the Helvault and challenged Avacyn to a duel. For days the two would fight each other, with no witnesses except the elites of the church, like Lunarch Mikaeus. With her last remaining energy, she used her staff to banish Griselbrand into the Helvault. Before he was sent away, Griselbrand threw a spear, piercing Avacyn and causing her spell to be muddled, banishing herself into the vault with him.
With Avacyn's disappearance, the world would soon devolve into chaos once again. Mikaeus knew this, but being the head of the Church of Avacyn, he could not simply tell the citizens that their protector had been banished. This was because their faith in Avacyn would still be able to protect them, as it would provide power.
Around this time is also when Liliana Vess had come to the plane, seeking Griselbrand, who she had signed a deal with earlier on in life. In order to become free from them, Liliana has been traversing the multiverse killing the demons she had made a pact with. With her came Garruk Wildspeaker, who had recently become cursed by an artifact known as the Chain Veil, which Liliana had used against him. This led to Garruk hunting down Liliana before the curse would afflict him too much, transforming him into a demon.
While running away from Garruk, Liliana summoned enough ghouls to slow him down. When he finally cleared them all out, he had long lost Liliana's trail. By this time, his mind was completely gone, wandering in circles and screaming, then subsequently murdering anything that had come across his path.
While this feud between the planeswalkers raged on, Gisa and Geralf Cecani decided to put their own hatred for each other aside and instead lay siege on Thraben. The city experienced a ton of losses, with the notable ones being Mikaeus, and Lothar, the Guardian of Thraben. The latter was then replaced with Thalia, who had survived and eventually won the siege for the city. Before his passing, Lothar told Thalia all about the Helvault and of how important it is to protect. However, she was not told the truth about how it sealed Avacyn as Mikaeus took that secret to the grave.
Despite the secret dying with Mikaeus, being dead means very little on Innistrad as Liliana soon tracked down his body and brought him back to life as she found out that Mikaeus was the only person to know where Griselbrand is. After reviving Mikaeus and finding out that Griselbrand was locked in the Helvault, she started to plot about how to free her demon master. As she would not be able to break the rock herself, she had to find some other way to smash it.
The plan she eventually came to was to lay siege to the Helvault, forcing Thalia and her soldiers to protect it. From there, she would blackmail her with the lives of her own soldiers. Due to her valuing the lives of her men, she agreed to break the Helvault, freeing all the demons that Avacyn had imprisoned, as well as the angel itself. From then the remaining soldiers, as well as the help of the rest of the Angels, fought to defeat all the demons that were unleashed.
With Avacyn back from the Helvault, the holy magic of the plane was revitalized, allowing the angels and humans to defeat all of the demons that had also escaped, including Griselbrand. With her former master defeated, Liliana had left the plane. Avacyn's return had also purified a lot of the curses that had afflicted the plane, including the curse of the Chain Veil that had afflicted Garruk, although it was only a temporary fix to his ailment. She unleashed a powerful spell that would purify the ailments of the citizens of Innistrad, creating what is known as the Cursemute.
However, the peace on Innistrad would only last a year before some type of trouble would start to stir again. Something important to note about Avacyn is that she hears every prayer on the plane, and they all have the power of affecting her. One of these prayers was from an outcast named Kelse, who had lost her son in the forest. Avacyn came to the rescue, but had a vision of Nahiri on the plane, putting together a temple calling a powerful being to the plane, which started to whisper in her ear, telling her that humankind was corrupt. When Avacyn finally brought back Kelse's son, she scolded the child, giving an example of humans being corrupt.
Over the next couple of months, Avacyn's disdain for humans would become more present in her. She had visited Sigarda's house with Bruna and Gisela, where they had a meeting about what to do with the pestering humans. Avacyn advocated genocide of the humans, with Bruna and Gisela, who had also been hearing the whispers, almost immediately agreed with her. Sigarda did not believe that would be the best case, which caused the three to threaten her to agree. Avacyn and a flight of angels would soon return to the village to burn it to the ground.
Sorin could sense something was wrong and had returned to the plane. When he finally came across Avacyn, she did not recognize him, telling him to stand down or perish. When told that he was her creator, Avacyn's madness subdued temporarily, realizing what she had been doing and realizing that she had become the thing she swore to destroy. This caused her to be angry at Sorin, but she was unable to fight her creator until the madness consumed her once again. She started to fight Sorin but to no prevail, as the vampire planeswalker soon overpowered her, unraveling the spell used to summon her.
Even with Avacyn gone, this would not stop the whispers the other angels were hearing from the moon. Using the help of the temple she had constructed earlier, Nahiri was able to call Emrakul into the world, who has been the source of all madness spreading through the plane. With Emrakul finally on the plane, she was able to mutate, meld, and control the residents of the plane to do whatever she wished. This results in abominations running around, killing the few unaffected by whispers.
With all hope lost, the few remaining sane people had to band together and hope for someone to save them. Thalia, who for leaving the corrupt Church of Avacyn was branded as a heretic, and Sigarda, were the ones leading those still sane. Luckily for them, the Gatewatch had just finished cleaning up Zendikar and had hunted down Emrakul to Innistrad. While the outlook for the plane still looked grim, there was still some hope with the 4 planeswalkers coming to protect the plane.
Unfortunately, the Gatewatch would not be able to defeat Emrakul, who was still only becoming stronger as the battle raged on. However, Liliana had returned to the plane and with some coaxing from Jace, joined the Gatewatch, swearing to do whatever is in her power to keep Innistrad safe. This led to her tapping into the power of the Chain Veil, creating a horde of zombies to slow down the ever-looming threat while Jace worked with another planeswalker, Tamiyo, to find a more permanent solution.
While the planeswalkers dealt with the Eldrazi Titan, Thalia and Sigarda focused on keeping the remaining sane people safe. Thalia made a new church known as the Order of Saint Traft, who with the help of a few other powerful factions on the plane, waged war against Brisela, the amalgamation of Bruna and Gisela. With Traft's spirit by their side, they were able to defeat the former angel sisters and put them out of their misery.
Despite Brisela being defeated, the only major threat left was with Emrakul. However, unlike the other Eldrazi Titans, Emrakul was too powerful to be beaten. Due to Innistrad's moon being made of the same material as the Helvault, Tamiyo devised a plan to imprison her in the moon. She took out a scroll and used it to seal the Titan into the silver moon.
Later on when Jace and Tamiyo were alone, she told him that the spell cast from the scroll was not what was written on the scroll, and that she was possessed to cast the spell. This means that Emrakul ultimately sealed herself in the moon, after telling Tamiyo that she "didn't want to play anymore" and "it was not her time, not yet".
Despite conflict being omnipresent in both the Innistrad blocks, there are still plenty of smaller side stories told in the sets that flesh out the plane more than the main story can ever accomplish.
Gisa and Geralf
Gisa and Geralf have a very harsh case of sibling rivalry, stemming on them believing in different ways of reanimating zombies. The two of them were exiled early on in their lives, yet instead of teaming up to survive the harsh world, they instead decided to fight each other. This resulted in them planning a war against each other, which became known as NecroWarfare. In a letter sent to Gisa, Geralf established his rules he called The Five Laws of NecroWarfare. These rules consist of
- No spontaneous awakenings.
- No luring, killing, and raising of bystanders or livestock.
- Combatants face off at a predetermined place and time.
- Combatants must have at least three limbs to play.
- Headquarters are off-limits.
Gisa responded by sending a letter saying she was not going to follow the rules to the dismay of her brother. To get back at her, Geralf decided to name one of his zombies after her face, calling him Grimgrin, saying that she looked a lot like the stitched together zombie.
The Metamorphosis of the Fly
One of more subtle stories told in Innistrad follows along a human wizard, who becomes too curious with experimenting and writes his findings in a journal. Eventually, he ran out of test subjects and with nothing left to experiment on, he resorts to testing on himself, turning himself into a human insect abomination. However, his testing did not stop here, claiming that "metamorphosis is a process". He mutates himself more, becoming an insect horror and breaking out of his laboratory, leaving his journal for others to find later on. This does not stop him from experimenting, or rather sharing his experimentation with the rest of the world. He now goes on kidnapping other wizards and transforming them into insects to do his bidding.
The Gitrog Monster
In the highlands of Nephalia there was a lake called Lake Zhava, which was home for an enormous frog. When Emrakul's presence became more prominent on the plane, the frog started to mutate, becoming larger as well as more grotesque. Looking into the frog's eyes would hypnotize the person into doing whatever the frog wishes, including killing their best friends. As madness spread through the plane, some villages started to worship this frog horror monstrosity, feeding it sacrifices in hopes it would keep the frog happy. At first the sacrifices only consisted of sheep, but eventually the villages ran out of sheep. Since the frog needed to be appeased, the humans resorted to sacrificing each other in hopes of keeping the frog happy. Eventually all of the villages surrounding the lake were empty, as all the villagers had been consumed by the frog.
One of my favorite planes (Next Ravnica and Lorwyn). Always loved the MTG story but it varies plane by plane. The overarching one can be fun with NicolBolas trying to become a god (or even greater) or these mysterious Eldrazi that just showed up and started devouring worlds. Heck all the way back to the Phyrexians, I just love MTG villains! Sadly I stopped playing, it was so expensive and those I played with mostly moved away. Still I follow the story and have enjoyed it. Can't wait to see what's next.
Mirrodin and the Phyrexians are easily my favorite stories in all of MTG's lore. Literally every bit of lore in the plane is amazing to me and I'm dying for a return to set to give a reason to cover the lore of the plane. The Nicol Bolas arc started off great but started falling down towards the end of it, especially with what Weisman did to it.
I can totally understand quitting the game because of the price, especially recently with so many sets featuring pushed cards that you have to get to stay competitive. You might be able to find a playgroup that won't mind you using proxies if you search.
Also, Lorwyn and Ravnica are both amazing planes as well! Lorwyn is without a doubt my 2nd favorite plane (since nothing is beating Mirrodin) and I want to return to it asap as well.
I was never competitive. Few FNM and that's about it. I left around Theros (which that plane sounded cool) but just didn't have a group. So why buy if I can't play. I read up on new sets and cards so I can play if I am ever in a spot to though.
Nicol Bolas' final plan, syphoning the sparks of other walkers, felt really cool. I didn't read the entire story but I loved his endgame. Real fun idea. Wonder where they go or if they let him fade a bit.
With Innistrad too, the Eldrazi getting trapped in the moon because it wanted too! That's an amazing point to come back to. Can't wait to see that continue.
The Wizard tribe is pretty weak in Standard... but I would love Docent of Perfection to play around with. I like the transform ability and maybe the ability to crank out wizard tokens and a tribal buff would make it better.
Amazing job Echo :) I like this story for its creative twist on the genre -- who would have guessed that a vampire was a good guy and created an angle?-- and for the fun of just having an entire world fit this theme. I'm happy to finally start understanding some of the lore of MTG, or at least one of the worlds in its multiverse. One thing I'm not sure of is who these titans and gatewatch people are. Have you written about them yet and I haven't found it, or is this something to be sill covered?
Glad you enjoyed it!
As for covering the Eldrazi Titans and the members of the Gatewatch, both play prominent roles in Zendikar's lore, and given that I've written a lore guide for that plane, you can read up a bit more about them. Issue with the Gatewatch is that it's a group of planeswalkers that all have a rich backstory before they come together as a team, which is something that I would never really get around to doing unless I completely cover the character in a guide of their own. As for the Eldrazi, we know very little about them despite the fact they are a fan favorite creature type as well as prominent villains.
That being said, I will probably continue the Gatewatch Arc given that it's the most recent overarching story and establishes a ton of reoccurring characters, as well as being a great segue into the future magic story line when they finally announce Return to Phyrexia (which if they don't do soon then I'm very upset).
Cool lore dump. MtG was always weird to me because I liked the lore but hated all the books I read. Something about it felt very detached in it's story telling. I only tried 2 books but both were bad enough to put me off more than wiki articles since.
Yeah, Magic has some amazing lore, it's just always a pain when it comes to actually find it since it feels like WotC goes out of their way to make it hard to decipher it. They've done books in the past, they have these 'story spotlight cards', which are cards specifically designed to tell you apart of the story, and then they just started doing articles online, which is probably the best form.
For a little behind the scenes on this article, I knew the basics of Innistrad's story for the first block (this being everything leading up to Avacyn going insane), yet I wanted to still dig around to see if I could find any more details. This led me to spend 3-4 hours digging around in WotC's article archive trying to find all the relevant articles, which is frankly pretty stupid, especially when it is for probably the 2nd most popular plane in the history of the game, which you'd expect information to be readily acceptable for.
However, part of me also likes how difficult the lore is to find since it makes finding the smaller stories all the better. Things like the Delver of Secrets subplot, the Tuktuk one from Zendikar, and the recently made Toggo are all cases of great world-building that since it is so easy to overlook, it makes finding them feel special.
Oh and some of the books are actually pretty decent as well, though the recent ones have been somewhat questionable for sure. Greg Weisman did a pretty good job of making the entire Nicol Bolas arc end awfully.
Well thank you for your work! I really enjoyed the article. To date myself a little bit I read a few books back in the Onslaught cycle. The Phage story arch seemed really freakin' cool in short bursts but I found the books to be almost like reading a Wiki with an absurd amount of filler and jilted dialogue.
Seeing as Innistrad released on the 30th of September 2011, I can safely say that Liliana Vess is definitely in reference to Lilian Voss.
MTGA/Hearthstone cross over! Wahooo! :D
Liliana also existed before Innistrad, coming from a set from 2007. I remember when KFT came out and I saw Voss be revealed, I got really curious because there's no way that the two's names being so close is a coincidence. Surprisingly enough, the names are completely coincidental and have nothing to do with each other despite being so similar to each other.
Ah thanks for the clarification @Echo :D
Being a non-MTG player, this lore article about Innistrad was really interesting. Could also spot some hidden answers to the MTGA trick or treat clues for Oozefest :D Nicely done!
Wow! Nice and extensive guide :)