The column formerly and fondly known as Uncharted Realms has had its ups and downs. These short stories, or chapters in Magic’s storyline, range from outstanding to dismally unreadable. The best ones are real gems that should not be missed. If you haven’t been following Uncharted Realms for very long, then this is your chance to catch some of the greatest. If you have been reading them from the beginning like I have, then enjoy this stroll down memory lane!
Before we get started, a disclaimer: these rankings are entirely subjective. I will make my case for each spot, but ultimately it is just opinion, as it is impossible to quantify the quality of a piece of writing.
Bonds of Mortality | Chris Rallis
“Rather than the titans being pulled into Zendikar, it felt as if Zendikar were now inside the titans – or that, somehow, dimensionality had inverted, and now the outside of their enormous bodies was in every direction Chandra could see.”
I would guess that this will be the most controversial choice in the Top 8. On its own, it does not truly merit a spot; there are many other Uncharted Realms that are higher quality storytelling than this one. However, I believe this fully earns its spot due to how far above expectations it was. This plot point was one of the least liked of the entire Battle for Zendikar block prior to the release of this story. People were angry that Jace, Gideon, Nissa, and Chandra were all banding together to form the Gatewatch/Avengers, but they incredulous that this newly formed group of three humans and an elf could possibly kill not one but two of the most powerful beings in the multiverse: Kozilek and Ulamog. This flavor text did not bode well for the story: “As Gideon kept the brood lineages at bay, Chandra incinerated the bound Eldrazi titans.”
People did not have high hopes for this story. But when it was released, the community was pleasantly surprised. The choice to frame the event as Zendikar being pitted against the Eldrazi through Nissa then Chandra made it so much more believable, and the story was gripping and cinematic. Doug Beyer redeemed the plot point in this Uncharted Realms, and for that I believe he, and his work, deserve recognition.
Alesha, Who Smiles at Death | Anastasia Ovchinnikova
“The whole gathering of warriors shouted ‘Alesha!’ in reply. The warriors of the Mardu shouted her name. In that moment, if anyone had told her that in three years’ time she would be khan, she just might have dared to believe it.”
This story is action packed and full of meaning. Not only is the action well-paced and exciting, but it is the story of a transgender girl earning her identity in a society that would otherwise not accept her for who she knew she was. Alesha’s character struck a chord with a lot of players, making her Uncharted Realms an easy inclusion.
Ob Nixilis of the Black Oath | Daarken
“‘They had a word that meant ‘victory at any cost.’ Do you know what it was?’
‘Victory. The distinction is for lesser souls than ours.’”
Ob Nixilis is modern Magic’s most compelling villain. He sates his bloodlust with cold ruthlessness, likeable yet sickening in his level-headed insanity. Learning about the first of his many inter-planar, Caesarian exploits lets us know just how powerful and competent he is. Ob’s narration is as entertaining as it is unique, and Nik Davidson executes it brilliantly. He is sometimes matter-of-fact, sometimes philosophical, relishing everything about war, from the sounds to the pain, from hard-earned victory to unexpected loss. This Uncharted Realms is often overlooked, but it is easily one of the best.
#5: Comin’ Through!by Kelly Digges
Hot Soup | David Palumbo
“The minelayer sat in the middle of the trench. He bit his tongue in concentration as he used a trowel – clang! – to tamp down loose dirt. The mound of dirt barely covered a…
Was that a bomb? Yes – yes, it was. A fuse stuck out of the mound of dirt, burning down.
‘What… what are you doing?’ asked Fizz. She backed away.
‘Diggin’,’ said the minelayer. ‘Bombin’.’
‘In our own trenches?’
A shrug. ‘Gotta do it somewhere.’”
Ah, what a gem. This short adventure is a comedy like no other Uncharted Realms has ever even attempted to be. Goblins are stupid little buggers, but this story makes them endearing and very, very funny. The narrative style is simple, but it doesn’t overdo the silly goblin theme. For the most part, it reads like any other story, but with a healthy dose of hilarity. It grants us more insight into the world of Magic’s goblins, which is as intriguing as it is ridiculous. Do yourself a favor and read it if you haven’t already.
Meren of Clan Nel Toth | Mark Winters
“She watched as they made their way across the terrain, coming closer to her hidden perch. The earth-tone garb. The familiar shape of the weapons. A tingle ran down her spine. It’s been so long. It was all familiar yet foreign, things once intimate made strange by intervening years.”
I can say with 100% confidence that Michael Yichao is the best writer ever to grace Uncharted Realms. This story shows off his skills. It is follows Meren, a Jundian necromancer, as she wreaks vengeance upon the clan that left her for dead because her magic was foreign and unnatural to them. Yichao brings uncommon light to a Black-aligned character, making her motives sympathetic and her thoughts logical. The best part about this story, however, is the storytelling itself. The flashbacks are well-used and flow exquisitely. The narration is well done and engaging. Imagery and metaphor are employed to great effect. Meren’s character is fleshed out and believable for such a short piece. If only Yichao had written more!
#3: Khanfall, by Kelly Digges
Monastery Siege | Mark Winters
“’Kill me,’ he said. ‘Kill everyone who bears the mark of a dragon slayer, if you must. I offer you my life. But please, I beg you, as one teacher to another…spare my clan.’
Ojutai barked a stream of harsh Draconic syllables. An aven landed next to the dragon, wearing clothes Shu Yun didn’t recognize. The aven – Ojutai’s translator, it seemed – rendered the dragon’s speech into words:
‘The dragonlord agrees to your terms’”
This story has the unshakeable feeling of history as it takes us through the collapse of Tarkir’s civilization as we knew it. It is a revolution on a monumental scale: the Khans are subjugated or killed, and the Dragonlords reign supreme. This Uncharted Realms captures the plane-shaking events of the fall of the Khans so well it feels like a movie. It is a montage of societal overhaul that, if it weren’t for, well, the dragons, could be straight out of a historical docudrama. It isn’t the best piece of writing on this list, but the events in it are so momentous that it still deserves to be here.
Kruphix’s Insight | Igor Kieryluk
‘No, Child,’ said the oracle. ‘There is nothing. Nothing at all.’
She said nothing more, and Diantha took it for a dismissal. She turned away.
Behind her, the oracle stared out the window, past the city, past the horizon, as though gazing into an infinite distance.”
This is the only story on this list without any action whatsoever. It is a flashback to a conversation between Kruphix and one of his prophets. This isn’t just any conversation, however: it deals with some of the most fundamental questions of not only the Multiverse, but the Universe as well. It is well written and paced beautifully, almost poetically. It is a must read for any Magic player, regardless how interested they are in the storyline. An argument could be made for it being #1 on this list, and I am sure many people will argue just that. And while I obviously recognize that it is very good, it is not quite as good as…
#1: Sacrifice, by Michael Yichao
The Gitrog Monster | Jason Kang
“The Gitrog loomed over her, its girth taking up all her vision. It gazed down at her, its eyes two black, fathomless pits, empty of emotion, empty of thought. Mia stared into its eyes and saw…nothing. Wilbur was pulling her to her feet again, yelling something about running, but Mia couldn’t hear him. A low drone echoed in her skull, growing in volume, as she fell into the endless hole of the Gitrog’s gaze. She fell, tumbling through oozing shadows, fell through the crevices of her mind, collapsed through the membranes into the spongy slime of delirium, cocooned by a strange warmth seeping into her bones, and chasing away the pesky cold of doubt and fear and uncertainty. She knew, she knew everything now. She saw truth in its blackest form, the clarity of a thousand lifetimes compressed into one moment.”
Remember when I wished Michael Yichao had written more? Well as it turns out he did, and we are all better for it. This story is great. Its characters are engaging and well developed, it invokes the feeling of horror and delirium rampant on Innistrad, and it ends with a daring and well-done twist. This is just high-quality writing, a good stand-alone piece that I would recommend to anyone interested in the genre, Magic-playing or not. While it is not as relevant to the story as Kruphix’s Insight, it is anecdotal evidence of the crap happening on Innistrad of which we do not yet know the cause. The reason it takes the cake here is that it is the best piece of stand-alone writing ever to be part of the Uncharted Realms column. If that doesn’t warrant first place, I don’t know what does.
What do you think? Did you agree with my list? Let me know what you think in the comments or on Twitter @CalebYarbrough1. And be sure to stay tuned for more great content here on 5 Color Combo!