For decades, Magic: The Gathering has built up characters and worlds for its expansions in all the little details—snippets of story in the “flavor text” on cards, to novels, and more regularly these days, online short fiction. But its next set, Dominaria, is taking Magic’s story back to the setting it started in 25 years ago with a new writer guiding its future.
io9 can exclusively confirm that speculative fiction writer Martha Wells—whose latest novel, All Systems Red: The Murderbot Diaries, is currently up for the 2018 Phillip K. Dick Award—will be the new head writer behind Magic: The Gathering’s 78th expansion since the legendary card game began in 1993. Wells will drive the fiction around the newest expansion, which marks not only the game’s 25th anniversary but also a major event in the Magic franchise.
Dominaria will bring players back to the original setting that kicked off Magic’s official storyline in 1998, for the first time players have returned to the plane since 2006's Time Spiral. Although Magic: The Gathering is now set in a shared multiverse of elemental planes—full of the powerful spellcasters known as “Planeswalkers” who could travel between them—the world of Dominaria itself is one of the most important locations in Magic’s storied lore, and “home” to many of the characters and creatures found in Magic’s earliest sets, until the storyline started branching out into new worlds in the franchise’s ever-growing multiverse in 2003.
We spoke to Wells to find out more about Magic’s long-awaited return to its original world, as well as what it’s like guiding the rich world behind the card game—check out our full interview below, as well as some gorgeous art from the expansion.
io9: What drew you to writing for Dominaria in the first place?
Martha Wells: I was approached by the MTG creative team about writing a set of stories for the fiction section of the website. I agreed because I’ve always loved the artwork and being able to write stories about the people and places depicted in it was exciting.
What’s your past relationship with the series like?
Wells: All of my gaming experience is in tabletop RPGs. Although I haven’t played the game, I’ve been a fan of the Magic artwork for a long time. I think I first became aware of it when I bought a print of Donato Giancola’s art for the card “Cartographer” in 2004.
When crafting the story for an expansion like Dominaria, where do you start?
Wells: The start of the process was getting more familiar with the world of Magic, particularly Dominaria, its history and the characters. I spent a lot of time looking at the Dominaria world guide, which is all the information the creative team has on the plane, including the environments and the history of all the different cultures. I also studied the art, existing characters’ backstories, and the previous installments of Magic Story. The creative team had already come up with an outline for the story so that it would fit in with the overall story arc. To make sure I got it right, I did at least four to five revisions of each story, each time working off of notes from the creative team.
Tell us a little bit about where fans will find Magic’s story going into Dominaria.
Wells: Dominaria’s story starts right after the events of Hour of Devastation. Gideon and Liliana have arrived on Dominaria following the Gatewatch’s defeat at the hands of Nicol Bolas. Together, they begin a mission to kill Belzenlok, the final demon holding Liliana’s contract. They get to see a lot of Dominaria in the process, which gives fans a look at how the plane has changed, and make some allies who may be familiar to longtime players.
What’s changed in Dominaria since fans last went there in Time Spiral?
Wells: Dominaria has started to recover from the Phyrexian invasion, though it’s left its mark on a lot of places and cultures. At the time the story starts, Dominaria is facing a new threat from the rise of the Cabal, which has been taken over by Belzenlok, and is now spreading across the world.
What do you think the biggest challenges are for creating a narrative that most fans will primarily experience outside of the game itself?
Wells: I’ve done tie-in fiction before, for Stargate: Atlantis and Star Wars, two worlds that I’m a huge fan of. The biggest challenge is to get the world and the characterization right, so the new material feels seamless.
What can you tell us about some of the familiar Magic heroes that we’ll see in Dominaria?
Wells: Besides the members of the Gatewatch—Gideon, Liliana, and Chandra—you’ll see Jhoira, Teferi, and Karn, plus a few others who make surprise appearances along the way. I don’t want to spoil too much!
You’re adding a new chapter to a story that’s been growing for two decades. What do you hope fans will take from your work on Dominaria?
Wells: I hope they enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it, and know how much the creative team loves these characters and their world.
Dominaria cards will hit shelves April 27. For more on the history of Magic: The Gathering’s story, you can find more fiction from previous expansions at the official Magic website.