Pattern Recognition #75 - The History of Ravnica
12 July 2018
12 July 2018
Hello everyone! I am berryjon, your resident Old Fogey. Welcome back to Pattern Recognition, Tappedout.net's most regular article series - barring the occasional week off for work or just because I'm out of energy. I endeavor to provide insightful, thought provoking and educational material for you all. Or at least a convenient target for all of you to aim your Cyclonic Rifts at.
In terms of length of history, Ravnica is the second oldest Plane in the multiverse. Its age is only exceeded by the story of Dominaria, and it is in turn followed by Kamigawa's history.
The story of Ravnica begins a little over ten thousand years previous to the current state of the story. The Plane of Ravnica was one of war and bloodshed, full of many races and many terrains. In other words, it was a generic fantasy setting.
Seeing this state of affairs, the then-Planeswalker, Azor, the Lawbringer, convened a gathering of the ten most powerful organizations on Ravnica. He explained to them that the situation that they found themselves in was unsustainable. Eventually, everything would fall to ruin and no one would get what they wanted. He proposed that these ten groups join together in what he called The Guildpact, a magically binding contract that would be enforced by the collective existence of the ten participants, and would act as a means by which they could all survive each other.
There was much arguing about it. The guilds less inclined to law and order - the Gruul and the Rakdos especially, objected to the idea of being under a 'contract', but Azor's logic and reasoning won out. He wasn't doing this to cut them out and off from the future of Ravnica, but rather to make sure they were included.
Each of the ten representatives, called the Paruns, argued, negotiated and eventually reached an acceptable compromise for the proposed pact. Each group, to be called a 'Guild', would have exclusive domain over certain aspects of society, while still able to compete with the other guilds in certain areas. Azor recognized this as necessary for the well being of the guilds. As much as he would have liked to make sure everyone had their little cubbies and stayed in them, this was the best he could get. Azor was arrogant, not stupid.
However, during these negotiations, Szadek, Lord of Secrets made a request that seemed minor at the time, and one that was quickly agreed to, but would later pave the way for the downfall of the Guildpact. He asked, as a minor concession, that his group, the Dimir, not be named in the Guildpact. No one would admit to their existence, and there would be no record of them being part of the pact. He would still sign it, naturally, but for his House, secrecy was vital, or so he put it. It would be counterproductive to have their name and sigil plastered everywhere with everyone else's.
He got this concession, and he too signed the Guildpact.
With these ten Guilds now united, they were able to remove all the other competition from Ravnica, absorbing or destroying them in the process. Some, like the Merfolk, simply retreated from the world at large, preferring to do their own thing.
Every year, the citizens of Ravnica would celebrate the signing of the Guildpact, proof of the peace they now enjoyed.
Over time though, several things happened. It wasn't sudden, but they did add up. First, was that Azor left Ravnica behind. Feeling his duties on Ravnica were complete, and that his guild, the Azorious, were up to the task of maintianing the law of Ravnica - including the Guildpact itself, he set off in search of other places in need of his touch to bring law and order to.
Second was that the capital city of Ravnica, the city of the same name, kept expanding. Peace meant prosperity, which meant population growth. This drive toward urbanization started to marginalize groups like the Gruul, who were tasked with protecting the wildlands of the world of Ravnica. They, unlike the Selesnya, adapted poorly to the changing paradigm, but they were sill members in good standing of the Guildpact, so they could not be destroyed.
Others, like the Boros and the Azorious, grew in response to the growth of the city, each finding their reach expanding as time went on.
Some, like the Golgari and the Simic, just shrugged their shoulders and went about their day to day business as usual.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, was something that no one could have predicted or prepared for. Something that would affect the whole of Ravnica, but not matter one bit to it.
I've mentioned in my article about Phrexia, but this bears repeating. When he ascended to Planeswalker, Urza detonated the Cylex, Urza's Ruinous Blast. This, as I like to put it, rang Dominaria like a bell. But bells make noise. They do not ring in the void. The force of the damage done to Dominaria not only plunged the plane into an Ice Age within the Shard of Twelve Worlds, it also affected many other planes across the multiverse.
Including Ravnica. As a side effect of the Cylex Blast, Ravnica was trapped within its own self-contained bubble in the Multiverse. Whether this was a protective measure brought about by the power of the Guildpact, or something more natural, we'll never know. What is known was that Ravnica became selfcontained, and most importantly, self-sufficient where mana was concerned. The only blemish to this sphere was a small 'blister' that acted as a trap for the spirits of Ravnica, meaning that ghosts became a part of everyday life.
However, this bubble also had the effect of preventing Planeswalkers from entering or leaving Ravnica. There would be no way to get anything in or out of Ravnica. Ever.
And so it goes. Life went on. The Guilds squabbled and vied for power. The Azorious paid an exorbitant sum to ensure that in all representations of the Guilds icons, that theirs would be first. The Boros tried to keep everyone in line. The Golgari knew that everyone died eventually while the Orzhov tried to buy the bodies and souls of everyone while the Gruul and the Rakdos fought like a Wrecking Ball or made simple due by Wreaking Havoc to keep themselves relevant.
And every year, the people of Ravnica set aside their differences to celebrate the signing of the Guildpact.
Until the Decamillenia celebration.
This was a party to end all parties. The 10,000th year of the Guildpact.
On the streets of Ravnica, Agrus Kos, Wojek Veteran held a lonely vigil. A lifetime of service to the Boros was marred by mistake after mistake, or so he thought. He had his successes too. He was a known and trusted figure on the streets, and he earned the friendship of Feather, a Firemane Angel and one of the first generation of Angels on Ravnica, who had survived since the founding of the Boros.
In the events leading up to the Decamillenia Celebration, Agrus Kos was asked to train a new member of the Wojek, one Bell Borca. However, instead of training him as a partner before releasing him to his own devices, Agrus learned that Bell was to be his replacement. After over fifty years on the streets, he was being forced upstairs and into a desk job. After all, he was over 100 years old.
During this training though, Agrus and Bell investigated rumors of a Rakdos Carnarium being established on the grounds of a series of Orzhov buildings that were scheduled to be demolished by the Gruul to make way for something new. During the course of this investigation, Bell was killed, having discovered something he shouldn't have.
In the finest traditions of Noir, Agrus Kos was ordered by his Wojek superiors to drop his personal investigation into the death of Bell, and instead prepare for the Decamillenia. But he didn't, working on his own time, and with the covert assistance of Feather to further his desire to know who killed his final partner and why.
His investigation led him to the Selesnya Conclave, and the murder of Bayul, a high ranking member of the Conclave. There, he learned of the acts of the Golgari high priestess, the self-styled Savra, Queen of the Golgari and her lover, Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord (who wasn't a Lich at this time).
Jarad aided Agrus in his investigation, worried that Savra was being manipulated.
He was right.
Savra, under the control of Szadek, was working to subvert the leadership of multiple guilds. The Boros Wojek were subsumed by creatures called "Lupal"s, formed from a Mindleech Mass, the Golgari itself by removing the last of the Sisters of Stone Death, the Dimir thanks to the participation of Szadek, and most importantly, the Selesnya as Savra infiltrated that Guild, and worked to join the Chorus of the Conclave.
Despite the efforts of Jarad, Feather, Agrus, and the daughter of one of Agrus' early partners - Fonn Zunich, Savra joined the Conclave.
Then Szadek struck. He murdered Savra while she was part of the Conclave, using her death to reach into the Chorus, and strike down the controlling elemental - Mat'Selesnya. With the only other Parun capable of matching him force for force dead, he was free to finish breaking the Guildpact and ruling over Ravnica.
You see, his plan was simple and elegant at the same time. The Guildpact was built around the idea of there being Ten guilds. However, because of his subtle and innocuous request, the language of the Guildpact could never state that there were Ten Guilds, nor could it ever name all the guilds in once place. Through one little request, Szadek wrote the House Dimir out of the Guildpact while shaping its effects.
And because there was a 'missing' piece to the Guildpact, it wasn't as strong as it could have been. The Dimir could work within the framework of the Guildpact while ignoring it, and Szadek exploited this for all it was worth, waiting for an opportune moment to strike.
That moment was the Decamillenia, where the leaders of most of the guilds - including those he had subverted, would be in attendance. He could slay them all, Parun or not, and in doing so destroy the order of the Guildpact.
Jarad and Agrus snuck into the party, and when Szadek revealed himself, Jarad disrupted his control over the shapeshifters that replaced the heads of the Wojek. This meant that Agrus Kos was the seniormost official of the Boros present - for Razia, Boros Archangel was not in attendance.
Agrus Kos, using his Boros Signet as improvised knuckledusters, proceeded to beat Szadek to within an inch of his undead life in a moment of pure awesomeness. However, instead of finishing the job, Agrus publicly and openly, with no chance to hide it from anyone, arrests Szadek, head of the Guild Dimir, for murder, conspiracy and attempting to break the Guildpact. He also notes that he would like it if Szadek would resist arrest, indicating the Sigil still on his fist.
And in that moment, Szadek won. Being identified by the acting head of the Boros Wojeks - and by extension the whole Boros Guild - was against the clauses of the Guildpact. In making the arrest of the creature that signed that document, who hid in the halls of Duskmantle, House of Shadow, and who only emerged 10,000 years later, Agrus Kos broke the Guildpact.
Join me next time when I keep talking more about Ravnica's story. After all, you don't break a magical pact like the Guildpact, and get away with it, do you?
Until then, please consider donating to my Pattern Recognition Patreon. Yeah, I have a job, but more income is always better. I still have plans to do a audio Pattern Recognition at some point, or perhaps a Twitch stream. And you can bribe your way to the front of the line to have your questions, comments and observations answered!
Good summary, however Jarad and Savra were actually siblings, not lovers.
Also, the breaking of the Guildpact (this summary) is all just the first Ravnica novel. Did the events of Guildpact/Dissension have any important effects?
July 12, 2018 5:28 p.m.
Yeah, I forgot that Jarad and Savra weren't, as someone else put put, "Doing the Lannister". mea culpa. And yes, I'll be covering Guildpact, Dissension, Artificers, Secretist and the "Plot" of Return to Ravnica.