fallen-empires

Remixed Empires

Twenty-two years ago, this month, Fallen Empires was released. While the set was plagued by overprinting issues, it contained a number of iconic cards (High Tide and Hymn to Tourach, for example) and solidified a number of design trends that still exist today (tribal, tokens, untargetable creatures). Fallen Empires is best remembered for its flavor, however: the tragic story of the continent of Sarpadia’s collapse right before Dominaria’s ice age.

While Wizards has no interest in “remake” sets, I always thought that such a product would be an interesting option as a mid-year supplemental set. Fallen Empires would be a great subject for such an experiment. It has deep lore and interesting cards that form the foundation of what could be a great set with modern design principles. Today’s article is going to talk about how I would go about remaking one of my favorite Magic stories as a standalone (draftable!) booster product.

The Empires of Sarpadia

High Tide by Anson Maddocks

Fallen Empires tells the story of five mighty empires and the events that lead to their downfall. Sarpadia is a remote continent on Dominaria, so little that happened elsewhere on the plane affected these empires. Here’s the only backstory you need to know: the Brothers’ War ended with Urza activating a devastating weapon that altered the plane’s climate and began sinking it into an ice age.

Otherwise, each empire was done in by a conflict within another faction of the same color. Surprisingly, that theme has never really been revisited in Magic. Here are the five conflicts that shook Sarparia:

  • White: The Icatians were a network of cities united by the Order of Leitbur, and organization seeking peace from a figure known as The Hand of Justice. The Order’s ineffectiveness at handling the increasing threats resulted in Oliver Farrel breaking away and forming an inquisition group known as the Farrelites.
  • Blue: The Voda Sea that surrounds Sarpadia was home to an empire of Merfolk, ruled by Galina III. The cooling climate enticed the Homarids, violent lobsterfolk, out of the deep sea. The two races clashed, but the Merfolk were overwhelmed by the invaders.
  • Black: The Order of the Ebon Hand was a cult that worshipped a being known as the Ebon Praetor. They were at war with Icatia, breeding a servant-race of Thrulls to assist them in rituals and battles alike. The Thrulls evolved rapidly, however, quickly overthrowing their dark masters and overrunning all of Sarpadia.
  • Red: The Crimson Peaks were the home of the Dwarves, who built city-states across the mountains of Sarpadia. They were the victims of numerous raids by Goblins and Orcs (then basically considered the same kind of creature). The Dwarven empire fell to these raiding parties when their only ally, a mercenary from the Order of the Ebon Hand, betrayed them.
  • Green: Climate change strained the Havenwood Elves’ food production, so Thelon created a race of fungal food sources known as Thallids. The Elves were split on the ethical implications of this system, but political feuds mattered little when the Thallids savagely rebelled.

While little of Sarpadia was heard from again, the set did produce one notable character: the planeswalker Tevesh Szat. Quite a rude dude, Tevesh Szat ended up joining Urza’s fight against the Phyrexians. He then betrayed the artificer and ended up dying in order to activate the devastating soul bombs that left Phyrexia in ruins. A Fallen Empires remake set would be the perfect place to print a Tevesh Szat planeswalker card.

Crumbling Colors

Hymn to Tourach by Liz Danforth

A big part about remaking an old set would be updating the design principles to the modern era. At their core, every set is built to support limited archetypes at common. One of the ways sets do this is by hammering out ten two-color decks that might appear in a set. Conveniently, Fallen Empires has ten different factions.

While the original set kept the conflicts in single colors, I think it would be neat to match each faction to a different two-color pair. The conflicts remain intact because the opposing factions will still share that color.

This is a little tricky to line up, but here’s how I would go about doing it:

  • Order of Leitbur – White/Blue – The Icatians are led by an organization seeking peace and justice through law and order. While the Order of Leitbur has a bit more martial power, it is flavorfully similar to the Azorius Senate. Their downfall was their lack of flexibility, which also fits the White/Blue color pair.
  • Farrelites – Red/White – Angry, aggressive, and violent, the Farrelite forces are a perfect representation of the passionate “peacekeeping” that can be seen in Red/White. Many of the original Farrelite cards involved dealing damage (a color pie break), so the flavor is already there.
  • Vodalian Merfolk – Blue/Red – In Fallen Empires, the Merfolk had soldiers and knights and war machines. They were far more militarized than most Merfolk we’ve seen, and that kind of warring spirit can be realized by adding Red to their Blue flavor.
  • Homarids – Green/Blue – This isn’t me putting one of my favorite races into my favorite color pair; Homarids have a lot in common with Green in the modern color pie. From huge creatures to protection from spells, Homarids already play in the space where Green and Blue overlap. Given their brutal nature, Green is an ideal combination to show off their combat prowess.
  • Order of the Ebon Hand – Blue/Black – The other order is underhand, enlisting mercenaries, assassins, and other nefarious folks to do their bidding. They’re also rumored to share an origin with the Order of Leitbur, so both factions sharing a color is neat. Fallen Empires wasn’t built with two-color pairs in mind, so admittedly this one is a little more forced than the others.
  • Thrulls – White/Black – Thrulls originated in Black, but they appear in both White and Black on Ravnica. As a servant/minion race (depending on how much you respect them), they fit great into these colors. White is the number one token color, which can help the theme of Thrulls overrunning their masters and being sacrificed for rituals well.
  • Dwarves of the Crimson Peaks – Red/Green – This was kind of a process of elimination pick, as Red/White was clearly going to be the Farrelite color pair. We hardly see anything from the Dwarves in the original set, so there’s definitely flexibility here anyway. Connection with the land and promotion of life and make the Sarpadian Dwarves unique in Magic’s history. It also contrasts them with their enemies:
  • Goblins/Orcs – Black/Red – Both the Goblins and Orcs form raiding parties that ravage Dwarven, and later Icatian, lands. They live in caves and are as gross and foolish as any other Goblin race in Magic. They are brutally violent, fitting for the colors of destruction. Orcs skewed Black in the Khans of Tarkir block, differentiating them from the smaller Red Goblins. That trend could be repeated here and help Orcs out once again.
  • Havenwood Elves – Green/White – These Elves are farmers, and many of them value the Thallids as sentient living creatures. Those that think the funguses shouldn’t be eaten are the kind of peace-loving treehuggers that fit right into Green/White.
  • Thallids – Black/Green – Thelon created the Thallids using magic he learned from the Order of the Ebon Hand, so adding Black to them makes sense. Producing Saprolings from cards like Night Soil brings the graveyard into the mix too. Extra token creatures? Sacrifice outlets! Death! There are many directions this color pair could go.

Ten color pairs make limited archetypes possible in a set that would be drafted by itself. Each faction gets its own distinct identity, highlighting the conflicts that Fallen Empires was built around. It’s nice when numbers work out like that.

Empires Rise Again

Of course, Fallen Empires had other issues that could be rectified with a remake. The lack of flying, one of the most basic mechanics in the game, is an important one. Overall, I think it would be a neat product if it was ever released. I don’t think this is the kind of thing that Wizards would produce, but alternate realities are fun to think about sometimes.

If you could see an old set remade in the future, planeswalkers, which would it be?

  • The rest of the characters when Valkorion gets in their head: what the fuck fucking fuckery is this pls go away???
  • The Sith Inquisitor: honestly I don't even care anymore, wanna get in my head, fine, bring your whole family for all i care
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Lana Beniko is not amused.