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
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.
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
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
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?