temporal extent

The Nature of the MtG Multiverse

I’ve talked about how I have to essentially construct a coherent cosmology - as in a literal structure of the physical universe - if I do any amount of thinking about a fantasy world, and Magic is no exception. Magic presents a rather tricky case because the design of the game and the way Wizards releases it means that each new “universe” consists of a single essential location and a single distinct cultural flavor. This is fine to tell a story in, but it does it make it harder on my astronomically-inclined brain. With that in mind, here’s my take.

I imagine the Magic “multiverse” to be something closer to the shadows of the city of Amber in Zelazny’s books. The multiverse was originally a single full universe with a full extent in space (planets, stars, galaxies, etc.), but due to some unknown catastrophe - or possibly victory - it shattered into infinite pieces. Think what happened to Alara, but on a grand scale. This new multiverse has a limited spatial extent but an infinite “temporal” or “probabilistic” extent - that is, while each plane is of limited size (go too far and you’ll find yourself coming back in the other direction), together they comprise every single possible path that the original world could have evolved along, every single habitable world in the former universe. Every plane is a place that was/would have/could have existed in the old world, reflecting and branching ad infinitum. This explains why the same humanoid races with local variations tend to recur throughout the multiverse, why the same five colors of mana persist in every plane, and why planeswalkers exist. Dominaria is actually the largest remaining fragment of the world-that-was, giving it its privileged place as the Nexus of the multiverse and explaining why it’s a larger and more varied plane than others. Barren or void planes exist and in fact vastly outnumber planes that contain any matter at all, but like calls to like - the sentient spark attracts others of its kind, steering planeswalkers towards inhabited planes. 

Sentience is created by and simultaneously creates a connection to the plane of its origin; that is, each sentient being carries a tiny fragment of the world they were born in, and each world is linked to its inhabitants. This is also the channel that allows the manipulation of mana. Planeswalkers are beings born with a link to the fundamental ur-reality instead, the world-that-was, and the moment of “ignition” is more a moment of fathoming that essential and previously hidden interconnectedness of existence. It takes an incredibly powerful event to break down the mind far enough to shift such a fundamental aspect of perception, which is why ignition is a generally traumatic experience.

Original planeswalkers were able to manipulate the remnant pervasive strength of the world-that-was, giving them access to ridiculous amounts of mana and near-total power over their physical manifestation. Their core being no longer truly “walked” whatever plane they appeared to be on, but rather moved within that fundamental reality and cast a physical shadow, looking in to planes like someone looking in through the windows of a house. They couldn’t killed any more than you can kill someone outside by covering up the window they’re looking through.

However, the Mending made severe changes to Dominaria, and those changes rippled outwards throughout the multiverse, further fragmenting it. It dimmed the remnant pervasive strength of the world-that-was and fractured the connection to the previously transcendent planeswalkers. They still have the ability to ‘walk and to channel large amounts of mana, but can no longer access a near-infinite reserve, and their physical forms remain anchored in their immediate plane.

The Eldrazi are actually a belated consequence of the Mending. The Eldrazi titans are like shock waves or sonic booms, discontinuities in the stuff of the multiverse that result from the propagation of the changes in Dominaria to all subsequent planes. As the ripples move out through the multiverse they reflect, sharpen, interfere with each other, and the Eldrazi are born from those interactions. They appear utterly bizarre because their physical projections are the matter equivalent of static or white noise - random jumbled interference with no structure or meaning. They’re less creatures and more self-propagating patterns in the fabric of reality, transients created as the multiverse adjusts to a new equilibrium. They don’t really “hunger” for mana; they aren’t sentient (hence have no connection to any plane or any color of mana) and simply move forward in accordance with the motion of the fabric of reality. The Eldrazi drones are smaller secondary distortions cast outwards by the Eldrazi titans themselves. As they travel farther and farther away from the titans those transients die away into the fabric of the present plane, descending into creatures that become progressively closer to physical beasts.

Ugin, being an original planeswalker, understood the nature of the Eldrazi better than others because he could best fathom their connection to the world-that-was - original planeswalkers, if they retained their abilities, could meet the Eldrazi on their home turf and deal with them on more or less equal terms. The hedron network of Zendikar is essentially a giant mirror-cavity. Once the Eldrazi titans descended within it their noise-forms became trapped, echoing and reflecting endlessly between the shaped distortions created by the hedrons. But each echo still has some force, and the hedrons have worn thin over time, and the Eldrazi are battering their way out.

When the Eldrazi titans themselves move through a plane, they demolish it through sheer distortion of the multiverse, like ripples in a pond destroy a reflection in its surface. Eventually the Eldrazi will dissipate on their own as the multiverse equilibrates and settles down. After millions of years - if that idea even applies, because time is an odd and malleable quantity in the multiverse - the distorted chaos left in the wake of their passage through a plane would coalesce back into a new plane. None of which is much comfort to the current inhabitants, though.

That’s about all I’ve come up with so far. Further worldfluff as it occurs to me.