It’s astonishing to remember that Magic: the Gathering’s first foray into the Grecian myth inspired plane of Theros was six years ago… actually closer to seven, and for those of us who are interested in the lore and the ongoing narrative, there has been a lot crammed into that time! The formation of a new set of core-heroes, there war with the Eldrazi and Nicol Bolas, two of the biggest foes to threaten the multiverse, culminating in a war that resulted in some big, high profile deaths among the ranks of the Planeswalkers.
In all that time, we still don’t have a damn clue who or what Ashiok is, or what he/she is up to.
Also, I’ve seen references to Ashiok as male, or at least male pronouns so male pronouns is what I’ll be using, but still, let’s put that down as one of many markers that build upon the mystery of his identity and nature. There are no fixed points upon which to stand with the Nightmare Weaver, his face is a wisp of black vapour, pouring from between a pair of slender horns like a shroud, the lack of eyes making him inscrutable and disquieting. We do not know his plane of origin, but I’ve seen some solid support to the idea that he’s a former vizier of Amonkhet, his attire has similar designs, and his horns have a similar curve to God Pharaoh Bolas.
During the previous events of Theros, Ashiok managed to manipulate the particularly potent dreams of the polies (the people) and briefly created a god. He started wars, played puppetmaster to people in positions in power, and endeavoured to put the entire plane to sleep so that he could harvest their dreams forever. In a world where dreams can create deities, Ashiok is at his most powerful, which raises questions to his efforts in the War of the Spark, but presumably he simply answered the same call that summoned the others… actually, who’s the Wanderer- y’know what, that’ll take me too far off topic.
So, new Theros block, the land of the dead is “leaking” souls, following the return of a mysterious God of Destiny, Elspeth is also returning, a zombie planeswalker with a grudge against the gods. And Ashiok, he’s back, and appears to be better than ever. Having been rendered invisible to the gods, he’s free to pursue whatever machination he pleases, and I can damn-near guarantee that he’s got something to do with the return of the new god, and his affiliation – if not outright allegiance – with Phenax, the god of lies and his host of zombies, will no doubt be working in his favour somehow.
This looks like a mythological zombie apocalypse story, orchestrated by the god of lies, the real villain of the whole piece. That’s cool, undead centaurs, minotaurs, sirens, the works, it’s going to be great. But ultimately, there is a mystery that appeals profoundly to my sense of aesthetics, a creature that manipulates nightmares, it has no origin, and yet it has impossible power to manipulate minds and it toys with the motives of gods, all with a faint and disquieting smile. I like mindscapes, and the creatures that haunt them, I like the idea that belief creates gods – it’s the Pratchett fan in me – and I like blue/black mana decks. Ashiok is my kind of mystery, and I look forward to knowing more.
A brief moment of conjecture before I wrap this article up. I suspect that Ashiok is building a weapon, a new mega-horror like an Eldrazi but totally under his control that he can take home and seek revenge against… something. If he did come from Amonkhet it may be that he wants the world brought under his control and the remaining gods wiped from his path, but there are other planes, many others, and there are a handful that have been hinted at in a few post-war releases.
And a lot of Planeswalkers died recently, leaving the multiverse highly vulnerable, the Gatewatch is shattered and picking up their own pieces, Elspeth is going to have some personal stuff to deal with by the looks of things, confronting her own death and a few of her old Phyrexian demons… but there’s someone back in the picture with experience and talent for killing planeswalkers. And he’ll probably be keen to get into a fight with anyone screwing with people’s minds.