Magic: The Gathering—Who is Nicol Bolas?
If you or someone you know has talked about Magic: The Gathering in any capacity for the past couple years, you’ve probably heard the name Nicol Bolas thrown around. He’s been the big bad at the front and center of the story for a while now, having made a big appearance in the Hour of Devastation block back in July of 2017, but he’s been around much longer than that.
Nicol Bolas is an Elder Dragon.
He was born on the plane of Dominaria, home to many of Magic’s most prominent characters, such as Karn, Liliana Vess, Urza, and Jodah. Being an Elder Dragon, he was born from an Egg Stone which was shed from the wings of the Ur-Dragon. Nicol’s birth was unique because, unlike the other Elder Dragons born on that day, he was born with a twin, Ugin. Nicol and Ugin witnessed the death of Merrevia Sal, one of the other Elder Dragons, which helped shape their views on reality and the nature of life and death. The twins worked together for many years, but after convincing various factions of human Dragon Hunters to fight amongst themselves, Nicol Bolas then attempted to manipulate Ugin the way he had manipulated the humans.
The emotional turmoil of his twin’s treachery was the catalyst which ignited Ugin’s Planeswalker’s Spark.
The Elder Dragon War
The first significant, widespread conflict on the plane of Dominaria, thousands of years before the Thran Empire or the Brothers’ War, was the Elder Dragon War. The war had the various elder dragons, Nicol Bolas, Chromium Rhuell, Arcades Sabboth, Palladia-Mors, and others, fighting amongst themselves for control of Dominaria. Many of them commanded human armies, either through worship or fear. At the high point of the war, Nicol Bolas was winning with half of the plane under his claw, but was stopped from securing his total victory when the unexpected Ugin reappeared and prevented him from killing Arcades Sabboth.
The rage and envy he felt seeing his twin reappear and prevent his victory so easily was powerful enough to ignite his own planeswalker’s spark. The war was finally ended when Bolas planeswalked away, removing himself from the conflict.
The Battles On the Meditation Plane
After an unknown period of time, the twin brothers encountered each other upon the Meditation Plane, a unique plane in the multiverse that has strong connections other planes across the vast distance between them, referenced as the Blind Eternities. Here, the brothers fought for years, traveling between the Meditation Plane and others, before Bolas managed to kill his brother Ugin. Ugin’s body was flung into the oceans of the Meditation Plane, sending waves outward that broke into the Blind Eternities. The waves sent Bolas through hundreds of planes until he found himself back in Dominaria, on the Island chain of Madara.
Forming the Talon Gates and the First Rift
When Bolas found himself on the Madara, he was thrust into battle against another Planeswalker, a powerful demonic leviathan. They battled for a month, but bolas arose victorious, and devoured the leviathan to gain its power. Their battle destroyed 2/3rds of Marada, but also left Bolas with his finest trophy, the Talon Gates, a place he would visit often to revel in his victory. This was also the location of the first Temporal Rift, a major point that would come to threaten all of reality thousands of years later.
Tarkir, Ixalan, and the Immortal Sun’s Creation
Growing further in power, the Elder Dragon gained the ire of a powerful Sphynx planeswalker, Azor. Azor and a newly reborn Ugin devised a plan to trap Bolas on the plane of Ixalan. Ugin and Azor took Azor’s planeswalker spark and used it to create the Immortal Sun, a powerful artifact which essentially locked a plane, preventing planeswalking to and from it. They intended to trap Bolas on Ixalan, and then Ugin would use a powerful spell to remove Bolas from all realities. Bolas learned of this plan, and traveled to the plane of Tarkir to defeat Ugin again. Yasova Dragonclaw, the Khan of the Temur, aided Bolas in finding Ugin and wounding him so badly it almost killed him.
Unknown to Bolas, the planeswalker Sarkhan Vol travelled back to this battle and saved Ugin with a Hedron, artifacts created by Ugin to contain the Eldrazi on Zendikar. Bolas would, many years later, visit Ugin’s grave, but he would not pay heed to the Hedrons, and remained convinced that Ugin had fallen. He then attempted to exert his power over Yasova’s then granddaughters, Naiba and Baishya, but Yasova tricked Bolas into believing that the Immortal Sun was targeting Ugin’s Grave, which made him flee Tarkir lest he become trapped there.
The Madaran Empire
Somewhere along the line, the Madaran Temporal Rift became metaphysically connected to Bolas so totally that it prevented him from physically manifesting on Dominaria unless he managed to anchor himself to local mana lines. If he failed to do so, his presence would shatter the planar foundation of Dominaria.
Madara itself was luckily an intersection point of Black, Blue, and Red mana lines. Bolas chose to murder the Empress of Madara and then built an Imperial Shrine on the focal point, which would house him for 400 years as the God-Emperor of Madara. His rule would only end when he was challenged by the immensely clever Tetsuo Umezawa. Tetsuo was the Madaran Imperial Champion, one of Bolas’s three Imperial officers. The other officers were the Imperial Assassin and the High General of the Hido Tsurai Kentsu (The Emperor’s Terrible, Dolorus Fist).
The Imperial Assassin, Ramses Overdark, was far too ambitious, and managed to replace High General Marhault Elsdragon during an uprising on some of the islands, where his second in command, Jorgan Hage, killed him and took control of the Kentsu. Overdark’s remaining rival was Tetsuo, but Bolas, impressed by Overdark’s tenacity and ambition, chose to change the imperial system. The three offices would be condensed into one Imperial Regent: Ramses Overdark. Overdark would then live in Imperial Shrine, but would be challenged by newly trained Tetsuo. While Overdark had become Regent, Tetsuo had renounced his title as Imperial Champion, and had hidden himself on the Meditation Plane. After training, Tetsuo would travel to the Imperial Shrine and kill Hage and Overdark, before using the Meteor Hammer spell to destroy the Imperial Shrine.
Running to the Meditation Plane, Bolas abandoned his physical form and followed him before realizing he could not return to Dominaria without his Shrine. Without a physical form, Tetsuo managed to defeat Bolas. However, a part of Bolas existed in flux, a small remnant of himself trapped between the physical world and the meditation plane due to his link to the Madaran rift.
Temporal Rifts and The Mending
It would be some time until Bolas would reappear, but he had begun to regain his power. At first, he took on the alias Sensei Ryu, and existed as an immaterial shade. Manipulating a series of events, Bolas gathered Teferi, Venser, Jhoira, and Radha on a beach in Madara. Using the mutated abilities of Venser’s latent Planeswalker’s Spark, Bolas pulled a physical form through the Madaran Temporal Rift and was born anew. Teferi challenged Bolas to a duel, but Bolas easily bested him. Teferi was only left allowed to live when he revealed the full threat of the Temporal Rifts to Bolas, who left after swearing vengeance on the Umezawa clan or anyone who was ever allied with it.
When Bolas returned to Madara, he was attacked by Leshrac, a powerful dark planeswalker. Leshrac was defeated by Bolas, and he was imprisoned in the Mask of the Myojin of Night’s Reach, from Kamigawa. Bolas used the mask and Leshrac’s lifeforce to close the Madaran Temporal Rift. Seeing no way to get around the issue of the collapsing multiverse, Bolas told Teferi and his companions that he had a way to preserve himself, and left Dominaria. His destination is not fully known, but many believe this was his first journey to Amonkhet. After Bolas escaped, the mage Jeska sacrificed herself to destroy the Otarian Temporal Rift, and this caused the Mending. The Mending was the event which balanced the multiverse, closed the rifts, allowed mana to flow back into Dominaria, but also made Planeswalkers much weaker.
This is roughly sixty years prior to the current events in Magic.
Bolas’s greatest victory took place on the plane of Amonkhet, during the Mending. Having taken interest in the metal Lazotep, Bolas wanted to conquer Amonkhet. This led him into direct conflict with the Gods of Amonkhet, but one god worked in secret to aid him, Bontu. Bolas was no match for the Gods, so he pushed them back further and further, until they were trapped in a single sanctuary, the city of Naktamun.
Here is where Bontu revealed her treachery, helping Bolas break through the barrier around the city. In an instant, he cast a spell which killed all adults on Amonkhet, weakening the power of the Gods who relied on their worship. Weakened, Bolas was able to corrupt the Gods, using spells that Bontu would maintain in his absence. He then began using the mummies and undead on Amonkhet to raise the children, and left several prophecies and effigies of his great power. His final legacy on Amonkhet at this time was the rumour that he was the creator of the entire plane, a rumour which would later be spread by planeswalkers like Liliana.
Liliana’s Contract and the Four Demons
Liliana Vess, a well known black necromancer and planeswalker, encountered Nicol Bolas many years after the Mending.
Liliana and Bolas discussed the effects of the mending, and then Liliana managed to enrage Bolas by claiming he appeared unaffected. In their discourse, however, Liliana and Bolas came to an arrangement. Bolas would act as a middleman, and they would forge a contract with four incredibly powerful demons from four separate planes–Belzenlok, Griselbrand, Razaketh, and Kothophed. One of these demons, Razaketh, served Bolas on Amonkhet, guarding the Gates of the Afterlife until the Hour of Devastation.
Liliana would then go on to kill her demon masters, starting with Kothophed after he tasked her with collecting the immensely powerful and dangerous Chail Veil. With the power of the Veil, Liliana would go on to kill Griselbrand and Razaketh, before traveling back to Dominaria to kill Belzenlok with the infamous Black Blade. Only then did the true essence of the contract come to light, as a clause in it allowed Bolas to demand Liliana’s servitude upon the death of the four demonic creditors.
Alara, a plane shattered into five shards, was next in Bolas’s schemes. Alara’s final destiny was an event known as the Conflux, where all five shards would be reconnected, and an incredible Maelstrom would form at its center. Bolas intended to harvest all of Alara’s mana from the Maelstrom to restore the power he lost during the Mending. Alara would also be the place where he would encounter one of his primary servants, the artificer and planeswalker Tezzeret, who would be instrumental later.
Bolas manipulated key people across the five shards of Alara in order to cause great conflict upon the arrival of the conflux. Bolas’s attempt to consume the Maelstrom was ultimately interrupted by Ajani Goldmane, who summoned a spiritual copy of Bolas created from the essence of Bolas’s soul, who fought him perfectly beat for beat. The battle ended when both lunged at each other for a bite attack, and when they connected, they vanished in a flash of light. Bolas had managed to consume a large amount of the Maelstrom prior to this.
The Infinite Consortium and Tezzeret’s Fall
Prior to the Conflux, and before Tezzeret was fully subjugated to Bolas’s will, he took violent control of an interplanar organization Bolas had created known as the Infinite Consortium. The Consortium was a trading empire that was famed for its ability to get its clients anything they asked for. Tezzeret managed to wrest control of it, but feared Bolas and his immense power. Tezzeret enlisted the help of Jace Beleren to help shield him from Bolas’s immense telepathic powers.
Jace, however, was no match for Bolas and he easily crushed both the planeswalkers. Barely escaping, Jace and Tezzeret dueled, with Jace managing to completely crush Tezzeret’s mind. This is when Jace discovered that it was all a plot for Bolas to regain control of the Consortium, aided by Liliana. Ultimately, the Consortium would collapse, but Bolas did get his hands on Tezzeret’s body, still living but mentally annihilated. Jace took control of the only survivor cell of the Consortium, which was on Ravinca.
Bolas briefly sent Tezzeret to Mirrodin during the height of the Phyrexian invasion in order to observe the plane and also prevent solid leadership taking control of the plane from either side. This was a plan that was doomed to fail, as the Phyrexians are an incredible powerful force. It is likely that Bolas wanted to prevent the crowning of a Machine Father or Machine Mother for as long as possible so that he could attempt to regain his lost power before the Phyrexians became a stronger extra-planar threat.
The Eldrazi, Zendikar, and the Formation of the Gatewatch
In whatever schemes Bolas was performing on Zendikar, he inadvertently led to the creation of the Gatewatch, the only organized group seemingly willing to oppose his plans. Having gained the services of Sarkhan Vol, he sent Vol to Zendikar to guard the Eye of Ugin, a powerful artifact that helped keep the Eldrazi titans locked away in the Hedron Network. Vol was manipulated more than he could realize, as Chandra Nalaar, another Red Planeswalker, arrived at the same time he did, along with the equally manipulated Jace Beleren.
With all three of them there at once, a battle ensued that unintentionally freed the Eldrazi from their prison for the second time. This event led to the formation of the Gatewatch: a group of planeswalkers intent on protecting the multiverse from incredible threats, such as the Eldrazi or Nicol Bolas. The first instance of the Gatewatch consisted of Jace, Chandra, Gideon Jura, and Nissa Revane, who worked together to defeat Ob Nixilis, realizing their incredible power when working as a team.
Kaladesh and Tezzeret’s Planar Portal
The Gatewatch managed to immediately find themselves at odds with Bolas again, although this time it was through Tezzeret. Tezzeret had taken control of the Consulate, and in doing so confiscated all of the inventions that had been created for the Inventors Fair on Kaladesh. Tezzeret managed to find planar portal, built by the inventor and aether-seer Rashmi. He then kidnapped Rashmi and forced her to create a much larger Planar Bridge, which Tezzeret assimilated into his own body. Tezzeret then escaped before the Gatewatch or the Renegades could defeat him, planeswalking to Amonkhet. Kaladesh was where the Gatewatch also recruited Ajani Goldmane to their ranks, who begged them not to immediately face Bolas on Amonkhet.
The Hour of Devastation
Bolas’s great victory on Amonkhet finally came to fruition when the Gatewatch traveled to the plane after Tezzeret. They encountered the large amounts of roving undead in the deserts, and barely made it to the city of Naktamun. Bolas’s ultimate plan for Amonkhet was uncovered by the Gatewatch here, when they learned about his army of Eternals: Zombie Warriors trained across five trials in life, with the final trial granting them death at the hand of the now only surviving God of Amonkhet.
It was here that the Gatewatch suffered a massive defeat, each of the members being individually annihilated by Bolas after he arrived to initiate the apocalyptic Hour of Devastation upon the plane.
Ixalan Revisited: Collecting the Immortal Sun
While most of the Gatewatch managed to escape Amonkhet to Dominara, as had been discussed with Ajani, Jace found himself somewhere different, and unable to escape. Jace had been sent to Ixalan, and his defeat at Bolas’s hand found him with severe amnesia. Jace eventually encountered Vraska, one of Bolas’s servants who worked for him in exchange for becoming the Guildmaster of the Golgari on Ravnica. Vraska was afraid Jace would turn on her if he ever regained his memory, but that was not the case. Vraska and Jace worked together to find the Immortal Sun, and while doing so, Jace used his power as the Living Guildpact against its guardian, the now sparkless Azor, who founded the Azorius guild on Ravnica, among other things. Jace banished him to (I’m not kidding) Useless Island, and Vraska asked Jace to alter her memories of their time so she would not betray their growing relationship to Bolas when she returned.
Then, Vraska summoned Tezzeret and they used the Planar Bridge to take the Immortal Sun away from Ixalan, removing the planar barrier it created.
Liliana’s Contract: Bolas’s Clutches
The Gatewatch’s actions on Dominaria had a tragic side-effect. While they managed to get their hands on the Black Blade and kill the Cabal’s Demon Lord, Belzenlok, this fulfilled a clause in Liliana’s Demonic Contract.
With this clause, Liliana’s servitude fell into the ownership of none other than the being who orchestrated it, Nicol Bolas.
Ravnica and the War of the Spark
Now, in 2019, all of his plans have finally come to fruition. Using an invention from Ral Zarek, an extra-planar beacon for summoning planeswalkers, Bolas has summoned as many planeswalkers as possible to Ravnica, before using the Planar Bridge. With the Bridge, Bolas has not only teleported the Immortal Sun to Ravnica, preventing the planeswalkers from leaving the plane, but he also uses the portal to bring forth his Dreadhorde, the army of Amonkhet’s loyal dead now commanded by Liliana. The Eternals have the power to rip the sparks of Planeswalkers from their bodies, and if the Elderspell is completed, it should give Bolas enough power to return to the godly status he and other planeswalkers held prior to the Mending, unless he can be defeated.
The completion of Nicol Bolas’s story is on the horizon. What do you want to see in the future of Magic’s story? Are there any loose ends from the Bolas arcs that you want to see understood?
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