Two Jesses and the Case of the Shadows over Innistrad

Jesse K: Shadows over Innistrad has been out for months now, and stunningly nobody has solved the mystery. It therefore falls to 2 Jesses, foremost flavor experts and former boy detective duo. Oh, there are theories, sure, but you have to imagine that we the players are meant to use the clues provided to us in the set to conclusively figure out what’s coming in Eldritch Moon. I mean, why else would they literally litter the set with clues? We’ll be examining both the text and the subtext of each clue token, and using our combined brain power (and a high tech crime solving computer named J.A.C.E.) to hopefully come to a conclusion about exactly what is going on on Innistrad.

Jesse T: I didn’t want to get back into the mystery-solving game, but the case just wouldn’t let me go. The more I tried to forget about Innistrad, the more I felt it gnawing at the back of my mind, like a voracious worm in the darkness. Every answer I found only seemed to lead to more questions, but I just couldn’t stop asking them. Every time I opened a pack of Magic cards, I would see those clues staring back at me, taunting me. I had to go back. Now only one question remains: Do I really want to know what lies sleeping in the Shadows? To look into the abyss, and see what stares back at me? Read on and find out!

Clue #1: The Pendant of the Ocean God

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What it is
K: It appears to be a pendant with a symbol that looks like an octopus (or some other kind of tentacled monster) on it. It’s sitting on a beach, and features flavor text about the tides. My sleuthing skills indicate that this may be an indication of some kind of chicanery at Nephalia’s Drownyard Temple. This symbol appears on the staff of Westvale Cult Leader, as well as Wayward Disciple. You could assume that this is some kind of membership pendant in the cult, which worships/attempts to summon whatever it is that is causing Innistrad’s problems.

T: The pendant… it was the same one she was wearing when she died. When they found her floating face-down in Highland Lake, I thought I’d drown myself in a bottle of whiskey too. I never thought I’d see that pendant again, especially not here. I turn it over and see the letters etched into its surface, just as they’re forever etched into my mind: “Made in China”. What does it all mean? I listen to the churning of the grey ocean, and I hear those words whispered over and over again, like the fever-dreams of some drowned god.

Why it’s Emrakul
K: It’s Emrakul, duh. I mean, it has Emrakul’s basic shape, and it kinda looks like it would be perfect for a set symbol. Like next set, where they reveal it was Emrakul all along, and Eldrazi start popping out of werewolves and seagrafs and ruining everything once again.

T: Oh yeah, it just looks exactly like Emrakul.

What if it’s not Emrakul?
K: The sea theme has led others to speculate that the cult may be worshipping an ancient Lovecraftian seagod, a la Marit Lage, which would be a nice switcheroo. Why stop there when magic has a long history of tentacled and/or aquatic legends that this clue could be hinting at. Aboshan, Cephalid Emperor, Wrexial, the Risen Deep, Taniwha, Chisei, Heart of Oceans, or my personal favorite, Mistform Ultimus. Why not? All of these have exactly as much evidence for them as Marit Lage.

T: Odric, in the Drownyard Temple, with the True-Faith Censer.

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The truth is, the corruption goes further than any of us could have possibly imagined. This isn’t just some cult: It’s a conspiracy that has infiltrated the church of Avacyn to the highest level. To protect their secrets, Odric himself murdered my sweet Lenore by bludgeoning her to death with an instrument of his own supposed faith. Shame on you, Odric. Next mystery!

Clue #2: The Blood-Stained-Glass Window

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What it is
K: A broken stained glass window featuring an image of Avacyn. The plane has a bit of a stained-glass motif, as shown on both Endless Ranks of the Dead and more on Relentless Dead. Oddly, it depicts Avacyn in her transformed state, indicating that stained glass artisans are both working quickly and not too disturbed by her sudden evil-ness. Hey, it’s a living. More to the point, this image is a metaphor for the broken protection of Avacyn. The clue states “Hey, Avacyn’s evil now, what’s the deal with that?”

T: When we were kids, someone threw a rock through the window of old man Jenrik’s tower, and since the police had no leads, solving the mystery fell to us. It turned out that he threw the rock through his own window to collect insurance money, and he would have gotten away with it too if it weren’t for our meddling. Years later they found dozens of dismembered corpses buried underneath his house. Never judge a book by its cover! There may be more to this mystery than meets the eye.

Why it’s Emrakul
K: I guess the essential question here is why is Avacyn evil now? I kind of got the impression that Nahiri did it somehow, since it fits in well with her mission statement of ‘mess with Sorin’. The question is, is that within the limits of her abilities? We know that she can put hedrons in people to mess with them (that’s how she de-sparked Ob Nixilis), so maybe that’s what happened. This could also be explained as the corrupting influence of the Eldrazi, who are known to be able to butcher truth and tear eons.

T: Angels don’t just go on killing sprees for no reason. Avacyn is clearly under the influence of Emrakul. This is a good object lesson for our younger readers on why you should never try to drive while in psychic contact with extraplanar evil.

What if it’s not Emrakul?
K: Avacyn is an angelic being conjured from pure mana by a powerful wizard for a singular purpose, who was later corrupted by rage. Sound familiar? Probably not if you haven’t been playing this game forever, but that’s pretty much Akroma’s exact story. Who better to be really behind the scenes pulling the strings than the puppetmaster himself, Ixidor? Plus, morphs kind of look like spiders, which we know exist in great quantity on Innistrad. Check and mate.

T: Ormendahl, in Westvale Abbey, with the Shard of Broken Glass

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Here’s my new theory: The murderer didn’t kill her in the church. The murderer is the church itself! Remember when I said there was “more to this mystery than meets the eye”? That was a reference to Transformers. Westvale Abbey transformed into Ormendahl, and stabbed my sweet Lenore 13 times with a piece of its own shattered windows.

Clue #3: The Mercurial Staff

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What it is
K: Avacyn’s Collar, the symbol of her church. If there’s anything werewolves hate, it’s a collar. Avacyn’s collar that is. Like a collar for a dog. And wolves are like dogs. Look, I’m not sure you’re getting it, is there maybe some kind of explanatory flavor text I could refer you to? Anyway, the church has become warped and corrupted in the wake of Avacyn going crazy. You would be forgiven for thinking that this is another metaphorical clue, but the text in the set is very clear – all these symbols have actually changed.

T: Remember in college, when we had to solve the mystery of human consciousness, so we took a bunch of acid? We had that flower-power van, and there was a talking dog named Cujo who made me do things I didn’t want to do? Anyway, it looks like Avacyn’s Collar is morphing and melting in a similar way, except other people can see it happening too. I wonder what other symbols will change with the coming of the Eldritch Moop.

Why it’s Emrakul
K: I feel like this is another one that can be pretty easily chalked up to Nahiri. Her two interests are lithomancy (aka changing the shape of stone things) and harbinging. Reshaping the symbols of the Church sits at a nice little intersection of those things. You could argue that that’s a lot of work for a largely symbolic gesture, but maybe these collars have some kind of mana to them that she’s reshaping for her evil purposes. Like aligning those hedrons back on Zendikar, you know? Anyway, what does she need all that sinister energy for? Summoning a massive Eldrazi titan sounds about right.

T: Emrakul all the way. Altering religious iconography seems like exactly the sort of thing Emrakul’s presence would do, since Eldrazi operate on a largely semiotic level. If Emrakul isn’t just a giant symbol for fear of the female anatomy, I don’t know what is.

What if it’s not Emrakul?
K: What is the one thing we know for sure about Avacyn’s Collar (TSOHC)? Werewolves hate it. But which werewolf has the power and the will to go around bending up all these symbols in a display of their utter contempt for collars? Oh, what’s that? This block introduced a werewolf planeswalker that we know basically nothing about? Arlinn Kord, we’re on to you.

T: Arlinn Kord, on the Game Trail, with a Rapid Bite

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Arlinn Kord makes a lot of sense. I bet she snuck up on my sweet Lenore from behind while she was out picking boysenberries and sunk her teeth into her jugular vein like a Capri Sun before dragging her corpse for over a mile back to Westvale Abbey and stabbing it 13 times. Has she no conscience?

Clue #4: A Weird Rock or Something

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What it is
K: Technically, it’s called a Cryptolith. Translated from the Latin that means, yes, weird rock. These things have been popping up all over the landscape lately, in places they didn’t used to be in (check the basic lands from original Innistrad and this set). They seem to be associated with mana, channeling the plane’s energies into one enormous summoning. Is it enough for 15 mana? We’ll see, I guess.

T: Late one night designing Magic, came some concept art so tragic,
When a cryptolith came tapping, tapping at my office door.
Mouth agape, and gums a-flapping, “Did that sundial break? What happened?
Is that giant raven yapping, yapping ‘Nevermore’?
Did you try to make flambe and drop it on the kitchen floor?”
Quoth the intern, “Pay me more.”

Why it’s Emrakul
K: Let’s run down what we know. We know these Costco-brand hedrons were constructed by Nahiri (#1 power: Lithomancy). We know that she hates Sorin like doctors hate this mom’s one weird trick. We know that she wants Innistrad to “bleed as Zendikar did”. We know they are channeling the mana of the plane in order to summon something (well, we can imply this by both her planeswalker’s ultimate, and the array of ‘liths in the drownyard). What better to summon to destroy Innistrad than the one remaining Eldrazi titan? Case closed.

T: Has anyone else noticed that Nahiri and Emrakul have never been photographed together? I can only conclude that they’re the same person. Also, have you ever noticed how I’ve never been photographed alongside film & television star Idris Elba? Some mysteries practically solve themselves.

What if it’s not Emrakul?
Unmistakably these cryptoliths are in the shape of Nicol Bolas’ horns, much like every other slightly curved, pointy object in the multiverse. Looks like everyone’s favorite book-loving, deeply-analyzing, ultimatum-offering Elder Dragon Legend is back.

T: Nahiri, in the Stone Quarry, with the Murderer’s Axe

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Actually, I think this one was Nahiri, but it had nothing to do with summoning Emrakul. She clove my sweet Lenore in two with an enormous axe because she mistook her for a slab of granite.

Clue #5: The Mysterious Feather of Mystery

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What it is
K: Another largely metaphorical clue, the blood-stained feather speaks to the fact that the former guardians of Innistrad have turned on their charges. Angels now hunt down humans and are totally rude to them, which is not a cool way for an angel to be. Why did the angels change allegiance? Almost more interestingly, Sigarda appears to be still siding with team-human, while her two sisters have gone flip-mode.

T: Feathers were everywhere. The priest stayed outside the door, too frightened to come inside. The corpse looked like it had been shredded by the talons of some giant bird, and the head was nowhere to be found. I began to remember why I swore never to return to Innistrad. This place had a way of changing you. White feathers lay covered in blood. I looked them up in my Big Book of Obsequiously Poetic Images, and all signs pointed to one conclusion.

Why it’s Emrakul
K: This one’s almost too simple. As Avacyn goes, so go the angels, right? Or maybe it’s a larger wave of corrupting magic that got to her having the same effect on all the others. Same difference really. This clue doesn’t have anything to do with Emrakul directly, other than that it fits into Nahiri’s larger plan of messing everything up.

T: Either that or it’s an Eldrazi feather. Nowadays, it’s common knowledge that the Eldrazi are actually covered in primitive feathers, not scales like we originally thought.

What if it’s not Emrakul?
K: We recently learned that there was once a 4th powerpuff angel, probably aligned with black mana, who was killed years ago by Avacyn. On a plane where nothing stays dead, is it too far-fetched to think that maybe she’s back in a Weekend at Bernie’s-esque scenario? She’s got a very legit grudge with Avacyn, and in turn Sorin for creating her. Maybe this is Nahiri’s unseen partner in crime. It kind of nicely ties in with what we know about Eldritch Moon as well (that being a Liliana-focused set, and Liliana’s penchant for angel destruction).

T: Sigarda, in the Fortified Village, with the Scrounged Scythe

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It must have been Sigarda! What better way to fight Avacyn than to frame her for murder? Sigarda flew over the walls of the Fortified Village and used that giant bird-shaped scythe she’s always carrying around to harvest my sweet Lenore’s severed head like so much innocent wheat. I bet those must have been heron feathers in the church, but alas, you can’t do DNA analysis at a steampunk tech level.

Clue #6: That Huge Floating Tower of Pure Madness Right Across the Street

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What it is
K: Markov Manor’s gone all topsy-turvy! Last time I was here, I was sure it wasn’t floating like that, and there definitely weren’t so many vampires in the walls. I would’ve remembered a design decision like that.

T: Zoiks! A haunted mansion? I remember this place from our first adventure together on Innistrad, and also from the persistent recurring nightmares I’ve had about it every night since we left. Call it a gumshoe’s instinct, but I had a hunch I’d return here one day and finally die.

Why it’s Emrakul
K: We know this was Nahiri’s big calling Sorin out moment in the story. It, and Sorin’s response to it, are a big enough deal that they are depicted across several cards in the set. The actual manner of the destruction is interesting, though. Is warping stone to this extent really within Nahiri’s power? Legions of floating hedrons say ‘probably’, but gravity’s always been a little weird on Zendikar. Raise your hand if you can name the Eldrazi titan who warps the laws of gravity around her, causing mysterious floating.

T: I knew it was Emrakul as soon as I set foot through the door. Space and time twisted around me in impossible ways. I felt like I was moving through quicksand, and with every step I took, the hall in front of me stretched out a thousand times further away. Time began to solidify like amber. I couldn’t breathe.

What if it’s not Emrakul?
K: On the other hand, maybe it’s just Nahiri. The set does a lot of heavy implying that there’s something else going on here, but there’s no actual other villain presented. Heck, maybe Nahiri’s not even a bad guy, and she’s just throwing Sorin the worst surprise party ever, ala The Game. Imagine the look of surprise on the millenia-old vampire’s face as the cryptoliths at the drownyard spark to life, summing an enormous display of pyrotechnics that spell out “Gotcha” in the sky.

T: Sorin, in the Foreboding Ruins, with the Ashmouth Blade

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I had never seen Sorin and Nahiri photographed together, yet there he stood, at the center of everything, a blade to my sweet Lenore’s throat. I could hear him shouting something about a terrible surprise party. I didn’t want to find out what it was. The tower was collapsing in on itself, and bending the fabric of reality under its own weight as it did. I ran toward them, my screams echoing like a disembodied drone in my own ears. I watched her die, over and over, for eons. Then Jesse K woke me up and pulled over the van for some snacks. I looked behind me, and Cujo told me everything was going to be ok. You know what? I think I believed him!

Conclusions
K: Well, we’ve got 6 clues and 7 possible suspects (8 if you count the Phyrexians. It’s always the Phyrexians). You could look at this in two ways. There’s a very clear narrative present of Nahiri wreaking vengeance on Sorin’s home plane using her lithomancy powers to corrupt its mana and summon its ultimate destruction. But there’s something else, something much more compelling. Take a look at our 6 clues again. They look disparate, but there’s one thing they all have in common. That’s right, the person behind the scenes, orchestrating not just the story of the set, but the way the audience interacts with it, is none other than Tamiyo, the Moon Sage. It’s all right there in her backstory. You see, Tamiyo is a flying rabbit person who loves moons (you can’t make this stuff up, unless you’re on the Kamigawa Block creative team). And where is there a cooler moon than on Innistrad? She’s been positioning and manipulating all of the major players in this story so far and leading them to one conclusion. By making it look like the plane’s destruction is imminent, Tamiyo scares everyone away from Innistrad like a Scooby Doo villain, so she can have that sweet sweet moon all to herself. Need more evidence? The next set is called Eldritch Moon, a moon which neither Nahiri nor Emrakul have ever cared about, but Tamiyo certainly has. Calling it now folks, Tamiyo is the real power behind the scenes of Shadows over Innistrad.

T: Let’s not forget that it is not just a moon, but also eldritch, as in rich with Eldrazi. Let’s not forget that Emrakul was the inspiration for Emeria, Zendikar’s goddess of the sky. My theory is that the Eldrazi have a secret base inside the moon of Innistrad, and it’s going to crack open like a giant egg, and they’re all going to come raining down out of the sky like gross little slimy space fetuses. Basically, I’m saying the real culprit is us. We’re the one’s who are allowing this to happen. We shall meet again beneath the Eldritch Goop.

You can find Two Jesses on Twitter @TwoJesses.

 

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