The source of artificer magic – which predates mana-based magic on Dominaria – can be reasonably traced back to the Thran Empire of antiquity. The artificers of the Thran created many wonders, but powered them with strange, unstable crystals. Ultimately, it is suspected that the crystals led to the destruction of the Thran (see The Story of Urza and Mishra by Kayla Bin-Kroog, and in particular the excellent translation and commentary by the planeswalker-scholar Taysir). Generations later, however, it was the legacy of the Thran that led the artificer brothers, Urza and Mishra, to develop the sort of artifact-magic commonly practiced today.
In brief, this form of sorcery takes mechanical devices of cogs, gears, levers, and so forth and powers them with raw magical energy. In this way can a wide variety of weapons, servants, artificial warriors, and other marvels be crafted. Besides these clockwork creations, there are the less-intriguing but still potent magical artifacts such as the Moxes, and the numberless magical staves, wands, rings, and other such trinkets.
Perhaps unique among the realms of sorcery, artifacts have their own plane: Phyrexia, an endless nightmare hell where countless demons torture hapless clockwork beings, ripping them apart and forging from their remains ever more horrendous terrors. In Phyrexia, where the skies rain black oil and the landscape is illuminated by piles of burning metal, the demons have mastered secret techniques of merging machine and flesh. The artifact creations of Phyrexian demons are both very powerful and very rare; when encountered, their creators are usually not far behind. It is clear that Phyrexia existed during the time of the Brothers’ War; some wonder if perhaps the planeswalking spark within the brothers might have somehow created this plane spontaneously, since the forms of artifact magic found there mirror those ‘invented’ by Urza and Mishra. On the other hand, others suggest that the flow of information went the other way: that Urza and Mishra were, perhaps unknowingly, diabolically inspired by the Phyrexians to introduce artificer magic to Dominaria.
The coming of the Ice Age brought on by the Brothers’ War left Terisiare covered in ice, but eventually this changed. As civilization returned, archeologists uncovered the remains of cities from the period of the Brothers’ War (notably in Soldev), and found within many artifacts still in functioning order. New students followed in the footsteps of the brothers, but happily without such cataclysmic results.
One such follower, unfortunately, was a planeswalker known as Ravidel. In the ruins of Terisiare he fought the planeswalker Embereck over possession of the Argivian Sylex, a magical cup of great power. Embereck relented and allowed Ravidel to take the Sylex, and it was with this same artifact that Ravidel held the Sages of Minorad hostage with at the first gathering of that august order.
Ravidel was not the only one to find power and utility in these items, nor were esoteric scholars and their students the only ones to appreciate them. The Carthalion family, strong and powerful in the aftermath of the Ice Age, spent great sums to excavate Terisiare and their work brought many potent artifacts into the family’s noble hands. Among these was the Trovash Engine, a massive transport originally brought over to facilitate travel between Greater Corondor and Minorad, and still functions (more or less) to this day, twelve centuries later.
Today artificer magic is practiced by many wizards in Dominaria, as it does not require the unlearnable spark of planeswalking and has many practical applications. The wealthy are fed by clockwork servants, while some orcs use clumsy clockwork walking machines to move swiftly through the forests. The legacy of the Thran, passed down through Urza and Mishra and so on through the present day, is a legacy of ingenuity and sorcery married to form and function. One can only hope that our present-day practitioners of artificer magic – and those who use the results of their labors – may do so with greater wisdom than Urza and Mishra did long ago. Sadly, Ravidel’s example suggests that the opposite may be true: great power draws great wickedness, as a moth to flame. May the bloodlines grant that we are not likewise consumed.
—Ezer, Spellsquire of Lord Carthalion of Ephren, 1249 by the reckoning of the Sages of Minorad