The “Shadow” Over Innistrad – Lore Theories

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Well, hello everyone. I wanted to try something different today, something way outside my comfort zone. I wanted to take a few minutes to discuss some interesting theories I've been developing surrounding the highly anticipated Shadows Over Innistrad.

It's no secret the Magic community at large revered Innistrad as one of the best blocks ever to hit print. There's also an ever-growing group of players who are invested in the lore of Magic. Wizards has taken strides to deepen and expand their lore more than ever before, integrating characters and overlapping story lines to create large cross-block archs.

If any of you know me, I'm by no means a lore expert and largely not a Vorthos. Although I have read through some of the Magic books of old, including all of Odyssey and Onslaught block, and it's something I do enjoy to some degree. Just predicate everything I'm going to talk about on the fact that I don't study it that intently. Most of what I'm drawing from is the story Wizards has set for us in Battle for Zendikar block, as well as the upcoming Shadows Over Innistrad block.

Many believe our missing Eldrazi titan Emrakul will be making a debut on Innistrad. My question is, how would that be possible? Could Innistrad and Zendikar, or any of the characters involved, be connected in some way? As I thought about it more and the theory unfolded in my mind, it started to make sense. And it sounded awesome (well, to me anyway).

Connecting Zendikar and Innistrad

We got this teaser video some time ago from the official Wizards of the Coast YouTube Channel. We know that something is very wrong with the plane right now---we see an angel's feather soaked in blood and the Church of Avacyn symbol clearly being distorted. I use the word distorted deliberately; we may be looking at the influence of the Eldrazi on the plane.

Recently Wizards began publishing art books for the various blocks, a trend we could see continue into the future. We have the Art of Zendikar, announced at PAX, but we also now have confirmation of another art book, for Innistrad. Not too long ago, a synopsis of the book was "leaked" via various media sources that are working alongside Wizards to promote the book. Here's that synopsis:

In THE ART OF MAGIC: THE GATHERING – INNISTRAD, terror falls from the skies on blood-spattered wings and nameless horrors lurk in the shadows. These pages, lavishly illustrated with the award-winning art of Magic: The Gathering, are your entry into a world beset by terrible evils on all sides and betrayed by the hope it held most dear. Tread lightly as you follow the heroic Planeswalkers of the Gatewatch as they investigate these dark mysteries.

Very interesting indeed. The Gatewatch will be a part of this story, that much we knew. If you read deeper you can find some clear indications of what might be waiting for our Gatewatch heroes back on Innistrad when they return. Betrayed by the hope it held most dear---that line kept me thinking over and over again, where have we seen that before? Why does that sound so familiar?

Thanks to a little digging with the help of Kelly Reid and, we were able to re-read some older articles before Wizards did its re-design. What we found was this snippet from "The Defiance of Angels" by Doug Beyer in 2010:

Imagine if you were a being created from the purity of white mana, summoned to serve an ideal that turned out to be based on a catastrophic historical error. All your work to uphold a set of presumed values, all your lifelong hope that you would one day make contact with your deity—in fact, your entire purpose for being—would be founded on a lie.

The Zendikari founded multiple belief systems on a lie, and have been lied to since the beginning. These belief systems were based on distorted legends and gave rise to Ula, Kosi, and Emeria. Even the angels associated with this deity "Emeria" have been associating themselves with a lie. Each race depicted these terrible Eldrazi titans as distorted deities in each of their belief systems. Here's a chart from the article "Gods and Monsters" by Doug Beyer:


Considering what the art book synopsis gave us, it appears that the denizens of Innistrad as well as the Zendikari now have something in common, lied to and betrayed by something they once held dear. We should also re-cap on everything else they have in common:

  • Angels
  • Similar humanoid races
  • Plane ravaged by "monsters" and protected by "gods"
  • Belief Systems - Church of Avacyn / Zendikari deities

Something else I found fascinating, was that we know that Avacyn was "created," and it's alluded to that the Zendikar angels were created as well, like on every other plane. Sorin has been a part of each story for quite some time. Could there be some overlap between the angels of Zendikar and his own creation?

This might be grasping, but I can't deny the obvious similarity:

Shepard of the Lost (Zendikar)

I found each of these angels from Zendikar use long staffs, adorned with symbol-like crooks at the end of them. We got to see this multiple times, not just on Shepard of the Lost. I swear, if we keep looking at them over and over, they sort of start to resemble something, don't they?

Looks like...The Avacyn Sigil?
Luminarch's Ascension (Zendikar) - Looks like...the Avacyn Sigil?

Like I stated, I'm digging deep into something that might not be relevant. Perhaps there's some missing information here that can conclude that angels use similar staffs all the time, but I just had to point out the glaring similarities.

When we look at the Innistrad trailer again we see that the sigil of the Church of Avacyn is not really breaking, but it looks to be distorting.

Widening, distorting and looking similar to the Zendikari angel staff.

I could well be wrong. Innistrad and Zendikar might have their similarities, but that might not amount to anything. Wizards might not have wanted to connect the planes at all, and they could remain stand-alone planes with no connection whatsoever. It just seems like a coincidence that Innistrad and Zendikar are back-to-back blocks and that the Gatewatch is coming to Innistrad specifically.

It really sets up a Lovecraftian feel, which is supported further by the revealed keyword, "investigate." Seems like we should all be purchasing our Arkham Horror board games, from our friends over at Fantasy Flight. Although it's from the work of HP Lovecraft, that can set up a really great finale to this story between Innistrad, Zendikar, the Gatewatch and the Eldrazi.

What about the theories? Well, let's talk about them.

The "Planar Overlay" Theory

This one might be the more wild of the theories I present, but when we're dealing with all-powerful beings in these colossal Eldrazi, anything could happen.

Innistrad/Zendikar a Planar Overlay?
Innistrad/Zendikar---a planar overlay?

What if Zendikar and Innistrad were planes that were overlaid somehow? The Eldrazi could have put forth this plan thousands of years ago, and it wouldn't be outside the realm of possibility that between Kozilek, Ulamog and Emrakul they somehow distorted reality enough to overlap both of the planes, making them "bizzaro" worlds. We already discussed how both worlds are similar; perhaps the Eldrazi used that to their advantage. We've seen something like this in Planar Overlay, so it does actually exist in the Multiverse, and capable of happening.

Initially this was really far fetched even for me, but a certain announcement may have made this more believable. Wizards announced the second set in the Shadows Over Innistrad block. That set is Eldritch Moon:

Majora's Mask? Escaflowne?
Majora's Mask? Escaflowne?

Like many stories before, perhaps the moon is connecting the two planes. Some inter-dimensional gateway that was created and now being used by Emrakul to warp Innistrad, distorting the planes and its inhabitants. We know Nahiri is on this plane. Maybe Nahiri has something to do with luring the Eldrazi titans to this world, similar to how she, Sorin and Ugin originally lured them to her plane of Zendikar.

Perhaps it's payback time for Nahiri, who has figured out that these planes are connected and is now exploiting that fact and exposing Emrakul's power:

Emrakul...twists all things living, be it plants, animals, or sentient beings.

It's been done before. The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask was based entirely around the moon and the distortion of time (traveling back and forth) learning that the "Moon" was home to some alternate dimension when fighting "Majora" itself.

If anyone watched the 90's anime series The Visions of Escaflowne, we learned that the heroine of the series, Hitomi Kanzaki, was transported to the World of Gaea which was a mysterious planet, but the Earth and its moon were visible in the sky. We later found out that the Earth was known as the "Mystic Moon."

Maybe that's what's happening here. Maybe Innistrad's moon will be known as the (Eldrazi)tch Moon. Right out of an HP Lovecraft novel. A whole lot of maybe's but there's something there; it could directly tie into why Innistrad was the way it was all this time. These are extremely powerful beings, who could have put this plan into motion thousands of years ago, and our heroes---Sorin included, a native of Innistrad---weren't the wiser.

Which leads us to our next theory:

Avacyn Is the "Shadow" Over Innistrad


That certainly doesn't look like the depiction of the character we've all come to know as Avacyn. There's this feeling that something is seriously wrong on Innistrad. Perhaps all the clues between what we know Emrakul is capable of, and the synopsis of the art book has lead us to this point. Avacyn is no longer the champion that Sorin created, the being created of pure white Magic and keeping the balance on the plane.

No, I get this sinking feeling that Avacyn is now being manipulated by some force, and everything points to our "missing" Emrakul. Doing what it she does best---twisting all living things. If we read back through those articles in 2010 by Doug Meyer, we realize that the Eldrazi titans have done this before. It's normal that they try to enslave races and help them take over entire planes.

We go back to this snippet of information:

But despite their unearthly power, the Eldrazi failed to wipe out the angels completely. They failed, too, to turn the angels into a kind of slave race, as they did with the vampires.

Maybe this time Emrakul succeeded, turning Avacyn into a slave to do her bidding. They've already encountered angels, and the Eldrazi already came into contact with vampires. Remember what happened on Zendikar?

Vampires enslaved by Eldrazi
Vampires enslaved by Eldrazi

What do you know, Innistrad is full of vampire bloodlines just waiting to be enslaved like their Zendikari counterparts. Controlling Avacyn along with an army of vampires---it would seem the rest of Innistrad doesn't have a chance.

It would set up the arrival of the Gatewatch perfectly to rally the remaining denizens to fight this new "shadow" along with any other living things Emrakul is controlling. Exactly as they did back on Zendikar. Nahiri could play a similar role as Ob Nixilis, and we have the final battle with Innistrad and Zendikar hanging in the balance.


Well, there you all have it. My first real plunge into talking about the lore and really going outside of my comfort zone when it comes to writing articles. I think others more well-versed than me can poke several holes in this. At the same time I would love to be educated, because it really seems like all of these subtle similarities in the past between the two blocks can somehow be re-told now that both of these blocks will be crossing-over.

Assuming any of this is true, I understand that many of you would be forced to accept some flawed logic and retcons for all this to work in the story. One thing to remember is that for a long period of time (shortly after those books I read a long time ago) the lore of the game wasn't really the driving factor. During this period most of use just had to accept lots of inconsistencies, as well as stories and characters that were presented and never fully fleshed out.

Perhaps we're at the point where some of these holes will have to be filled to make the future stories work. There's just such a long history to the game, and there was never any set unified story arch.

This would also be similar to what Wizards did back in the four-set block of Shadowmoor and Eventide. Two "worlds" using the same plane, which was quite an interesting story (for me anyway). This would be similar, but I also think could be successful in its own right.

I'm eager to hear everyone's interpretation on what I discussed or what might be more plausible directions for the story to take. I hope everyone enjoyed my first attempt at an article of this nature. Perhaps if there's interest we can try this again sometime.

- Chaz @ChazVMTG

Chaz V

Started playing during Invasion block at the age of 13. Always a competitive person by nature, he continues playing to this day. Got into the financial aspect of the game as a method to pay for the hobby and now writes, Podcasts, and covers all aspects of the game, always trying to contribute to the community and create great content for readers and listeners.

View More By Chaz V

Posted in Free, Opinion, Shadows over InnistradTagged ,

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13 thoughts on “The “Shadow” Over Innistrad – Lore Theories

  1. Look at the similarities between the card Planar Overlay and the ISD card Paraselene. Very very eerie.

    Also, it’s interesting to note that on Shrine of the Forsaken Gods, Emrakul is depicted as an Angel (with tentacles, of course).

    In a recent lore article, Kiora was talking about “the time when Emeria mistook a Jellyfish for the Moon”. The grammar is informative here. I take the “jellyfish” to mean Emrakul (which is what she looks like). But if Emeria = Emrakul, then why is the subject of the sentence (Emeria) able to observe the object of the sentence (the jellyfish, mistaken for a moon)? That leads me to believe that Emeria is not Emrakul outright; perhaps Emeria was a real angel, in opposition to Emrakul, and somehow the two ideas were conflated.

    If Emeria = Emrakul

  2. I think the symbol resembles a certain set of Elder Dragon horns, minus the gem. Perhaps the “Shadow Over Innistrad” is none other than Nicol Bolas, who has corrupted a faithless Avacyn and caused an unholy war.

    Bolas manipulated the Eldrazi’s release – perhaps his target was Innistrad all along…

  3. Like the image of Shrine of the Forsaken Gods I would like if the real threat were not the Eldrazi we now but the ancient gods trapped inside them. I mean I would like if Emeria, Ula and Cosi were not “false memories” but actually they were ancient gods or ancient planeswalkers so powerful and feared that old planeswalkers like Ugin, Nicol Bolas needed to imprison them.

    They were “weakened” and turned into bestial monstrous creatures. These creatures are the Eldrazi Titans that we were presented. They were like “live prisons” that once were planeswalkers so that is why they could travel between different planes but since they are not in their real form (and even without their full power) they could not “blink” from a plane to another like planeswalkers do.

    Ugin told Jace to not try to destroy Eldrazis but instead seal them. Maybe one reason could be that “destroying” Eldrazi would not kill them but instead It would break their vessel/their “live body prison”. Destroying their bodies would release the sealed ancient gods/planeswalkers and that “little problem” that were Eldrazi were nothing in comparison to the real threat trapped inside them.

    But now talking about what could have happened to Innistrad. Something clear is that Nahiri wants revenge against Sorin.

    In Innistrad last block story Tamiyo was there because she was researching about the influence of the moon of Innistrad. Probably Jace will find those researches. We know that “moon” has an important role in this block (besides werewolf stuff) and I think that “moon” is the one thing driving people into madness.

    I do think that or Emrakul was sealed in the Innistrad’s Moon or is another “new Titan” was sealed inside Innistrad’s Moon. That sealed Titan is driving people into madness and probably the angels were the first creatures being affected by it’s influence since they were the most ones near to the moon. The same angels that once were the hope of Innistrad specially Avacyn that was the most pure (or something like that).

  4. When I first saw “Betrayed by the hope it held most dear” I initially thought of Nahiri but realize that it doesn’t make a lot of sense for it to be Nahiri as the hope of Innistrad. But with the plane overlay theory that could be closer to the truth. Regardless though, I do think Nahiri will be the Big Bad of the first block. Ide love to see Tibalt also since he should have had some time to learn more.

    1. I’d love to see Tibalt return (and actually be viable this time)!

      I do think Nahiri will be an antagonist for a time, but maybe she ends up helping out? Who knows.

  5. So the other thing that is a cool bit of information is this

    Set is called shadows over innistrad and there is an H.P. Lovecraft book called shadows over innsmouth, could this be another clue?

    1. Absolutely it’s another clue. This entire block from “Shadows Over Innistrad” to “Eldtritch Moon” (the following set) is inspired by H.P Lovecraft.

      Good input!

  6. So, my thought is that the Eldrazi are distorting the worlds around them to conceal themselves or perhaps they have been contained by some unseen protector(s) and replaced by less terrifying deities to protect us from our own fears. Maybe knowledge and fear of these beings empowers them and could free them? Seems plausible enough.

    Emeria is god of the skies = Emrakul is the figurehead and rules the skies.

    Ula is god of the seas = Ulamog is the Infinite Gyre (A gyre is a giant ocean current/vortex.

    Cosi is a trickster = Kozilek is the Butcher Of Truth and the Great Distortion.

  7. First of all I would like to say that the analysis is very interesting and intriguing backed up with as much evidence as possible. Having said that I would say that I actually hope that Emrakul will have nothing to do as a threat in this storyline. At least not directly.

    Eldrazy are a threat that works in a completely different wavelength than innistrad’s threats. The Eldrazi are three titanic entities, which do not belong in any plane that desire to devour your plane for an unknown reason. They do not hide in the shadows, they do not lurk they are too powerful to go there. They do not even appear to notice the existence of the lifeforms on the planes they visit. To them they are nothing other than microbes on the apple they will eat. This style is completely different and creates as well a completely different atmosphere than innistrad’s threats. Vampires, werewolfs and geists are threats that do belong in the world innistrad’s people live in. They are actually part of the world and the people are part of the planes food-chane that wants them lower than all this threats. innistrad’s threats do not want to devour the world you live in they want you specifically. This type of threat creates hunter and prey type of terror which is completely different than the cosmic wipe menace type of terror that the eldrazi inspire.To wrap it up I believe that the ambience of this two storis do not mix well. It is almost certain that Zendikar’s story hs affected the events in Innistrad but I think the creative of WotC has foreseen this lack of ambience concordance in the two planes and has gound a more intricate way to bridge the storyline then making Emrakul appear on Innistrad.

  8. Let’s just put the major overarching question out there. If Emrakul is not with the other titans on zendikar and for some reason does not show up on innistrad, then WHERE IS EMRAKUL?

  9. Very interesting theory with good reasoning. Whilst I do agree that Emrakhul is the likely big threat, I think Nahiri is going to be the driving factor.

    We know that Nahiri, Sorin, and Ugin all banded together some 6,000 years ago to trap the Titans on Zendikar, at that Nahiri was the one that created the prison. We know that Sorin and Nahiri had a good relationship. We know they all set up a fail safe wherein Nahiri could call for aid should the prison ever be threatened, and no matter where in the multiverse they were, Sorin and Ugin could hear it. We know that Nahiri once tried to use it when the prison was threatened, but no aid came (Ugin was dead/cocooned at the time, though she didn’t know that). We know that she was forced to deal with the problem herself, and then sat whilst her sense of betrayal became simmering resentment. We know that she then disappeared.

    Thus far, from Shadows, we know that she destroyed Markov Manor and the Markovs. We know that she is inciting the inquisition. We know that she and Sorin are basically at war. We know that Avacyn has become corrupted by a distorting force that screams Emrakhul. We know that very familiar looking tentacle growths are sprouting up.

    Here’s my theory: Nahiri has found a way to ensnare at siphon power from Emrakhul. She has done so in order to seek revenge – a desire that is unknowingly being warped by her use of and proximity to Emrakhul. Essentially, she’s going nuts. She has brought Emrakhul to Innistrad, either imprisoning on, or replacing its moon. From there, she sought to bring down everything Sorin cared for, beginning with his “daughter”, Avacyn. She seeks to destroy the world through sowing chaos, disorder, and corruption, and thus destroy Sorin, who she now sees as a great, evil, betrayer thanks to her Emrakhul influenced madness.

    Jace will be the lead “good guy” character, with Sorin being his typical morally grey. Nahiri will be the main villain of Shadows, and I have a feeling she won’t be fully dealt with until the block is over. I reckon the rest of the Gatewatch will be called in in Eldritch Moon, when the full threat of Emrakhul is apparent. Lilliana will either help for selfish reasons then part ways, or they may even take the opportunity to redeem her somewhat from the corruptive influence of the Chain Veil and have her join the Gatewatch, rounding out the colours and reinforcing the pattern Origins set down. The big wild card for me is Tamiyo, who at this point could be either good or bad. Has she discovered the truth? Will it be her at reveals all to Jace and joins them to save the day? Or will she be an agent of Emrakhul as well?

  10. I am 100 percent on board with Bolas being the guy behind all this. I do believe Emrakrul is involved, but all are being fueld by Bolas. I’m not sure if anyone mentioned this but heres a link to a 2010 comic

    after reading the comic book take on the event, I was able to see things ( quite literally ) that matched up with the latest SOI story . if you read both through, you see odd connections, to the SOI. Small things details stick out to me. I believe that if Bolas were to appear however, it would not until the next block after SOI block.

    1. While you may be making one hell of a case for Nicol, and I personally would love to see him pulling strings, your links are dead. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news.

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