Shandalar Slivers: Theory and History

Image © 1993 - 2013 Wizards of the Coast, LLC

All Card Images © 1993 – 2013 Wizards of the Coast, LLC

They’re baaaaaaaaaaaaack.

In case you haven’t heard, the much-loved/fiercely-hated creature tribe of Slivers is returning to the 2014 Core Set. The internet is already abuzz with discussion; they’re humanoid now? And the abilities are one-sided? What’s going on here?

Battle SliverI’m curious about that too, but as you may expect, what especially caught my eye was the lore. In the new Sliver card pictured to the right, we see flavor text from a Thunian scout. Thune, as you may recall, is a white-mana area in the plane of Shandalar. We’ve seen Shandalar before as the featured plane in Magic 2013, as well as the setting of a few MtG video games, but you know what we’ve never seen? We’ve never seen Slivers there.

Slivers are, as far as we know, native to Dominaria, the MtG “home plane” and the setting of the Brothers’ War, the Phyrexian Invasion, the Mirari Saga, and parts of the Time Spiral storyline. In a nutshell, kind of a big-deal-of-a-plane. Which is why it’s surprising, especially in the year of Magic’s 20th anniversary, to bring back Slivers without bringing back their crucially-important native plane.

(EDIT: As I have been informed multiple times, no one really knows where Slivers came from. It’s possible they’re simply native to Shandalar, and this whole article is useless! Regardless, Dominaria was the last place we saw them, so the question of “how would they escape?” is still relevant.)

How did they get to Shandalar? My speculative answer relies on some precedent set by powerful planeswalkers, the nature of the plane of Shandalar itself, and a little hand-waving courtesy of the Time Spiral plot. Let’s begin.

Concerning Shandalar

In my research on this plane, I was looking for some sort of hint at the nature of planeswalking being fundamentally different here. I found no such thing, but there were a couple other traits that made me sit up and take notice. Shandalar, like Zendikar, is unusually rich in magical energy; your everyday citizen of the plane knows a handful of magical spells and is aware of the five colors of Magic. In addition, Shandalar is not fixed to a specific point in the Multiverse. Instead, it floats freely through the Blind Eternities, drifting here and there with no real path or purpose. As such, sometimes it comes precariously close to other planes, although it never goes as far as a full-scale Rathi Overlay.

So: mana-rich plane, without a fixed location. With me so far? Cool.

Breaking The Shard

After the devastating Brothers’ War ended with Urza unleashing the Sylex Blast, a protective envelope began to form around Dominaria and a handful of other planes. The Shard of Twelve Worlds, as it was called, cut off these worlds from the rest of the Multiverse and was pretty convenient for the people inside it. Dominaria got majorly messed up by the Brothers’ War, and it needed some time away from Urza and Yawgmoth to heal.

Lim-DulUnfortunately, things are never that easy, and the Sylex Blast that protected Dominaria from the aggressors also began the millennia-long Dominarian Ice Age. In an attempt to escape the Shard, the necromancer Lim-Dûl (left) hatched a plan. Lim-Dûl knew that the plane of Shandalar had wandered relatively close to Dominaria, and his plan was to escape to it using the energy released by the death of a Planeswalker. This was all pre-Mending, when Planeswalkers were still essentially gods, so it stands to reason that one could produce enough energy for a non-Walker to reach a relatively close plane.

Lim-Dûl’s plan didn’t go exactly as he intended, but that’s a story for another time. The point is that it was established that with enough energy, and a close enough proximity between the planes, travel from Dominaria to Shandalar is possible.

The Time Spiral Catalyst

The last time we saw Slivers was in the Time Spiral block, which gives us the final piece of the puzzle. Namely, that Slivers were present during the time-and-space shenanigans that went down during that time.

After the Sylex Blast, the Ice Age, the Phyrexian Invasion, the War of the False God, and countless other apocalypses, Dominaria began to break apart at the seams. Holes opened up in space and time, allowing beings from other ages and planes passage to and from Dominaria. If ever there was going to be an opportunity for Slivers to slip into another plane, this would be it. Just the explosion created when the false god Karona was destroyed alone could possibly have been enough to send Slivers to Shandalar, provided the plane was close enough at the time. Otherwise, it’s just a matter of a curious Sliver wandering past the right planar tear and thinking, “Hey… I smell mana.”

Final Notes on Evolution

Some people have been less-than-pleased with the new humanoid shapes Slivers are taking and the fact that their abilities only affect Slivers you control. As a flavor purist, I get where they’re coming from. I like pointy-headed, one-clawed Slivers as much as the next guy, and I could see how their return might be tainted for some people by these flavor concerns.

Sliver Overlord

However, never underestimate the fact that Slivers evolve, and have done so consistently every single time we’ve seen them. In the beginning, back when they were Rathi immigrants from Dominaria in the Tempest block, their evolution was accelerated by Volrath infiltrating their Hive and modifying some of them, which in turn made the other Slivers evolve to match them. We saw further evolution when they returned via the Riptide Project in Onslaught block, where the ripples of the Mirari’s power sparked further evolution and produced the Sliver Overlord (right).

In their second return, during the chaos of the aforementioned Time Spiral block, they were sentient enough to actively absorb the powers and appearances of other beings they deemed useful. Additionally, the Sliver hivemind itself slowly became sentient, forming the Sliver Legion.

The point is, Slivers have only become more and more powerful and adaptive since we’ve met them. Let’s be real; the snakelike bodies and rigid adherence to the hivemind are cool, but after a while they stop holding up so well in battle. So, the Slivers evolve once again to the more convenient and expressive humanoid forms, and fine-tune their abilities so they only affect the Slivers they want to affect. Isn’t nature great?

I can’t wait to see the new Sliver cards, and I’m excited to find out if my theories on Multiverse travel and Sliver biology hold up to scrutiny when we get the official story. In the meantime, comment below on what the heck you think Slivers are doing on Shandalar!

12 Responses to “Shandalar Slivers: Theory and History”
  1. Jokey665 says:

    “Slivers are, as far as we know, native to Dominaria”

    Slivers are only on Dominaria because of the Rathi Overlay, and they weren’t even native to Rath.

    • There’s nothing definitive, of course, but many of the Rathi tribes were migrated from Dominaria. Phyrexians don’t have sophisticated planeswalking techniques, so it stands to reason that they’d populate Rath with creatures from the only other plane they really know.

      For lack of a better theory, this is what I’m going with. Sorry if that ruins the whole thing for you.

      • Learn dat lore (Jokey665) says:

        What about the fact that 100 years after the Overlay researchers found fossils of the slivers at Urborg and brought them back to life in order to study them? They wouldn’t need to do that if slivers were a known entity on Dominaria.

        There’s also the fact that the resurrected slivers found no queen and thus had no direction, but were drawn a very long distance by the Mirari which they thought to be a queen. If there were other sliver hives on Dominaria they would undoubtedly have a queen which I assume these new slivers would have “felt,” for lack of a better word, considering how far away they felt the Mirari from.

      • Dominaria is a big, BIG place, and Slivers could have been regional. Otaria, where the Riptide Project took place, was very far removed from the mainland, where the Invasion occurred. The fact that Otaria was one of the first regions to really bounce back after the war suggests that the effects of the Overlay may have been less extreme there. Combine this with the fact that Otaria has abnormal creature tribes, and it very well may be the case that Slivers were simply an unknown entity there until the fossils were discovered.

        As for the Queen/Mirari snafu, that may also be explained by geography. If the Sliver Queen even survived the Invasion/Overlay, there’s no guarantee she’d be on Dominaria; it’s much more likely that the Slivers would be closer geographically to the Mirari.

        I’m loving this conversation, by the way. Please don’t take my willingness to debate as hostility. Since there’s so much we don’t know about Slivers, it’s fun to fill in the blanks!

      • Greg says:

        Not all Rath’s tribes, of course, were Dominarian–it’s worth noting that the Kor came from as far away as Zendikar. The slivers could have originated on some similarly distant plane.

      • Very true! We saw the Kor on Rath before we ever knew Zendikar was a thing. At this point it matters less and less where Slivers actually came from, unless it turns out that they’re native to Shandalar after all.

      • TheShrum says:

        I doubt that slivers would be native to Shandalar considering how many times we’ve seen core set cards, and games focused on the plane. I’m definitely thinking they aren’t native to Shandalar, but what I’m really dying to know is whether or not slivers evolved into humanoid forms across the multiverse, or if we could see Rathi/Dominarian slivers again in their traditional form as opposed to the humanoid form found potentially only on Shandalar.

      • I don’t see why we couldn’t see non-humanoid Slivers again. The last time we saw them on Dominaria, they were distinctly Sliver-shaped. Maybe the humanoid ones are just a product of evolution they underwent while on Shandalar.

        That’s from a lore perspective, though. From a creative/design perspective, the humanoid Slivers allow for a lot more variation and expression in their appearances, according to MtG writer/designer Doug Beyer.

  2. archaism says:

    I have to say that I’ve disliked the major creative skews, and thoroughly hope that they are rounded out in canonical lore in the near future. I’m too much a fan of complex board states and dislike the all-upside trend of recent design. However, there are a couple of other things that are worth adding to the conversation (neither are my own, so here I play the role of aggregator) that soften my dissent a little…

    First, visually the new Slivers look a lot like some of the New Phrexians (cf. Megantic Sliver // Chancellor of the Tangle; Blur Sliver // Urabrask); considering we don’t know the direct origin of the Slivers, but we do know that they were heavily tied with the Phrexians through Volrath, this new look could be a case of parallel evolution. Not an answer, but a further hint.

    Second, the recent story story on the Mothership was the journal of a shapeshifter observing the workings of a Sliver hive: and there was no clear description, but rather a Lovecraftian suggestion of reality.

    Under me was stone, within which gaped the form of another ancient horror. The petrified behemoth was clearly akin to those that filled the walls, but it was even more insectile and alien than the fossils I had seen before. It was also immense, greater in size than a dragon.

    It is not clear if these fossils are predecessors to the Slivers, or if their nearby presence has affected the evolution of the Slivers instead. Yet again, another hint, but these details do not appear to have been covered in the above, so I submit these in sake of completeness.

  3. gdjsk jdjfkldjf says:

    I’m not saying it was the eldrazi, but it was the eldrazi

  4. sliver357 says:

    slivers look like eldrazis and I’m putting them in the same bag as Marit Lage concerning their speculated common origins.
    please have a look at shadow sliver and ghostflame sliver (yeah just like ghost fire, the colorless spell that released the eldrazi from their Zendikari prison)

    Eldrazis lives in the blind eternities (the space between plans), and what we actually see of them are apendages of their true selfs…They work kind of as a hive minded entity…

    The 2 cards sus mentioned let us speculate on this connexion… some slivers can, if not travel, survive in between planes and the other one show that the dominarian slivers managed somehow quite early in the storyline (or in a distant future since it was in time spiral), to get rid of their color.

    • I’m not sure what you’re trying to say here. Are you suggesting that there is a connection between the Slivers and the Eldrazi? It’s possible, but seems unlikely, that a Sliver may have observed an Eldrazi at some point and taken on some of its traits, but I believe they are two separate species with no connections besides that one.

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