This section describes the Vicious Swarm, the faction associated with green mana.
A native Phyrexian beast known as Vorinclex rules the Tangle, but since the war began, he cloistered himself in the ruins of Tel-Jilad. Surrounded by his advisors, he is rarely seen by anyone else. His closest advisor is Glissa, formerly a Viridian elf, who was compleated during the years that Phyrexia lurked in the core. Now, she has become the de facto ruler of the region.
Vorinclex, Voice of Hunger | Illustration by Karl Kopinski
Both Vorinclex's and Glissa's beliefs are in line with the fundamental ideology of Phyrexia: flesh is weak. All other lifeforms should be eliminated or subsumed into Phyrexia, the ultimate "species." But unlike other Phyrexians, they believe this should be accomplished through an accelerated natural selection—a monstrous simulation of the predator-prey cycle in which all prey are predators themselves.
Glissa's power developed during the years she refers to as "the Deadlock," when Phyrexia was confined to the inner core of the planet. During the Deadlock, there was much discussion among the Phyrexian hierarchy about how and when to proceed with the attack of the surface. At the time, the praetors were building up their forces for a full-scale assault in which all Mirrans would either be killed or converted in a short time.
Glissa was opposed to waiting until Phyrexia had the forces to wage a full-scale assault. She thought waiting was a sign of weakness. Instead, Glissa believed the Phyrexians should immediately move to the surface and begin converting and/or killing the Mirrans and changing them into full-scale Phyrexian predators. This was the way to advance the great work.
Glissa, the Traitor | Illustration by Chris Rahn
In the Deadlock years, Glissa whispered to her allies and followers: The Phyrexian hierarchy has stagnated. Its leadership is soft and weak. Building on other Phyrexians' discontent—and surviving several assassination attempts with the help of Vorinclex—she constructed a powerful faction through cunning and strength.
Even before Phyrexia's attack on the surface began, Glissa sent her enforcer-beasts on killing missions into the Tangle. They were among the first to set up nodes of control on the surface and by the time hordes of Phyrexians emerged from the core, the forest of Mirrodin was firmly under her control.
"The other praetors cower in the dark and mince words with their false king. Come, Vorinclex, let us split the ribcage of this pitiable world and unleash its fearsome heart."
Dominance Without Organization
Glissa's goal is to create a system where the strongest and deadliest will dominate. Her faction opposes anything that would prevent that from happening. There are few hierarchical orders in the Tangle. There are distinct roles and niches, but little in the way of an organized system of governance. Any attempts at a societal structure are ruthlessly eliminated by Glissa and her enforcer-beasts. Predatory instinct is the highest value, and there is no need for any ambition or sense of self. Domination of the strongest is all that matters in the Tangle now.
There is no single cult of personality in the Tangle. The green-aligned faction doesn't revere Yawgmoth's memory. They believe his defeat is a sign that he was not the true Father of Machines, and faith or reliance in a single leader was a bad idea. They also believe that the having a single focal point of leadership contributes to stagnation.
Mycosynth Fiend | Illustration by Kev Walker
While Glissa keeps her contempt of the other praetors secret, she is vocal about her hatred of Geth and his "decrepit, slathering idiots." Glissa calls Geth "a decaying sack of flesh who sits idle on his mortal throne."
Glissa is aware of Karn, but during her compleation, much of her former identity and memories were lost, including the knowledge that Karn is the creator of her world. Now she denies that he is the Father of Machines, and views the silver golem with scorn and ridicule.
Although Glissa is the de facto leader of the Tangle, she refuses to identify herself as such. Glissa believes that a predator's natural instincts are far superior to any intellectual capabilities. She creates sentient beasts only to aid in her mission, and she extols the state of "instinctual ignorance." Eventually, she intends for the Phyrexianized elves and Sylvok to rid themselves of sentience, forget language, and remove independent thought.
Glissa's believes in "natural evolution" and less controlled development. She thinks that the vat priests and other "architects" are meddling too much with adaptation and survival, taking the innate strength and power out of their designs. There is too much "nurturing," and not enough reliance on power and instinct.
"Consume, propagate, and let the strongest emerge as dominant."
During the Deadlock, Glissa was unhappy with the slow maturation of "life" within the vats. She and Vorinclex pioneered a method of escalated growth using an amalgamation of tendon, fat, and brain matter. In her "gardens," she created a fungus-flesh hybrid, which breathes, bleeds, and grows alarmingly fast. She named these flowering flesh creations "crotus blooms."
The crotus blooms were so effective that she pleased the Phyrexian hierarchy and earned their trust in her abilities. Over time, she warped the crotus blooms into crotus beasts, which become her enforcers. Most were mindless predators, but others had varying levels of intelligence and could obey her orders and enforce her will as necessary. Unaware of Glissa's clandestine movements in the Tangle, Phyrexian leadership decreed that the forest be under Vorinclex's rule and assigned Glissa to take care of the compleation of Mirrans in the area.
The New Tangle
Although the appearance of the Tangle has been altered by the emergence of Phyrexia, the basic structures are the same. The forest is a dense area of towering "trees" made of copper and verdigris that resemble branches and vegetation. Metal vines stretch from tree to tree.
The lamina—the dark green, fleshy strands of vegetation-like fungus—have overtaken the floor of the Tangle, which is the area of the forest that has been altered the most. Some areas are now completely swamp-like, as if the Mephidross has spread beyond its borders. Everywhere else, the floor has become spongy and mossy as the lamina contaminates the metal ground and inches up the trees. The ground seeps a substance like yellowish pus, which emits a rotting stench like overripe fruit. Only the largest beasts can navigate the rotting floor of the Tangle. The rest of the forest's native creatures must adapt to living in and navigating the tree limbs.
After the initial surface assault was complete, much of the Phyrexian leadership dismissed the Tangle as an inconsequential wasteland compared to the rest of Mirrodin. They mistakenly believed the elves and Sylvok to be wholly converted, and the native Mirran beasts to be easy fodder for Phyrexia.
The Sylvok were indeed hit hardest by Phyrexia's emergence. They were ill-prepared, and many were betrayed by their vedalken cohorts. Over half were killed in the first wave following Glissa's arrival in the Tangle. Under Ezuri's leadership, however, many of the Viridian elves were able to hide and escape the Phyrexian onslaught. Now, they have established a small but potent resistance. The resistance fighters live in the treetops and a network of tunnels and garrisons they've carved inside the trees themselves.
Forest | Illustration by Mark Tedin
In most of the Tangle, the upper reaches are mostly unaffected, although it's just a matter of time before everything is consumed. The exception to this is the Cambree Garden, which is located at the top of a massive tree near what was once Tel-Jilad. The Cambree Garden has become home base for Glissa and her minions. It is from here that she facilitates Phyrexia's great work by encouraging nature to run its course. The strongest will emerge as dominant, she insists. Natural selection will determine the shape of the new Phyrexia without the harness of stagnation and the cumbersome adulation of Yawgmoth's memory.
Under Glissa's leadership, the Tangle has become overrun with beasts. Some resemble former Mirran creatures, but many more are a strange amalgamation of organic bodies and Phyrexian metal, lamina, and harvested flesh. Both Glissa and Benzir, the puppet leader of the compleated Sylvok, are "accelerating" natural selection in their own ways, resulting in ever deadlier and ferocious creatures wandering both the floor and the canopy.
The strongest predators carve out a niche for themselves in the Tangle and battle with each other for supremacy. In typical Phyrexian fashion, the predatory urge remains even though the need for sustenance is gone. Predation is the goal in and of itself.
Tree of Tales | Illustration by John Avon
Stewards of the Tangle
Glissa and her enforcers view themselves as "stewards" of the forest. She sees herself as encouraging the forest's natural state, which is predation. If anything gets in the way of the instinct to kill, she removes it by force. The way to further the Great Work is to continue to accelerate the "natural selection" process so that ever more powerful and deadly beings can emerge.
"The perfect Phyrexian predator does not evolve from experimentation. Jin Gitaxias will never find the right formula from one of his vats. We can facilitate predation, but any more interference will ruin the specimen."
—Vorinclex, Voice of Hunger
Field Notes from the Steward of Tangle Section 34-2
- Remove brain matter from a creature and replace it with either a Phyrexian cortex or crotus-born brain that permits the body to function and kill but not actually think independently.
- Predators need to be able to move quietly to stalk their prey. Replace hooves with clawed paw-like structures.
- Camouflage helps predators hide and ambush prey. Grow varying hides for different terrains. Remove and affix hides with metal barbs and hooks as necessary.
- Predators need good hearing, eyesight, and smell. Because there is no need to masticate food, the structure of the mouth changes dramatically. Existing teeth are extracted and the lower jaw removed. Teeth can be attached to joints not made for chewing.
- One sense is greatly enhanced at the cost of others. Every Phyrexian predator has superlative hearing, or smell, or vision, but only one of these.
- Add tails made from spare vertebra to serve as a rudder when leaping among the Tangles' trees.
- Bones are punctured and the marrow removed to reduce weight and improve agility. Skeletal structures are plated to compensate for the lack of solidity.
Benzir, Leader of the Phyrexian Sylvok
Many Sylvok died during Glissa's initial occupation of the forest. The small group of humans who survived and became Phyrexians continue to follow Benzir, their former leader. Like Glissa, Benzir believes in the supremacy of predatory instinct, but he has pursued a different tactic to achieve that aim, independently of Glissa and the Phyrexian leadership.
A young man in his 20s, Benzir was the archdruid of the Sylvok before the Phyrexians invaded. Under Benzir's leadership, the Sylvok became a veritable cult of animal worship in which animals were revered as near deities and vessels of the lost souls of their kin. Attempts were made to communicate with the spirits of the animals. In the aftermath of his compleation, Benzir retained a much-altered version of this belief. His splinter group believes in the soul, which is practically heresy to the Phyrexian system. Benzir is adamant that animals, or what's left of them, possess the collective consciousness of Phyrexia and will reveal how best to perfect the flawed design and achieve perfection.
Ezuri, Renegade Leader
After the Fifth Dawn, there was an initial period of confusion and terror among the elves. Their world had been irrevocably changed, their leaders had vanished, and the focal point of their civilization, Tel-Jilad, the Tree of Tales, had been called into question. As a result, the elves retreated inward, taking refuge in natural niches inside the massive trees of the Tangle. In their fear and confusion, they began to turn on each other, blaming others for their predicament as they waited for the next tragedy to befall them.
Ezuri, Renegade Leader | Illustration by Karl Kopinski
Then a leader emerged. A young elf named Ezuri began to unify the Viridians and direct them toward productive tasks. Before the Fifth Dawn, Ezuri was not a particularly distinguished warrior. But once he took command, he urged the elves to stop cowering in the cracks like vermin. He organized them and gave the Viridian elves new purpose.
His leadership proved crucial in the days after the Phyrexian assault began. While the Sylvok were almost entirely assimilated or wiped out, Ezuri was able to save many of his people and keep them hidden in their safe havens high in the treetops of the Tangle. Eventually, he organized them into a resistance movement and contacted other survivors across Mirrodin. Hope was dwindling, but Ezuri was one of the leaders who refused to let it die.
Greenhilt Trainee | Illustration by Chris Rahn
Melira, Sylvok Outcast
Melira is called "the Fleshling" because unlike everyone else on Mirrodin, she was born without any metal anatomy. She is unique in another way: she is immune to the Phyrexian contagion.
Melira was born a Sylvok, but she was abandoned in the Tangle as an infant for her so-called deformity—a fully organic body with no trace of metal. Alone in the Tangle, the baby would have died. But she was saved by an unlikely hero: the last troll living on Mirrodin.
The trolls that populated Mirrodin during the Fifth Dawn era had been brought to Mirrodin in Memnarch's soul traps. Many died in the battle with the Kaldra warrior. Any that remained in the Tree of Tales soon disappeared with the dawning of the green sun. Most inhabitants of the Tangle assumed they were all dead even before the invasion. But there is one left: Thrun. Thrun lives like an ascetic in a tainted area of the Tangle. He's tattooed his skin with the story of Glissa's innocence and Memnarch's treachery. He feels like a coward because he's done nothing to spread the truth about what happened years ago. During the time he lived in hiding, Thrun discovered evidence of a possible Phyrexian threat, and because of his age and wisdom, he knew exactly what the Phyrexians could do to the world. But still he did nothing.
And then he discovered Melira, an outcast like himself. Thrun adopted her, instilling in the girl the knowledge of Mirrodin's distant past, along with the skills she would need to survive its present day. Somehow, through an accident of nature, Melira was born immune to the effects of the Spore, the gas produced by the mycosynth that enables the metal anatomy of Mirrodin's life. Eventually, Thrun recognized the extent of her unique ability. She was not only immune to the Spore. As the Phyrexian threat spread, and she was unaffected, he realized that she was also immune to phyresis. Melira just might be the key to saving all of Mirrodin.
The story continues in The Quest for Karn by Robert Wintermute, available now.