This section describes the Seven Steel Thanes, the faction associated with black mana.
"Only those who possess the zeal to seize power from their lessers are worthy to wield the full might of Phyrexia."
—Sheoldred, Whispering One
Since the beginning, Phyrexia arose from the fetid swamps and murky bogs, and they have played a part in defining the Phyrexian identity. But with the rise of New Phyrexia, its system has had to adapt to the availability—even abundance—of all manner of terrain, from mountain crags to expanses of razorgrass covering the Glimmervoid. The swamp-dwelling Phyrexians of the plane have little reason to view this as a threat. They possess only a vague understanding of the past. Dim recollections of the old ways have been passed down to them through impressions in the glistening oil.
Black Sun's Zenith | Illustration by Daniel Ljunggren
The rise of New Phyrexia began at Ish-Sah, the epicenter of the Mephidross. Many creatures native to the Mephidross were already Phyrexians, perhaps even during Memnarch's day. Farther afield, the nim and Moriok serve as a foothold for Phyrexian corruption.
"How I escaped I don't know. Perhaps they let me, but I find that hard to believe. There are so many of them, too many to count, pouring out of Ish Sah. I covered myself in the discarded carcass of some unlucky loxodon and snuck out of the lacuna mixed in with hordes of Phyrexians on their way to war, choking on my own bile. Their leaders are cunning and devious and their warriors are brutish and mindless. We don't stand a chance."
—Reconnaissance report from Mafa, leonin stalker
The Seven Steel Thanes
The seven thanes undeniably stand as the most powerful influences over the Phyrexian faction associated with black mana. Having claimed power during the war with the plane's inhabitants, the thanes have managed to carve out territories around the expanding edges of the Mephidross and also in the burgeoning underworld of New Phyrexia's core. Only one remains doggedly at the center of the Mephidross: Geth, the Gatekeeper, straddles the lacuna tunnel between the shadows of the surface and the darkness within.
"The feeble resistance of the flesh is all but over. Phyrexia spreads its shadows over all that is. Only Phyrexians can survive in Phyrexia, and only one Phyrexian can be father of all—Father of Machines. Yet a usurper sits upon the throne: Karn. To the thanes, this man of dumb silver cannot be the real Father of Machines. To be Father of Machines, one must survive a birth in its heart and the deaths of many brethren. The path to leadership is paved with the backs or the bones of one's lessers. Survival is the Phyrexian way, and if this Karn cannot live through the attempts on his crown, he should never have donned it."
Each of the seven thanes knows these truths, though they do not speak them aloud. To give whisper to such thoughts would weaken a thane's chances at bringing plans to fruition. Truth is always a weapon in your enemies' hands. No thane has friends, and foes owe fealty to the thanes only until they have a weapon to twist against them.
Illustration by Chris Rahn
Each thane wages a secret war of succession, understanding with absolute certainty that he/she/it is the true Father of Machines. All that matters is the thane's eventual ascension. Plots are made, alliances formed, deals brokered, and armies marshaled. Upon taking leadership of all, the glorious brilliance of the methods by which it claimed power will be transformed from horrid treachery to holy doctrine. Yet the thanes have not gained their places through rash action. Smiles hide the purpose of teeth. At the right moment, the time for polite audiences and alliances will be over.
"Geth. That little cur whose acid tongue licks the feet of all those foolish enough to be lured in by his sycophantic whimperings. I shall have his jabbering, Moriok head on a platter to dissect and consume, but for now his feckless ambition has its uses for me."
—Sheoldred, Whispering One
Sheoldred, Whispering One
"To Know Is To Rule."
Sheoldred, the thane that currently hold the tenuous position of Praetor, sits at the heart of a vast network of spies, scouts, blackmailers, and informers. Each face leads a different wing of her multi-layered organization: corruption, observation, distortion, extortion, obfuscation, and dissemination.
Illustration by Jana Schirmer & Johannes Voss
For Sheoldred, information is power. The ignorant fail without really knowing why, but with enough knowledge, you cannot fail because you accept no outcome that does not advance your goals. Without doubt, Sheoldred is one of the most knowledgeable and intelligent Phyrexians on the plane.
From her hidden seat within the planar core, Sheoldred schemes to gain control over all Phyrexia. Patient and cautious, she makes moves of layered subtlety. Using her knowledge to aid and hinder foes, Sheoldred keeps them constantly wondering if she is friend or foe.
Geth, Lord of the Vault
"Everyone Should Owe You Something."
The undead head of the once-Moriok Geth protected the secret of the Phyrexian threat beneath the surface of the world, and for his complicity in their invasion he was rewarded with a new body. Since then he has steadfastly maintained his position at the Vault of Whispers, defeating challengers through a mix of might, wit, and guile. Geth's most powerful weapon is the influence he can exert through brokering deals and alliances, both for himself and others. Using eldritch contracts, he forces others to abide by terms or become his slaves.
Geth, Lord of the Vault | Illustration by Whit Brachna
Geth's main frustration is that his position on the surface hems him into the center of the Mephidross, forcing Geth to face the other ambitious thanes on all sides.
Azax-Azog, the Demon Thane
"Inspire Fear in All."
The thane Azax-Azog is a demon of terrible physical power and heinously depraved intellect. Of all the thanes, he retains his power most through cruelty and fear. Through brute power and the actions of his terrified followers, Azax-Azog has carved out a realm that extends from the Mephidross into much of the Oxidda Chain. Azog's minions constantly battle Urabrask's Phyrexianized monstrosities that now reside in the mountains, often press-ganging them into his armies or enslaving beasts to fight for him.
Illustration by Stephen Martiniere
Azax-Azog knows that fear is the only real power in the world. A stronger opponent can be so weakened by fear that it simply accepts defeat and death. A weak warrior might tear through dozens of braver enemies when it fears them less than its leader. Azog's realm inspires fear with every step. Azax-Azog acts always to make more fear him, for when their terror outweighs other thoughts, he will rule and prove he is the true Father of Machines.
"Look upon me and despair. I bring your doom upon my wings. I shall feast upon your corpses and from your bones I will make a magnificent throne that will rival Ish Sah. I will be the Father of Machines who will move the Great Work of Phyrexia forward upon this metal world and crush all who oppose me. Look deep into the pit that is my soul and know this to be true."
—Azax-Azog, the Demon Thane
Roxith, Thane of Rot
"The Machine Will Be Pure."
The thane of rot hates all flesh. Flesh is a sickness that infects Phyrexia and is the primary reason to destroy or compleat the repulsive creatures that Phyrexia found scrabbling about the exterior. Roxith himself has rid himself of visible flesh and bone, replacing it with tubes and metal structures and attaching what remains of his body to the chest of a great golem, as though crucified across its front. This golem obeys Roxith's screeched words as if they were its own thoughts, and is constantly followed by a pack of scavenging imps that hope to feed upon any flesh Roxith cuts away from a Phyrexian.
Illustration by Stephen Martiniere
Roxith believes in the purity of Phyrexia, and believes that flesh represents an enemy to that purity. It is his desire that all such unclean elements of Phyrexia be expunged. Only then will Roxith deign to take the throne and claim his rightful place. Until the putrid parts of the world have rotted away, Thane Roxith allows others to think themselves leaders. Lords of lepers, dukes of disease, viceroys of vomit—Roxith will be Father of Machines, not the disgusting offal that others hug to themselves.
Kraynox, the Deep Thane
"Rebuild What Was."
Kraynox, a massive, many-limbed Phyrexian slick and dripping with oil, never emerged onto the surface for the war against Mirrodin's natives. Instead he built up his power among those within the world and began his great project to weave a new layer between the mycosynth pillars, between the completed Furnace Layer and the core of the world. He now lords over a web-work of platforms and dangling structures that slowly close together and spread like an umbrella between Mirrodin's core and the floor of the Furnace. Kraynox's domain is a shadowed world saturated with oil. Sluices and living vessels lift black liquid up among the hanging buildings and a webwork of aqueducts and pipes carry it around where it is needed. Inevitably, it drips down into pools and marshes on the ground where collectors work to suck it back up again.
Illustration by Lars Grant-West
"Let them vie for power and carve each other up for a seat closer to the Father of Machines. I will watch them and laugh as their greed and ambition overpowers their patience and will. They will fall, one by one, and then I will rise and claim my power. My roots run deep into the oil, and I have learned much from it."
—Kraynox, Deep Thane
Vraan, Thane of Blood
"Death to All Enemies."
Thane Vraan survived the war with Mirrodin's natives as a compleated vampire. Although not a true Phyrexian from the core, he managed to prove quite useful to the Phyrexians as an assassin and a leader of assassins. Once a leader among the Bleak Coven, Vraan managed to roughly approximate that mercenary organization among the new Phyrexian order. As the Phyrexians gained control, he also offered his services and those of his followers as an executioner. Now open and secret members of the Bleak Coven can be found all over the world, working as assassins and executioners for many different Phyrexian leaders.
Vraan sees the path to the throne of the Father of Machines littered with the bodies of his enemies. Through spies, assassinations, and weakening others by their sacrifices for his agent's services, Vraan hopes to gradually eliminate all power sufficient to oppose him.
Thrissik, the Writing Thane
"Destroy Everything and Rebuild."
Phyrexia exists to spread and gain control, but what should it do when there is nothing left to take? Thrissik knows. It must give birth to its destroyer. That destroyer must then take control of Phyrexia, and from it must a new destroyer be born. The cycle must continue because Phyrexia must always be improved and strengthened. With each resurrection from its own ashes, Phyrexia will be stronger than before. Thrissik seeks the Destroyer and wants to place himself as the Father of Machines because he believes he will recognize the Destroyer when it arises. He hopes that he is the Destroyer that will bring about Phyrexia's rebirth, but either way, a new Destroyer must eventually rise.
Illustration by Terese Nielsen
Creatures under the thanes exist in two broad social strata. In the lower strata are the savage nim, bestial creatures, compleated Mirrans, and mercenary undead. Pure Phyrexians of intelligence and the most resourceful of the compleated Phyrexians form a higher caste.
The relationship is not unlike some feudal societies, with the lower caste as the serfs and conscripts in armies, while the higher caste serves as the nobility in the courts and the knights and officers of the thanes' armies. Yet this structure takes a uniquely Phyrexian form.
Illustration by Steve Argyle
For example, a thane might express a strange civility in welcoming the emissary of another thane, speaking cordially with the messenger while the emissary's bodyguards are flayed alive. The herald of an important Phyrexian lord might announce the arrival of its patron by cutting his name into its own skin. Such displays aren't custom among the feudal Phyrexians; instead, each thane or petty warlord acts within the bounds of its own brand of courtesy—until the sham is no longer useful.
"Was that me laughing just now? Oh my, what you must think. I was about to find out what you have in that tiny, little brain of yours with my big, shiny hook here and I couldn't contain myself. You must feel that I am not appreciating the full gravity of your situation, but I can assure you that I take my work quite seriously."
—Geth, Lord of the Vault
Obliterators. These massive horrors are the next generation of Phyrexian Negators. In the endless pursuit of perfection, the Phyrexian splicers and stitchers have created their latest lethal masterwork.
Illustration by Todd Lockwood
Ripper Scarab. Swarms of these bladed and beetle-like creatures with infantile metal faces scurry around the realm of Thane Roxith. Many travel in his wake or those of his followers on the battlefield, scraping flesh from the fallen (or simply the weak) and mincing it with their tiny jaws. Ripper scarabs then expel a dark red pulp that rots.
Vault Skirge. These are created by Geth and his cohorts to bring back vital flesh and fluids to Ish Sah for use in creating his Phyrexian monstrosities. They fly in and attach themselves to their prey with a powerful claw, they then either bite a chunk of flesh off or suck a victim's blood before flying off to their master, delivering their stolen payload.
Illustration by Brad Rigney
Wrack Imp. These Phyrexian imps flit or caper about with fear-masks screwed over their normal faces. They are often servants of Azax-Azog, and their appearance always heralds some dire or frightful event. They inspire terror just by screaming past overhead or gibbering underfoot.
Exarchs. They are the elite of Sheoldred's forces devoted to repurposing the dead for use. They are also responsible for seeking out information and then destroying all evidence or source of it, making certain that only Sheoldred knows.
Ichor Worm. These massive worms slide through the gel of the glistening dunes and the waters of the Darkslick like sea serpents.
Nim. The nim are much as they were. They act as roving killers unless marshaled into a fighting force by more powerful Phyrexian lords. The thanes and other Phyrexians often modify nim to better suit their purposes, such as by replacing arms with blades or legs with stilts.
Illustration by Karl Kopinski
Moriok. The Moriok that survived were compleated to be self-sacrificing executioners. Their eyes being deemed useless, they were rendered blind. Now they sense movement and objects around them through a permanent out-of-body experience, puppeting their own actions and watching themselves as if in a dream.
"We were already the predators of this plane long before the arrival of the Father of Machines. I know this world and its scurrying rabble more than even Gitaxias and his feeble minions, and it is I who will take the throne. I have eyes in the dark and my reach extends from the Father's throne into Norn's precious cathedral. Soon, I will drink all their lives and consume their power. Phyrexia will know a new Father of Machines."
—Vraan, Thane of Blood
Artifacts, Items, and Locations
Contract of Geth. Contracts created by Geth bind their signers not by word but by will. Those who break a contract of Geth fall utterly into his power. This has made the dangerous contracts a standard for compacts between distrusting parties. Thane Geth sends these eldritch metal tablets all over the world in the hands of parading guarded retinues, ensuring the secrecy of the signers.
Illustration by James Ryman
Kraynox's Orrery. This object represents the most detailed conglomeration of Kraynox's theories of what Phyrexia should look like. Nine half-spheres nested within each other whirl about on a central axis, each pierced by holes marking the paths of various lacunae. Around this structure spin the five suns of New Phyrexia. It's said that Kraynox can use the orrery to divine the future as well as recall his visions of what he believes to be the "past."
Crypt of Keepsakes. Vraan and his servants often claim the heads of their victims as proof of death or as trophies, but many of them actually end up in the hidden Crypt of Keepsakes. There the heads are shelved in a library of ghosts. Vraan or his compleated Moriok spirit-talkers use soul siphons to suck the souls of the victims out of their heads and place them into vessels—victims strapped down for the purpose of being possessed, then tortured for information.
The Wailing Cairns. Throughout Azax-Azog's realm and in any place he conquers, he has his followers build weeping cairns. These tall spires are piles of the skulls of victims that weep quicksilver tears and emit a cacophonous mix of whispers, cackling laughter, screeches, and moans.
Illustration by Jason Felix
Astral Coffers. These irregular polygons contain the thoughts of Sheoldred. To open them, a different secret word must be whispered to each side, and they must be spoken in the correct order by turning the shape in the proper direction each time. When properly opened, an astral coffer transports the opener to an astral space where no others can hear the thoughts of Sheoldred. Improperly opening an astral coffer can result in being told a lie or in meeting something other than Sheoldred's thoughts in that astral space. Many who improperly open an astral coffer simply never return.