The World of Warcraft is an expansive universe. You're playing the game, you're fighting the bosses, you know the how -- but do you know the why? Each week, Matthew Rossi and Anne Stickney make sure you Know Your Lore by covering the history of the story behind World of Warcraft.
Last week, we talked about mages. This week, we talk about specific mages. Because for better or worse, mages have changed the very face of Azeroth and much of its history has been in reaction to them and their eternal quest for knowledge and power. And certainly, not always for the better.
After all, it was the Highborne, specifically the cadre of Highborne mages under Xavius who served Queen Azshara who tapped into the power of the Well of Eternity in a mad effort to bring forth Sargeras into Azeroth. They weren't warlocks or priests or druids - they were mages, the rulers of a mage-ruled society (Azshara herself was terrifyingly adept with the art of the mage) and their desire to understand had warped into an obsession with control. They wanted total mastery over the Well of Eternity and the potent arcane power it loosed into Azeroth -- understanding it was no longer enough when dominance seemed within their reach, and it drove them mad.
The path of the mage is, in its way, the most demanding of any because it requires the discipline of a skilled warrior and the flexibility of mind of the greatest sage. You must dominate the self, control your own inherent desires rather than be controlled by them. Even mages as great and powerful as Aegwynn failed because they lost the battle between the personal and the universal.
Today we'll look at mages throughout Azeroth's history and discuss their role in events.
It first has to be said that among the mages of Azeroth, Azshara might be the greatest currently living -- her personal power was so great that even Mannoroth the Pit Lord accepted that she was his superior, and that was over ten thousand years ago. Her long association with the Old Gods in her underwater domain has only given her time to grow greater still.
Azshara grew to adulthood convinced of her own greatness. She was born with the golden eyes that marked her for a potent destiny, which she took to mean the rulership of her people that she would attain as Queen (today such golden eyes are taken as a sign of great inherent druid potential - it's ironic that of the two Stormrage brothers, only one was born with such eyes, and it wasn't Shan'do Malfurion) and as her rule unfolded, she grew in power and in the reverence of her subjects. The Highborne would refuse her nothing. Even a mage as powerful, skilled and knowledgeable as Xavius (who'd replaced his own eyes with magical ones) could not refuse her, so skilled was she at manipulation. Azshara didn't have to exert herself to gain her objectives -- often, her people would fall over each other to secure anything she wished. But that didn't mean she couldn't do so.
Azshara's utter self-regard manifested as a terrifying obsession with using the Well of Eternity to perfect Azeroth. She sought to make it as glorious as she believed herself to be - having grown to adulthood constantly hearing of her beauty and greatness, she'd chosen to accept that it was so, and sought to reshape Azeroth to reflect her perfection. It's notable that upon her coronation, the Kaldorei changed the name of their capitol to Zin-Ashari in her honor. When Xavius, seeking to make his queen's desires a reality tapped too aggressively into the Well's magic he drew the attention of Sargeras, who easily dominated his mind and had him bring Azshara to the Well. It's debatable whether or not Sargeras actually dominated Azshara -- it's possible he didn't have to. She was already obsessed with her own superiority, and as such, only a being as powerful as the Dark Titan could possibly appeal to her.
Azshara's ultimate fate at the end of the War of the Ancients was to become Queen of the Naga, those of her followers who were changed by the Old Gods into serpentine ocean-dwellers. Considering she was powerful enough before the Old Gods took an interest in her that Mannoroth himself believed only Archimonde or Sargeras could defeat her, how ludicrously potent is her magic now? A servant of hers proved strong enough to kidnap Neptulon, the Tidehunter, elemental lord of water.
Queen Azshara is, without question, one of the most potent mages who has ever lived. But she has rivals to that position.
Aegwynn, the Guardian
Mother to Medivh (He gets a lot of coverage here at KYL, so he's not making this particular list, which focuses on three specific mages), Aegwynn did a lot more than have a child. In many ways, Medivh is just a footnote compared to Aegwynn's long career as Guardian. Aegwynn was the only woman among the five apprentices of Scavell, at that time (more than a thousand years before the First War) Guardian of Tirisfal, and Aegwynn was ultimately the best among them. Chosen to succeed her master, she became Guardian in turn, yet unlike her master she would chafe under the attempts of the Council of Tirisfal to dominate and control her and her actions. Once she had the power of the Guardian, her restless and agile mind could not be controlled by others - she instead sought out evil and demons whenever they entered Azeroth.
It must be said that Aegwynn was correct in her view - the Council did seek to control her, as it had all previous Guardians. At once time, the Guardian held the power and used it freely, but over the thousands of years of the Council's existence they'd come to dominate the Guardian - Aegwynn recognized and refused to accept this. Her intelligence was beyond compare. Aegwynn mastered scrolls in a few scant years that took Quel'dorei masters decades before she was even out of her apprenticeship -- she was indisputably the most skilled and powerful mage of her generation even before she was gifted with the power of the Tirisfalen. She even defeated an Avatar of Sargeras himself in pitched battle, placing the monster's corpse on a submerged island near the Maelstrom.
She however fell pray to hubris, hubris grounded in a record of success over centuries, but hubris nonetheless. So determined was she that no one, not the Council nor anyone else, should have control or influence over the Guardian of Tirisfal that she decided she would simply create her successor.
What happened next is well know and doesn't need repeating here - Medivh's life and Aegwynn's mistake is well worn ground. But it didn't end there, either. Even after having forfeited her power to her son, after his defeat of her in magical combat, she was still skilled enough in magic to unravel her own life-preserving spells and use them as a power source to eventually return her son from death following his defeat at the hands of Anduin Lothar. It was Aegwynn's incredible skill with magic that made the victory of the mortal races during the Third War possible -- her last years serving as Jaina Proudmoore's castellan were a form of retirement for her, and her death battling the Twilight's Hammer serves as a reminder that Aegwynn, despite her hubris, never shirked what she saw as her responsibility.
The Daughter of Kul Tiras
Jaina Proudmoore, head of the Kirin Tor, former Lady of Theramore, stands today as the most overtly powerful mortal mage on the face of Azeroth. Student of Antonidas, Jaina has been pivotal in many of the events that have shaped Azerothian history since the Third War - it was Jaina alone among the mages of Dalaran who heeded the words of the Prophet (later revealed to be Medivh) and led humans to the shores of Kalimdor, an act that allowed for the ultimate defense of Mount Hyjal against Archimonde and the Legion. Jaina's stand against her own father ultimately allowed the young Horde to survive in Durotar, an act that was repaid years later by the destruction of Theramore by Garrosh Hellscream and his mana bomb. Jaina also took part in the ultimate defeat of Arthas, her childhood friend and first love -- the Lich King's fall left Jaina free at last from the guilt of having turned away from Arthas outside Stratholme, even though her action may have saved the entire world from the Legion.
Jaina is marked by the death of Rhonin and the destruction of Theramore, but that doesn't change the fact that she is uniquely skilled and incredibly powerful - her magical ability was made clear when she defeated Aethas Sunreaver (an Archmage and member of the Council of Six) in a few seconds. Keep in mind, Jaina was alone when she battled Aethas, and he had two other mages with him -- Jaina dispatched them with contemptuous ease and Aethas didn't last much longer. Jaina's skill as a mage cannot be overstated. She learned how to use the Focusing Iris to devastating effect within seconds, and when Thrall arrived to challenge her, she easily defeated his attempt to free the elemental spirits she'd bound via the Iris and made it clear that she could and would kill him.
Jaina today, following the defeat of Garrosh Hellscream and the events of his trial, is at a crossroads, but her skill and power are not in question. While Azshara might well be more powerful, as she's had thousands of years to work upon her magic, Jaina has shown a breadth and depth of magical skill that can't be denied. She's trained under the head of the Kirin Tor, learned from a former Guardian, done direct battle against the demons of the Legion and the necromancy of the Lich King, and served as a magical field general against the Thunder King and the Horde alike. Without Jaina Proudmoore Azeroth would be a very different world indeed.
Sadly, space concerns mean that we can't really talk about other mages like Kael'thas, Khadgar, Antonidas, Xavius, or Rhonin. But that's what future columns are for.
While you don't need to have played the previous Warcraft games to enjoy World of Warcraft, a little history goes a long way toward making the game a lot more fun. Dig into even more of the lore and history behind the World of Warcraft in WoW Insider's Guide to Warcraft Lore.