Magic: The Gathering is a game about conflict, which is why relationships haven't exactly been... pivotal to the game's story. Urza was far from romantic. Gerrard wasn't much better. Jace and Liliana were fraught. But starting with the Gatewatch Saga, there was a burbling relationship with a torrid history in the fandom: Chandra and Nissa. Their love story kicked off during Battle for Zendikar, though the romantic gears didn't get properly going until Kaladesh. I'm here to lay out the history of the characters as they laid down groundwork for an exciting event: a queer romance featuring a prominent face of the game.
I'll be examining their history in the terms of a romance story. Get cozy in the bubble bath, pop open some champagne, and let's get heartstopping!
She was a pyromancer.
She was an elementalist.
...It was not very obvious.
[Author's note: Are Avril Lavigne references too dated? They're too dated, right?]
Picture this: you're an erratic pyromancer trying to fit in with a bunch of monks. You've got a bad past that you've been running from for years. A while back, you accidentally opened something that let out terrible monsters, and the guilt has been eating you. One day, a hunky guy who you had an adventure with shows up and asks for your help.
Along the way, you see her. The elf at the center of it all. She's been through it. You opened the door, but she broke it off its hinges. She's watched her home get eaten for months without help or hope, and yet, she's holding her head high. She's determined. Her name is Nissa Revane. She's quiet most of the time, but fierce in her resolve.
Instantly, all traces of affection for the indestructible hunk flicker out.
Chandra Nalaar came to Zendikar to assuage her own guilt in being involved with letting out the Eldrazi. Nissa Revane stayed on Zendikar because it was her home. Jace Beleren and Gideon Jura were also there, but they're side characters in this framework. Chandra specifically arrives when Nissa, Gideon, and Jace are being tormented by a newly sparked Ob Nixilis and saves them all (as seen in. They're confronted by the fact that the Eldrazi are incontrovertibly massive beyond comprehension and getting worse. Their only plan to contain them was shattered.
All they have left is a chance to destroy the Titans completely. In a beautiful moment, Nissa uses her intense connection with Zendikar's soul to draw up its mana in such a way that Chandra is able to channel it into a fireball so massive it reduces the Eldrazi titans to cinders.
That set the tone in the fandom. Chandra/Nissa was called
old classic spell combo. Chandra had risked her body, her life, on a desperate attempt to kill the Eldrazi and save Nissa's home; she was unable to walk for a few days after it, resting in Ulamog's skull until she regained feeling in her legs. That would inevitably pique the elf's interest, so the Gatewatch coming together really clicked things together.
Falling in Love
After a brief interlude cleaning up the third Eldrazi Titan, the romance would properly kick off. At the beginning of the Kaladesh story, Chandra is reminded of her painful past as a young kid whose parents worked against the desires of the government. She smuggled energy sources for them until things went wrong. Her father was killed in an explosion, and her mother disappeared (Chandra thought her dead, but awould change that).
Liliana encourages Chandra to go to Kaladesh and wreak absolute chaos, give in to her darker sides, and burn down everything for revenge if need be. Nissa goes after Chandra as well, but to stay at her side as a companion and help the pyromancer along through the journey. Nissa spends time worrying about how best to do this, as she's a very quiet, reserved person, contrasting against Chandra's loud, vibrant personality.
The two most important beats from the Kaladesh story are:
1., Chandra, and Nissa get caught by the , which is set to kill them. Chandra can't bring herself to planeswalk away and leave Oviya to die by herself, and Nissa chooses to stay by Chandra's side rather than leave her either. Oviya Pashiri ruminates on her own wife, now gone, as she looks at Chandra and Nissa. This signals their feelings having gone beyond friends and into something more.
2. Gideon and Chandra make a move to destroy part of the Consulate's plan. It basically involves them working together to become an actual bullet through Chandra's pyromancy and Gideon's invulnerability. Gideon has a moment where he wants to confess his feelings to the pyromancer, but gives up on the idea. This signals that Nissa's only competition for Chandra's feelings is cleared.
In the Amonkhet storyline, Nicol Bolas has corrupted an entire world for the purposes of wreaking his own apocalypse on it and making an army of zombies. The Gatewatch arrive to try and stop it. They manage to kill, one of the demons who owns part of Liliana's soul, but fail to stop Nicol Bolas.
There is some downtime during it, as the Gatewatch explore Naktamun and try to untangle the mystery of what has been done. During it, Chandra and Nissa have a very... open conversation in The Writing on the Wall. In it, Nissa confesses that the whole idea of being around people is entirely new to her. Chandra presses the matter, and Nissa does state how she enjoys the companionship and that Chandra is a friend. This is something which causes Chandra some anxiety and sad sighs.
Chandra has recognized her own feelings but doesn't know what to do about them. Nissa... hasn't figured out herself.
It all ends in tragedy when Nicol Bolas crushes the Gatewatch one by one and reveals that Liliana has worked for him before by compelling her to run away without a fight. Chandra, Nissa, and Gideon respectively try their hardest but end up planeswalking to avoid dying outright.
We get a major cause for concern here. Nissa takes Liliana's betrayal the hardest and leaves the Gatewatch in. Chandra doesn't take this super well, but commits to staying in Dominaria to train under and try to find more planeswalkers to stand together against Nicol Bolas. During her solo adventures, Chandra finds herself thinking of Nissa's calm quietude, remembering the mentoring in meditation that they did together to be better.
This all leads to the crescendo in...
War of the Spark
War of the Spark: Ravnica by Greg Weisman is... fine. Reminder: this is not an article dissecting its merits, just the moments building up Chandra and Nissa's relationship! There's not a lot in here, but it's impactful.
The Gatewatch comes back together, and Nissa swears her oath once more to re-join. Gideon sacrifices himself in the final conflict, and Liliana disappears. The Gatewatch has lost a lot, but they intend to keep going, thanks to new blood like Kaya.
After the victory, Chandra and Nissa confess their feelings and finally kiss.
The fandom rejoices.
The Break Up
At the halfway point of romance stories, things take a turn. They celebrate, but something goes wrong. It's not a tired trope or bad writing, it's just a story structure. Unfortunately, Chandra and Nissa's halfway point was delivered in... a bad book. I'm not sure it's actually the worst written book in Magic history, but it undoubtedly did the most damage to the fandom as a whole, but that's a different article.
Forsaken exists in a quasi-canonical state, but there is a solid beat here that definitely carried on. Chandra finds herself so angry and bitter and vengeful after Gideon's death that she can't bring herself to actually hold on to Nissa. She's lost and upset, and she doesn't know what to do with that.
So, before they even had a chance to start, Chandra ran away in fear.
It's notable that the reaction to Forsaken shook up Wizards of the Coast as a whole. They reconfigured several parts of their process, which unfortunately resulted in the Theros Beyond Death novel getting shelved with no other adaptation of the story being released in any capacity. They have made conscious efforts to patch things up with the community, though it is, of course, always worthwhile to be critical of those efforts. Shortly before the Kaldheim story, for instance, they posted an article that they would no longer concern themselves with the laws of certain countries and tell the stories they wanted to tell. Kaldheim would feature the nonbinary planeswalker, Niko Aris, and some of their struggle against destiny writ large.
Fighting for Love
The last act of a romance story is about both characters having to find themselves in some way, finish out their emotional arc, and resolve their problems before they can truly come back together. This one is a slow-burn, trickled carefully over the course of 2020-2023's Phyrexian Arc.
During Zendikar Rising, Nissa struggles with all of the problems from before. She is a quiet person, one who doesn't trust herself anymore after all of the failures. She asks herself over and over again, "What would Gideon do?" In the end, she decides that she must make decisions for herself and trust in her strength. She rebukes Jace for his meddling and takes hold of her role as Zendikar's guardian. She resolves that what is broken can be rebuilt, a lesson which Chandra will need to learn.
Meanwhile, Chandra has a sort of rebound event with Crimson Vow in Adeline, but her biggest crisis comes in the fallout of Dominaria United. Ajani reveals himself to be a sleeper agent by killing Jaya Ballard to recover the Sylex for Phyrexia. After losing her mentor, Chandra is angrier than ever. When told of the plan with Sylex and how it could tear apart all of
Mirrodin Phyrexia, Chandra seems delighted at the prospect. Not because she hates Mirrans but because she wants the Phyrexians completely wiped out. Nissa warns her not to revel in bloodlust, and the two are upset to be arguing already. After a massive battle with Phyrexians, the Strike Team gathers to work towards a plan to infiltrate Phyrexia. During it, Nissa regrets not being able to go talk to Chandra again, alone, as she better understands the pyromancer's fury.
Unfortunately, they don't get that chance, and the Strike Team goes out. They are scattered. Nissa winds up alone with Lukka, who immediately bonds to a Phyrexian beast and inevitably succumbs to compleation. He hunts her down and brings her back to Phyrexia, where the compleated Nissa works with Realmbreaker to unleash the full might of Phyrexia across the entire multiverse.
Chandra works with Wrenn to go back to Phyrexia in a desperate bid to fix things. She's in unimaginable pain seeing Nissa that way, and it freaks her out how calm the elf is in that state. Ultimately, with divine intervention from an ascended, the multiverse is capable of fighting back. They win, and even better: they are able to uncover a way to cure compleation in limited circumstances. Melira gives up her life and Karn sacrifices his spark in order to cure Ajani and Nissa.
The elf awakens, and Chandra declares that she's never letting her go again.
If I had a nickel for every time a story ended with Chandra and Nissa kissing, then got a sequel which threatened that new status quo, well, you know the rest.
Thankfully, their relationship wasn't forsaken this time, just... shaken up a little! Nissa Revane is one of many planeswalkers whose spark simply flickers out of existence in the days following the end of the Phyrexian Invasion, leaving her trapped on Zhalfir. She is upset and angry when she learns that Chandra does plan to keep planeswalking and having adventures.
But then she learns of Omenpaths... Nissa and Chandra walk through one, a particular one which seems to lead to Zendikar.
The End... For Now!
Whew! This is a rough summary of the storied events of Chandra and Nissa, from when they first truly got to know each other until now, when their solidified their relationship and actually managed to talk things out and overcome hurdles together. We're going on a year with no sight of either of them, but I hope they've gotten to really enjoy their year out of the narrative spotlight.
Dangers lurk for both of them, as Nahiri is determined to retake Zendikar for herself and protect it from all planeswalkers. Jace is still missing in action, and he has knowledge of Nicol Bolas that neither of them have: the Elder Dragon is still alive, but trapped... though who knows for how long, with Omenpaths abounding.
I don't know what the future holds, but I'm excited for it.
What do you think of their relationship? Do you think Wizards needs other relationships in their ongoing stories? Would any of you want to see Wizards release a singular novel that compiles the ongoing journey of Chandra and Nissa's relationship but rewritten as specifically a romance? Let me know in the comments below!