Hello and welcome to yet another Flavor Text and Lore article. Stay a while… And read about the story and lore behind the Druid Hero, Malfurion Stormrage.
Malfurion is an unavoidable mention in any discussion about druid lore in Warcraft. After all, he was the first druid – and over ten thousand years after his introduction to the druidic arts, he still plays an active part in determining the druid’s overall role in Azeroth’s history.
He has also been singled out as Warcraft’s Lead Story Creative Chris Metzen’s favorite character.
So let’s see where it all started…
The War of the Ancients
Over ten thousand years ago, and a long time after the Titan’s taming of the world and the ascension of the Dragon Aspects as Azeroth’s protectors, the elven race was blooming.
Much of their progress was due to studying and learning how to use the mystical energies contained in the Well of Eternity, a pool of pure energy found in the center of the huge continent that made up most of Azeroth. The Well itself was a phenomenon that is suspected to have originated from the blood of a slain Titan, fallen in combat against the Old Gods.
Malfurion was at that time a respected scholar, loyal to the elven queen, Azshara, and apprenticed to the demigod cenarius, becoming the first to learn the arts of druidism. But soon he started to suspect that the queen and her Highborne caste, akin to Night Elf nobility, were hiding something from their people.
He was not mistaken. Sargeras, the corrupted titan and Lord of the Burning Legion, had sensed the strong magical energies unleashed by the Highborne’s experiments, and that had led him to discover the world of Azeroth – a rich world full of life, energy and all that he despised. A world ripe for the taking.
Seduced by promises of even greater power, Azshara and her followers opened a portal through which the demons of the Legion could come into Azeroth, and so they did, laying waste to the land and to the Night Elf empire, spraying only Azshara and her Highborne, who were distorted into demonic forms. Their ultimate goal was to prepare the Well of Eternity for the coming of their lord.
Malfurion saw himself leading a rebellion, backed by the priestess Tyrande and his brother illidan-stormrage, who was at the time a master of the art of spellcasting.
But as it became clear that the only way to beat the Legion would be to shatter the Well of Eternity, depriving the invaders of their path to this world, but also cutting the Night Elves from the source of their magical power and immortality, Illidan revolted, and betrayed his friends, running to warn the Highborne and their masters.
The battle that followed saw the whole nation of elves and even the legendary Dragonflights join up against legions of demons and the Highborne traitors – and ended with Malfurion himself casting the spell that would break the world.
The forces the druid and his battle with Azshara unleashed made the Well collapse into itself, dragging the surrounding lands along into what would go on to be known as the Maelstrom, a whirlpool of swirling chaos that revolves in the center of Azeroth’s great ocean to this day.
The remainder of the single, huge continent that existed in Azeroth was sundered into several pieces: the three major continents of Kalimdor, Northrend, and the Eastern Kingdoms, the Broken Isles, the Kenzan Isles, and some as yet unknown landmasses.
Only the continent-like island of Pandaria, through the magic inherent to the land and the will and sacrifice of its Emperor, was spared from the catastrophe, hidden and protected by a shroud of magical mist.
The remaining Night Elves, in the meantime, had been led by survivors Malfurion and Tyrande across the raging seas and to the shores of the new continent of Kalimdor, where they sought to rebuild their lives.
But shortly upon their arrival, they found out that illidan-stormrage had committed a final act of treachery – he had saved some water from the Well of Eternity, and used it atop Mount Hyjal, creating a new Well.
In his lust for magical power, Illidan did not care that the new Well of Eternity would forever be a beacon to help the Legion navigate the paths of the nether into Azeroth. Malfurion imprisoned his brother magically beneath the land, fearful of his greed further endangering their people. But he did not dare to try to destroy the new Well of Eternity, the sundering of the world still fresh on his mind.
In the end, a pact with the Dragons was made. alexstrasza used her life-giving powers to grow a gigantic tree over the Well: Nordrassil, the World Tree. nozdormu blessed the Night Elves with eternal life for as long as the Tree stood, so they could guard it and honor it. And ysera linked the Tree to the Emerald Dream, so that through it she could draw on the Well’s powers and used them to nurture and heal the whole world.
The price to pay was that the druids would have to be linked with the Dream, to sleep for millennia at a time in order to maintain it, only to wake up when there was dire need for their services.
Malfurion accepted the price, and slept, even though it pained him to be separated from Tyrande.
Origins of the Druid Class
The Druid in Warcraft lore is a considerably different beast (no pun intended) from most of its fantasy fiction counterparts. Druids in fantasy settings tend to be represented as the “flower-power” version of the Cleric / Priest, effectively being clerics devoted to nature or to the Gods that embody nature.
Like the clerics, they are able to call on the bounty of their chosen deity – in this case, nature and the natural world – to heal, divine, or strike at their foes. Some very experienced druids, or those with special blood in them – lycanthrope blood, for example – can eventually shapeshift into wild creatures.
This was the concept that Blizzard took and ran with for their vision of the druid class. While some druids, particularly those specialized in healing, don’t make frequent use of their shapeshifting abilities, the Warcraft druid is, at its heart, based around shapeshifting.
The Druid in Warcraft III
The Druid was only introduced to the Warcraft universe in the third iteration of the real-time strategy series.
As a part of the plot of the game’s main single-player campaign, that told the story of the banding of the mortal races of Azeroth against the undead Scourge and the demonic Burning Legion in what would later become known as “The Third War”, the Night Elf ruler Tyrande Whisperwind set out to release the druids from their ten thousand years of slumber, so they could help the beleaguered defenders against the warlike people that invaded their shores – at that time, the Horde, who, led by the Shaman Hero Thrall, was fleeing from the Eastern Kingdoms across the sea.
And the first who she awakened was Malfurion himself, who, curiously, had the ability set of a keeper-of-the-groove, even though he didn’t share of their similarity to centaurs. This is likely due to his apprenticeship under cenarius, himself father of the Keepers (and speculatively, some breeds of centaur).
So from the start, Malfurion was a jack of all trades, able to negate enemy movement by summoning roots to entangle them, heal allies, and strike relentlessly at his foes with force-of-nature.
But even in Warcraft III the druids were characterized for their sheer variety and flexibility. Soon after his own awakening, Malfurion set out to wake up the Druids of the Talon, shapeshifting masters of the skies aligned with the demi-goddess avianna, and the savage members of the druid-of-the-claw sect, who could originally transform into bears (but not cats), and heal their allies.
A Rude Awakening
The leader of the druids had his work cut out for him ever since waking up.
While he could not forgive the orcs for grommash-hellscream’s killing of his friend and mentor cenarius, he was ultimately more cool headed than his lover Tyrande, and prevented her from flat out rejecting the peace that Medivh was trying to broker between the three factions – Human, Orc and Night Elf – so they could band against their common enemy, the Legion.
This was later revealed a wise decision, as during the final battle, every able man and orc was precious in delaying the unstoppable march of Archimonde the Defiler, one of the Eredar Lords of the Burning Legion, and his armies, towards the source of the Night Elves’ immortality, the World Tree Nordrassil, beneath which was hidden the Well of Eternity – the key for opening a portal that would enable the full might of the Legion to enter Azeroth.
As Archimonde finished laying waste to the last defensive force, the Night Elf base, and grappled the World Tree, Malfurion summoned the empowered wisps, as portrayed in dark-wispers, to destroy the Eredar Lord’s body and send his soul screaming back into the twisting-nether.
The victory was not without its cost. Besides the enormous loss of life among the defenders, the World Tree was forever crippled, bringing an end to the Night Elves’ immortality, and the continent of Kalimdor was shaken to its very core.
But the defeat of the Burning Legion was far from the end of the legendary druid’s troubles. For, hoping him to be an asset against the Legion, Tyrande had previously released his brother illidan-stormrage from captivity, and the demon-hunter, now turned half demon himself through the fel magics contained in Gul’dan’s skull, was causing trouble of his own.
Malfurion and Tyrande pursued Illidan all the way to the Eastern Kingdoms, fearing he was gathering an army of Naga to strike at his former people. But after some conflicts, they realized that Illidan, though following a path they didn’t approve, did not mean any threat to them or to the other night elves.
The brothers had little love left between them, but parted with words of peace, as Illidan took refuge in Outland, and Malfurion went back to sleep in service of the Emerald Dream.
Evolution of the Druid in World of Warcraft
By the end of Warcraft III, the druid was a mishmash of concepts, albeit a very powerful and enjoyable one. Blizzard took this further and decided to make the druid the one true hybrid class.
While Paladins and Shaman were hybrid classes, they still had some limitations. Paladins, while having a tank specialization, did not have the proper tools for tanking at the dawn of World of Warcraft. And Shaman were even more stunted in this regard, being restricted to wearing mail armour or weaker.
But more importantly, both had to pick which role they would like to play, and the process of switching to another role was a convoluted and expensive one.
The Druid, on the other hand, also had to commit to a specialization – Balance, the offensive caster role, in the vein of keeper-of-the-groove, Restoration, the healer role, or Feral Combat, the tank / melee damage dealer role adopted by the druid-of-the-claw – but an unspecialized druid could still play another role in a pinch, simply by shapeshifting into the appropriate form.
More interestingly, and the reason why the druid is considered the “true” hybrid class, is the fact that the shape shifting really brings forward a “shift” (again, no pun intended) in mechanics.
Druids that shift into bear form gain a huge armour multiplier, but more importantly, they start accumulating rage instead of mana – a Warrior class resource – in effect “shifting” their playstyle closer to that of the warrior class.
Similarly, Druids that choose to shift into cat form will find their mana bar replaced by the rogue’s energy bar, and their attacks will start generating combo points that are used much like when playing a rogue.
The class still felt cumbersome for a while, though. Their versatility meant that they benefited from a lot of different kinds of equipment, so gearing up a druid was difficult and often confusing.
Bear Druids in particular had a tough time being accepted as tanks in high level content, where optimization was king and the warriors still had a slight edge.
As World of Warcraft started being further refined, so did the hybrid classes, and the druid in particular. Shapeshifting became more fluid, gear management got optimized, and each specialization got the tools needed to be the equal of any other specialized class.
Today, the druid is more versatile than ever, while still being able to compete with any specific class that specializes in the same area as he does.
Malfurion Rises Again
Malfurion had gone back to the Emerald Dream after the events of the third war and the final confrontation with his brother. But something unexpected happened.
It had been known for a long time that the Emerald Dream was not completely pure, that even there the Old Gods tried to assert their dominance via a phenomenon called “The Emerald Nightmare”, a malevolent distortion that traveled to different parts of the dream and affected it.
But the Nightmare grew, and some force within it – or, some suspected, without – attacked Malfurion’s dream form, trapping him in the Dream and leaving his real body in a permanent unawakened state.
Throughout the years, dedicated players that sought out hard-to-find quests could catch glimpses of what was happening, hints that Malfurion was fighting inside the Emerald Dream, alongside the spirit form of his late mentor , trying to minimize the threat of a growing Nightmare, a Nightmare that threatened to consume the Dream and bleed into Azeroth.
It was only many years after his return to the dream that Malfurion was saved, after the defeat of the Lich King, by a coalition of some of Warcraft’s greatest heroes. With their help, Malfurion managed to defeat the servants of the Old Gods and reduce the Nightmare to a small anomaly within the Dream.
And so he came back into the world of the awakened, finally marrying his love Tyrande and taking his place as a leader of the Night Elves. And right in time to witness the Cataclysm brought about by [card]deathwing.
After playing an important part in helping the players confront the black dragon and restoring the world to a more balanced state, Malfurion retired to the druidic haven of the Moonglade for the duration of the events in Pandaria and in the latest expansion, Warlords of Draenor.
But as players come to him with a fragment of the Emerald Nightmare, ripped from the claws of a newly-defeated Archimonde, who once again had come back from the twisting-nether with dreams of conquest, Malfurion readies himself to play a part in defending Azeroth once more.
Thank you for sticking with me for this huge article. Malfurion’s story is with no doubt the biggest and most complex in all of Warcraft lore, and I was forced to leave much unsaid in the interest of maintaining readability.
As the Lore series nears its end – though some extra articles may crop up afterwards – now all that is left is to take on some notable and Legendary druid cards.
Please let me know in the comments which ones you feel to be the most important!