In this article:
- Teldrassil is a magical tree that served as the home of the Night Elves.
- As the location of the capital city of Darnassus and an Alliance stronghold, Teldrassil has a rich history that’s deeply intertwined with Warcraft‘s geopolitics.
- In 2018, the limited-time event, War of Thorns, unveiled one of the most shocking twists we’ve seen in WoW since Arthas Menethil decided to kill everyone in Stratholme.
- The twist? Sylvanas orders the Horde to burn down Teldrassil to uproot the Alliance from Kalimdor.
- Following the destruction of Darnassus, many Night Elves fled to Alliance settlements such as Stormwind City and now reside in Mount Hyjal.
World of Warcraft is rich in lore and tragedy. The MMORPG is packed with horrific tales of digital genocide, war, and plague. If you ask players which events in WoW were the most tragic, though, they’ll either say it was Arthas’ purging of Stratholme or Sylvanas Windrunner’s choice to burn down Teldrassil.
It may come as a shock to former World of Warcraft and Hearthstone players, but everybody’s favorite shady elf burned down the Crown of the Earth back in 2018 with the release of the War of Thorns questline.
Unfortunately for new players, War of Thorns is no longer available in the game due to it being a limited-time event.
So if you’re a new player trying to catch up with WoW‘s decades-long lore or an ex-WoW player who’s still invested in the story, here’s everything you need to know about the burning of Teldrassil.
What Was Teldrassil?
Pretty much every piece of media these days has its own version of Yggdrasil, the World Tree that connects the nine realms of Norse mythology. In World of Warcraft, the Yggdrasil analog is Teldrassil.
Teldrassil was the home of the Night Elves, a race of long-lived ancient beings who were among the first to study magic. The tree was as mystical as its inhabitants.
Lore has it that the true Teldrassil reached far beyond where it appeared to be rooted, stretching into the skies above Kalimdor, and on its boughs, the Night Elves’ civilization thrived. Darnassus, the former capital city of the Night Elves, was located atop Teldrassil.
As you can guess, this tree is deeply intertwined with centuries of Azeroth’s history. Teldrassil was the home of Warcraft heroes such as Malfurion Stormrage and Tyrande Whisperwind and it was blessed by none other than the dragons Ysera and Alexstrasza.
Despite the blessings granted to it by the dragons, Teldrassil was destroyed by Sylvanas Windrunner who, by the time of War of Thorns, was already the Horde’s war chief.
Why Did Sylvanas Windrunner Burn Down Teldrassil?
Sylvanas Windrunner may have started out as a hero, but she’s been one of Warcraft‘s foremost villains for quite a while now.
Though Hearthstone players mostly remember her as one of the skins for the Hunter class, Warcraft‘s Sylvanas is a tragic figure who seems to grow more bitter with every new patch.
During the events of War of Thorns, she was serving as war chief of the Horde. As war chief, it was her duty to protect the Horde’s interests from the Alliance.
So, after hearing that the Alliance had discovered Azerite, a rare crystal containing the life essence of the planet Azeroth, and was planning to store it in Darnassus, she gathered her forces to take over the city.
Okay, so she took over Darnassus to prevent her enemies from using Warcraft‘s equivalent of nuclear power against her. Why burn down Teldrassil?
Though occupying Darnassus would have allowed Sylvanas to control the allocation and use of Azerite, she wouldn’t have been able to hold Darnassus for long considering that it was an Alliance stronghold.
Since she doesn’t really need Darnassus itself, just the Azerite, and to keep the Alliance at bay, burning down Teldrassil was a practical choice.
Some fans, however, think Sylvanas may have been motivated by spite when she destroyed the tree.
This hypothesis is mainly anchored on what Sylvanas is like as a person and how we, the players, discover her and Malfurion fighting at Darkshore.
How Does the War of Thorns Quest End?
As someone who has died before and has grown embittered by the experience, Sylvanas isn’t exactly a person who values life. This puts her at odds with other Horde members whose cultures respect life and place an emphasis on honorable warfare.
When we found Sylvanas and Malfurion at Darkshore, it was obvious that Sylvanas was the one losing to Malfurion and would have lost if not for the help of Saurfang who she then ordered to kill Malfurion.
That’s another tragedy of the Burning of Teldrassil by the way: Malfurion Stormrage is dead.
But the tipping point is the Warbringers scene where Sylvanas, who wanted to torment one of the Night Elves, is enraged when the Night Elf tells her she weeps not because Sylvanas scares her, but because she feels sorry for the war chief.
Sylvanas reacts by ordering her soldiers to burn down Teldrassil.
Players who watched the scene were horrified by the implications of burning the tree since, as the Night Elf said, only civilians were left up there.
The quest ends in two ways. For Alliance players, the end of War of Thorns looked like evacuating Darnassus, as in the A Flicker of Hope quest, and finding villages full of dead bodies. Horde players didn’t get off any easier since they had to kill defending soldiers.
Overall, it makes for a pretty harrowing and hopeless experience. Completing the quest with the Horde left players feeling complicit in a fictional genocide while Alliance players felt like they were being sent on a fool’s errand.
Once the quest ended, one question came to the front of many Warcraft players’ minds: Just how many night elves died in Sylvanas’ Burning Man festival?
How Many Night Elves Died When Teldrassil Burned?
There aren’t any exact figures that could give us a clue of how many Night Elves died in the destruction of Darnassus, but some estimates put it at around 15,000 to 20,000. However, the reasons as to why aren’t exactly clear and it seems more like a fan’s wild guess than a thought-out rough estimate.
However, we confidently presume that the number of Night Elves who died was a significant chunk of the overall Night Elf population.
We have to remember that Teldrassil was the location of a Night Elf capital city and, applying real-world logic that capital cities have high populations, would have hosted many Night Elves who were priestesses, craftsmen, and the like.
Since Warcraft is, like many fantasy video game settings, influenced by European medieval history, its setting remains mostly unindustrialized.
If we go by population averages during the medieval era, most cities had populations of roughly 8,000 to 12,000 people. So, 12,000 Night Elves are dead. Doesn’t sound so bad, right?
But if we take a look at major medieval cities such as London and Venice, that number could easily be anywhere from 25,000 to 100,000.
Is this a flawless way to try and put a number on how many Night Elves died? No. But unless Blizzard decides to give us an official number, the most we can really do is guess based on WoW books, games, and outside sources — none of which have a final say on the matter.
If you really want to take WoW Night Elf casualties seriously, though, the only thing we can reasonably presume is that a lot of people died and the brain drain their deaths caused may be an even bigger problem down the line than the casualties themselves.
Are the Night Elves Extinct?
Not really. While many Night Elves perished during the burning of Teldrassil, there are still a number of Night Elf settlements outside of Darnassus. Among them is Ashenvale Forest, a region that is mostly under the control of the Alliance.
Though Ashenvale was vulnerable during the attack by the Horde, it was able to hold out.
Because of this, we can presume that there are still pockets of Night Elf populations residing in Ashenvale Forest.
Another key piece of information that assures WoW fans that the Night Elves aren’t extinct is that most of the Night Elf army was sent out of Darnassus and Ashenvale to Silithus. The Horde had tricked the Alliance into believing they would attack Silithus so that the Alliance would leave Darnassus and Ashenvale undefended.
This means that a good portion of the Night Elves’ healthy, reproduction-capable citizens weren’t in Darnassus when it burned down. Players can expect future lore to state that the group had a hand in stabilizing the Night Elf population.
So while we won’t have to worry about the Night Elves being extinct, it’s possible that they’re currently endangered or, at least, near threatened.
Or who knows? Maybe Blizzard will cook up another nightmare for the Night Elves who can never seem to catch a break. Sorry, Night Elf fans.
Where Are the Night Elves Now?
Many of the Night Elf survivors were evacuated to other Night Elf settlements such as Ashenvale and Alliance cities.
A good chunk of Night Elves and their remaining leadership ended up in Stormwind City, a human city with a notable population of High Elves.
After getting back on their feet, though, many of them moved to Nordrassil, the original World Tree of the Night Elves before Teldrassil’s creation.
Nordrassil is currently the Night Elves’ “kind of, but not really” capital.
According to Madeleine Roux, author of several World of Warcraft books, Nordrassil isn’t the Night Elves’ de facto capital, but it is where many Night Elves have chosen to “post up for now.”
Considering that most of the Night Elves’ remaining population and many of their leaders are currently in Nordrassil, it’s the closest thing they have to a capital.
But All Is Not Lost Because It Looks Like World of Warcraft Is Bringing Back Teldrassil
Fans were understandably upset by the burning of Teldrassil. After all, not only was the Night Elf city the subject of a harrowing tragedy, but it was also the starting zone for many Warcraft players.
Players who choose to begin the game as a Night Elf start their journey in Shadowglen, one of the settlements located on Teldrassil. After the War of Thorns quest, that area is now completely wiped off the maps of higher-level players.
For new players, this means they’re going to level up and see their Warcraft hometown just disappear with little fanfare because the quest is no longer available in-game.
For older players, it’s watching their Warcraft hometown burn down after years of memories.
So when the official @Warcraft Twitter account tweeted photos of starter locations in August 2020 with the caption, “Home is where your ❤ is.” fans were quick to remind Blizzard that they destroyed Teldrassil.
@Warcraft replied to the Tweet saying, “Trees can regrow! 😉”
WoW is a live service game so there’s little incentive for Blizzard to let its convoluted storyline end anytime soon. Whether or not the Tweet is a direct hint at the return of Teldrassil, chances are that Blizzard will bring back Teldrassil anyway.