~A Planeswalker's Guide to Alara:
A Magic: The Gathering Field Guide
by Doug Beyer and Jenna Helland.
Although this title will be released on September 2, 2008, the most excellent BlueNu was able to obtain an early copy, crash read and provide the following summary for us . . . Thanks BlueNu!
I strongly recommend purchasing this if you have not already pre-ordered it.
Races: Rhoxes, Avens, Humans, Leotau (semi-intellegent feline mounts), Angels.
Avens, Humans, and Rhoxes exist peacefully with each other, but share a common caste system similar to the Lorwyn Elves. Those of the Blessed caste are nobles who are allowed to interact with Angels. The Sighted are clerics and monks that take orders from the Blessed, but do not look to Angels for guidance. Sigiled are basically the Knight class, a lower class member who has performed a great deed may be given a "sigil" to increase their power and caste rank. The Mortar class fills the commoner role, but does give the ability to increase to Sigiled or decrease to Unbeholden. Unbeholden are thiefs and outlaws who for whatever reason exist outside of the rule of the Blessed.
Angels are given the duty to protect the ideals and well being of the other Bant inhabitants but are not permitted to interfere with the politics of other mortals. Angels are born when human heros die. The spirit is joined with what is called "meta-sigils" which is described as physical manifestations of the land and sky.
In each Shard, there is detailed two specific characters, more than likely legends within the set. For Bant, they are:
Lisha of the Azure - Princess turned Robin Hood-esque pirate.
Rafiq of the Many - Highest ranked Sigiled Paladin, so named for his many Sigils.
The book goes into great detail with the different nations of Bant and the political problems and struggles as well as the different knight and monk rankings and the inner orders of the Angels, but that's not really relevant here (although an interesting read.)
Races: Humans, Vedalken, Sphinxes, Aether-Liches, Homunculi, Gargoyles, Drakes, Stirges
The environment of Esper consists of Islands, a great sea called the "Sea of the Unknown", various underground waterways, and a great desert where the sand is actually finely broken down glass. It is said that despite the vast pursuit of knowledge, not much is known about the inhabitants of the sea. The glass in the desert occasionally shifts and fuses with itself to form giant glacier-like masses of glass.
Humans and Vedalken exist for the sole purpose of furthering the plane's understanding of magic. The Sphinx are treated as Prophets and Consults, but rarely rule or give judgements regarding disputes. What we know of as Filigree is a metal called Etherium which is an alloy infused with Aether (the essense of the universe). The inhabitants of Bant believe that all life and every physical form is incomplete without some connection to the Aether via Filigree or Etherium fusing. The supply of Etherium is very limited, so the mages who infuse different life forms are beginning to use more subtle fusions with lower class life forms. Filigree is administered to humans as a graft by the Aethersworn, a group of gifted mages who dedicate themselves to instilling every life form with a connection to the Aether under the belief than doing so will cause the plane to transcend its physical and mortal limitations. Vedalken filigree consists of replacing much more of your body with Etherium. The body's functions are kept up through a series of complex enchantments.
While the Vedalken mages specialize in learning more about magic specifically, the human mages tend to specialize in one of many types of sorcery:
Arcanist: Studying lost lore
Stormcaller: Weather Magic
Mechanist: Artificer capable of infusing creations with magic.
Clockworker: Manipulates the forces of time
Mentalist: "Trafficer of thoughts"
Tidemage: Uses magic to affect tides and the sea
Mages of high ranking have entourages to showcase their power, sometimes these consist of mages that are intentionally lower ranked to gain notoriety, these are called Telemins, and are basically servants who have given their masters control of their minds.
The specific characters in Esper are all Sphinxes, one of which we know already (but there are three).
Sharuum, the Hegemon: An ageless, female philosopher-queen of Esper who cannot create new Etherium, but taught mages how to thin the existing Etherium.
Crucius, the Mad: A genius artificer who created the Etherium and taught the inhabitants of Esper of its signifigance, believed to be a planeswalker by many. Humans and Vedalken took his teachings too far and ended up replacing too much of their anatomy with Etherium, eventually becoming Aether-Liches. He was blamed for these abominations and that's how he earned his moniker. After that, he disappeared from Esper, and it is rumored that only Sharuum has any idea where he may be.
Kemuel, the Hidden One: A nomad Sphinx who lives in a maze in the middle of the glass-deserts of Esper. He lost a wing and hind leg in a fight with a great Leviathan centuries ago, and the few travelers that actually meet him find his words and his advice to be prophetic.
Grixis is described as a hellscape where the landscape is made up of the remains of various large corpses, eroded earth, and the stench of death.
Races: Humans, Skeletons, Zombies, Fleshbags, Fleshdolls, Dreg Reavers, Incurables, Banewasps, Kathari, Vampires, Devils, Demons, Lich-Lords and the Damned.
The still living beings on Grixis are called Vitals, and the lifeforce of those beings is called Vis. Vis empowers Demons and fuels all of the magic on Grixis. Necromancers actively hunt down Human and Ogre encampments to take slaves to obtain this Vis through arcane rituals. Demons have the power to drain a vital of its vis at will. A Human or Ogre whose life force has been drained is still considered alive, and actually is alive, and oftentimes not distinguishable for some time is called "the Damned". There are two groups of Humans: Necromancers and a group of humans who adhere to an ancient Kingdom that was destroyed when the shard was removed from the rest of Alara. This group is called the Vithians and they actively hunt the undead.
Incurables are the Ogres on Grixis, inflicted by a terrible form altering curse that happened when the shards split.
Dreg Reavers are huge undead designed to lay waste to other armies or necropolises in times of war. (The art shown looks strikingly like the Ravenous Baloth judge promo)
Banewasps are insects that feed on carrion and are used by necromancers as a weak source of Vis.
Kathari are Vulture-humanoid scavengers that feed on the dead before necromancers are able to harvest their Vis.
The Legends of this shard are three-fold as well:
Eliza of the Keep: A young human necromancer who uses necromancy and vis to keep her own vis safe and retain her vitality.
Thraximundar: His name literally translates to "He-who-paints-the-earth-red" is a seven-foot tall undead abomination who is muscular and clad in spiked black armor. He can be seen wielding his greatsword astride his Dreg Reaver mount as he fulfills his need to simply slay the living.
Malfegor: A beast who is the product of a Dragon and a Demon. His appearance is mostly Draconic, but he has black scales, huge bat-like wings, eight limbs, and is said to possess the soul of a demon.
Jund is comprised of active volcanoes, sharp mountain ledges, and lush jungles. The land has huge gashes in it that resemble huge claw marks if seen from above. These deep gashes in the land are where the Jungles and Swamps are found, and the deepest of which (the Pit) is over 2 miles deep.
Races: Dragons, Viashino, Humans, and Goblins.
Dragons are at the top of the food chain and feed on everything and anything below them. Fiercely territorial, they will fight over any scrap of food taken from their territory. When a dragon becomes to ancient to protect his territory, he performs a ritual called the Shriek of Flame where he will plunge himself directly into an active volcano, causing that volcano to erupt- often eradicating much of the prey left in its territory.
Second on the pecking order are the Viashino, stronger than the other humanoid races, Viashino are able to occupy the deep jungles and swamps where the hunting is harder for Dragons. These Viashino closely resemble Crocodiles and are muscular brutes that form tribes called Thrashes.
Humans are next on the Food Chain. These humans form nomadic tribes which are necessary for survival. Humans live in the small jungles at the base of mountains and in the scarred volcanic flats. At the age of ten, humans undergo a dangerous rite of passage where the warriors will climb an active volcano and are forced to bring back a glass shard to become a warrior. Shamans take a dangerous drug called Dreamfire Draught which attracts elemental entities. The young shaman must bargain with the elemental for a cure to this poison to become a Shaman. With either test, failure results in death. These humans have developed reptilian features such as forked tongues and scales covering some of their skin. In battle, a human warrior will mark a victory by weaving part of his hair into a small braid and binding it with a piece of his enemy's flesh.
Goblins are last on the food-chain, and are so used to being devoured by dragons, that their culture has become one glorifies that death and recognizes itself as "divine-food". Goblins inhabit the highest regions of the mountains which are easy prey for young dragons. The goblins resemble rodents (and were seen in that predator dragon art).
There is one character depicted for this shard and that is:
The Warrior Kresh: A human warrior said to be in his forties (where the average lifespan of a human in Jund is 30). Kresh does not desire the politics of leading a tribe, but lives for the hunt. He boasts twenty-two braids: more than anyone has ever recorded.
Naya is a lush jungle very intuned with nature and nature magic.
The main tribes of Naya are Nacatl (leonin), Humans, Cylian Elves, and Gargantuans.
The Gargantuans are enormous mammalian behemoths whose movements are said to be able to change the course of rivers, and whose enormity commands its own climate. There is a group of Elves that follow these monsters, said to be manifestations of the will of Progenitus, the Soul of the World. This group is called the Godtrackers.
The elves of Naya are Canopy Dwellers and are named Cylian after their ancestor "Cylia" who was said to be present at the breaking of the world. It is said that while the world shattered, most of the elves hid in terror from the cataclysm, but one elf, Cylia, climbed to the top of the mountain wielding a vial of poison and a dagger made from a thorn. There she saw the face of Progenitus, the five headed soul of the world. Progenitus was tired of the world and sought to end it with 5 storms - Wildfire, Earthquake, Windstorm, Flood, and Void. Cylia plead with him to spare the world, and so Progenitus struck her blind for her insolence. Her tears of blood mingled with the vial of poison as she dipped her dagger in it and thrust the dagger into Progenitus's Ethereal heart and his true form, that of a 5 headed hydra was revealed. The amazing art of the woman with the blank stare in the blossoms accompanies this story. The entire elf culture revolves around worshipping this god of creation and making sure his slumber is not disturbed.
The Nacatl are divided into two groups, one lives lavishly in ancient Nacatl cities carved out of a mountain top. The other is a feral tribe that hunts along the forest floors. The Nacatl in the cities are dwindling in number and only their leader, Timus the Orange keeps them together through sheer strategy and intelligence.
The humans of Naya are divided as well. Those that hunt in nomadic tribes are called drumhunters, and those that have advanced in agriculture and in domesticating animals are called Sunseeders. These two groups are divided further and further as the civilization of the Sunseeders advances under the Charismatic lead of Hadran. Humans of both divisions come together in open areas to play games, most notable of which is Matca. In this game, two humans will attempt to wrestle each other to the ground in an attempt to pin them. The advanced Matca fighters wear spike armor.
~Planeswalkers of Alara:
A human female planeswalker (yes, that one) residing in the Bant shard, her origin is unknown, but is reported to be a plane of turmoil and strife. Her specialties are Human Summoning and the Protection of Others. Her spark flared when she was 13, and she Planeswalked to find a plane with peace, love, and community and found it in Bant. She believes she has found her utopia and no longer wishes to planeswalk. Her biggest desire is to protect the utopia she has found and to be among them.
A human male planeswalker (Mr. Filigree Arm) born on Esper who specializes in Artifice and Mental Magic (Mental Magic rules!). His current whereabouts are unknown, but he had joined a Sect on Esper called the Seekers of Carmot who were said to possess the Codex Etherium, a sacred tome containing Carmot's teachings. He joined in hopes of seeing the Tome and inheriting its secrets. The night he snuck into the inner sanctum to steal the tome, he was caught and the ensuing battle almost killed him. During this battle, his spark flared and let him escape. With his newfound knowledge of adjacent planes, he seeks the driving force behind the Seekers of Carmot.
A human male of unknown origin who currently resides in the Shard of Jund. His specialties are Creature magic and Dragon-Summoning. Sarkhan's home plane is ruled by Warlords who constantly battle for control. There he belonged to a Shamanic cult that worshipped the dragon (who had long been hunted to extinction for sport). During meditation, an ancient dragon spoke to him and the experience caused his spark to ignite. After some time searching for a place to spiritually connect with a worthy dragon, Sarkhan's hunt has led him to Jund where he has spent the last two years in a Plane ruled by Dragons.
A native inhabitant of Naya, this Leonin male planeswalker specializes in Protecting others, inspiring the souls of others, and justice magic. Ajani's signature weapon is a double bladed axe which represents his brother who was murdered. After he was unable to reunite the pride, Ajani's spark became active and he sought revenge for his brother's killer. When Ajani became aware of other planes outside of his own and the clues he found led him to other planes, the search for his brother's killer found him in the middle of a much grander scheme that he is just beginning to perceive. As Ajani's quest broadens, so do his powers, as his violent emotions empower more powerful magic.
Stay tuned for more Shards of Alara Spoilers and art !
We expect to soon be sliding into individual card discussion for the new set.