Welcome back to Archive Trap, the unofficial guide to Magic: the Gathering. Today we are going to talk about Alara, a plane most of you know and fondly remember as the home of the Shards - both the sundered pieces of an ancient plane and the name for their respective tri-color combinations. In Part I, we talked about the nature of each Shard. It is quite a lot to get through! The Shards are so well defined they could each be an article unto themselves. Today we will talk about the characters of Alara (of which there are many) and the basic backstory of the plane.
This does not happen. Two of these people work for Bolas!
Conflux Key Art by Jason Chan
Ajani Goldmane is an albino leonin native to the shard of Naya. His tribe has superstitions about white cats, and so he was an outcast even among his own people. His spark ignited when his brother, Jazal Goldmane, was murdered as part of a Bolas scheme for Alara. Ajani is in a weird place, because Alara Unbroken depicts Ajani's ascension and only a few short years seem to pass between Alara and Theros - but somehow Ajani develops a deep friendship with Brimaz in the time between. Like many things, I am probably thinking about this too hard and it is just the kind of 'loose' timeframes we have gotten since the mending. Ajani is one of the original Lorwyn Five and the first white planeswalker, however his place as one of the ‘core’ five has been usurped by Gideon Jura. He also has the honor of being one of only
three four planeswalkers who show up in three or more colors (Tamiyo made four between the writing and publishing of this article). In Ajani's case, the colors of his shard - white, green, and red. Going forward, official sources have confirmed he will lean toward green-white.
Elspeth Tirel endured more trauma as a child than anyone should ever have to, and because of that trauma she ascended at a young age. As a child, she was a prisoner of her plane's version of Phyrexia, leaving her scarred for life by the trauma she endured. She flitted for a while from plane to plane, leaving as soon as she detected a hint of darkness. At some point, she spent time on Dominaria, in Urborg. She picked up her god-forged blade, Godsend, during a brief stint on Theros before moving on. On Bant, she finally found a plane free of darkness and became a knight of Valeron, focusing on bolstering the strength of her soldiers and protecting her people. Elspeth herself seems to draw inspiration from the planeswalker Serra, who also fled when her home was tainted by Phyrexia. Elspeth was one of the very first planeswalker cards ever created, and the second white planeswalker card. Like Ajani, she too has been supplanted by Gideon Jura as the 'main' white planeswalker - although in her case it helps that she is currently dead, presumably in Theros's underworld.
Gideon Jura does not play an important role in Alara's story, but it does play a role in his. After ascending, Gideon's first planeswalk was to Bant (Valeron, specifically, just like Elspeth), where presumably he found some measure of peace after killing all of his friends by accident. While I love his character, his inclusion on Bant is a bit odd, and he has supplanted both Ajani and Elsepth as the 'default' white planeswalkers. His connection to Bant was not mentioned before Magic Origins, which makes it seem likely that if we see a return to Alara soon, Gideon will be front and center.
Tezzeret is a native of the shard of Esper, born in the slums of Tidehollow to scrappers. Tezzeret was chosen to study at the Seeker's Academy in Vectis due to his natural gift for artifice, but as he grew older, it became clear his magical abilities were lacking, hurting his chances for advancement. Although he used his etherium arm to offset his weak natural abilities, he could not afford more extensive enhancements like his rivals. When the Seekers attempted to kick him out, he murdered the head of the seekers. Weirdly, no one discovered his role in the Seeker's death, and he was allowed to continue at the academy. He continued to grow bitter at his lot in the Seekers until one day, he decided to steal their secrets for himself. He snuck in to view the Codex Etherium, but discovers it was a fake. His entry was not as stealthy as he though, and he was wounded by a guard before he could escape. The wound and his realization that years of his life were spent chasing a lie activated his spark and he was transported to Grixis. There, he managed to attract the attention of Nicol Bolas and became bound in the dragon's service. His cunning nature propelled him to become a high ranking member of Bolas's Infinite Consortium, eventually even usurping control of the organization from Bolas. Around the time of Alara Unbroken, he took part in the events of Agents of Artifice. Tezzeret is the second blue planeswalker card ever created and the first to focus on artifacts. As a character, he is reminiscent of Urza’s brother Mishra, who was an equally power hungry artificer. Tezzeret's continuity is a little in question, as he stars in Test of Metal, which, as I stated before, has some continuity issues. It should be noted that Tezzeret is older by Agents of Artifice, even though many pieces of art depict his younger days.
If Sarkhan had met Niv-Mizzet before Bolas, would he be an Izzet fanatic?
Cruel Ultimatum by Todd Lockwood
Sarkhan Vol is a native of Tarkir and a former member of the Mardu Horde. During a battle, a dragon's spirit (in hindsight, likely Ugin) spoke to him, and he burst into flames channeling the power of the dragon. Sarkhan scoured the battlefield, enemies and allies alike, before he ascended and began searching the multiverse for a dragon to swear fealty to. Eventually, he ended up on Jund. While the predatory plane had mighty dragons, none had the intelligence he was looking for in a master. Unfortunately for Sarkhan, the first intelligent dragon he finds is Nicol Bolas, and he became Bolas's thrall for years. Sarkhan is the first Asian-analogue planeswalker, although that was not clear in his first appearance.
Nicol Bolas is an Elder Dragon hailing from Dominaria (although it is not clear if this is his birth place or adopted home). He relocated to Grixis following the Mending in an effort to reclaim the power he had lost. On Grixis he utterly dominated the abomination Malfegor, turning the terrifying hybrid into his servant and proxy. His influence can be felt across all five shards, where he placed agents at all levels in plans going back at least a century. During his time on Alara, he coerces or tricks both Tezzeret and Sarkhan Vol into his service, with both young planeswalkers serving the dragon for years. Bolas's past before Alara is long and storied enough to require an article of its own.
Domri Rade is a young Ravnican planeswalker from the Gruul. During an initiation ritual, his spark ignited and he traveled to Naya. There, he met with Cylian elves who saved his live from a Gargantuan, although he leaves shortly afterward to return home. Domri is probably the planeswalker we are least likely to see again (who is alive, at least), as both his card and his design were poorly received. As of this writing, he is also the fourth planeswalker in red-green (the others being Sarkhan Vol, Xenagos, and Arlinn Kord), meaning he has some stiff competition if he is ever to return.
Sifa Grent is a planeswalker native of Grixis. Her spark awakened while under torture by Malfegor. Malfegor was trying to find planeswalkers from whom he could steal a spark and escape Grixis, a plan that ultimately failed due to the extreme lack of life on Grixis. Like many necromancers on Grixis, her magic is fueled by Vis, or the living essence of creatures. She was killed by Dack Fayden on Ravnica.
Dack Fayden is a planeswalker hailing from Fiora. He visited Grixis briefly while hunting down Sifa Grent. He encountered Malfegor's minions but escaped just before the demon dragon arrived.
Vronos is a planeswalker native to Innistrad, a former Cathar with a distinctive filigree mask who traveled to Esper upon ascension. There, he assisted some Esperites with research on the nature of the multiverse while he learned magic and artifice. Once he mastered his new abilities, he returned to Innistrad. He was ultimately killed by Garruk in the opening cinematic of Duels of the Planeswalkers 2015. His backstory is told in The Hunter Cannot Pity.
Let's not think too hard about the lions with hooves here.
Bant Wallpaper by Greg Staples
Legends of Bant
Rafiq of the Many is a member of the Knights of the Reliquary, an organization dedicated to tracking down relics of Bant's true history and eliminating dangerous relics. Rafiq himself is a Sigiled-class champion, and has earned more sigils of distinction than any other individual. Unfortunately, when the Conflux occurs he is slow to accept the new realities of the world, costing him much, but his skill and bravery still help him win the day. With the aid of the planeswalker Elspeth Tirel and the archangel Asha’s sword, he manages to slay the demon Malfegor and save Bant from invasion.
Gwafa Hazid, Profiteer is the leader of the Great Caravan on Bant, which travels through all the nations selling their wares. Despite his legitimate facade, Gwafa Hazid is a greedy smuggler who makes his profit by selling illicit goods wherever he goes. He is not above murder, as long as he has someone to frame. He became Nicol Bolas's agent on Bant fairly recently, where he agreed to perform a spell at Castle Giltspire. When the spell goes wrong, he was hunted down and captured by Rafiq. His interrogation would later prove integral to stopping Bolas's plan for the planes and in helping defend Bant against a Grixis invasion.
- Mubin - A Rhox knight and best friend of Rafiq. Paralyzed in Bant's first disastrous battle against Esper, he is the most pivotal character on Alara not given a card.
- Asha - The archangel of Bant (think Bant's Avacyn) who sacrificed herself to keep Malfegor out just prior to the Sundering.
- Jenara - The Asura of War, and highest ranking known living angel. Not much else is known about her.
- Derevi - An Aven leader likely blessed by the angels. One of the featured commanders in The Ten Commanders.
Tezzeret is absent from Alara's story, despite being in a ton of art.
Esper Wallpaper by Chippy
Legends of Esper
Sharuum the Hegemon is the current ruler of Esper. She was Crucius's love and one of the most powerful beings on the plane until his disappearance. After he disappeared, she become the dominant Sphinx on the shard. When Malfegor's forces laid waste to Esper, she alone among the sphinxes survived by fleeing before the abomination could take advantage of her Etherium enhancements. Sharuum is the subject of the short story An Etherium Tale, detailing Esper's early forays into the new Alara. In Test of Metal, it is revealed that she and Crucius had a son, named Kemuel. Tezzeret helps reunite her with Crucius, albeit momentarily.
Crucius the Mad is a pretty major character in Alara's history, despite not getting a card. He is the inventor of Etherium and was the de facto leader of Esper until his disappearance. He instituted the Noble Work which began infusing Esper’s living creatures with Etherium. He is suspected of being a planeswalker due to the fact that after his disappearance Esper's supply of Etherium began to dry up, supposedly requiring an ingredient called Carmot not available on Esper. Test of Metal confirms him as being a planeswalker, and when he realizes what he did to his home, he created his own pocket plane within Esper where the only land mass was an island made entirely of Etherium, featuring an Etherium statue of Crucius himself (stated to BE Crucius).
- Kemuel, the Hidden One - Son of Sharuum and Crucius, guards the Riddle Gate which leads to Crucius's pocket plane (although this is all from Test of Metal)
- Sen Triplets - Nothing is known about these three master mind mages.
Grixis Wallpaper by Paul Bonner
Legends of Grixis
Malfegor is the demon lord of Grixis. Born of some unnatural fusion of Dragon and Demon, he is possibly the oldest living thing on Alara, remembering a time before the Sundering. He was trapped in Grixis during the Sundering by the archangel Asha, whom he slew shortly thereafter. It’s tough to tell from Malfegor's main art, but he is actually eight-limbed and centaur-like in appearance, a truly frightening visage. For a time before his death, he also experimented with the planeswalker spark, torturing living captives to see if their spark ignited. This worked at least once, with the witch Sifa Grent, but she escaped before he could try to steal her spark. It is unclear how long Malfegor was under Nicol Bolas's thrall before the Conflux, but he was eventually slain by Rafiq of the Many wielding his old foe Asha's blade.
Sedris, the Traitor King's background is explained in Alive and Unwell and has a short story in Encounter at the Necropolis. Sedris was the last king of Vithia, a kingdom not unlike those of Bant before the Sundering. After Grixis was split from the rest of Alara, he was corrupted by evil forces and made into a Lich. He is one of Malfegor's chief rivals for control of Grixis, and still rules his former capitol of Sedraxis - now a necropolis.
- Nefarox, Overlord of Grixis - A demon summoned by the cultists who killed Kaalia of the Vast's family.
- Thraximundar - An assassin and subject of the short story The Face of War.
Legends of Jund
Kresh the Bloodbraided is one of the oldest - and most powerful - clan leaders on Jund. He is Tol of clan Antaga. Ajani notes that Kresh is never surprised because he never forms expectations, making him a deadly fighter on Jund's chaotic landscape. Kresh was tricked by Rakka Mar into a dragon fight his clan could not win, buying her time to free the Obelisk of Jund but killing many of his strongest warriors. After, he dedicated himself to vengeance and allied with Ajani to track her down.
Rakka Mar is an elemental shaman and a servant of Nicol Bolas - his chief agent on Jund. Following her successful mission at the Obelisk of Jund, she recruited Sarkhan Vol to the dragon's service. After the Conflux, she is slain by Ajani.
Karrthus, Tyrant of Jund is the greatest hellkite on Jund, but he was captured by Nicol Bolas and had his mind wiped. He was then gifted to Sarkhan Vol to wreak havoc with during the Conflux, something Sarkhan meets with mixed reaction. With both Sarkhan and Bolas having fled the plane, Karrthus' ultimate fate is unknown.
Despite the Tarzan-like image here, Ajani is not well liked by anyone on Naya.
Naya Wallpaper by Jim Murray
Legends of Naya
Jazal Goldmane was the Kha of a tribe of Wild Nacatl. He was brave and wise, and by all accounts a great leader and a good brother to Ajani. He was killed for attempting to make peace with the Cloud Nacatl of Qasal by a mysterious figure, but in his death he took on a distinctly Brother Voodoo vibe and appeared to his brother, eventually leading him from vengeance to wisdom before fading away to the afterlife.
Mayael the Anima's backstory is discussed in detail in The Soul of the World. She is a Cylian elf who holds the position of Anima (high priestess) during the Conflux. She returns to the Relic of Progenitus to seek guidance about the changing world, only to experience a false vision planted by Bolas to put her on a war footing. Mayael suspects her vision was a trick, but cannot take the risk that it was real, and so she gathers the elves and many gargantuans into a massive army. Her forces are attacked by Sarkhan Vol riding Karrthus, and chase him to the Maelstrom, where they are forced to retreat against Bolas and the Maelstrom's power.
- Marisi - Mythical hero of the Wild Nacatl who turns out to be an agent of Bolas, neither mythical nor heroic.
- Cylia - The namesake of the Cylian elves, the first Anima whose essence merged with Progenitus.
- Progenitus - A mythical god-like Hydra who the Cylian elves believed sundered the world.
- Zaliki - Ajani and Jazal's childhood friend, tricked by Marisi into killing Jazal.
- Uril, the Miststalker - Not much is known about Uril.
Legends of the Reborn Alara
Kaalia of the Vast is the first of a breed of Alara natives who grew up in a post-Conflux world. When her entire village was taken by cultists and slaughtered in a ritual to bring for the demon Nefarox, she swore revenge - by any means necessary. Her story is told in The Stonekiller Part I and Part II.
Meren of Clan Nel Toth is a former shaman in training who nearly died a failure in Jund's brutal shaman test. In truth, she was more in tune with the rhythm of death than that of life, and she finds her way to Grixis to learn necromancy. She returns and raises a dragon before wiping out her former clan in revenge, and vows to raise all the dragons in Jund as her thralls. Her story is told in All the Cairns of Jund.
- Child of Alara - Nothing is known about Child of Alara. It's just kind of a weird card.
The Story of Alara
"Well, we screwed up royally -eh guys? Eh... royally? You get it?" "We hate you, Steve."
Sovereigns of Lost Alara by Donato Giancola
Not much is known about Ancient Alara. It can be assumed that culturally it was somewhere in the middle of where the five shards are now (although taken to less of an extreme). At the time, all the races of Alara lived together in relative harmony, except for the abomination Malfegor - who plotted conquest and destruction. There was a great conflict and Asha, the archangel who ruled over all the angels, sacrificed herself to keep her people safe from Malfegor, sealing him out of Bant. Her sword was shattered and brought back to present-day Valeron. Then came the Sundering, an event which forcibly split the plane into five shards along mana lines. The people of Bant believed Malfegor was killed, while memories of the angels faded from the other planes.
The Sundered Planes
- Alive and Unwell
- The Madness of Sarkhan
- The Seeker’s Fall
- Gideon’s Origin: Kytheon Iora of Akros
- Honor Bound
- The Spell Thief (IDW)
Cut off from two colors of mana, each shard developed into an exaggerated version of itself. Bant turned purely to angel worship and ritualized combat. True war was all but erased from living memory. Esper turned to artifice under the direction of Crucius, and later Sharuum. Presumably, Crucius invented the alloy Etherium after the Sundering, and as a (probable) planeswalker himself he could get the raw materials need for it from the other shards… until he disappeared. On Naya, almost all the beings turned to gargantuan worship, and life adjusted to account for these enormous beasts. On Jund, just surviving was more than enough to occupy the living, and everything else was lost. On Grixis, the last surviving kingdom was betrayed by its own king, Sedris. The surviving Vithians took refuge in hermitages throughout the plane.
Then Nicol Bolas arrived and saw the potential to regain his lost power.
Bolas knew that the sundered plane would one day reunite. He also knew that this event - the Conflux - would result in a great maelstrom of energy that he could harness. In order to grow that mana storm into what he needed, he knew he had to engineer conflicts across the shards so that when they reunited, the inhabitants would fuel the maelstrom with their magics. This would be helped along by the destruction of mana obelisks on each shard, which would increase the flow of mana to the maelstrom.
On Bant, he founded or corrupted (it is not clear which) the Order of the Skyward Eye to downplay the significance of the Sword of Asha in scripture while fueling prophecies about an end times war that Bant was destined to win. On Naya, he empowered the Nacatl revolutionary Marisi to create a civil war, splitting his people into the lowland Wild Nacatl and the civilized mountain dwelling Cloud Nacatl. On Esper, he was either responsible for Crucius's disappearance or capitalized on it by forming the Seekers of Carmot. These Seekers were a false front for Bolas's machinations on the plane, promising the secrets to Etherium. On Jund… he did not have to do much but enlist Rakka Mar as his agent. Finally, on Grixis, he established his base of operations and enslaved the demon dragon Malfegor to his will.
One mispronunciation = change your name forever.
Gideon, Battle-Forged by Will Murai
Bolas was not the only planeswalker to make an Alaran shard their home. Just within the last few decades, a number of planeswalkers were born or have called the shards home. Both Gideon Jura and Elspeth Tirel found their way to Bant, and found a measure of redemption at the straightforward purity of the shard. Sarkhan Vol found Jund after leaving Tarkir and believed he had found his dragon paradise. Alara has birthed three known native planeswalkers as well: Ajani Goldmane, Sifa Grent, and Tezzeret the Seeker. Ajani is an albino Wild Nacatl who faces ostracization from his pride for his looks, although his brother's status as Kha protects him from the worst of it. Sifa Grent is a human born on Grixis who was tortured by Malfegor until her spark awoke. Malfegor was trying to steal a spark to escape from Grixis. Sifa did not give him the chance and escaped.
Tezzeret was born the son of a Tidehollow Scrapper. He cheated and stole until he had enough to buy himself an apprenticeship with an artificer. When he learned all he felt he had to learn, he departed and took up with the Mechanists guild. He excelled there as well, and was promoted to master rapidly, catching the attention of the Seekers of Carmot. With the Seekers, he found his first real challenge as he failed time and time again when dueling the other Seekers, especially his rival Silas Renn. His failures eventually led the head Seeker to dismiss Tezzeret, but in a rage Tezzeret murdered the Seeker. Apparently, the Seeker did not tell anyone of his plans to dismiss Tezzeret, and so he continued with the Seekers for a few more years. When Tezzeret finally grew tired of the Seekers' unwillingness to reveal the secrets of etherium, he broke into the vault containing their codex... only to find it empty. His break-in is discovered by guards and he gets stabbed. The weight of everything activated his spark, and he planeswalked to Grixis. There, he was found by Bolas and became bound to his service.
Thanks for reading! Next time we launch into Alara Unbroken, the meat of the Shards of Alara plot!
Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments or on the forum, and we will address it in future updates. Have a suggestion for something you want to see? Let us know, and we may address it in a future column. You can also follow me on twitter @Jay13x or Archive Trap Mini on Tumblr.