Published on October 15th, 2016 | by Nicole Jekich0
Enchanted by Alara part 1
My Magic the Gathering Story
College was a bright period of awakening and discovery in my life. Already a lover of fine art, cartoons and games, I moved to Seattle in 2006 and started art school bright-eyed, bushy-tailed with the intent to become a commercial artist. I started to learn more about process, inspiration and work behind creating great art, animation and immersive stories. Companies like Disney, Pixar and Studio Ghibli were venerated by teachers and students as the best studios with the best characters, worlds and lore.
Around this same time, I met Luke and he shared his love for tabletop RPGs, MMOs, CCGs (and other three-letter abbreviations) with me. These game companies and franchises were much smaller than the animation studios, but I became more interested in tabletop games and their distinct high fantasy settings.
It was during one of our trips to our local Borders (RIP) to check out the latest D&D 4e book that I ran into a thin paperback titled, “A Planeswalker’s Guide to Alara”. This tiny setting book was packed full of art (pencil sketches to full color final card art), lore and magic and in 150 pages the book detailed every aspect of life on the five planes.
Hooked by a Book
As a young teen I had come across Magic the Gathering before but only very briefly. Many of my guy friends played at recess or with their siblings at home; but I never remembered gameplay, card art or any that really grabbed my interest enough for me to want to learn to play this game. I knew very little of the actual gameplay going into this extensive setting book for Alara. I became hooked on the story, characters and conflicts that were explored in far more fantastical than any Disney movie I ever saw.
A Planeswalker’s Guide to Alara serves as a detailed travel guide for a planeswalker’s first trip to Alara: a plane that shattered long ago into 5 distinct realms: Bant, Esper, Jund, Grixis and Naya. Each realm developed its own identity with its limited access to only three colors of mana instead of all five. The inhabitants of each sub-plane have learned to adapt to their environment lacking the other two colors of mana and the distinctions between the sub-planes are explored in detail.
The book takes an in-depth look into each of the sub-planes: the class structure, the values of their society, the creatures who inhabit and dominate the plane, and even notes on the splinter groups and why they exist. All of these questions and structure for the world are answered within the context of, ‘how would this society look without two colors of mana?’.
Building Setting using Mana Colors
Alara was a great crash course into the different colors of mana in Magic the Gathering and what is typically associated with each color like creature types, gameplay styles, priorities, etc. Each sub-plane featured a dominant mana color and two secondary colors and the world was built off just those colors. For example Bant is primarily white with green and blue mana. Using that mana combination and referring to the mana color wheel above, Bant is a sub-plane that would rely heavily on morality and order also features nature and intelligence.
Using the characteristics of the different colors of mana creates interesting worlds with ‘what if?’ scenarios and builds upon already established principles within the Magic the Gathering lore.
“Sigil Blessing” of Bant
Here is a brief summary of each of the sub-planes and their primary and secondary mana colors:
Bant was dominated by white, green and blue mana and was thus characterized as an orderly, religious society with knights, monks, and angels.
Esper is a blue, white and black sub-plane created by science, experimentation and a respect to the all-intelligent sphinxes.
Grixis is a hellscape with few humans as vampires, demons and fleshbags rule the dystopian land under black, red and blue mana.
Jund is a primal land with red, black and green mana. Anyone living here is in a constant struggle to survive between vishano lizards, human packs and deadly dragons.
Naya is a sub-plane where the plentiful green mana has created a tall, dense forest world with greenery, elves and ancient beast gods that roam the land.
Next week in part 2, I’ll share more of my favorite excerpts from the Alara book, world and card art as well as talk about how A Planeswalker’s Guide to Alara inspired me to build my own epic settings in games.