Alara, a World Broken

Posted in NEWS on September 9, 2008

By Doug Beyer

Senior creative designer on Magic's creative team and lover of writing and worldbuilding. Doug blogs about Magic flavor and story at

Welcome to the official Shards of Alara previews on! I know my fellow R&D members and columnists have been busting at the seams, stuffed so full of secrets that our raggedy coverings could barely hold it all in.

Now we can finally unleash it all. Feels good.


This spell costs BBRRRGG.
Art by Raymond Swanland

"I believe now that Alara was once a single, huge plane. How it happened I can't be sure. I can't well understand what powerful being could have wrought such a spell, or why this caused the shard-worlds to shear off from one another as they did. All I know is that where once there was one, now there are five."

The planeswalker Sarkhan Vol comes from a world where territorial warlords vie against each other in unending, brutal war. On this plane, dragons had been hunted nearly to extinction for sport and glory, to Sarkhan's chagrin and detriment as a mage. Sarkhan belonged to a shamanic circle that venerated the dragon as the ultimate predator, the purest expression of the consuming urge of all life. Though his skills as a warrior and shaman were valued by the warlords of his world, Sarkhan longed to bond with one of the mighty dragons of old.

"This broken-world scenario must be unique in the Multiverse—at least as far as my meandering travels have shown me. At any rate, the meaning of this is a riddle I will take years to understand. Here I shall list my observations one by one, on the chance that I or someone wiser than I might one day fruitfully unlock their wisdom."

During a deep shamanic trance, Sarkhan Vol made contact with the spirit of an ancient dragon, and it was during this transcendental moment that his planeswalker spark ignited. Upon realizing that other planes existed beyond his own, Vol began his quest to understand the draconic spirit, and to find a plane where he could look into the eyes of a living dragon.

"Each of the shards of Alara has access to only three of the colors of mana, not five. As far as I can tell, the mana triads of each shard are composed of a dominant center color and its two allies. Each shard-world has thrived around these three mana aspects, twisted together like the blood-braids of the clan-lord Kresh."

After many years of searching the planes, he found Jund, an ash-choked world where dragons rule as the apex predators. He found its skies filled with dragons, and its lands scoured by dragonfire. He has met many dragons—but most of them, he found, did not possess the spirit he longed for. Some of them he challenged—and killed. It has been nearly two years that he's remained in Jund, still searching for a dragon worthy of his fierce devotion.

"Each shard is a true plane in itself, fully separate from the others. The boundary edges are as distinct as crystal, with the dark fire of chaos flowing in between. Since they are true planes, I can planeswalk to each shard individually. I presume that when Alara was whole, I would not have been able to travel within the plane in this way.

"Every act of destruction in turn creates something new—here on Jund this maxim couldn't be truer."

Sarkhan's magic has adapted well to Jund. Its constant flow of wild red, green, and black mana exhilarates him and awakens in him new insights into his own brand of savage shamanism. He revels in the plane's unpredictably destructive volcanic mountains, its eat-or-be-eaten lowland jungles, and even its life-devouring tar pits.

"Life has evolved differently on each shard, and thanks to the different triads of mana flowing on each shard, the disparities are dramatic. The worlds are defined almost as much by what colors of mana they're missing as by what springs forth there."

Jund's lack of blue and white mana means it's a place where chaos and impulse have spiraled out of control. It's a world so drenched in physical danger that intellectual pursuits and societal structures never survive for long. Sarkhan has seen that, without blue and white mana, magic of thought and protection are impossible, even incomprehensible, to the mages he meets on Jund. Only a planeswalker with extraplanar mana bonds would be able to conjure such exotic magic.

"The worlds have had their own names for centuries, if not longer. The other shards—Naya, Bant, Esper, Grixis—their names I know, but their worlds I've explored only briefly. My soul knew immediately where it belonged. Jund is a roiling hell of fire and onyx—and it is my paradise."

Sarkhan's intelligence is keen but he disdains the ivory tower of theory and abstraction, preferring to learn by meeting the fierce realities of life face-to-face. He has learned to thrive among wildness, to coax rage out of the souls of other creatures. And most of all, he has learned to commune with dragons, the exemplar of all he venerates, the most sublime expression of life.

To date, Sarkhan has not found that ultimate dragon, that spirit with whom he longs to commune. Until then, his search continues.

Sarkhan Vol

Sarkhan Vol is a planeswalker. Summon him to your side and he'll fight alongside you, casting useful spells at your command as long as he still has loyalty remaining.

Sarkhan has three abilities.

[+1]: Creatures you control get +1/+1 and gain haste until end of turn.

Sarkhan's +1 ability acts as an optional Fervor plus Warrior's Honor for your creatures every turn, while adding loyalty to Sarkhan. (He was a vicious warrior on his home plane, and could even have been a warlord himself given the way that he kindled volcanic rage in the souls of others.) Note that his +1 ability doesn't target, meaning you can activate it even if you control no creatures at all. This helps build up Sarkhan's loyalty and gets you closer to his ultimate ability.

On the face of it, this first ability makes Sarkhan look like he belongs in full-on beatdown decks. Play a creature every turn to get maximum benefit from Sarkhan's haste-granting, and maximize the number of creatures you have in play to get maximum benefit from the +1/+1 bonus. Build your deck around token-makers like Siege-Gang Commander, Cloudgoat Ranger, or Imperious Perfect. Make repeated monsters with Bitterblossom or Savage Conception. But there's more to this planeswalker than empowered combat.

[-2]: Gain control of target creature until end of turn. Untap that creature. It gains haste until end of turn.

Sarkhan's -2 ability looks like another full-on aggro-style ability. Sarkhan essentially casts Threaten, a classic way for red to gain a short-term benefit out of an opponent's creature. Use it to remove a blocker or to add to your full-on assault. Steal a Lure creature to cause havoc among your opponent's team. Steal a creature with an activated ability, like Mirror Entity, and fire it up on your own side. Steal a Prodigal Pyromancer and have it shoot itself in the eye. Use your opponent's best defense as your smirking offense.

But this ability can be used in craftier ways, too. Since it's a repeatable Threaten, you might set up your deck to take advantage of temporarily controlling your opponent's creatures. Sacrifice your newfound minion before the end of the turn, and Sarkhan will never have to give it back. You could use it to power out a Greater Gargadon, fuel a Fiery Bombardment, or give Brion Stoutarm an extremely fun object to throw.

Or use this ability on your own creature. The "gain control" part of the ability won't have much of an effect, but the rest can be handy. Use it to untap your own Prodigal Pyromancer, Imperious Perfect, or Arcanis the Omnipotent, and get double the benefit.

But you might consider just activating Sarkhan Vol's first ability a few times. Because if you can pull it off, his ultimate ability is eye-popping—my favorite ability of the four planeswalkers in Shards of Alara.

[-6]: Put five 4/4 red Dragon creature tokens with flying into play.

20 power worth of Dragons? Seriously? You charge Sarkhan up a couple of times and then you get five dragons?

Sarkhan's been on Jund a while. He knows his dragons.

Sarkhan makes these—and so does another card in the set.
Shards of Alara Dragon token art by Vance Kovacs

Meet the Shards

Now let's take a quick look at each shard individually. You've already seen some amazing wallpapers in Magic Arcana that show off the look of each shard, and you'll see much more as we get nearer to the prerelease. Here's a lightning overview of each shard to whet your whistle.

Bant – gWu

Ruled by the hierarchy of angels that fill its crystal blue heavens, Bant is a natural and cultural utopia. Castle spires rise majestically over golden fields. The sun reflects repeatedly in the polished armor of rows of knights. A rigid caste system determines the role of every member of society, yet corruption is nowhere to be found. Bant is a plane where true community has found a home.


Esper – wUb

Esper is a world where powerful magic has trumped nature. Human and vedalken mages control almost every aspect of life here, from the tides and winds to the shortcomings of the flesh. An agency called the Ethersworn have made it their mission to infuse a magical alloy called etherium into every living creature on the plane, following the doctrine of the plane's enigmatic sphinxes.


Grixis – uBr

Grixis is a hellscape of decay and madness, where necromancers command swarms of undead and demons walk the earth. Humanity is nearly extinct here; the survivors cower in hermitages, defending their life essence from rampaging horrors. Rampant death magic and demonic influence make Grixis an abominable destination best avoided by most.


Jund – bRg

Jund is a plane-spanning web of predation crowned by dragons. Nature is in its rawest, most treacherous state here, devouring all not prepared for its dangers. Whether you face Jund's human warrior tribes, its packs of viashino hunters, its mighty dragons, or simply its carnivorous flora, your survival skills will be tested to their fullest. It's saying something that feisty goblins, who cling desperately to the bottom of Jund's food chain, are the safest foes you'll face there.


Naya – rGw

As a tropical jungle-plane peopled with perfect specimens of the human, elvish, and leonin races, Naya seems like a paradise. But don't let its exuberant cultures fool you; Naya tremors with peril. Behemoths taller than buildings lumber through Naya's rainforests, crushing acres of vegetation—or civilization—casually underfoot. Yet somehow, Naya's sentient races revere these gargantuans, relegating them to the pinnacle of their religious beliefs and ascribing to them a sacred ineffability.

Enjoy the rest of Shards of Alara previews, and tell your friends about the Prerelease!

Visit the Shards of Alara product section for information about the five shards, an up-to-date visual spoiler of the cards revealed so far, product information, and more!