Creating Tyvar Kell

Posted in Feature on December 14, 2020

By Gerritt Turner

Hi everyone, I'm Gerritt Turner, senior narrative designer for Magic: The Gathering, and I'm excited to be joined by Cynthia Sheppard (senior art director) and Lake Hurwitz (principal concept artist) to talk about Tyvar Kell, one of the two new Planeswalkers debuting in Kaldheim!

Gerritt Turner: Cynthia and Lake, thanks for joining me! Let's get started with a little context: Tyvar is an elf from Kaldheim. We should probably talk a little about what that meant to us when we first got started developing him.

Lake Hurwitz: We knew from early in Kaldheim's development that the set would need an Elf tribal Planeswalker, so when we began the character creation process, we spent a lot of time thinking about what common elements make elves exciting. Ultimately, we identified three themes that felt universal and resonant: shared heritage or culture, attunement to nature, and elegant fighting style. However, we also knew that Kaldheim elves were going to be a little . . . different.

Cynthia Sheppard: Kaldheim is a Plane inspired by Norse mythology. It's steeped in storytelling and song, and all of its denizens share a common ethos: it's a Plane of warriors who boast of their great deeds and yearn to die heroically in battle, who fight hard and celebrate harder, and where great tales pass into myth through the ages. This means Kaldheim's elves diverge a bit from the elves we're used to seeing in traditional fantasy—or in past Magic sets.

GT: They're a little more worldly and (dare I say) a little more hot-headed than most fantasy elves?

CS: Indeed! We borrowed traits from both Vikings and Norse gods for elvish inspiration, so like all of Kaldheim (but perhaps unlike other fantasy elves), they love an over-the-top fight and celebrating their amazing feats. Their heritage also sets them apart from the other Viking-inspired denizens of Kaldheim. Long ago, the elves were known as the Einir, gods of all the realms in Kaldheim. However, they were defeated by upstarts called the Skoti, who became the current pantheon of gods you'll meet in the set and story. After their defeat, the leaders of the elvish Einir were imprisoned inside trees and the race was split into two clans: Wood elves (green aligned) and Shadow elves (black aligned). These two factions were alienated from each other for ages until recently, when an elf named Harald united the warring clans and named himself king. The elves are looking to reclaim some of their lost glory, and the reunification of their society is a step toward that goal. Bringing that back around to Tyvar: our task was to find ties between these worldbuilding elements and the universal themes Lake mentioned earlier, then build on those ideas to create a character who felt both familiar and original.

GT: And that's what led us to Tyvar's story and personality. Tyvar is King Harald's younger brother, and he's lived most of his life in his brother's shadow. However, while a famous brother might inspire jealousy or resentment in some, Harald's example inspires Tyvar to seek glory and fuels an irrational confidence that he can accomplish almost anything he puts his mind to. He's determined that his own story will rival (or exceed) the tales of Kaldheim's greatest heroes, and he's not shy about telling anyone who will listen about his heroic deeds. He's charismatic and cocky—some might even call him arrogant—but underneath the boasting he has a good heart and a generous spirit. Though he's certainly preoccupied with building his own legend, Tyvar has a peculiar relationship to fame: as he sees it, the rising tide of glory raises all boats. After an epic battle, he's just as likely to sing the praises of his allies as he is to brag about his own achievements (though you can be sure he'll do that, too). He's really a classic extrovert at heart who enjoys the camaraderie shared among warriors. He actively seeks out allies willing to fight by his side and share a drink (or three) to celebrate their glorious victory afterward.

CS: Tyvar's playfulness and cheery boastfulness sets him apart from other elves, bucking trends of seriousness and inscrutability they demonstrate in most traditional fantasy. He's the kind of charismatic storyteller with whom anyone would want to share a horn of ale. Visually, there are some hallmarks of classic elves: long hair and ornate costuming. But like his personality, his unique features are loud and over the top. From his muscular frame to his bright auburn hair and tattoos, his quirky appearance says "look at me!"

Tyvar Kell
Tyvar Kell | Art by: Chris Rallis

LH: One of the most fun things about elves is that they might seem slight at first glance but surprise others with their incredible strength and skill. When designing Tyvar's look, we tried to break the mold by giving him more physical presence while making sure to keep him adaptable and light on his feet.

GT: His build certainly says "power" as well as "dexterity." It's hard to miss that he's pretty ripped for an elf (or, you know, for anyone).

CS: Though Tyvar aligns himself with all elf-kind, his own lineage is that of a (green-aligned) Wood elf. Wood elves tend to have a more powerful and muscular build, and, obsessed like he is with heroism and renown, Tyvar has spent a lot of time training. That has made him pretty stacked, even for a Wood elf.

GT: He's also a bit of a show-off and isn't above parading his exceptional physique around for everyone to see. I mean, the guy doesn't wear a shirt pretty much ever. He'd say it's a demonstration of strength and perseverance in the face Kaldheim's frigid climate, but I think we all know that's not the whole truth. By the way, speaking of the no-shirt thing, we should probably mention the tattoos!

CS: Totally! Tyvar's serpentine tats are a reference to the cosmos serpent, Koma. All Elves on Kaldheim all share a reverence for Koma, and many elves wear clothing that reflects that reverence—from hair braided to look like scales to woven designs and actual snakeskin.

LH: We knew Tyvar would want to reinforce this connection, so his tattoos are a visual tie to that cultural heritage. The twin dagger shapes, in addition to his double-bladed sword, are representative of snake fangs and the ability to spring forward and strike.

CS: Speaking of his sword, Kaldheim elves carry weapons and wear armor made from an ancient, bronze-like metal. Each weapon is custom smithed for a single elf and is carried through their lifetime, then melted down and re-shaped for the next generation.

GT: It probably goes without saying that Tyvar is a formidable close-combat fighter. But what sets Tyvar apart from other elven warriors is the ability to transmute his own body and the environment around him. He can change natural substances (including himself) into other natural materials, provided that those materials are close by. This makes him especially aware of the natural world around him, and he has a special knack for using the environment to his advantage. He might cover himself in stony armor for protection, sprout thorns to escape a grapple, or even coat himself in molten lava (provided there was some handy, of course). Alternatively, he might also cause that same lava to cool, creating an obsidian path through treacherous terrain or causing the earth beneath an opponent's feet to sprout thorns. These are just examples; Tyvar's abilities are very flexible but limited by what kinds of natural terrain are immediately at hand. This makes Tyvar a natural improviser in combat, and he relishes the creativity battle requires.

LH: Tyvar's powers aren't limited to himself, he can also share these buffs with his allies. Given that he always wants to be the center of attention, this lets him make sure that his powers are everyone's secret weapon. If his friends achieve great things because of his powers, then he shares in their glory!

GT: In my experience, there's a moment in every successful character's development where you feel the character "come alive," where they stop being an "idea" and start being a person you can fall in love with. That moment was especially palpable for Tyvar. We set out to make a "Kaldheim elf," and along the way, we discovered this wonderful, cocky, fun-loving braggart who was infuriating yet somehow impossible not to like (in my entirely unbiased opinion). I think Tyvar's generosity is his saving grace: sure, he's fixated on building his own legend, but the fact that he's not only willing but eager to share glory with his comrades makes him lovable. Many of Magic's Planeswalkers have a prominent flaw, something they grapple with over the course of their lives. In Tyvar's case, he's a young man locked in a wrestling match with his own ego—sometimes he masters his ego, and sometimes his ego masters him. To his credit, he's not deaf to criticism, and as he travels beyond Kaldheim, he'll have many opportunities to learn, grow, and discover the limits of his powers—and his confidence. And of course, he'll also have more than a few chances to make sure that the skalds sing of his heroic deeds across a thousand Planes!

Although Tyvar would want us to keep building him up for another couple pages (minimum!), we should probably wrap things up here. Thanks so much to Cynthia and Lake for taking the time to talk with me, and a huge shoutout to everyone whose hard work helped bring Tyvar to life! We hope you've enjoyed this first look at Magic's newest elf hero, and keep an eye out for info about the upcoming Kaldheim preview season as more is revealed in the days to come.

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