A New Age for Alara

Posted in Feature on April 14, 2009

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 http://dougbeyermtg.tumblr.com/

It's just about time for Alara Reborn to pour molten gold all over the world. Now we can tell the complete story of Alara, including the wartime role of a powerful angel you'll definitely want to meet, and the story of a demon whose memory of defeat stings him to this day. To understand the epic crescendo that's gathering force at the end of the story, however, we must first revisit the beginning.

Ancient Alara

You may remember that Alara began as one world, long ago. It was a vast plane whose realms, including an ancient kingdom known as Vithia, flourished in an era of peace and wisdom. The archangel Asha, ruler of all the world's angels, watched over the plane, fending off the forces of a marauding abomination known as Malfegor. Under the archangel's grace, humans, elves, leonin, vedalken, and other races thrived and prospered. Mana flowed plentifully across Alara, fueling rich spellcraft and spurring cultural progress.

It was a serene plane with few internal conflicts—until the Sundering.

When an unknown planeswalker plundered Alara for its mana, the world shattered into five shards, each sub-plane carrying with it only a fraction of the full five colors. The disaster diffracted the Alaran culture into discrete populations, isolating races, creatures, and entire systems of magic from one another. The mana supply was devastated, leaving each shard broken and gasping for survival.

What we're just learning is that the breaking of Alara was also the beginning of a long grudge. Just before the Sundering, the archangel Asha struck a crucial blow against the demon Malfegor, surrendering her life to guard her realms from the demon's evil. Her followers believed that the archangel's noble sacrifice destroyed Malfegor—but in truth, it merely banished him to the shard that became Grixis, where his anger would fester for ages in a world of death.

Centuries passed. The flow of mana recovered on each shard again, albeit separated into triads rather than as ancient Alara's full scope of five. Drifting apart in the Blind Eternities, the shards developed their own unique identities, their cultures and environments shaped by the mana that clung there. Only the most ancient of beings, such as the demonic Malfegor, remembered Alara as one world; all others forgot that Alara, as a single world, ever was.

But the Sundering, though it persisted for centuries, proved to be temporary.

Blending at the Seams

The shards reunited, a jagged fusion of now poorly-fitting pieces. As the Conflux progressed, it became not the same Alara that had once been, but a new world, a patchwork plane composed of five distinct microverses—Alara, but reborn. As the barriers between worlds dissolved and lands overlapped in chaotic incursion zones, the denizens of the five shards ventured forth, meeting their long-lost fellow Alarans for the first time. Prejudice gripped these races that were once allies, made strangers by history and fate.

At the urging of Nicol Bolas's secret minions, war sparked along every frontier. Armies met strange creatures and entire forms of magic they had never seen before. Thousands fell in shock, victims to foreign strategies and obscure sorcery.

As the war progressed, mages learned their enemies' weaknesses and devised new spells to combat the new threats. Bant's spellcasters learned magic to banish Naya behemoths. Grixis pyromancers learned ways to melt the etherium filigree structures of their Esper foes. And armies of each world learned to expect the strategies of their enemies, sheathing themselves with strong mystical resistance to the foreign magics.

Now we can see that more the shards have interacted, the more their magic has woven together. War-mages have learned to take magic they see in action on Alara's far frontiers and apply it to the defense of their own homes, and even combine it with known magics to create all-new, blended spells. In fact, in spite of the efforts of Nicol Bolas, some of the cultures of Alara have begun to meld, birthing new knightly orders, new hybrid warrior-clans, new mage schools—magics that rely on cooperation, even as the war's strife deepens.

Malfegor's Grudge

But there was one who never wanted cooperation. After Grixis and the other shards split, the demon-dragon Malfegor ached to take his revenge on the angel-worshippers of Bant, trapped with his anger for centuries. With no way off the shard, he eventually had to settle for serving under Nicol Bolas, the powerful, ancient dragon planeswalker who took up residence in Grixis. As Bolas's right-hand general, Malfegor was able to assemble massive armies of the undead and crush hermitages of human "Vithian" survivors, but he was not mollified with these simple tasks of power. The boundaries of his Grixis prison, and his appetite for vengeance, chafed at his mind.

Even when the shards merged and Grixis's undead flowed into the adjacent worlds, Bolas held Malfegor back. Malfegor dreamed of tasting angel's flesh again, of dispensing death to the principled, halo-chasing peoples that had become part of the shard of Bant. He wondered if Asha herself had arisen again, so he could complete his vengeance—but Bolas had other plans for him. Malfegor's ire continued to fester.

The Asura of War

Those who live in modern-day Bant cherish the so-called Prayer of Asha, a sacred passage which some say prophesies the return of an archangel to the station of Asha, ruler of the angels. But Asha's throne, so far, remains empty. Hope for a savior is certainly on the rise as the five shards complete their convergence, at which time even the armies from remote shards are clashing. For the first time now, the forces of Esper collide directly with Jund clans. Denizens of lush Naya battle with life-hungry Grixis undead. The tranquility of Bant is shattered as the forces of every other world invade the sun-touched shores and grassy hills. The hopeful call out for Asha to take her airborne throne again. So far none have claimed the title of Asha, but many see hope in one known as Jenara.

There are seven angels Asura who form Bant's highest angelic court, higher than the Amesha and lesser angels such as celebrants. The Asura have ruled Bant's angels in the Asha's absence, and one among them has become the most important of all her Asura sisters. Jenara is the Asura of war and strife, who has risen as the de facto leader of the seven Asura during the plane-wide war. Jenara has already made an impact, becoming one of Bant's foremost weapons against the invading hordes at its borders.

As you can see, Jenara is eager for battle. She's an immediate, three-mana, three-power gut-punch who lays legitimate claim to be one of the most efficient Angels of all time. And that's just if you just cast her and walk away. Then she has that other ability, the one underneath flying, the one that can pile on the +1/+1 counters at will, giving her ridiculously-accelerated, Feral Hydra-like, permanent growth spurts whenever you can spare an extra 1W. Angels are harbingers of hope, and Bant is a principled shard, but make no mistake—Jenara is an instrument of war.

Jenara is an asset for just about any deck set up to cast her. Her strict Bant-mana casting requirements are important; to use her as an aerial brawler in an aggressive deck, you'll want to be able to cast her on turn three as often as possible, so build your mana base accordingly. Even better, cast her on turn two off with the aid of Noble Hierarch, who will then allow her to attack for as much as 6 (assuming two +1/+1 counters) on turn three—and then 8 or more on turn four. That's 14 points of damage with one Angel and a little exalted well-wishing from the druid-tended orchards below. Ideally, many of your lands will produce white as well as her Rhox War Monk casting cost; you'll want to be able to grow her a couple times a turn, at least.

Jenara can also play the finisher role in a control strategy, coming down as a 3/3 and immediately powering herself up to a 5/5 or better, warding off smaller creatures and anointing herself with holy lethality at whatever rate your mana demands allow. She's a bit like an already-flying Figure of Destiny, a creature whose size adapts to your mana rather than requiring all the cost of hugeness up front, and a solid play just after mass removal has swept the board. And like the Figure, Jenara becomes exactly the weapon that is required to win fights; if some flyer across the table is big enough to stand in her way, you can be sure that Jenara will be precisely one bigger by the time she enters the fray—just enough, and no more—no mana wasted.

Wounded soldiers looked up, grateful for her appearance. But she passed over them, her eyes firmly on their foe.

Remember that the math on such a growing creature gets out of control fast. If your opponent can't deal with a 4/4 Jenara, then he or she will probably be very sad to hear that it's now a 6/6 Jenara. Again, she becomes exactly the size that's needed—if a 6/6 would kill your opponent in three hits but a 7/7 would kill in two, then Jenara can become that 7/7 to put the pressure on. Jenara is a weapon of pressure, speed, and force. Force your opponent to show you the Terminate, the Path to Exile, the Oblivion Ring—because if he or she doesn't, Jenara will take care of matters all by herself. When she comes down, she is a deathblow in progress. What I am saying is that she is not the Asura of Sitting Idly By.

The Maelstrom

Jenara is a symptom of a larger trend. All across Alara, mages have realized the power unlocked when they fuse two or more colors of mana. Bant's spellcasters have known for centuries that multicolor spells are potent, but as the all-gold set Alara Reborn portends, all Alarans have learned that a battle strategy gets even more powerful by focusing exclusively on these select, color-blended spells.

Nicol Bolas knows this too. His sinister plans on Alara required this massive war, particularly the mage-battles that hurl spell energy to and fro. Bolas's brutal cross-shard war has served as a crucible, burning away the scrawniest spells, forcing all of Alara to forge the deadliest magical arsenal possible, and to wield these multicolor weapons on the field of battle.

As a result of this magical strife, at the center of Alara where all five shards meet, a storm is rising. What began as a swirling mote of energy has become an all-out mana storm, surging with all five colors of mana. The more the war proceeds, the more the Maelstrom grows—it is fed by the all-out conflict, just as Bolas planned.

The Maelstrom is a savage singularity of magical potential; from its tempestuous depths spark strange five-color magics such as Fusion Elementals, Maelstrom Archangels, and other oddities. In Alara Reborn we'll see more influence of the growing Maelstrom and of the increased blending of the shards' cultures, with all-new combinations of mana costs, a new five-color spell, some interesting artifacts, and pack after pack of allied-colored, enemy-colored, and shard-aligned gold goodies.

Evil Unleashed

To be sure, once the Maelstrom approaches its peak power, Nicol Bolas will send Malfegor to march on Bant—in fact, Malfegor will lead a massive army of demons, necromancers, and undead horrors. Whether he'll be able to enact vengeance on a newly-reborn Asha, face a newly coronated Jenara, or simply run roughshod over the embattled lands of Bant remains to be seen—but the next steps of Nicol Bolas's plans may depend crucially on it. But now it's your turn to wade into the fray. You've followed Alara through its shattered origins and witnessed its violent reunification. Now be a part of Alara Reborn.

The story is much more than you'll ever see on the web. The novel Alara Unbroken, the definitive tale of the world of Alara, releases May 5.

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