Planeswalkers and the Written Page

Posted in Feature on June 4, 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

Greetings, planeswalkers, and welcome to a highly informational edition of Taste the Magic. If you read Monday's announcement and Mark Rosewater's article about some changes coming with Shards of Alara in the fall, you're already way ahead of the game. If you didn't, no sweat; you can read them in a bit. Today, as I am honored to be your Vorthos representative, I'll discuss the changes that are relevant to the storyline and worlds of Magic.

Magic's Publishing Structure

Here's the new plan for books related to Magic.

Time of yearBook release
Fall 2008 (September 2, 2008, about three weeks before Shards of Alara Prereleases)A Planeswalker’s Guide to Alara
Winter 2009 (roughly coinciding with "Paper”"Planeswalker novel: Jace Beleren
Spring 2009 (roughly coinciding with "Scissors")Shards of Alara block novel
Summer 2009Planeswalker novel: Chandra Nalaar

This is the plan for the foreseeable future. As you can see, there are four releases per year. In the fall, close to the time of the year's big set release, there's a Planeswalker's Guide to that set. More on that in a moment. In the first part of the year, around the release of the first expansion, there will be a novel about a featured planeswalker. What's that mean? Hold on! The spring, close to the release of the block's final expansion, will bring a novel that centers around that year's setting. Again, more on that below. Finally, for your summertime reading pleasure, another novel that focuses on the ongoing storyline of a certain planeswalker.

Now let's talk about each one of these in depth.

The Planeswalker's Guide Series

Jayemdae_TomeLast year, Jeremy Jarvis responded to an Ask Wizards question that asked whether Wizards would ever consider publishing style guides. He included a poll with that question, putting the issue back out to you guys, the players. The results of that poll were overwhelmingly positive, the response thread lit up with suggestions, and I had lots of personal email from you guys asking whether and where you could "buy the style guide" to back up the results of that poll. While we don't draft all of our publishing policies solely around emails or simple yes-no web polls, this feedback made us in the creative team very excited. We are very proud of our style guide—it's a huge effort that culminates in a lavish piece of creative art. It's a tome full of secrets about a setting, the very world bible by which all judgments of visual style and creative canon are settled. And we've always thought you guys deserve to see more of the ins and outs of the settings and to get your hands on those same secrets that drive the creative heart of the game.

Back in the fall of last year, it was in the Shards of Alara style guide that the artists and Magic creative writers got their first look at the world to come. Now, I'm happy to tell you that you'll get just as close a look.

A Planeswalker's Guide to Alara is a flavorful look at the concept art, finished card art, and world-building writing behind Alara, the setting for the fall 2008 set Shards of Alara. The book will be on shelves on September 2, 2008, and I couldn't be more excited.

Now, if we were bad and lazy artists and writers, we could have just fired up the PDF reference we call a style guide, hit "print" a bunch of times, and sent it out to distributors. But as cool as the style guide is, that wouldn't have been enough to be a flagship product for our new publishing schedule. Nope. What you'll see in stores has been lovingly crafted to be a true field guide for the info-hungry planeswalker on the go. The world detail and concept art of the style guide has been supplemented with the beautiful full-color final card art from Shards of Alara, and laid out with all-new content to help you, the planeswalker, understand everything you need to know about the world you're about to visit. This book will be the single best way to get in touch with the world of Magic's newest setting that you could possibly get your hands on.

The authors of the book are Jenna Helland (my creative team partner-in-crime) and me. I want to note, however, that although we guided the process of creating the book in its final form (and as creative team writer-types, were both involved in the world-building of the plane of Alara), the book actually has many, many proud papas and mamas. Creative director Brady Dommermuth, art director Jeremy Jarvis, lead concept illustrator Richard Whitters, a crack team of concept illustrators and another crack team of world-building writers, the editors and designers involved in the book's production, and the zillions of Magic artists and writers who contributed to the Shards of Alara card set all deserve a shout-out. I'm proud and excited to be part of bringing the delicious world detail of the style guide to you guys and to help kick off a new tradition of sharing the creative side of Magic with you all.

Planeswalker Novels

We've been waiting a long time for this. In early 2009, look for a new series of multiverse-spanning Magic novels that focus on the lives and exploits of planeswalker characters, which we're calling simply "the planeswalker novels." These novels will chronicle the ongoing stories behind each planeswalker character as they move from plane to plane, gathering and using magic as they interact with strange and perilous worlds and personalities all over the multiverse. As such, these stories will not be tied to any specific world or setting; after all, they are about planeswalkers, beings with the unique capacity to travel across worlds.

Jace_BelerenThe first such novel focuses on one Jace Beleren, a promising and powerful young mage whose curiosity and aptitude with mind-magic leads him to uncover secrets too dangerous to know. Two other planeswalkers figure prominently in the story: Liliana Vess, a mage whose talent for deception is the only thing keeping her ahead of her debt to dark forces; and Tezzeret, a new character you'll meet soon. All three of these planeswalkers are brought into direct conflict with some of the most powerful and lethal forces in the multiverse, which brings out their character.

The author of this first planeswalker novel is Ari Marmell, who has contributed to many, many fantasy worlds across several games, including significant contributions to D&D. His resume is as impressive as his persona. I had an opportunity to meet with Ari at the Wizards offices earlier this year, and his excitement for being part of this new series was infectious. Needless to say, we're excited to finally see the new era of the planeswalkers kick into high gear with the introduction of these epic, character-driven novels.

The second such novel, which is still in its planning stages, turns the camera on the volatile pyromancer Chandra Nalaar. You already know that Chandra collects and deals with magics of immense raw firepower; stay tuned to find out on what unexpected journeys that quest takes her.

Block Novels

The third category of book we're announcing is what we're calling the "block novel." This single story replaces the trilogy (or in the case of Lorwyn and Shadowmoor, tetralogy) of novels that formerly accompanied each three-set Magic block, and details all the storyline events that underlie the setting of that Magic block. The first of these will release close to the set code-named "Scissors," the third set of the Shards of Alara block.

Shards of Alara

Where the planeswalker novels follow planeswalker characters wherever they might travel, the block novels focus on a single plane or setting, including all the various events and characters that are crucial to that world's story.

I want to make it clear that, although the block novel is not nominally part of the multiverse-spanning "planeswalker novel" series, that does not mean the block novel will contain no planeswalker characters. On the contrary. Although the block novel will have more to do with the events of the setting as a whole, the actions of planeswalkers are sure to affect the course of events there. If there's been any theme we've been focusing on in Magic creative for the past couple of years, it's that planeswalkers are the movers and shakers of the Magic multiverse—and the block novels will be no exception.

For example, the plot of the Shards of Alara block novel features a guy named Sarkhan Vol. How do I know? Because the author of that yet-untitled Shards of Alara block novel is:


That's right, it's risky, unproven, first-time novelist Doug Beyer behind the laptop for the story of the plane of Alara. How will that go? You can tell me in the spring—I'm writing it as we speak. No, really: part of it is literally open in another tab on my taskbar as I'm composing this very article. I'm afraid it's too early for me to tab over and spoil you with a sample at this point, but keep your peepers peeled at over the coming months; you might just get hints at what's to come.

Why wait until the final set of the block to release the block novel? A few reasons. The first is spoiler information. The story of Alara plays itself out across the cards as the block rolls out, so if the novel showcased everything that happened right there on Day One of Shards of Alara, you'd already be spoiled about those events. (We don't try to deliver a story's event-by-event plot on the cards, as I've mentioned before in Taste the Magic, but the general structure of the story does progress in the art and flavor text from one set to the next.) Second, the Planeswalker's Guide really wanted to come first, to kick off the setting and serve as your first richly detailed look at the world. Finally, coming last in the set lineup allows the block novel to incorporate as much card information as possible, which helps diminish the parallel-evolution problem of the divergence of story from cards.

If you're starving for story when Shards of Alara comes out, I would encourage you to read both A Planeswalker's Guide to Alara and the flavor text of Shards of Alara cards (and of the other cards throughout the block). I love the Alara setting, and as you can see, I kind of got myself involved with just about every part of it. So I can tell you personally that we worked hard to coordinate all the characters, cards, and continuity you'll see releasing between now and next summer to produce the most satisfying Magic experience possible.

That's our three-pronged approach to Magic book products for the next year. What do you think? The forum is ready for your posts, and I read every piece of email I get.

Letter of the Week

Dear Evil Doug Beyer,
Regarding your article "Through the Twinning Glass":

I am aware that this email will likely fall not into your capable hands, but reach those of your evil twin Doug Beyer, but I have come across a problem with long-spanning storylines in Magic, such as the Weatherlight saga.

Don't we players, as planeswalkers, make the story of Magic what it is? We're the ones who duke it out once and for all, sacrificing our lives, and sometimes those of the creatures we summon in the process. What if, in the middle of the Weatherlight saga, a planeswalker like myself summoned Gerrard Capashen, then their opponent cast Terror on him? Mirage hasn't even come out yet, but because of some unmentioned planeswalker's feud, Gerrard is DEAD. Who will stop Volrath now? Will Dominaria, nay the entire multiverse be doomed to destruction every time a hero is sent to the graveyard from play?

I'm not sure if this really happened, but any legendary creature relevant to Magic's current storyline could get rubbed out like this, couldn't they? What's the explanation in flavor of that? Did the whole thing just not happen?

This problem has kept me up every night. PLEASE give me the answer, Evil Doug Beyer!

Myrlin B.

Gerrard_CapashenYes, I, regular Doug Beyer, have intercepted this communiqué for my dastardly twin, so I'll be answering for him, Myrlin. The relationship between cards and storyline is pretty simple. The storyline is canon; it's officially what happened when Gerrard and Urza and Volrath and Yawgmoth and Karn and all the rest of those characters bonked into one another and did their best to rule / destroy / save the multiverse. But as you mention, you, as a planeswalker, have the ability to summon up (most of) these characters and do with them what you will. Prop up Gerrard Capashen in front of an attacking Craw Wurm. Pull off a hilarious combo involving Jhoira of the Ghitu and Nicol Bolas. Summon up a bewildered Kamahl, Fist of Krosa and Lightning Bolt him with Kamahl, Pit Fighter, just for your own amusement. What happens in a game of Magic is what you decide happens.

Does this affect the storyline? Look, I'm a Vorthos—my answer is yes, of course it affects the storyline; that is the whole point. Every game of Magic totally and completely wrecks the official saga of what happened in the multiverse that one time when some authors wrote it down—but that's why it's so dang fun to be a Vorthos. You and I decide the fate of the multiverse and its heroes and villains. Sure, if you ask a friend at a convention about what happened to the Weatherlight crew, don't expect him to know about your game where Gerrard got randomly Terrored dead long before he could tussle with the Evincar. The books can't chronicle every possible outcome of all planeswalkers plying their trade at once; they can only give one account that everybody can read and agree on. But hey, when a legend dies in one of my games of Magic, that is a solemn occasion worthy of a book all unto itself. When he gets Zombified back into play and trudges on for my cause, and attacks for lethal just when a storm of dragons was about to appear to burn me to a cinder, it adds one more glorious tale to his legend.

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