Zendikar: Things Have Changed

Posted in Feature on September 1, 2020

By Ari Zirulnik and James Wyatt

It is our utmost honor to welcome you back to the plane of Zendikar. It's been through quite a bit, most recently weathering an invasion of unknowable monsters from outside the stars. There have been some pretty big changes since the events of Battle for Zendikar, and we're here to walk you through the biggest. If this is your first visit to the plane or you just want a refresher, you can read the Planeswalker's Guide for the original Zendikar set right here. (This isn't mandatory reading for enjoying this article, just some juicy backstory for those who enjoy it.)

Before we get to changes, let's talk about the biggest thing that's stayed the same:

THE ROIL

Zendikar's terrain is racked with violent and erratic changes. The land itself seems alive, and its surface and botanical life sometimes writhe as though in pain, causing tectonic chaos, extreme weather, and sudden destruction. Waves of geological upheaval sometimes wash across the world, leaving nothing unchanged in their wake. All this volatility is collectively referred to as "the Roil."

The Roil always seemed to be a natural phenomenon, a peculiar characteristic perhaps tied to its unique mana, the hedrons, or its own fierce ecology. Planeswalkers recognized this volatility as what kept Zendikar dangerous and untamed, free of large cities, sophisticated commerce, and other trappings of well-developed civilization. During the rise of the Eldrazi, the Roil intensified, and it soon became clear that the Roil was Zendikar's own effort to purify itself of corruption. Like an inflammation that persists after the infection is gone, the Roil remains active even after the destruction of the Eldrazi, and it remains one of the greatest hazards to adventurers who brave the wilds of Zendikar.

While the Roil maintains its course down below, something peculiar has occurred up above. Massive ruins now float in the sky, full of traps and treasure. Called Skyclaves by the expeditionary houses, these floating fortresses have an ancient history.

THE SKYCLAVES OF THE ANCIENT KOR

Skyclave Colonnade
Skyclave Colonnade | Art by: Johannes Voss

Long ago, centuries before the arrival of the Eldrazi, the kor built an empire. Driven originally by a desire to see the world united in peace and harmony, this empire too quickly grew into an authoritarian state where the kor imposed their own ideals of law and structure upon the unwilling peoples of other continents. This imposition bred resistance among their subjects, and as they met with increasing resistance to their rule, they became more and more oppressive and tyrannical.

The great capital city of Makindi, which gave its name to this kor empire, was in Ondu (this region is now called the Makindi Trenches). But to maintain the empire's hold over the world, kor stoneforgers built seven Skyclaves—military bases, government headquarters, and small cities that floated in the sky above each continent. Each Skyclave was built around a central power source like a miniature sun, designed as dozens of floating platforms that could close tightly into a sealed, hollow sphere for defense.

THE FALL OF THE SKYCLAVES

Emeria, Shattered Skyclave
Emeria, Shattered Skyclave | Art by: Matt Stewart

As the world endured centuries under the kor's oppressive rule, the empire's iron grip began to weaken. One by one over the course of a century or so, the Skyclaves began to fall:

  • The Roil swallowed the Guul Draz outpost and drowned it in a swamp.
  • The elves of Bala Ged, led by a pre-spirit Obuun, revolted against their kor rulers and toppled their Skyclave.
  • An enormous sea monster—perhaps an ancestor of Lorthos, the Tidemaker, or maybe Lorthos itself—dragged the Murasa Skyclave into the sea.
  • Then civil war tore the empire in half; the Ondu Skyclave turned against the capital at Makindi. The city was destroyed (and its lands transformed into the trenches), and the Skyclave fell onto Jwar Isle.
  • As the Empire crumbled, the Kargan tribes mastered the dragons of Akoum and rode them to victory against the kor, shattering the Akoum Skyclave.
  • The archangel Iona destroyed the Tazeem Skyclave, creating the Sky Ruin of Emeria.
  • The last Skyclave to fall was the one over Sejiri. When Sorin, Nahiri, and Ugin lured the Eldrazi to Zendikar to trap them, one of the Eldrazi titans appeared in Sejiri and destroyed the Skyclave with a thoughtless flick of a tentacle. The shattered sphere was encased in polar ice.

THE RISE OF THE SKYCLAVES

Skyclave Treasure
Skyclave Treasure | Art by: YW Tang

When Iona descended from Emeria to battle the Eldrazi, she left the Sky Ruin unguarded. In the wake of the Eldrazi's fall, an expedition of adventurers ascended through the ruins and discovered the remnants of the Skyclave, which the merfolk had once claimed was the castle of their goddess. In the course of their exploration, they triggered the magical defenses of the ancient Skyclave—and awakened the other six.

Whatever their state of ruin and disrepair, all seven Skyclaves rose back up into the air and opened. Above every continent, people looked to the sky and saw shattered fragments of cyclopean ruins drifting slowly among the clouds.

Each broken fragment in the air has taken on its own distinctive character. The broken and scattered pieces of the Akoum Skyclave are uniquely individual sky dungeons, inhabited

by the various monsters of the continent; at least one is a dragon's lair. Parts of the sealed Murasa Skyclave flooded while it was beneath the ocean waves, but other parts have only recently been exposed to the environment—but the irrepressible growth of Murasa has quickly covered all the ruins in dense foliage.

The discovery of the Skyclaves has set off an excited furor among the expeditionary houses of Zendikar. The adventurers who first breached Emeria returned with powerful magical weapons crafted by ancient stoneforgers, and they formed the nucleus of the new Sea Gate Expeditionary House. But adventurers around the world are eager to explore the new sky ruins and plunder their treasures.

SKYCLAVE CREATURES

Skyclave Shadowcat
Skyclave Shadowcat | Art by: Simon Dominic

While many of the falling Skyclaves were successfully evacuated, they were not devoid of life. They contained insects, vermin, and even experimental subjects. As the centuries passed, these creatures survived and evolved, preying on the magical energies of the Skyclaves—and each other.

Perhaps due to this magic, many of these creatures have taken on patterning that resembles the decorative etchings inside the Skyclaves. Due to the lack of natural light in the ruins, a common adaptation is low-light vision, or in many cases, no vision at all. These creatures' other senses have been enhanced, many able to hunt based on smell or sound alone.

As you can see, quite a bit is going on in the skies above Zendikar. Let's move our attention back to the ground.

THE RECONSTRUCTION OF SEA GATE

Sea Gate, Reborn
Sea Gate, Reborn | Art by: Adam Paquette

In the battle against the Eldrazi, the shining city of Sea Gate was completely annihilated. The largest center of commerce and culture on Zendikar, a plan was needed to rebuild swiftly and efficiently. Unfortunately, the Sea Gate Reconstruction Project found itself with a few plans too many. Each of the five expeditionary houses presented their vision for a wonderful new city—a vision that, coincidentally, favored their house above all others. Fed up with the houses' infighting, Commander Tazri (freshly promoted due to her efforts in the war and, as she is happy to remind people, not due to Gideon leaving thank you very much) drafted a plan of her own.

Surprisingly, Tazri was as good of a city planner as she was a military leader. Her proposal clearly outshone any offered by the expeditionary houses, and she quickly got a large portion of the populace on board. The money, however, lay with the houses, and she needed to get a majority of them on her side. It seemed like Tazri needed help from above.

And help from above she received. The angel Linvala, tired of the other angels' inaction, flew to Sea Gate to offer her services. She immediately stood behind Tazri's proposal, and the word of an angel swayed even the stingiest expeditionary house.

Within a year, the city was restored. Tazri's plan was a success, and Linvala's assistance (as well as the general presence of an angel) was the strongest motivation the populace could ask for. Once again, Sea Gate stands tall, the center of the Skyclave expeditions. The city owes a great debt to these two women—the only human with a halo, and the only angel without one.

THE SEA GATE EXPEDITIONARY HOUSE

Skyclave Squad Leader
Skyclave Squad Leader | Art by: Ekaterina Burmak

Prior to the initial fall of Sea Gate, five expeditionary houses used the city as a launch point for regular excursions into the wilds. Named for the destinations of their first expeditions, they are the Valakut House, the Pelakka Foundation, and the Akoum, Murasa, and Bala Ged Expeditionary Houses. Each maintains hostels in various settlements, serving as resources for adventurers and explorers who need to hire guides or purchase supplies.

Since the rise of the Skyclaves, focus has shifted to a new house, called the Sea Gate Expeditionary House. This house is made up of the best, brightest, and toughest of Zendikar's adventurers and plays a key role in the discovery and exploration of the ancient Skyclaves.

It was founded by a kor woman named Kesenya, a veteran explorer who led the first expedition into the Tazeem Skyclave—known as the Sky Ruin of Emeria—after Iona abandoned her guard post to fight the Eldrazi. Deep within the treacherous ruin, she found a collar-like necklace inlaid with opalescent red gems. In what should have been a fatal, pyrotechnic mishap as her party left the Skyclave, Kesenya learned that the necklace offered an awe-inspiring degree of fire protection to its wearer—as well as some limited control over flames themselves. She dubbed it the Dragon's Frill. Word of her triumph spread far and fast, drawing the attention of the benefactor who would soon fund the founding of Kesenya's own expeditionary house.

Unknown to virtually anyone, that benefactor is Nahiri.

Nahiri, Heir of the Ancients
Nahiri, Heir of the Ancients | Art by: Anna Steinbauer

Though it lacks the historical renown of the older houses, the Sea Gate House has quickly established itself as a dominant force in the adventuring business. The Dragon's Frill alone brought both wealth and renown in staggering quantities; now, adventurers flock from far and wide seeking placements on Sea Gate-led expeditions. With such demand, Kesenya can afford to be picky in who she takes on. Thus, despite its short existence, Sea Gate employs many of the most skilled and daring adventurers on all of Zendikar. Naturally, this leads to a higher rate of success on their expeditions, bringing in yet more resources, which in turn attract more powerful adventurers—so success begets success, and the Sea Gate House grows ever more powerful.

As more Skyclaves are discovered, all the expeditionary houses race to get their own adventuring parties there first—and Sea Gate House is a formidable competitor.

Other places in Zendikar were less successful in rebuilding.

THE LAST BLOODCHIEF

Zendikar's Vampires were created many centuries ago by a magical infection that originated from the Eldrazi and enslaved them to Ulamog's will. With the Eldrazi sealed away, the vampires slowly built a civilization centered on the continent of Guul Draz. The memory of their ancient masters faded into fragmentary legend, a distant notion that they are survivors of oppression and slavery.

With the reemergence of the Eldrazi titans, all of vampire society was thrown into chaos. A beacon of psychic and destructive energy called the vampires into the titan Ulamog's awful presence at the heart of Bala Ged. Driven by their distant memories of oppressive servitude, however, many vampires resisted the will of their alien creator. This led to a brutal and costly civil war, as the vampires who fell under the Eldrazi thrall annihilated most of those who resisted the titan's control.

Drana and the house of Kalastria were the focal point of vampire resistance to the Eldrazi. As the only survivor of the first generation of vampires and the last living bloodchief, Drana holds unquestioned leadership over vampire society as it rebuilds from the devastation of the war against the Eldrazi. In a desperate effort to repopulate vampire society, Drana is trying to discover the means to create new bloodchiefs, since only a bloodchief can create a new vampire.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

The stage has been set, but what show shall unfold? Well, if you haven't heard, Zendikar Rising marks the return of the highly requested web fiction! For the next few weeks, we'll be posting two stories a week—one chapter of the main Zendikar Rising story, and one side story highlighting a legendary creature from the set. You can find those stories right here. What about all the other legends? We've got you covered there too. Once their cards have all been spoiled, we'll post an article with lore details on every single legendary creature in the set (the Commander decks, too). That's a lot of lore! We hope you enjoy it.

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