Champion of the Parish

Posted in Savor The Flavor on September 7, 2011

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

Even in a world of vampires, werewolves, ghouls, and geists, some are not content to be victims.

Some fight back. Some become slayers of monsters. Some become cathars, holy warriors who train to destroy the fiends that prey upon humanity.

Some even go beyond that. Some men and women take all of humanity as their responsibility, tolerating not even a single screaming, middle-of-the-night casualty on their watch. Some take upon themselves the solemn duty of guardianship, forming a barrier between their foes and their community, knowing that the risk to themselves is nothing compared to the possibility of the night's encroach.

They are not content to watch their loved ones become meat for supernatural hungers.

They will not suffer the taking of a single child in the night.

They are champions. And they mean to break some fangs.

Champion of the Parish | Art by Svetlin Velinov

The Parish...

Each of Innistrad's four provinces is divided into several counties called parishes, and each parish has its own chapel devoted to the Church of Avacyn. These chapels are beacons of purity in the bloodstained world of Innistrad, whether they be humble one-room stone boxes huddled at the edge of the Kessig wilderness or fortress-like masterpieces standing tall in the High City of Thraben. The chapels are community centers, centers of magical protection, and centers of emotional stability. But the true heart of the parish is its champion.

Every parish has priests of Avacyn and most parishes have several cathars (holy warriors and fiend-slayers). The champion is a priest or cathar who has seen enough suffering in his or her community that he or she knows it's time to strike a blow for humanity, and has taken responsibility for doing something about it personality. The champion is not an official position; there is no election campaign or inspiring slogan used to become it. It is a position is recognized by the heart. It is a position given sanction by the support of a desperate people in a time of need.

...And Its Champion

Today's preview card isn't just a smashing of a "white weenie." It's not just a turn-one aggro beater with potential to Go Large. It represents something we've never explicitly done before.

Champion of the Parish is what you call, in the language of Sir Tournament Playington, an aggressive one-drop. Its cheap cost belies its effective size, in the manner of such beatdown specialists as Steppe Lynx, Kird Ape, Figure of Destiny, or creatures with the exalted mechanic. Its short bout of summoning sickness is merely a time for it to gather +1/+1 counters from its Human community, which it then uses as haste-like additional power once it's time to go hunting in the direction of your opponent. Any further Humans showing up (more copies of Champion of the Parish, say, for the sake of argument) will only lend the Champion even more +1/+1 units of Community Support and Battle Training.

Steppe Lynx
Figure of Destiny

Now is the time to go back through recent sets and consult the type lines of various creatures. While tribes like Elves, Goblins, and Zombies have historically had a lot of tribal support, Humans have actually dominated those tribes in terms of sheer numbers. Most settings have Humans in all five colors of Magic, so while Humans may not outnumber other races in any given color (there are more green Elves than green Humans, for example), the sheer ubiquity of Humans across all five colors means they're overall the most populous race.

Take a look at the Humans in the incumbent Innistrad Standard environment. Puresteel Paladin. Trinket Mage. Elite Vanguard. A cycle of Human mages in Magic 2012. Auriok and Phyrexian humans of all stripes from the plane formerly known as Mirrodin. And of course the Humans of Innistrad. All the Humans from this world are conveniently subtype Human when they enter the battlefield—handy for the Champion of the Parish—but some of them might become other things depending on the moon or other conditions. (A Human lord in the same deck with sunny-side-up Werewolves? Even the Champion of the Parish misses the telltale tail sometimes. Hey, sometimes racial tolerance gets you a +1/+1 counter.)

The Human League

Although Innistrad isn't driven primarily by tribal interactions, Champion of the Parish features a mechanical theme you might call Human-matters, meaning it encourages you to build a deck that focuses on Humans. That's something we've shied away from before. The design space has been open to Magic since the Human creature type premiered during the first Mirrodin block. (That's right—creatures that represented human beings were not actually given the Human type until 2003.) So why has it taken so long for Humans to get their time in the sun? And why are they only getting their time "in the sun" on a world so consumed by darkness?

Elite Inquisitor and Mentor of the Meek | Art by Jana Schirmer & Johannes Voss

Humans are a very populous tribe, so it may seem that the answer lies with balancing the cards. Maybe Elves and Goblins get "lords" because they don't have the numbers that Humans do, and maybe Humans would be out of control if they ever got a dedicated tribal strategy. But the Innistrad developers have that under control—a Champion of the Parish deck will have a lot of powerful buddies to choose from, but humanity won't be getting the level of tribal support of, say, the Lorwyn Block Kithkin. The true answer is that we haven't done Human tribal because traditionally, humans have played the role of the default.

Humans are the yardstick. Humans are the comforting normal against which all the other fantastic creatures and races of Magic can be compared. Kor and Merfolk and Giants all have their own interesting characteristics, and you identify those characteristics by seeing them as exaggerations or distortions of human nature. Focusing on Humans mechanically would have been like focusing attention on a background element, celebrating the default.

Humans as Innistrad's Victims

But on Innistrad, the situation is different. Because Innistrad is based on tales of Gothic horror, there are no Elves or Goblins to round out the humanoid count. Humans are it. They are the protagonists and the victims here, to create the same feel of those horror stories in which the victims are unfailingly human. The pitchfork-wielding mobs are human. The trusted mayor who mysteriously disappears when there's a full moon is (or at least appears to be) human. The long-coated traveler who holds very still in his hiding place, not even breathing, as the walking dead crawl across the road is human. The little girl in the night-dress who they kept stashed under the stairs, and who turns out to be some sort of raging, demonic, possessed monster, is (or was) human. In its reliance on flavor for card designs, Innistrad focuses on humanity the way no other set or setting has.

Art by Igor Kieryluk

Why stick with just humans as the victims, though? Why, for that matter, did the tales of Gothic horror feature humans so prominently? They didn't have to be written from the perspective of human beings. The hero menaced by the laboratory-vivified monster could have been a small block of wood, for example. The reason, of course, is that a block of wood doesn't generate the same sympathy. The human hero hits us where we live. It makes us care. We put ourselves into the place of that hapless, beset-upon, under-equipped human and we share his or her terror. We identify with our fellow human, imagining what we would do in the same situation and commiserating in the panic of scant options.

That's the feel Innistrad is trying to create. Humanity is outnumbered and outgunned. The monsters have all the advantages and humanity's former secret weapon—the power of faith in the archangel Avacyn—is losing its potency night after night. It's a horror setting, and every horror story needs a victim—and here, humanity is it.

L-R: Creative Designer Adam Lee, Creative Designer Jenna Helland, Creative Designer Doug Beyer, Senior R&D Art Director Jeremy Jarvis, In-House Concept Illustrator Richard Whitters, Senior Creative Designer Brady Dommermuth, and Senior Brand Manager Mark Purvis

Last week my Creative Team coworkers were hosting a panel on Innistrad and worldbuilding at the PAX convention in Seattle. One man asked us, after citing the humanity-annihilating Eldrazi and the humanity-devouring Phyrexians, "What do you have against humans?" A fine question. The answer is that we have the same thing against humans that all stories do: we want the heroes to suffer, so that we worry for them along the way, and so that when they achieve their goals (if they do), the rewards are all the sweeter. Innistrad, for its part, has the same thing at stake that all horror tales do: the humble Human.

Hero Complex

Champion of the Parish is a sign, though, that there are real heroes in this story, heroes worth putting your faith in even after Avacyn has abandoned humanity. It's not going to be an easy road for people like the Champion, who wish to put themselves between the lurking dangers of the world and their fellow humans. The future is a wild thicket with eyes glaring from the shadows. But they know they must try, and that gives them a kind of heroism no matter how the story ends.

Letter of the Week

First off, I'd like to thank you guys for your happy feedback on the flavor of the set. I know we've only had time for a single segment of A Planeswalker's Guide to Innistrad—it's preview time, so previews must happen!—but we've worked hard to create this setting, and I'm ecstatic that so many of you guys are digging it. We'll get back to exploring more world detail on Innistrad once we get through all the card previews.

And now, a letter from a reader:


I got some sort of questions regarding the use of "Horror" in an early MTG set and the use of good & evil in Magic horror.

On the world of Ravnica, spirits and necromancy are completely normal to the citizens of that plane. A form of necromancy is even used to farm food by the Golgari and spirits are used by the Orzhov and Azorius to construct buildings or act as undead police officers. So the "horror" in Ravnica was considered good, but on Innistrad it's purely evil, right? Because I was wondering if all the horror niches in Innistrad will be evil? (Cause not all horror niches are evil. The Monster of Frankenstein might look like an evil zombie, but he's just a misunderstood creature trying to look for his place in a world where he doesn't belong. That's what the writer tried to say with her book.)

And I was wondering if white will be the universal goodguy in this block, considering it has all the Inquisitors and anti-deadthings stuff and human support. And black becoming the standard badguy because it has all the things that go bump in the night? So will white and black become good and evil?


Great question, Voron—and multiple people have asked this kind of question about Innistrad. We say frequently that there is good and evil in every color of Magic; there is evil in the stereotypically "holy" color white and there is good present among the archetypically "unholy" tropes of black. Of course, the flavor of white tends to line up with what we usually consider good, and black sure seems full of imagery and behaviors that we tend to consider baaaad, but good and evil do not belong solely to any color.

That's not to say, though, that there aren't tendencies, especially when those tendencies exist in the source material. Innistrad, for example, has Human creatures across all five colors, but they're mostly concentrated in community-oriented, civilization-minded white—which tends to mimic the patterns existing in Gothic horror tales. And necromancy is pretty much universally portrayed as a negative activity across this plane; there just aren't ghouls (necromantically animated, walking-dead-style zombies) or skaabs (alchemically-vivified, patchwork "Frankenstein-style" zombies) in handy practical roles here like there are on Ravnica. If you see something that's both dead and moving, then it's trying to kill you, and whoever was responsible for it should probably be hunted down and given a stern talking-to.

But there are benevolent forces in nonwhite colors, and there certainly are creepy bad things in white—and more generally, Innistrad explores many shades of morality all along the scale. There are heartbreaking stories of families torn apart by lycanthropy, and there is resentment for the well-meaning but sometimes strong-armed influence of the Church of Avacyn. There are humans who willingly give themselves up to vampires or do the bidding of demons, and there are geists who mysteriously aid poor human travelers in need. There are clergy who must drown themselves in darkness to learn the ways of their foes, and there are antagonists who seem truly evil, but are probably just mad and misunderstood. Innistrad is certainly a world where humans are the standard "good guys" and monsters are the go-to "bad guys," but we love nothing more than exceptions to the rule.

Next week: A preview card that comes with a bit of a ghost story.

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