The Defiance of Angels

Posted in Savor The Flavor on April 14, 2010

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

hen Emrakul, Ulamog, and Kozilek walked the plane the first time thousands of years ago, the epic destruction they wreaked was the stuff of legend. We know that those legends became distorted over time, eventually giving rise to the merfolk deities Emeria, Ula, and Cosi.

Luminarch Ascension | Art by Michael Komarck

So, now that the Eldrazi have risen again, and those deities turned out to be flimsy masks covering the true faces of the three world-devouring abominations—what happens to the angels that were associated with those deities? As Nick posed the question:

To: Doug Beyer
Subject: Iona and Emeria Angel are in an awkward spot...

If 'Emeria' is just a memory of Emrakul twisted into something good, where did these two angels come from? Or, assuming angels are a naturally-occurring race that gravitates towards serving specific white-aligned gods throughout the planes rather than being created by them, aren't they going to feel awfully silly when Emrakul is freed?

Awkward indeed. Imagine if you were a being created from the purity of white mana, summoned to serve an ideal that turned out to be based on a catastrophic historical error. All your work to uphold a set of presumed values, all your lifelong hope that you would one day make contact with your deity—in fact, your entire purpose for being—would be founded on a lie.

But that's not exactly how it happened for the angels of Zendikar. In fact, the tale of the angels stretches as far back as the first days of the Eldrazi's presence on the plane—a tale of pain, abandonment, and redemption.

Shepherd of the Lost | Art by Kekai Kotaki

  • Angels and the first rise

Like the angels of many planes, the angels of Zendikar are created, not born. Manifestations of pure white mana, they both embody virtue and defend it to the death. They are warriors for good—fierce allies of the just and ruthless executioners of the wicked.

But apparently, all that just didn't sit well with the Eldrazi.

When Emrakul, Ulamog, and Kozilek were first lured to Zendikar several thousand years ago, the magic of the hedron prison lulled them into a harmless torpor. But when the abominations rose again several centuries later, Zendikar was unprepared for their assault, and they obliterated the land and the living almost at will.

Angels were among the first creatures that attempted to mount a resistance. Archangels drew their swords and stood between the Eldrazi and the land of Zendikar, preparing to fight the monstrosities head-on for the survival of their world. But the Eldrazi weren't the run-of-the-mill kind of wickedness the angels were used to fighting. The Eldrazi abominations radiated an otherworldly aura of devouring power that easily cut through even the angelic resistance.

But despite their unearthly power, the Eldrazi failed to wipe out the angels completely. They failed, too, to turn the angels into a kind of slave race, as they did with the vampires. But the Eldrazi still left their mark, and the angels have borne the scars for millennia.

  • The Blinding Halo

The angels of Zendikar bear a harsh, bizarre reminder of their early opposition to the Eldrazi. Each angel's halo is worn down over her eyes, symbolizing her mystical blindness to the Eldrazi's atrocities and her powerlessness to aid her world. The halo stings when worn this way, letting the angel see only stark, glaring whiteness and barring her from coming to the aid of the Eldrazi's hapless victims. Ultimately the halo serves as a shameful kind of leash, shackling her to acquiescence, preventing her from interfering with the destructive progress of the Eldrazi.

The symbolism of the halos was not lost on those who looked up at them, but their meaning was misinterpreted. The denizens of Zendikar beheld the angels and saw justice in their haloed indifference, mistaking the halos for signs of equity and impartiality. Over time the angels' forced aloofness was even incorporated into the world's religions. The "deity" Emeria, for example, was conceptualized as a great angelic being, an impartial refuge in a dangerous world—her halo a sign of hope, not of separation.

As the memories of the Eldrazi faded over time, the mythology of Emeria and the other deities grew. Nostalgia painted a golden halo around Zendikar's disastrous past. And the terrible silhouette of Emrakul against the sky became Emeria, a vision of salvation on white-feathered wings.

Emeria Angel | Art by Jim Murray

  • Sight Unfettered

But the truth about the Eldrazi found a way to survive. Locked away for centuries like a precious treasure, the memory of the Eldrazi's destructiveness and the angels' responsibility to Zendikar persisted inside a few select angels. These greater archangels were powerful enough to resist the Eldrazi's reign and maintain their sight, their loyalty to the downtrodden, and their ability for voluntary action.

Iona, Shield of Emeria | Art by Jason Chan

Iona was one of these great angels. To this day Iona fights to defend Zendikar from the Eldrazi forces that would devour it, but even her legacy has become tainted by the power of the Eldrazi. Her formidable power does nothing to fend off the bizarre colorless magic of the Eldrazi titans. And the epithet given to her by her adherents, the "Shield of Emeria," ties her to a distorted vision of ancient Emrakul. Everything she's done to fight the Eldrazi has ironically served as a tool for the ætheric horrors' cause.

But the time of angelic aloofness is coming to an end. Although the Eldrazi have risen again, the world of Zendikar is as mobilized as it's ever been. The ferocity of the plane's natural "immune system" of roiling forces and land elementals, combined with the increasing skill of its intrepid adventurers, may actually be enough to stand against the Eldrazi.

It may be in the spirit of that defiance that the halos of oppression have shattered. It may have something to do with the loosening of the plane's hedron prison. But one thing is clear: these times herald a new era, a glorious new generation of angels that promises to stem the tide of Eldrazi annihilation.

It is one of this new generation who I reveal today. She's a perfect expression of this epoch of freed angels, representing both their unshackled power brought to bear against the evils of the world and the cold irony of their heritage of Eldrazi rule.

  • Linvala, Keeper of Silence

Check her out. Linvala lays down the law, making your opponent's side of the battlefield a decidedly more civilized place, shutting down entire strategies with her angelic presence. Your opponents' creatures' activated abilities—those abilities that have colons that separate their costs from their effects—violate Linvala's decree. So your foes' Putrid Leeches, Vampire Hexmages, and Cunning Sparkmages will cease their infernal tricks. Ant Queen and Merfolk Looter will lose their best tricks. Arcanis the Omnipotent will become much less ... Omnipotent. And that mighty Thornling will become a lowly Durkwood Boars.

Shhhhhh. Quiet now.

What's more, note that Linvala also hushes up the mana abilities of your opponents' creatures—something you almost never see shut off in Magic. Stop jabbering, Llanowar Elves and Noble Hierarch. Knock it off, Elvish Archdruid, Birds of Paradise, and Wall of Roots. Hush, Scuttlemutt. And your opponents won't be able to sacrifice Eldrazi Spawn to power out their massive Eldrazi creatures and spells—a factor that's become suddenly relevant.

All your creatures' tricks, however, still all work. Linvala is an angel who plays favorites, big-time. Your Qasali Pridemages and Dauntless Escorts and Students of Warfare will still do all they were meant to do.

Wait—Student of Warfare? Linvala stops levelers from leveling? Isn't she on the adventurers' side?

She's certainly on the side of your Transcendent Masters and Beastbreakers of Bala Ged. But it's an interesting thing about Linvala—her power can be used against any strategy involving tricky creatures. She can join the fight against an Eldrazi-centric deck that is trying to pop a bunch of Eldrazi Spawn or activate the dread Spawnsire of Ulamog. Or she can shut down a deck full of levelers, stranding them at weak lower levels before they can match her own 3/4 frame.

Keep in mind that Linvala does nothing to stop static abilities or triggered abilities of your opponents' creatures, so their abilities like flying or annihilator will still work. And her silence-keeping only affects creatures on the battlefield; a creature card in your opponent's hand can still be cycled, and a creature card in your opponent's graveyard can still be unearthed (just like Pyroclasm doesn't deal damage to creature cards in hands or graveyards). She doesn't turn off artifacts, planeswalkers, or other noncreature permanents—just dudes with power and toughness.

  • Breaking the Silence

But you can use that to your advantage. Want to get truly mean with Linvala? Like mustache-twirling, Schadenfreude-snickering mean? Think how similar Dryad Arbor is to Llanowar Elves. Linvala prevents your opponents' creature lands from activating (tapping) for mana, as long as they're creatures. So why not give the gift that stops giving forever, and animate all your opponents' lands? Cast a Nature's Revolt or Living Plane to make everyone's lands come alive, handing your opponents an army of small creatures, but effectively Armageddoning them into oblivion. You could also try this trick with Quirion Druid, Spike Tiller, Verdant Touch, Kormus Bell (combined with Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth), or a stream of Kamahl, Fist of Krosa activations. No matter how you accomplish it, Linvala turns your opponents' animated lands into broken, mana-blind brutes, incapable of fueling their masters' magic.

It's a little like what the Eldrazi did to the angels. Sounds like appropriate payback to me.

  • Warriors of the Eldrazi Age

Linvala may be a sign of a bright future for Zendikar. Her weapon is a subtle but powerful one—it is silence, the power to halt the noise of evil powers. She's helping forge a new world with this gift of silence, cutting off the roars of the oppressors, letting gentler voices be heard.

Her gift is welcome, because it's a brutal time to live on Zendikar. The adventurers who once tested their skill against pit traps and cobwebbed secrets now must measure up against ancient horrors from the Blind Eternities. The fierce creatures and land elementals of the plane must now face the very threats that gave rise to their plane's famous ferocity. And the angels, their halo-blinders broken, must now behold the raucous, slithering, Eldrazi disaster zone their world has become.

But every disaster is an opportunity. For the angels, the desperate battle against the Eldrazi is a chance to rectify the mistakes of the ancient past. They may have been prevented from coming to their world's aid when the Eldrazi first rose, but they will not fail Zendikar again.

Art by Igor Kieryluk

And for the religious believers of Zendikar, the crumbling of the masks of their former deities serves as a chance to finally be acquainted with the truth. Religious texts will have to be rewritten. Long-held institutions will have to be ripped down and built up again from scratch. But should their world survive the battle, the reward for the faithful shall be an honest connection with their world and its true history.

The Eldrazi may be mighty, and their presence may have shattered the plane's tranquility with their cacophonous hunger. But perhaps angels like Linvala can bring peace and quiet to the world again.

Or at least she'll let you lock out your opponents' mana and snicker.

Art by Chippy

  • Zendikar: In the Teeth of Akoum

As a reminder, you can now get your unspeakable tendrils on the official tale of Zendikar and the Eldrazi—Zendikar: In the Teeth of Akoum by Robert B. Wintermute. The struggles of planeswalkers Nissa Revane and Sorin Markov, the mysteries of the Eye of Ugin, the plane-wide rampage of the Eldrazi and their nightmarish brood lineages, the fate of the plane of Zendikar—it's all packed in between its covers.

Maybe you can even pick up the book at the same store (or regional event) where you attend a Rise of the Eldrazi Prerelease this weekend! Hope you get to do some annihilating, some leveling up, and maybe even some silencing!

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