Fifteen Commanders, Fifteen Tales

Posted in Savor The Flavor on June 22, 2011

If you pick up all of the Magic: The Gathering Commander decks, your hands will feel the heft of fifteen all-new legendary creatures in your hands. Sure, there are also a bunch of other newly designed cards and hand-picked goodies besides the legends, but it's especially those legendary creatures who stir my Vorthosian coals. Who are these two- and three-colored personalities from around the Multiverse? What are the doubtless-oddball stories behind this motley assemblage? Why does Ghave hate mammals, and what exactly are Nin's thoughts on the subject of nerve endings?

Turns out we wrote short bios of each of the fifteen new legends in the Magic: The Gathering Commander decks—you'll find them in the fold-out inserts that come with the decks. I wanted to share them all together here this week, in part because it's handy and a great excuse to show off some high-resolution art, but also because it's so rare for new legends to appear in the game without a setting or story to ground them. These mini-bios give little snippets of context to house these otherwise free-floating, settingless figures. Enjoy!

And then after the bios? A very fun Letter of the Week.

    Commander of the "Heavenly Inferno" Deck: Kaalia of the Vast

Kaalia of the Vast | Illustration by Michael Komarck

Kaalia of the Vast sits within her mountain chapel pondering both the heavenly host and the infernal horde, tormented by her past, scarred by devastation. Her once-simple life as a cleric was reduced to ashes when shadowy beings massacred her congregation. Somehow she survived, but her soul was fractured, and a growing hatred soon grew in the cracks. Now, driven by a righteous fury and an unholy thirst for revenge, Kaalia broods feverishly, amassing her vast power, waiting to unleash her apocalyptic might upon any who stand in her way.

    Tariel, Reckoner of Souls

Tariel, Reckoner of Souls | Illustration by Wayne Reynolds

Tariel knows that the strands of Fate are loosely woven. Individual souls are but threads to her, easily pulled and rewoven back into the tapestry of history. Some ancient texts tell of her banishment from an empyreal Host, and other scrolls revere her as a savior, but all fear her wrath and flee from the sound of her thunderous laughter.

    Basandra, Battle Seraph

Basandra, Battle Seraph | Illustration by Terese Nielsen

Basandra is revered by warriors who seek truth through the purity and ordeal of combat. She forbids trickery and deception in favor of the sharpness of steel, the endurance of will, and the candor of muscle. All who are called rush into battle with unquestioning zeal.

    Commander of the "Mirror Mastery" Deck: Riku of Two Reflections

Riku of Two Reflections | Illustration by Izzy

Riku of Two Reflections had two passions: the study of spellcraft and the study of life. The mage could never choose, but had no time to master both. Through an ancient illusionist's spell, he found the solution: he secretly split himself into two reflections, and each Riku trained and studied for years in its chosen field. Today Riku is hailed as a master of both disciplines, and few know his secrets. The reflections never stray far from each other, and when danger threatens, enemies face the power of both Rikus.

    Animar, Soul of Elements

Animar, Soul of Elements | Illustration by Peter Mohrbacher

In the folklore of its plane, the Animar is the ultimate source of all life—the seed from which all creation grows. In the presence of Animar, crops blossom and herds thrive, and the wake of its wanderings determines the course of the seasons.

    Edric, Spymaster of Trest

Edric, Spymaster of Trest | Illustration by Volkan Baga

In the port city of Trest, nothing escapes Edric's network of spies, thought couriers, and familiars. Even the empress of Kinnesta is wise enough to consult with Edric before she conducts maneuvers along the coast. Yet some say that a secret from his youth, over four centuries ago, still eludes him.

    Commander of the "Counterpunch" Deck: Ghave, Guru of Spores

Ghave, Guru of Spores | Illustration by James Paick

When monsoons devastated the land of Drakkus, the herds drowned and the harvests washed away. The humans there were forced to the fungal forests to find sustenance, and find it they did—in the form of the mycoids and their saproling offspring. What the humans saw as salvation, the mycoids called genocide, and they declared war on the invading mammals. Mages tore through the sporeborn troops with fire and steel. Only when the mycoid hero Ghave, Guru of Spores emerged did the tide finally turn. Gifted with mystic influence over the sporeborn, Ghave sculpted the fungal matter of his people into an ever-mutating army and reclaimed his forest home.

    Karador, Ghost Chieftain

Karador, Ghost Chieftain | Illustration by Todd Lockwood

Once a high warchief of the centaurs, Karador was slain in a great battle. Now Karador haunts the valleys of his birth, an embittered king of a realm of wraiths and shades. He gathers ghostly minions for an assault on the rival warchief who deposed him.

    Vish Kal, Blood Arbiter

Vish Kal, Blood Arbiter | Illustration by Michael C. Hayes

The ancient vampire Vish Kal feeds on the wicked, and he judges wickedness by his own personal code of ethics. Those who are exonerated in the eyes of Vish Kal are untouchable, stainless. But for the guilty he acts as both judge and executioner, personally carrying out the blood sentence for his own verdicts.

    Commander of the "Political Puppets" Deck: Zedruu the Greathearted

Zedruu the Greathearted | Illustration by Mark Zug

Zedruu the Greathearted was born into a warrior family, lithe and combative like her father, but her path led her away from war. When she was young, a plague cursed her Erlundi people, leaving a wake of death. She learned painfully that not every fight can be won by the sword. In desperation, she offered her life in exchange for her people's, and thanks to her willing sacrifice, the curse was broken. Now she is revered among her people for her patience, benevolence, and hard-won wisdom.

    Ruhan of the Fomori

Ruhan of the Fomori | Illustration by Raymond Swanland

Ruhan defies every rule, every expectation, every stricture meant to hold him. He was born blind, but chose a life of war. He was trained by famed Fomori swordmasters, but chose his own deadly great-mace. His elders form alliances, but his allegiance is to none but his own whim.

    Nin, the Pain Artist

Nin, the Pain Artist | Illustration by Brad Rigney

Despite her famed career, Nin does not see herself as a torturer. Nin seeks to awaken a deeper consciousness within her "clients" by exploring their personal limits. She believes every nerve ending is a pathway to self-knowledge.

    Commander of the "Devour for Power" Deck: The Mimeoplasm

The Mimeoplasm | Illustration by Svetlin Velinov

Little is known about the bizarre entity that crawls the world of Muraganda. The fang druids call it the Mimeoplasm, as it absorbs the traits of anything it engulfs. The saurid warriors of the south seek out the Mimeoplasm wherever it roams, believing it to be the key to a mysterious afterlife, hoping to see in it traces of their fallen loved ones. The elves of the tropics believe it to be part of nature's cycle, a way to channel death back into life. The scarwitches hiss when it approaches, seeing it as the ultimate enemy of the world. Whether it's a natural process or a malevolent force, the Mimeoplasm never fails to command respect.

    Damia, Sage of Stone

Damia, Sage of Stone | Illustration by Steve Argyle

Thanks to their petrifying gaze, gorgons make few allies. But many seek out the gorgon sage Damia, whose breadth of magical knowledge rivals that of any archmage—and whose prices cut deep. Many have thought of forcing secrets out of her; her statuary is littered with the stone forms of those who've tried.

    Skullbriar, the Walking Grave

Skullbriar, the Walking Grave | Illustration by Nils Hamm

The undead monstrosity known as Skullbriar was formed when a necromancer and an elementalist entered into a grim pact. The mages wove their magics together in an overgrown cemetery, thinking it would bring them eternal life. Instead it fused them together into Skullbriar, the relentless, restless elemental of death.

    Letter of the Week

Today's letter comes from Tad.

Dear Doug Beyer,
Regarding your article "Germ Warfare: The Flavor of Living Weapon":

This is probably a bit late, but given the reprint of your article on Living Weapons, I thought I'd ask about something I noticed with those Phyrexian creations throughout the 3 sets - it seems to me from the artwork, size and flavor that each living weapon could be combined Voltron-style to form a huge monstrosity.

Flayer Husks, obviously form up the claws, Strandwalker the legs, Skinwing, a set of leathery wings. Bonehoard comprises the rib cage and spine (getting larger as the ultimate living weapon takes more fragments into itself), while Batterskull makes up the head and Sickleslicer the tail. It even comes armed with Mortarpods - not quite sure about Necropouncer though (maybe a beak?)

Was the idea of this combined creation intentional? What would the Ultimate Living Weapon be? What would it look like?

-- Tad

Tad, the merest trace of a thought of combining of all the Phyrexian living weapons fused together tore my mind into small, gently falling shreds. The suggestion that we should actually endeavor to figure out what it would look like is the depth of irresponsibility—a threat to the sanity of the entire human race.


I gave your letter in the form of a request to Tom Jenkot, graphic designer for the Magic web team. Later, when I returned to my desk, I found this:

Also there was a horse's head on my Aeron. Weird. But protestations of despair and cranio-equine threats are just the web team's way of expressing interest. So I stepped up my urgings, and I was glad I did. Here's the finished result, combining all those Phyrexian germ-vehicles into a single chilling bio-artificial weapon-horror. Credit goes to Tom Jenkot for the Photoshoppery and to Chippy, Eric Deschamps, Jason Felix, Igor Kieryluk, Cos Koniotis, and Mark Zug for their Illustrations of the living weapon artifacts:

Thanks for helping destroy the sanity of all humankind, Tad!

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