Graduation Day

Posted in Savor The Flavor on June 10, 2009

Listen up, troops. You are Magic's elite force of fighting Vorthoses. You've survived Magic's not-quite-one-year intensive training course, the Alara Elite Flavor Officer Trials—or "Shard Camp" as some of you planestompers call it—and you've become the world's experts on the flora, fauna, and folklore of those five collided dirt-sacks we call the plane of Alara. Through careful study of the cards of the Shards of Alara block, A Planeswalker's Guide to Alara, Savor the Flavor, Magic Arcana, and other voluminous venues of Vorthosian verse, and through your own plane-traipsing journeys and imaginations, you have attained an unsurpassed level of excellence in flavor knowledge and planeswalking preparedness.

Today I will bestow on you the rank of Vorthos General, First Class. But before I do, you must take this graduation day exam, a final test of your Vorthosian expertise. Should you prove your merit, you will go down in history as one of the multiverse's most knowledgeable planeswalkers. Should you miss, say, three or more of these, you get to scrub all the gargoyles on the Shard Camp officer's tower. The high ones.

Ready, troops? Let's get started!


The word "coatl" is from the real-world language Nahuatl, language of the Aztecs, still spoken today in Central America. What does coatl mean in English?

  1. Serpent
  2. Winged serpent
  3. Feathered serpent
  4. Revered serpent
  5. Scaly one

Reveal answer

Quetzalcoatl, the Mayan "lord of life" and King of Tula being "consumed" by a "serpent".

The correct answer is A. Although many people have associations of coatls as flying snakes (as they are in Damp;D), "coatl" simply means serpent (or snake). The association with flying snake likely comes from the Mesoamerican deity Quetzalcoatl, symbolized as a feathered serpent. Coatls in Alara are Nayan snakes associated with the colors blue and green.


The kathari are a race of buzzard-like bird humanoids that scavenge the death-choked realms of Grixis. The kathari's name was inspired by the Greek word katharos—meaning what?

  1. Forage
  2. Frail
  3. Hawk
  4. Pure
  5. Sooty

Reveal answer

The correct answer is D. Katharos means "pure" or "clean," and is related to the verb kathairein, meaning "to purify" or "to purge," and gave rise to our word "catharsis." That might seem like a strange association for a race of vulture-like aven, but their role on Grixis is actually often one of cleansing or purification, as you can see from this excerpt from A Planeswalker's Guide to Alara:

This race of scavenger aven resembles a humanoid vulture: a black-winged creature with a bald vulture's head, but humanoid arms and legs. They circle the skies of Grixis, searching for sites of mass death in order to feed on the gristly remains before necromancers get their hands on them. Most kathari are greedy, screeching cowards, but are tolerated among necromancers and lich lords because of the belief that they purge bad luck from the dead.

Kathari practice a religion called Skive, founded on a fervent belief in a higher afterlife. Their scavenging habits go hand-in-hand with their religion, as they believe that cleansing the flesh from the bones of the dead is the only proper form of respect for the deceased, and the only way a soul will be free to enter the afterlife.

The punch line about the kathari name is that Cathartes is also a genus of vulture found in North and South America. Although that is what got us on the track originally, the katharos meaning gave rise to the world-building about their culture and beliefs. Handy!

    Alaran Creatures

Every shard of Alara is a haven for many types of strange and exotic creatures. Which of these lists correctly matches five Alaran creatures to their native shards?

Incurable – Esper
Leotau – Naya
Rannet – Grixis
Thrinax – Jund
Strix – Bant
Incurable – Grixis
Leotau – Bant
Rannet – Jund
Thrinax – Naya
Strix – Esper
Incurable – Jund
Leotau – Naya
Rannet – Bant
Thrinax – Esper
Strix – Jund
Incurable – Grixis
Leotau – Bant
Rannet – Naya
Thrinax – Jund
Strix – Esper

Reveal answer

The correct answer is D. Incurables are Grixis ogres afflicted with a mutating disease. Leotau are the hooved lion mounts of Bant. Rannets are a type of gargantuan beast of Naya. Thrinaxes are vicious reptilian predators of Jund. And strixes are owl-like aerial predators of Esper.

    Castes of Bant

Which of these is not a social caste on the shard of Bant?

  1. Sigiled
  2. Sacred
  3. Blessed
  4. Sighted
  5. Mortar

Reveal answer

The correct answer is B. Sacred is not a Bant caste, but the rest are. The Sigiled are those knights and heroes who have earned a sigil of patronage. The Blessed are the noble and ruling caste. The Sighted are the caste of highly ranked clerics, spiritualist mages, and seers. And Mortar caste are the majority of Bant citizens, of lower rank but still honored by all castes. "Unbeholden" is the term for Bant's rare law-breakers, or for those who would reject the caste system into which they were born.


Etherium is the æther-infused metal used on Esper to perfect the inherent flaws of organic life. Who invented etherium?

  1. Tezzeret
  2. Sharuum
  3. Palandius
  4. Venser
  5. Crucius

Reveal answer

The correct answer is E.The inventor of etherium was the brilliant sphinx Crucius, now scorned as "Crucius the Mad." Again from A Planeswalker's Guide to Alara:

The sphinx Crucius was a seminal but controversial figure in Esper history. Esperites now revile the genius who brought etherium to the plane, thinking him to have disappeared or died years ago. But our researchers' evidence suggests that he may have been a planeswalker, and furthermore may have understood—and attempted to correct—Esper's plight.

Decades ago, Crucius devised the magical alloy etherium and began a grand project to infuse living things on Esper with it, which he called The Noble Work. Records show that he proposed the Noble Work as a means to overcome the frailties and limitations of the mortal flesh, but Crucius may have in fact perceived Esper's disconnection from two crucial elements, red and green mana. Indeed, the æther inside etherium, once spread across enough of the plane, may have been intended to enable a spell that would reunify Esper with the other planar fragments.

Etherium was invented long before Tezzeret became a planeswalker. Sharuum the Hegemon, ruler of Esper and also a wise sphinx, is one of the few who knows the true story behind Crucius's disappearance. Palandius is a city on Esper, not a person. And although Venser is a brilliant artificer, he's not part of the Esper story.


Obelisks are tall, narrow, stone monoliths, prominent in ancient Egyptian architecture. In Alara Unbroken, to what purpose does Nicol Bolas put Alaran obelisks?

  1. To reunify the shards
  2. To channel mana into the Maelstrom
  3. To defeat Progenitus
  4. To deliver messages to his agents across the Blind Eternities
  5. To summon a Fusion Elemental

Reveal answer

The correct answer is B. Nicol Bolas's plan on Alara involves draining the mana of the shards into a massive mana storm, and he uses some of Alara's native obelisks to help him channel mana into the Maelstrom. Many of the obelisks of Alara have stood since before the Sundering centuries ago, perhaps used by ancient Alarans to focus and guide the plane's extant mana. The monuments may originally have focused mana of all five colors, but after the shards broke apart, they only channeled mana of three colors each. Many of the oldest and most powerful obelisks are hidden and forgotten to time, built over by modern architecture or buried under layers of accumulated sediment.

    Jund Dragon Lore

The flavor text of Volcanic Submersion refers to a phenomenon that occurs at the end of the lives of Jund dragons, although it does not refer to this final act by name.

A dragon's death is almost as feared as its life. Old, dying dragons throw themselves into volcanoes, causing massive upheaval and widespread disaster.

What is the name of this drastic, draconic phenomenon?

  1. The Dragonwrack
  2. Roar of the Wyrm
  3. The Shriek of Flame
  4. Jund's Lament
  5. The Final Flame

Reveal answer

The correct answer is C. This desperate, violent act at the end of dragons' lives is called the Shriek of Flame. This passage from A Planeswalker's Guide to Alara was also referred to in this Rei Nakazawa article.

Dragons don't go peacefully into death. When an ancient has become too feeble to defend its territory, it goes out with a bang. It finds an unstable volcano, flies high above the crater, then plunges directly downward in a shrieking death-dive, into the magma. This suicidal ritual is called the Shriek of Flame. The resulting pyroclasm is seen for miles around, and often, the volcano erupts as a result. Some lowland groups believe all volcanic eruptions are caused by the death of a dragon.
    Alaran Places

Villages, cities, countries, and landmarks dot the shard-realms. Which of these lists correctly matches five Alaran locations to their shards?

Bloodhall – Naya
Jhess – Jund
Kederekt – Esper
Vectis – Grixis
Sacellum – Bant
Bloodhall – Jund
Jhess – Bant
Kederekt – Grixis
Vectis – Esper
Sacellum – Naya
Bloodhall – Grixis
Jhess – Naya
Kederekt – Bant
Vectis – Jund
Sacellum – Esper
Bloodhall – Naya
Jhess – Bant
Kederekt – Grixis
Vectis – Esper
Sacellum – Jund

Reveal answer

The correct answer is B. The Bloodhall is a huge, sangrite-rich cavern sacred to Jund's human warrior-clans (and frequented by hungry slimes and oozes). Jhess is a free-wheeling, seafaring island nation off the coast of Bant. Kederekt is a necropolis of undead-afflicted, half-sunken manor houses near a greasy sea of Grixis. Vectis is a fortified human city on Esper built around central, soaring spires of etherium. The Sacellum (from the Latin, meaning "an unroofed space consecrated to a deity") is a kind of living cathedral in the jungle, the spiritual center of Naya's elf culture and home of Mayael, the Anima.


Rhoxes are a proud, reverent race of burly rhino-humanoids. Before we saw them in Bant, on what world did we see the first rhox creature? (Corrected!)

  1. Dominaria (Jamuraa)
  2. Dominaria (Otaria)
  3. Mercadia
  4. Mirrodin
  5. Rath

Reveal answer

The original card Rhox was in the Nemesis set, which was set on the plane of Rath.

While the art of the original Rhox depicted a quadrupedal beast covered in plates and horny growths, its Tenth Edition art showed it as a fully armored humanoid. Rhox became a Rhino Beast during the Grand Creature Type Update, opening up the rhoxes as a sentient race in Alara.

    Agents of Bolas

Beings throughout Alara have served as the eyes and ears of Nicol Bolas on the five shards, often unknowingly committing acts that would advance his schemes. Which of these people or groups is not secretly serving Bolas?

  1. Knights of the Reliquary
  2. Rakka Mar
  3. The Split-Eye Coven
  4. Malfegor
  5. Gwafa Hazid

Reveal answer

The correct answer is A. The Knights of the Reliquary, an order of itinerant knights dedicated to studying ancient relics across the world of Bant (whose most famous member was the many-sigiled Rafiq of the Many), were not an order that was infiltrated by Bolas—Bolas's main agents on Bant were the members of another knightly order, the Order of the Skyward Eye. He also operates through the ambitious Bant merchant Gwafa Hazid and the Jund elementalist, Rakka Mar. And of course the demon-dragon Malfegor is Bolas's right-hand general on the shard of Grixis. Big points if you knew it wasn't the Split-Eye Coven, who are a group of Grixis witch-prophets quoted in the flavor text of Bone Splinters (the Split-Eye witches were described in the Alara style guide, but trimmed out of the Planeswalker's Guide). They serve Bolas by spreading rumors of Grixis's future overflowing with delicious life energy, so as to motivate necromancers and lich lords to march on the other shards after the Conflux.


How did you fare, troops? I know I'll see some of you with your wire brushes, up on the officer's tower, scrubbin' granite. Those of you who scored well—congratulations! I'll see you around the multiverse.

    Letter of the Week

I want to return to an earlier topic discussed in this Savor the Flavor. Alexander, clearly a master of the color wheel, has insights about villainy and the color green.

Dear Doug Beyer,
Regarding your article "Insights from the Inbox":

Alright, so I've been combing through your back catalogue, and came across your thoughts regarding Green as a hard color to have as a villain.

I agree it's hard to have a Green -villain- in the sense of a single person up to no good and creating conflict. It's hard to make Green evil without throwing in another color. Those eco-terrorists for example would almost certainly be green black (as soon as your means becomes 'any means necessary', that's pretty solid Black turf). But while Green is a tough villain, I think it's an easy and good antagonist.

Because Green is just about natural growth and instinct, it can't be reasoned with. That gives it a level of horror a sentient villain can't match. The thallids in Fallen Empires aren't evil per se, for example, they're just really fast growing fungi. They're just doing their thing without a care in the world -growing really quickly - it's just that that happens to conflict with other, non-fungus creatures around them. But the thallids aren't after power, knowledge, fairness or fun, they're just growing. They have zero malice, or even motive. Antagonists of any other color presumably have some goal or reasoning that makes their villains understandable, but an out of control infestation of deadly plants (for example) doesn't have an agenda, end goal or even sentience. But they can still be pretty terrifying for the protagonist.

So, know I'm pretty late on the uptake here, but wanted to share my thoughts anywho.

Alexander's letter is a great and well-stated angle for green's variety of villainy. Although malicious, premeditated evil is generally out of flavor for green, green is home to some of the most large-scale and petrifying antagonists possible, which could certainly serve as the adversary in Magic stories. In a way, a mass of thallids or a rampant Mycoloth is a scarier antagonist than a sentient villain, like a scheming vampire lord, say. A vampire you could theoretically bargain with—you could appeal to his power-lust to buy him off in some way, do favors for him to get your loved ones safely out of his sights, or appeal to his vanity to trick him somehow. But none of those things work on a classic green monster, any more than they could work on a virus or a tornado. ("Hey, Mr. Tornado—lookin' good today. I mean it, man—you're crushing it today. Hey, ah, speaking of crushing things—mind doing me a favor?") I'm still on the hunt for how green can be a true villain, but Alexander's got a good grasp on green's potential for agenda-free terrorization.

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