Jund's One Rule

Posted in Savor The Flavor on December 3, 2008

I sprained my ankle once.

It hurt so bad, I thought all the nerve endings in my leg had turned into exclamation marks. I was playing intramural basketball in high school. I went up for a rebound, came down on my foot sideways, and rolled it.

But that's my big war injury. That's my big story of physical pain. My ankle swelled up to the size of a grapefruit, and I limped for a couple of weeks, and I whined (in manly fashion) for a while.

In other words, I'd last about five minutes on Jund.

All of Alara's shards have a soft spot in my heart for various reasons, but Jund might just be my favorite. In the midst of all its viciousness, it is pure. In its hunger, it is unrefined. Sure, it'd be a horrible place to vacation. You never, ever relax on Jund. But in a way, it's the most user-friendly of Alara's fragments. It's dead simple to understand. The Jund user's manual is one sentence. What's the rule?

The strong survive.

That's it. No time-honored hierarchy of social roles. No planar quest to ascend to metallic perfection. No riddles. No prophecies. Just an eternal cycle of living moment-to-moment and hand-to-mouth, relying on your wits and whatever physical advantages nature gave you, to live long enough to catch your breath, reproduce, and then feed your corpse to glory.

    A Relief from Nonessentials

Jund strips away the nonessentials. Consider these fripperies of our modern lives that disappear as soon as you cross into Jund.

The Future

There's no long-term on Jund. Why make plans for another year when you may not get another breath? You want to think, smart guy? Think about now, chief. Think about your footing on the igneous pebbles under your boots, the wind direction relative to your scent stance, and what species might be behind the eyes in the volcanic smoke ahead. Think about your neck, and how your pulse smells, and how your fear puts chemicals in your sweat that make the thrinax drool. The future is an indulgence that no one on Jund can afford.

The Social Order

Civilization = nope. It's every toothy lizard for himself around here. The best you can ask for here is a little pack behavior, a little huddling together for body warmth, a little kill-sharing. But even that ends as soon as teeth are bared. What results is a public life that ends at the skin, institutions made of one's own bodily rhythms, and the almighty religion of hunger. Rip out your sense of civility. Forget manners. The golden rule isn't, "Treat others as you would have them treat you," but rather, "Treat others as they certainly wouldn't hesitate to treat you, if you gave them the chance." So you don't give them the chance. It's not selfishness—it's survival.


Okay, maybe you have a favorite axe—the one that's split a dozen viashinos' skulls, the one that enabled you to cleave your way out of the goblins' tukatongue-leaf trap on more than one occasion, the one that your fingers cling to desperately even as you sleep. But as for the rest, it'd be best for you to think of material goods as fleeting. Riches mean nothing when there's no economy. Stores of food and water vanish in the night, stolen by goblins or nocturnal lizards. Real estate is too hard to defend from lumbering reptilian monsters, roving streams of lava, and dragonfire. Many of Jund's human warriors weave trophies of past kills into their hair—they know that the only sense of ownership that matters on Jund is what's on their immediate person, the stuff you can run with that won't slow you down.

Life Closure

This one's a little trickier. You might have come to terms with the idea that there's no property, no culture, and no real sense of the future on Jund, but there's another luxury of contemporary living that you'll have to go without. It's the idea that your life is leading up to something important before the end—that you'll have a touching life moment, pass on your experiences to a younger generation, say something pithy, and pass on with grace. You won't get that. The end of your life will be early and unexpected. You'll be ducking through the maze of valley foliage, the rest of your clan fanning out to watch for big predators, and you'll just suddenly die. Maybe a hungry plant gulps you down. Maybe a hellion bursts out of the ground underneath your feet. Maybe the plane's furry goblins stage a daring raid from their homes in the peaks down into the valleys, and a stray spearhead pierces your temple. Maybe a hellkite decides it's tired of goblin meat, and strafes your valley from above, and then gorges itself on the charred remains of your clan. Point is, you won't have time to get a lifetime achievement award. There won't be oration or bedside dignity. You'll be devoured by Jund's food web, digested by some beast's stomach acids, and that will be it.

See why I like this place? It either kills you immediately—pretty likely—or forces your inner badass to the surface. It's a cauldron of molten danger that burns away weakness and indecision. And it's great for the abs.

    The Look of Jund

We created the look of the plane of Jund based on a few principles.

Everybody's in tip-top physical shape. The humans are lithely muscled and bear a sweaty sheen of constant exertion. The strong survive, and only the strong. Anybody who wasn't in great shape is already dead, so we never see those sad sacks in the art. These aren't bulky bodybuilder types; they're more like extreme endurance athletes, those lean, sinewy people with eight-pack abs and three percent body fat.

Dragons are the top of the food chain. Although some bold human clans do occasionally wage Life Hunts against dragonkind, no creature on Jund is a dragon's natural predator, besides other dragons. On the other hand, the dragon is everybody's natural predator. Jund's dragons are fierce, fuming, and a bit regal. After holding back on dragons throughout the Lorwyn / Shadowmoor year (except for the lonely Knollspine Dragon), we were excited to bust out an entire world teeming with them, and worked hard to make Alaran dragons worth the wait. You can see in some of Aleksi Briclot's basic land pieces that the point of view is from above rather than from the explorer's eye view—the "camera" is up in the sky, where the kings of Jund reside.

High ground is bad; low ground is good. Dragons are aerial predators, and usually hunt at high elevations. Most goblins, who actually revere the thought of being eaten by dragons, live up on the mountain peaks, welcoming the draconic attention. Smarter prey species, such as humans, live in the relative safety of the bejungled valleys and lowlands (where they're picked off by viashino and carnivorous plants instead).

The sky is red-bellied clouds of volcanic ash and smoke. Although the cards are not watermarked with a symbol for each shard, we wanted the sky in each card's art to be a consistent marker of which world the card was from. Jund's sky is pretty consistent—the glow of volcanic lava reflecting off of a sky-cauldron of ugly black fumes. There's generally not lightning in the sky, either (outside of a few spells like Resounding Thunder), as we tried to reserve the look of a boiling lightning-storm sky for Grixis.

Jund is reptilian, not mammalian. To distinguish the monstrous predators of Jund from the monstrous predators of Naya, we made a rule of thumb that Jund is about reptiles, whereas Naya is about mammals. Naya's behemoths generally have a bit of shaggy fur to clue you in about their warm-bloodedness. They're woolly and beastly. Aside from elementals and the oddball, ratlike goblins, Jund's critters are scaly reptile-types. Even humans have the occasional reptilian attribute—check out the forked tongues on the humans in Kresh's art, below. The hot climate, bubbling tar-baths, and volcanic activity combined with the reptilian populace to create a sense of a primeval world, not privy to enough of the colors of progress to evolve much more than a savage, reptilian consciousness.

The viashino are alligator-like. The lizard humanoids known as viashino have always been fierce warriors on every plane where they appear, even the scrawny little street urchins on Ravnica. But here, they are at their most physically impressive, appearing as huge alligator-people. Jund's viashino are definitely my favorite that we've ever done.

Action, action, action. Nobody rests on Jund. We sent back a few preliminary sketches in which people were leaning on their axe-handle or looking around waiting for stuff to happen, in favor of final art that showed the same people raising that axe high, the skeletal weak-point of some equally deadly foe in their sights. Reflection is for thoughtful Esper. Repose is for gentle Naya. On Jund, the next fight is always just moments away, and life is always on the move.

So maybe I'd be toast if I went to Jund. One twisted ankle is all it would take to knock me out of commission and turn me into gator-'shino chow. And I kind of like my modern luxuries—indoor plumbing, a concept of ownership, rational thought. We have it cushy. But we can use it as a lesson for how we think about our lives, and a resource for discovery of our true strengths. If we ever want to be reminded exactly how comfortable our lives are, or indeed how shallowly lurk those savage inner selves of ours, we can visit Jund, and have our fragile illusions charred away.

    Letter of the Week

Hi there Doug,

When I was on the bus to college today, reading my Lorwyn novel, my mind drowsed from the wobbling of the bus and the fact that I had to get up early, I started wandering off. Rhys had just cast a spell which he had learned from Colfenor, and I thought (I haven't the slightest clue how my mind jumped from A to B back there): how did spellcasters way back when know about magic? Was it like Benjamin Franklin being hit by lightning, or Newton seeing an apple fall from a tree? I think this can't really be the case, because magic isn't as obviously present as gravity is. It's not like someone saw a fireball and knew 'hey, this isn't regular fire, it's magic!' Please, can you clear this matter for me?

My second question also arose when Rhys called to Colfenor's magic. This time, I know how I got to the question. Rhys cast a spell where the grass turned into razor-sharp arrows, ready for his elves to nock on their bows. But how does one know what a spell does? How does a planeswalker or such know it's better to Magma Spray a Kitchen Finks than to Shock it? How does one even know those spells deal two damage, and that two damage isn't enough to knock a Sanctum Gargoyle out of the air?

Your answers would be much appreciated. Keep up the good work!

With kind regards,

Great questions, Stijn.

On most planes, magic is a well-known quantity. It may not be as obvious or ever-present as gravity, but most people know about it and think of it as a natural part of the world. Think about a phenomenon such as lightning—how many times in your life have you actually seen it? Probably only a few dozen times, but it's not surprising to you that it exists. It's an accepted phenomenon of the world. You've heard people talk about it, you've seen it happen in photographs and on TV, and you've heard that some people even devote their lives to studying its properties. Maybe you've even learned a fact or two about it in school. On most planes, magic is like that.

Teacher: "Now class, what does a mage do before casting a spell?"
Class (droning): "The mage gathers an appropriate amount and type of mana from his or her mana bonds."


The actual use of magic is not widespread, in most cases, though. Most people on Jund, for example, can't cast even a single spell (although most people know somebody who can). And those who can usually know only a simple, direct spell, like a fire spell or the ability to summon a single creature. (We're just talking about regular mages for the moment—your run-of-the-mill task mages, shamans, and cleric types—not planeswalkers. Planeswalkers usually know lots and lots of spells, but they're the exception.) Rhys is a powerful hero whose abilities go beyond a regular task mage. Not only is he an accomplished warrior, but he probably knows a good handful of spells, thanks to his mentor Colfenor. On some planes, the use of magic might be more commonplace than that; and on others, it might be very rare—even casting a simple divination spell might be once-in-a-lifetime, wondrous occurrence.

Now, how does a mage know the properties of his or her own spell? How does a planeswalker think of a spell like Magma Spray? Certainly the mage's head is not filled up with mechanical terms. Jaya Ballard doesn't think, "Hrm, those darn Finks have the persist ability, therefore I should look for a spell that will remove them from the game." But she might think, "Hrm, those darn ouphes are durable little buggers, and therefore I should really roast the crap out of them, to make sure they're dead." Depending on the mage, she might not even think of it as selecting a differently-named fire spell. She might just give her fire a little bit more oomph while casting it on them—and voila, really-dead Finks.

Similarly, mages don't look at the bottom-right-hand corner of a monster and see its toughness. They size it up the same way you size up a bear in the woods—you estimate. You might try an attack to take the bear down, and succeed on the first try—or you might have guessed wrong about how much it'll take, and need to give it another hit. Some mages might be so experienced at waging war using their magic that they've learned exactly what creatures will fall to exactly what kinds of spells, but in many cases, it's a matter of giving it a shot and seeing what happens.

"I see that my terrorizing spell didn't do much to that vampire. Interesting. And now he looks ... well, he looks kinda mad. That's—that's just super. I wish I knew another spell, but Doug says most mages only know one. Okay, well ...." *commences screaming*

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