The Look of an Awakening World

Posted in Savor The Flavor on February 3, 2010

Stand back. I'm in a mood today. Grrrrrr.

That's my "planeswalker in a mood" growl.

The world of Zendikar was perfect. It was the world where I wanted to live for the rest of my days. It flowed with spell-imbued mana, teemed with unique and exotic life, glittered with carefully mapped treasures.

Sure, it's unbelievably dangerous. You can't take a walk to get the mail without having your leg bitten off by a flower. Every trail is a trap, and going off-trail is just going to get you disappeared by the fickle forces of the Roil. But that just made it a place for the serious-minded. No wishy-washy planeswalking sightseers allowed. Zendikar is for adventurers only. Get tough or get out. Which left the unspoiled riches of the world for folks like me. Perfect.

So I had gotten used to it, and I was starting to think of this world as my home base for the long term. But now—now that world is changing. Zendikar itself has come alive. The plane to which I had become accustomed has a new silhouette—it's no longer a rolling, stocked quest-scape. Now it's a lumbering, hulking figure. With limbs. Made for hitting people like me.

Vastwood Animist | Art by Raymond Swanland

Now, I grant you that Zendikar has had a right to fight back. It's been the rug trampled under our collective trailblazer's boots for generations. It's had to lie there as we've rappelled it and spelunked it and pilfered it, and it's never made a peep. It has had to watch in silence as the explorers stabbed their flags into its hilltops and pinned their names to its landmarks.

Explore | Art by John Avon

So I'd be lying if I said I was surprised. I'm just ... frustrated. I had everything all planned out. I had magical sea maps that could anticipate Roil tides. I had weaponry for every predator and gear for every biome. I was adapted to the place. Now this.

Roiling Terrain | Art by Steve Prescott

So I'm in a mood about it. Now I'm going to have to—I don't know—throw out all my plans. Start fresh. And I mean fresh—I'm not even sure I can rescue all my supply caches in time. I could make for my main equipment cache, in a hedron-laden grassland in southern Tazeem. But now I hear there's suddenly a tectonic plate shambling its way across the area. Pretty sure it's doomed.

Tectonic Edge | Art by Vincent Proce

Yep. Doomed. Suddenly I'm bereft of all my gear on the plane.

Now, I don't mean to play the victim. I don't know if I think there's some conscious force behind it all. I hesitate to anthropomorphize—but Zendikar doesn't! The land is awake everywhere, and it's vindictive. From what I've heard—maybe it's just me, but it seems like these days the land relishes the taste of sweaty adventurer and horseflesh.

Lavaclaw Reaches | Art by Véronique Meignaud

I've seen examples of a planar "immune response" before, on other worlds. You treat the land like a trash dump or your own personal treasure hoard, and sure, you get a drought here, a swarm of insects there. But Zendikar's gone beyond self-defense. We left self-defense behind long ago. Self-defense is currently burning up in a pyroclastic flow somewhere under the flame-cast shadow of Mount Valakut.

Searing Blaze | Art by James Paick

So maybe there's more going on than I recognize. I'm the first to admit that I underestimated Zendikar after I planeswalked here, even after giant scorpions pumped my hurda full of venom and a Roil storm swallowed all my trip journals—along with the minotaur muscle I'd hired to carry them. Even then I thought I had this world all sewn up. But it's a land of surprises; that's increasingly, depressingly obvious. I thought I had found a reality where I could play king of the hill, but the hill had other plans.

Raging Ravine | Art by Todd Lockwood

The response just seems so ... disproportionate. And strangely timed. Is it me? Yes, Zendikar is swarming with adventurer-types, pillaging its mana and priceless wonders. So? That's been the case for decades—maybe even centuries, depending on whom you ask. So why now? Why the sudden rage? Why the landslides crushing the few outposts of civilization? Why the uptick in disturbing, flora-fauna tag-teams?

Wolfbriar Elemental | Art by Chippy

It's like someone flipped a switch, and the switch was labeled "Global Supernatural Overreaction." If there were such a switch, you'd think there would be some massive freakin' safeguards keeping it from being bumped. At least get a hesitation-encouraging pane of breakaway in front of that thing. So, I don't know, maybe there are other factors at work here. Maybe there's something vexing Zendikar beyond the activity of planeswalkers and treasure-seekers.

Brink of Disaster | Art by Alex Horley-Orlandelli

Speaking of which, the wisest of us have fled. I visit the usual hangouts and watering holes—Greypelt, Kazandu, North Hada—and the absences are conspicuous. Many of those who can have left the plane entirely—I'm looking at you, Nalaar. Those who can't have taken a career change to "low-impact nature hermit" under serious consideration. And you might not see it yet, but the expedition trade is collapsing. There are no guides for hire. I guess you don't stay in the business of selling umbrellas when it rains fire.

Comet Storm | Art by Jung Park

But I can't go. I'm in it for the long haul, whatever that turns out to be. I literally have too many bonds with the place just to leave it all behind. I've tracked down the most prominent nodes of mana. I even discovered a great place to make my permanent lair, but the lair site got up—became an elemental of itself—and went off to terrorize some kor, so I'm square one-ing it on that too. Still, it's going to take more than a couple of land elementals to get me to flee.

Avenger of Zendikar | Art by Zoltan Boros amp; Gabor Szikszai

I have heard of one planeswalker who has taken the news rather better than I, a certain elf planeswalker has seemed to be riding high on Zendikar's agitation. She's got a kind of affinity for the Roil, I hear—a powerful friend to have, if I could stand the thought of her. Ever since my elf guide left me to become one of her Chosen—which, I am to understand, is some kind of great honor among elfkind—I feel nothing but enmity for Miss Revane. Still, in times like these, I can't begrudge someone for taking the land's side.

Groundswell | Art by Chris Rahn

    Letter of the Week

Dear Doug Beyer,

I am fairly new to Magic (I started playing shortly before the release of Morningtide) but I already have a firm grasp on my identity as a player. I am very distinctly a Johnny/Vorthos, and this plays a large role in my card valuing, but one card was so incredibly splashy that I couldn't help but see a bit of my Timmy side. Abyssal Persecutor is an amazing card and I wish I could personally congratulate whomever designed it, but I was wondering, what is the flavor behind it? Most of the drawbacks for powerful demons make sense in a Faustian manner, but this one doesn't seem to. If you could, please drop me a line to help me out with this.


Hey Anansi, welcome to Magic! Abyssal Persecutoris an awesome card—it tickles the fancy of competitive Spike, as well, making it an all-around crowd-pleaser. I don't know who specifically was behind its design, but I'll pass along the Kudos! (Kudos is our homunculus servant who carries correspondence around Ramp;D. I'll give him the message.) But I know it was thought of as a Demon from the get-go, and it stayed that way all the way to booster packs.

As you point out, many demons in Magic have the "deal with the devil" flavor of making you pay dearly for the power they provide. Summoning a demon is weighty stuff, not something you do during a commercial so it can fetch you another bag of Doritos. There are contracts involved, and very harsh late fees, and promises that involve helping people move, with or without pizza, and also something about souls.

To my mind, Abyssal Persecutor is the perfect Faustian demon. All demons love being the spectator to agony, and the Persecutor puts you in the cruelest paradox of all. He loves watching you twist in an impossible situation, handing you outrageous power yet preventing you from doing the very thing you want to do with it—defeating your enemies. The fee for his services is the nullification of the point of his services. Now that is some demonic spite!

Abyssal Persecutor | Art by Chippy

Of course, when you, the intelligent mage, summon Abyssal Persecutor, you always have a plan in place to outwit him. You get to have your 6/6 flying, trampling cake and devour it too, showing that demon who's boss. Um, usually. You get to have all that unless something goes wrong, like if your opponent invalidates all your means of getting rid of the demon, so that you're stuck in a victoryless nightmare forever. Eh, you win some, you can't ever win some. See you next week!

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