Because my column falls on Wednesday, and this Wednesday is the sigh of relief day. Because we in the States finally have a day to relax. Barring some kind of lawsuit shenanigans, America's next president has been elected. At this writing I don't know who it is, and I hope it's my guy (and no political flaming in the boards thread, please!). But either way, I'm glad it's over and done with, so I can get my brains shipped back off to Alara. Via priority interplanar mail.
Vorthos hate real world! Vorthos smash actually-occurring, non-Magical events!
If you're like me, you're deeply ready for some Magic, that cardboard Calgon with the unique ability to whisk you off on a raft of aether-infused soap bubbles into a world where problems get solved by tapping lands and blasting spells.
It's Naya time.
If I were heading to the shards of Alara, Naya would be the first place I'd plop down my spark-awakened self. It's a plane overrun with lush, tropical jungle that boasts the most varied forms of life of all the shards. A permanent, pale mist known as the Whitecover hangs over the rainforest, punctured by ranges of steeply sloped mountains. Naya is Alara's cradle of life, a world so fertile and abundant that the process of living is barely even a challenge—the overwhelming biodiversity of the jungle provides everything a human or elf or pip fawn could need. There are certainly dangers on Naya, but by and large, life's good here. To many planeswalkers, it's a paradise without peer.Forest art by Zoltan Gabor & Boros Szikszai
The Humans: Exuberant Hedonists
Humans enjoy a much better life on Naya than those poor, extinction-threatened wretches on Grixis. Human life here is about pleasure—pleasure of the hunt, pleasure of the body, pleasure of celebration, pleasure of competition. Drumhunters hunt in packs, using the sonic properties of the jungles' buttressing roots to communicate over long distances. Exuberants are humans who celebrate life in all its forms, caring little and usually wearing even less, spending their days in their sandstone ziggurats and jungle cities. Some humans compete at a wrestling game called matca, the rules of which involve grappling one's opponent until submission. Wide-open matca arenas draw huge crowds of exuberants, who are happy to eat, watch sport, and participate in any number of other activities under the warm sun.
Humans sometimes fall victim to the huge beasts of this realm, as the beasts give as much thought to humanity as humanity gives to insects. But when a gargantuan or thoctar pummels one of their vine-covered ziggurats into sand, or smushes a hapless party of drumhunters on their way back from an expedition, the good-natured exuberants of Naya simply shrug, give solemn respect to the jungle, and move on with their lives. They rebuild in the footsteps of behemoths, content to tolerate the overwhelming natural forces that they have no hope of changing.
The Elves: Behemoth Worshippers
The elves are Naya's spiritual center. Gathered around dewcups where the morning mist collects in huge leaves in the jungle canopy, the elves drink deep of arboreal existence. They call themselves the Cylian elves after the beautiful Cylia, the first elvish high priest, who they believe witnessed something known as the "breaking of the world," which some planeswalkers know as the Sundering of Alara into its five shards. Each generation of elves since Cylia's time has been overseen by a female elf high priest called the Anima, the spiritual and prophetic heart of elf society. Mayael, the elves' current Anima, reads the signs of the forest as prophecy, believing that the ancient hydra god Progenitus slumbers below Naya and delivers symbolic, omen-laden visions to her people. When she sees into the mists of divination, her eyes go white, a phenomenon known as the Whitecover Gaze.
The huge beasts who lumber throughout the plane of Naya, called behemoths or gargantuans, occupy a special place in the culture of the Cylian elves. The elves believe the gargantuans are sacred creatures, pure manifestations of the carnivorous ferocity of the jungle, and worship them as gods. Elves known as godtrackers keep tabs on the movements of these massive mammals, making sure that elf travelers stay out of their way, and reading their movements as signs of what is to come.
The Nacatl: Prides Divided
The cat-people known as leonin can be found on many planes, including Mirrodin and Naya. The leonin of Naya are ferocious jungle warriors called the Nacatl, grouped into prides who dwell in dens set into the high reaches of the mountains. The Nacatl don't revere the gargantuans as the elves do, although they respect the huge beasts' power. The main influence on Nacatl culture over the last few generations has been the Breaking of the Coil.
The Nacatl were once one great empire, a civilized culture guided by a set of laws and strictures called the Coil. The laws of the Coil were inscribed in a great wall of white stone and governed their enlightened civilization for centuries.
But some believed the Nacatl culture had grown stagnant. A revolutionary Nacatl named Marisi called upon his fellow leonin to revolt against the strictures of the Coil, and a great civil war broke out. The white wall that housed the Coil was broken, and the race split in two. The prides who followed Marisi's beliefs, calling themselves the Wild Nacatl, broke free from that structured civilization and celebrated their animal natures, marching down out of the cloudy mountain peaks and into the jungle once more.
The division between the Wild Nacatl and the so-called Cloud Nacatl persists to this day, which creates friction and fierce battles between prides. The leader of the revolution, Marisi, is believed to be long dead, but Wild Nacatl prides still celebrate his contribution to the race with a yearly festival.
The planeswalker Ajani Goldmane is native to Naya, and is part of a Wild Nacatl pride. It was during a Festival of Marisi that Ajani Goldmane's brother, Jazal, was murdered. You can find out more in the Flight of the White Cat web comic — but you'll learn even more in my novel, which comes out in early May 2009, right around the time of the Alara Reborn launch parties. I'm excited to tell you about it in a future column.Mountain art by Zoltan Gabor & Boros Szikszai
The Gargantuans: Terrestrial Gods
If the humans, elves, and Nacatl are the lifeblood of Naya, the beastly behemoths of Naya are its pounding heart. The mana-nourished ecosystem of Naya's jungles so overflows with life energy that the plane supports carnivores and herbivores of outrageous size. The fearsome thoctars, rakeclaws, cerodons, spearbreakers, mosstodons, almighty godsires, and other humongous world-shakers of the shard inspire reactions from awe to reverence, from trepidation to grudging respect, from the hunter's longing to the shaman's immediate and overwhelming urge to retreat. The gargantuans are the embodiment of Naya's natural laws, the avatars of its soul. In an earnest world with almost no guile or power-lust, pure size rules the day.
Letter of the Week
Dear Doug Beyer,
Regarding your article "Ajani: Faces of a Planeswalker":
On your "Letter of the week" section, you stated that you "try not to think of planes as planets". That got me thinking... what IS the difference between a plane and planets?
If our world was a plane, would it be the "Earth" plane, or the "Universe" plane? If it's the "Earth" plane, would Jupiter and Mars and every other planet be other planes?
Also, if the people of Esper, for example, built a spaceship (I said Esper 'coz I think they're more likely to do this, but any other plane would work), what would they find if they traveled right up, through the skies, to the moon and beyond?
I think that, in the case of Alara, it was once a sphere-shaped planet, kind of like the Earth, and then the sundering formed five other planes, each with an Earth-shaped planet. The ones that lived during the sundering would be dead (no one survives an explosion THAT big, I think), and the new folks of each planet just know the planet as sphere-shaped.
Just like Wes, I know I'm not alone. Please, to answer? (insert lolcat here.)
Thanks for your question, Vini. Let me clarify — some planes are very planetlike, that is, they are big spheres with continents of land sticking up out of vast oceans, and their planar boundaries end somewhere up in their upper atmosphere. But the reason we don't use "plane" and "planet" interchangeably is that planes can be very different from planets. There are an infinite number of planes in the multiverse, and some of them are pretty strange. Some are flat discs balanced on needles made of void. Some are bizarre dreamscapes of shifting illusion. Some are savage vortices of raw elemental energy.
Many planes, however, have a structure that would be roughly analogous to a planet and some amount of its surrounding "space." The plane of Mirrodin, for example, was a big spherical world with a hollow core, with celestial bodies orbiting above it. Mirrodin's suns were part of the plane of Mirrodin, not distinct planes unto themselves. There's no Blind Eternities (the chaotic void between the planes) between the surface of Mirrodin and its suns—it's just a whole bunch of sky (possibly including some cold and airless sky) and then the suns. A planeswalker couldn't planeswalk from the Razor Plains up to Mirrodin's blue sun, for example (assuming he or she would want to do such a thing), because they're all part of the same plane.
I'd say that our modern understanding of the heliocentric solar system, with Earth and its moon orbiting Sol along with several other planets and planetoids, would be pretty different from how most denizens of the multiverse would think of things, and might be a misleading model for thinking about planes. Our universe is, in a way, a continuous sweep of nested systems, from the smallest atoms to the greatest galaxies (and things much smaller and much bigger than those things), and you can regard it from any scale or perspective as you wish. Earth is part of the solar system, which is part of the Milky Way Galaxy, which is part of the Local Group of galaxies, and on up, and on down. The upper atmosphere of Earth is a pretty hard boundary for most people's definition of planethood, but what you call a "plane," and how you divide things up beyond that, depends on the conversation you're having.
On the other hand, the Magic Multiverse has distinct planar boundaries. A plane might contain a tiny nugget of land or a vast galaxy of worlds inside of it, and yet there's always an answer as to whether you're still within that plane or not. If you had to planeswalk and pass through the Blind Eternities to get to your next destination, then you've left it. Otherwise, you haven't.
So, what if some enterprising Esperite built a spaceship made of etherium (natch) and flew straight up into Esper's grid-divided night sky? Hard to say. There are clearly stars in Esper's sky, so would you keep going, and see some kind of medieval conception of deep space splayed out on swiveling celestial spheres, like the dome of a clockwork planetarium? Would you see a whole universe, with the starlight coming from actual distant gas giants? Or would you see something more magical, like the glowing spirits of long-dead sphinx Hegemons, drifting forever just above Esper's cloudy heavens? Or would you experience something very strange, a bending of space that deposited you somehow right back where you started?
Unclear. The important thing is that everything you see up there is still part of the plane of Esper. Anything you can reach by etherium rocket ship (or by a Flight spell, or by Venser-style teleportation, or in the belly of a Simic Sky Swallower, or any other crazy variation on a spatial mode of travel) is part of the plane you started on. You don't eventually hit the Blind Eternities like a Saturn V rocket eventually hitting space. Maybe you keep going or maybe you don't, but any "conventional" travel won't let you move to other planes. Only a planeswalker (or someone who otherwise has access to the power of planeswalking, like the Weatherlight crew) can leave a plane, and that's the key to everything.