The Nonhuman Cultures of Mirrodin

Posted in Savor The Flavor on December 8, 2010

By Doug Beyer

Senior creative designer on Magic's creative team and lover of writing and worldbuilding. Doug blogs about Magic flavor and story at

A few weeks ago we talked about The Human Cultures of Mirrodin (here, for those that missed it), those five color-aligned tribes that represent humanity on the plane. Today we crack open the Scars of Mirrodin style guide once again to study those Mirrodin humanoids who are not human—the leonin and loxodons, the vedalken, the nim, the goblins, and the elves. These nonhuman humanoids, plus the humans we read about before—plus a smattering of myr, golems, and a few other artifact creatures—represent the sum total of those beings we call Mirrans. Future archaeologists and planeswalking historians, take note—this represents the last collection of knowledge about Mirrodin's cultures from a time before the full-scale planar war. Even at the point of these early writings, many of these cultures were beginning to show changes due to the incursion of Phyrexia—and soon, none will escape the realities of war.


The leonin are a race of proud, fierce, lion-like humanoids, and they are the most advanced and organized race of the Razor Fields.

The splintered pride. After the Sun's Toll caused the world's elder generations to disappear, Mirrodin's unified pride of leonin fractured into two smaller prides. The Kha-Tal pride is loyal to the authority of the kha, despite the vanishing of Raksha and generations of elders. The Obu-Tal are a smaller pride of young rebels, full of anger and accusations, who blame the Kha-Tal for all the difficulties they face and aim to forge a new form of society for leonin and other Mirrans.

Kemba, Kha Regent. When the elder generation of Mirrans disappeared, the leonin kha, Raksha Golden Cub, disappeared with them. The young skyhunter Kemba, a hero who led hundreds of leonin to safety during Memnarch's ascendancy, was chosen as the leonin's popular leader. Kemba refused to take the title kha, preferring to be known as "Regent," the surrogate leader in Raksha's absence. Although there's no sign that the elder generations will ever return, Kemba's official position is that she will abdicate to Raksha when he and the others return one day. Kemba has overseen the reconstruction of Taj-Nar, helping to restore the morale and dignity of the leonin. She regrets that the Obu-Tal rebel pride splintered off from her Kha-Tal pride, and struggles to make overtures to the Obu-Tal even as she's forced to fight them. She vows to reunify the prides again one day, and secretly fears that Raksha will return while the prides are still divided.

Kemba, Kha Regent

Juryan, the Rebel Kha. The rebel leader Juryan, who led the Obu-Tal to break off from the main pride of leonin, is a ferocious, charismatic, and deeply angry young warrior. He
believes fiercely in the need for revolution and a new societal structure for leonin; the old ways of the Kha-Tal pride, he says, do not apply in these changed times. Juryan's warriors have been fighting off Kha-Tal loyalists over land and resources—and losing. Vastly outnumbered and outgunned by Kemba's forces, Juryan needs some new advantage to ensure sovereignty for his fledgling nation. He has recently begun trying to use more of the artifact creations that lay defunct in the wake of the Sun's Toll, and has devoted a sect of smiths and artificers to uncover the secrets of the artificial beings. Not long ago, his scouts discovered and captured a strange, new kind of creature, a being whose metal and flesh are fused completely. This new being appears very dangerous—it may prove to be just the weapon Juryan has been looking for, to strike a vital blow against the Kha-Tal.

Taj-Nar, the Reborn Den. The tower at Taj-Nar, the ancient leonin den and capitol of leonin society, was almost totally destroyed with a mana bomb during the war with Memnarch. The Den laid a smoldering crater for years, a symbol of the vanished generation of leonin and the missing kha.

Since then, under the guidance of Kemba the Regent, Taj-Nar has been painstakingly rebuilt, but with greater magical defenses. The newly-created Regent's Guard, an elite force of leonin warriors, mages, and skyhunters, now defends the Den at all times.

Important Leonin Roles:

Abuna. Leonin religious leaders known as abunas must spend a year in the wild zones of the Razor Fields before they can earn their clerical robes. Abunas lead other leonin
in the traditional Sunroar, a holy ceremony of sun worship.

Shikari. Leonin who specialize in hunting big game are known as shikari. Shikari use special magic to warp the razorgrass, using it to bind and trap their quarry. The hunt is almost a religion for most leonin, and the shikari are greatly honored.

Kemba's Skyguard
Sunspear Shikari

Skyhunter. Skyhunters are daring leonin warriors who ride flying creatures called pterons. Skyhunters obey a creed of courage and loyalty, never failing to help a friend in need even in the face of grave danger.

Arbiter. Leonin judge-seers called arbiters practice a ritualized form of holy magic. The arbiters use their cataract-afflicted eyesight to read the positions of the suns for omens. Their advice is used to settle disputes and to determine punishments for enemies and lawbreakers. Some arbiters have scars from Whitesun vigils undertaken in the Cave of Light.


Loxodons are a race of elephant humanoids that dwell on the Razor Fields. They are known as formidable warriors—they're tough as tanks, surprisingly quick on their feet, and tireless in battle. Loxodons' beliefs are straightforward, earnest and, above all, unswerving.

Absolutism and the Modest Truth. The world is a simple place to a loxodon. They speak in casual absolutes—right and wrong, virtue and depravity—leading some to
wonder whether the loxodon mind can even perceive subtle shades of grey. Debate with a loxodon therefore borders on uselessness: their minds are made up quickly, and no amount of discussion will alter their path; and they will bring their full bulk and prowess in combat to uphold even a newly formed opinion. Matters of loxodon rules and
religion, known collectively as the Modest Truth, are passed from generation to generation, and accepted with seemingly little deliberation.

Irrepressibility. Loxodons are naturally confident, almost naively so; they regard any challenge as an opportunity to test themselves, prevail, and prove their personal skill. Their inbuilt armament and natural ability with weapons gives them good odds against any threat, and leads to an almost unbreakable resolve toward challenges in general. Their plans and strategies toward these challenges can be simplistic at times; as they can't (or choose not to) see the intricacies and details of a problem that some other races perceive, loxodons tend to favor a head-on, even brute-force approach to succeed in any situation. Many loxodons go out of their way to seek out difficulty and strife, believing that any chance to test their will and virtue is a gift.

Ghalma's Warden

Pain and atonement. Despite their unwavering reliability, loxodons have elaborate measures of Loxodon Punisher for those who break the rules.

First a ranking soldier or cleric dispenses a physical assault, overwhelming the violator with bodily pain; then a cleric or confessor hears the penitent's admission of guilt. This process works well among loxodons, ensuring a strict form of justice and guaranteeing consent on the Modest Truth, but other races often consider it barbaric or cruel.

High-impact magic. Loxodons resolve most problems with physical might, but when the need for spellcraft arises, their magic is direct, unambiguous, and crushingly forceful. Their wizards and clerics dispense justice unapologetically and with overwhelming power, scouring the plane of any who are deemed evil, summoning enormous avatars of law and retribution, resurrecting entire armies from the dead. What loxodons lack in trickery, they make up for in raw strength.

Ghalma the Shaper. The loxodon woman known as Ghalma has a gift of artifice. Metal seems to flow like liquid under her touch, allowing her to sculpt metal objects without a forge. She uses this power to craft toys, trinkets, and small artifact creatures. Recently, Neurok artificers who hope to use her talent to create new forms of synthetic life have sought her gift out.


Origin query. The vedalken pursuit of knowledge is driven by one question: the "Origin Query" (origin of the vedalken race). In pursuit of the answer to this question the vedalken have observed, tested, dissected and measured as many aspects of matter and life as is possible. This almost neurotic hunt for the answer to the Origin Query gave the vedalken a cold, emotionless inquisitiveness, which, at times, can be unnerving. The envoys of many races have stated that the long gazes of vedalken emissaries give one a feeling of being a newly procured lab animal.

Memnarch's fall. Vedalken rule was solidified by the fall of Memnarch. Though most vedalken saw this event as the fall of an almost mythical figure, many others viewed it as an opportunity to grasp the power and knowledge Memnarch had refused to share with them in life. With this in mind the vedalken began experimentation on an unprecedented scale, unchecked by their now fallen master.

Sanctives. The vedalken encouraged the expansion of knowledge, but soon found it necessary to control and compartmentalize this knowledge so that only the Synod had a full view of what had been ascertained. For this purpose the seven Sanctives were formed. Each Sanctive has a role to play in the codification of knowledge.

  • Queral. Those who pose the questions.
  • Cephon. Those who seek the lore.
  • Memnitect. Those who build the theory.
  • Certarch. Those who test.
  • Pheros. Those who analyze.
  • Ordinar. Those who determine truth.
  • Emisar. Those who deliver truth.

Some of these Sanctives soon became very insular (cephon, memnitect), never sharing information with other factions and even isolating themselves from society for years at a time (certarch, pheros).

Vedalken Certarch

The Diminishing. Though the Vedalken were masters of measured science, they failed to anticipate the sharp decline their exhaustive experiments would cause in the blinkmoth population. This myopic and uncontrolled research soon made blinkmoths, and thus serum, among the rarest commodities on Mirrodin.

Tainted Knowledge Pool. The one secret the vedalken did not reveal, even during the turmoil caused by the fall of the Synod, was the secret of the Knowledge Pool's destabilization. Some vedalken sages (Memnitect Sanctive) surmised that the pool had gained a quasi-sentience, and once partially formed, quickly went insane. This failure of the most sacred of vedalken banks of knowledge is kept as their greatest secret.

The Nim

The necrogen-created zombies known as nim are not actually a culture. However, they are worth mentioning here as the twisted zombies and their masters exert an intelligent force over the Mephidross and Mirrodin at large.

Mephidross. Called the Dross by many, Mephidross is the swamp analog of Mirrodin. ("Mephitic" means foul or noxious. "Dross" is the scum that forms on the surface of molten metal; it also means something that is base or inferior.) From a distance, the sky above the Dross looks like ink swirling in water. As you approach it, the ground begins to soften, leaving spongy footprints in the land. But the most striking feature of the Dross is the sound it makes. The whole swamp hums with a low, dissonant chord. In some places, it sounds like a distant generator. In others, it's deafening. Some report hearing whispers beneath the constant thrum.

Necrogen and the Nim. The sound comes from the chimneys of the Dross, ominous structures that "grow" seemingly at random throughout Mephidross. They range from ten to three hundred feet high. All emit a sickly green gas called necrogen that slowly saps the life from creatures, turning them into nim. These are Mirrodin's undead, slowly transformed from normal beings into ravenous, mindless zombies. They have a variety of horrifying metal "evolutions," from external steel jaws to razor-sharp "scales" on their knuckles and knees.


Unlike on many planes, Mirrodin's goblins are remarkably unified in culture and purpose. They have a well-developed set of beliefs and superstitions that define them.

Steel Mother. Goblins have their own version of an "earth goddess"—as they are partially metal themselves, they believe Mirrodin itself is the "Steel Mother," the entity that created them.

Sky Tyrant. Goblins see most the red end of the spectrum strongly, even into the infrared. To them, the red sun is the brightest thing in the sky and obviously the most powerful. They believe the Sky Tyrant is the mighty hammer that forged the body of the Steel Mother, and blinkmoths are the sparks from the forge. The blinkmoths' omnipresence and passage through the metal represents the continuous addition of new metal and life to the goblins' Mother.

Ugly Child. The emergence of the green sun made a kind of sense in the goblins' cosmology. Just as the Sky Tyrant and Steel Mother had given birth to them, they gave birth to another kind of being: the green sun. Because of the harsh, unappealing light the green sun casts on Oxidda, the goblins call it the Ugly Child. They regard it as a kind of homely cosmic brother.

Blue, white, and black suns. The goblins observe the other suns, of course, but consider them to be subservient to the Sky Tyrant. The blue sun is barely visible to their eyes and seems a ghost: They call it the Eye of Doom and ascribe to it the power of death. The yellow-white sun is brighter, although not as bright as the red, and is seen as the Bringer, sister to the Sky Tyrant. The black sun is actually visible to goblins, glowing dimly in the infrared with its heat. Its sullen light is like embers from the forge, and goblins call this the Ingle, where souls are stored until the next rebirth, coals for the Sky Tyrant's forge.

Furnace Celebration
Spikeshot Elder

Goblin holy days. Their holiest day is when the red sun is directly over the red lacuna. At that time, they believe, the Sky Tyrant and Steel Mother are joined, and the life of new goblins is seeded within her body. It is a huge fertility festival, where as many as possible try to mate near the lacuna itself, believing this will produce numerous and strong offspring. The Great Furnace is stoked to red-hot on that day as well, with every available offering of metal cast into it.

Reduce, reuse, recycle. Dead goblins return to their origin in a most literal fashion: The metal portions of their bodies are harvested and melted down in the Great Furnace, then forged into new machinery. It is typical for a goblin warren to have numerous "ancestor things" that are made completely of such reclaimed metal, built up and elaborated over the years.

Ancestor things. The goblins believe that metal from a living body has more "juice" and is better for crafting than the lifeless substrate of the world. The most elaborate ancestral "things" are found among shaman-priests of the Steel Mother, where former priests have been incorporated into the mechanisms that now tend the Great Furnace. Goblins use Mirrodin's base substance only for mundane items like pots, spear points, and armor.

Tinkers. Goblins on Mirrodin live for the usual things: to multiply, to possess and consume, and to tinker. The metal world is a paradise for this last urge, and this combined with their unusual religious fervor have made them especially proficient at thing-making, as they call it. Still, they are goblins, mixing the usual devil-may-care attitude and clumsy craftsmanship, so their creations are unpredictable and frequently more dangerous to the operator than to the intended target. In fact, the strong cultural belief in reuse and rebirth makes Mirrodin goblins even more profligate with their lives, if such a thing is possible.

Oxidda Daredevil
Kuldotha Rebirth

"Rattletrap." is an excellent word to describe many goblin artifacts. They love to make war machines and transportation devices, usually festooned with ever-larger and oft-impractical devices. Heat from the Great Furnace is used to supply motive power to larger installations.

Leadership. Goblin social structure on Mirrodin is largely chaotic, but the priesthoodhas significant power. This generally involves ranting, which goblins are still likely to ignore, but a priesthood backed up by powerful and ancient machinery gets listened to rather more. The priests mostly focus on fertility and offerings of metal, which inspire raids.

Conflicts. Goblins multiply and spread. Given their propensity to remain near the redlacuna, they often end up squabbling among themselves for the best locations. A very few, most of them pilgrims, moved away from this area and are trying to become established elsewhere on Mirrodin.


The Vanishing. After Memnarch's soul traps were destroyed, many of Mirrodin's original inhabitants disappeared from Mirrodin. The Tangle's population was decimated. Almost all of the remaining trolls, half of the elves, and a third of the humans disappeared without a trace. Families were torn apart. Parts of the forest became deserted. Already traumatized by the leveler attacks, the elves' culture all but collapsed. They became defensive, hiding in trees and sending out parties to try and locate their missing kin.

The Viridian Resurgents. The Viridian elves who remain believe they survived the Vanishing because they have a mission: They must restore nature to its pure form and cast off the shackles of the past. Before the Fifth Dawn, the Viridian elves lived in an ordered, hierarchical society based around the Tel-Jilad Chosen. In time they became akin to "eco-terrorists," willing to commit violence against any threat to their definition of the "natural world." On Mirrodin, what is considered the "natural world" is a matter of some debate, but there is no hesitation in the elves' philosophy. They believe they have the truth, and anyone who disagrees with them is a threat to nature and their mission to cultivate a pure, wild society.

Anti-technology. They see the vedalken's experimentation- and knowledge-driven society as a destructive force that separates them from the natural world. As they witness the rise of lamina in the Tangle, they come to believe that metal isn't the true state of being, and flesh is closer to a natural state. The Resurgents want to destroy anything that inhibits their pure connection with the natural world. Under the leadership of the charismatic Ezuri, they embark on a mission to destroy the myr, the vedalken, and anything else they deem unnatural. They believe civilization is a means to control and must be stopped.

Ezuri, Renegade Leader

Gades. Once the Viridians rejected the hierarchy of the Tel-Jilad, they organized themselves into voluntary brigades. The vedalken derisively call the elves "renegades," so when the Viridian elves organized themselves into groups, they co-opted the term and shortened it to "gade." They have become more militaristic, but in the name of preserving and cultivating the natural world. The gades go on missions throughout Mirrodin, destroying vestiges of the "old" civilization, hunting down Memnarch's artifact creatures, tracking golems and destroying them, and throwing monkey wrenches into "civilized" cultures.

Spirit fires. Some Viridian elves still burn spirit fires at night. These fires are burned in special braziers, with the fuel being powdered verdigris and animal fat. The spirit fires burn with a blue-green flame, with touches of yellow-white. (Copper chloride causes a fire to burn green-blue.) Spirit fires are meant to honor the passing of the day, as well as the passing of life. They also ward away the larger hungry creatures of the Tangle.

Elvish gear. Viridian elves fight with weapons reminiscent of the trees' morphology (but not with amputated tree parts). Popular weapons include war fans, which are fanshaped blades that can be wielded like a scimitar or thrown. Whips made from the Tangle's cablevine are also used, including cat-o'-nine-tails whips. Javelins are also common. The Viridian elves' bows are powerful longbows of gleaming copper, with bowstrings of vorrac gut (see below for vorracs). The arrows are fletched with young vorrac quills. The effect of many Viridian archers firing at once sounds beautifully lethal—dozens of chimes, each with a different pitch, each from a different bow. It's been the death knell of more than a few invading warbands.

Viridian Revel
Tel-Jilad Defiance

Cambree Garden. In the top "branches" closest to the green sun's light, the elves construct fortified gardens to protect and promote the new growth of the Cambree Garden. The largest fortified garden in the Tangle, it was built around a large field of gelfruit, a bioluminescent fruit, which remains a primary food source. The elves see this as nature rejuvenating itself now that the True Sun has dawned.

Letter of the Week

Dear Doug Beyer,
From a Vorthosian view, where the library is the planeswalker's memory of spells and mana bonds, I have a few questions that need solving.

1. Why 60 cards? If someone is a relatively new planeswalker, who only knows five or six spells, and only has made a couple of mana bonds, shouldn't he be allowed to have a 20-card deck? Not all planeswalkers are Jace, the mind sculptor, who can do as he pleases with the multiverse.

Well, first of all, nothing's stopping two (or more) people from playing a game for fun with 20-card decks, or 600-card decks, or whatever. I think it'd be fun to play a duel that represents two young mages who only know a few spells each, whacking away at each other with their junior-league spellbooks. (It's up to you whether a teensy 20-card deck or a directionless 600 has more of the flavor of an amateur mage.) The whole point is to have some standard that both mages abide by; the number 60 is just a number.

Jace's Ingenuity

That said, 60 is a number that's been adopted because it makes the game fun—60-card decks have a good balance of variety and consistency. Note that even given that 60-card minimum, there can still be huge differences in power between any two decks. It's not the size of the spellbook that matters—it's the motion of the potion? ... Forget I said that.

2. Why the 4-card limit? This makes no sense in the eyes of my inner Vorthos, as I can easily remember the names and faces of way more than four Simic Guildmages, and knows well over four Auriok Edgewrights. I can Unsummon a creature in more than four ways! Things like that.

Again, in a casual game, I don't see why you couldn't experiment with relaxing the "four-of" limit. Go nuts. I think you'll find that the games get less interesting, though. It's another one of those features of "Magic-as-a-game" that doesn't necessarily have a flavorful "Magic-as-a-multiverse" rationale behind it. It's a standard that we all agree on to generate fun games of Magic. If you want to imagine a mage who unfailingly casts Unsummon once a minute, forever, go for it—I don't see the four-of limit as being a feature of the game that needs to be ported literally into the Magic multiverse.

Auriok Edgewright

All that said, when it comes to the flavor, I actually see your library as a subset of your total knowledge. When you prepare your deck, you're preparing your magical arsenal with four copies of the "summon a Simic Guildmage" spell. When you run out, you run out—but if you get time to go and prepare more, you can cast it more. Within the confines of the duel, you only get what you can call up from that one library.

3. Legendaries. How can I have more than one of each legendary spells in my memory? How can I possibly claim that I know THREE Emrakul, the Aeons Torn? How can I have made mana bonds with two places, both of which are Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth? Legendary cards are LEGENDARY!! They only EXIST as one-of-a-kind. So how can I remember two?

These questions have been bugging me for quite some time, so please, explain.

Thanks in advance,

The "legend rule" only cares about how many of a given legendary permanent are out there on the battlefield, not in your library. It goes back to the library representing your spell knowledge. If your deck has four Simic Guildmage and three Emrakul, the Aeons Torn in it, then to me that means you prepared four copies of the spell that summons a Simic Guildmage and three copies of the spell that summons Emrakul, the Aeons Torn. You don't actually have the creatures in your memory—you have the spells to summon them in your memory, which may be greater than the number of creatures they can summon!

It's sort of like when you have one Elspeth Tirel in your graveyard and another in your hand. Those are both spells that summon Elspeth. You've already summoned her once, but since she's in the graveyard now, she must have gotten all disloyal and fled (or else the summoning was countered, or your spell to summon her was removed from your conscious mind, or the spell was "milled" out of your long-term memory, or something else weird happened). But you have another Elspeth Tirel in your hand, so you're prepared to try summoning her again. Legends and planeswalkers are one-of-a-kind (and the "legend rule" takes care of that flavor), but the spells to summon them can be plentiful.

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