This is a place where rules are broken: Violent forces roll across the horizon, constantly altering the shape of the land. Massive stones float on air. Vampires dwell in cultured, decadent cities. But elsewhere, the trappings of civilized life are rare. A sturdy machete will keep you alive longer than a chest full of gold.
Even Zendikar's mana is unique—more intense, more powerful, more desired by those who know how to wield it. Like other planes, the lands flow with mana that mages use to power their spells. But Zendikar's mana is different from other planes of the Multiverse. Crackling with spell-like effects, the land pulses with incredibly potent mana. Planeswalkers flock to Zendikar in search of these remarkable—and dangerous—locales.
Ruins of a Lost Civilization
Ancient, rune-carved monoliths called hedrons are strewn across Zendikar. Up to ten miles long, some of these stones drift in the sky; others are buried in the ground, some whole, some broken. They're remnants of a lost civilization, but their original purpose is unknown. This ancient empire wielded unimaginable power—enough to suspend gravity and alter the land to suit its purposes. Trap-riddled ruins can be found on every continent. Mysterious glyphs hint at truths long forgotten. Unspeakable monsters lurk in the quiet of these hidden monuments of a forgotten past. These ruins still emanate power, and both planeswalkers and local explorers will undergo great peril to reap their rewards.
"I awoke, bloodied, on the banks of the Halimar. I don't know how I got there—face down in the mud, but alive. There must have been a passage out of the ruin, but I was out of my head and can't recall. The faceless monstrosity that ambushed us in Jade Room stalked us for miles underground. After my torch burned down, I stumbled in the darkness, hearing the death-cries of my companions. I have traveled this fierce world twice over, and I can't say what sort of creature pursued us. As I think of it, the quill shakes in my old fingers. I had no love for any of them, particularly the captain. He was a brute. Still, they died so cruelly. I must not dwell on it. Or what might have happened to me when I was not in my right mind."
—The journal of Chadir the Navigator
Zendikar's unique mana, the hedrons, its own fierce ecology . . . these elements combine to cause violent and erratic changes in the terrain. The land shudders and writhes, causing tectonic chaos, extreme weather, and sudden destruction. This volatility is known as "the Roil." Large boulders and shards of rock erupt from the earth, and then subside when the Roil shifts away. Winds generated by the Roil turn debris and vegetation into devastating funnel clouds. Over water, the Roil creates whirlpools that can suck a boat to the bottom of the ocean or waves that crash into high cliffs and flood the forests beyond.
For those born on Zendikar, the Roil is a natural phenomenon—just the way things are. To planeswalkers, it's obvious that this volatility is what keeps Zendikar dangerous, untamed, and without well-developed civilizations.
"The spike fields are bad, but they're nothing compared to Windblast Gorge. A drake will rip you to shreds before you can bat an eyelash. And mark my words—Zendikar makes your magic wild. Don't trust it. The higher you climb, the worse the Roil gets. The land writhes like its got a mind of its own. If you're in the way of a Roil tide, you're a goner."
—Sachir of Akoum to Chandra Nalaar
Exploring the Wilds
Zendikar's intense mana and unique treasures inspires dreams of wealth and power in the bold and adventurous. Driven by tales of wondrous places of mystic power, bands of explorers venture into the wilds of Zendikar. Many such expeditions fail, overwhelmed by the world's many dangers. But a handful of elite, daring souls manage feats of discovery that have earned them riches and renown. Guides, porters, cartographers, sell-swords, lullmages, ruin-sages, and healers form expeditionary parties and team up to scour the world for treasure.
"We'll venture out from Kabira at first light. I have assembled the finest team: A porter who assures me that his hurda is stout and docile. A Sea Gate archeologist who's traversed the hedron fields before. Two sell-swords with references for loyalty. A trapfinder with both eyes and ten fingers. And a goblin guide to lead the line and 'distract' predators from the rest of us."
—Javad Nasrin, Ondu Relic Hunter
The World of Zendikar
Akoum is a mountainous continent where magma glows from crevasses in the earth. Crystalline fields shimmer beneath the sun, but the sharp edges of most surfaces will slice through skin and bone. In some areas, the temperatures are extreme—burning an explorer's skin during the day and causing frostbite during the night. Gases occasionally spew from the ground, and around these vents, bizarre trees and plant life have arisen in pockets of weird biome. The region is plagued by geological instability, causing magma geysers to erupt unexpectedly and shards of rock to rain down unexpectedly.
Humid rainforests cover this low-lying continent. A humid haze blankets the landscape, which is riddled with poisonous molds, fungi, and strangely colored algae. Deep within the network of limestone caves and tunnels, catacombs, sacrificial altars, and rune-inscribed chambers hide countless treasures. These are the domain of the ferocious, reptilian Surrakar and countless primordial monsters. Bala Ged is home to two tribes of elves: the warlike Joraga tribe as well as the secretive Mul Daya. Mul Daya elves can be recognized by their tattooing, and have a connection with the spirits of their elvish ancestors that sets them apart from the rest of the elves.
"The other elf tribes shun the Mul Daya. They call them bone-eaters and death-friends. But they rescued me from torture at the hands of quag vampires. I've seen them converse with spirits. They honor the jungle like a god and are connected to Zendikar's life-force in a way no one else truly understands."
—Mitra, Bala Ged missionary
This is a humid region of teeming lagoons, and tangled, fetid swamps—this is the homeland of the vampires. Predators stalk the wilds, and traps are hidden in mangrove jungles and around settlements. The rancid waterways that twist into the vast marshes and swamps conceal predators and plagues. There are more ruin sites here than elsewhere, including the Hagra Cistern, a huge complex of ruins that's gradually sinking into the muck and water.
"Why do we trap the outskirts of Malakir? We have no desire to work harder than necessary. Chasing prey is for dogs and humans. A victim's blood is warmer if it's already flowing.
—Alinor of Malakir
Even in the dangerous world of Zendikar, this is considered a treacherous place. If you venture to the vampire city of Malakir, you'll have to get by the gatekeepers. Don't expect a warm welcome:
Surrounded by towering cliffs, Murasa is continent of jaddi-tree forests, deep valleys, and steep ridges. Vines and other vegetation wind through deep valleys, up cliff walls, and down into dank, half-lit caverns in the earth. The Kazuul Road provides the easiest access into Murasa. But Kazuul, an ogre slavemaster, controls the route and demands tribute from any explorer who tries to enter the continent.
Tazeem is a perilous combination of the Oran-Rief, a gigantic, twisted forest; Halimar, a deep inland sea; and the Umara, and a great rushing river that bisects the continent. Some ancient ruins have been co-opted by denizens, who make their homes in the remains of the massive hedrons. Other ruins remain hidden underground, but are sought after by both merfolk loremasters and power-hungry expeditionary leaders.
Colossal hedrons float in the sky above Tazeem. This rubble field stretches across the entire continent, obscuring direct sunlight and blocking natural rainfall patterns. The massive stones perpetually turn and tumble across the heavens. Amid the ruins, there are the shattered remains of a sky-castle. Merfolk call this Emeria, the Sky Ruin. They believe it was once the home of Emeria, the goddess of the sky.
"Awoke to a rose-colored morning. Slept well high in Vastwood canopy. Sheets of glossy rain poured down from hedron field, but I was comfortable under the cover of the crescent-leaves. Above me, two massive hedrons collided, showering the branches with gray dust and rune-covered shards. I saw two kor up there, cutting pathway stones from the hedrons. They tumbled down, breaking their necks on the limbs of the forest. They shouldn't disturb Emeria, and they paid a just price."
—The Journal of Yon Basrel, Oran-Rief survivalist
The geography of Ondu is dominated by a sense of sweeping verticality. The precarious Makindi Trenches, the skyscraping trees of the Turntimber, and the depths of the Crypt of Agadeem all contribute to the strange sensation that travel in Ondu occurs up and down rather than east and west. Jwar, the Isle of Secrets lies near the southern coast. Huge granite heads loom half-buried in the earth, and a beam of pure blue light can be seen shooting straight up out of the island. But no explorer has yet uncovered the source of the light.
This polar region is like an enormous mesa with permafrost steppes, wind-blasted mountains, and impossibly tall cliffs that encircle the continent. Despite its inhospitable terrain, creatures such as felidars, griffins, and sphinxes make their home in the snow-covered wastes. There are many ruins sites, and explorers brave the cold to see what treasures lie deep beneath the snowy surface.
The Races of Zendikar
Vampires live openly in Guul Draz and are famed for the decadence and perversion of their lifestyle. Bloodchiefs, the progenitors of their race, control the opulent city of Malakir. Vampire society is divided by "family" allegiances, each family beholden to its Bloodchief. Each family controls a small amount of territory and routes through the swamp, although the main currency of any family is in its connections and relationships. The tastes and passions of the Bloodchief tend to be imprinted on the vampires he or she creates.
There are five greater families in Guul Draz: Nirkana, Kalastria, Emevera, Urnaav, and Ghet. Dozens of other lesser families are scattered across Guul Draz, each with a contingent of undead nulls appropriate to their place in vampire society. Whenever a vampire fully drains the blood of a living creature without destroying the husk, a vampire null is created from the body. If nulls are left without orders, they will hunt and kill living things that they can find.
"I both adore and abhor my lineage. Rabid and perverse, they whine like demanding infants. But they are mine, and I would slaughter thousands before I would see them bow down and be slaves to anyone."
—Kalitas, Bloodchief of Ghet
The kor live a spare and nomadic existence. They travel mercilessly light, carrying with them only the essentials, valuing the portability of individual skill and strength of character over more "static" virtues. "We were not meant to put down roots," they say. "The heart is a moving organ." Despite their constant motion, the kor revere locations in a deep sense. They travel in small bands along one of several pilgrimage routes, visiting dozens of sacred sites across Zendikar. Each pilgrimage circuit takes decades, and many are lost to Zendikar's dangers along the way.
The kor are masters of ropes and hooks, using them to travel and to hunt, and incorporating them into their spirituality. They rarely use unreliable devices such as crossbows to propel their grappling hooks onto cliff faces or into flying game, relying instead on simple, sturdy rope and the skill of the arm. A hooked line is also a social and sacred symbol for the kor, representing their connection to each other and to the world around them.
"The drakes struck the cliff-haven as dusk was falling. They blended into stormy sky, so the scouts didn't call the warning until it was too late. Half our kitesailors plummeted into the river in the initial assault. We scrambled to string the lines across the expanse, bringing down the big bull with a razor line across his throat. But our hookmasters were the heroes of this battle. Fearless on the cliff edge, they snared the matrons, and the pups soon deserted the fight. As always, we bless Kamsa for the lines that bind us."
—Rana Cloudwake, Kor skyfisher
More merfolk live in Tazeem than elsewhere, but they can be found on every continent in Zendikar. Although the merfolk are born in the water, they have adapted to life on land. Curious, thoughtful, and analytical, the merfolk are natural explorers. Merfolk tend to be more solitary than other races and don't cultivate large communities. But even merfolk who spend most of their time exploring will establish a home base, a place they return to before setting out again.
Run by merfolk scholars, the Lighthouse at Sea Gate is the center of learning for explorers of all races. A library filled with scrolls, and maps, and writings about the lost civilization, this is a storehouse of all the collected knowledge about Zendikar.
"We alone of the races can sense the Roil as it moves across the land. Only merfolk can lull this wild earth and make it still. But my kin mistake the source of such power. They put their faith in Em of the Air or Ula of the Sea. I know that my strength is from Cosi, The Trickster
—Noyan Dar, Tazeem lullmage
Goblins thrive in Akoum, Murasa, and Ondu as well as in most settlements and outposts. Although there are numerous tribes, the Tuktuk and Grotag tribes boast the largest warrens. Much of a goblin's life is devoted to finding and plundering ruin sites. The goblins choose their tribal leaders by their perceived industriousness. The goblin that leads is the one who has managed to retrieve the most interesting or powerful object from a ruin. In Affa, the main settlement in Akoum, many goblins hire themselves out as guides or trapfinders. Of course, the normal plan is to help find something of value, trigger a trap intentionally, steal the object, and run away.
Bala Ged is the homeland of the Joraga elves and the planeswalker Nissa Revane. The Joraga elves have little respect for any other race or even other elves. They see the survival of their nation as most important, and jealously guard their traditions. Many outsiders view their nomadic clans as roving bands of murderers, but there is a complex culture behind their aggressive exterior.
After splitting from the Joraga Nation, the Tajuru elves settled in Murasa and Tazeem. Large numbers of Joraga have made homes in the towering trees of the Oran-Rief forest, where they inhabit villages suspended from the treetops. The Tajuru are rumored to be the best guides in Zendikar. Using zip-lines and expert climbing techniques, the elves fearlessly span the gaps between branches or cliff faces.
Letter of the Week
Dear Doug Beyer,
I was just wondering if there was going to be a Planeswalker's Guide to Zendikar in the same vein as Alara's?
I sincerely hope so.
Hi gang, Doug here, jumping into this Savor the Flavor to answer an important question. As you've read today, we're trying something new for Zendikar. A Planeswalker's Guide to Alara was a bold experiment, and we did a lot of things right with it, and I'm personally quite proud of it. If the Alara Guide sold well, we were planning to release a Planeswalker's Guide for every plane here on out—but the book didn't sell as we had hoped. The Guide was a big part of our yearly publishing plans, but the data told us that we needed to revisit those plans. That's how it works—you have an idea for something you think people would enjoy, you give it your best shot, and if it doesn't work out, you try something else.
Of course, many of you did like A Planeswalker's Guide to Alara—you told me that personally, and we knew in our hearts that seeing the style guide, the document we use here at Wizards to develop the art and flavor of the set, would be of huge value to many Magic: The Gathering fans. So we're doing a Planeswalker's Guide to Zendikar after all—but on magicthegathering.com, and free. Today was the first installment, and you'll see another chapter of the Zendikar Guide every few weeks, right here, in Wednesday's Savor the Flavor column—stay tuned for that.
Some of you may wonder how this affects our plans for published Magic books. Right now we're doing two planeswalker novels per year, roughly one in July and one in February. And there's the block novel for each year's block, released around the time of the third set of that block. In addition, early next year we'll release Path of the Planeswalker, a high-quality, published compilation of the first eight planeswalker web comics—the six you've seen on this site so far, plus another one you'll see soon, plus an exclusive, unreleased comic—a cool way for others to get to see the web comics who may not have seen them on the web, or a way for you guys to own them in meatspace.
|July, 2009 (on bookshelves now!)||The Purifying Fire by Laura Resnick, planeswalker novel #2|
|Early 2010||Path of the Planeswalker comic compilation|
|Approx. February, 2010||Planeswalker novel #3, featuring Liliana Vess|
|Approx. April, 2010||Zendikar block novel|
|Approx. July, 2010||Planeswalker novel #4|
So, that's that. Zendikar is on its way to stores already, and the juicy content of the Planeswalker's Guide to Zendikar will be delivered fresh to your eyeballs right here on magicthegathering.com. I'll see you next week with another (quite spicy) Zendikar preview card.