Hey, Future Self!
WHAT? OH, ARE WE DOING THIS NOW?
Yeah! Hey, it's me, the Doug who's still working on the set you're previewing. I'm genuinely curious, Future Self, how this "Rock" block thing came out. Particularly Esper. Did it all come together?
WOULDN'T YOU LIKE TO KNOW? HA HA HA!
I just asked, didn't I? Look, I—
I KNEW YOU WOULD SAY THAT.
I suppose you did.
YEAH, IT WAS ANNOYING WHEN MY FUTURE SELF DID IT TO ME, TOO.
SO, WHAT'S YOUR QUESTION AGAIN? SORRY. SOMETHING ABOUT ESPER?
Yeah. At this point, we're still working on the style guide for the block, and I'm feeling like Esper is the most challenging of the five shards, in terms of player appeal. It's reasonably high-concept: all the creatures on the plane are infused with a magical alloy called etherium. Mages and mysterious sphinxes rule the plane, subjugating the forces of nature under tight thaumaturgical control, and using etherium to refine and perfect their ignoble flesh.
YOU'RE WORRIED ABOUT PLAYERS LIKING THAT?
Well, yeah, I guess I am. Plus we had the task of keeping the world from looking too sci-fi and from looking too much like other artifice-heavy settings, such as Mirrodin. And it had to look—you know, interesting. And cool. Did we actually pull it all off? Were the artists able to nail the look we were going for? For that matter, is the shard even still called "Esper"?
THESE ARE ALL GOOD QUESTIONS.
Okay, so, can you give me the answers?
I'LL GIVE YOU SOMETHING BETTER: THE ADVICE THAT MY FUTURE SELF GAVE ME.
THIS IS EERIE, BY THE WAY.
I'M NOT DOING THIS FROM MEMORY, REALLY—I FEEL LIKE I'M AD LIBBING, AND YET AT THE SAME TIME I REMEMBER BEING TOLD THESE EXACT WORDS.
I don't know if I believe you.
YEAH, WELL, I FELT THE SAME THING. ANYWAY, LOOK, JUST STOP WORRYING ABOUT THE FINAL PRODUCT. THE ONLY WAY THE TEAM MANAGES TO COMPLETE THE SET, ASSUMING WE DO, WHICH I CAN'T DIVULGE BECAUSE OF A GRAMPA LOOP THING, IS BY NOT WORRYING ABOUT HOW IT'S GOING EVERY STEP OF THE WAY.
Sigh. Yeah. Makes sense, I guess.
NO, REALLY. THE HARDEST PART IS JUST KEEPING YOUR BRAIN ON THE TASK RATHER THAN ON THE METATASK. JUST DO THE WORK. WORK THROUGH THE CONCEPT ART AND WRITE THE DARNED SENTENCES. I PROMISE THERE WILL BE TIME TO FRET ABOUT EVERYTHING LATER.
You really promise?
NO. NO GUARANTEES. LOOPS 'N' GRAMPAS. SERIOUSLY, YOU WOULDN'T BELIEVE HOW IMPORTANT THAT STUFF IS.
So, what, do they tell you all about the consequences of time travel paradoxes between now and whatever day it is for you?
GOD, I WAS SUCH A SMARTASS BACK THEN.
Wait a minute, how far in the future are you? Isn't it just around the time of set previews, for you? And was that supposed to be an aside? Because I can totally hear you.
But really, you can't tell me even a little bit? Like, there's that idea we had about the Ethersworn, the group of Esper mages who are devoted to the project of infusing all life on the plane with etherium. They see flesh as flawed and weak, and make it their mission to eliminate the imperfect chaos inherent in life through the metal, calling it the Noble Work. You can't tell us whether the Ethersworn made it in?
NAH, I CAN'T TELL YOU FACTUAL INFORMATION ABOUT YOUR FUTURE. I CAN GIVE YOU GENERAL ADVICE, STUFF THAT YOU COULD THEORETICALLY COME UP WITH YOURSELF, IF YOU WEREN'T SO STRESSED OUT RIGHT NOW—BASICALLY, I CAN GIVE YOU ANYTHING THAT A PSYCHIATRIST COULD REASONABLY DISMISS AS A DREAM OR HYPNAGOGIC HALLUCINATION.
So you can't confirm that Esper came out looking cool, or that we're still using the term "Ethersworn"?
NOPE. I CAN'T EVEN DIVULGE WHETHER WE DECIDED TO SCRAP THE IDEA OF ESPER ALTOGETHER, OR WHETHER IT CAME OUT JUST FINE, OR WHETHER I'VE ALREADY SHOWN AN ESPER CARD IN THE COLUMN.
Oh, that's not fair. Which card is it?
WHO SAID I WAS SHOWING A CARD?
Come on. You're showing them one right now, aren't you? You and the readers are staring right at it while you're talking to me in the past. Jerk.
I know you're showing one. Look, don't preview one that's hard to understand, all right? People have to know that Esper cards are designed to play synergistically with each other. If you just show one card, and it has some sort of artifact-matters mechanic on it, they're never going to get the holistic feel of Esper. Like there's that one in the file right now—sort of an artifact Rule of Law on a 2/2—it looks strange unless you know that you can play around it perfectly. You can fill your whole deck up with artifacts, yet still be playing powerful colored and gold spells. And you can slow your opponent down to a single spell per turn because he or she isn't respecting the power of etherium. In other words, because they're not following the Ethersworn's canon, the Noble Work.
SO WHAT SHOULD I DO, OH WISE ME FROM THE PAST?
I don't know, just tell them how the shard works. You have a better sense of how the cards turned out than I do, but you know, tell them how all the colored artifact creatures throughout the white-blue-black shard count each other and power each other up, generating sick rewards for building around Esper's artifact theme.
HOW SHOULD I DO THAT, DO YOU SUPPOSE?
Give them some kind of context. Any one artifact creature just looks weird by itself. I mean, we're kind of excited by how some of the concept art is turning out, but if you just see one image, or one card—it's jarring. It's a plane of holism. You can build artifact-based combos, or do the control thing as is natural for those colors, or even make an Esper beatdown deck. It's just so focused on synergy. The sphinx who rules the whole place—we've called her Sharuum the Hegemon, but I don't know what her final name is going to be—has a vision of using etherium to cause the whole plane to ascend to a new level of consciousness, but it requires that every living thing have their imperfect bodies perfected—I'm getting off the topic, but you know what I mean. Are you snickering? Am I saying this stuff all wrong?
Stop saying that. That's just stupid, anyway. How could I possibly cause some mixup and become my own grandfather if we're only communicating across, like, a year or so of time?
IT'S COMPLICATED. LOOK... I'LL MAKE YOU A DEAL.
YOU GO DO WHATEVER YOU NEED TO DO SO THAT YOU GUYS ARE HAPPY WITH THE SETTING, AND I'LL BE SURE THAT THE READERS DON'T HAVE TOO LIMITED A VIEW OF WHATEVER ENDS UP COMING OUT. SOUND OKAY?You'll get a foil one of these in the Esper intro pack.
Yeah, okay. So... how will you do that?
HMM, YOU'LL SEE. LOOK, I GOTTA RUN. FUTURE STUFF, YOU KNOW? YOU RUN ALONG, AND DON'T FRET. JUST GO WORK. IT'LL TURN OUT FINE.
JEEZ, MAN, DO YOU WANT TO ERASE FOURTH GRADE AND MAKE IT RAIN DONUTS FROM THE SKY?
THEN KEEP ASKIN'. OH—ONE LAST THING.
MY FUTURE SELF TOLD ME TO "DISOBEY THE THIRD MOON." I NEVER FIGURED OUT WHAT THAT MEANT, BUT I GUESS I HAVE TO PASS IT ON TO YOU, TOO.
That doesn't cause grampa loops, then?
I GUESS NOT. OR, ONLY THE GOOD KIND?
So like, is that the key to safe transmission of information from the future to the present? The strict adherence to the proven-incomprehensible?
MAYBE. OR AT LEAST, PROVEN-UNCOMPREHENDED.
Yeah. But in principle, if any intelligence in my time manages to comprehend that message, then it will have transferred information into the past, which will inevitably change the future, which is the big no-no.
JUST TO BE SAFE, DON'T GO SPREADING IT AROUND, OR TRYING TO DECIPHER IT. I... MAY OR MAY NOT HAVE.
Tautologies are safe, too.
SEEMS SO. OR NOT. HEH. HEY, GOOD LUCK. SO LONG.
Hey, I just thought of something. I already know something about the future now! I know that you're alive, therefore I at least live until—
Artifact Creature -- Human Cleric
Each player who has played a nonartifact spell this turn can't play additional nonartifact spells.
* In other words: Each turn, each player can play any number of artifact spells plus a maximum of one nonartifact spell.
* This effect counts all nonartifact spells that are played, even those that are countered.
* This effect takes into account spells that were played earlier in the turn that Ethersworn Canonist came into play, including any spells still on the stack. However, any spells on the stack as Ethersworn Canonist comes into play have already been "played" by that point, so they're not affected by it.
Master of Etherium
Artifact Creature -- Vedalken Wizard
Master of Etherium's power and toughness are each equal to the number of artifacts you control.
Other artifact creatures you control get +1/+1.
* The first ability works in all zones.
* Since Master of Etherium is an artifact itself, while it's in play you will usually control at least one artifact.
Letter of the Week
Greetings! I got a question regarding the Bant shard of the newest set, Shards of Alara.
If that is a world of social harmony, without any death or chaos magic - why do they need such a professional army of knights and paladins? We know that they aren't aware of other shards' existence, so they do not mean to protect Bant from those.
Are there any inner conflicts so serious that they need such a great army?
--Andrey, Moscow, Russia
Hi Andrey, great question. I'm excited to get into some deeper on the shards, after what feels like a year of writing brief summaries to introduce people to the setting.
You're exactly right that the shards don't have any contact with one another (other than the secretive travel of planeswalkers), and yet Bant is shown full of knights, paladins, armored soldiers, and battle angels, not to mention high-walled castles and citadels.
The reason is twofold. First, Bant's culture descends from a proud military tradition that traces back to the time when Alara was a single plane. After the shards split apart, the region we now call Bant no longer had to face terrors such as scheming demons and rampaging dragons, but they still had strong traditions that centered around combat. Over the years, Bant's armies became less martial and more ceremonial. The martial arts they practiced became ritualized, saturated with customs and conventions. The exalted mechanic represents how, even on a battlefield full of soldiers, Bant disputes are often settled by a one-on-one duel of heroic champions from each side.
Second, as you mention, there remain conflicts within Bant. Bant is divided into five nations: Jhess and Valeron on the coast and Akrasa, Eos, and Topa spanning the central savannah. While all of them respect the orderly caste system enforced across all of Bant, there are still border disputes, trade quarrels, and even wars. Jhess and Valeron, for instance, are currently at war, but as I mentioned above, battle is more ritual than brutal on Bant, a matter of glory and pride.
Thanks for the question!
For more information about Shards of Alara, check out the Shards of Alara product section and Doug Beyer and Jenna Helland's A Planeswalker's Guide to Alara. And don't miss the Prerelease September 27 and 28!