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Planeswalkers of Zendikar

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Welcome back, Lore Seekers! As we chug along full steam ahead to Zendikar Rising next month, I've got a new article today all about the Planeswalkers of Zendikar. Last month, I talked about Preparing for Zendikar Rising and the Legends of Zendikar. Today I'm talking about the other kind of legends (at least ever since Ixalan), planeswalkers! The original Zendikar was the first block to feature any of the 'Lorwyn Five' (the original cycle of planeswalker cards the premiered in Lorwyn, of all places, for reasons I won't get into here), but it also introduced a number of iconic characters including the original four members of the Gatewatch (who would be reunited about five years later).

While it's tempting to dive into every planeswalker who played an important role on Zendikar, today I'm going to focus on the Zendikar natives: Nissa Revane, Kiora, and Nahiri - two of whom are confirmed to be reappearing in Zendikar Rising. What's interesting about all three of these characters is that none of them were created (as in, fully fleshed out) for a Zendikar set. I'm excluding Ob Nixilis here, as while he spent a lot of time on Zendikar without a spark, he isn't a native. Both Nissa and Kiora made their first appearances in the only Duels of the Planeswalkers video games, and Nahiri filled in a very blank placeholder for what had been known as 'The Lithomancer' in the Commander (2014 Edition) set. Let's dive in!

Note: I'm not listing individual story appearances here, but my Preparing for Zendikar Rising article includes the relevant stories I will be discussing.

Nissa Revane

Nissa Revane Concept Art by Dan Scott

Homeland: Bala Ged

Culture/Species: Joraga Elf

Approximate Age: 60 years old

Nissa Revane's journey is a unique one. JD Beety wrote a great article entitled The Nissa Retcon back in 2015 that examined her journey from elf supremacist to animist, the subject of a lot of Vorthos contention back then that seems laughably trite today. Nissa was originally created for the original Duels of the Planeswalkers game in 2009 to be the face of a bg tribal elf deck. Her connection to Lorwyn came largely from that deck using mostly Lorwyn elves, the bg tribe of the setting. When she was first introduced to the story proper as the star of the Zendikar novel In the Teeth of Akoum, she retained a lot of those elf-centric characteristics. More specifically, she was a xenophobic and elitist Joraga elf, living among the (more open) Tajuru elves, whom she generally looked down on. Her hatred of vampires leads her to not trust Sorin Markov (and really, who can blame her?), who had arrived to re-seal the Eldrazi prison. In the climactic moment, Nissa shatters the keystone hedron at the Eye of Ugin, freeing the Eldrazi titans.

From that point on, Nissa's character has been largely about her coming to terms with dooming her home plane. Several years later (in real life), Nissa, Worldwaker explores Nissa's animist powers, her deep connection to Zendikar, and her coming to terms with how much harm her xenophobic views had caused. This is a pivotal story for Nissa that was often missed in discussion of retcons. When we are introduced to Nissa again, it's with an origin story that places her as Zendikar's chosen champion.

From there, Nissa is one of the four planeswalkers who founded the Gatewatch in response to the Eldrazi threat. She travels with them for many sets, realizing how close minded her worldview had been (and eventually adding a color with Blue), and developing a close romantic bond with Chandra. After the Gatewatch's defeat in Hour of Devastation, however, she parts ways with the Gatewatch and returns home to help shepherd Zendikar's renewal. She returns to fight Bolas in War of the Spark, but her burgeoning relationship with Chandra ends poorly (both in fiction and in real-life) and she returns to Zendikar once more to continue regrowing what the Eldrazi had consumed.

Kiora

Kiora Concept Art by Dan Scott

Homewaters: No specific ocean mentioned

Culture/Species: Merfolk devotee of Cosi

Approximate Age: Likely in her 20-30s

Kiora, like Nissa before her, was created for a video game, specifically Duels of the Planeswalkers 2012 (the same game Ral Zarek was created for). Although she originally had a last name, Atua, in Maori the word had religious connotations for the Polynesian peoples and it was dropped. Kiora wouldn't make her card game debut until 2014's Born of the Gods, where we learn that she is hunting for great creatures of the depths to amass an army of sea creatures that could challenge the Eldrazi titans. She fails on Theros, but manages to steal Dekella, the Bident of Thassa instead.

When we meet Kiora again a couple years later, she's returned home to Zendikar and intends to use the Bident to help her defeat the Eldrazi. We learn that she has a little sister, Turi, who she loves dearly, and that she is a devotee of Cosi. Cosi (loosely modeled on Kozilek and warped over time) was the merfolk trickster god that a small sect among the merfolk peoples revered in secret. They believed that the tricksters, like Cosi and themselves, were the real movers and shakers in the world even though they rarely got the credit.

Kiora reluctantly joins the Zendikari allies, but frequently runs off half-cocked, believing herself the equal of the Eldrazi with her divine weapon. She's proven very wrong when summoning Lorthos, the Tidemaker, the mightiest sea creature of Zendikar, only to watch him cut to pieces by the arisen Kozilek. She later opposes the Gatewatch's plan to seal the Eldrazi, which succeeds despite her efforts. What I like about Kiora is that, despite her setbacks, she always makes the best out of a bad situation and isn't afraid to speak her mind or go against the 'protagonists' plan when it doesn't align with her own.

Nahiri

Original Nahiri Sketch by Eric Deschamps

Homeland: Long forgotten

Culture/Species: Ancient kor stoneforger

Approximate Age: At least 6,000 years old

Way back in the original Zendikar story, three planeswalkers were said to have sealed the Eldrazi. At the time, we only met one of them, a certain Sorin Markov. The others were named as Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, and the Lithomancer - the last of these the one who did the stonework for all the magical stone hedrons used to imprison the Eldrazi. No further details about this third characters were given (and even Ugin was much more mysterious that he is now). Speculation ran rampant for years until Commander (2014 Edition) was released at the same time the Khans of Tarkir block was exploring the character of Ugin. We learn something happened between Sorin and Nahiri he is reluctant to mention to Ugin, but it won't be until Shadows Over Innistrad that we learn the truth.

While Nahiri aided in sealing the Eldrazi over 6,000 years ago and remained as the guardian of their prison, she depended on Ugin and Sorin to return should they ever escape their bonds. When neither arrived, Nahiri tracked down her former mentor, Sorin, and discovered he had been at work creating his own plane's defenses. Tensions between the two ancient planeswalkers escalate until Sorin seals her in the Helvault. A millennia later, Nahiri is freed when Liliana Vess destroys the Helvault in Dark Ascension.

Nahiri's long imprisonment has affected her deeply, as she was conscious the whole time and trapped with demons in a dark void. When she finds the Eldrazi stomping around her home and the Eye of Ugin shattered, she turns her mind to revenge. Nahiri carefully constructed a trap for Sorin, forcing him to destroy Avacyn, his plane's defense against extraplanar threats. With Avacyn gone, it is revealed that Nahiri had lured Emrakul, the greatest of the three titans, to Innistrad. Nahiri then imprisons Sorin in a wall, forcing him to watch as the Eldrazi titan consumes his plane before planeswalking away.

The last we see of her, she and Sorin are dueling during War of the Spark, ignoring Bolas's endgame unfolding around them until they call a truce of some kind and join the rest of the planeswalkers in their fight against Bolas. What Nahiri is up to in Zendikar Rising remains to be seen.

Zendikar Rising Box Art confirming Jace, Nahiri, and Nissa

The Discourse

One last thing before we go, as the return of Nahiri will inevitably drag up the now years-old Sorin vs Nahiri 'discourse' where many Magic fans were at each other's throats over who to support. I discussed it at the time on my blog, but it's a new day and I thought I'd lay out what happened between Sorin, Nahiri, and Innistrad more clearly, as the online arguments tend to be reductive.

The first thing to remember is that considering an entire plane full of people as the extension of a single planeswalker (or their belongings, for instance) is one of the major problems with the classic 'oldwalkers'. You're not supposed to buy into it, because it's inherently callous and villainous. This trait is called out explicitly in early Magic fiction by my favorite character, Jodah:

"Perhaps a planeswalker-" started Alexandrite.

"Wouldn't care," interrupted Jodah.

"P-pardon?" Alexandrite stuttered the word.

"A planeswalker wouldn't care," said Jodah. "You seem fascinated by their power, but that power comes with a price. You stop caring about the world around you. If you're a planeswalker, you've been around so long and you're so powerful that you just stop thinking about others. Particularly mere mortals. We're summer flies to them - we come, we go, and what we do doesn't really matter. That's why they don't care. Were I as powerful as a planeswalker, I would be worrying about old enemies stirring, or threats to my island home, or finding new planes to meddle with. No, I wouldn't be here. That's what makes us different from them." He paused for a moment, then added, "I'd like to think that's what makes us better."

- The Shattered Alliance, Chapter 9 - Bodies Under Assault

We see this exact numbing to the lives of mortals happen to Nahiri during Stirring from Slumber. So, just a reminder that Innistrad is not an extension of Sorin Markov, and that Eldritch Moon is the story of a million innocent bystanders caught in a feud between two former gods that they had no part of. With that said, let's break down the things people are usually talking about when referencing this conflict, because it's not quite as simple as "Nahiri did nothing wrong".

Here are the things I think most people are talking about when bringing up whether or not Sorin or Nahiri were right:

Was Sorin wrong to create defenses for Innistrad?

No

Was Sorin wrong to do something that might mean he couldn't hear Nahiri's summons for aid?

It had been 5,000 years with no problems by the time Nahiri arrived looking for Sorin. It's not clear how long Sorin thought he might be incommunicado, so it's not clear exactly how callous this was on his part.

Was Sorin wrong to trap Nahiri in the Helvault?

Oh yes, definitely.

Is Sorin a jerkface?

He's literally the edgelord planeswalker archetype, so yes.

Was Nahiri justified in taking revenge on Sorin?

Nahiri has a pretty compelling complaint, what with being imprisoned for 1,000 years. If she had left off on forcing Sorin to destroy Avacyn (without so many innocent people getting hurt in the process), I don't think there would be a controversy here.

Were the people of Innistrad responsible for Sorin's actions?

Little Timmy Munsterfud did not seal Nahiri in a Helvault for a millennia, so no.

Is taking your revenge out on innocent people justified?

Just because the life expectancy on Innistrad is pretty solidly not great does not make it okay to cut those lives even shorter.

Did Nahiri commit mass murder?

Some would argue that the trolley problem applies here, that Emrakul was going to go somewhere so why not Innistrad? The problem, there, is that there are a lot of empty or mostly empty planes out there, and it's pretty clear that saving another world was not Nahiri's intent.

So was Nahiri's plan justified?

I would say not. Nahiri could have gotten Sorin into that wall and destroyed Avacyn without all the mass murdery parts of the plan.

Was Nahiri the villain of SOI Block?

Oh yes, definitely.

Might Nahiri be redeemed?

It would depend on what redemption means in this context. I would think a millennia in isolation would most assuredly mess with one's mind, and regardless Nahiri is not a villain in the sense that she has a nefarious plan for the multiverse, just one for Sorin that hurt other people. I think of all the bad things many of our characters have done, Nahiri's got the best excuses.

Might Nahiri have been under Emrakul's influence?

We see during the Eldritch Moon story that Tamiyo was under Emrakul's influence. It might be possible that Nahiri was quite literally not in control of her actions.

Is it okay to like Nahiri as a character?

Yes, definitely. She's an interesting character and it's perfectly fine to root for her.

Is it okay to want Nahiri to be redeemed?

As with above, I sure think so.

Is it okay to like Sorin as a character?

Yes, I suppose.

Is it okay to hate Sorin?

Yes.

Was Sorin being stuck in a wall funny?

Oh yes, definitely.

How did Sorin get out of that wall?

I don't know, stop asking.

Is it okay to say "[Nahiri/Sorin] did nothing wrong?"

Yes, Magic: The Gathering's story is fiction and no real people were harmed.

Should we be more excellent to one another over a story?

Most assuredly, let's avoid the whole 'jumping down one another's throats' phase of the discourse and allow people to enjoy the story the way they interpreted it.

That's All Folks

This is (probably) my last Zendikar article before Zendikar Rising is previewed. I've been going strong on weekly articles for a while, and with some recent life changes it's looking like I'll keep pumping out these weekly articles for the foreseeable future, with a few breaks here and there. I'll definitely be talking soon about the last five years of my life writing about Magic, especially given that as of last month I've written over 400,000 words (that's the equivalent of four novels) on Magic during that time.

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