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Saturday, March 29, 2014

#MtG's #Zendikar plane as a #13thAge setting - Quick Icons!


A flash of insight hit me suddenly about the icons in Zendikar and I had a stupid idea that proved less stupid than first thought.

It started thinking about the "everything goes" philosophy I was beginning to think was the only solution to the Icons in Zendikar. I thought: "At this point, you could even just take the cards that most closely approximate the 13th Age Icons, and call it a day." - And then I tried the experiment..!

The Archmage: Seagate Loremaster



It can definitely be a legendary (aka unique) figure in Zendikar, even if the card itself is not Legendary in type, and thus allows multiple copies of it to be in the game. But we're not playing Magic: we're devising a setting. So in our setting, The Loremaster is a legendary figure of which there's only one!

It's also extremely appropriate in Zendikar for the Arcane/Lore Icon to be a Merfolk.

The Crusader: Kabira Vindicator

This was a difficult choice, that was modified later on, when understanding what really is the equivalent of demons in Zendikar. At first I wanted to do a quick matching work, so demons of 13th Age should have been demons in Zendikar. But what is truly trying to emerge from Zendikar's Abyss, more than Demons..?? The Eldrazi. 

As such, I wanted The Crusader to be a misguided force against the Eldrazi, probably corrupted. Since we have figures such as the Kabira Evangel being a most probably corrupted cleric, and Kabira itself being a remote outpost of civilization that is famous for dangerously mimicking the runes of the Hedrons, something that some scholars deemed extremely dangerous even before fully understanding what the Eldrazi even meant as a word.



So I think I have found a great plot-piece of Zendikar even if it wasn't even inteded by its designers: the Kabira "church" is a corrupted or control-freak association that causes more trouble than what it solves. And the paladin-esque and militaristic (other than supposedly legendary) Kabira Vindicator, riding the "king of Zendikar beasts", the Felidar, is a perfect symbol for this. In fact, if I had to choose a graphic icon for this Icon, I would choose the horned head of the Felidar Sovereign, and/or the tower of the Kabira Accademy, shown above.


The Diabolist: Anowon, The Ruin Sage


This was another after-thought choice, after understanding that the true demons of Zendikar are the Eldrazi. 
At first I was just doing the quick match-making, and the Hagra Diabolist ogre came to mind immediately and seemed a good idea to give ogres some importance. 

However, to have the Diabolist work as an Icon as it does in 13th Age, I needed a more subtle figure. And when thinking about the Eldrazi as demons, I immediately thought that Anowon might have been that "murky" figure to replace the Diabolist, aiding the Eldrazi even without even wanting (or perhaps wanting it but for the wrong reasons). Plus, vampires have been the ancient slave-race of the Eldrazi, so it all comes together nicely. 

And we have our first truly legendary and characterized Icon of the list...

The Dwarf King: Knight of Cliffhaven (or Lord of Shatterskull Pass?)

This was the most difficult choice, and the only one I'm still not sure about. First of all, the choice itself is basically "The Kor". The Kor need to be represented by an Icon, and the dwarves are the best comparison in Zendikar.

For a long time during my match-making process, the equivalnce was very different: minotaurs.
Being associated with mountains, and being the interesting card Lord of Shatterskull Pass, and being dwarves traditionally Red in Magic, it seemed like a nice twisted idea, also useful to bring another race into our mix.

However, this baically prevents the Kor from being represented by any icon. I knwo that the Priestess is a close second match, but I had also found a very good spot for the Priestess in Zendikar as you will see...
So all in all, as I said, this is a choice I'm not sure about. Cliffhaven is a location not cited in the guide of Zendikar, so it could become easily the "chief community" of the otherwise nomadic Kor. And thus have some sort of king in it. So basically the Cliffhaven Knight is just a token: the true Dwarf King equivalent would be the Lord of Cliffhaven.
The Kor also have the obsession for forging weapons that the dwarves have. The similarities end there though. So again, I don't know. the alternative is bringing minotaurs and the great lord of Shatterskull Pass to a position of importance.

Elf Queen: Joraga Treespeaker

This was quite an easy choice, but tricky. In theory, Nissa Revane the planeswalker could fit in the spot. But she has the problem of not being bound to Zendikar. Then there was the problem of having three tribes. Why the Joraga? Sutina of the Tajuru would have seemed like a wiser choice, in all senses, since the Tajuru are much wiser than the Joraga.
But from an Elven point of view, the Joraga are pretty much the paragon. So in the end, since I basically just wanted an important elf, this unnamed Treespeaker (which could also fit the Archdruid, but... You will see) was ok for the job. She could be the next Speaker of the Joraga, when the old obscure current one dies (I know he's named somewhere, but no illustration exists and I don't want to bother looking for him!)

The Emperor: The Lighthouse Chronologist


At first I thought: "Ok, the Emperor is going to be so impossible to find in Zendikar. I will give up and leave the Icon out, after all there's no Empire in Zendikar, and not much civilization either."
But right when I said civilization, I thought Seagate. And when I thought Seagate I thought Lighthouse. And then Lighthouse Chronologist. That's it! He's the most powerful Human of Zendikar by far, he's another easily legendary/unique figure, and he represents the beacon of civilization. So we got ourselves an Emperor.

The Great Gold Wyrm: Iona, Shield of Emeria

This is another one I understood only when I began to understand the Eldrazi=demons thing that changed all the above icons. After all, angels usually battle against demons, but in Zendikar they also have a link with the Eldrazi, and Iona in particular, being called Shield of Emera (with Emera being the Merfolk goddess derive from a distorted cultural memory of Emrakul, the chief Eldrazi being), she was the perfect Gold Wyrm equivalent. She is shielding FROM Emrakul, like the Wyrm seals the Abyss. The static location is also perfect: Emera is also the name of the sky ruin associated with the deity and probably with the Eldrazi Emrakul, in ancient times. So, perfect match!

The High Druid: The Surrakar 

I don't name the actual Surrakar on purpose, because the diea is that the whole Surrakar race IS the High Druid of Zendikar! They are the race most connected with the land, and they're being anti-arcane by nature, as suggested by Surrakar Banisher and my adaption of the race, is very druidic.
So Surrakar it is!

The Lich King: Kalitas, Bloodchief of Ghet

Although i was sure all the time it had to be Drana, the Kalastria Bloodchief, being the Kalastria the aristocratic family of Zendiakr vampires, she is quite less powerful than Kalitas, and seemingly less important. The Ghet have been ostracized by the other families, making Kalitas surely as bitter as the Lich King, and with plans of revenge and conquest in mind..! Not only that, the Ghet are the family with more ties in human settlements, and as such they're also the ones that could be planning to take over the human world as well, other than just battling with the other families, like the Nirkana and Kalastria do.

The Orc Lord: Kazuul, Tyrant of the Cliffs

I shouldn't even bother writing about this. In fact, I won't!

The Priestess: The Spinx of Jhwar Isle (or The Devout Lightcaster)

The infinite but yrptic knowledge of the sphinxes, and even more the one from the island of secrets per excellence, is a perfect match for The Priestess. However, if deciding to use the Lord of Shatterskull Pass as The Dwarf King, the Kor might want a representative here, which would actually represent them better than the Dwarf King Icon, because Kor are first and foremost religious and mystical, since they are iconically White in Magic. 

The Priestess is also very White in concept, so it would be a nice match. Basically, I would leave this as a choice tied to the Dwarf King choice, depending also much on what relationships you want between the icons. 
I was a bit torn because there's never an important enough figure among the Kor to represent an Icon fully. However, in the Zendikar novel "In The Teeth of Akoum", there is basically a Kor oracle, whic would fit the role very well. So for how the Kor are, and how The Priestess is supposed to be the newest Icon in the setting, chronologically speaking, it can really be any female Kor... It's not her lineage or adventures that make her special, just fate. Hence the choice of the Devout Lightcaster, even if it's a common Kor. Plus, the illustration is fitting..!

The Prince of Shadows: Thada Adel, The Acquisitor 

She is legendary, she is a thief. She is the only choice. She is a perfect choice anyway. :)
So that's the second Merfolk on the list, but it's ok. An alternative would be a random human Bala Ged Thief, but that would sound very underwhelming.

The Three: The Five (demons of Zendikar!)


I had to arrive to The Three, the last icon, to change all the above icons that were second-thoughts. Because at first I thought nothing else matched The Three better than The Three Eldrazi. But as I said in my first brainstorming post about Icons in Zendikar: "Who would have Positive Relationships with the Eldrzi?" - Nobody of course. So I really wanted a group of evil but not utterly world-ending characters. I thought about dragons first, but Zendikar doesn't have enough noteworthy dragons. So I said "how many demons are there in Zendikar..?" - Answer was only 5. It was ok! And from there I started to think that the equivalent of 13th Age demons in Zendikar could actually have been what i had thought would have been The Three: the Eldrazi! And everything else changed, for the better.

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So these are the icons of Zendikar:

The Loremaster, The Vindicator, The Ruin Sage, The Lord of Cliffhaven, The Treespeaker, The Chronologist, The Shield of Emeria, The Surrakar, The Bloodchief, The Tyrant, The Lightcaster / The Sphinx, The Acquisitor, The Five.

They all have nice "The something" names, and they are perfect. And yes, while writing this I decided that the Dwarf King is better portrayed by a hypothetical Lord of Cliffhaven, representing the non-nomadic Kor. And that the choice between the Sphinx and the Kor mystic remains for The Priestess role.

I'm so happy with this set, that should have just represented the "easy shortcut" plan, parallel to a more serious list of icons, that I'm seriously thinking of leaving all the other possible icons behind. After all, the only other options if wanting to use the other icons would be first of all to change the base assumptions behind 13th Age Icons, and then even have an "everything goes" approach, with a non-fixed list, or enormous list of icons, difficult to come up with for me, and confusing for players.

So just for fun, let's jot down the relationships between the Zendikar icons following the ones of their 13th Age equivalents withotut any change. And let's see what happens! [My comments in brackets]

  • The Loremaster swears fealty to The Chronologist and is bound to work together with The Lightcaster (or The Sphinx) for a common goal, but they are never seen together. [Perfect!]
  • The Surrakar are enemies of The Loremaster, who must also be careful with The Treesepaker. [Cool!]
  • The Vindicator recognizes The Chronologist as the ruler of the land, although they say he might recognize The Bloodchief just as easily. [Interesting twist!]
  • If The Ruin Sage fears The Vindicator, and he probably should, it's the only one he fears. [Nice!] The Lightcaster works to protect the poeple from the excesses of The Vindicator to the point of hindering him. [Perfect contrast between human and kor church!] Bitter rivalry between The Vindicator and The Shield of Emeria. [Also fitting!]
  • They say The Ruin Sage and The Acquisitor work together. Everyone else really hopes they will just betray each other. [This is the coolest relationship in Zendikar! Might even be a stormy love story!!]
  • The Ruin Sage is not a fan of The Shield of Emeria, The Vindicator, or The Lightcaster. [Of course.]
  • The Lord of Cliffhaven works reliably with The Chronologist and respects the old truce with The Treespeaker. [Appropriate...]
  • When The Treespeaker dark elves (Joraga? The Kazandu Splinter?) get out of hand, they are enemies of Cliffhaven. [There's a geographical mismatch with the Joraga not being close at all to Cliffhaven, but maybe the Kazandu Splinter elves could work, and they're also outcasts!].
    The Lord of Cliffhaven has issued a king's ransom for The Acquisitor. [Who knows what she stole from the Kor, cool!]
  • The Surrakar are figuratively half-brothers of The Treespeaker. [Nice since they share the same region of orgin, Bala Ged!]. She has a truce with the Lord of Cliffhaven. The Chronologist is a trusted ally of her, but The Lightcaster and The Loremaster, she is wary of, [Perfect match!]

    [Not many more of interest, since they repeat themselves from each point of view, until...]
  • The Five have no allies, but The Bloddchief has killed one and made it a vampire [WOW!] and The Treespeaker has imprisoned another. [Technically, we could also mean that this makes them The Three again!]
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That's all folks, it was really fun to build this list and so this kind of match-making! it might seem a bit forced, but since the relationships hold so well together, I might have really nailed it!