Hey, everyone! Since I didn’t have time to ask a Tumblr blog if I could write a feature on them, I decided to do something a little different again. I started getting curious about the story lore of Magic from expansions before the time I started playing (which was Magic Core Set 2012 ~ Innistrad block), and a few Google searches later, I found this on Quora.com. I am pretty much going to copy and paste what I found there, plus some images so that the Tumblr community can enjoy it, so all credit goes to Adrian Anderson, L1 Magic Judge, not me. On that Quora page I linked, someone asked the following:
Where can I find the complete lore of Magic: The Gathering that is simple to understand?
Because I tried reading in Wikipedia and I didn’t understand anything.
Below is Anderson’s response. Due to Tumblr’s formatting restructions, I have opted not to block quote the entire thing so I can make use of bullet points and whatnot. It’s a little long, so it’ll help catch you up on the lore of Magic’s past. Enjoy!
Unfortunately, the lore of Magic has been told so many different ways and over many different media, which makes it very difficult to assemble. The story was originally told in books, sometimes packed with pre-constructed decks. During the Weatherlight Saga, they tried having each card be a part of the story, which was a cool idea, but didn’t work well in practice. More recently, they tried conveying the story with webcomics, which were really cool but expensive to produce, then with e-books, which didn’t fare much better than the novels. Thankfully, they’ve finally found a good medium for telling the Magic storyline, and that’s through the Uncharted Realms column on the official Magic website… it’s easy to find and it’s free to read.
So, in the absence of a good, quick summary of the lore of Magic: The Gathering, I’ve written up what I know for you to read here. I’ve also included notes to tell you what parts of the story belong to what sets/blocks.
The lore of Magic: The Gathering is incredibly complex… way more complex than what I’ve presented here. I’ve tried to present the parts of the story that are important for continuity, while skipping the many, many parts that are no longer relevant. It’s still long, but hopefully, this will be easier to read.
I’m very familiar with the new story, but I haven’t read very many of the books, so I’m not as familiar with the story for those blocks whose story was only told in a novel. I’m mostly working from memory here, with a little bit of help from the MTG Salvation Wiki. I welcome any corrections that readers can provide. Also, please let me know if this summary is still too complex.
If you’re not at all familiar with Magic’s story or setting, these are some concepts you’ll need to know before going any farther:
Plane - Basically, a world. Think of each plane as a planet, though not necessarily round, and are more on different dimensions than separated by space. Most denizens of the Multiverse are not aware of the existence of other planes.
Planeswalker - Someone with the innate ability to travel between planes. Planeswalkers are the focal point of the the story. Planeswalkers are said to be “one in a million”. The ability to planeswalk is referred to as the planeswalker’s spark, which is normally activated/ignited through intense trauma.
Urza was among the first planeswalkers that were a part of Magic’s story, and was the main character in the storyline for years. Urza was an accomplished artificer, but so was his brother Mishra, who allied himself with Magic’s greatest villains, the Phyrexians (a race of machine horrors). The two built armies and pitted them against each other in the Brothers’ War, which ended when Urza used the Golgothian Sylex to destroy a decent chunk of Dominaria (as it turns out, Urza’s very good at destroying worlds, and does it quite often). This event also ignited Urza’s planeswalker spark.
(Urza’s Saga block)
Urza devoted much of his life to destroying the Phyrexians, and considering that planeswalkers couldn’t die of old age at the time, this meant that he spent many normal lifetimes looking for a solution. Phyrexians are not capable of planeswalking, but they used inter-planar portals to expand their sphere of influence, and they were setting sights on Urza’s home plane, Dominaria (the plane where the story of Magic was set for a long time).
Urza founded the Tolarian Academy, where he would train many young mages and perform dangerous experiments. This was where Teferi became a planeswalker after suffering a near eternity in the blink of an eye… while on fire. Urza also used this time to gain allies and build/find a huge collection of artifacts called the Legacy, which he hoped would serve a role in defeating Phyrexia.
Rath was a naturally hostile plane, and there were many obstacles between the Weatherlight and Captain Sisay, including Greven il-Vec piloting the Predator. They eventually made it to Volrath’s Stronghold, freed Sisay, and fled to the plane Mercadia.
This all culminated in the Phyrexian invasion of Dominaria. There’s a lot that happens in this storyline, but I’m just going to skip to the end. Karn’s activation of the Legacy Weapon destroyed Phyrexia and its leader and ended the invasion, but Urza and Gerrard (among many others) were killed. Karn became a planeswalker as a result (it’s normally impossible for a non-living being to become a planeswalker, but this was an extraordinary circumstance).
Another major consequence of these events was that the plane of Rath was “overlayed” on Dominaria, meaning that the two planes became one, and places that were once in Rath (such as Volrath’s Stronghold) suddenly popped up in Dominaria (such as the Urborg swamp, where the Stronghold ended up). The new Rath/Dominaria hybrid was still called “Dominaria”.
Several other blocks highlighted conflicts on Dominaria, before and after the Invasion. None of them are particularly important to the overall story.
The Invasion block served as a bit of a storyline reboot. After all, it’s tough to continue the previous story when both protagonists are dead. Starting at Mirrodin, instead of telling one continuous story, each block had a different story told on a different world.
Karn created his own artificial plane, which he called Argentum, and used an artifact called the Mirari that had been causing trouble on Dominaria to create a guardian for the plane, called Memnarch. Memnarch went mad, and in his madness, populated the plane with life and remade it as Mirrodin. Over the course of the story, a team led by Glissa Sunseeker eventually destroyed Memnarch.
In this world inspired by Japanese culture and mythology, Konda, Lord of Eiganjo steals a part of the supreme Kami, triggering a war between Kami and humans.
Ravnica is a plane entirely covered by a single city, and ruled by ten guilds (each of which is represented by a unique two-color pair). The Guildpact was a very powerful spell that normally kept order between the guilds, but was broken by the end of the story.
Lorwyn is a bright, gentle plane, but it transforms into the dark and twisted world of Shadowmoor when The Great Aurora comes. The plane periodically switches between Lorwyn and Shadowmoor.
(The Lorwyn/Shadowmoor block is included out of order because it fits better with this storytelling paradigm… the new planeswalkers had no role in this story.)
Dominaria had previously been the home of incredible world-shattering, time-breaking spells, and in the aftermath, the Multiverse began tearing itself apart. Time rifts began opening in the places where these huge spells had been cast, and it would require an incredible amount of energy to seal the cracks. Teferi finds a solution when he sacrifices his own planeswalker spark to seal a rift. He convinces other planeswalkers on Dominaria to do the same in order to save reality, and several planeswalkers agree (including Freyalise), often losing not just their spark, but their life. Karn gives up his spark, which flings him through time and space and causes him to be captured and converted by Phyrexians (his spark previously protected him from Phyrexian conversion).
The threat to the Multiverse had stopped, but as a result, most of the pre-Mending planeswalkers had either died or lost their spark. Before this point, planeswalkers enjoyed the benefits of being ageless and wielding massive power, but now, many planeswalkers found themselves catching up to their age, which became a huge problem for older planeswalkers such as Liliana Vess and Nicol Bolas.
This served as Magic’s second story reboot. With most of the old planeswalkers out of the way, the Magic story could refocus on a new story with new, recurring planeswalkers.
Alara was a plane that had been split into five shards, each of which only had access to three colors of mana. The shards were Bant (GWU), Esper (WUB), Grixis (UBR), Jund (BRG), and Naya (RGW). Nicol Bolas, along with his new servants Sarkhan Vol and Tezzeret the Seeker, tried to restore some of his power that was lost during the Mending by drawing from the Maelstrom that would form when the five shards were reunited. He was opposed by Elspeth Tirel, fighting for her new homeland of Bant, and Ajani Goldmane, a planeswalker native to Naya who ultimately defeated Bolas by reflecting the power of Bolas’s soul against him. The shards were permanently merged into Alara, and Elspeth left to find a new plane to call home.
Zendikar was a plane where mana was wild and the land wouldn’t sit still. This is because it also served as a prison for the three Eldrazi titans, Emrakul, Kozilek, and Ulamog, who were sealed by Sorin Markov, Nahiri, the Lithomancer, and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon. Bolas sent Sarkhan Vol was sent to the Eye of Ugin, where he became mad listening to the constant whispers of a dragon. Sarkhan fought Chandra Nalaar and Jace Beleren there, weakening the Eldrazi prison. Sorin attempted to reinforce the prison, but was accompanied by Nissa Revane, who wanted nothing more than to see the Eldrazi released so that they would no longer cause problems for Zendikar, her native world. Nissa freed the Eldrazi hoping that they would leave Zendikar… but they didn’t.
(Scars of Mirrodin block)
The residents of Mirrodin began to notice an odd oil that caused odd changes in the Mirrans. As it turns out, Mirrodin’s creator, Karn, had been a carrier for Phyrexian oil ever since the Phyrexian Invasion and had accidentally spread it to the world he crated. Karn had been immune to the oil’s effects because he was a planeswalker. However, he sacrificed his spark during the Mending, and as a result was converted into a Phyrexian and became the Father of Machines to the new race of Phyrexians that was building on Mirrodin.
Koth of the Hammer, a planeswalker native to Mirrodin, sought out help to fight the new Phyrexian threat. He convinced Venser, the Sojourner (who was searching for his old mentor Karn) and Elspeth (who knew what the Phyrexians were capable of) to join him. The Phyrexians fought a huge war against the Mirrans and eventually won, remaking the world as New Phyrexia. Venser sacrificed his spark to restore Karn’s, freeing Karn from Phyrexia’s control. Elspeth left, but Koth stayed behind to continue helping the Mirran resistance.
Somewhere around this time, Liliana retrieved The Chain Veil on Shandalar, as ordered by Kothophed. She used the Chain Veil’s power to curse Garruk Wildspeaker, who had been hunting her, and to kill Kothophed, the first of four demons she had made a pact with.
Depicted: Thalia runs away as Liliana breaks the Helvault | Art by Todd Lockwood
The humans of Innistad were in a lot of trouble, as the many monsters of Innistrad closed in on them. Innistrad was home to strong necromancers and their army of undead, as well as ghosts, vampires, and werewolves. They had previously been protected by Avacyn, Angel of Hope, who had actually been created by Sorin, a native vampire of Innistrad who didn’t want to see the vampires’ food source hunted to extinction. What the residents of Innistrad didn’t know, however, was that Avacyn was locked in a demonic prison called the Helvault, along with her ultimate nemesis, the demon Griselbrand.
The humans were backed into a corner and were preparing for the end. They were saved by an unlikely hero, Liliana, who broke the Helvault to get to Griselbrand. Avacyn emerged from the broken prison, and immediately went to work saving humanity from the darkness. Liliana again used The Chain Veil’s power to kill her Griselbrand, her second demonic master. Garruk met with Avacyn to get help with the Veil’s curse, but Avacyn could only slow its progress.
(Return to Ravnica block)
Ravnica had enjoyed relative peace for a while, but the ten guilds were building up their forces and were on the brink of war. To prevent this, Niv-Mizzet, leader of the Izzet League, told the guilds of Ravnica about something the Izzet had been researching for a while: that there was a plane-spanning maze that, if solved, would restore the Guildpact and bring peace. At the end of the race, Jace became the Living Guildpact and would be responsible for upholding peace on Ravnica.
Theros is a world inspired by Greek myth, where the Gods rule over humans from their starry realm called Nyx. Elspeth arrived on Theros, looking to find a new home after leaving Bant and suffering defeat on New Phyrexia. Her acts of bravery on Theros drew the attention of Heliod, God of the Sun, who eventually named Elspeth as the Sun’s Champion. Soon after, in the victory over a herd of minotaurs, the celebration grew out of control and the planeswalker Xenagos ascended to godhood as Xenagos, God of Revels. Elspeth entered Nyx in order to dethrone Xenagos, and killed him. However, Heliod felt threatened by his champion capable of killing Gods, and betrayed Elspeth, killing her. Death works differently on Theros, however… Elspeth now wanders the Theros underworld.
Sarkhan Vol, still haunted by the whispers of the spirit dragon Ugin haunted by the whispers of the spirit dragon Ugin, returned home to his native plane of Tarkir, where dragons had been extinct for a millennium and the remaining clans clung to the dragon’s memory as they fought each other. Vol found help with the Temur clan, whose shamans provided some guidance. The khan of the Jeskai, Narset, also decided to help Vol on his quest.
Sorin had also returned to Tarkir, hoping to find his old ally that was crucial in sealing away the Eldrazi long ago. What he found was Ugin’s corpse, and he realized that the only hope to defeat the Eldrazi again was probably also dead. Vol and Narset eventually also made it to the Tomb of the Spirit Dragon. Vol’s old nemesis Zurgo chose that moment to make a surprise attack, and Narset was killed in an effort to buy Vol enough time to enter Ugin’s Nexus.
Vol was transported back in time to a crucial moment in Tarkir’s history: the moment when Nicol Bolas landed a fatal blow on Ugin, which would cause the death of all dragons on Tarkir. After the battle, Vol went to Ugin and brought a piece of the Eye of Ugin that he kept from Zendikar. The piece formed a protective cocoon where Ugin would eventually recover from his wounds, and Vol was returned to the present.
The timeline of Tarkir had been permanently changed. The Khans of Tarkir were gone, and the clans were now led by ancient Dragonlords. Tarkir was back to its natural state, and Ugin was alive, having only recently awoken from his long rest. Sarkhan Vol was now an “orphan of time”, having rewritten the circumstances that caused his birth, and he was now free of the whispers that drove him insane. Sorin met with Ugin and told him the dire news from Zendikar, and Ugin told Sorin that he needed to find Nahiri so that they could try to restore the Eldrazi prison. And, in this timeline, Narset wasn’t killed. Instead of being khan, Narset realized her potential as a planeswalker, and Zurgoended up as a pitiful, weak servant.
From left to right: Gideon Jura, Jace Beleren, Liliana Vess, Chandra Nalaar, Nissa Revane | Art by Chase Stone
Magic Origins gave us the background of the five planeswalkers that would serve as the main protagonists of the story from this point forward.
Gideon Jura was once Kytheon Iora of Theros. His defense of Akros gained the attention of Heliod, who named Kytheon his champion and tasked him to killErebos’s Titan. He succeeded, but in a moment of hubris, Kytheon hurled his weapon at Erebos, God of the Dead. Erebos threw the weapon back at Kytheon, who was able to protect himself, but ended up killing the rest of his Irregulars. Kytheon’s agony transported him to Bant, where we remade himself as Gideon and strove to redeem himself.
Jace Beleren was a telepath on Vryn, but didn’t fit in at home. He left to train with the arbiter sphinx Alhammarret. He learned how to master his abilities, but also learned that Alhammarret had been using him to gather intelligence and wiping his mind, as well as suppressing Jace’s Planeswalking ability. Jace learned the truth and confronted the sphinx, which ended in a mutually destructive battle of minds. The battle destroyed Alhammarret’s mind and Jace ended up on Ravnica with no memories.
Liliana Vess was an aspiring healer on Dominaria who was practicing some “unconventional” techniques. Her brother was dying, and she was given bad advice to use those techniques on him. He became a powerful undead monster and attacked, forcing Liliana to escape to Innistrad. There, she embraced death magic as a way to prevent her own death. This was all before the Mending… once the Mending hit, she sought out Nicol Bolas to find a way to regain her youth. At Bolas’s suggestion, she made a pact with four demons that gave her power and youth.
Chandra Nalaar was the daughter of inventors on Kaladesh, but wasn’t very good at patient crafts. She tried running as an illegal courier, but got caught and used her previously unknown talent with fire to escape. The authorities of Kaladesh thought of pyromancers as a huge threat, so her family fled the city, but the authorities found Chandra’s family, killed them, framed her, and sentenced her to death. As she was about to be executed, she erupted in flame and re-emerged on Regatha, where pyromancers were revered.
Nissa Revane was an animist on Zendikar with special ties to the land. At Zendikar’s request, she traveled into the mountains and found the imprisoned Emrakul. The vision of the Eldrazi nearly killed her, and she ended up on Lorwyn. Nissa was eager to return to Zendikar, however, and try to find a way to save the land from the Eldazi imprisoned within.
Because Anderson had written this response in August, he would have had no foreknowledge of the events that would transpire in Battle for Zendikar. All of you who are reading this should no doubt be following the current story by reading the latest Uncharted Realms articles or even just playing with the cards from the latest expansion set (Commander 2015 aside). I’m not gonna write up another paragraph or so on what’s happening on Zendikar right now, so I will leave it up to you to catch up with that story (spoilers: Cosi’s back!). Until next time, happy reading!
There have been conversations going round surrounding the concept of a Return to Kamigawa, and inevitably the concept of Wizards depicting an Asian plane comes up. I’m going to talk as a South East Asian person about how Tarkir has meant a lot to me.
First and foremost it seems that Central and South East Asian cultures are chronically underrepresented in Western Media. In England, South Asian culture is the dominant point that Chinese/Thai/Vietnamese/Filipino/Korean people aren’t considered “Asian” and my impression of America is that Asian culture is mostly East Asian - so Chinese and Japanese and Korean.
The way that Magic plays into this is that Kamigawa seems to be symptomatic of a single country representing an entire continent - a whole plane was entirely based on the dominant Yamato/Shinto culture of Japan with its numerous references to kami, samurai, ninjutsu etc etc. Which is fine, in theory. Magic the Gathering is a product from an American company, predominantly in English and Japanese culture is arguably the most well known in nerd circles due to the proliferation of anime and manga.
However, I treated Kamigawa with the same kind of wariness I treated the general high fantasy theme of the earlier sets. To me, it seemed like oh, here’s another Western company doing its take on Japanese culture cause that’s the most popular Asian culture in the West. It was well received in Asia, at least as far as I can tell because it seemed familiar. It was a respectful interpretation and I like the flavour of it but it fed in to the feelings of resignment regarding representation in general. I feel a kind of resignment that my chances of my culture being represented in some form in the things I like, is very slim.
But Tarkir, whooo boy. Tarkir was great because not only did it get the scope of Asia as a continent nailed, but was also very respectful to the kinds of cultures you would see in those countries. Abzan and Mardu are representative of the kind of people you would see in that Mongolian/Nepalese/Central Asian area with the harsh climate, arid landscape and generally crazyass weaponry (look up all the varying designs for the kukri and nepalese armor, it’s kind of amazing). Temur seems to be a nod to Russian/Siberian/North Asian peoples with the general focus on the shamanic and the almost arctic climes of the Temur. The monastic and mindfulness culture of the Jeskai is reminiscent of the Buddhist orders found in China, Vietnam and Thailand. The Sultai with their opulent palaces, snakes, blood magic and general sneakiness in the jungle is very much like the Cambodian, Malaysian, Filipino way of doing things. (If you don’t believe me, read up on the thalassocracy of the Sultan of Sulu and the current dispute surrounding that and it is the most Sultai thing in the world.)
The thing I’ve heard not just on tumblr but amongst people I play with is that Tarkir felt generically Asian. Yet to me, the most generically Asian plane was Kamigawa. I’m really proud of Wizards for going on a limb and making Tarkir as they did, because not only was it well researched and respectful but it also was creatively depicted. What was even better was the fact that dragons is actually something that is common to a lot of these cultures, so the fact that it was the dragon plane rather than some St George and the Dragon deal is something that makes Tarkir very close to my heart. We should have more planes like Tarkir.
(I also have specific feelings on how I relate to Narset personally, but this post is long enough as it is.)
Kaseto comes from Kamigawa and has a snake theme
to him. He claims to be a descendant from the ancient Kaseto, the
leader of the Orochi colonies.
The Orochi (“Serpent” or “Wyrm”) are
humanoid snakes with two legs and four arms. They live in the Jukai
(“Sea of trees”) Forest and are divided in three tribes.
Kashi (“Oak”), the warrior tribe to defend the
Matsu (“Pine”), the scout tribe with archers.
Sakura (“Cherry”), the shaman tribe. Orochi
magic is tied into the seasons on Kamigawa.
The leader of the Orochi colonies is Seshiro. His
children lead two tribes – his daughter Sachi leads the shamans
while his son Sosuke leads the warriors.
All of that is ancient history by the time Kaseto
comes into the picture. What’s new is that the Orochi now have access to blue mana. Kaseto is said to be the keeper of Seshiro’s wisdom, making it likely that this wisdom lead to access to blue mana.
Design some Fun/Fair/Interesting/flavorful/fitting abilities for this fanwalker!
You get your own art of your Fanwalker in this paint-style! ( perfect for framing into a card!)
Got no Fanwalker? well no worries! Just send a description of them with their Story, Personality and Colors to me and I will design them for you! I’ll show off the sketch and such ofc.
: I will judge it based on how fitting and interesting the ability is as well as where it could see most plays ( reminder that in Commander, all planeswalkers could be played, so I am not gonna judge it solely on a commander standpoint.) ONLY ONE ENTRY PER PERSON!! ( you may request to change your entry though!) Send it via Ask please! I cant keep up on PM or on Replies. :c gets too messy.. EDIT: You can Reblog with an entry as well! That way you can submit any card-mock ups if you want as well!!
Disclaimer: I make no money of off this. This is just a thing for the MTG Community that I hope manage to make a lot of people have fun! <3
Her story under the cut, you dont need to read it to participate, but it might help out when designing a flavorful ability! (Sorry, my blog isn’t as eye-friendly as it can be right now, so I recommend you to reblog and then read it on your own if you want!)
Is pronounced ta-mee-yo (not Tammy-o). Tamiyo is from Kamigawa, the Japanese lore plane, and Tamiyo is a Japanese girls’ name. Technically no syllable gets more stress than the others. This is a general rule in Japanese, unlike in English, where almost all words are pronounced with stress on at least one syllable (and several types of English poetry are based on this!).
In katakana: タミヨ
In kanji: 民代 These characters mean “people” and “change” (with other potential translations like “replace”). This 民 is the same “tami” as in “soratami,” the moonfolk of Kamigawa (空民).
Oh Tamiyo. Soo moon-crazy. Makes sense, given that she’s
a Moonfolk from Kamigawa. It’s Tamiyo’s Planeswalker Positivity week, so I
decided to put together an article featuring all of the card art that she has
appeared in. I won’t waste any more space on an introduction, so let’s just
jump right into the art of Tamiyo!
When we first met Tamiyo, she was busy studying the
silver moon of Innistrad. She helped Jenrik, a famous astronomer on the plane,
help identify the properties of the moon beyond simple tides and orbits. She
noticed that the Helvault and the moon are made out of the same silver. That
this silver helps channel Avacyn’s power. That the moon is the single most
magically relevant part of Innistrad’s reality. Tamiyo must be one smart cookie
to figure all that out! And when we look at the art for her planeswalker card,
her observational prowess is unsurprising:
Like I said, Tamiyo isn’t Human. She’s Soratami, a race
of pale-skinned rune-faced long-eared people from the plane of Kamigawa. The
most noticeable thing about her free-wielding of a telescope. Perfect for the
mind inquiring things about a celestial body! She has a sextant too, showcasing
her devotion to the astrological sciences.
Scientists are beholden to record their observations, but
few are able to do so three brushes at a time (on eight scrolls)! This is an
important visual cue that harkens back to how the kami were depicted on her
So we know science is serious business for Tamiyo, but
what do her other depictions say about the character? Just take a look at this
…Oh. This is awkward. Not a single other Magic card has ever depicted Tamiyo.
Normally that would spell doom for an article like this, but fret not! We’ll
just pick up where we left off, yeah?
Whoa. As you can see, kami are generally fairly abstract
in design. One of their unifying traits, however, is a series of floating
objects that relate back to the kami’s anatomy. In this case, the kami is
surrounded by mouth-fish holding the same kinds of scrolls that protrude from
the kami’s back.
What’s this all about? It was a signature look to help
the kami look as otherworldly as possible. After all, they’re not from the same
part of Kamigawa as the mortals. When they manifest in the physical realm, physics
has a hard time relaying concepts like “storytelling.” Think of it like the
pixilation that happens when you blow up a low-resolution image.
So what is that motif doing in Tamiyo’s art? It’s
difficult to say. On a diegetic level, it’s possible that Tamiyo has picked up
some spellslinging tips from the kami. She was born over a thousand years after
the Kami War that collapsed the barrier between the mortal and spirit realms,
so it’s possible that the kami’s arcane magic is freely shared with mortals
like the Soratami now. We know almost nothing about present-day Kamigawa, so
this is all just conjecture.
On a more superficial level, it helps reinforce her own
otherworldliness; Tamiyo has done the impossible and crossed the Blind
Eternities from Kamigawa to Innistrad. Devils and Werewolves are a dime a dozen
there, but Soratami must truly be alien to the people of Innistrad.
Speaking of aliens…
What the Heck Is a
While we don’t have much information about Tamiyo
herself, we can certainly delve into her people, the Soratami. They’re pretty
out there when it comes to fantasy races, which says a lot about them already.
And where does the moon factor into all this? And why are they white? And what’s
with the ears and face-runes? And the robes? And everything!
Let’s start with the basics: those are rabbit ears.
Humans excel at recognizing patterns, and one of the universal focal points of
pattern recognition is our beloved moon. While Western cultures have surmised
that the moon depicts a human face, many East Asian cultures see the shape of a
rabbit instead. Thus, Kamigawa’s Moonfolk reference this belief in their
anatomy. You can see the Moonfolk’s ears springing out from above her forehead
Soratami don’t always just let their ears hang free,
however, often folding them into ornate hairstyles (like Tamiyo’s). This can
especially be seen in the male Soratami, who strive to exude the aesthetic of
excess common in traditional Japanese court culture. Their ambassador to the
lands below, Meloku, is a fantastic example of such regal presentation:
The visual traits the Moonfolk bear pulls many attributes
from this aristocratic culture, which reached its height in Japan around 1000
years ago. Even the regular Soratami mages wear stylized kimono, arguably the
most recognizable article of traditional Japanese formalwear.
Courtly fashion eschewed practicality for aesthetics.
While many garments were characterized by exaggerated designs, the deep sleeves
and flowing dresses of Japanese courts were the epitome of excess. They tended
to be difficult to move in and often took hours to fully assemble. Many styles
were multi-layered, with each wrapping having its own traditions of color,
pattern, and style. Such surplus of fabric has influenced the design of many
One of the more unique traditions of Japanese court
culture regarded the styling of a woman’s eyebrows. Rather, the unstyling of
them. Many women trimmed their eyebrows to be much smaller, and eventually it
became common for women to shave their eyebrows off completely. They would then
redraw eyebrows high up on their foreheads.
In a similar manner, Moonfolk don’t have eyebrows, per
say. While no hair grows on their faces, they do exhibit violet lines across
their faces. These runes move to help show emotion and mood, essentially functioning
just like Human eyebrows. These markings can be seen well below:
A beauty aesthetic that was heavily borrowed from China
was that of pale skin. In the court culture, women would paint their faces with
a rice paste to lighten their skin and fill out their cheeks. Such techniques
are not uncommon in East Asian cultures, and I’m not 100% certain that this was
the origin of the Soratami’s naturally pale skin. It may have been included
simply to make them more ethereal, as they are people of the clouds and moon.
And why the moon? Well, that part is a little out of this world…
The First Sci-Fi
The Tale of the
Bamboo Cutter is regarded as one of the earliest stories involving extraterrestrial
life. The story, also known as Princess
Kaguya, was recorded in the 900’s and talks about space aliens from the
In the tale, a bamboo cutter finds a tiny girl in a
bamboo shaft that he has cut down. He raises her like a daughter, occasionally
finding gold pieces in the bamboo he cuts. He becomes very wealthy and many men
seek his daughter’s hand in marriage. She refuse them all, even the Emporer, as
she claims she is not from this world. On nights with a full moon, she is
filled with a great longing and homesickness. Eventually, her people return to
bring her back to their moon-city, having left all the gold for the bamboo
cutter as payment for watching over one of their own kind.
Fancy moon people. The Japanese see a rabbit in the moon.
Now are you seeing how this all ties together? The Soratami pull from these two
main moon mythologies, wrap them up in courtly clothing, and plop them in the
clouds of a Shinto-inspired plane.
It’s pretty neat how many different threads were woven
together to create the Soratami, but there’s one more thing…
What’s With the
The Soratami have this thing for mirrors. Meloku is named
after one. Tamiyo carries one around with her. Even these guys guard one:
This is no coincidence. Mirrors have an auspicious role
in Shinto religion. They are known as objects of truth and knowledge, as they
reflect how the world really is. Mirrors are prominently featured in many
shrines due to their status as one of the three pieces of Imperial Regalia
handed down by the most powerful spirits. A sword, a mirror, and a curved gem
were given to the first Emperor of Japan and passed down through the royal
family. They are sacred artifacts that help channel the spirits of the Shinto faith.
Mirrors in particular are known as objects that channel
the will of the kami. A human can encounter a kami’s power through such
instruments. This is part of why mirrors are seen as vessels of truth; mirrors
help mortals come in contact with a world much greater than mere perception.
Soratami magic often features mirrors, although the
flavor of Kamigawa has twisted their purpose for much more nefarious plots.
First of all, the Moonfolk can use mirrors to create Illusions, flipping the
traditional truth-revealing on its head. They also help reinforce the narrative
significance of the Moonfolk: instigators of the entire Kami War.
While Konda, lord of the Humans, is often cited as the
antagonist of the Kamigawa block, it’s in fact the Soratami that sought to
control the entire plane, both the mortal and spirit realms. They were
influenced by Mochi, the kami of the crescent moon, to give Konda access to the
spirit realm so he could swipe O-Kagachi’s divinity. Meloku was Konda’s
advisor, after all. Being bearers of mirrors meant that the Soratami were able
to safely interact with both mortals and kami, playing both sides of a war
started for their own benefit.
Science-ing It Up
Obviously Tamiyo doesn’t have such malicious motives. She
seeks knowledge, replacing a courtly kanzashi
with some extra brushes to scribble on her scrolls with. What’s next for
this learned Moonfolk? We don’t know. We hardly know anything about Tamiyo now,
but at least we can dig into the past of her people to uncover why she looks
the way she does. Maybe by digging into where Tamiyo came from, we can be a
little more enlightened when we find out where she’s going.
Until next time, planeswalkers, may your curiosity send
you off on great adventures.