Family Affairs

Planeswalkers may be the defining faces of new school Magic, but where did they come from? Surely they weren’t born from nothing. The hilarious Mr. Beety investigates the reasons these wandering wonders can feel so utterly two-dimensional.

Last time around
, I thought I was going to be talking Khans of Tarkir for this article. As it turns out, in less than two weeks there’ll be more information about the
Tarkir setting released at PAX Prime, so I’m pushing my baseless speculation off to a time when it will be less baseless.

You may weep if you wish.

Still makes me weep.

With Tarkir off the plate, I had to spin the Wheel of Topics to find something to write about. The first time it landed on an obscure section of the U.S.
federal tax code, so I gave it another spin and got “family.” So let’s make this article a family affair!

Thank you, Mary J.

In the corner of the Multiverse we call Earth, there’s lots of encouragement for making Magic a family affair. Just read the title of the feature about the father-and-sons trio at Grand Prix
Portland who made Day 2 and generally had the tournament of a lifetime. For Bruce Richard, being a father is part of his Magic identity, and he mentions it
in articles such as this one on his unique prereleases. Elizabeth
Burton may not have a DCI number, but many players know her for the

games of Magic where she served as her son Brandon’s hands


In Magic’s flavor, however, there’s not much incentive to get one’s family involved in the mystical arts…unless you want to expose one’s family
disproportionately to various evils, perils, and menaces.

She gave you that sweater? Justified.

I’ve previously made mention of how many of the known post-Future Sight planeswalkers are orphans in my article ” Want, Hide, Fear, Obsess, Hurt.” It’s a bit out of date now as the
Multiverse has marched on (Sarkhan’s getting the spotlight in Khans of Tarkir, while my hopes for Elspeth’s happiness didn’t pan out), but much of the substance remains correct.
Ajani still grieves for his brother, Domri’s still an orphan, Gideon still has daddy issues, Sorin still has granddaddy issues, and Elspeth would have more
issues than a year of Sports Illustrated if she weren’t dead (and by “dead” I mean
“trapped for the moment in a death god’s realm, ready to be busted out for Return to Theros”).

Dead vs. “dead.”

This past Monday, Wizards of the Coast had a daily Arcana post all about family as it’s expressed
in-Multiverse. It tripped merrily through the cards, like Grandmother Sengir and the Shattergang Brothers, and even took a dive into the lore of characters
such as Toshiro Umezawa and Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord. I couldn’t help but notice though, that as far as sapient characters went, virtually all of the
(non-Goblin) examples predated the lore-shattering events of Time Spiral referred to as “The Mending,” which turned the incredibly powerful planeswalkers
of yore into the equivalent of archmages or lower who nonetheless could hop between planes as if they were clubs in Ibiza.

The new generation of planeswalkers doesn’t have the same interest in perpetuating bloodlines that the pre-Mending ones did (an interest taken to whole new
levels of Creepytown with Urza’s Bloodline Project), which itself isn’t a bad thing. The
problem is, there seems to be zero interest in such matters among the present crew, which doesn’t make sense given the range of ages involved.

Sure, there have been some romantic dalliances. Jace thought Liliana was interested in him, even though in the end that was a sexual-manipulation deal
rather than true romance; Jace later showed an interest in Emmara Tandris; Elspeth had her time with Daxos of Meletis; and Chandra and Gideon have a
certain unresolved tension as a result of their mutual travels. Doubtless Sorin Markov and Xenagos have knocked boots (hooves?) in their times, dedicated
as they are to pleasure.

Yet among the women who are planeswalkers, none are mothers, and none of the men act as fathers. (I find it doubtful that there isn’t at least one
baby satyr who looks suspiciously like Xenagos, but

if the
X-man’s experience is any indication, his absence from the child’s life is a good thing


Wanted for failure to pay child support. Also, other stuff.

Anyone who begins a romance with a planeswalker can end up stuffed in the fridge (Dack
Fayden’s former flame Mariel is one egregious example, and Daxos of Meletis seemingly died just
to hurt Elspeth yet again). Still, there are few such pairings anywhere in the storyline, as Doug Beyer has noted on his blog,
and so far Wizards seems to be content to let its new planeswalkers scheme and blow things up, all while miraculously dodging Cupid’s arrow.

Let me be clear: characters don’t have to fall in love or lust to be interesting. If Tamiyo doesn’t care for romance and would rather study the moons of
Innistrad and many other planes, if that’s her choice, more power to her! It’s when there’s a void that things become unsettling. Not just a small
void, either; if I don’t know specifically who the great love of Koth’s life is, that doesn’t bother me. So many question marks though, so many small
voids, come together to create a gaping hole where love should be.

To put it another way, I do not particularly care for Jace Beleren’s character. He is Magic’s target audience through a funhouse mirror; young, male, and
nerdy to the point of pandering. He’s the plane-saver, the Mickey Mouse of Magic, an archetype more than an individual who is the moody face of the

He’s also one of the most rounded planeswalkers of the new breed, despite his faults, simply because he knows what it means to love.

Part of me wants Jace to stick to Ravnica forever, tied down by his obligations as the Living Guildpact, and for Emmara Tandris to leave Selesnya and
pledge her lifelong allegiance to Jace, if he’ll do the same. I want a big fat Ravnica wedding and as many adorable half-elf babies as Jace and Emmara can

…I just turned into Mr. “I Want Grandkids.” For two fictional characters.

More than anything, I want something different from this cookie-cutter idea that a planeswalker’s life has to be loneliness and eternal wandering. The
first appearance of Elspeth Tirel was a step in the right direction: a planeswalker who was done with it and building a life in a place she could call
home. Yet even this came after the Phyrexians who took over Elspeth’s home plane destroyed her family.

No families they were born into remaining on their home world, no significant other anywhere in the Multiverse. Such is the state of many of the current
planeswalkers. There is a certain amount of narrative convenience to such an
arrangement, but the band of experience is distressingly narrow. Sure, there are plenty of Magic players who are in their teens and twenties, single and
loving it, but when I play in tournaments I see plenty of wedding bands too, many of them on fingers younger than mine. Where are the planeswalkers who
reflect their experience? When will we see the first one who lists the major events in her or his life as “marriage, children, spark ignited?”

The dominance of permanent bachelors among the planeswalkers (no confirmed bachelors in the group…not yet, anyway) also reflects certain infantile
fantasies. In the best cases, things work out in a “nothing better to do so let’s go save this plane” sort of way, as in Gideon Jura’s discovery of the
Eldrazi on Zendikar. Characters such as Tibalt point to a nastier pattern: visit a plane, do all sorts of unspeakable things, and skip town before the cops
arrive. Planeswalking is a sociopath’s dream.

Half-devil sociopath…with your number.

As I’ve heard from more than a few friends of mine, “children change everything.” Finances, priorities… a planeswalker raising a baby likely would see
things differently from childless counterparts. Despite the occasional protection instinct raised by a threat to family, such as siblings or parents,
there’s never been a new-school planeswalker who’s gone straight-up Mama Bear or Papa Wolf the way, for example, Liam Neeson did in Taken. There’s never been a child to trigger such a reaction, never been a new-school
planeswalker to have that dimension.

Not everyone is called to get married or have children, and there’s no reason that individuals among the planeswalkers should be any different. There’s a
wide gulf though, between “not everyone” and “no one,” where matters now stand. No matter how fantastic the setting, audiences want their characters to
seem real, and as long as Magic’s planeswalkers by-and-large act as if they don’t know how to love, their characters will seem as flat as the card-stock on
which they’re printed.

I’d rather see planeswalkers become a family affair.