Planeswalker Stories I’d Like to See

John Dale Beety takes a look at the stories of the existing planeswalkers and then shares some he’d like to see with the planeswalkers of his imagination.

{Author’s Note: Wizards of the Coast LLC may use any of the ideas contained herein without compensation or credit. Any resemblance to planeswalkers in development is entirely coincidental.}

Imagine a planeswalker about whom you know absolutely nothing: "Planeswalker X." With only the current crop of planeswalker cards as your guide (no Dack Fayden and certainly no Urza), where do the odds lie for this planeswalker’s various traits? Here are a few in rough order of likelihood.

Sapient: Absolutely. Word of Mark Rosewater says that a non-sapient planeswalker wouldn’t be capable of supporting any storytelling weight and thus wouldn’t appear in Magic. A treefolk planeswalker? Possible. A tree planeswalker? Nope.

Able-Bodied: Almost without exception. Ajani Goldmane is missing an eye, but it isn’t shown as slowing him down much if at all; in the context of his pre-planeswalker life, Ajani’s white fur was much more problematic than his missing eye. Tezzeret’s etherium arm is supposed to be an upgrade.

Young: Vastly more likely than not. Nicol Bolas is the most obvious exception, with Sorin Markov and Karn also showing age in the centuries. Non-human planeswalkers can be hard to read, such as Vraska and Xenagos, though in the latter case I can’t imagine that growing old is high on any satyr’s wish list. Liliana’s cheating death and demons. Gideon Jura might be middle-aged. Still, between Venser, Tibalt, Jace Beleren, Koth of the Hammer, Ral Zarek, Chandra Nalaar, and many more, "young" is a good bet.

Family Lost/Missing/Insignificant: Significantly more likely than not. Chandra Nalaar is shown with her family in the webcomic Fuel for the Fire Part II, mostly as a device for Jace Beleren to manipulate. Ajani Goldmane lost a brother just before his spark ignited. Elspeth Tirel keeps looking for a home, and each time she finds happiness, it’s torn from her. Sorin Markov might be Innistrad aristocracy, but he’s not exactly welcome among his family. Domri Rade is an orphan. For many other planeswalkers, family just isn’t part of the character equation so far.

Male: Appreciably more likely than not. Only six planeswalkers with cards have been female: Chandra Nalaar, Elspeth Tirel, Liliana Vess, Nissa Revane, Tamiyo, and Vraska. The golem Karn traditionally is identified as male and seems to have a male gender identity. Ashiok is Ashiok. Compare that to more than a dozen planeswalkers clearly in the Testosterone Zone.

Human: Slightly more likely than not. Ajani Goldmane, Karn, Nicol Bolas, Nissa Revane, Sorin Markov, Tamiyo, Vraska, and Xenagos are the full exceptions. Tibalt is half-human, half-devil. Ashiok is Ashiok. Even if Tibalt and Ashiok are counted as "non-human," the humans outnumber them twelve to ten as of this writing, though non-humans are more likely to be one-offs than humans.

There are some further guesses that could be made within "human," but I’ll leave those aside for now. In practice, there are two hard limits for a planeswalker character: sapience and Magic’s status as an American game for ages 13 and up. (Tormented antihero who solves all problems through violence? Welcome aboard. Tormented drug-using antihero like Elric of Melnibone? Not happening. As for a bare breast, ask Janet Jackson how that one turned out.) Past that it’s up to commerce and storytelling.

In just a little over six years—Lorwyn debuted in October 2007—Magic has explored the new style of planeswalker through a variety of characters. The older I get, though, the less I enjoy the Holden Caulfields* who show up with considerable frequency. I get that they resonate with the young males who are Magic’s core audience; at 28, I’m aging out of that core, and I know it. I don’t mind Holden Caulfields as part of a rotating cast of personality types, but too many and they wear thin after a while.

*For those who haven’t read The Catcher in the Rye, here are the keys: wisdom about the universe that others won’t acknowledge (i.e. there are other planes of existence), alienation (a planeswalker default setting), cynicism (see previous), and so on. That said, most planeswalkers have better excuses to be Holden Caulfield types than Caulfield himself. Planeswalkers with Holden Caulfield traits include Jace Beleren, Garruk Wildspeaker, Domri Rade, Tibalt, Ral Zarek, and Xenagos. The red-green-blue trifecta is no accident, practically defining a teenaged male who’s both thinking about the world and hopped up on hormones. The thinking might be black-and-white, but the color alignment is opposite.

Just kvetching about Holden Caulfields won’t do any good of course. With that in mind and a hat-tip to Steven Brill’s "Stories I’d like to see" series, here’s my planeswalkerly version.

An Older Human Planeswalker Who Looks the Part

Liliana Vess may be the oldest human planeswalker of the current crop, but few would pick her out of a lineup. As I noted above, I’d guess Gideon Jura to "look" the oldest; others might go for Sarkhan Vol or Ral Zarek. When I look around the room at a StarCityGames.com Standard Open, I’m far from the oldest person there, and those who were in their 20s at Magic’s beginning are now in their 40s. An older human planeswalker would reflect this side of the Magic community. One approach is a "retired" planeswalker, one who like Elspeth Tirel while she lived on Bant has no desire to planeswalk again. Such a planeswalker still would be a powerful mage, but her or his use of spells might change focus.

Imagine a planeswalker—let’s call him Luka—who once traveled the planes researching and lifting plagues. Perhaps Luka has chosen one plane and moreover one hospital, which has emerged as a great center of healing. He cannot cure all the ills of the Multiverse, but he has found a place where the people mean more to him than just patients to treat. He has charisma and a knack for suggesting just the right prayer. Only a few among his colleagues, the wisest and quietest, know that the hospital’s miracles come from the living secret saint with an office on the second floor.

Luka might be done with the Multiverse, but the Multiverse isn’t done with him. Too many planeswalkers know his name, where to find him, how to call him. He complains when he is summoned to a strange place by a selfish planeswalker, he doles his gifts out sparingly, and he won’t take too many wounds of his own before he heads back to his hospital home. Build enough loyalty to him, though, and he will grant you his greatest boon before he goes.

A Planeswalker Adapted For His Or Her Home Plane But Not Others

Almost every plane in Magic, including all the major settings, is remarkably Earth-like, the presence of Magic notwithstanding. There is land and sea, Earth-level gravity, a breathable atmosphere, and the list goes on. An ocean world (Waterworld?) might support an entire underwater ecosystem of sapient dolphins and octopus-like cephalid schemers, but a human would tread water and then drown.

Imagine a group of humans who evolved without vocal cords. They interact psychically rather than orally, and to communicate across time they write much as Earth humans can in their own system. Among these humans librarian is one of the noblest occupations, and the youngest of their librarians, a woman named Page, also is a planeswalker. Her travels have brought many important scrolls, codices, and other written works to her people. Many praise her—the librarians most of all.

Page does not allow into her psychic communication how painful it is for her to go out into these other worlds. The first time she met another planeswalker, Page tried to greet him, but he took her psychic hello for a mind attack and threw a fireball at her face. She barely escaped. Since then Page has gained a reputation as an introverted mute—a few have incorrectly thought her deaf and lived to regret their vicious spoken insults—who will do business only through gestures and writing. The other librarians would not believe it because that is not the Page they know, yet on many planes it is true. Where people communicate by speech and not thought, Page struggles to rise above the silence.

The handful of planeswalkers who have built mutual trust with Page find her a great ally in battle. Her extensive reading has made her one of the most versatile talents in the Multiverse, a jack-of-all-trades. She is also a master of one: psychic combat. When Page is in a duel, no library is safe.

Two Planeswalkers Who Genuinely Love One Another

Not Liliana’s seduction of Jace for her own ends, but a deep and abiding love.

Imagine two planeswalkers who met and married before their sparks ignited. Already planeswalkers are one-in-a-million, and the odds of such a pairing are astronomical. Still, these planeswalkers’ love need not be probable, only possible. Make them a woman and a man—her Marjatta, him Simo—employed at an agricultural college. Marjatta is an artificer who creates intricate machines capable of picking the most delicate berries. Simo teaches the mathematics behind efficient plowing and fencing; on their home plane, so-called "magic squares" hold true magic.

Marjatta is pregnant with their first child. The birth is a difficult one, and Marjatta’s spark ignites, delivering her to a hospital—Luka’s hospital. The healers there save Marjatta and her child, a daughter. Luka comes by at once and explains to Marjatta what has just happened to her. When Marjatta speaks of going back with her baby, Luka shakes his head. Marjatta has an active planeswalker spark, but her daughter does not. For better or worse, Luka’s plane will be the child’s home, most likely forever.

From Simo’s point of view, his spouse has disappeared during childbirth without explanation. The midwife, sensing that she will be blamed, preemptively points the finger at Simo. The local police arrest Simo and torture him to get him to confess to his wife’s murder. When one of the torturers pushes too far, Simo’s spark ignites and takes him to the safety of Page’s library. With a psychic glance Page understands Simo’s situation, and in a mathematics text from Simo’s home plane they find a common written language. Soon Simo comprehends the horrible truth: returning to his college means certain death unless he does so with his wife, who could be anywhere in the Multiverse.

At Luka’s hospital and Page’s library, portraits are drawn from memory, descriptions written down, and planeswalker acquaintances asked: "Have you seen this woman?" "Have you seen this man?" "Would you please tell others?" Two sets of question-tendrils reach out into the Multiverse. Will they ever touch? Even if Simo and Marjatta are reunited someday, their lives will never be the same.


I hope you’ve enjoyed this look at a few possible planeswalker stories. Join me in two weeks, when I’ll discuss Luke the Evangelist as patron saint of physicians, the Kalevala, or Magic. Probably Magic.


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