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Savoring Flavor: Examining The Planeswalkers Of Adventures In The Forgotten Realms

Karington Hess continues his flavorful exploration of the MTG / D&D crossover with the planeswalkers of Adventures in the Forgotten Realms.

Ellywick Tumblestrum, illustrated by Anna Steinbauer

Welcome back, adventurer! I hope the road has treated you well. The fire of the hearth beckons you and we have much to discuss. Tell me; what do you know of planeswalkers? A great deal I am told! But did you know that these powerful beings exist even here in the Forgotten Realms?!

Yesterday, we explored several of the legendary creatures from Adventures in the Forgotten Realms. And as I mentioned, many of those creatures could have been represented as planeswalkers but were passed up in favor of others. Today, we will explore all of the new planeswalkers in the set and see how they measure up against the Dungeons & Dragons lore.

Zariel, Archduke of Avernus

Once upon a time, Zariel possessed a good and just heart like the rest of her kin from the Seven Heavens of Mount Celestia. Her fellow angels were content to watch the Blood War, the eternal conflict between Demons and Devils, without intervening. After centuries of sitting on the sidelines, watching, and being forced to avoid the conflict, Zariel had enough. She gathered a group of mortal followers known as the Hellriders and led them, filled with righteous purpose, into the first layer of hell itself (known as Avernus).

Initially, Zariel’s forces fared well but they were quickly overwhelmed and routed. The defeat was costly even for Zariel, who lost her hand. Eventually she was captured and brought before Asmodeus, who offered Zariel everything she ever wanted — a place in the Blood War. Zariel fell from grace and now rules over Avernus, the first layer of the nine hells, as its Archduke. In classic fiendish fashion, Zariel supplanted the pit fiend Bel, who now serves as her lieutenant.

Zariel’s approach to the Blood War is much more aggressive than her predecessor’s, as she lives for battle, and Avernus, once a bustling hub of trade, is now a war-torn desolate wasteland. In order to further her goals, Zariel needs a fresh supply of mortal souls to fuel her armies and isn’t above destroying whole cities on the mortal plane in order to accomplish this. Zariel is the main villain in the module Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus, in which the players must descend into hell itself to deal with Zariel; but can a creature so far gone be redeemed?

So now that we know Zariel’s backstory, how does her card stack up? Zariel, Archduke of Avernus is a red planeswalker who bears the title bestowed to her by Asmodeus. Zariel traveled from Celestia, to the mortal realm, to Avernus, and thus, she truly deserves the title of planeswalker. She comes in with four loyalty and has the following abilities:

+1: Creatures you control get +1/+0 and gain haste until end of turn.

0: Create a 1/1 red Devil creature token with “When this creature dies, it deals 1 damage to any target.”

−6: You get an emblem with “At the end of the first combat phase on your turn, untap target creature you control. After this phase, there is an additional combat phase.”

The first ability represents Zariel’s thirst for battle and driving her fiendish forces towards battle as soon as they arrive in hell. Her second ability represents her dragging souls into hell to transform them into devils for her army. Her final ability represents the eternal nature of the Blood War as the cyclical conflict that will never truly end. Zariel is a fantastic villain in Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus and deserves her spot in the set. You don’t get much scarier than a fallen angel leading devils into battle across a burning hellscape.

Grade: A

Mordenkainen

In the Forgotten Realms, few mortals are as well-known, well-travelled, or as powerful as the archmage Mordenkainen. Originally from the world of Greyhawk, the wizard is a master of the craft and as such has several spells named after him, including Mordenkainen’s Faithful Hound, which conjures a phantom watchdog; Mordenkainen’s Sword, which creates a sword made of pure force to attack your foes; and Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Mansion, which is an extradimensional dwelling that’s bigger on the inside! He’s also the author of Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes, a guide to the eternal wars of the multiverse complete with the archmage’s musings.

Mordenkainen was also the leader of a group of wizards known as the Circle of Eight. This group included other famous spell inventors, such as Bigby and Tenser. According to legend, Mordenkainen traveled to many realms, including Earth, to discuss matters with his good friend Elminster Aumar. The Circle of Eight was brought down by the lich god Vecna in an attempt to increase Vecna’s bid for increased divine power.

Mordenkainen is obsessed with maintaining the balance of the universe. This is especially true in regards to the Blood War. Mordenkainen keeps a finger on each end of the scale to keep it from tipping too quickly to one side or the other. In his view, maintaining this balance is paramount lest the multiverse slip into chaos.

Mordenkainen has traversed the multiverse and has travelled to the dark land of Barovia, home of the vampire lord Strahd von Zarovich. Mordenkainen’s goal was to free Barovia’s people from the clutches of the vampire. He openly challenged the vampire lord and was cast from a high bridge into the swirling waterfall below. Mordenkainen barely survived the encounter and lost his book of magic spells, his staff, and his mind. He eventually returned to the Forgotten Realms and, with the help of his friend and confidant Elminster, began the road to recovery.

Mordenkainen currently inhabits the Tower of Urm, a magical tower that allows him to travel throughout the multiverse. One of his known destinations is Avernus, where he studies the effects the Nine Hells have on casting spells and, of course, ensures that neither demonic nor devilish forces gain too much of an advantage.

It’s very clear that Mordenkainen is a very powerful and well-known caster of spells in the Forgotten Realms, but how does his card measure up lorewise? Mordenkainen is a blue planeswalker with the following abilities: 

+2: Draw two cards, then put a card from your hand on the bottom of your library.

−2: Create a blue Dog Illusion creature token with “This creature’s power and toughness are each equal to twice the number of cards in your hand.”

−10: Exchange your hand and library, then shuffle. You get an emblem with “You have no maximum hand size.”

The first ability, while powerful, is not very flavorful. Perhaps this is an interpretation of Mordenkainen and the cosmic balance? The second ability is great, as it’s a clear representation of one of the archmage’s most famous spells: Mordenkainen’s Faithful Hound. The final ability is also relatively unclear. Perhaps they’re trying to represent the vastness of the archmage’s knowledge that he has obtained while traveling the multiverse? While I only think one of his abilities is truly flavorful, I think that this is a good card and I’m happy to see Mordenkainen represented in the set.

Grade: B

Lolth, Spider Queen

For crimes against the other elven deities, Lolth was transformed into a demon reflecting her current form, a horrifying combination of a huge spider mixed with a female drow elf. She was then exiled along with her followers and carved out the 66th layer of the abyss, the demon web pits, as her home. In the City of Menzoberranzan, the drow elves venerate their evil goddess, Lolth, the Spider Queen.

An evil and chaotic deity, Lolth encourages disharmony and conflict amongst her followers and rewards treachery and cruelty. Lolth also grants those in her favor glimpses of insight. Worship of Lolth is pervasive throughout Menzoberranzan, which is ruled over by a council of eight matriarchs who constantly scheme and plot each other’s downfall. It’s permissible under the watchful gaze of Lolth to completely annihilate a rival noble house, so long as all witnesses are also permanently silenced. In this way, the drow elves improve their standing with the Spider Queen or their station, the most important part of drow culture.

Lolth also demands sacrifice. Drizzt Do’Urden was nearly sacrificed to the Spider Queen as a child and his father Zakinifein ultimately was sacrificed to appease this bloodthirsty deity. Earning Lolth’s favor can be as dangerous as losing her favor, and with the mercurial deity, favor can be fleeting. The entire city bends to her whim and even harming a spider accidentally is a crime punishable by death. 

As an arachnophobe, I find Lolth terrifying. But does this terror translate? She’s a black planeswalker with the following abilities:

Whenever a creature you control dies, put a loyalty counter on Lolth, Spider Queen.

0: You draw a card and you lose 1 life.

−3: Create two 2/1 black Spider creature tokens with menace and reach.

−8: You get an emblem with “Whenever an opponent is dealt combat damage by one or more creatures you control, if that player lost less than 8 life this turn, they lose life equal to the difference.”

Lolth’s first ability reflects her requirement for sacrifice. In fact, this is the only way to gain Lolth’s favor, as all of her other abilities are either negative abilities or cost zero. Her second ability is Lolth giving her blessing, but again it requires a sacrifice. Her third ability is costly but gives us the Spider Queen’s favored creatures — Spiders. Her ultimate ability is the full reflection of the Spider Queen’s favor.

For followers of Lolth, eight, the number of legs of a spider, is an important number. I think this card fully encapsulates Lolth’s fickle nature and her uncaring need for sacrifice.

Grade: A

Grand Master of Flowers

Bahamut, the dragon god of justice, is purportedly the only platinum dragon in existence. It is said that as a platinum dragon god, his scales were nigh-impenetrable. Though Bahamut is powerful, he prefers to approach his adversaries with compassion and empathy, only resorting to using his powerful cold breath weapon and disintegrating roar as a last resort. His followers were mainly metallic dragons, especially gold, silver, and brass, but he was also revered by bronze and copper.

His council includes seven powerful and ancient gold dragons who often travel with him. His sister Tiamat, queen of the evil chromatic dragons, represents everything that Bahamut stands against. The two are fierce rivals locked in an eternal struggle. Bahamut is ever-vigilant and actively works to prevent the spread of Tiamat’s Evil.

When not wandering the mortal realm in disguise, Bahamut’s home is on Celestia upon which he keeps a shining palace. Bahamut often visits the mortal realm under the guise of an old man dressed in simple clothing and accompanied by seven canaries. As with their master’s disguise, these simple birds are more than meets the eye. They are actually the aforementioned ancient gold dragon council traveling with their master to keep him safe. Woe to those who would attempt harm on Bahamut in disguise!

Here is where it gets interesting. Currently, Grand Master of Flowers is a title given to the leader of the Monastery of the Yellow Rose. There has not been a connection that I could find between Bahamut and the Monastery until now. Perhaps Bahamut is now travelling the world under the guise of the Grand Master of Flowers? I hope we learn more soon!

So how does this card measure up to the platinum dragon god of justice? Let’s take a closer look! Grand Master of Flowers is a white planeswalker. All of this is on-brand for Bahamut:

As long as Grand Master of Flowers has seven or more loyalty counters on him, he’s a 7/7 Dragon God creature with flying and indestructible.

+1: Target creature without first strike, double strike, or vigilance can’t attack or block until your next turn.

+1: Search your library and/or graveyard for a card named Monk of the Open Hand, reveal it, and put it into your hand. If you search your library this way, shuffle.

His static ability gives him the same power and toughness as his vile sister Tiamat (who is also in Adventures in the Forgotten Realms), making them the perfect pair. He’s also a Dragon God with flying and indestructible, matching his divine status. I assume this ability shows the mercy of Bahamut as he prevents certain creatures from attacking for a turn. His last ability interests me, as we do not have the connection.

In the art of Monk of the Open Hand, we can also see one of Bahamut’s canaries guiding the monk’s strikes! I can’t wait to see what the future has in store for this draconic deity!

As we just don’t have a clear link between Bahamut and the Grand Master of Flowers at this time, I give this card the following grade. 

Grade: B

Ellywick Tumblestrum

Ellywick Tumblestrum, the greatest bard in the multiverse thanks to a lucky pull from The Deck of Many Things, is a relatively new character. Ellywick, a gnome bard, was granted a wish after pulling the moon card from The Deck of Many Things. Her wish? To be the greatest bard in the multiverse, of course! 

She now travels the multiverse with her frog companion named Groak, and her performances before both the Summer Queen and the Queen of Air and Darkness resulted in her being gifted her otherworldly lute, named Morning Mist. She is currently adventuring with the wizard Hama Pashar, the paladin Nadaar, and the ranger Varis. It is reported that Ellywick is to be featured in the new D&D module, The Wild Beyond the Witchlight. Other than that, not much is known about Ellywick; however, I am sure we will learn more soon!

Without further ado, let’s take a closer look at Ellywick’s card and see how she stacks up!

+1: Venture into the dungeon. (Enter the first room or advance to the next room.)

−2: Look at the top six cards of your library. You may reveal a creature card from among them and put it into your hand. If it’s legendary, you gain 3 life. Put the rest on the bottom of your library in a random order.

−7: You get an emblem with “Creatures you control have trample and haste and get +2/+2 for each differently named dungeon you’ve completed.”

As an adventurer, Ellywick is obviously going to spend time venturing into various dungeons, which is represented in the first ability. I imagine the second ability might refer to her attracting other legendary creatures to join her in adventuring, but it is uncertain. Her ultimate ability is clearly a reference to her being a bard and inspiring her friends; she also “levels up” as she completes different challenges.

Without too much to go on, it is hard to give this card a grade. I do hope we learn more about Ellywick soon as she seems to be an interesting character! 

Grade: C+

I hope you enjoyed this article. It was truly a labor of love. If you are a Dungeons & Dragons fan like myself and want to read more of my musings about dungeons, dragons, and Game Master advice, check out my blog.

While I am in no way disappointed by the choices made here and I definitely understand that this set is not War of the Spark with infinite slots for planeswalkers, the fact remains that there were a lot of opportunities for additional planeswalking cards such as Acererak, Asmodeus, Vecna, Tasha, Elminster, and more.

So what did you think of my assessment of the flavor of these cards? What is your favorite planeswalker from Adventures in the Forgotten Realms?