Posted on June 24, 2009 by Flames
Alara, once a beautiful land mass enriched with all the colors of mana, is now a shattered remnant of its former self. It is now divided into five separate planes, each one lacking in certain mana and overly abundant in others. Each plane takes on defining characteristics from each of its mana sources, making life on the planes a fight for survival.
The five planes are Bant, Esper, Grixis, Jund and Naya. Quickly to describe each plane here is a quick summary of each plane. Bant lacks black and red mana. Its citizens follow justice and a very high standard of nobility. Esper is a plane lacking Red and Green mana. Its plane is filled with tumultuous waters, mages and beautiful Sphinxes said to rule and offer great insight and guidance to those they feel worthy of talking to amongst the plane. Grixis is the dead plane, lacking white and green mana. This planes is filled with the practitioners of death magic. Necromancers, fleshcrafters and vampires all take life from the very plane itself. Jund is the plane which lacks blue and white mana. This is a land of dragons and fire. Jungles and wild denizens rule this plane. Naya lacks blue and black mana. Its citizens include Elves, leonine and many hedonistic humans. If it were not for the giant fearful beasts sometimes worshiped as gods this plane could be a paradise.
The guide itself does a very nice job breaking up the different planes. It gives quick rundowns on all the species you would find there, some brief history as well as each plane wishes to see. It also gives a very good indication of the dangers of traveling to each plane. A traveler can get a good sense of how to understand the culture they find themselves in.
After an overview of all the planes it also gives a well rounded layout of planeswalkers that can be found on each plane. It includes their species, current residence, home, and magic specialties. There is only one plane that does not have a listed resident planeswalker and that is Grixis. It is very clearly stated that Grixis should be a place to travel to study only, and to not make your home their too long. Death and plague rule the land, so it makes sense nobody wishes to live amongst that.
There are no maps included in the guide. That means a planeswalker has to rely on either citizen directions, or their own knowledge of navigation.
On the artistic side, the drawings and pictures offered in the book are amazing. As always Magic the Gathering has done a wonderful job in illustrating their world. There are both color as well as travel sketches of people, artifacts and monsters throughout the book. Many different artists offer a variety of styles and each plane that is depicted has a different feel as well. Each piece flows and offers a wonderful visual aid to help your imagination while reading of faraway lands.
This book a good read for many different reasons. For the geek in all of us, it is a setting for Magic the Gathering. How much geekier can you get then actually portraying dueling planeswalkers in certain lands, narrating your actions, magic and monsters? For those of us that appreciate art there is plenty of visual eye candy. For some of us that just like reading the stories that expand our imagination, roleplaying language or storytelling ability, this is a good reference for inspiration.
Some of the drawbacks are that the basic information about the mana in each plane is very hard to find. I had to flip around the book to find it. There are also no maps, not even one for how Alara is layed out. That can get kind of confusing when you think about how planeswalkers would travel around, which is one thing I questioned. Then again I am not a planeswalker, so that information may not be privy to me anyway.
The breakdown of the book, information within each chapter, and the visual aids all in this book make it definitely something worth checking out. It added more to my plain dueling decks I bought in this setting then just epic Angel vs. Demons battling it out. It gives meaning to many of the flavor texts, art and overall concepts to the deck. Another addition to this book would be the planes based decks, such as Bant on the March and Grixis Shambling Army.
Review by Crystal Mazur