Sienira's Facets: The Facets Of Sienira
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As you'll notice looking at the cardlist, each card type is associated with a different pair of colours:
- Artifacts are WHITE-blue. The plane of Sienira has a number of reclusive human and dwarven artificers who sit off in their towers called musearies, crafting artifacts and acquiring reclusive reputations.
- Instants are BLUE-black. The crime in the towns and cities of Sienira is ruled by several criminal families of rogues who are frequently making, discovering and altering plots against each other.
- Sorceries are BLACK-red. The most visible religion is the Zerian church, who worship the demon Eharot with elaborate and disturbing rituals. The clerics are often seen accompanied by creepy elementals, summoned by their assorted rites and pacts with the demon.
- Lands are RED-green. The steppes, forests and wild spaces between towns are home to many fierce beasts and hermit shamans, who have their own culture. Establishing a mana bond to an area is staking a claim to it, and the local shamans will contest you for it, or defer to you if you have more power.
- Enchantments are GREEN-white. The high society of Sienira are obsessive about enhancing their experience. They like to set up a villa or stately home in a natural setting, but then hire enchanters to layer magical effect upon magical effect to appease their sense of aesthetics, augmenting reality to reveal the way nature wants to be.
I didn't want a "oh look, the world's at war" like about half of Magic sets seem to have. I wanted more a feeling of "this is a world, with tensions and different groups with different aims, and everyday people going about their lives."
I was looking for five particular groups in this setting that could be associated with a card type and with two of the five colours. I then tried to use the ideas I had for the flavour of those groups to suggest card ideas, so flavour isn't just tacked on to the design, but influencing it as it's influenced by it.
The green-white group of enchanters is perhaps the most unusual. A lot of the upper class are in this group: it's become fashionable to take a country stately home and grounds, and augment them massively with layer after layer of magical enhancements. These augmented mansions are claaed mirrorglades.
One particularly prominent mirrorglade is the Ralatine, in a forest near the city of Terina. Its owner is an arrogant duchess and enchantress named Atine, who's unusual in that she applies most of the augments to her mansion herself rather than hiring enchanters to do it for her. She's liberally enhanced every part of her home and its extensive grounds with magic, and is rather proud of her work. Designing enchantments is quite a prestigious role in this society, so although it's unusual for a noble to do it herself, it's certainly not looked down on.
This is a fairly unusual setting for Magic: the Gathering, and it lends itself to some card names and terms that aren't as traditionally warlike as many sets. But there's still plenty of scope for conflict.
The primary-white-secondary-blue sphere is all about artifacts. The flavour focus is on magesmiths, a general term for any artificer who imbues his creations with magic somehow. Magesmiths are mainly human or dwarven, and live in structures called musearies, which are something between workshops, shops and display rooms. These often take the form of towers with gates locked and warded except on sale days: many magesmiths are eccentric and reclusive.
Three notable musearies feature in card names and flavour text. Ironcaste is the home of Tanith, a grizzled human smith who tolerates a number of other apprentices and journeymen. Soliforge is the most famous dwarven museary, and weapons and equipment from there are particularly highly prized (not just because they take some persuading to sell most of it). Atrapice is unusual in that it's a museary in an urban area: its tower is one of the landmarks of the city of Ridan. There are occasional faerie magesmiths working here, and they have been known to hire Elusi as guards.
Flavour-wise, there's not much question that blue and white have a strong affinity for artifacts (as it were). The main aim of this sphere was to distance it from the blue-white-black artifacts shard of Esper. To that end, I set a firm rule that no artifacts would have coloured mana in their mana costs: there's a firm delineation between the artifacts and the artificers here. A few of the white cards care about equipment rather than just any artifacts, because that seems to be clearly within this remit. I did also make occasional efforts to keep distance from the Azorius, Ravnica's white-blue guild, but that was pretty easy as the concepts don't have much in common.
The primary-blue-secondary-black sphere is themed around instants. The flavour here is that these cards represent members of several criminal factions in the urban underworld of the setting. These mafia-style gangs are constantly struggling for power, making plots and schemes and counter-plots, shifting their plans at the last minute in response to new information. There's a heavy black market in information and they often run raids on each other's hideouts. When a confrontation between two gangs does happen it's a spectacular blur of action and reaction, bait and bluff and swift changes of tactics.
There are a few specific factions whose names feature on cards. The Ecriot are information dealers whose raids tend to be focused on stealth, backed up by fierce drakes when brawn is needed. The Spidra are vampire drug barons, running a network of dealers of an addictive substance called chaze. The Condri are malicious thugs with faerie messengers. These three are factions in constant rivalry with each other. But all of them hold a nervous respect for the Elusi, who are elite and aloof infiltrators, practically undetectable mercenaries with no affiliation except to those who pay them. Each of the first three gangs is headed by a Don, represented by a legendary creature. The Ecriot appear on blue cards, the Spidra on black, and the Condri on both.
Does this fit the flavour of blue-black? Organised crime is quite classically black, but there's a long history of blue having infiltrators, dodgy merchants, information dealers and so on. Blue values knowledge and preparation, and doesn't much care whether its means are legal or not. Mechanically, on the other hand, caring about instants is classically blue; black doesn't have much history of cards which specifically like either instants or sorceries, but there'd nothing out-of-pie about it – it's no more a stretch of the colour pie than Lorwyn – Shadowmoor putting merfolk in white and black.
Whenever designing a group in Magic, there's always a need to distance it from other similar groups in other Magic sets in the past. In this case, it's the Dimir, who were a secretive underworld group of infiltrators. But they had their own purposes; they weren't really organised crime – that was the Orzhov's role – and they were very united, their conflict being against the law enforcers. My blue-black factions' primary rivalry is with each other.
The primary-black-secondary-red sphere is themed around sorceries, and its flavour is all about the Zerian church, one of the major religions in the setting. They're unashamedly a church to a demon, Eharot. They have dark chapels in most villages, and major cathedrals in the big cities. They're very big on ritual and ceremony, because that's the tie with the mechanic – most of the sorceries in these colours are flavoured as church rites of some kind. Many of the rites of the church have a very visible and specific effect. A number of them summon beings from dark etherial planes: those beings have creature type Elemental in this set. They're also correspondingly big on hierarchy: there are cardinals at the top, assorted ranks of clergy below, and the mostly terrified laity.
Oh, they're also about half vampires. I'm following Wizards' lead from Zendikar of treating Vampire as a common race type: this world's society has a lot of vampires in, and they often gravitate towards the Zerian church. The rest of the clergy are ogres or humans.
One other aspect to mention about the Zerians is their black and red aspects. The black is fairly clear: demon worship, unholy rituals, power-hungry leaders – these are all very black. The red is a bit trickier. The slant I ended up with was that the red Zerians are those who care about the emotional feelings of worship services, or about religious freedom. Emotions are an aspect of red's flavour that's well-established but rarely represented on cards; freedom is generally a red trait as well, though it fits white too. Many of the red Zerian clerics are actually heretics of some kind.
Once again I find myself running the risk of being too similar to a Ravnica guild: the groups my Zerian church want to avoid being too similar to are the Rakdos (a black-red cult to a demon) and the Orzhov (a black-white "organised religion" church). Differentiating from the Rakdos was fairly easy - just major on the ritualised meetings and avoid any themes of torture or hedonism and it's fine.
Differentiating from the Orzhov was a little more of a problem. I tried to achieve this by making the Zerians really care about their dark rituals. They're not businesspeople, and they're generally not corrupt and after extorting cash from the laity the way the Orzhov do. Many Zerian bishops and cardinals are in it for the power, because that's a very black trait; but I think there are enough differences from the Orzhov for it to be okay. The Orzhov also had thrulls and spirits rather than elementals and vampires.
One pleasing aspect of making the Zerians authentic rather than corrupt, and holding passionate beliefs rather than being in it for the cash or the socialising, is that they end up a bit more sympathetic. They're still demon-worshippers and often power-hungry, but nonetheless, taking a role that could naturally be the villains of the setting and casting them in a more nuanced light is rather satisfying.
And then we have the primary-red-secondary-green sphere, mechanically focused on lands. These are associated with the wilderness spaces between and around the setting's cities. Soliforge and Ridan are both in high, mountainous country, and the road between them goes through rugged steppe country called Khert where many orc and ogre barbarians lurk.
The direct road from the Atrapice side of Ridan down to Terina on the plains is notoriously dangerous, passing beside a vast lake of lava known as Rayja. So travellers tend to take the more circuitous route through the Heaten Steppes and on through Darkwood, a forbidding forest of ferocious beasts apart from the grounds of scattered mirrorglades. All these regions are home to a number of shamans who're deeply attuned to their lands, and can sense travellers approaching from miles away. If a passing mage were to try to establish a mana bond with their land, they'd take that as a challenge, and many of them are skilled lavamancers.
When designing these cards I acquired a new respect for the Zendikar design team. It's really hard to make interesting cards that care about lands (fallingman's excellent work on Verdia notwithstanding). I tried not to reuse too many ideas from Zendikar, despite how much the set wanted (for example) a red common sorcery burn spell with "sacrifice a land" as an additional cost. But there are a few cards in the set that have abilities identical to the "landfall" abilities in Zendikar. I decided it wasn't worth going to contortions to avoid this. I have one cycle of commons which get +2 when one of their associated card types enters the battlefield (for permanents); for lands, this is identical to landfall, but oh well. I didn't give mine the "landfall" ability word, as I think this is consistent with Wizards' policies: they didn't give Chub Toad bushido. This set would have really liked Plated Geopede and Magma Rift, and perhaps in development I'll swap them in for the cards that have those slots at the moment.
As a red-green fierce wilderness group, comparisons are natural with the Gruul. I'm not that bothered about that; there are enough differences flavour-wise. And mechanically, there's much more overlap with Zendikar.
Mechanically, it was really tricky coming up with interesting things for red to do with lands. Green always gets to interact with lands, and it was partly for that reason I avoided having green the major colour for lands, in the same way as I deliberately avoided having blue be the major colour for artifacts. But this did mean I had a lot of work looking for effects that could fit in red and interact with lands. A few of the set's red cards could have been printed in green, but not that many. It did mean it took some unusual turns though. There are a vertical cycle of enchant land Auras in red, and a few in green as well, with both colours getting a rare enchant land which affects all your enchanted lands equally. Most sets wouldn't have that.
This isn't Lorwyn, where every creature is in one of the tribes. There are cards associated with multiple of the spheres, particularly a couple of cycles which key off both card types for a given colour. The majority of the cards don't specifically mention one of the five themed card types, but just work fairly well in one or more of those decks. And there are a number of other cards which don't have anything to do with the theme explicitly, but I think will be fun to play with.