rady Dommermuth, Jeremy Jarvis, Richard Whitters, Jenna Helland and I were in a meeting room at Wizards, dumping ideas onto a white board about Shards. It was a serious meeting; Brady had unearthed his secret stash of dry erase markers. It was early in the process; each shard had a smattering of thoughts scribbled under it, each world getting its own color of marker. The team of amazing concept artists had yet to be assembled, other than Richard, who doodled as we all talked.
The identity of each shard was still forming out of raw ideas, like the Earth slowly cooling after its fiery origins. Bant was coming along—we had a few solid details set down for it—but I still didn't feel as if we had captured its essence yet. We knew a lot of its trappings, its costuming, but we didn't know its soul. It was as if we had been stalking Bant from afar, taking lots of photos of it, but we had never walked up and asked it what its story was.
But then Magic art director Jeremy Jarvis made a comment.
"What if they don't wear armor on their backs?"
Camelot in the Savannah
Bant is a world cut off from red and black mana, a haven of order, honor, and community. It's a shard of Alara where traditions have thrived, protected by innumerable knightly orders, warrior angels, and a caste system designed to support the good of the many over the good of the few. Without the magic of death and chaos there to threaten convention and stability, and with angels flying as tireless symbols of peace and justice, its community traditions have become codified into law. Its monks study the words of ancient prayers. Its mages and clerics practice magic of healing, prevention, protection, and growth. Its druids and laborers care for the rolling fields, bringing nourishment to the population. And its knights—the finest in all of Alara's shards, not that they'd know it—practice the codes and forms of martial perfection, weighed down by the medallions of honor and patronage known as sigils.
Each sigil marks the recognition of a great deed and signifies a duty owed to the one who granted it.
The first step in creating Bant, like any Magic setting, was to think about its land, but that step led quickly into other steps for this world. Bant would be a world of Plains, Forests, and Islands, but it immediately became obvious that Bant's land, more than any other shard save one, would be influenced by the beings living there. It would be a world shaped to the needs of the community, a world with the white and green mana required for life and society to flourish combined with the blue mana that would foster resourceful forward progress.
But it still needed a strong hook. I believe it was Brady who first formulated Bant as "Camelot in the savannah." The look of the land eventually became shaped around those areas of southern Europe and northern Africa that hug the Mediterranean, the crystalline coasts edging the rolling fields of golden grain, the dry-dirt roads slicing through sun-drenched groves of olive and lemon, and the shining marble spires sweeping up over the savannah plain in glorious verticals. If the kingdom of Camelot had sprung up around Peloponnese or Surt, it might look a lot like Bant.
It'd be a beautiful place to visit, but a rigid society to be part of. Year after year of isolation from the rest of Alara has caused Bant's customs to solidify into an inflexible code of law. What were once military training exercises have become almost dancelike martial arts. What were once treaties of wartime conduct have become ritualized ceremonies of battlefield heroism, mano-a-mano slugfests of heavily-armored champions.
The armor design here is bulky, showy, and ceremonial. It's incredibly defensive, formed from overlapping plates of ornately-forged steel. It's impractical for offense, designed to catch the sun in its metallic curves (thereby signaling honor to the angels presiding over the battlefield) and display the knight's sigils of patronage more than to move effectively with the wearer. And yet it doesn't protect the back—because who on Bant would be so dishonorable as to strike someone from behind? After generations of ritualized combat enforced by the indefatigable eyes of monarchs and angels, that kind of protection just hasn't been needed.
Sigils and Castes
Bant is governed by a caste system, a tiered social organization to which all mortals belong. Bant's castes are:
Blessed – These are the nobles, monarchs, and community leaders of Bant, many of whom communicate directly with the angels.
Sighted – This is the caste of monks, clerics, seers, and other spiritual leaders. Interestingly, their status is not tied directly to the angels, but to the insights they bring on their own.
Sigiled – Any soldier or knight who has earned a sigil of patronage becomes part of the honorable Sigiled caste. Members of this caste are ranked according to how many sigils they bear.
– Most people on Bant are part of Mortar caste, the common folk who provide the workforce of the world's nations.
– The shameful Unbeholden caste is composed of undisciplined lawbreakers.
Many on Bant believe that through noble deeds, any person can ascend through the castes, and that the noblest of Blessed-caste might become an angel.
The strength of Bant's caste system is the unfailing loyalty of its meekest members
(Knight-Captain of Eos)
The main flavor expression of the exalted mechanic comes in the form of sigils. These medallions of honor and patronage may be given out by towns, knightly orders, Blessed- or Sighted-caste individuals, and others. The more exalted creatures you have, the more "sigils" (+1/+1 bonuses) they grant to their champion, who marches out into single combat with the strength of the community behind him or her. Exalted is the power of the community rallied behind an individual.
Leotau, Rhoxes, and Aven
The leotau (LEE-oh-tow, last syllable rhymes with "brow") are the mighty lionlike steeds ridden by many knights of Bant. They're semi-intelligent, not capable of speech but smarter than most other animals of the realm, and blessed with a combination of gallant ferocity and intense nobility that make them enviable chargers in battle.
Leotau are strange animals in that they have manes and coats like lions, but hooves and thick, sturdy legs like Clydesdale horses. Some planeswalkers suspect that their evolution diverged from the same ancestor that led to the nacatl, Naya's race of leonin (catfolk). Note that not all of Bant's cavalry ride leotau; you can definitely find some horse-riders along the coastal areas of Valeron and Jhess, and even the savannah interior of Eos.
Even with soldiers and knights and all their bulky armor, we knew we needed more solid bodies in Bant. There would be 3/3s (and, as it turned out, the occasional 5/7!) showing up in this shard, so we wanted a tough race to fill that role. Loxodons got benched this time around, and instead we looked to the card Rhox (in its Tenth Edition incarnation, the humanoid rhino—note that Rhox's creature type is now Rhino Beast in Oracle) for inspiration.
Rhoxes are the ascetics and warrior-monks of Bant. They earn sigils just like any other worthy soul on the plane, and can be both the fiercest combatants on the battlefield and the most enlightened thinkers in the monastery. Rhoxes are characteristically terse and gruff. If you hear advice from a rhox, take it, as it might be the only thing you hear from him or her all day.
While rhoxes provide the "heavy ground body" role, aven fill the "non-angel flyer" role in Bant. The aven here are similar to those found in Otaria—humanoid birds of prey with a proud culture and deep insights into the world provided by their lofty perspective. Some Mortar-caste believe that aven are related to the angels, though most stop short of actually worshipping them.
The Magic of Bant
Bant was the shard that led us to the idea that the shards' missing mana leads to a lack of magic of that type rather than a lack of phenomena normally associated with that color. Bant has no fire or rage magic—except for planeswalkers, no mages there can summon red mana to conjure a fire elemental or to create flows of lava from their fingertips. It also has no death or destruction magic—except for planeswalkers, no mages there can summon black mana to animate the dead or rip a person's soul asunder. It's a world where protection magic is a matter of course, and the worst punishment is temporary banishment.
Rebels and other malcontents forced into the ritual awake lost in Topa's vast savannahs. Those who find their way back return humble and repentant.
Sigils carry a lot of the magic of Bant. They can confer protection, healing magic, and the grace of the angels. Some say that there once were tainted sigils that conferred dire magic, but those went away when the angels cast the demons out of the plane.
Centuries of careful practice have elevated the casting of protective spells to an art form. What little offensive magic remains on Bant stands little chance of breaching them. (Hindering Light)
There's much more about Bant in A Planeswalker's Guide to Alara, including detail on specific sigils, background on some of the legends of Bant, and the system of ranks of the angels. If you've enjoyed today's column, I encourage you to check out the Guide!
Letter of the Week
For this week's letter, we skip ahead a bit to Esper Week.
Dear Doug Beyer,
I was just curious, with all the creatures in the Esper shard being artifact creatures, why didn't Tezzeret get the card type planeswalker/artifact? In the picture, he's clearly half man, half machine. Did this just make him too vulnerable to more kinds of removal?
We talked about this for a looong time, and when it came down to it, development let us, the creative team, make the call on whether Tezzeret would have the artifact type or not. On the one hand, yes, Tezzeret has etherium in him, and all creatures on Esper have etherium in them, and the representation of having etherium infused into oneself is to be an artifact creature. So Tezzeret should be an artifact, right? "Artifact Planeswalker – Tezzeret"? Complete with crazy new artifact planeswalker frame, and Tinkerability?
On the other hand, planeswalkers are special. They break the rules. When their spark ignites, they stop becoming "creatures" in the regular sense; they become untethered from their world of origin and from the laws that govern it. They can learn the advantages of a world without being subject to its weaknesses. They're mythic beings that are greater than both Shatter and Tinker (and yet, pretty vulnerable to Oblivion Ring and Flame Javelin).
In the end, it came down to a gut feeling. Tezzeret shouldn't be an artifact, because "planeswalker" should trump any other type. Tezzeret isn't an Artifact Planeswalker for the same reason that Ajani Goldmane isn't a Creature Planeswalker – Ajani Cat Warrior. Other characteristics just get drowned out by planeswalkerness. Ajani gave up creaturehood when his brother died and his spark ignited, and in the same way, Tezzeret gave up artifact-creaturehood. It was a tough decision, but as planeswalkers become a fixture of the game, I think we'll see that it was the right one.
Dear Doug Beyer,
Regarding your article "Alive and Unwell":
Just say yes or no. Do the planes ever interact with each other in Conflux and "Scissors"?
What, Mike, do you think I would be coy about this question? You seem to anticipate a dodgy answer about this, as if answering a question about a future set would cause me to dance around the issue or something. If you were in my shoes, wouldn't you only print the question if you were willing to answer it in some sort of non-roundabout way?
"Non-roundabout," ha! That's good stuff.
Web Comic Wednesday!
Vorthosian news flash! Today is the premiere episode of our new web comic Flight of the White Cat, a story about the nacatl planeswalker and native of Naya, Ajani Goldmane. Part One is up now, and Parts Two and Three will appear in Magic Arcana next Wednesday and the Wednesday after that. Enjoy!