What Issues Exist that May Complicate a Return to Alara?

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Posted on Sept. 25, 2018, 8:47 p.m. by DemonDragonJ

Mark Rosewater has said on his Tumblr page that it currently is more a matter of if WotC shall ever return to Alara than when they shall, which displeases me, because Alara is one of my favorite planes and the Alara block is one of my favorite blocks in the game.

Therefore, I wish to start a discussion about why a return to Alara is unlikely to occur in the near future, to see what everyone else has to say about this.

Since the Alara block focused heavily on multicolored cards, I imagine that that may be an issue, since multicolored cards require a very dedicated mana base to be used reliably.

What does everyone else say about this? What reasons are there that may complicate a potential return to Alara?

TypicalTimmy says... #2

If you think about it, they can easily return to Tarkir.

Alara is all the Shards. Tarkir is all of the Wedges.

So it makes literally no sense why they can do one but not the other.

Bump for interest.

September 25, 2018 9:01 p.m.

DragonKing90 says... #3

i doubt that multicolored cards are the issue considering we're returning to ravnica now. i've only ever read one of the books so i don't know much about MTG lore, but if we're going to return to certain planes for a 3rd time i see no reason why others cant be revisited for a 2nd time. I for one want a return to Kamigawa.

September 25, 2018 10:26 p.m.

legendofa says... #4

I have wanted to see a return to Alara for a long time now. The multicolor identity exploration and the story opportunities should lend themselves to a revisit. Maybe I'm biased because Alara was the block I really got into the game, but I see absolutely no reason why returning should be if instead of when. Ravnica's got the two-color system covered pretty well by now. Exploring the world of three-color shards is apparently only a maybe, and the wedges have only really had Apocalypse and Khans of Tarkir, which quickly became another two-color set with Dragons of Tarkir. What response data do the designers have that suggests players don't want three-color exploration?

September 25, 2018 10:51 p.m.

cdkime says... #5

Story-wise, there's a bit of a problem--the shards of Alara have been rejoined, and now the plane flows with all the colours of mana. The major story of the plane is done, and, as many writers have learned, it's pretty hard to revisit a world that's finished.

Regarding design, Wizards has said it's a lot harder to design for three colours than two. With two, you can make mechanics that skirt the line between the colours (surveil is a mix of Blue's top card manipulation and Black's graveyard fun). Three requires mechanics that not only work on the tri-colour cards, but also on mono- or duel-coloured cards.

September 25, 2018 11:07 p.m.

I think it has more to do with the legends being non-human. It feels like in recent blocks they’ve gone away from the mystical parts of magic for a more grounded world with human planeswalkers. Ajani came from Alara but I can’t think of a non-human walker since then.

As soon as I write it, Angrath comes to mind.

Either way, I’d love a return to Alara but I also want them to explore new planes. Let’s not get stuck on going back to the same 5 planes for the next 20 years.

September 25, 2018 11:14 p.m.

legendofa says... #7

cdkime I disagree that the story of Alara is finished. The plane just underwent literally the single most important--I would say world-shattering, but that's going in the wrong direction--event in its history, and we got the barest snapshot of the aftereffects. To use an analogy from history, let's say Montezuma is sitting around being imperial, and he hears that some odd boats have landed nearby. He sends out a party to investigate, they meet strange people who want to know ¿dónde está el oro? A fight breaks out, and ---???--- It's like that, except on a literally universal scale. How have the shards, or whatever remains, developed, with the new influx of mana? What societies have developed, and what has collapsed? What happens next? The major story of Ravnica could have ended after Dissension, or after Dragon's Maze when Jace Guildpacted himself, but the writers kept writing.

The story is a little too planeswalker-centric right now, in my opinion, and I would like to see it move away from the Gatewatch after whatever happens in the next couple sets. I think it's time for a new, original, non-historical-fantasy plane, but Alara deserves a visit to see what's changed. Design might be difficult, but that's the point of their job, isn't it?

September 26, 2018 12:11 a.m.

TypicalTimmy says... #8

Just because Shards story finished doesn't mean it can't undergo another titanic disaster.

Look at Dominaria. If Coldsnap was "wrapping up" Dominaria, we wouldn't have returned.

We will probably revisit more "familiar" worlds first. Zendikar and such. You know, monocolored worlds first.

As for the mechanics, it's not too hard. R&D lacks creativity.

Here's one for Esper I literally just came up with.

  • Soul Exchange - When this creature is destroyed, you may instead tap exile another target permanent you control with Soulshift. If you do, tap this permanent and remove it from combat.

Here's one for Jund.

  • Ravage 1: When this creature deals combat damage to an opponent, put a +1/+1 counter on it.


  • Reclamation: Rather than paying this card's mana cost, you may pay an amount of life equal to it's converted mana cost. If you do, put it on the battlefield. It loses all types and becomes a land that is able to be tapped for the colors in it's identity. This counts as playing a land for the turn.

Admittedly that one is a bit bulky.

What else is there... Oh, Grixis.

  • Hemavice 2_("blood bind") - _Whenever you would draw a card, you may tap this creature. If you do, you lose 2 life and Scry 2.

That's a much more powerful one and would primarily be seen as Hemavice 1 or on Legendary creatures as to limit larger use.

What's last... Uh... Bant.

Phone is about dead so I can't do that one right now but you get the idea. It can be done. They just need to be creative

September 26, 2018 12:39 a.m.

Rzepkanut says... #9

They have said that they only plan to do multicolored themed sets every 5 or so years so the next time won't be for a while after this year at least.

September 26, 2018 7:18 a.m.

Vman says... #10

just say the phyrexians got tired and visited alara=)

September 26, 2018 7:32 a.m.

dbpunk says... #11

Like tbh I think it's just the fact that they hate designing tri-colored cards mostly. I think the other part of it is they're trying to keep the game balanced, and one of the most powerful mechanics (Cascade) came out of that block.

September 26, 2018 7:43 a.m.

kanokarob says... #12

Yes, Alara did just undergo a major and interesting change in the Conflux reuniting the shards. Yes, that event could be called earth-shattering.

And that's the problem.

How well did Shadows Over Innistrad go with the fanbase again? The plane was changed permamently, some of the major aspects that players loved about it were either altered or destroyed. People hated it. Vocally.

A return to Alara means a redesign of Alara. Paradigm shifts, more mixing between the shards, a narratively necessary threat bigger than Bolas/the end of the world that will end up changing the plane even further. That will not go over well.

WotC will make another shard set, probably somewhat soon. But if they go back to Alara, they will have to radically change what people loved about it to make it work, and you're all too petty and sentimental to be okay with that.

September 26, 2018 7:53 a.m.

legendofa says... #13

kanokarob "Revisit" doesn't necessarily mean "try to destroy." Why is it narratively necessary to threaten it with a hypothetical something bigger than Bolas, when it has its own conflict potential written into its history? The basic layout of most of the last few years of sets has been more or less 1. Establish independent, self-sufficient plane 2. Throw apocalyptic destruction (Bolas, a Bolas minion, Eldrazi, Phyrexia) at it 3. Watch everyone suffer. Innistrad, Mirrodin, Kaladesh, Amonkhet, Zendikar, and Ravnica all had/have approximately the same story. Sure, Bolas was involved in the Alara block, and had a role in the Conflux, but he's not there anymore. Alara Whole doesn't need an existential threat to tell a story.

Yes, new mechanics will be necessary. Yes, it won't be the same as Alara Broken. But the thing about Shadows over Innistrad is that it didn't need to be changed from Gothic Horror World to Lovecraftland. With Alara, the dramatic change is both already present and internal. We have yet to see in depth what happens after this change.

And claiming I'm "petty and sentimental" isn't helping your case. The story has gotten repetitive, and there's plenty of space to focus on a plane by itself for a set, without having GREAT EVIL try to take over, then the Gatewatch save the day with minimal risk to life and body.

September 26, 2018 10:13 a.m.

dbpunk says... #14

Honestly I think the card design might be hardest. Like the thing is, we've seen sets where just revolution and civil war across the set making a compelling story (Kaladesh in particular) and that could easily be the focus of an Alara set. We've also seen lots of sets where faction fighting (Tarkir and Ixalan) being particularly important too. Those would be the easiest futures for Alara 2.

September 26, 2018 10:46 a.m.

Arvail says... #15

Adding to everything mentioned before, the Shards are a tad locked into their respective past mechanics and flavor. If you really think about it, Esper HAS to be an artifact world for it to be Esper but there's a lot more to than just artifacts. Similarly, Grixis HAS to be about messing with the graveyard, but that flat out misses a lot of what makes a thing.

Notably, I don't get this sense from the clans. Take Jeskai, for instance. The clan is diverse enough to support many of the mechanical aspects of the game we've come to associate with the color combo over the years. The only one that's really missing is chaos ala Zedruu the Greathearted etc. but that could also be justifiably fit into the universe of Tarkir. Think an offshoot, isolated monastery of deranged hermits.

In this way, the world of Tarkir, particularly its fragmented identity, lends itself better to representing various aspects of the tricolor combinations. Alara, for better or for worse, did a really solid job in nailing down one or few aspects of the shards. I, for one, don't want a return to Alara because I can't see a way to properly do a shards set there without missing out on key things that make the shards what they are.

TLDR; Shards is too focused and does a poor job at portraying the shards in a holistic manner.

September 26, 2018 3:33 p.m.

kanokarob says... #16

legendofa: You'll note that I didn't say a revisit had to attempt to destroy the world. I said it would need a narrative draw on a more grand scale than Bolas/an end of the world scenario to be worth revisiting. But that wasn't my primary argument, it was a passing note to add more details to my primary argument. Yes, Alara has its own narrative built in, but the problem is that that new narrative is not what people fell in love with Alara for. They fell in love with the shards, separate and territorial. A return to Alara would narratively have to be about overcoming the differences between the shards now that they're united as one plane again. Interesting for sure, but its not what made Alara Alara, so it will get backlash, same as SOI. And Wizards recognizes this.

My "petty and sentimental" remark referred not to you specifically but to the royal you, the MtG community on the whole. Apologies for the confusion. People love to hate SOI for fundamentally altering a beloved plane (even though Innistrad as it was still existed and was plenty present and involved in the story and the card mechanics) and a return to Alara would by necessity have to do the same. It would be a great story and a great set, no doubt. But people would hate it anyway because it "just wouldn't be Alara anymore." It's petty, and it ignores the triumphs of the set for a percieved flaw of not meeting sentimental expectations.

September 26, 2018 4:57 p.m.

legendofa says... #17

kanokarob Thank you for the clarifications, and my apologies for jumping on you. But could I please ask you to explain further what you meant by "a narratively necessary threat bigger than Bolas/the end of the world"? If my inference that you were suggesting that Alara would be most successful if it was nearly destroyed is incorrect, what were you going for? I understand it's not your main point, but it's a point I would like to understand.

I also agree that some people will hate New Alara for not being Old Alara. I think, and I admit to drawing from a small sample, that more people will respect and understand the necessary changes than condemn them.

Arvail I'll respond with continuing your example of Esper as the cards. The idea of mana in new shards was briefly touched on in Alara Reborn (Necromancer's Covenant comes to mind), but shard identity hasn't seen much if any development since. The idea of in Grixis or in Bant should allow for sufficient room to explore new meanings for without confining it entirely to artifacts. Punish Ignorance can only appear on Esper, thanks to its set and color identity, but has no interaction with artifacts. It could well be reprinted as part of a influenced Grixis. Breya, Etherium Shaper is from a -influenced Esper, in four colors. What would she look like without ? The mana influx to new places creates the room for exploration needed. As long as there is some artifact identity, some graveyard identity for Grixis, and so on, similar to Magic Origins having Lorwyn, Innistrad, and others' identity, the spirit of the original can be kept without unnecessary restrictions. If it was spread into two sets instead of condensed into one, I don't see any reason why the shards color identities couldn't be fully developed.

September 26, 2018 9:12 p.m.

kanokarob says... #18

Politics between clans of a plane has historically not been enough to drive a revisit. There's generally needed to be some major imbalance that draws non-native planeswalkers to become involved.

Post 10th Edition, prior to which most sets took place either entirely on Dominaria or mostly on Dominaria with some peppered travel to other planes, and at which point the narrative turned over a new leaf in preparation for the mending, the core sets have been (in chronological order):

  • Scars Block -- Returning to Mirrodin, we see here the rebirth of the Phyrexians, slowly transitioning Karn's already damaged plane from Mirrodin to New Phyrexia. Although it is framed as a plane-bound threat, an invasion from within, the nature of the Phyrexians makes it a multiverse-scale problem, drawing in the aid of planeswalkers like Koth, a native Mirran, and Venser of Dominaria. The threat of the Phyrexians' return also "one-ups" the threat of the previous Mirrodin block, where it was simply Memnarch trying to manufacture and steal a planeswalker spark.

  • Return to Ravnica Block -- Where Ravnica block's entire story revolved around the introduction of the guilds and their politics--with the main plot following an attempt to take over the guilds through clever espionage--and where RTR does much of the same, it too "one-ups" its prdecessor by threatening the stability of the plane itself: the impending dissolution of the Guildpact, and therefore order as we know it on Ravnica.

  • Battle for Zendikar Block -- Admittedly an outlier depending on your perspective, BfZ picks up where Rise of the Eldrazi left off: the Eldrazi have been released, and they need to be stopped. Rather than "one-upping" the block it returns to, this story is the conclusion of that unfinished narrative. The big draw is that it sees the defeat of two of the Titans, and births the Gatewatch (like it our not, our narrative lense until at least 2019).

  • Shadows Over Innistrad Block -- The most obvious of the bunch. As with Ravnica, the original Innistrad block dealt mostly with the internals of the Innistradi problem, and didn't really threaten the plane as a whole, just the balance of power which is part of the Innistrad theme/charm. Our return to Innistrad sees the plane changed forever as a result of the conflict. It "one-ups" its predecessor by forcing the plane to adapt after surviving an interplanar threat, which itself drew non-native planeswalkers there to intervene where the original Innistrad only saw Liliana (and then, only as an anti-hero. Not to provide aid).

  • Dominaria -- Finally, we have the triumphant return to Dominaria. While this, too, is an outlier compared to the rest--due to its nature in the grander narrative being told with regards to the Gatewatch, and due to the fact that Dominaria, as the marketing materials made clear, has already dealt with several apocalypses--it still gives us a reason to return there by making what occurs in that conflict relevant to the multiverse at large. Belzenlok doesn't threaten more planes than Dominaria, but Nicol Bolas does, and the Gatewatch believes he cannot be defeated without Liliana's full power. So although it's effectively impossible to "one-up" the events of Invasion block, as that was intended to be the penultimate climax to the plane of Dominaria, it shows us that a quaint plane can be returned to if something there matters to non-native planeswalkers.

The unity of the shards of Alara does not. But making something else there matter would be... disappointing, and problematic. Because the logical focus of a return to Alara would have to be about the shards finding peace on one plane again. That story would be exciting and interesting, as a Vorthos I cannot contest that. But as a return set, it probably would not satisfy enough of the fanbase to justify, difficulty of set creation aside.

Now, I'd argue that it would make a wonderful setting for a Core Set, just as Core Set 2019 took us to Tarkir, which by and large, is not particularly relevant to the rest of the Multiverse either, now that Ugin is back in the game. Not everyting from that set has to be Alaran, and the story can be small and plane-centered without feeling like a waste, or making the plane feel fundamentally changed. Like a check-up, of sorts. It doesn't need a complete narrative explanation of how the whole plane is getting along, just a character-oriented story to give us a window back onto a beloved plane. We've already gotten Kess in a commander set to provide some characters that are living in a post-Conflux Alara, so by letting us peer in and see that, yes, Alara is changed, but not forcing us to visit it outside of the context we fell in love with it in, it remains alive.

September 26, 2018 10:58 p.m.

DemonDragonJ says... #19

kanokarob, I definitely believe that core sets are great places to make continued references to Alara (as well as Ulgrotha and Kamigawa), since entire sets dedicated to those planes are unlikely to happen again at any time, soon.

What about another plane that focuses on three-colored cards and factions? How likely is that to occur?

September 27, 2018 10:24 p.m.

legendofa says... #20

Good explanation, kanokarob, but again I feel like the story has stayed too close to the same formula too often, and I'm hoping that changes after this Ravnica pseudo-block. Maybe I just haven't been engaged in the story enough.

I have to say, I hadn't thought about Core Set Alara, even though I drew a comparison to Magic Origins. That would be a very acceptable approach for me, but if you could select other planes for this set, which ones would you suggest?

User:DemonDragonJ The tri-colors definitely need expansion and description. I hope that another one comes around with the next big multicolor set, in five years or so as Rzepkanut suggests.

And for some reason, I can't seem to link your profile.

September 27, 2018 11:29 p.m.

kanokarob says... #21

That's definitely when-not-if situation. I think it's more likely than a return Alara, in fact, and I think MaRO has said as much iirc. I think the community will be happier with that outcome, too.

September 27, 2018 11:32 p.m.

DemonDragonJ says... #22

legendofa, I have no idea why that may be.

September 28, 2018 5:01 p.m.

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