The preview season for the next Magic: The Gathering set begins this week, giving us our first official look at the Norse mythology-inspired plane, Kaldheim.
Wizards of the Coast already revealed the new art, characters, and important dates for Kaldheim. Two new planeswalkers will be featured in the set: Niko Aris and Tyvar Kell, and one of them is the first-ever nonbinary planeswalker.
Although they're debuting in Kaldheim, Niko originally comes from the Greek mythology-inspired plane of Theros. In a recent blog on the official MTG website, game designer Chris Mooney reveals details about Niko's background: "Niko is a new Planeswalker from the Plane of Theros. Early in Niko's life, an oracle foresaw a great future for Niko: they were destined to be a great athlete, an undefeated javelineer who would never miss a shot. Niko trained and competed for many years, but in all that time, they heard stories and songs of heroes who would fight to protect people and began to question the destiny prescribed to them. Eventually, Niko decided to challenge fate itself and, to the shock of many, purposefully lost a competition. The realization that they could control their own fate set Niko on their new path: a young Planeswalker seeking to become a true hero like they had always dreamed."
Digital product manager Allison Steele talked about how the story of Theros Beyond Death affected Niko's story: "During Theros Beyond Death, Klothys, the god of destiny, arose from the underworld. Her goal was to reweave everyone's fate and reinforce it, to ensure that things are as they should be. Klothys sent her agent of fate, Calix, after Elspeth to try and stop her from leaving the Therosian underworld, but he wasn't the only one: Klothys's agents were sent after many people who dared to defy their destiny, including Niko. Their defiance in that final competition was too much, and an agent was sent to guide them back to their 'true path.' During that confrontation, Niko's spark ignited, and in a moment of fear and rebellion, they planeswalked away from the reach of anyone on Theros."
Mooney also talked about themes of gender identity in Niko's story: "When we were developing Niko's origin, we wanted to tell a story that could express the shared experience of non-binary people without focusing on their gender identity. This was partially to ensure Niko was a character that all kinds of people could find relatable, but it was also to ensure that Niko's character was not entirely enveloped by this single aspect of their identity. Our approach was to try and create an origin with a familiar emotional core that we hoped would resonate with non-binary folks.
"As a non-binary person, the story that resonated most strongly with me was one about questioning the accepted norms of your world: there is an idea that society accepts as fact, but the more you learn about it, the more you start to question it. Eventually, you decide to challenge the idea yourself and discover that you have the freedom to move beyond it. This was the journey that we wanted to set up for Niko."
Wizards has yet to reveal the Planeswalker card that features Niko Aris, but expect the company to reveal it in the upcoming weeks.
What do you think about Magic's first ever nonbinary planeswalker? Let us know what you think in the comments section below.
Kaldheim is set to release on February 5, 2021, and it will be followed by Strixhaven: School of Mages.
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