PLANESWALKER'S GUIDE TO IKORIA
My name is Vivien Reid. If you are reading this guide, it means that you seek the mysteries of Ikoria, as I once did. Here, I have recorded the lessons and observations I have collected during my travels on this plane. I trust you to explore and admire this beautiful world without meddling in its affairs. If you have already arrived on Ikoria, I recommend leaving or finding a safe spot before reading further: it is not a kind place to those who stand around idle and unaware.
Ikoria is a world of monsters. I have seen many fantastic creatures in my travels, but I assure you that no other plane in the multiverse compares to Ikoria. Monsters here come in all shapes and sizes, from terrifying, city-stomping behemoths to clever little beasties small enough to perch on your shoulder. Skysharks soar over herds of lumbering goriaks, winged foxes flit through crystalline forests, and brooding nightmare creatures emerge from the shadows to hunt the unsuspecting. Monsters are everywhere, and they are all amazing in different ways!
I saw this big guy wandering around aimlessly the other day. He seemed gentle at first, but one cry in the distance and he took off barreling toward it. I don't think I've ever seen something so big move that fast!
If you learn just one lesson from this guide, learn this: the monsters of Ikoria demand your respect. You may think you understand them at a glance, but each possesses power and beauty far beyond what you think you see. What's more, they're liable to mutate into something completely different right before your very eyes! If you tread carefully, observe from a distance, and expect the unexpected, these wonderous creatures will reveal their secrets to you. But if you underestimate them, take your safety for granted, or assume you've got the upper hand, they will not hesitate to prove you wrong.
Humans are the only so-called "civilized" species to have survived on Ikoria, occupying a precarious midpoint in its monstrous food chain. I tend not to care much for people, but anyone who manages to persist on Ikoria is deserving of some credit. This is not an easy plane to scrape out an existence, and humans owe their resilience to a variety of strategies that have allowed them to elude extinction for generations.
Humans on Ikoria are acutely aware that they're no match for monsters on a physical level, so most of them choose to live inside of protective sanctuaries. These communities range from small wilderness outposts to massive walled cities, and each employs a combination of techniques to ward off monster attacks. Most sanctuaries I have visited employ both physical defenses (high walls, moats, spikes) and magical defenses (guardian wards, warning crystals). Human naturalists, sages, and hunters learn the behaviors of nearby monsters to best defend against them, or at least stay out of their way.
Despite the humans' ingenuity and determination, Ikoria is not a world that can be tamed. Humans have learned the hard way that there is no "solution" to monster attacks, especially when the monster that is attacking you might mutate at a moment's notice. When it comes down to it, nothing on Ikoria stands up to a monster except another monster.
While most humans on Ikoria struggle against the way of their world, others embrace it. Bonders are those special few humans who form magical connections with monsters. A bond of this type is called an eludha, and it is much more than just a relationship of trust and friendship; it is a mystical, enduring link that ties the spirits of a person and a monster together. I have met many bonders on my travels and learned much from them. Their connection to their monsters grants them wisdom and insight far beyond that of their city-dwelling counterparts.
Each bonder forms their eludha differently. Some connect with their monster instantaneously on sight. (This is quite a shock to most!) Other bonders spend years living in the wild alongside their future companion before finally bonding with it. Bonders do not think of their monster as a pet or property; it is "their" monster in the same way it is "their" best friend or "their" trusted life companion.
A bonder named Winota told me how she lost her arm trying to kill the monster that she ended up bonding with! Now she and her companion travel Ikoria helping other bonders and monsters learn to fight side by side.
Monsters are incapable of human speech, but bonders and monsters communicate in a variety of nonverbal ways. In addition to body language and intonation, their eludha provides an empathic link shared between the partners. According to bonders, this link works at a subconscious level, meaning neither they nor their companion can hide their true feelings from the other. I have lived alongside animals all my life, but even I am jealous of the innate intimacy between bonders and their monsters.
Bonders often wear clothing or gear to mimic the look of their monster. I met one with a handcrafted headdress that matched her monster's elaborate antlers. Another dyed his hair to match his monster's patterned fur. Some bonders with small monsters wear clothing covered in handholds so their critter can easily climb up their body, while others with larger monsters build struts and handlebars into their armor so they can easily be picked up and carried.
Most bonders have one monster companion, but some like Kinnan are able to bond with many. I tried to ask him how he does it, but he just growled at me before riding off on the back of one of his beasts. I guess if you grow up with monsters, you have no need for manners!
Though bonders share the adaptability and creative spirit of city-dwelling humans, they are far from friendly. Sanctuary society sees monsters as dangerous threats, and any association with them is strictly forbidden. New bonders are forced to either give up their bond or be exiled from their homes and human families. The bonders I have met in the wilderness of Ikoria seem content with their choice, though I'm sure it is difficult to leave behind one life to answer the call of another.
Ikoria has five major geographical regions called "triomes." Each triome has its own unique terrain, a dominant clade of monsters, and a fearsome apex monster. Another traveling Planeswalker named Narset told me that these triomes are due to the unique flow of magic through the land of this plane. Each region is the result of three distinct types of mana mixing together. It is unclear to me how much the local population understands about such things, as they are usually preoccupied by much larger concerns.
Savai is a cracked plain of arid grasslands along an expansive coastline, with branching cave networks lying under the surface. Prides of big cats hunt across the steppes, while the tunnels and trenches below the grassy surface provide cover for humans and other prey species.
Terrain – Grassy plains atop mountainous cliff faces and swampy subterranean tunnels
Dominant monster clade – Cats
- Savai has an arid climate, receiving only a few inches of naturally generated rainfall per year. Humans ration water carefully or produce it through magic, while much of Savai's wildlife relies on the movements of large monsters who bring weather systems with them.
- The canyons and tunnels of the Unundo cave system extend for miles under Savai. Watch your step down there in the dark; some tunnels terminate suddenly in massive drops, like the seemingly bottomless Glondo Gorge.
- The Jal Korcha, or "terror road," runs west from Drannith, along the shore of Attayal, and through the mountains of Raugrin before reaching the city of Lavabrink. The Savai stretch of the road involves crossing many precarious stone bridges over the triome's many trenches.
The Cat clade of monsters are ferocious carnivores that roam in prides across the plains and mesas of Savai, hunting grazers like oxen, antelope, and elephants. Similar to cats you might be familiar with from other planes, Ikorian cats enjoy playing with their food. The larger members of the clade delight in hunting humans: turning the tables on monster hunters, stalking traveling merchants, and circumventing the defenses of sanctuary cities through their strength, agility, and cunning. When bonded, cats often use food as gifts to show affection.
You can identify cat clade monsters by some common features they share with more "traditional" cats. They have similar ears, tails, and paws, and often feature lion-like manes or fur patterns reminiscent of tigers, cheetahs, or jaguars. Many Ikorian cats also have wings. To my surprise, the locals seem to treat this as a natural feature of the clade rather than a special mutation. In either case, my advice is the same: always keep an eye on the sky.
SNAPDAX, THE ALL-HUNTER
Savai is home to the cavern lair of the apex monster Snapdax, a ferocious hunter that collects trophies from its kills. Trophy hunting is among humanity's greatest cruelties, so there's a twisted justice to a monster that collects trophies from humans (though I'm sure the Ikorians wouldn't see the humor). Snapdax is unrivaled as a predator, combining cat-like cleverness and nightmarish stealth with dinosaur aggression. It would be hard to imagine a more efficient killing machine.
Rielle tells an ancient tale of Snapdax destroying early human settlements all across Savai. According to her, the survivors of the attacks joined forces to build a new sanctuary together, which they named Drannith.
DRANNITH, THE INVINCIBLE CITY
Drannith is the largest human sanctuary on the plane, a thriving city with tens of thousands of residents. Located on the lush plain of Egali in the lowlands of Savai, it's rooted by a gigantic crystal pillar and protected by concentric circles of high stone walls. Drannith's highly trained military is second to none at warding off monster attacks; according to the locals, its walls have never fallen since their creation. They tell me that Drannith was founded in a time when humanity's numbers were wearing thin, which is perhaps why an unforgiving fear of monsters is rooted deep in their culture and ideological leadership.
Drannith is built around the Argalith, the largest single crystal in the world and a symbol of hope and protection for Drannith's residents. The Argalith forms the city's central axle and is the foundation of Drannith's magical defenses against monsters.
Drannith's survival strategy is strength; they face monstrous threats head-on, beating them back from within their walls. The Drannith Defense Force, informally called the Coppercoats for their banded uniforms and polished buttons, is the most well-resourced, powerful military force in the world. The Coppercoats are a tight-knit militia of city defenders, uniformed defense mages, and magistrates.
Soldiers use pikes, ballistae, nets, and other anti-monster weaponry to keep monsters at bay. Mages engage monsters directly with attack spells and defensive enchantments and help maintain the crystal alarm system that warns of incoming monsters. I find their methods brutish, but I acknowledge their tenacity and solidarity. Coppercoat soldiers fight together just like the bonders and monsters that they reject from their city.
Ketria is a river-fed temperate forest full of crystal formations. Waterfalls plunge from rocky tree-lined cliffs into inland lakes and river systems. Nowhere are crystals more seamlessly integrated with the landscape than Ketria. Naturalists and sages often travel here to draw inspiration from its wondrous displays of raw nature.
Terrain – Rivers and waterfalls that wind through crystalline forests and cascade down mountain sides
Dominant monster clade – Elementals
- Lake Attayal, fed by the Tal River, is the largest lake on the plane. If you didn't know better, you might think it was the sea itself! I'm told it is deep enough to support enormous aquatic life. It was here that I met Rielle, a sage whose wisdom is exceeded only by her age. She shared with me many of the legends and secrets that I now pass along to you.
- The Quartzwood is a special forest with especially dense crystal formations. The wood glows day and night in a variety of iridescent colors. Some naturalists claim that elemental monsters are born here and are more volatile when nearby.
- Enormous herbivores have felled timber groves along a twenty-mile stretch of the Tal River, creating an extensive system of dams. The pools created by the dams support a thriving population of fish that serves as a feeding ground for monsters and resourceful humans alike.
In the crystal-infused forests of Ketria, air, water, earth, and fire are just as much alive as any plant or animal. The elemental clade of monsters are manifestations of these natural forces. They take on familiar forms of animals, but with vivid colors, ethereal silhouettes, and cracked or disconnected anatomical features that defy gravity.
Just as crystals are a natural part of Ketria's landscapes, they're also integrated into these elementals, hovering around them or growing out of their skin.
Elementals are naturally aloof, but they can be quite friendly once you have gained their trust. However, do not forget their primal nature, or you could very quickly find yourself caught in a localized natural disaster. An earth elemental is as dangerous as a landslide, with a similar level of concern for your safety.
ILLUNA, THE WISH-GIVER
Floating through Ketria from crystal to crystal is the apex monster Illuna, an ethereal being with the power to weave dreams and grant wishes. Little is known for certain about Illuna, and what is known seems to defy the logic of the waking world. Illuna is said to quite literally make dreams come true, though it seems to bestow its gifts entirely at its own whim. I have witnessed the cry of Illuna, an unforgettably beautiful chord that seemed to harmonize with the world itself.
Rielle tells an ancient tale of Illuna conjuring a creature from dreams, but every time she tells it, the creature is different! Is her mind finally starting to go, or is this yet another of Illuna's great mysteries?
CRYSTALS & MUTATION
Naturally occurring crystals are a common sight throughout Ikoria, though they are most plentiful in Ketria. These crystal formations are not well understood by both city dwellers and bonders, but they are known to power the growth and evolution of monsters. Throughout a monster's lifetime, it can grow, warp, and change into new forms. Some monsters simply become bigger or more powerful. In other cases, they may gain entirely new traits. I have witnessed monsters spontaneously sprout wings, extra limbs, full coats of feathers, and even an extra head!
Some monsters mutate into hybrids, blending characteristics of multiple monster clades (like a dino-tiger or an elemental-wildebeest).
Many of Ikoria's crystals flare when monsters are near, a property that city-dwelling humans have learned to utilize as an advanced warning system. Large crystals the size of buildings are built into the architecture of many human sanctuaries. Smaller crystals are often incorporated into military uniforms, to serve as monster-detection devices as well as to designate rank and specialty. Magic employed by the military's mages often mirrors the shapes and refracted colors of the crystals that are found in or near their sanctuaries.
Indatha is a stretch of low hills and mysterious lowlands, lit by eerie, luminous creatures. The helica trees and the chilly frondlands are said to draw in travelers, which in turn feed the region's fearsome nightmares. Indatha is a land of sparse cover and clear sightlines, meaning most predators rely on stealth to ambush their prey.
Terrain – Swampy pools within lowland plains, dotted with uniquely shaped trees
Dominant monster clade – Nightmares
- It is said that some of Indatha's lowlands were formed by a long trail of enormous footprints, leading from the forests of Zagoth in the south to Indatha's northwestern coast. Rielle believes they were made by the largest monster that ever walked the plane, before it vanished into the sea long ago.
- Indatha supports several varieties of nightcats, batbirds, insects, and other creatures whose bodies produce a phosphorescent glow. Even the gloomiest valleys of Indatha are often lit by eerie, bioluminescent animals.
- The helica trees in Indatha split into multiple trunks as they grow from the root, often wrapping around each other into double helix patterns, with broad tufts of foliage in the canopy. Some of these helica trees envelop crystals or other objects as they mature, creating bent and misshapen forms that seem to attract some nocturnal creatures.
Nightmares, as their names suggest, are the inspiration for humanity's darkest and most primal fears (or perhaps the corporeal manifestation of those fears). They hunt at night through the shadowy hills, forests, and lowlands of Indatha, their eyes (sometimes as many as ten of them) gleaming in the dark. They seem to take genuine pleasure from stalking prey. Some survivors of nightmare attacks swear the monsters actually feed on fear itself.
While the nightmare clade of monsters are quite varied in shape and size, they are easy to identify thanks to some strikingly horrifying anatomical features. Nightmares often have a more-than-usual number of appendages, be they spindly arms or slinking tails. They almost always have extra sets of eyes, occasionally positioned in places other than their heads (though I've definitely seen one with no eyes at all).
One soldier I met told me the easiest way to identify a nightmare is if it appears out of nowhere at the worst possible time.
I won't mince words: it is hard to recommend that you seek out interacting with nightmares. They are a wonder to observe from afar, but even the cutest of their clade can prove deadly beyond expectation. Bonders who manage to forge a connection with a nightmare are among the bravest souls I've ever met.
NETHROI, THE DEATH-DWELLER
Every traveler I met in Indatha shared with me the same piece of advice: beware the whispers. The whispers they speak of belong to the apex monster Nethroi, a slinking cat-nightmare-beast hybrid with the power to raise the dead. It's surrounded by the souls of long-dead creatures that hear its call, while their rotting carcasses lurch out of the muck in a terrifying mockery of life. Monster hunters have many stories of fallen comrades who killed their quarry only to have it rise and exact its revenge. Though the tales are horrifying, at least they all have happy endings (from my perspective, anyway).
Rielle tells an ancient tale of Nethroi's first kill. The sages believe being eaten by Nethroi is the only way for one to be truly erased from existence, as the monster's dominion over death allows it to consume both flesh and soul.
Skysail is a "city" in the sky made of dozens of balloon-driven airships. The sanctuary's balloons and rudder-sails grant it almost permanent flight, allowing it to fly high above the threat of monsters that walk, crawl, or swim. Its floors and girders are made from extremely light wood and hollow pterodactyl bones, and individual balloon-ships can detach or reattach at will.
Skysail's survival strategy is mobility. The sanctuary never stays in one place for very long, allowing it to avoid the migration paths of Ikoria's many flying monsters. When an attack does happen, Skysail can scatter into many smaller pieces and reassemble later in a safe place—or they can send off decoy ships to lure flying threats away from the main bulk of the fleet.
The people of Skysail are bold and independent, preferring a life on the move to sitting and waiting for an attack. Though the sanctuary still boasts a military force, I appreciate that their approach to hostile monsters is mostly to leave them alone.
The sky dwellers tell me that many generations ago, there was once a walled sanctuary in Indatha called Orn. The city stayed safe by training bioluminescent nightcats and batbirds to circle the sanctuary and nest in its towers, keeping the sanctuary lit at all hours. But one night, for unknown reasons, the luminous creatures did not come, and nightmares breached the gates under cover of darkness. Some of the residents of Orn escaped, salvaging some of Orn's raw materials to construct rudimentary hot-air balloons. Over time, more and more balloonists joined their vessels together, forming what's now known as Skysail. Personally, I hope that the citizens may one day return to the ways of their ancestors, learning to live alongside monsters as partners instead of enemies.
Raugrin is a rim of volcanic peaks, white-sand beaches, and lava-dripping cliffs that runs along the coast. The region is separated from the rest of the continent by the Ongra mountain range. The sanctuary of Lavabrink is built in the mountains between a volcanic shelf and Kauld, the lake of lava.
Terrain – Volcanic mountains surrounding white-sand beaches along the coastline
Dominant monster clade – Dinosaurs
- Raugrin's bright white beaches stretch for hundreds of miles, and the coastline is still growing! Lava flow from the Ongra mountains spills into the sea, creating igneous jetties and slowly extending the land's reach.
- The Jal Korcha, or "terror road," winds for thousands of miles from Lavabrink in the southwest, through the Ongra range, along the shore of Attayal, and to Drannith on the great Egali plain. The Raugrin stretch of the Jal Korcha is lined with alarm crystals that warn of the approach of dinosaurs and other monster threats.
- They say the volcano Charrog is the highest point of elevation in the world: the zenith of the Ongra mountain range. Dinosaurs incubate their eggs in nests along Charrog's scorching slopes. It seems humans aren't the only ones who have learned to use the land to their advantage.
Thriving in the sweltering environment of volcanic Raugrin, the dinosaur clade of monsters embody all the violence and fury of churning molten rock. They hunt without subtlety or discrimination, eating anything that moves and demolishing anything that stands between them and a meal. They are not above eating carrion, but they prefer prey that struggles and wriggles going down.
Ikorian dinosaurs are tougher and more reptilian than those found on other planes like Ixalan. They have scaly skin often covered in spikes, horns, and rock-hard plating. Many are bipedal and have thick muscular tails they can use to bludgeon combatants. Winged and aquatic dinosaurs are also common, though they all seem to share the same belligerent attitude.
One bonder I spoke with said the best way to gain a dinosaur's respect is to square off against it and hold your ground. I recommend trying this with one of the smaller dinosaurs first.
VADROK, THE THUNDER-RAPTOR
Named after the terrible rumbling it produces as it streaks across the sky, the thunderous apex monster Vadrok rules the skies of Raugrin. It may not be the biggest or fastest monster in the sky, but it is by far the fiercest. Vadrok generates magical energy as it flies, then releases it through its breath of blue flame. The sages say Vadrok's flames have magical properties that can cause all sorts of devastating effects, but historically the final result always seems to be the same: death. Vadrok's uncontested dominance and mobility means it is liable to show up just about anywhere in Raugrin, and many city dwellers from other triomes derisively refer to the region as "Vadrok Turf."
Rielle tells an ancient tale of Vadrok burning a human sanctuary to ash. She claims the magical fire not only destroyed the city but also erased all memories of its existence! Naturally, I couldn't find anyone else to confirm the story.
Lavabrink is a sanctuary city tucked under a huge volcanic shelf in the Ongra Range in Raugrin. Rivulets of lava pour over the shelf into carefully maintained canals and floodways, running out to Kauld, the lava lake. Lavabrink's dwellings and marketplaces are built on bridges and walkways over these canals of lava.
Lavabrink's survival strategy is inaccessibility. By building under a volcanic shelf, Lavabrink has created a powerful defense mechanism that offers a compelling incentive for hungry monsters to find another less-deadly meal elsewhere. Mages called stonesingers can call out to the huge igneous dams on the slopes above the town, tuning the flow of lava as they desire. In dire circumstances, Lavabrink can create an almost continuous curtain of lava in front of the entire city, blocking entry to all but the most persistent of monsters.
The residents of Lavabrink are a hardy lot, choosing to live in an incredibly dangerous situation in order to ward off even more dangerous monsters.
Lavabrink citizens have excellent access to around-the-clock volcanic heat and are renowned for their blacksmithing, metalworking, toolmaking, and sculpting. All across Ikoria, I have been told by city dwellers and hunters that the best weapons and gear are all made in Lavabrink. It disappoints me that even a community mostly content to hide away from monsters is still such a big part of human violence against them.
Zagoth is a vast, dense rainforest of mushroom-like trees and humid swamps. Lumbering, herbivorous greatbeasts graze among the fanspore groves, and iridescent insects alight on the vast lily pads floating in Zagoth's shallow ponds and wetlands.
Terrain – Teeming rainforests with vast lily pools and swampy wetlands
Dominant monster clade – Beasts
- The sturdy forests of Zagoth often root in muggy wetlands. The ponds that make up these wetlands support Zagoth's mighty lily plants. These giant plants can grow to over thirty feet in diameter and are strong enough to support the weight of multiple creatures at once. For ground walkers like me, the giant lilies are the easiest method to traverse the waterways.
- The beast herds of Zagoth move with the vegetation they most prefer. Some herbivorous species follow each other's migration paths—as one group feeds on a woodland's sturdy outer leaves, the next group feeds on the tender, unprotected fruits left behind.
- Zagoth is a hotspot for monster-hunter activity, as the tusks, horns, pelts, and meat of the region's beasts are valuable commodities that can be traded or sold. The self-proclaimed master hunter Chevill spends most of his time slogging through the wetlands like he owns them. He's an expert at replicating the calls of certain animals, which he uses to draw large-antlered alphas away from their herd. He is the worst kind of human.
The lush forests of Zagoth teem with life, dominated by the beast clade of monsters in various sizes and shapes. Most of them resemble large herbivores—elk, horses, rhinos, camels, boars, and the like—but it is dangerous to conclude that they are at all docile. Even smaller beast monsters are territorial and irascible, liable to stampede or trample when they are alarmed or threatened.
Beasts have many telltale traits: shaggy hides, thick skin, antlers and tusks, stumpy feet or hooves, etc. While most are large and lumbering, there are also many smaller, graceful beasts that more closely resemble horses or antelopes. Beasts tend to respond well to offerings of food. Just make sure the beast can clearly distinguish where the food stops and you begin.
BROKKOS, THE FOREVER-BEAST
All of the apex monsters are ancient, but Brokkos is believed to predate them all. This gentle giant roams the forests of Zagoth with a miniature forest of its own growing on its back. It is said that Brokkos experiences time differently from the rest of us: its blinks take minutes, its breaths take hours, and its naps take weeks! But just like time itself, Brokkos is an unstoppable force. Once it starts moving, nothing can halt it, be it humans, monsters, or the land itself. According to Rielle, Brokkos's movements coincide with the changing of seasons on Ikoria, though it's unknown whether Brokkos follows the seasons or the seasons follow Brokkos.
Rielle tells an ancient tale of Brokkos. According to legend, the first human was a hunter who tried to slay the apex monster. Instead of fighting back, Brokkos gave the human two gifts. The first was a vision of the past, so she may learn from her mistakes. The second was a vision of the future, so she may lead others forward.
Only the most foolhardy, diehard, desperate, and cruel of humanity take up the life of a monster hunter, wandering far from the relative safety of the sanctuary cities in search of their prey. Some hunt for the thrill and sport of it; some nurse personal vendettas against certain monsters; others sell monster parts to interested parties. In my eyes, all are equally vile.
Most other humans agree to some extent. Though hunters are rarely barred from entering the cities, they tend to be unwelcome. In turn, most hunters find civilization and its rules stifling—perhaps the only point on which we agree. Some hunters are outcasts who are no longer welcome in certain sanctuaries, and others are survivors of sanctuaries that have been destroyed. I have little sympathy for them. A soldier who fights to protect their home is understandable, but I cannot abide the callous destruction of life for profit or sport.
Hunters deploy both mundane and magical traps to snare their quarry. Capturing and returning monsters alive is a rare and often ill-advised task, but it's not unheard of among the most skilled hunters.
You can spot a hunter by their gear. Most wear helmets, goggles, or other headgear for protection or to make themselves more fearsome to their quarry. Hunter weapons are often enormous (even larger than the hunter wielding them!) to contend with equally oversized prey. The most sadistic hunters carry barbed and jagged weapons meant to injure and maim should they fail to kill their target.
GOOD LUCK OUT THERE!
Now, you are ready to explore Ikoria for yourself! It is a plane made of equal parts majesty and peril. With preparation, respect, and a little good fortune, you may discover the many wonders awaiting you. It is my hope that this guide will assist you in doing so while keeping your head on straight. May it serve you well, and may you pass it along to the next Planeswalker you meet in need of a guide.