Meet Niko Aris, the New Non-Binary Planeswalker From Magic: The Gathering’s Kaldheim
There is a lot to be excited about with the latest Magic: The Gathering set, Kaldheim, from the art to the collabs with metal artists (like my personal fave Lacuna Coil), but also the fact that we are getting two new planeswalkers—one of which is Niko Aris, one of the first explicitly non-binary characters in the series.
Designers Katie Allison (game designer), Chris Mooney (game designer), Allison Steele (digital product manager), and Lake Hurwitz (principal concept artist) explained that Niko is from Plane of Theros and was a star figure there. During the events of Theros Beyond Death, Klothys, the god of destiny, sent out agents to stop people who attempted to defy their destiny.
Niko decided to do an act of defiance during that time, and their spark activated during a conflict with one of these agents, causing them to planeswalk to Kaladheim.
Steele says one of the major conflicts of Niko’s story is the question of “what makes a hero?” Niko also has an impressive power set that sounds very blue-white based.
“Niko can conjure shards of mirrorlike magical energy, which they can shape into throwable weapons of various sizes. These can, of course, serve as simple piercing spears or daggers, but they also have another exciting property,” Katie Allison said. “Each shard can be imbued with the power to absorb the first living being it touches (other than Niko), containing them in an extradimensional space for a limited time. They can trap an enemy at a crucial point in battle, hold someone for questioning, or even whisk an ally out of danger.”
When it came to developing Niko as a character, the designers but wanted to “tell a story that could express the shared experience of non-binary people” but make sure 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.”
Chris Mooney, who is themselves non-binary, along with Katie Allison, said,
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.
“Magic is a game that has thrived for many decades by constantly adapting and changing with the world around it and the people who play it,” Mooney continued. “Magic has had non-binary characters in the past, and I’m certain we’ll see more in the future. One of my favorite parts of a fantasy franchise like Magic is that we can feature non-binary characters from all sorts of different backgrounds, like Niko and Hallar, who come from traditional gendered cultures, but also Yahenni the Aetherborn, who comes from a culture where there’s no gender expression at all. I find both kinds of non-binary characters to be relatable in different ways, and I’m glad we have the chance to explore them.”
Katie Allison added: “Obviously, as a non-binary person myself, it’s incredibly meaningful to see a non-binary hero joining the Planeswalker ranks. I think the power of representation is easy to underestimate—after all, it’s not like I can’t relate to male or female characters—but there’s something truly special about starting to see pieces of your own identity in the epic stories you love. Niko is not intended to be “the non-binary character”; they are a specific person with their own strengths, flaws, goals, and personality. In the long run, my hope is to represent as many different non-binary (and other) experiences as we can, to give as many fans as possible the chance to see themselves in our stories.”
I’m looking forward to seeing and playing as Niko. It is always exciting to see new characters enter the world of Magic: The Gathering and make it more closely reflect the world we exist in—with some magical flare thrown in.
(via Magic, image: Winona Nelson)
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