Ajani |The Trials of a Good Heart
What defines a hero? Is it their ability to punish those who do wrong? Or is it someone who stands up in the face of loss and not only becomes a better person but brings out the better in others? It's much harder to take the path of peace when every bone in your body aches for revenge. This is something Ajani had to deal with early on in his life and yet was able to grow past it.
This growth is reflected in the change of colors we see over the course of this characters arch. Ajani is the heart of the multiverse, a beacon of hope in darkness but it wasn't always this way. In this article I will take you along with me as I go over the story of Ajani and more importantly dig deep into the motivations and philosophies of this character. With that covered let us start at the beginning, before Ajani's spark even ignited.
Our story starts on the Shard of Naya long before the conflux which brought alaraa together, with a young Nacatl who was born with the rare condition of being Albino. This defect would result in Ajani being an outcast among his people. Ajani took his position with Grace and accepted who he was, feeling as if he deserved to be treated this way for what he was. The only one who cared for Ajani would be his brother Jazal, the only family member he had left. Jazal stood in stark contrast to Ajani, not just in color but more so in his standing among the tribe, as he was favoured by many. For most this would bread resentment towards their brother but not for Ajani he adored his brother.
Ajani's condition wasn't the only thing unique about him though, he also had the ability to tap into the soul of a being and bring forth their essence for differing effects. An ability I believe which is more than a coincidence. As Ajani's abilities mirror his wish to be of service of and bring out the potential in others, despite his rejection. Even with this ability Ajani was treated horribly by his kin, abused and outcast he never raised a fist against his people, keeping the peace for the sake of the tribe and his brother.
Everything would change though as one night during a celebration chaos broke out and Jazal was slain by his own weapon. Ajani rushed to his brothers body, held it close, the last person who cared for him was dead. He closed his eyes and when he opened them he was no longer on Naya, the trama of losing his brother igniting his spark.
Already we can see why White is the core of Ajani's identity and why in his first printing he is mono white, as even though he was outcast he still aimed to keep the peace at any cost. Even though his is tribe rejected him he wanted what was best for them. A key tenant in what makes Ajani so perfectly White aligned. His abilities also reflect his desire to hold others up, to bring out the best in those close to him. Ajani gives and gives even though everyone around him takes from him, its the side of White that can be selfless, one that puts others first and does whats best for all. There is a strong heart which remains unbroken in Ajani, that is until he loses his brother and something changes inside that heart.
Unknown to Ajani at this time was the fact that he was not all that far away from Naya, his feet now planted on the shard of Jund. It was here where he met Sarkhan Vol. Sarkhan heard Ajani's story and told the young Leonin to use that anger he felt over his brothers death. He told him that anger was a tool he could use to find his brothers killer, and that he should accept the rage he felt in his heart.
This meeting would have lasting effects on Ajani, and would define the addition of Red to his identity. Sarkhan showed Ajani how to return home and once there the Leonin went straight to his village, fists clenched anger in his heart. As a token of his mission Ajani took the head of his brothers axe and attached it to his own, forming his iconic weapon which he uses to this day. He then spread the ashes of his brother across his chest so he would not forget his brothers death, nor forgive it.
Ajani's first suspect was the leonin Tenoch. He confronted his pride-mate and an altercation took place resulting in Ajani falling from a cliff. Laying there barely clinging on to life he once again Planeswalked away. To where he did not know but the result would be the Shard of Bant. This is where he would meet the person who come to be one of his closest friends, Elspeth. Over the course of his two week recovery he and Elspeth would grow very close. Unfortunately Ajani had no time to stay here he had a mission. He would leave Elspeth but this would not be the last their fates would intertwine .
His time on Bant reflects the true nature of Ajani's heart, there is a softness there which is hidden under his pain. I don't believe Ajani desires to be a fighter, and while he is a formidable one he is no true warrior. His best trait is bringing out the best in others, this is why White continues on in his identity, despite the Rage of Red seeping through into his motivations. Unfortunately his heart is still clouded by his brothers death, Jazal's face still haunting him. If only he could find peace he could have stayed with Elspeth, but he had to return home, he needed closure, but what would result from his mission would be bigger than anything he could ever expect.
Ajani once again returned home, where he would uncover a layered plot initiated by an ancient Dragon, a dragon known through the multiverse as Nicol Bolas. Ajani knew of one place that held dragons and so he set off for Jund once again only to find Jund no longer existed for the conflux had begun. The merger of the Shards into one was underway. While searching for the dragon Ajani found the killer of his brother but learned that he was manipulated into doing so, the manipulator having already died. Ajani was left unable to truly avenge his brother.
Unfortunately Ajani had no time to mull over what to do next as Nicol Bolas confronted the Leonin and the army amassed around him. Here Bolas attempted to consume the mana of the Maelstrom. Something had to be done, so using his connection to the souls of others Ajani severed everyone's mana bonds and absorbed the last bit of Maelstrom. With this power he banished Bolas from Alaraa as depicted on the card the last stand, but this would not be the last time Ajani would confront the dragon. Now a hero the outcast was given the opportunity to become Kha of his clan, but Ajani turned the offer down, he was no leader, at least not yet. What he needed was out there in the multiverse. With his brother was gone and his vengeance unanswered he knew his path was somewhere else.
Red would not last long in Ajani's heart as he was never a character who was defined by his rage. I believe it was sitting there underneath though waiting for a reason to come out as he faced constant rejection and abuse. He held it all together for the sake of his tribe and his brother but upon losing his brother it let free. I believe that without the strong presence of White in his character he may not have had the resolve to hold it together and we could have seen a mono Red Ajani, one who rejected every good trait about the character.
You could say it was Sarkhans influence that pushed Ajani into Red but I believe it was there waiting to come out. What is interesting and something that has a lasting impact is the fact that he hunts and hunts for his brothers killer, finding one manipulator after another and in the end isn't able to truly avenge his brother. You could see how this would consume a weaker character, frustrated and unable to do anything.
It's as if Ajani is constantly battling with the feeling of being inadequate, and I am sure he wished he could excel at one thing and that was avenging his brother but even that didn't go as planned. The fact that in the end he is able to find some form of peace speaks to his character. He is not a being of rage his purpose is to heal not harm and because of that he drops Red for Green in his coming adventures.
Wondering where his old Bant friend Elspeth had gone Ajani searched the multiverse only to find her in the gladiator pits of Urborg. He barely stopped her from delivering a finishing blow to a fallen warrior. He begged her to join him and to abandon this destructive path she was on, but she was dealing with her own demons at this point and nothing Ajani could say could stop her. What is interesting to see is Ajani's push for restraint and not rage, his lessons learned are something he wishes to pass along to others, to his friend. He would bid her farewell as she was to stubborn to change her course, but of course Ajani and Elspeth would meet again their fates seemingly tied, their friendship unbreakable, well that it is until Theros.
On Theros the two would meet up once again, Elspeth already entangled in the affairs of the Plane and its gods. Reluctantly Ajani would join Elspeth on her mission fearing she would get herself into trouble that she could not get herself out of, he didn't know yet how right he was. The duo would face off against Xenegos the Satyr turned god and put a stop to the mad Planeswalker.
The day was won but the ordeal was not over. The jealous god who sent Elspeth on this path feared what Elsepth could be after the rise of Xenegos and instead of thanking her he slew the hero with her own weapon. Ajani watched on in horror, to late to do anything. Another person he cared for, who he loved was dead. He had to retreat but upon reaching the lands of Theros from Nyx, he preached the falsehoods of Heliod and the heroism of Elspeth and perhaps without knowing this act set into motion Elspeth's return years later.
The key thing to keep in mind here is the loss once again that Ajani faces and how he deals with it this time. Instead of falling into a new rage and being consumed by revenge he instead uses his voice instead of his blade. Already we can see the growth of his character, this is also reflected in the titles given to him on his cards at this time, Mentor of heroes and steadfast.
Ajani will not be consumed by anything, even if grief follows him wherever he goes. For Ajani's purpose is still out there and that purpose is survive, this is what makes Ajani what he is, his heart and his selfless nature. This idea of a greater purpose could be said to be what drives his addition of Green. He is a character who wishes to help people along their paths. In a way he is a perpetual supporting character and yet that is his strongest aspect.
Ajani would mourn and rest on the Plane of Kamigawa for a short while. There he would learn of the crimes of Tezzeret and his current plans on Kaladesh. Ajani recalled Elspeth speaking of Tezzeret and New Phyrexia and so left for Kaladesh to see how he could help. On the Plane of artifice and magic he joined the renegades and fought against the oppressor's. It was during this time where he saved Chandra and Nissa from certain death. With the aid of the three Planeswalkers the Renegades were able to bring a new order to Kaldesh. Happy to find other Planeswalkers who stood up for those who could not Ajani joined the Gatewatch, stating.
“Until all have found their place, I keep watch”
This quote summing up Ajani's intentions perfectly and succinctly. His goals are not routed in rage, or selfish desires. Instead we see the White and Green side of him shining through. White stating that his intentions are for all and Green guiding them to where they belong. Its so short you might miss it and yet it encapsulates Ajani's character at this point very well.
The other Gatewatch members then wished to travel to Amonkhet and face Nicol Bolas, but having faced bolas before Ajani knew the power the dragon held and begged them not to go. He told them many would die in this fight and that the dragon is not to be underestimated. No one knew at this point how right Ajani truly was. Instead of joining the Gatewatch on this mission Ajani set out to find more Planewalkers to join the fight against Bolas. We can see that Ajani is cautious here, every bit of Red gone from his identity for if it was present he might have rushed on into the conflict instead of of showing restraint. If you saw my colour study of Amonkhet you know he was right to be apprehensive as many would die and the Gatewatch would fail at their mission. He has a grander vision outside of reactionary measures but soon his hand will be forced and war would come to all.
His search would take him to Dominaria but unfortunately the fight would come to every Planeswalker all to soon, and the pull of the Planar beacon would start the fight in earnest on Ravnica. The war of the Spark was a savage one, where many Planeswalkers would lose their lives. For his part Ajani bolstered and rallied his allies giving them the strength to fight. During the chaos Ajani's focus was on keeping the civilians of the grand city safe and he took his mission with dire importance. It seems without the aid of Ajani many more would have died that day.
Eventually the day would be won after the sacrifice of Gideon and a celebration would be followed by a funeral for him. Much later Ajani would leave for Dominaria once gain to speak with Karn about the threat of the Phyrexians and it was here on Dominaria where he would be reunited with his old friend Elspeth. As she had returned from the dead, as the underworld could not hold her. Here we have an excerpt from the short story Dirty Laundry
“Elspeth wrapped her arms around him, holding her friend in equal measure. The fur around his neck tickled her nose and cheek, bringing a smile to her lips. Happiness. Relief. Safety. It had been so long since she'd last felt such pleasant emotions that it was a wonder she could still feel them at all.”
The story of Ajani is one of constant loss, of always being on the back foot, of being a shield for others. And yet is one of growth and a purpose found. You see Ajani is the heart of the multiverse a beacon for those lost and weak. When we look back to his life we see that when he was young he dealt with the feeling of being an outcast for his formative years and and I believe that must have always stuck with him.
Perhaps he sees himself in those that are downtrodden and desires to be there like his brother was there for him. For me this side of him and this outlook is why White will always be present in Ajani. Sometimes my heart aches for Ajani, that is until I think about the Leonin he has become. A heart greater than most, a sense of self sacrifice when it is needed and a desire to lift other up. Without Ajani the multiverse would truly be a darker place...
Thanks for reading my latest character study. I hope you have gained a further appreciation of Ajani as a character. With that said if you liked this sort of thing then consider becoming a site member that way you will be notified when the next article goes live. With that friend, I'll catch you in the multiverse, bye!
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