6 Questions You Might Have About Magic: The Gathering’s Kaya, Ghost Assassin Answered

Wednesday, Aug. 3., was a fantastic day; I was finally able to reveal a secret I’d been carrying since late last year. I was consulting with Magic: The Gathering to bring a new Planeswalker character to life! Kaya, Ghost Assassin is now a member of the Planeswalker cast of characters.

Kaya is the brainchild of Magic: The Gathering creative writer Kelly Digges, and I’d say that if it’s allowable to call Kelly Kaya’s proverbial father, I’m like Kaya’s proverbial mother. Together, we helped develop Kaya into the character she is today, and like parents, we couldn’t be more proud of her and the reception she received online.

Yesterday, during the release of the character, I was flooded with congratulations and questions. Some of which I’ve compiled in this article that folks can come back and reference.

1. Who am I?

In case you are a new Twitter follower or new to my site because of Kaya, I’m Monique Jones, an entertainment journalist who’s written for several outlets, most notably Entertainment Weekly’s Community blog. I’ve also written for culture/entertainment sites like Black Girl Nerds, Nerds of Color, Racialicious, and The Tempest (then known as Coming of Faith). Technically, my journalism beat is “entertainment,” specifically TV, but my main focus is covering how representation occurs in entertainment. My focus on representation is something that helped me a lot when conferring with Kelly about Kaya.

2. How was I chosen to contribute to Kaya’s characterization?

It’s all thanks to my relationship with Black Girl Nerds as a contributor and to Black Girl Nerds’ creator, Jamie, who helps us writers find opportunities when they arise. This was one of those moments.

3. Who is Kaya?

Kaya is awesome, first of all. She’s a ghost assassin, which is quite cool because people think ghosts can’t die because they’re already dead. I could go on, but I’ll quote Magic: The Gathering’s official bio for Kaya.

A confident, roguish duelist with a mysterious past, Kaya has the ability to become partially incorporeal—allowing her to slip through solid items and physically interact with ghosts and the spirit world.

Kaya is a firm believer that life is for the living. The living should make the most of their lives and pursue what they want while they’ve still got time, and find their own peace before death. If you die with unfinished business, well, that’s probably your fault. And if it’s not…perhaps she could help you…for a price.

In Paliano, she accepted a contract from Marchesa to assassinate the city’s previous sovereign, King Brago. Her actions catapulted Marchesa to power and caused the current chaos in the city—but also opened the way for others to make their claims to their throne and shake up the Paliano’s ancient political order.

4. I’ve already read the introduction story and I love it! Tell me everything there is to know about Kaya!

Sorry, I can’t. You’ll learn more about Kaya at Wizards of the Coast’s discretion.

5. What did you talk about when creating Kaya’s character?

We talked about a lot, much of which is confidential. What I can tell you though is that we discussed Kaya’s origin story, her home plane, her family, and possible future appearances. We also nailed down that swaggy, snarky personality she has. I can also say that we discussed how to make sure Kaya was a fully rounded character, not just a token character. There were lots of aspects of the black experience that went into creating Kaya, one of which—the process of hair styling— was alluded to in Kaya’s introduction story, “Laid to Rest”:

Kaya lit a candle, yawned, and splashed her face with water from a basin. She rolled out the building plans and studied them one last time, humming an old ballad and unwinding the knots she’d put her hair in to sleep.

6. How do you feel about Kaya?

I love Kaya. I knew she had the potential to be a knockout character, and according to the humongous reaction I received the other day, my hunch was right. Kaya is a character in her own right, first of all. But in the macro view, Kaya gives black women and girls who love Magic: The Gathering a character they can identify with and see themselves in. The Magic: The Gathering crew has been working hard to create an inclusive world, and Kaya’s part of that. Despite the current cast of Planeswalkers including humans and alien types of all sorts, including master monk Narset and time-altering sorcerer Teferi, there weren’t any representations of black women. With Kaya being the first, not only is she a very welcome addition to the cast of characters, but she’s history-making. For me to be a part of that is very humbling and I’m honored to have helped bring Kaya to life.

So now I turn it over to you. What do you like about Kaya? Give your opinions in the comments section below!

  • Micah__Taylor

    Magic: the Gathering is not always the best when it comes to character creation. In recent years, they’ve gotten better at it, finally fleshing out the stories and backgrounds of their major characters, the Origins Planeswalkers. When I saw this story appear online, I approached it gingerly. Would WotC invest the time and effort into creating a great character for a supplemental product? Would they be able to avoid turning her, a historic first in Magic lore, into a caricature?

    Yup, on both counts. Damn, does it show. I am already in love with this character, and can’t wait for more.

    So I don’t really have any questions, or deep comments. I just want you to know, this Magic player loves Kaya, and I thank you for bringing her to life.

    • Your comment means a lot to me! We really worked hard to make sure she was not a caricature. The main note I had for Kelly was that she be written as a character first, not as a “theory” if that makes sense; I definitely didn’t want her to be a token, so I felt a lot of pressure to make sure I represented my black women right, I won’t lie. At the end of the day, I decided to create a character I would want to play, since I’m a black woman myself and I have some specific things I wanted to see in black female characters. I’m glad the hard work has paid off! I’m so glad you like Kaya!

      • Micah__Taylor

        I’m looking forward to playing her, too!

  • JJJ

    Great interview and so glad to have you helping in Kaya’s creation.

    • Thank you! I’m so glad you like Kaya!

  • When I wake up on Wednesdays, one of the first things I do is load up the Magic: the Gathering home page to check out the new story/fiction entry for the week. When I saw the painting of Kaya, I felt warm and felt a grin stretch from ear to ear. As I read the story, her character was so real and I could hear it in her voice. By the time I was done, I couldn’t believe what I just read. She wasn’t a token character; she had a unique personality that wasn’t over the top like many other Planeswalkers and it was just right; she was perfect.

    The funny side of this, is that I’m saying this as a white male, although that being that I’m a gay white male. For many reasons that are so much the same yet so different, I know the importance of exclusivity and the desire for that and how important Kaya is. It makes the real world hurt less when it hurts, and puts a warmth in your heart to know someone understands. We just recently got our first LGBT couple in Innistrad, although they were only perspective characters and have yet to have cards or get the development time they need. I hope when their time comes that they do as amazing of a job as you have with Kelly Digges in making them their own person and that they too avoid the pitfalls. Engaging in the social aspect of things is a balancing act while often being barraged from all sides by extremes, and Wizards was wise to reach out to you. Thank you for your efforts, here.

    I’m honestly hoping her character’s card is in the game’s colors that I play, because there’s just something about her and what she represents that puts a smile on my face when I think about getting to play her.

    • Thanks so much for your comment! It means a lot. I wanted to make sure she would be seen and read as a naturalistic, well-rounded character, so I’m very pleased with how Kaya has turned out and how she’s been received by everyone.

  • powerthirst400babies

    She was good, though week’s story was a tough act to follow. The huge battle ended and it was in the making for 6 months. The conclusion had a nice twist. *Poof*. Welcome to a new reality. It was…jarring. The plot was a tad cliche, but it was a good introduction.

    I thought Kaya was a fine character. She’s got her own breed of sass that’s distinctly different from Chandra’s “sick burns” and Liliana’s “gallows humor”. I really like that her talent AND motivation isn’t in strength or knowledge, but a very special skill to earn a living. We haven’t had a woman walker like that since…Vraska? EVER??? It was a nice change!

    She was an entertaining narrator, so I look forward to her next story. I can’t say a much else about the character since we “just met”, but I like the implications of her powers. She would probably have a great time chatting with the ghosts of the Orzhov guild (hint hint Teysa) and would have fit in quite well on Innistrad. I would LOVE IT if she teamed up with a walker like Dack: a very productive and EXTREMELY dysfunctional effort!

    The main takeaway is that you helped create a character that fits in very well with all the interplanar drama. Good job!

    • Thanks for the comment! I’m glad you like Kaya! I’m especially glad her personality shined in her story.

  • Psithief

    The fun part is trying to predict which elements of the character will actually be represented on the planeswalker card itself. The largest factor is the colour pie (White Blue Black Red Green)
    So far, Kaya looks like a 3-colour planeswalker (Blue, Black, Red), but I’m not sure how many of those will actually be required to play the card.
    Blue – Knows the importance of planning
    Black – Kills sapient entities for profit. All assassins are this colour
    Red – Can be driven by emotion to break contracts and murder clients.
    Not Green – “Spirits are not part of the natural order” is not hippie enough to qualify as this colour.
    Not White – She does not do anything for the greater good of any group.

    • Good theory! Now I’m wondering what other folks’ theories are. I do know what Kaya’s colors are…I just can’t reveal what they are yet. But I really like the mix of colors she’s got.

      • Psithief

        She’s been revealed as White/Black now.
        White – “Righteous Fury” and “Prepared for battle” (taking over the red and blue above)

        The problem I had with the first story? I picked up on the undertones of “she does this for the sake of the living”, but it came across too much like racism for me to actually believe she was White-aligned.

        The second story pushed her further into White-aligned territory, so I think there was a bit of poor wording in the first story.

  • lando lover

    I’m so glad wotc chose to consult with you! You clearly did a great job with Kaya, I can’t wait to see more of the character 🙂 I really hope you get to work with Wizards again, and I’m looking forward to playing with Kaya

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  • I’ve been reading the various magic stories for a long time now, about 10+ years including the novels. Kayas introduction story definitively counts as one of my favourites! Well written characters always make me eager to read more stories featuring them, so I’m happy to hear there’s more to come. I’m glad Wizards is consulting people who know the pitfals in creating characters, so they can flesh out a compelling and realistic world for everyone. Those fine nuances also make the story-multiverse a much more interesting place to engage in and add to the play experience with the game as well. Thanks for your help in creating Kaya, I’m looking forward to read more stories about her in the future!

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