The Mardu are a feared warriors, descended from elite imperial cavalry. Ruled by a code of honor handed down by their ancient war-leaders, they seek out war as a way of life. The Mardu conquer lands with fierce battlefield tactics, expert archers, and brutal battle magic, and they mobilize in great, thundering waves of human, orc, ogre, and goblin warriors. Their success in conquering territories may be unmatched, but they live for the hot moment of battle, not for the slow years of ruling the lands they overtake. Their success in conquering territories is unrivaled, and they live for the intensity of battle. They hold up the wing of the dragon as their symbol, representing their swiftness on the attack.
Upon coming of age, a Mardu warrior proves him- or herself in a brutal act of honor, usually killing an enemy in battle, to earn a "war name." During the past war with dragons, the most daring seek renown as dragon slayers. Such hunters leapt from a high cliff onto a dragon's back, then hacked at its neck or wing pinions to bring it down quickly. Success required extreme bravery, skill, and luck. Most who attempt this feat die.
After coming of age, each Mardu clan member is eligible to prove him- or herself in an act of brutal honor. This usually involves the killing of an enemy in battle. The clan member then earns a war name, a new surname that usually takes the form of a compound word (e.g. Qorin Skullcracker, Jaidar Sharptusk). A Mardu who has not yet earned a war name is a "soft heel," while one who has is worthy of the term "warrior."
Within the Mardu Horde, the khan is an absolute, despotic tyrant - but one who commands legitimate respect. Every khan who has taken command of the Horde has been a powerful and fearless warrior. Many Mardu khans have worn a bone trophy of the previous khan somewhere on their person, whether they lifted it from their fallen predecessor on the battlefield or took it personally in a duel to the death. Most Mardu warriors are fanatical in following their khan, toward whom they feel an almost religious awe.
The Mardu were among the most efficient hunters and slayers of dragons. They adopted concealment magic early on, disguising their warriors' strengths and setting up efficient, speedy ambushes. Today, they treat the memory of dragons with scoffing disdain, taking the extinction of the dragons as evidence of their own merit. This attitude never sat well with Sarkhan Vol, who grew up as a talented Mardu warrior before he discovered his talent for draconic magic, clashed with his own clan, and left the plane.
The steppes and plateaus of Tarkir are swept by cheek-prickling, knuckle-chapping wind. The Mardu are fond of spiking banners in newly conquered lands, even if it's only a day before their enemy catches up to them. The wind turns the banners into the shape of a dragon's wing, and many Mardu believe that the wind is the world's way of pushing them on to conquer another day.
The Mardu are a seminomadic culture with a large proportion of full-time warriors. Mardu armies wage war constantly, raiding and plundering enemy territories to sustain their culture.
The Mardu cannot sustain themselves without war. They have little homeland infrastructure or agriculture to provide food or shelter and are constantly in danger of being unable to survive through the year. And while their warcraft is fearsome, they do little to occupy or hold claim over the lands they conquer. For the Mardu, war is not just a way of life—it is the way of life.
The Mardu do have agricultural workers, especially shepherds for herd animals and wranglers of war-beasts, and many Mardu craftspeople create fine weapons and armor. But these are not enough to sustain food for the ravenous Mardu armies, and their work must always be supplemented by war plunder. However, the labor classes enjoy a measure of social freedom. As Mardu warriors are almost always involved in skirmishes on multiple fronts, the labor class is generally left on its own, and tends to have more representation in domestic matters than the lower classes of other clans.
The Mardu have elevated archery into an art form, combining it with shamanic magic into a discipline called dakla, the way of the bow. They use ritually blessed bows and specially enchanted arrows as foci for impressive magical effects. The Mardu don't have "archmages," per se. Instead, champion archers weave powerful spell magic into their art. Volleys of whistling arrows raining out of the sky are often the first sign of a Mardu attack, and many battlefield generals have met their demise by being targeted by Mardu heart-piercers.
For generations, the Mardu have used concealment magic, an evolved form of draconic magic from ancient times. The Mardu use concealment as a support magic for battle, primarily to disguise the strength of their warriors. Concealment can be used to create ambushes and to set up flanking maneuvers on unsuspecting enemies. On the other hand, Mardu archers often target concealed foes first to prevent being overwhelmed by similar tactics.
The battle cry of a Mardu warrior is itself a kind of magic. Mardu warriors and shamans can use war shrieks to strike fear in their foes, enhance their strength and skill, or even lash out with shock waves of sonic power. Mardu chiefs trace this tradition back to the breath of the dragon itself.
The steppes and plateaus the Mardu call home are constantly raked by winds. Mardu shamans use great winglike motions to control and manipulate the wind, using it as a weapon against their enemies or guiding archers' missiles more effectively.
- Archers. Many Mardu warriors are expert archers, and some carve bows out of the dragon bones that litter Tarkir's landscape. Practitioners of dakla, the way of the bow, weave magic into their archery. Bowriders train in mounted archery, and can ride at breakneck speed while still skewering an enemy from across the battle. Heart-piercers specialize in long-distance assassinations, using magic to enhance the range and accuracy of their missiles. Gutstretchers use enormous heavy bows that can devastate even giant-sized opponents; gutstretchers are often orcs or ogres.
- Shamans. The Mardu have a contingent of shamans, but their magic is more about action than about wisdom and rituals. Mardu shamans are tested on the field of battle. Chasm shamans move the very earth to create rifts to trap, slow, or isolate enemies. Ragesingers influence a warrior's fighting, often by using ferocity-enhancing spells on the warrior's mount creature. Woe reapers channel the pain of their enemies' death-cries to power their magic.
- Riders. The tradition of mounted warriors is an art form among the Mardu. Valley dashers are swift riders meant to ride down and crush the enemy before they can react. Saddlebrutes are huge orcs or ogres who ride massive megafauna beasts. Solos are champion riders or mounted assassins who ride alone, employing stealth and magic to hunt down and eliminate the clan's enemies.
- Leaders. Hordechiefs are battlefield generals, second only to the khan of the clan. Wranglers train and manage horses, giant falcons, and even ogres and giants. Feudmasters are mages and tacticians, often employed to keep track of territories, army deployments, and the names of all enemies who have slighted the Mardu and deserve to be raided next.
The Mardu breed lean, strong, and famously fast war horses. Riders train with their mounts from childhood. Many Mardu warriors are more sure-footed in the saddle than on their own two feet, and their sturdy stirrups allow them to stand (or squat, or ride up on their knees) while riding at high speed. That, combined with the horses' keen balance and smooth gait, allows Mardu riders to absorb the shocks of riding and gives them freedom of movement for their mounted archery.
The Mardu train falcons as hunters, and rocs as mounts. Enormous rocs perch directly on specially built extensions of Mardu saddles. Some Mardu warriors decorate their rocs' wings with banners that resemble dragons' wings, giving the birds a fearsome four-winged appearance.
The Edicts of Ilagra
Although not every member of Mardu society rides to war, every Mardu abides by the warrior's code called the Edicts of Ilagra. The Edicts, inscribed on a collection of dragon-hide scrolls, govern the rules of honor and combat for Mardu warriors. All three reflect the Mardu philosophy quite well:
- To conquer is to eat. As depicted on Raiders' Spoils, at the heart of the Mardu philosophy is the idea that a warrior earns by taking. They view the world through the lens of scarcity. There are more mouths than there are days of grain, so the one who fights best gets to eat.
- To rule is to bleed. On the other hand, the Mardu rarely rely on committing resources to a particular place. They spend little energy creating permanent infrastructure or integrating conquered peoples into their culture. It's common for Mardu armies to blaze across a territory, take a week's worth of grain, then move on without establishing any sort of settlement.
- Victory or death. When the Mardu go on the attack, they go full tilt. The archetypal image of a Mardu warrior is her riding into battle, leaning forward, standing up in the stirrups, sword out or bow at the ready—demonstrating great agility and riding mastery, but also demonstrating a willingness to sacrifice everything to hit hard and destroy the enemy. The Mardu leave nothing in reserve, preferring to die rather than fail.
|Alesha||Who Smiles at Death|
|Sarkhan Vol||the Dragonspeaker||Human|
|Yasimin Ankleshank||Tarkir Goblin|