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MTG Legendary Creatures
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ON THE SHOULDERS OF GIANTS
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Magic: The Gathering is proceeded by a vibrant tradition of myths as well a legacy of artistically acurate renderings of legendary creatures. Paintings like The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed with the Sun (1803) by William Blake set no easy standard for others to follow. Clearly the MTG franchise rests greatly, “on the shoulders of giants,” pun intended.
<I>MTG</I>
UNQUESTIONABLY, a big part of Magic: The Gathering's traction in enticing new players is in no small part due to the remarkable and legendary creatures that grace the fronts of MTG trading cards and related merchandise the world over. Nor is it any wonder how MTG legendary creatures continue to grow in their increasing complexity within the game's universe itself. However, one should not allow this to overshadow other game features especially apparent to non-players.

Is it the allure of game mechanics that give off an air of mystery and fascination to those uninitiated? The ingame culture with its elaborate use of codewords and formalities, that seems almost though it had been borrowed from some ancient and secret order? Or, notwithstanding, the notion that who you are out-of-game matters not inasmuch as who you are ingame— or then again, maybe not.

For Magic: The Gathering is wholly remarkable in its ability to translate a player's psyche into a simple, clever, expressive and playable ingame system. For those wholly unfamiliar I am referring, of course, to mana. As I am writing to two different audiences, both MTG players and myth enthusiasts, to be clear mana forms the basis for MTG. It is comprised of five distinct colors: white, red, green, blue and black each with its own attributes and characteristics. But not to bore those already fluent in this system, I suggest watching the following video on the “mana pie” for those less familiar.

But elaborating on how MTG’s use of legendary creatures relates to classic mythology, the following is offered for your reflection.

Seeing as Magic: The Gathering’s assemblage of legendary creatures is so vast and virtually endless I am only going to go over a few plucked from a random Alpha Starter deck. Not one of my own, but for an added degree of arbitrariness, I shall call upon the powerful forces of YouTube for this purpose. Typing in, “MTG Alpha Starter deck opening” and setting filter for this week, I come across this video.

The first legendary creature in the deck is found under the title, “Mons's Goblin Raiders.” Featuring artwork by Jeff A. Menges, the card depicts three small, green-skinned goblins. But more notable than the artwork is the text accompanying it. Therein it reads that the workings of goblins are, “often confused with anarchy,” but clarifies, however, their doings are more closely likened to the movement of a stormfront. That while storms may be seemingly chaotic, disruptive and infrequently the fact remains that there no less lies a definite pattern and direction to them.
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GREAT GREEN GOBLINS!
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The interesting note on goblin depictions in modern fantasy is that few sources in traditional folklore make any note of a dominant skin tone, let alone green. In fact, goblins often remain unseen as fairies do and the ability to shapeshift is not at all uncommon amongst them. Nevertheless, green goblins are so often used they have come to set the standard. This example is from Weird Tales Vol. 16, No. 1.
This perception of goblin nature as constituting a sort of “organized chaos” is somewhat analogous to traditional folklore. In numerous tales goblins, at first, are seemingly inexplicable in their actions and behavior. However, later in the story, while their methods are still quite bizarre and extreme, the purposes behind them are soon revealed.

Giant Spider: legendary creature. For instance, in the “Story of the Goblin in the Grocer,” appearing in Andrew Lang’s The Pink Fairy Book (1897), a goblin cuts out and removes the tongue of the grocer’s wife while she lays fast asleep. While a grotesque action, beyond human rationality, it makes perfect sense to the goblin who then takes the tongue, red with blood, and touches it to a number of objects which commence speaking relaying needed information.

Truly, goblins have a unique mode of problem-solving that are less geared on traditional logic and fall more in line with getting timely results. The choice of red mana is aptly suited to goblins given their quick-tempered and impulsive nature. But moving on to a black legendary creature, reminiscent of so many drive-in movies, the “Giant Spider,” with artwork by the talented Sandra Everingham is undoubtedly familiar to players. While perhaps not the most interconnect creature to mythology or legend even it nevertheless figures into it.

Spider legends are well known in Japan. The Jorōgumo is the sort of giant spider that boys’ mothers warn them about. The Jorōgumo takes the form of an enticing, lovely young lady. After luring men back to some lonely spot, only then does she reveal of her true form. Wrapping up her gentleman callers like so many unused spools of thread, she takes her dinner to go. Other times she lures men by playing a flute or appears holding a baby which is really a spider’s egg sack. The Jorōgumo was much feared during Japan’s Edo period. As for mana? Still black, most definitely black.
A MERMAID
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Gorgeous oil on canvas by John William Waterhouse, circa 1900.

However, another card entitled, “Merfolk of the Pearl Trident,” artwork also by Menges, offers some interesting contrast. Likewise, blue is equally fitting for merfolk, but not only due to their aquatic nature. Even in such tales as Hans Christian Andersen's “The Little Mermaid,” these legendary creatures are noted for curiosity and intellect.

In One Thousand and One Nights, often known in English as simply Arabian Nights, in the tale of “Abdullah the Fisherman and Abdullah the Merman,” a fisherman desperately tries to provide for his hungry children. He constantly throws his net out into the deep, blue sea always returning empty handed. Until one day he catches in his net a merman, who at first the fisherman questions asking, “Art thou not an Ifrit [being of fire] of the Jinn?” But the merman replies that he is in fact, “a mortal and a believer in Allah and His Apostle,” as well, “of the children of the sea.” For freeing him the merman brings the fisherman gifts of pearls, coral and other ocean treasures. Later the fisherman arrives to the underwater kingdom of the mermen, while decisively different, the society still very much mirrors that of society on land.

The idea of a mer-society, much like our own, with religion, architecture and other signs of cultivation is frequently encountered throughout folklore and legend. The text of the MTG “Merfolk” card details how humans think merfolk evolved from them and merfolk vice versa. This seemingly carries on a rather old tradition of merfolk sharing much of the same perception towards humans as humans towards them.

The last card for this brief review details the fabulous, “Shanodin Dryads.” Dryads are legendary creatures of ancient Greek tradition, nymphs who protect the lush, green forests. Naturally, green mana is the only sensible option for such a creature. The illustration is by Anson Maddocks and offers a more plant-like depiction of the dryad. Certainly welcomed, as dryads in Greek tradition are pictured simply as young maidens and not particularly intimidating to look at. Nevertheless, the MTG card’s text divulges on how dryads, “pass through branches and undergrowth completely unhindered,” and, “are seen only when they wish to be.” This kepts in agreement with traditional mythology as it clearly expresses the typical shyness associated with dryads as well their deep connection to nature.

As before mentioned there exists hundreds of other legendary creatures in Magic: The Gathering that I could go over and even the ones I did there is certainly much more left to say about them. Apologies for not getting to any of the white legendary creatures, but perhaps another time. For now, it is better to leave off here. Should any amongst you have suggestion for the future do not hesitate to leave a quick message on our guestbook.


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Created 01/28/2016, Last updated on 01/28/2016
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