Q: When searching for a legendary creature, nothing is more frustrating than missing the name because I added or didn't add a comma to the epithet. How is the use of the comma decided? As examples, there are "Lyzolda, the Blood Witch" and "Numot, the Devastator" versus "Lim-Dûl the Necromancer" and "Kaervek the Merciless."
–Zachary, Ames, IA, USA
A: From Del Laugel, Senior Magic editor:
I share your frustration. Let me start by sharing the answer I wrote three years ago when Devin Low (now Magic head developer) asked me the same question.
From: Laugel, Del
Sent: Tuesday, March 23, 2004 5:41 PM
To: Bozzi, Brandon; Schneider, Brian; Buehler, Randy; Low, Devin
Cc: Rosewater, Mark
Subject: RE: Use of Commas in CHK Legend Names
Oh no, it's a Duel Masters player. ;) I'm happy to explain my reasoning. If anyone wants to revisit the issue after reading this, please let me know as soon as possible. Keep reading....
From: Low, Devin
Sent: Tuesday, March 23, 2004 4:17 PM
To: Laugel, Del; Bozzi, Brandon; Schneider, Brian; Buehler, Randy
Subject: Use of Commas in CHK Legend Names
There is something in CHK names I do not understand.
I admit that sometimes I have difficulty keeping the various guidelines straight, too . . . . Magic card naming hasn't been incredibly consistent over the years, but I'm happy to explain the precedents involved.
All the legends with nicknames, job titles, or epithets but without the word "the" in the title have commas after the first name:
Azusa, Lost But Seeking
Konda, Lord of Eiganjo
Seizan, Perverter of Truth
Well, these are pretty straightforward. Without the comma, these names make no sense.
The dragon legends all have commas before the word "the":
Yosei, the Morning Star
Keiga, the Tide Star
Kokusho, the Evening Star
These names stayed as they were simply because of the existence of the Dragon Legends in Invasion. If it hadn't been for those cards, I would have asked to change these to "Yosei, Morning Star" or "Yosei the Morning Star."
Here's my best guess for why these names would use a comma: These dragons are sooo famous among denizens of the plane that one person could reasonably say to another "I saw the Morning Star flying over the hills" or "the Purger burned down my village last week." The epithet and the name are interchangeable, and there's no possibility of confusion. A real-world example would be Abraham Lincoln, the Great Emancipator or Babe Ruth, the Sultan of Swat.
All the other legends in the set with "the" in the name do not have commas:
Dosan the Falling Leaf
Seshiro the Anointed
Zo-Zu the Punisher
Shimatsu the Bloodsoaked
Meloku the Clouded Mirror
Masako the Humorless
These names, on the other hand, use epithets merely to clarify which person we're talking about or to tell you something about the person. Real-world examples include names like Erik the Red and Peter the Great. If I said "the Red sailed to Greenland," you wouldn't have enough context to know what I was talking about. The same goes for "the Punisher hit me with a rock."
Why do the dragons get commas, while the other legends with the word "the" do not get them? My official question is just on the apparent inconsistency, but I feel that the legends all sound better when they have commas between their first name and their nickname/epithet. They also fit the history, look and feel of Magic's legends better.
Well, no. They fit the history of Duel Masters better. We've had sixteen card names without the comma before "the" and only eight with it. That's the five Invasion dragon legends + Ertai, the Corrupted (who probably got the comma to sync up with the previously published Ertai, Wizard Adept) + two Portal Three Kingdoms cards.
When I see a comma in the title, I get excited because I know it's a badass legend. The vast majority of CHK's legends with epithets have commas -- only the non-dragon legends with the word "the" are not using commas. Magic's past legends with 'the' are inconsistent: It is "Arcanis the Omnipotent" but "Rith, the Awakener".
I hope that we end up with "Shimatsu, the Bloodsoaked."
I don't like that one because Bloodsoaked isn't distinctive enough. The one that bothers me personally is "Meloku the Clouded Mirror" simply because he seems to be a really important guy in the story, but I couldn't think of a reason that didn't mess up other things.
(I had toyed with the idea of leaving out the comma before adjectives but leaving it before nouns, but that just didn't seem to work. A name like Rashka the Slayer, for example, includes an epithet so that we can differentiate her from other Rashkas we might know. She's obviously not the only slayer on her world.)
When Devin wrote that email, he was working on both Magic and Duel Masters development. The editors who wrote the style guide for Duel Masters had ten years of Magic history to learn from, and they chose to avoid making this particular judgment call. Duel Masters cards always put in the comma before "the."
The Magic game, on the other hand, has now been in print for fourteen years. Magic card names are sacrosanct. What I can do is enforce the "rules" that have emerged over the years as consistently as I can and make judgment calls when necessary.
There are a few close calls in Kamigawa block (Yukora, Meloku) and Dissension (Isperia, Rakdos) that I now wish had gone the other way. Meloku the Clouded Mirror should have had a comma. Yukora, the Prisoner sounds like a random dude wasting away in a dungeon rather than the awesome Demon Spirit it is. Isperia the Inscrutable and Rakdos the Defiler are effectively Dragons and should have been treated as such.
For now, expect to see a comma before "the" only on Dragons, honorary Dragons, and cards with distinctive epithets.