And other sorcerous stories

The Tale Of The Gorilla Necromancer

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Author's forward: To research this week's columns on sorceries and how they play out in multiplayer, I did some research in the deep rain forests of Uganda, where the endangered mountain gorillas live. After all, no one understands sorceries in multiplayer Magic like gorillas do. In fact, gorillas represent the “animal aspect” most common in sorceries, because sorceries that succeed in multiplayer tend to do so because they have an overwhelming “smash” effect that gains card advantage through sheer power. And when you think of smashing, well, you think of gorillas. Or a teenage kid with a car. But gorillas were a better bet for polite conversation.

After locating a small group and gaining the adult silverback's trust and permission to stick around – Mark Gottlieb's name still works in certain circles – I began my inquiry into what makes multiplayer sorceries great.

Communication was tricky at first. The males would only make self-absorbed grunting and screaming sounds as they jealously sought and guarded the attention of the few females present. While this provoked fond memories of my last Pro Tour Qualifier, I needed to move beyond such primitive means, so I cooked up a little sign language and used some food as learning incentive. After passing on enough bamboo to build a small house, I had them making rudimentary words and concepts such as “eat”, “play”, and “steep mana curve”. We passed some time debating the color wheel – with the exception of one juvenile male, they all believed blue is still overpowered – and then we settled down to business.

I learned their social structure is far more advanced than humans give them credit for. The five different gorillas I talked to had five distinct roles in their group - gardener, warrior, adjudicator, librarian, and necromancer. (Who knew gorillas buried and raised their dead next to their libraries?) Using the method of metaphor in five separate sign language interviews, I teased out their most guarded philosophies on multiplayer strategies with sorceries. They weren't sophisticated enough to remember specific card names; but if you think hard enough (or just click on the highlighted text), you'll come up with the card(s) they were talking about.


AA: I have a story which I will start, and you will finish.

GN: Sure. You have bamboo?

AA: You bet. (Hands over bamboo.) A young gorilla matures and decides to leave his group and strike out on his own. As he begins his grand new adventure, he is happy and sees many wonderful sights.

GN: Bamboo?

AA: Yeah, sure, he sees bamboo.

GN(signing impatiently now): No, idiot. I mean, give me more bamboo.

AA: Oh. Sorry. (Hands over more bamboo.) So about three weeks after setting off on his own, he finds himself in a strange new jungle. There are beasts here he has never met, and some of them are unfriendly. He tries to scare them away by standing and pounding on his chest –

Author's note: At this point, we had an unfortunate miscommunication, perhaps inevitable given the rudimentary stage of our sign language. In attempting to demonstrate the actions of the young gorilla in the story, I led my interview subject to believe I was suddenly very angry and wished to fight him. Sensing he had about 350 pounds on me, he rose to the challenge.

Fortunately, curling into a little ball and squeaking just about anything – I believe my words of choice were “don't kill me, don't kill me!”, but you could probably recite algebra equations with a high enough pitch – translates in just about any variant of sign language as “I'm sorry, I believe we've had a misunderstanding.” We eventually figured out what went wrong, had a good chuckle at the crazy twists of linguistics, and moved on.

AA: So he tries to warn and scare them away, but they won't leave. His enemies are gathering. What does he do?

GN: He shows his true power, by tapping into the darker forces he encountered on his journey so far. In the swamplands not far from here, he would have learned three things. First, survival goes to the fittest. From this knowledge, he would have learned to weaken others in order to strengthen himself.

Second, he would have learned all things are mortal. With this knowledge comes the power to kill enormous numbers of enemies. If he was strong enough, he could even turn their spent life force into new strength for himself.

Third, he would have learned that dying things do not decay, but eventually renew themselves. Thus he would have the power to kill the living, while raising the dead. This is the ultimate power he could wield, and one that would end your story well.

AA: Great. Thanks. Hey, Gorilla Adjudicator, have you got a moment?


Author's note: I can't tell you how unbelievably hard it was to come up with a good sign for “adjudicator”.

GA: I have very little time. Some hard cases I must decide today. Gorilla Librarian and Gorilla Gardener always fighting. Now Librarian say Gardener keeps plowing under his fields. What you want?

AA: Well, I've got this really neat story, and –

GA: Cut to chase.

AA: There's this gorilla who wants to pound on his enemies. How would he do it?

GA: First, he had better have good cause. Rule of law exist for reason. But if he does, he could do many different things.

First, he could erase the world around him, letting pieces back in one at a time. This way, he could deal with enemies more easily.

If he was virtuous enough, he could exact a terrible vengeance, killing friends, foes, and all of their possessions in a single blow. It can be a heavy burden to deal such judgment, but even that is not the most extreme possibility.

With enough dedication, he could destroy the very earth itself. While doing, so, he could even force his foes into horrific decisions about who and what they can save – and who or what they must let die.

AA: Sounds pretty harsh.

GA: Not everyone agrees that last one is good idea. Good to check with your enemies to make sure they're okay with it. Your cause must be truly just.

AA: Thanks for your time. I'd better get a hold of the Librarian and Gardener, before you handle their case…

GA: When you see Gardener, ask him and Warrior about similar story we discussed a while ago. In our story, a gorilla punishes some while rewarding others. I like that story lots.


AA: I didn't know gorillas could read. Why are we using sign language?

GL: Warrior and I came up with idea. We think you look funny doing it.

AA: Well, why don't I just get some paper and write –

GL (standing and pounding chest before signing furiously): KEEP SIGNING, LITTLE MONKEY! IT AMUSES US!

AA: Cripes, okay, fine. So tell me what you think about a gorilla who is facing down many strange enemies and must deal with them all at once. How would such a story end?

GL: By trickery, of course – the same sort of thing we did to you that has you flapping your limbs around like a wounded gazelle.

First, the gorilla could steal choice possessions – or even the loyalty of his enemies' minions – all at once, and use the new resources against his foes.

AA: Really? Stealing is okay, by gorilla moral standards?

GL: Yeah, it's all good. A more extreme path for our gorilla friend would be to turn back time on his enemies – either by making the world around him vanish, or by replenishing all of the spent energy around him.

AA: Sounds pretty radical, for a librarian.

GL: You don't read enough books. We're pretty crazy folk. Ah, here comes the gardener, that green-thumbed moron. I have nothing further to say – I won't tolerate his presence.

AA: Really? You've never worked together?

GL: Best thing we ever pulled off together was this trick where we'd replace one big creature with a bunch of little ones. Not very impressive. His fault, of course – he's just not clever enough. (After glaring at the newly arrived gardener for a moment or two, GL leaves.)


AA: The librarian was just telling me how much he respects you…

GG: Can it, short stuff. I can read hands from a distance.

AA: Very well. Since he hates you so much, would you like to give a defense on what gorilla gardeners have to offer the world?

GG: Sure. I can finish that story you've been working on. And I can do it better than anyone else you've heard from so far.

I believe the gorilla could do at least five different things. First, he could call upon any beast he wished to be his champion, or move to any terrain he found most favorable.

AA: Really? Any beast or terrain he wanted, even if it was a legend?

GG: Especially if it was a legend. The second thing the gorilla could do is clear the skies with a storm of unequalled power. Such a storm would wound all of his enemies, and himself as well – but it's a great way to end a story.

AA: So far, so good. What else?

GG: Don't rush me, or I'll stomp you to bits. A well-armed gorilla carries vials of corrosive fluid – someone who gets splashed can splash something else in return. But with enough preparation and thought, our gorilla could wreak havoc among his enemies' lands and possessions.

You know, my warrior friend and I came up with a great story where this one gorilla takes out trees, sunlight, beast, and hammer with a single blow. You ought to look it up, if that stinking librarian still has it in his lousy fiction collection.

AA: I'll do that. You have a couple of endings left…?

GG: These last two are really wild. You don't often think of gardeners when you think of stories like this, but hold your proverbial hat.

His first choice would be to open the doors to a strange dimension where any enormous thing could walk through. Sure, some will help his enemies, and some will help him; but if he's in a tight enough corner, any change to his situation will help. Besides, he might just think it's a whole lot of fun to see what comes charging out of nowhere. Some gorillas get a kick out of that, you know.

Or, better yet, he could be a bit nastier. He could cast a disease that maims or kills all of his enemies. Only those who are in tune with nature and lead large armies can possibly hope to survive the aftermath.

AA: Wow, that's a lot of different endings to the story. You're right – gardeners do seem to have the advantage, here!

GG: You haven't met Gorilla Warrior, yet. That one will knock your socks off. See you on the Internet, monkey-with-clothes.

AA: Er…okay.


AA: The gardener says you can give the best finish to my gorilla-facing-many-enemies story. What would you recommend?

GW: The gorilla has many strategic options. Most involve fire.

AA: Really? I didn't think gorillas liked fire.

GW: Oh, I see. You can suspend your disbelief through the complicated sign language, the libraries stuff full of adventurous fiction, and even gorilla resurrection rituals. But one of us picking up a burning ember – that's too extreme for your imagination?

AA: I'll tell you what else is too extreme – all this freaking irony. As a fighter, aren't you supposed to be more blunt than this?

GW: Warriors are always underrated. That is our advantage. Goofy gorillas who act like librarians and adjudicators think we run out of energy too fast – but this is not true.

The gorilla in your story can have long-lasting impact in many ways. Here are just a few: caving in the surrounding lands to maim and kill his foes, bringing down a rain of fire from the angry heavens, using his mental energy to spread pain in as many directions as he likes, and even making the ground itself poisonous to himself and his foes.

AA: Wow, that's a lot of options.

GW: You want options? What if I told you that gorilla could either crush your bones, or destroy all of the beasts in the forest – your choice! You like those options? And it only gets worse from there!

AA: [Stares in silent fascination.]

GW: That librarian thinks he's so tricky. But how about this for a trick – the gorilla ends your story by persuading every single beast in the jungle to join his army for a day? Or even more amazing – he and his foes renegotiate all of their lands, powers, servants, and possessions, and the entire battle changes without adding or subtracting a single thing?

AA: Them's good tricks.

GW: You know another good trick? Coming up with an octant map that's even easier than that dung-heap you posted three weeks ago. Check this out, chump:

AA: Huh. I'll be darned – you're as smart as at least ten different readers of mine.

GW: Everyone thinks gorillas are slow and stupid. Not the case at all. Just because we take our time and think through problems, doesn't mean we can't come up with the right answer. You just have to tell the story correctly.

AA: I can't think of a better way to end the interview. Thanks to all of the gorillas who took the time out to help!

You may contact Anthony at Anthony cannot provide deck help to any primate.

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