Dancing ’Round The Mancers

Posted in Feature on November 2, 2006

By Matt Cavotta

Matt has worn many wizard hats in the 18 years he has worked on Magic—art-mage, logomancer, lightning bard, and (of course) Planeswalker.

Paggle is a Kithkin tinymancer. A tinymancer is a wizard with expertise in little spells that do little things, or big spells that make big things little. Thus, they are called tinymancers, and tinymancers are going to be a big thing in Magic's future. I know this because I am a precognomancer, and precognomancers specialize in spells that tell them the future. I also see in the future that it will be explained how all mancers, even bellymancers and tacomancers, can see the future. But beware, I am also a fibulamancer – a wizard who specializes in pulling your leg.

No, tinymancers are not going to be a part of Magic any time soon, but there are plenty of other sorts of -mancers who will be, and who already are. We kooks at Wizards have seen many, many mancers come and go, so for us, the word root "mancer" is no new thing. But not everyone is a mancermancer; not everyone immediately "gets" what mancers are all about. So here, during wizard week, we're going to see what the mancy is all about, then have a look at all the cool mancers in Magic.

Where Have All The Sticklers Gone?

Wizard_Mentor There may still be a few etymology sticklers out there who cringe whenever they see another -mancer card. They are few because we have been turning them into sheep. At first it seemed like a great way to silence the whining and nitpicking from all the logophiles. But in the end, it just resulted in a lot of bleating and baa-ing. But it cannot be stopped now, because the Ovinomancer has gone mad – trying to rid the world of anyone who knows that his name makes no sense! I've had to coat myself in Guma blood just to write this article.

Etymology is the historical account of the derivation of a particular word. As dealers in the fantastical and the magical, we the creative folks at Wizards may bend the rules when it comes to deploying words. We do take pride in delivering to you new words, arcane words, archaic words, and new word combinations that can lead you down a straight etymological path, but sometimes it's better to bust out the ol' artistic license. Sometimes, bending the rules is necessary to create an otherworldly feel – something that is not so tied to the strict etymological rules of the planet Earth. This is the case with most Magic mancers. Here's the real deal on "mancer."

A (whatever)mancer is one who practices (whatever)mancy.

-Mancy is an English suffix that was derived from Old French -mancie, from Late Latin -mantīa, and from Greek manteia. Simply put, it means uncovering hidden knowledge, or seeing the future, by mystical means. Sticking to this definition, a necromancer would be one who seeks knowledge sheep_token by consulting the dead. Sure, some Magic necromancers might do this, but I'd say the majority of them don't just ask the dead questions, they command them to erupt from their earthy graves to torment the living as undead. Also sticking to this definition, Ovinomancer would mean one who sees the future by reading the clumps in sheep's wool, or some similar ovinous activity. But that's not what the card suggests, and it's not what Ovinomancer himself says. If you read Mark Rosewater's article on Monday, you heard Ovinomancer say that "ovino" means sheep (which is true) and "mancer" means maker – which is not really true. Ovinomancer is actually closer to a fibulamancer. But Ovinomancer is not completely wrong. You see, he's a Magic card, and Magic has developed over time a new meaning, or set of possible meanings, for the suffix -mancer.

In truth, most Magic mancers could be seen as seers of the future or seekers of hidden knowledge, but their obvious function is usually quite different. There is a pretty good reason for this. Magic is about... well, magic, and wizards are the folks who use it most. In a game of (theoretically) infinite cards, all about magic, we feel there's a pretty strong need for wizard words. We cannot call every wizard a wizard or mage or, more recently, magus. Given that, we have slowly become more comfortable with an adapted functionality for the suffix -mancer. The specific dictionary meaning of divination through some sort of magic has been stretched out to mean magic use of any particular sort. In this model, "necromancer" means "wizard specializing in death magic," and "Ovinomancer" means "wizard specializing in sheep magic." We like this expanded Magic meaning for mancer because it opens up a lot more flavor room for (whatever)mancers.

Consider the difference between a dictionary lavamancer and a Magic lavamancer. One is a rare and reclusive mountain dweller who reads omens in the patterns of lava as it drips down the side of volcanic rock. The other is a belligerent war mage who blasts lava from his hands, or a shamanistic mage who controls tectonic activity and the volcanic eruptions caused by them, or even a rare and reclusive mountain dweller who reads omens in the patterns of lava as it drips down the side of volcanic rock. This flexibility is why we have closed our dictionaries and opened up the possibilities with this particular word.

Let's have a spin through Magic's many mancers and see just what the mancy means. (Be prepared for random comments on the coolness, or lack thereof, of said mancers.)

Apprentice Necromancer

I don't think this guy is paying attention to any dictionaries. He's a crazed wacko who uses magic to raise the dead—but he's not so good at it, becoming fodder for his fellow apprentices in the process.



It looks like Auramancer might actually fit the dictionary definition as well as the Magic meaning. In bringing back enchantments from the graveyard, the Auramancer may be seeing that they'll be coming again in the future. She reads the magical residue of enchantments in order to see the future in which they come again. It's a bit of a stretch, but possible.

Ironically, the Magic meaning of Auramancer has become a little sketchy as well. This card was created before local enchantments became known as "auras." For a while, her name was perfect. But now, the Magic sticklers join the dictionary sticklers in pointing out how she does not only target auras. Well, pull your pick from that nit, because this word is grandfathered in (and will be seen again, says the fibulamancer, gazing deep within his left leg).


Doomed Necromancer

This guy is a lot like the poor apprentice two cards up. He's not too concerned with the future since he's probably not going to be a part of it. In order to work his brand of death magic, this guy, very appropriately, dies.


(Secretly, I am glad this guy is doomed. I am not a fan of this artwork – though I do get a chuckle from the flavor text.)

Goblin Flectomancer

This guy gets his name from the Latin word flectere, which means to bend. It's the root word in reflect and deflect. Is it possible that the Flectomancer gazes into mirrors to see the future? Possible, but unlikely. Unlikely, because he, too, perishes in working his magic. Like the Apprentice Necromancer, this guy is but a wizard poseur, dabbling in the mancies. No, he does not see the future, he just sees the present, and then screws with it.


(I am very impressed with the art on this card. In fact, I wish I could paint like that.)

Goblin Pyromancer

I am starting to think that Magic's definition for -mancer is, in fact, one who kills himself trying to be a wizard. Here's another one who has little to look forward to. I think the "pyro" (which means fire) is the driving force in the word pyromancer. It's not so much about knowledge or divination or any of that hocus pocus. It's about the fire, and lots of it.


Grim Lavamancer

I like to think that lavamancers can do anything with lava, including see the future. Given that, I'd call them Magic-mancers. But this lavamancer is grim. Is this because he sees the future, and it's not bright? Is this "grim" outlook on the future the reason why he forsakes his past in order to burn everything in the present? I like to think so. I like to think he knows something we don't know...other than how to command liquid hot magma, of course.


lim dul the necromancer

How can we even try to define Lim-Dûl? He's THE necromancer. He does anything and everything a necromancer could do, from raising an undead army to seeing what's for dinner by scrying into the empty oculus of an ouphe skull.



We've already sort of covered this ground. Baaad boy is most definitely not a dictionary-mancer. This does not mean that, as a Magic-mancer, he cannot tell your future by studying the droppings of a ewe. It just means that this is not all he does.


(One of my all-time favorite pieces of art. I know I've said it before, but the truth deserves repetition.)


This guys is doubly not a dictionary-mancer. Not only does he not follow the dictionary's definition of "mancy," but he's also pretty shaky on the meaning of "retro." I can extrapolate what this name is supposed to mean, but I think it's incorrectly deployed. "Retro" means back, backward, and back in time. I can see that the name was meant to suggest that whatever you do to this guy, he throws "back" at you. But it's not working for me. Recipromancer? Equally sketchy, worse visually. Flectomancer? Doh! I'mrubberyou'reglumancer? Anyway....


Rimewind Cryomancer

Here's a good candidate for a dictionary-mancer. It's documented in Jeff Grubb's Coldsnap short story that the Rimewind wizards do, in fact, use ice as a scrying tool in which to seek knowledge and visions of the future. They do so on the Scrying Sheets and upon the ice-graven Phyrexian Etchings. Since the root "cryo-" means cold or freezing, I think it's safe to say that Cryomancers seek knowledge in the ice.

But wait, they do more than that. They also use the ice to fuel their magical attacks. In this case, they use it to power their anti-magic spells. We can't just call them dictionary-mancers, they are more than that. They are, music for emphasis, Magic-mancers.


You can see from these examples how the flavor of Magic wizards extends way out from the traditional meaning of -mancy. Since (Blank)o-mancer sounds fun and gives us a chance to create some never-before-seen Magic words, mutating the meaning of mancer has become a mighty tool. It does not stop at card names either. There are Streetbreaker Wurm and Schismotivate and aeromancers – oops, I shouldn't have mentioned them, they're not even printed on cards yet. I have got to stop itching my leg, it's giving me fitful visions of the future – a future in which the mancers keep on mancing, the dancers keep on dancing, and this article is in the past.

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