Public Displays of Aggression

Posted in Savor The Flavor on February 9, 2011

The plane of Mirrodin is embroiled in war, and everywhere mighty cries of battle arise from warriors' lips. A goblin has selected his favorite weapon—anything—and screams forth from his rusted-iron warren to slam into a squad of Phyrexians. A giant hoists an axe as big as the goblin and utters his war-bellow, cleaving a Phyrexian exarch into two messy pieces, inspiring screeches of support from his fellow warriors. A paladin of the Accorders yells the name of his fallen sister loud enough that the entire battleground can hear, using the name as a rallying call, letting its echo give meaning to the blood under his army's feet.

Defiance, camaraderie, exhilaration—they are what set the Mirrans apart from the cold virus of Phyrexia, and they are all expressed in every warrior's battle cry. Today we look at the flavor side of the battle cry mechanic. Each Mirran race and culture has its own particular vocal style that reflects its heritage, its character, and its attitude toward the war.

Welcome to Battle Cry Week!

    Red-Sun Cries: Goblins

Mirran goblins have special vision, literally; they see far into the red end of the spectrum, into the infrared. To them, the red sun dominates the sky; they reverently call it the Sky Tyrant and celebrate the terrible light it radiates. They believe the Sky Tyrant is the mighty hammer that forged the world, and that living things on its surface are mere sparks from its forge.

Goblin Wardriver | Art by Chippy

For a goblin, going to war is as natural as breathing, and breathing is as natural as screaming. Goblins' battle cries may sound wild and incoherent to other species, but they usually express a strong sentiment about the red sun or Kuldotha, the Great Furnace that surrounds the red lacuna. "May the Sky Tyrant burn your innards to slag!" they shriek, or "Our swords are the terrible tongues of Kuldotha's forge-fires!" In goblin-speak, these sentiments can be expressed in only a few jabbered syllables, usually while racing forward en masse wielding a junkyardful of rusty iron implements.

Occasionally, goblin weaponry can be heard to "sing" with strange harmonics during goblin war cries. Some shamans believe that the goblin practice of rebirth—the literal recycling of the metal from dead goblins to forge new metal goods—gives the spirits of bygone goblin warriors a chance to voice their fury in war once again.

    Names of the Fallen: The Auriok

The Auriok have a tradition of using names as battle cries. The Auriok are a tightly-knit community of scavengers and soldiers, bound together by ties of family and custom, and nothing offends an Auriok more than an unjust death. The screamed name of a fallen ally is enough to inspire deep and heartfelt loyalty to an accomplished knight, battlemage, or other battlefield leader.

Hero of Bladehold | Art by Austin Hsu

Instead of a centralized government, the Auriok self-govern in small communities, all of them defended by the Accorders. The Accorders are a troupe of roving soldiers and peacekeepers that enforces law across the Razor Fields. In wartime, the Accorders have become valuable cavalry and elite infantry for the Mirrans, and they've spread far and wide the Auriok tradition of screaming out names to inspire their comrades in battle.

Recently, Accorders have taken to calling out the names of banesaints, loathed figures from Auriok history, to stir the feelings of hatred required for battle with Phyrexia. As the Mirrans have learned more and more of the names of ranking Phyrexians, these hated Phyrexian names have also been called on the battlefield to harden hearts and strengthen resolve.

    Feats of Breath: Ogres and Giants

Mirran ogres are famed for crushing artifacts. Linguistically, their battle-roars tend to be nothing more than nonverbal bellows of hunger, but their effect can be more than just sonic. Ogre utterances can set up reverberations in some metals that induce microfractures and weaken their structure, allowing their sharp metallic teeth to slice artifacts to shreds. Mirran generals have learned to separate troops of Mirran ogres from squads of Myr, golems, and other metal-intensive Mirrans to prevent friendly fire, but the ogres' usefulness against Phyrexian constructs is prized.

Kuldotha Ringleader | Art by Greg Staples

The rarely-seen Mirran giants, distinguishable by their dramatic, minotaurlike horns, have a greater lung capacity relative to their weight than all other Mirran humanoids. Their booming voices are usually used to startle and confuse hapless travelers through their territory, but since the war, Mirrans have used giants' voices to galvanize and inspire troops. In particular, goblins seem to get agitated and excited when a giant's blast of noise washes over them, guiding them like a directional magnetic field into the fray.

    Pathmaker Trumpets: Loxodons

The elephantine loxodons are tough as tanks, tireless as machines, and headstrong as boulders. They are irrepressibly confident, seeing almost every event in their lives either as positive or as a challenging opportunity to prove their mettle. The atrocities of the war with Phyrexia have tested that belief, but loxodons remain crucial allies in the Mirran effort. Loxodon trumpet much like nonsentient elephants of other planes, using their voices to signal and communicate with other loxodons across the wide expanses of the Razor Fields. When engaging an enemy, the meanings of loxodon trumpets can often be interpreted as a direct, plainspoken challenge, often couched in surprisingly courteous terms. "I disagree strongly and with extreme force." "I must insist that every one of you yield posthaste." "Surrender now or I shall slay you and then vigorously trample you."

Loxodon Partisan | Art by Matt Stewart

    Heartfire Chants: The Vulshok

The six forge-tribes of the Vulshok specialized and divided along lines of craftsmanship and forge-magic. For years they were a strong alloy of allies, bound together by their system for division of labor. The Vanishing sowed chaos among the forge-tribes, disrupting their tradition of mutual reliance, but then the young leader Koth and the war with Phyrexia reminded the Vulshok of their commonalities again.

Hero of Oxid Ridge | Art by Eric Deschamps

All Vulshok humans feel emotions as heavy as iron and as deep as the pits of Kuldotha; Vulshok shamanic rituals can summon up passions powerful enough to upheave the land, and a Vulshok warrior in battle is the face of rage itself. Vulshok chests pulse with a fire that reflects their strongly-felt emotions, sometimes causing their internal temperatures to spike enough to melt or ignite other materials. Vulshok warriors can stoke these heart-fires with arcane shouts, chants, and lyrical runes that call to mind the proud handiwork and battle exploits of the Vulshok's pre-Vanishing history. These chants are steeped in allegory, using terminology and imagery of the forge to symbolize the strong passions that burn in the Vulshok chest.

    Noise to Signal: Artifact Creatures

One of the oddest and most varied segments of the Mirran faction is that of the artifact creatures. Mirrans have recruited constructs, golems, Myr, and other artificial oddities to their cause, proving that one does not need skin to understand the threat of Phyrexia. Many of these artificial fighters are barely sentient, and fight out of an intrinsic, wired-in sense of duty to their home world or to individual commanders. Others have joined the cause more or less voluntarily, moved by their own wordless calculations of value. Interestingly, Mirran partisans tend to regard more highly those automata who have joined for their own reasons; even though the more sentient golems or Myr may be capable of changing their "minds," the duty-wired constructs are thought to be more easily "reprogrammed" by Phyrexian captors.

Signal Pest | Art by Mark Zug

The battlefield vocalizations of artifact creatures vary widely. Signal Pests, for example, are living artifacts that were native to the Tangle and the more high-bladed areas of the Razor Fields. Once thought to be nuisances, these swarms of mechanical Pests are now considered quite useful by the Mirrans, as their natural chirps and whirrs are reliable indicators of enemy positions and troop movements. It has now become commonplace for the noises of insect-like machines to signal the start of major Mirran offensives.

    The Battle Cry Colors

Mechanically, although Phyrexia has made inroads into other colors in Mirrodin Besieged, white and red remain the colors that have mounted the strongest counteroffensive against Phyrexia. Fittingly, white and red are the colors where we find battle cry, that bold and defiant Mirran mechanic. While Phyrexia has gained more infect creatures, more proliferate effects, and those new living weapon freaks in the latest set, the Mirran side has shown its willingness to unite for the common cause of kicking Phyrexia in the groin—a worthy cause indeed.

The position of battle cry in white and red is a clue about what presents a challenge to Phyrexia. Phyrexia has no problems matching strength with strength or ambition with ambition. It has no problems being more cunning, or more devious, or more callously brutal than its enemies. However, it has problems overcoming—or even understanding—defiance. When an enemy combines a tradition of independence with strongly-held personal conviction, Phyrexia has trouble finding susceptible minds and bodies to tempt, sway, and corrupt. Phyrexia's best strategy for dealing with such defiant cultures is simply to slaughter them wholesale, but the battle cry mechanic shows what a mighty blow these peoples can strike when they band together. If the white- and red-aligned cultures of Mirrodin aren't tempted by Phyrexia's twisted vision of perfection, and they can't be defeated on the field of battle, then the Mirrans may have found a way ...

    Letter of the Week

Today Justin has a question about the color alignment of Homo sapiens.

Mr. Doug Beyer,

I've been thinking lately about the various creature types of Magic. Each creature type generally belongs to a single color in the pie, only occasionally spilling into others. For example, merfolk almost always belong to blue, goblins almost always fit into red.

Humans, however, have no such classification and as I've perceived, are pretty evenly spread all over the color pie. Since it's so much in the public eye, let's use Mirrodin as an example. There is a distinct race of humans in each color on Mirrodin, (Sylvok, Auriok, etc.) whereas vedalken only stick to blue and elves reside only in green.

Is this intentional? Are you guys making a statement about human nature? Is it a criticism of the human race and how we fail to unite, or is it an appraisal of us humans, because we can celebrate diversity?

Just wondering!

Thanks for your question, Justin. You're right that humans generally appear in every color (or when they sit out of one color, they sit out of them all, as on the plane of Lorwyn). More than any other race, humans are capable of adopting a wide variety of values, philosophies, and beliefs—accordingly, humans on any given world can usually be found aligned to any of the five colors. They can ponder the depths of the ætheric mysteries or hurl bolts of lightning from the mountaintops. They can follow troll tracks in the thickest jungles or exhume half-rotten corpses for necromantic rituals. It's a statement that humans are defined by their flexibility.

From the behind-the-scenes point of view, the prevalence and variety of humans does a couple of good things for the game. First, it lets us put a human face on every color of Magic. That helps the look and feel of all the colors stay appealing to a wide variety of players. Our market research shows that we have a lot of human beings among our consumers, and having human beings in the art gives those players a familiar face that they can identify with. Our super-rough-and-not-always-stuck-to rule of thumb is: the Human subtype shouldn't be so widespread that humans are a majority of the creatures in any given color, but if you add them all up across all five colors then they'll probably outnumber any other race type in a typical set.

Second, humans play an important role as a point of comparison in every color. You get to see how tall or tough or magic-inclined goblins are compared to humans, for example, since you get to see them next to red-aligned humans that live in similar environments and have similar color values. You get to see what role griffins or pterons or leonin play in a given setting, because you get to see white-aligned humans riding them or hunting them or making alliances with them. We can afford to get more exotic with our nonhuman races, in part because there are plenty of examples of humans next to whom you can see similarities and differences—and we like that. Thanks for your question!

    Next Week: Milk and Cookies with a Certain Magic Artist!

Next week I temporarily hand the Savor the Flavor conch over to my colleague, Magic lead concept artist Richard Whitters. Richard will be bringing back a well-loved "Taste the Magic" feature called "Milk and Cookies," in which he will periodically interview a Magic artist about all things artsy. Fittingly, Richard's first guest on Milk and Cookies will be the originator of Milk and Cookies himself, Mr. Matt Cavotta, who's back inside the halls of Wizards of the Coast as of a few months ago.

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