Hyalopterously Yours

Posted in Serious Fun on August 3, 2004

By Anthony Alongi

Ice Age's cutest darn little creature

Every Magic player has a favorite card – maybe the first artwork that captured our imagination when we were new to the game, or the topdeck that won us our first local tournament, or the beatstick that always seems to persevere on the battlefield against four other players.

My favorite card…is not in Ice Age. Shame, since it's Ice Age Week and all here at magicthegathering.com.

But my clip's not empty, folks! I hang around with people – smart people. More importantly, some of these people are people who like Ice Age cards.

Laura Mills is a veteran Magic player and writer. A former resident of Minnesota, she moved back earlier this year from Denver with her husband Michael. The two of them are our casual group's newest members, which is a swell thing since they're terrific hosts and Michael makes a mean fajita.

Fajitas may seem a bit distant from Ice Age, but I'm getting there. One day, I noticed a card taped inside the cover to Laura's deck box. I barely recognized it – Hypa-something Lemming? Who tapes cards to anything anyway, I wondered. But on the spot (and, come to think of it, without me really asking out loud), Laura offered a charming defense of the card. The moment stuck in my mind.

When it came time to write an article about Ice Age, I immediately recalled the Hyalopterous Lemure.

Okay, that's not exactly true. See, as spirited as Laura's defense of the card was, I paid no attention to the expansion symbol. So even though I now knew there was a card called Hyalopterous Lemure, I had no memory of its expansion (or its rarity, or even really its casting cost).

It wasn't until I ran through an entire online cardlist of Ice Age that I spotted the Lemure – and I realized I had found my topic for today's article.

Laura was kind enough to send me some written testimony on Mr. Hyalopterous – the only lemure in the game. (Yes, besides Mistform Ultimus, blah-dee-blah-dee-blah; how many times do you suppose that guy will screw up Magic trivia questions over the next ten years?) Here are excerpts from her email:

Hyalopterous Lemure is a significant card for me because it embodies the aspects of Magic that I enjoy the most. Obviously, I have a soft spot for being able to defeat my opponent with furry little critters. There is something humorous to having to go around to your friends and claim that you died to a furry little animal. Especially a bunny. I hope Wizards makes some more bunnies in the future – not the ugly Vizzerdix mutations, but the cuddly Jackalope versions…

I knew one or two people [in the early Magic days] who refused to play any black cards due to its perceived connotation of evil. If you are familiar with the color wheel, you understand that black is not necessarily associated with evil (just as white isn't associated with good), but the cards have abilities that are equivalent to a “black” feel – decay, destruction, sacrifice of current resources for future power. And then black has this cute furry little critter whose only real association with black is that it happens to be nocturnal. The card's existence shatters color stereotypes. As one of a handful of women who play Magic, you can see how I might appreciate a card that defies a stereotype.

Laura listed other reasons why she likes the lemure, but I've decided to co-opt those other reasons as my own. Don't worry, I'm still being honest. I've become quite fond of the little fellow since I learned about him – and I even discovered I've had one in my collection for years without realizing it! Job hazard, I suppose.

Perhaps by the time we're done going through this list, we'll even think of a lemure-licious deck or two worth trying.

Forthwith, four reasons to love the Hyalopterous Lemure. But first, a word of explanation!

You Say Lemure, I Say Lemur

Dedicated linguists will note that "lemur" and "lemure" are not the same thing. Put simply, lemurs are mammals and lemures are spirits. This may make things confusing for today's article - because I think the artwork shows a lemur, more than a lemure. So I wrote the article that way. But as you'll see from this, the lemure shouldn't be a lemur. Call it an interpretive difference.

Fortunately, upon receiving a draft of this work, Wizards pointed out the discrepancy and gave me the opportunity to explain myself. And I happily will.

Honestly, the idea of a "Hyalopterous Lemur" is just as nifty - if not niftier - than the idea of a "hyalopterous lemure that LOOKS like a hyalopterous lemur." First of all, it's easier to print as a card title. Second, lemurs are nocturnal. Okay, they're not - but they should be. Especially since they breathe fire and eat whole pigs in a single swallow. Third, the darn thing looks like a lemur.

Look. As the Dan Quayle of lemurs, let me make a deal with you all. For the amount of time it takes you to read this article, it will just help everyone involved if you buy into my melding the two. Then, when you're done, rest easy with the comfortable knowledge that lemures and lemurs are two different things.

Unless, of course, you're talking about the ghost of a Madagascaran mammal. In which case, Hyalopterous Lemure is perfect.

Reason #1: Hyalopterous Is A Cool Word

I would be okay with Wizards using more truly obscure but real words like hyalopterous. Much as Magic appeals to those skilled at math, it ought also to stretch players' literacy. Magical, faraway worlds don't just have to use made-up words like “Vedalken” or “Phyrexian”. Those are certainly fine as far as they go, but those words with actual linguistic roots contain opportunities for discovery. How excited I was when I realized what myr really were!

To discover what hyalopterous actually means, I went to a web site called Forthright's Phrontistery (by Steve Chrisomalis). There's all sorts of liguistic craziness going on over there, and one of the features is a dictionary of obscure terms. I found hyalopterous there (“having glassy or transparent wings”), and then I skimmed through the rest of the dictionary.

What a treasure! H alone had dozens and dozens of cool words. Jay M-S and other Magic title/flavor text writers, take note: here are 25 I think would look terrific on a Magic card:

habromania insanity featuring cheerful delusions
hadal parts of the ocean below 6000 metres
halolimnic pertaining to sea creatures who spend time in fresh water
hapaxanthous flowering only once
haustorial having a sucking proboscis
hebenon anything with poisonous juices
hederaceous of or pertaining to ivy
helminthiasis infestation with worms
hematomancy divination using blood
heterochrony divergence from normal time sequence
heteroecious parasitism upon several hosts
heterotaxis anomalous arrangement of body parts
hierogram sacred or hieroglyphic symbol
hieromancy divination by studying objects offered in sacrifice
holobenthic passing entire life in the deep ocean
hommock ridge in an ice field
hoplology the study of weapons
hoy large one-decked boat
hydrophanous becoming transparent when placed in water
hylophagous eating wood
hyperope far-sighted person
hypnagogic sleep-inducing; pertaining to drowsiness or sleep
hypodynamia loss of strength
hypogeum underground chamber
hypsophobia fear of high places

Honestly, who hasn't just thought up 25 different cards/abilities in their mind, just from reading that? A black, life-sucking Haustorial Kavu! A Thawing Hommock that produces U for a while, then R! A Hylophagous Vine that has you sacrifice forests to gain a bonus! A Happy Hyperope who gives you some sort of super-scry! A Halolimnic Hebenon with islandwalk that deals combat damage and poison counters…okay, that's a bit much.

It's been a while since Wizards has explicitly used a word as outrageous as hyalopterous. I'd love it if they sprinked two or three card titles in each set that challenged players to pick up (or click on) a dictionary.

Reason #2: It's A Beatstick With Big, Pretty Eyes

Akin to Laura's “cute bunny” thesis, my second reason for liking the Lemure has to do with how outrageously fun the power/toughness stats are, when compared to the artwork.

Think of other 4-power creatures. Thundering Giant. Ravenous Baloth. Air Elemental. Serra Angel. Masticore, for heaven's sake. Add to that pantheon of beef: a skinny mammal that leaps from tree to tree and looks like it's repeatedly losing bladder control.

Here's another cool factoid: if you control a Morphling and your lands are tapped out, you'd be better off with the Lemure.

Should Wizards consider this a “flavor mistake”? Perhaps they do, but I'd argue for making such “mistakes” occasionally in the future, for two reasons. First, if you do it judiciously the slowly growing set of large mice, tiny dragons, and rabid camels will become appealing to a specific set of the Magic populace – just like obscure vocabulary words. Heck, if we can put in one coin-flip card per set, certainly we can find room for the occasional counterintuitive creature type.

Second, the potential for interesting artwork increases, the more you push the flavor. Creatures in unique proportions, or sporting unlikely features, gives artists a challenge – and since the quality of Magic artists is high, I'll bet we'd enjoy the results.

Reason #3: It Goes Where Other Small Mammals Dare Not

Until Wizards introduces an actual, self-contained, airborne squirrel (what's taking so long?!?), Hyalopterous Lemure is where you go for flying fur. The Lemures make any mammal deck better! See, look:


Land (20)
20 Swamp
60 Cards

Here's the deal – you start off with a rat. And then another rat. And then another rat. And so on.

Then, just when your playgroup thinks it knows what you're doing…you play the Lemure! You announce it loudly, too. Here's what I recommend: tap six mana. Make like you're pulling out two cards from your hand. (You know…two more stupid rats.) Then, with a flourish, you keep one card in hand and windmill down your finisher!

“HYYYYYYY-a-LAWWWWP-terous LEEEEEMUUUUUURE!” you'll cry, just like when those guys talking on sports stadium public address systems announce the home team's most valuable player.

Then you'll mana-burn for one, just 'cuz. That's how cool this deck is.

Reason #4: Lemurs Are An Important Part Of Madagascar's Fragile Ecosystem

While no (known) lemur in Madagascar has the ability to fly outright, they can leap long distances, excrete strong scents from their limbs to warn off sexual competition, and shoot out their long and sticky tongues to snag baby snakes out of the branches as they pass by in midair. Okay, I'm not so sure about that tongue-and-snake bit; but it sounds like something a mammal on Madagascar ought to be able to do, am I right? Animals in and around the Indian Ocean always seem to have a leg up on the rest of us – that's the ocean where they caught that coelacanth everyone thought was exinct; and there's some sort of “unusual large ocean snail” they keep talking about like it's something from Area 51. And Australia's just on the other side from Madagascar, and look at what they've got over there! Fire-breathing kangaroos, talking tarantulas, and that sinister-looking Opera House in Sydney. That thing's a secret habitat for government zoological experiments, if I ever saw one.

Speaking of biodiversity, how about the Lemure's place in this little tropical web of life:



Fear the tree monkey! If you don't have this powerhouse from Portal Second Age, you could slip in some out-of-theme black removal like Lose Hope or some such. The deck really ought to have a bit more black in it, to help clear the way for the Lemure and its friends.

You could press the anti-flying elements in the deck with stuff like Needle Storm, which you'd cast before your army took to the air, right??

Finally, you could consider Storm Elemental, and snow-covered lands. That would be a nice Ice Age touch – and a good way to end this week's article! Happy Lemure launching.

Anthony cannot give you deck help…unless you're a lemur. If you'd like to imitate one and see how that works for you, your best bet for investigative research is at http://www.tsidy.com/lemurs/, http://www.gozen.demon.co.uk/godric/lemgall.html, and http://www.duke.edu/web/primate/EducationSite/ContentsLoader.html. Lotsa luck.

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