Myth & Magic: Release the Kraken
- Lee Murphy
Lee is back with another take on the myth behind the Magic. Today he's feeling the water, looking at Leviathans, Octopuses, and the giant things lurking beneath the waves.
Winter is upon us, and so too are the Christmas blockbusters… Aquaman, the hero of the DC Universe who has the ability to communicate with all sea life. While not necessarily a tie-in, it does seem like an opportune moment to take a quick look at some of the giant scaled and finned underwater beasties Wizards has thrown at us over the years, and of course some of the stories that might have provided inspiration.
When it comes to selecting what creatures we should look at, there was obviously some decisions that had to be made. Merfolk, as beefy (fishy?) as they are in all formats, are in many ways a pet peeve of mine. I've always hated playing against them and lost a key match against a Merfolk deck in this year's Nationals, when a win would have had me in Pod 1 and in shouting distance of the Magic World Cup. Oh well… There's always 2019.
Slinn Voda, the Rising Deep has some very interesting text. When Slinn Voda, the Rising Deep enters the battlefield, if it was kicked, return all creatures to their owners' hands except for Merfolk, Krakens, Leviathans, Octopuses, and Serpents. We'll take this as a sign from Thassa, and focus on some of these creature types, and a few oddities as well… such as the…
Such iconic artwork. What appears to be a monstrous goldfish, lurking with intent below a pair of rowboats, moored almost certainly just off the coast of some small village. An Arabian Nights card, it is, not surprisingly, representative of its namesake, at least according to a Merman named Abdullah (there's those merfolk again). Abdullah tells a story to a fisherman, also called Abdullah, describing the monstrous goldfish as the largest fish at sea, the enemy of all mermen, and capable of devouring a ship and all its crew with one bite.
“This is the Dandân. He cometh in search of me, seeking to devour me; so cry out at him, O my brother, ere he reach us; else he will snatch me up and devour me.”
Octopus (and Squid)
Magic: The Gathering has a more or less even split between octopuses and squids, although it does appear as if the squid creature type (just a single squid, with the other three being beasts), which has traditionally been the tentacled monsters of film and TV for generations, is being retired; flavor dictates that deep-sea critters tend less towards interaction than the shore-hugging octopuses. And of course, we start with the 8-limbed beastie because it's worth saying from the get-go that the legend of the Kraken likely arises from early sightings of giant squids, which must have appeared utterly terrifying to late-Viking-period sailors completely at the mercy of the fickle open waters of the North Sea and Atlantic. While you might assume the more commonplace representation of a kraken is, as you've seen in the original Clash of the Titans, a humanoid, lizard-like, aquatic Godzilla of sorts, it has often been more octopus-esque in nature when used above water, and more squid-esque when used in the darker depths.
The actual existence of the giant squid was a matter of some debate for centuries, given that mankind has only had access to a fraction of planet's waters to date. It wasn't until the mid-19th century that scientists began to wonder if there was some truth behind the legends of the kraken, and for all the cataloguing of various body parts that would wash up on shore from time to time, it would be 2004 before photographs of a giant squid were possible, and proper video footage another few years after that. As scientists understand more about how other sea creatures act and react to squid-kind, it has become progressively easier to acquire the information required.
The octopus (a grand total of five real octopuses, one Unstable octopus), at some risk of a let-down, is basically something to be eaten with potatoes and onion. There are many different species of octopus, the biggest being the Giant Pacific Octopus, which can grow to be as heavy as some 70 kilos, basically the same weight as a young human adult. Their known intelligence is reflected more in the Cephalid creature type within the game, a more evolved species with immense curiosity as to how the world works. We'll see some of these in action later in this article, both Octopus and Cephalid.
As noted above, the Kraken was a legend born from a sighting of what was likely a giant squid, two of them in fact. The name derives from krake, a term indicating a twisted and malformed creature. In a sense, the Eldrazi are kraken, in that they have no established shape and can certainly appear misshapen and are, by no means, small.
The two creatures in question, Hafgufa and Lyngbakr, feature in the Icelandic saga Örvar-Oddr, towards the end of the 13th century. Their story in turn derives from repeated sightings of two giant squid in the waters around Greenland, always in the same area, and never a third or more seen. In Konungs skuggsjá it was suggested that there must only be the two, sent by the gods, for purposes unknown. The common perception at the time was that at least one of the two would be mistaken for an island at a distance, although we can reasonably be assured that any stories to suggest that any sailor stepped foot on a live squid to be fanciful indeed. This tale was posited by a bishop by the name of Pontoppidan, and repeated therefrom in Melville's classic, Moby Dick. Irish legend too has a similar story, as Brendan and his fellow monks supposedly ate a meal upon the back of a creature they would name Jasconius, basically 'Fish'. If there is any truth at the dawn of such tales, it's likely that some recently deceased whale had surfaced. We do know that creatures of the sea grew to larger sizes in centuries past.
As in past articles, folklore and mythos has a strange way of merging several legends. The Physiologus was a 4th century BCE bestiary that indiscriminately filled its pages with as much fact as it did fiction. Sinbad the Sailor in the Arabian Nights (the collection of tales that helped inspire the Magic set of the same name) encountered a 'living island' which was a sleeping whale upon which a forest had grown. This too, will be referenced later on…
There are 18 creatures with subtype Leviathan. Hebrew in origin, the first references are found in the Old Testament in the Book of Job. According to the source material, the Leviathan (for there is only one) is a creature of the sea, ostensible partner to the Behemoth on land, both to be feasted upon at the End of Days.
Already you can see certain parallels with any number of legends, some of which mentioned above, and if any such creature existed once upon a time it, like the kraken, was probably just some giant squid, perhaps a whale, or even one of the last of the classic dinosaurs (sorry Nezahal). Later on, the Leviathan would be painted a creature of hell, and its name has come to mean something of a great, immense nature: the living starship in Farscape, the murderous denizens of purgatory in Supernatural, and, politically, a broad, controlling system of power, such as Thomas Hobbes wrote about in Leviathan or The Matter, Forme and Power of a Common-Wealth Ecclesiasticall and Civil, and later R.G. Collingwood in The New Leviathan Or Man, Society, Civilization, and Barbarism.
Here, we can see that leviathans, in the creature sense, krakens, and giant octopuses are essentially synonymous, and with that, it's time for a decklist!
Not Standard, not Modern, not even Legacy or Pauper…
When dealing with great, giant creatures such as above, we need a great, giant deck. And what better format than EDH? Commander! I sat down with Igor and Nikša from the Elder Dragon Durdle podcast, to build a themed deck from scratch, and we've only gone and recorded the story of how we built the deck, and how we chose the cards, and why… Flavour win! You'll find part of the list below, and you can find the podcast itself here!
That's the end of the Myth & Magic series and I hope you've had as much fun reading them as I had writing them. 2019 brings new things and starting in January, Cardmarket Insight readers can take a more interactive approach to Modern, as I'll be building a deck to be played at a MagicFest towards the end of the year, 'live' via Twitter. Each month we'll be taking aspects of the intended archetype, and advancing the template, testing it along the way. All you need to know right now is that there are at least 8 cards locked in… more or less… See you in the New Year.
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