Monday, 1 May 2017

Of Trolls and Chinese Whispers

So, I’m currently reading Apocalypse for the blog, and I was struck by its dedication.
“To Jaya, Dragontrainer, and all the fans”
For those who don’t know, Jaya and Dragontrainer were posters on Phyrexia.com, a website of old especially focused on the storyline. And when I say old, I mean its front page still wishes us a happy 2009. Its continuity section and forum have been… a bit of a mixed blessing for the storyline community really. On the one hand, it was crucial in keeping old information and stories in circulation long after the comics and magazines they originated in ceased publication, and it was visited by several Magic authors over the years who revealed behind the scenes info there. On the other hand, it suffered from a lack of critical reading and citation. Fan theories got presented as fact a bit too often for my tastes.

Today, I want to show you how easily the entire storyline community got duped due to a lack of annotations and the obscurity of some original sources.


After seeing that dedication in Apocalypse I was curious if I could find Jaya and Dragontrainer’s reactions to that honor. I couldn’t, but I did find these two threads:



The first contains a list of planeswalkers, reposted from an earlier, lost, incarnation of the Phyrexia forums. Then about half of the thread in which that list was formed also gets reposted. The second half of the thread can be found in that second link. And reading that thread is… wow. It starts with someone just giving a list of ‘walkers they could think up on the fly. People start throwing out ‘walkers they missed, who get added to the list. And then someone called “Sick Boy” turns up and says…
By Sick Boy on Friday, October 27, 2000 - 09:17 pm:
I can't believe you turds. You forgot Hyrgh, Regulus, Zhael, Ashcan, Guybrush Threepwood, Guillemot, Brian Lalley, Raynor, Jarek Mainskiller, Lothar, Rasczagal, Chebepeetree, and Whangerdookre.  
Yeah. Guybrush Threepwood. From Monkey Island. Apparently some of the others are from Starcraft and Warcraft. Brian Lalley is probably just one of Sick Boy’s mates, and since Google gives only about five hits for Chebepeetree and Whangerdookre, all of which are reposts of this list of planeswalkers, I’m certain those are just random names made up on the fly.

Now, with the inclusion of Threepwood you’d think people would immediately notice it’s nonsense, but no, all of them are put on the list! Or perhaps people were in on the joke and just ran with it. But even if that was the case, the next generation of storyline fans sure didn’t know. Those new fans accepted whatever was written on Phyrexia.com and reposted the list to MTGNews. From there it went to MTGSalvation. Then to the MTGSally wiki. It even went around the world

This sounds utterly ridiculous, but I think I can give you some idea about why this happened. You see, I actually participated in this bizarre chain. I was the one who copied the list from MTGNews to MTGSally, and I created the original Wiki entry. To my credit, I did figure out Guybrush was a joke addition, but I kept all of Sick Boy’s other troll-‘walkers on the list as “pre-rev planeswalkers I don’t know much about”.

Why did I do that? Ultimately, it’s because Magic’s publication history is a complete mess. Novels, anthologies, comics, magazines, games, booklets included in starter decks, obscure websites, calendars… I'm sure even Wizards has no idea what exactly has been published over the years. I think my “list of storyline sources” is pretty complete, but it is entirely possible that I missed a story released in… I dunno… an info leaflet given out at DragonCon 1998 or something obscure like that.  And even if my list IS complete, it’s not like all the items on it are easy to come by. The later Harper Prism novels, some of the WotC anthologies, all issues of The Duelist… it’s not impossible to get them, but can’t just buy them in any random bookstore either. And online shops weren’t quite as big as they are now back at the turn of the millennium, when Sick Boy’s troll happened. Heck, even now I don’t have any of the calendars, and I am still wondering if Jeff Lee was right about that calendar supposedly containinginfo on the Elder Dragon War or if he was simply misremembering things.

I short, even for me today it is simply impossible to know if I’ve got the complete canon, and most people own a lot less than I do. So as a community we have come to rely on passed down information. That is why I’ve got so much praise for the storyline guru’s of old. Squeeman and Eidtelnvil, Zazdor, Jaya, Jeff Lee, they all kept us aware of stories we would otherwise have long since been forgotten. But the flipside is that we have come to accept anything with their name attached as true, so if any of them slipped up that mistake had a ridiculously long half-life.

Luckily a MTGSally user, fittingly named Oracle of Truth, has removed Sick Boy’s ‘walkers and some other false additions from the MTGSally Wiki back in 2008, and ever since the likes of Brian Lalley and Chebepeetree have been slowly fading from the net and our collective consciousness. Hopefully through this blog I can also help dispel some of the myths and urbans legends that the storyline community has accepted as true through its long game of Chinese whispers. Thus I wanted to share this story with you all. Take it as a word of warning. If I ever go on about citing sources again and you feel I'm overreacting, remember that for about 8 years we kept on telling each other that there was a planeswalker called Whangerdookre, just because a single troll dreamed it up on a whim!

1 comment:

  1. Don't worry, you are not alone in this "ride through the ages". Inspired by your blog, I've started buying every MtG novel I could find (soo many $$$ :-( ), just because I wanted to have first hand lore about Magic. I always check your entries and I find them really complete and deep.

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