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The Comboist Manifesto Volume I, Article 16: Intermission On Terrible Wings
By Stephen Bahl
I will be out of town for the rest of this week. I knew about this, but due to other, unforeseen circumstances, I did not have time to finish the next installment of my First Edition retrospective, which is behind schedule. Two weeks ago, I was temporarily without access to my computer. I managed to submit my article, but before I did so, I wrote this filler piece under the assumption that I would not be able to submit my planned article for May first. You didn't get the filler then, but you're getting it now...

I don't have my main computer right now and won't be able to edit and submit the latest portion of my First Edition Retrospective. But that's OK, because I can totally write an article on the spot. Besides, hastily written articles are all the rage now at the CPA, so I'm just jumping on the bandwagon at this point. And there's something I wanted to write an article about anyway. It's a combo, of course. I don't know if I can compete with dinosaurs and sheep, but we'll see. Speaking of dinosaurs, there's been some forum discussion at the CPA about etymology and Pygmy Allosaurus. Apparently, we don't have anything better to do. At least, I know I don't! And that's why I'm going to talk about etymology again in this article. No wait, don't go away yet. I promise that there's a cool combo. Etymology is the price that you must pay for the cool combo. And there's a reason. The reason is this little guy...

Hyalopterous Lemure: an obscure creature with an obscure name. “Hyalopterous” has been used as a term to describe some insects. The Greek prefix “hyalo-” refers to glass and the “-opterous” refers to wings. Hyalopterous insects are those that have transparent wings. In Roman mythology, “lemures” were ghosts. Carl Linnaeus, who developed the modern system for scientifically naming plants and animals, borrowed the word to describe the slender loris, and the label was later applied to primates in Madagascar, which don't actually have anything to do with the slender loris. Weird.

Just like a ghost, apparently.

At a long-defunct local game store, I used to buy these brown paper bags filled with Magic cards for a dollar or something. This must have been in the late 1990's or so, and Ice Age cards were dirt-cheap. I still own an unreasonably quantity of Ice Age cards. But I remember, even back then, wondering what the deal was with Hyalopterous Lemure. It was just such a bizarre card. I wouldn't learn what “hyalopterous” meant until several years later. When I did, the art made more sense, although it didn't really make the card any less bizarre. I was going to title this article “Intermission on Glassy Wings.” But then I remembered an unfinished fiction story I wrote (or rather, didn't, since it's unfinished) that had as its title, “On Terrible Wings.” I'm proud of that title and this is just an intermission anyway, so I can basically do whatever I want (that's how this works, right?) and what I want is to use that title. Also, if I saw a sharp-clawed little ghost-monkey-thing swooping onto me with glassy wings, terror seems like an appropriate component of the situation.

So, some individual at Wizards of the Coast, trying far too hard to be clever, came up with “Hyalopterous Lemure” as a name for a creature, and the rest is history. Hyalopterous Lemure even inspired another card, Viscid Lemures, in Time Spiral, dropping the vaguely lemur-like appearance, but continuing the tradition of using obscure words (the word “viscid” in this context means slimy). Viscid Lemures would actually work for our combo, but the original is cuter.

Aesthetics aside, Hyalopterous Lemure is mostly an unremarkable creature. It's a 4/3 for five mana, which is neither good enough to be interesting nor bad enough to be funny (especially in light of how many bad cards there are in Ice Age). By itself, the Lemure's ability is a way to make it more flexible, as it can be a 4/3 or it can be a 3/3 flier. While not terrible, it's unimpressive. It costs 0 mana, so it could be used multiple times, but that would just make Hyalopterous Lemure worse. A 1/3 flier is worse than a 3/3 flier. And of course, creatures can have negative power. Spinal Parasite (and later Char-Rumbler) was even printed with a negative power.

For the purposes of dealing damage, a creature with negative power is treated as having 0 power. However, for the purposes of calculating things that change a creature's power, the negative number remains a negative number. So if you have a Char-Rumbler with -1 power, and then use its ability three times, it then has 2 power. Ordinarily, this fact isn't of much relevance to Hyalopterous Lemure. It would be silly to make a 3/3 Lemure into a -2/3, and then to cast Giant Growth to make it a 1/3.

And then there's Call for Blood.

It's another five mana. Ordinarily, Call for Blood is a bad creature removal spell, sacrificing a creature to deal with an opponent's creature, with the potency of Call for Blood being dependent on the power of the sacrificed creature: a big creature gives a big Call for Blood. But sacrificing a creature with a negative power turns Call for Blood, normally used to hurt creatures, into a creature enhancer. A -10,000/3 Lemure sacrificed to Call for Blood would give the targeted creature +10,000/+10,000. If it attacks and isn't blocked, that probably kills the opponent. Probably. You know, because people start with 20 life.

And yes, this works. Giving a creature -X/-X, where X is a negative number, is the same as giving a creature +X/+X, if X had instead been a positive number. Since Hyalopterous Lemure gets negative power for free, one of the strangest creatures in Magic gets one of the strangest infinite combos in Magic. It's perfect! The combo also works with Ichor Explosion for even more dramatic results, but that takes even more mana.

This is almost awesome enough for me to want to build casual decks again. Almost. But maybe you can actually put this in a deck. I'd say to tell me all about that in the comments, but those aren't allowed anymore. So, discuss Hyalopterous Lemure here.

Read More Articles by Stephen Bahl!

 - Wednesday (July 18. 2018)
 - Thursday (May 17, 2018)
 - Tuesday (Aprl. 24, 2018
 - Monday (Apr. 16, 2018)
 - Friday (Apr. 6, 2018)
 - Wednesday (Apr. 4, 2018)
 - Monday (Apr. 2, 2018)
 - Friday (Mar. 23, 2018)
 - Thursday (Feb. 15, 2018)
 - Thursday (Jan 25, 2018)

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