August 21 of this year is a special anniversary for Vorthos, for it will mark the tenth anniversary of the term as it was coined by Matt Cavotta in his iconic article “Snack Time with Vorthos.” In the article, Matt discusses the idea that beyond the Timmy-Johnny-Spike psychographic trio exists a Magic fan who appreciates the more flavorful aspects of the game.
The idea proved to be popular, so much that Mark Rosewater (MaRo) felt the need to discuss where Vorthos entered into the psychographic equation in his famous “Timmy, Johnny, and Spike Revisited” article. Maro stated that Vorthos actually did not fit into the T-J-S equation at all and was in fact not a psychographic profile. He goes on to say that a Vorthos is defined not by why he or she plays Magic, but instead is defined by what he or she cares about within the game. MaRo wrote again on the subject in his article “Melvin and Vorthos” in order to shed further light on the two approaches to enjoying the game. All three of these articles are excellent reads and provide a ton of insight into the genesis of Vorthos that I highly suggest taking the time to familiarize yourself with.
However, a lot has changed in the past few years, and with today’s article, my goal is to showcase what I believe to be the current state of Vorthos.
Thinking about Vorthos
If Melvin and Vorthos are not psychographics as MaRo said, where do they show up on the Timmy-Johnny-Spike graph that defines each player? Mike Linnemann took a stab at this by saying that Melvin and Vorthos lie on a “Z-axis” while T-J-S share an X and Y axis.
While this approach was a decent approach to describe how Melvin and Vorthos play into the equation, I believe that there is an easier way to think about it visually.
This is known as a radar plot. It provides a clean, visual way to showcase multiple axes of data for a single subject. In this particular case, I am showing you the stats for my third-level rogue in my current Dungeons & Dragons campaign. When most players think about Melvin and Vorthos, they tend to lump the two together with the Timmy-Johnny-Spike psychographics. If we were to create a radar plot to showcase how a typical casual Magic player might line up with each psychographic group, it might look something like this:
However, as MaRo clearly points out in his article, this line of thinking is incorrect. Vorthos and Melvin should not be on the same graph as T-J-S. Timmy, Johnny, and Spike are about motivation. They are ways to describe why a person does something.
- Timmy does things to have fun.
- Johnny does things as a form of expression.
- Spike does things because he or she has something to prove.
Where Vorthos and Melvin are different is in that they are not about motivation and are instead about appreciation. To me, the easiest way to describe the two is like this:
- Vorthoses appreciate how things make them feel.
- Melvins appreciate how things make them think.
In MaRo’s article, he describes Vorthos and Melvin as being layers of Timmy, Johnny, and Spike and that you can have Timmy–Vorthoses, Spike–Vorthoses, and Johnny–Vorthoses that each value different aspects or their appreciation. A Timmy–Vorthos might enjoy a really cool-sounding name like Thundermaw Hellkite, a Johnny–Vorthos might make a flavorful deck that is themed to play and feel like a necromancer, and a Spike–Vorthos might take pride in expert knowledge of Magic canon. This makes me believe that each person who is a fan of Magic would have two separate graphs, a “Vorthos” and a “Melvin.” If you were to plot someone’s “Vorthosness” on a radar plot similar to the ones shown above, it may look something more like this:
This plot would tell you that the player in question really enjoyed “Vorthos things” that were fun, but what does that mean? The Timmy-Johnny-Spike method is a fantastic method for understanding why someone does something and is extremely useful in understanding what different players want in a game, but as we have already established, Vorthos is about appreciation. What if there were groups that defined what you appreciated instead of why you appreciated it. What would those groups look like?
Vorthos of Today
A lot has changed since the term debuted almost ten years ago, and the Magic community has grown tremendously over the years. In that time, the volume of fan-generated content available on the Internet has drastically increased. The term Vorthos has also seen tremendous growth and is often tacked onto any content having to do with “artsy” stuff. For someone newer to the term “Vorthos,” this may seem overwhelming or confusing. Mike Linnemann and I briefly discussed three facets of the Vorthos community on our Snack Time podcast, and since then, I have given the subject a lot of thought. While I think breaking Vorthos into Timmy, Johnny, and Spike categories is a wonderful way to understand why a Vorthos might be collecting cards with great flavor or buying original art, it does not help newcomers understand how they can be Vorthoses. My goal with today’s article is to outline five distinct groups that I believe cover how someone can be a Vorthos, something I like to refer to as the “Five Faces of Vorthos.”
- The Gamer
- The Artist
- The Writer
- The Oracle
- The Dreamer
These five segments of Vorthos are meant to encompass the many ways in which we can appreciate Magic’s flavor. Below, I will be looking at each of these five facets in more detail, explaining the ways in which they enjoy Vorthos aspects of Magic.
We will start with what is probably the most well-known type of Vorthos, something I like to call “the gamer.” These players are covered pretty well in Mark Rosewater’s articles, and the category includes those who enjoy top-down mechanics and resonant fantasy flavor in their games. A gamer Vorthos appreciates top-down card designs like form of the dragon and journey to the underworld and enjoys traveling to planes like Innistrad, where the mechanics of the set were created to invoke a sense of dread in the players. In addition to that, gamer Vorthoses take pleasure in building thematically flavorful decks and creating game states that make sense to the overall flavor of the setting, such as playing Epic Confrontation on a Surrak and having him fight a dragon. Gamer Vorthoses are also those players who will even go so far as to refuse equipping an Emrakul, the Aeons Torn with Lightning Greaves because it “wouldn’t feel right” due to the titan having no feet to strap the boots onto. Logic is the key, and this player wants the things in his or her game to “make sense” together. For the gamer, he or she is a Vorthos by appreciating the flavor as it occurs while playing Magic.
The artist as a Vorthos term applies to anyone who appreciates the visuals associated with Magic, the most common way being those who enjoy the card art. An artist Vorthos will have multiple favorite pieces of art and may have a particular artist he or she enjoys most. However, this is not to limit the artist to only enjoying the visual aspect of Magic. An artist Vorthos enjoys seeing what the new packaging will look like for an upcoming set. He or she will tell you that the city-like visual treatment found on Return to Ravnica block packs was his or her favorite—or that he or she really enjoys the calligraphy-esque ink brush style of Khans of Tarkir. The artist Vorthos is interested in set symbols and enjoys learning about the implied moon in Innistrad’s font. Artist Vorthoses will have favorite card frames, will enjoy finding out what artists made it into the art annual book Spectrum, will enjoy finding concept art of their favorite settings, and will like looking for Easter eggs in Magic art. Something as small as selecting a play mat, finding custom card sleeves with pictures on them, finding specific art for Commander decks, or even finding specific lands with art that the artist Vorthos likes for drafting are all Vorthos decisions that fall within the artist’s domain. For the artist, he or she is a Vorthos by appreciating the visual flavor of Magic.
Where the artist applies to those appreciating the visuals of Magic, the writer applies to those who appreciate what is written for Magic. A writer Vorthos has a favorite piece of flavor text or a favorite card name. However, it is important to understand that the writer is not concerned so much with the storyline of Magic as he or she is with finding and appreciating good writing within the game. A writer Vorthos enjoys reading the new taglines put out for each set and appreciates the use of alliteration in names and flavor text. The writer keeps track of the one-word names used on cards and becomes upset if you ask him or her about some of the used-up ones. A writer loves to see real-world flavor text or hidden card-name Easter eggs. A writer is interested in the rare and obscure words found naming some of Magic’s thousands of cards. For the writer, he or she is a Vorthos by appreciating the written flavors of Magic.
In classical antiquity, an oracle was any individual acting as a medium through whom advice or prophecy was sought from the gods. Basically, that means the oracle served as a way for humans to interact with something or someone that would otherwise be considered beyond their reach. The oracle Vorthos is an individual that helps in the same by creating ways for others to bridge the gap between their normal, everyday lives and the fantasy world they love. Currently, the most common way for someone to serve as an oracle Vorthos is to create a costume that is as a replica of something a character was seen wearing in Magic art. Cosplayers fall into this group because, in wearing the costumes they create at public at events or in images they share online, cosplayers take on the persona of Magic’s characters and allow players to interact with their favorite characters in real life. By creating real-world versions of Magic items, the oracle creates a way for people (whether it be themselves or other fans) to blur the lines between what exists in real life and what exists in game. An oracle Vorthos does not have to cosplay in order to do this and could instead create a plush version of a beloved character, fabricate replica versions of a popular artificer’s creations to serve as real-world desk decorations, or even create jewelry modeled after items depicted in card art. Being an oracle Vorthos can even be something as simple as liking a cosplayer’s Facebook profile or showing off your guild allegiance to the world wearing a Rakdos tee shirt. The important thing to remember is that all you have to do in order to be an oracle Vorthos is appreciate methods for enjoying Magic’s flavor in real life. I believe that the oracle is currently the least-mined vein of ways to be a Vorthos, and I hope to see more creative attempts experience Magic’s flavor to start popping up soon. For the oracle, he or she is a Vorthos by appreciating methods used to create a bridge between Magic’s flavor and the real world.
Finally, we come to the fifth face of Vorthos, something I like to refer to as “the dreamer.” The dreamer is an individual who can appreciate all aspects of the other four Vorthos types (art, writing, game mechanics, and real-world/fantasy blending) as long as it also does one thing: add to the overall storyline. The dreamer is the Vorthos who cares about the lore. When a new book is written, the dreamer is not so much concerned with the writing style or who the author is, as these are things that “the writer” would worry about. No, all the dreamer would be concerned with is what that book will add to the ever-evolving storyline of Magic. When a new version of an existing Planeswalker comes out, the dreamer does not worry about if the artist painted the image traditionally, or if the costuming would be difficult to replicate. Those are things for the artist and the oracle to consider. Instead, the dreamer would look for any new weapons or armor depicted in the character’s possession, perhaps in the form of a cloak picked up from a fallen comrade. The dreamer is the steward of Magic’s canon and is a fan of the stories being crafted by Wizards of the Coast’s creative team. For the dreamer, he or she is a Vorthos by appreciating Magic’s storyline.
The Vorthos community has been exploding as of late, with more content being generated than ever before. My hope in writing this article was to complete an up-to-date guideline that easily grouped together the many ways you could appreciate the flavors of Magic. If you or a friend is interested in joining our hallowed ranks but are unsure how you fit in as a “Vorthos,” consider which of the following you most appreciate:
- Do you enjoy top-down mechanics and resonant, in-game flavor? Congratulations, you are a Gamer–Vorthos!
- Do you enjoy the beautiful art found on Magic cards? Congratulations, you are an Artist–Vorthos!
- Do you have favorite card names and flavor text? Congratulations, you are a Writer–Vorthos!
- Do you enjoy wearing your favorite guild tee shirt? Congratulations, you are an Oracle–Vorthos!
- Do you enjoy Magic’s storyline in Uncharted Realms each week? Congratulations, you are a Dreamer–Vorthos!
While there are many ways to celebrate the different facets of Magic’s flavor, it is important to remember that whether someone is a gamer, an artist, a writer, an oracle, or a dreamer, together, we all one common thing: a Vorthos.
Original Art of “Vorthos” by Sam Keiser