Lemur vs. Lemure: The story of one of the biggest art mistakes in Magic History


Sometimes in Magic: The Gathering, art direction gets lost in translation.

Magic: The Gathering is no stranger to mistakes. In the past they've done everything from including typos to accidentally releasing part of a Magic set with a different card from another game back by accident. But, occasionally, such goofs expand into their always beautiful artwork. That brings us to the Hyalopterous Lemure.

Back in 1995, Magic decided to launch what would become the new Ice Age block, expanding into the then mostly unused colder and ice-based biomes for creature and spell inspiration. By this point many creature and spell names began to start using the same words or types. After all, there is only so many times you can find a synonym for ‘big flying thing’ before you start to use it again. 

In that spirit (and while creating a new black card), designers wanted to get a new word for a ghost or a spirit. Digging deep in the ‘D&D word bag’ they came up with a lemure, which is a term for a ghost or spirit that is forced to stay on Earth. They even added ‘hyalopterous’, meaning glassy winged, to help differentiate it.

And then they made it sound scary, describing it with the following flavor text: "The lemures looked harmless, until they descended on my troops. Within moments, only bones remained.

So how scary was this Hyalopterous Lemure? Well….um…

Awwwwww!  It's sooooo cuuuuute!

As it turns out, Richard Thomas, the artist tasked with the card's artwork, knew very well what ‘hyalopterous’ meant, but thought that a lemure was the same as the large-eyed, ring-tailed Madagascarian primate, the lemur. And that’s how a card that was supposed to be a scary ghost instead became something that likes to "move it move it."

Turns out Wizards of the Coast was more bemused about the change than angry. While Mark Rosewater called it one of the biggest art mistakes in Magic history, the game itself would later poke fun at the incident in the 2006 Time Spiral set with the Viscid Lemures card, with the following flavor text: “Lemurs? Is that all? Finally, something harmless…

Today both lemures occasionally finds its way up for a reprint in a new set. And, while it was an honest mistake, fans can be counted on having Thomas never really live it down either.

It also proves, that even with mistaken art, Magic art can be really beautiful (and sometimes quite cuddly).

Evan Symon

Evan Symon is a graduate of The University of Akron and has been a working journalist ever since with works published by Cracked, GeekNifty, the Pasadena Independent, California Globe, and, of course, Magic Untapped.