Magic: The Gathering cards have a secret language that only a few can translate

As complicated as Magic: The Gathering is — with all its various and ever-changing keywords, strategies, products, storylines, even entire gameplay formats — would you believe it also has its own secret language?

Phyrexian was first introduced in 2010. It’s a language spoken in-fiction by a loathsome species of cybernetic monsters on the plane of Phyrexia. Publisher Wizards of the Coast has never completely explained how it works. So, for more than a dozen years now, a dedicated group of amateurs has been working to translate it, going card by card with only a few lines of new text occasionally delivered with new sets of cards. What they’ve discovered is a tongue that’s simultaneously alien and also very much a part of our world.

Fernando Franco Félix, a science advisor for PBS’ Space Time, is perhaps the foremost expert in Phyrexian outside of Wizards. A polyglot — that is, a master of multiple languages, in this case including English, Spanish, and Esperanto — he’s been fascinated with Phyrexian for years now, and maintains a small but dedicated following on YouTube.

“I’ve always liked languages,” Félix told Polygon from his home in Aguascalientes, Mexico. “What I always say is that a language is like an art gallery, and every aspect of the language is like an art piece. I see languages as the greatest collaborative work of art in the history of humanity. You have millions of people and, without even realizing it, they are creating this system, which is beautiful.”

Of course, Phyrexian wasn’t created over thousands of years across multiple cultures. It’s a constructed language, also called a conlang. That makes it similar to the languages found in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings books, or modern conlangs like Star Trek’s Klingon and Game of Thrones’ Dothraki and Valyrian. Of course, you can easily find documents online that will teach you how to speak like an elf or a Klingon. But not so with Phyrexian.

Read more: Polygon

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