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Know Your Lore: Top 10 magnificent bastards of Warcraft, part 1

The World of Warcraft is an expansive universe. You're playing the game, you're fighting the bosses, you know the how -- but do you know the why? Each week, Matthew Rossi and Anne Stickney make sure you Know Your Lore by covering the history of the story behind World of Warcraft.

What's a magnificent bastard, you may ask? Well, sure, it's usually (but not always) someone evil -- but more than that, it's someone who combines ruthlessness with style. Someone who can lie, cheat, steal and kill but who does it with a certain flair. Someone whose sins are grandiose, whose betrayals are notable. Anyone can be a thug, but your magnificent bastard doesn't settle for that.

In the end, though, the term is definitely subjective, kind of a "we know it when we see it" situation. Still, that's one of the reasons I wanted to do this post, because I knew some of the choices I made would not be the ones you'd make. And that's good, because it means you'll get right down into the comments to tell me why I'm insane for leaving out your favorites.

Not all of these choices will be what you'd call villains, at least not to everyone. Some of them will even be revered on some fronts. The point is, were they willing to do things that could get them on this list? If they were, then here they are. Some of these characters are horrible, foul, contemptible garbage; others are far more complex.

10. Garithos In terms of being just an awful person, Garithos ranks higher than most on this list. The main stumbling block keeping him from placing higher is his lack of flair. Oh sure, he was a terrible racist, an egotistical blowhard who put his own bigotry ahead of the safety of his few remaining countrymen and who treated allies like disposable servants.

But he wasn't good enough at it to rank higher. His few successes were all the result of more competent subordinates, and he only achieved the rank he did because everyone better qualified died during the original rise of the Scourge in Lordaeron and the following plague of demons after Archimonde arrived. His treatment of Kael'thas Sunstrider helped reshape the landscape of political alliances for the next decade, forever severing the blood elves from any possibility of working with the humans of the Alliance and helping cement Horde power in the northern reaches of the Eastern Kingdoms.

Garithos was a racist, an idiot, an ineffective leader who couldn't even see that an alliance with Sylvanas Windrunner would end in his death. But the very scope of his failures and his astonishing gall in carrying them out gets him to number 10.

9. Wrathion Wrathion, on the other hand, is remarkably competent for a guy who hatched from an egg this year. It's primarily his youth that keeps him from climbing higher on the list; he's got a lot to see and do yet.

His initial showing is pretty significant, however. He managed to escape the captivity of the Red Dragonflight, the rogues of Ravenholdt Manor, and with the help of a cat's paw, wiped out pretty much every living black dragon on Azeroth, including those that thought themselves immune due to their service to him. That's right, he wiped out his entire family. With Deathwing dead and Sabellian off on Outland, that leaves Wrathion if not the only black dragon in existence, then the one with the best chance of pulling the flight along in the direction he wants it to go.

With his presence confirmed in Mists of Pandaria, Wrathion is likely to be even more manipulative, cunning and deceitful while guiding both the Horde and Alliance toward events of his own design. In the end, whoever loses, Wrathion is likely to win.

8. The Prestor Dynasty One of the problems mentioned by a few folks, including myself, is that Deathwing's appearance in Cataclysm partook more from the kaiju side of the colossal dragon and far, far less from his cunning, manipulative side. Furthermore, while both Nefarian and Onyxia made appearances in this expansion, Onyxia was reduced to a mindless monstrosity, and Nefarian, although he got a few good lines, was not around long enough to really do more than echo his part glory.

But it must be remembered that, from his first appearance as Daval Prestor, Deathwing displayed an acute understanding of mortal politics and how to manipulate them to his own ends and that both Nefarian and Onyxia displayed, if anything, a superior grasp of the game. Nefarian managed to assemble an army of servitors in Blackrock Mountain strong enough to stand against Ragnaros and his loyal minions, and Onyxia was within a hair's breadth of taking over Stormwind entirely. In all fairness to Onyxia, it really must be stated that she did better than her father. As Katriana Prestor, she was running Stormwind, with Bolvar blind to her machinations.

The brilliance of the Broodmother was very keenly felt in absence when Deathwing returned. He entrusted his Twilight's Hammer minions to mad ogres like Cho'gall and self-serving minions like the Twilight Prophet, and in the end, they failed him. He would have done better to direct them himself, or failing that, to have entrusted them to Nefarian. Even better would have been if Onyxia's mind could have returned along with her body. In the end, though, for how deftly they steered the course of nations and nearly ascended to the thrones of said nations, the Prestor dynasty deserves to be remembered in this list.

7. Queen Azshara Azshara has endured for more than 10,000 years and is one of the few living beings to have ever allied herself to both Sargeras' Burning Legion and the servitors of the Old Gods without becoming a slave to either. She rules her naga with an iron fist, softened by the velvet glove of a consummate politician and seducer who knows exactly how to get others to believe they want to do whatever it is she wants them to do.

Her recent appearance during Cataclysm shows that side perfectly, as she deliberately provokes Malfurion Stormrage into a confrontation with her that costs her nothing but costs him the chance to prevent Deathwing from summoning Ragnaros himself to the slopes of the sacred Mount Hyjal. At the same time, her loyal naga minions work to invade the Throne of the Tides and abduct Neptulon himself, to an as yet unknown end. With Neptulon out of the way, there's absolutely nothing standing in Azshara's way to achieving total dominion over the oceans of the world, and with the Mists of Pandaria approaching, both the Horde and the Alliance are likely to be too busy fighting each other to take any notice of her schemes until it's far, far too late.

In the past, Azshara was willing to sacrifice most of her own people to accomplish her goals, and it's unlikely that her transformation into the Queen of the Naga has done anything to gentle her. They had to blow up the Well of Eternity to stop her last time. What will it take this time? Azshara is one to watch.

6. Nathanos Marris, The Blightcaller Unlike some of the people on this list, Nathanos Marris isn't necessarily on the list due to the actions he's taken (although he has ordered some very questionable things) but entirely due to his style, his panache, his outright attitude of pure bastardy. Nathanos Marris takes the usual Forsaken's bitterness over his or her fate and amps it all the way up to 11.

First human ever to be appointed one of the famous Rangers of Silvermoon, Nathanos fell to the Plague of Undeath and rose as a shambling mockery of life. Freed from the Lich King's control as the events of Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne unfolded, Nathanos pledged his unlife to Sylvanas just as he had served her in life when she was the ranger general, and his unshakable loyalty surpassed even death itself. As a quest giver and later a hunter trainer in Undercity, Nathanos has offered derision, condemnation, and scorn in equal measure to all who come across him. He even went so far as to ensure that any traces of his former life were eradicated, even though it meant sending Horde soldiers into the Quel'Lithien Lodge to kill the few remaining high elf rangers he served alongside in life.

His loyalty to the Banshee Queen is unshakable, but to anyone else, Nathanos is an arrogant, contemptuous, and dismissive person. His treatment of others and his willingness to kill anyone to keep his past private (and his success at doing so) puts him squarely on this list.

Next week, some incredible bastards square off. Who takes the crown?

While you don't need to have played the previous Warcraft games to enjoy World of Warcraft, a little history goes a long way toward making the game a lot more fun. Dig into even more of the lore and history behind the World of Warcraft in WoW Insider's Guide to Warcraft Lore.

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, The Burning Crusade, Lore, Know your Lore, Wrath of the Lich King, Cataclysm, Mists of Pandaria

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