BEAR WITH ME I’M THINKING HERE
Okay, so, let’s unpack this a bit. The core element here is that we’ve got three primary strains of the Aqir between the mantid, nerubians, and the qiraji. The silithid are a drone-worker race that don’t have sentience but have been bred and trained by the qiraji to suit a variety of specialized roles. Along the same lines, the nerubians have non-sentients in their ranks (spiderlings, enslaved arachnathid, and fliers) and the mantid have really only got HUGE FUCKING NUMBERS OF MANTID and the kunchong.
What’s weird about the qiraji is how much more humanoid they mostly are:
- Vek’lor and Vek’nilash (model name: qiraji emperor) use a night elf male skeleton and aside from having carapace-looking bony bits everywhere (which is played up far better in their Hearthstone card art) it’s hard to tell exactly what insectoid qualities they’ve got.
- Qiraji gladiators are more overt with the big pincer hands and insectoid faces, but the otherwise bipedal appearance is weird.
- Qiraji battleguards looking a whole lot like human women with wasp wings and some other random bug bits tacked on like bad cosplay is probably the biggest oddity of the lot.
- And meanwhile at the other end of the spectrum you’ve got the qiraji prophet (Prophet Skeram, Harbinger Skyriss) which is much more in-line with the nerubian viziers as a cognate.
With the nerubians, you’ve got the baseline nerubians and the viziers with the humanoid upper body (which is nonetheless still more monstrous than human) while the spiderlords are basically a beetle-spider hybrid. And the mantid are much more homogeneous, with only the Empress having an appearance that deviates from the normal humanoid-ish shape of the swarmborn mantid (and, by the way, the mantid queen model is just a modification of the nerubian vizier model).
HOKAY HERE GOES
Consider the idea that the different groups of the Aqir are really a product of experimentation and evolution by the Old Gods that resulted in several specialized strains, utilized throughout the history and eventual destruction of the Black Empire.
The nerubians are the oldest of the races. That’s a declaration I’m making as a basis for this headcanon, the purpose of which should be clear by the end of it. In terms of their intended designs:
- Nerubians (and the spellcasting we see expressed as viziers) were well-suited to subterranean area control, between web production (for all of its varied uses) and improved locomotion in caves. Given the Old Gods’ malignant advancement into Azeroth’s deep places, the nerubians would have been useful for exploration and identifying exotic materials for extraction.
- Nerubian spiderlords are an armored variety, bred for burrowing and intended to take a lot of punishment, including perhaps a degree of heat resistance. These qualities would have served well when the Old Gods worked to subjugate the elemental lords of fire and earth.
- Spiderlings and fliers are effectively bestial offshoots from the core design, likely unintended but probably useful to the nerubians as companions and/or fodder.
The qiraji represent several of the strains developed by the Old Gods in response to the assault of the Titans and their titanforged armies.
- Qiraji prophets are a refinement on the nerubian viziers, with greater spellcasting ability combined with a bulkier carapace. While the prophets sacrificed the mobility of the nerubians in general, their ability to manipulate magic and minds was key for maintaining control of the drudge silithid hives and coordinating qiraji forces as officers.
- Qiraji battleguards could be considered a prototype for the mantid, as a highly mobile aerial scout. More on this shortly. (On reflection, the notion that they could have been useful against Al’Akir can’t be ignored.)
- Qiraji gladiators were, to a certain extent, a mass production replica of the c’thraxxi, designed to face off against the titanforged on the battlefield. Pincer arms would have been useful for dismembering or disarming the enemy constructs. A bipedal shape is more compact, less vulnerable, and has arguably better leverage against a similarly bipedal opponent.
- The qiraji emperors would have represented the pinnacle of the Old Gods’ design for modifying the Aqir to execute their will remotely. As powerful agents of both physical and magical prowess that had all of the strength and leverage to go toe-to-toe with the titanforged AND command the Aqiri swarms, they would make excellent lieutenants for the c’thraxxi generals on the field while also having the independence to lead if the c’thraxxi were taken down.
The mantid represent a strain that didn’t see deployment before the Old Gods were defeated and sealed away, but came about gradually, and largely outside the view of everything that remained of the Black Empire.
THIS GON TAKE SOME EXPLANATION
The original mantid queen was an experimental prototype. Take a qiraji prophet (maybe modified to have the more compact and less-armored design of the nerubian vizier), but add in the reproductive faculties of a silithid queen. Great magical power, and the ability to produce massive amounts of troops which she could then direct psychically, but requiring time and space to do so.
Now consider the possibility that this original queen prototype escaped the notice of the titanforged. Also consider that this prototype was positioned in the southern central reaches of Ancient Kalimdor. When Y’shaarj was torn free of the world by Aman’thul, the lifeblood of the nascent Titan spurted forth, collecting in certain places on the continent. These places became testbeds for the Titan Eonar to experiment with the life that sprang forth in response to contact with this magical blood. The area that would come to be known as the Vale of Eternal Blossoms was one of these testbeds…
HURRY UP CROW IT’S LUNCH TIME
To cut to the chase, the kypari trees that dot the Townlong Steppes and the Dread Wastes may have been a product of the blood of Azeroth impacting life on the surface. The mantid consider kypari amber to be the “lifeblood of the earth” and a critical component of how they have shaped their culture and survived over the millennia. Hence, what we have is a largely off-the-wall experiment of the Old Gods in this mantid queen, but she then begins to experiment with the kypari amber herself and is able to draw on its power.
This original mantid empress then begins the great cycle of the mantid swarm: the overwhelming majority of the offspring she produces over the course of a century are male mantid swarmborn. When the swarm reaches an appropriate critical mass, the empress sings to drive the swarmborn into a battle frenzy. Whatever mantid that survive this assault return to strengthen the swarm as a whole, and the cycle begins again. When the empress approaches the end of her life, she produces a single female offspring that, when hatched, will become the new empress and perpetuate the swarm’s objective anew.
The mantid, then, are an unintended product of the Old Gods’ experimentation with the Aqir, which in turn required the defeat of the Old Gods in order to flourish into the self-perpetuating, self-improving engine of devastation that the mantid became. The fact that the closest target of the mantid were the mogu, themselves derelict Titanforged constructs who had lost their intended purposes in the torpor of Keeper Ra, means that their history is really a constantly repeating re-enactment of the long-ceased war between the Old Gods and the Titans.
This helps to explain why the mantid were markedly less acknowledged in history while the qiraji and the nerubians were the more recognized actors within Azj’Aqir. The mantid were essentially a localized threat that chose their nearest target, the mogu, to harass, instead of assaulting other more distant enemies like the Zandalari trolls or the nascent kaldorei empire further north. When Pandaria was split off from the rest of the world as a result of the Sundering, the mantid were basically unaffected.