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He was able to ascend to the level of Sorcerer Supreme is a very short amount of time (at least in the MCU) despite others who have been training for decades or centuries.

Is there some explanation for his apparent uniqueness?

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    He was a world-renowned surgeon with an eidetic memory and superior intellect, all things you'd expect to be indicative of someone who's a quick study – Valorum Jan 11 '18 at 18:05
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    Also, who was left at the end of the movie that (a) was still alive and (b) wanted the mantle of Sorcerer Supreme? – Xantec Jan 11 '18 at 18:15
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    @ThePopMachine - People who're gifted in one area are often naturally capable in others. A lifetime of study in a field isn't going to give you the edge over someone who can literally repeat (and comprehend) every book he's ever read. In the film we learn that he's made near-instinctual connections between different spellbooks and spell theory books from hundreds of years apart using this skill. – Valorum Jan 11 '18 at 18:20
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    Well, you know what they say : "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger"...wait – CBredlow Jan 11 '18 at 18:23
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    Not counting the stinger with Thor, which happens some unspecified time later, Strange isn't the most powerful wizard around at the climax of the film, or at least there's no evidence of it. He succeeds due to using the Eye and fooling around with it to learn how it worked (which no other student was stupid enough to attempt), happening to have it on him when the Sanctum was attacked, and then by using the little he'd learned about it at the time to pull off his "Annoy the Enemy into Submission" stunt. That wasn't a matter of power, it was cleverness. – Keith Morrison Jan 11 '18 at 18:56
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I'll split this into two parts. The first part will be to talk about Doctor Stephen Strange himself, and the second part will be a comparison between him and other sorcerors (e.g. Wong, Mordo)

There are a few motivating factors for Doctor Strange that are somewhat unique to him:

  • He has an photographic memory (I actually don't remember if the MCU says it's eidetic in the movie, eidetic and photographic are subtly different, but often used interchangably). This is a fairly rare trait that enables him to learn at a much faster rate than most people.
  • He is a very intelligent person. That's something shared by many people, but he is notable for having invented new procedures (e.g. laminectomy, with Christine Palmer), which goes beyond just very smart.
  • He has a big ego. He knows he's great, and cannot stand any limitation to his greatness.
  • His personal trauma in losing the usefulness of his hands. This is a limitation to his greatness. He has no meaningful personal life, no bucket list, no travel plans, etc. Zero distractions. His only motivation in life is finding a way to regain the use of his hands, and he believes (thanks to what he knows from Jonathan Pangborn) that learning more, and learning faster, will give him back his hands. All of his time and energy is going into this. Sleep is for the weak - if he can sleep less and learn more, he can go back to being awesome sooner.

Most of that makes him extraordinary, but not unique. In a similar situation, you could expect someone like Christine Palmer, Howard Stark, Hank Pym**, etc., to all be at a level to match that kind of ability. Many of the Sorcerors also probably similar. So what distinguishes Strange from a sorceror like Wong, or Mordo?

  • Sorcerors seek to learn, and their life is for learning. Stephen Strange went into his learning with one purpose; regaining the use of his hands. It's entirely plausible he intended to go back to his normal life when he did (like Pangborn), but with a clear goal to aim for, and a pressing urgent need to learn it as soon as possible, his attitude to his learning is very different from someone who intends to dedicate their entire life to a goal.
  • The training a normal Sorceror gets is targeted by the Ancient One. Strange does not conform to normal training rules; he takes books out of the library without anyone's knowledge, seeks out books he would be told to avoid.
  • Connected with above, he specifically seeks out knowledge that other Sorcerors have been told is forbidden, or dangerous.

Aside from Kaecilius, no one else knows that the Ancient One is siphoning energy from the Dark Dimension. Even Mordo is surprised by this.

  • He ends up being able to use the Eye of Agomotto to augment his spells. This allows him to do things that would normally be impossible for other Sorcerors to accomplish. While other Sorcerors do know what the Eye is, he seems to be the only one confident enough to feel he has mastery over it, use it responsibly*, and has used it to face a pretty major foe.

*debatable initially, since the warnings came after the spells.

**I specifically sought some of the non-enhanced intellectual geniuses in the MCU for that comparison. Bruce Banner or Loki could arguably belong there, but one is sorta transcending humanity, and the other is a God, so ...

  • I think warnings at end of the book, was just a joke, no warnings at the end. – Oni Mar 29 at 5:10
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Just after Doctor Strange used Eye of Agamotto for the first time:

Wong: You weren't manipulating the space-time continuum, you were wrecking it. We do not tamper with natural law. We defend it.
Mordo: How did you learn to do that? Where did you learn the litany of spells required to even understand it?
Doctor Strange: I've got a photographic memory. It's how I got my M.D. and Ph.D. at the same time.
Mordo: What you just did takes more than a good memory. You were born for the mystic arts.

These conflicting statements are the best canon can explain. Basically, neither Mordo nor Doctor Strange himself knew why he was special.

This question is similar to "Why Hank Pym or Howard Stark was smart?": Doctor Strange was enthusiastic about learning new things. He didn't use to played with rulebook, so he never hesitated to experiment. With his long history in die-hard academics and research, his brain was highly flexible to adapt to new learning and he could concentrate well with good creativity. All these aren't true for other sorcerers.

Also, Doctor Strange didn't become Sorcerer Supreme within few days. For example, he had initially hard time using sling ring and fighting with Kaecilius. Ancient One also clearly looked more capable. It took several years for Doctor Strange to become Sorcerer Supreme, so he also showed high resilience and grit.

  • Isn't the quote "You were born for the mystic arts'?.. – AerusDar Jan 15 '18 at 4:02
  • @AerusDar Oh sorry.. Corrected. – Captain Cold Jan 15 '18 at 4:05

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