Avengers: Infinity War would have been very different had Doctor Strange taken his duty seriously, and prepared for the threat of Thanos. It's true that Stephen Strange is yet to become the Sorcerer Supreme in the MCU, but he's certainly one of the most powerful and committed magic-users on the face of the planet.
Strange's photographic memory has allowed him to advance beyond his peers in terms of mystical knowledge, to the extent that he's the one most trusted to safeguard the Time Stone. He's proven committed to the sacred duty of the Masters of the Mystic Arts; as he revealed to the God of Thunder in Thor: Ragnarok, Strange keeps what he calls a "watch list" of beings who he believes could threaten the world. When Loki and Thor arrived on Earth, Strange had Loki imprisoned in another dimension within moments.
For all that's the case, though, Strange clearly hadn't prepared for Thanos. He'd never heard of the Mad Titan before Bruce Banner's arrival. Has Doctor Strange failed to live up to his responsibility?
Should Thanos Have Been on Doctor Strange's List?
It's easy to assume Doctor Strange should have put Thanos on his watch list and prepared for the Mad Titan's attack. After all, Thanos is a monstrous warlord who travels the cosmos ravaging planets at whim, killing off literally half their populations. In Guardians of the Galaxy, Korath described him as one of the most powerful beings in the universe. Taken at face value, you'd really think Thanos should have caught Strange's eye as a real threat to Earth.
But there are two simple reasons he didn't. The first is that Strange probably didn't know Thanos existed. The Avengers: Infinity War Prelude tie-in comics revealed that the Masters of the Mystic Arts had only limited information about affairs in space. They knew that the Power Stone had been secreted away on Morag, but they didn't know it had been found and taken to Xandar. There's actually no indication they kept track of events in space; rather, with the sole exception of Morag, their knowledge appeared to be limited to beings and incidents that affected Earth. Thanos had never come to Earth himself before, and his hand was hidden when the Chitauri invaded in 2012. There was no reason the Masters of the Mystic Arts would have ever heard his name.
Even if they did, though, it's possible they wouldn't have been interested. The Masters of the Mystic Arts are mostly concerned with mystical, other-dimensional threats. Loki is top of Strange's list because he's a quasi-divine sorcerer who has caused chaos on Earth before, and who has strong ties to the Infinity Stones. Thanos, in contrast, would be viewed as just another alien warlord, possibly one among many, and there's no indication the Mad Titan had ever allowed the universe at large to know of his interest in the Infinity Stones. Loki fell within Strange's purview; he had no reason to believe Thanos did.
But Doctor Strange Should Still Have Known Better
That doesn't mean Doctor Strange is faultless, though. To return to the Avengers: Infinity War Prelude, it demonstrates that the Masters of the Mystic Arts were well aware that the Infinity Stones were being brought into play again. Wong briefed Strange on events from Captain America: The First Avenger, The Avengers, Thor: The Dark World, and Avengers: Age of Ultron. He knew all about what had happened to the Space Stone, the Mind Stone, and even the Reality Stone. What's more, the depth of detail Wong went into suggested the Masters had access to information about these events that was most certainly not in the public domain. Three Infinity Stones had emerged on Earth in the space of just a few years; something was clearly going on.
Given that's the case, even if Doctor Strange couldn't know who Thanos was and what he wanted to do with the Infinity Stones, you'd have expected him to have prepared for powerful alien forces to come seeking the Time Stone. After all, aliens - particularly Asgardians - had been involved with the Infinity Stones in both New York and London. Strange's error may simply have been his overconfidence, his belief that he could protect the Time Stone from whatever forces would come seeking it out. In reality, when the Black Order came in Avengers: Infinity War, he soon wound up a prisoner and taken to space; had Tony Stark and Peter Parker not hitched a ride, he wouldn't have even had a fighting chance when he met Thanos.
- Captain Marvel (2019) release date: Mar 08, 2019
- The Avengers 4 / Avengers: Endgame (2019) release date: Apr 26, 2019
- Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) release date: Jul 02, 2019