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Magic Anthropology 101

Written by LegitMTG Staff on . Posted in Casual Magic, Kitchen Table

One of the strangest phenomenons on planet Earth is that — whether by cruel fate or some sad twist in the Darwinian game — species go extinct. The Dodo bird, the carrier pigeon, and Blockbuster are all perfect examples of species that simply didn’t have what it takes to survive. Like our planet, Magic is full of species that for one reason or another have simply disappeared from our game. There are many tribes that have dropped away from our collective view and that I believe are in dire need of a rebirth, nay, a resurgence!

They need new cards, new mechanics and a brand new life in the sun, stepping out onto tables everywhere and doling out punishment on a massive scale. These are my personal choices for species that deserve the chance to live again. If you have your own views on these tribes, or perhaps would like to throw a shoutout to your own beloved monsters, please do so in the comments.


What They Are: Green-skinned savages of fantasy lore.
Why They Need to Return: They are freaking cool.

It may seem cliché, but who doesn’t enjoy an Orc-slaying, ring-bearing, fire-blasting good time? Veteran fantasy gamers of all stripes know and recognize the Orc, which is something like the spokes-creature for magical adventures everywhere — the Tony the Tiger of sword-slinging. And unlike Tony, we all have fond memories of our green-skinned friends. Whether it’s murdering raging tribesmen before the next dungeon, trying to pass leadership tests on tabletop army simulations, or simply watching “Lord of the Rings,” chances are you can cling to at least one fond memory of these bestial creatures.

This makes the total absence of everyone’s favorite stock villain truly saddening. In many ways, Orcs are as much a staple of the fantasy mythos as Dragons, Dwarves, Merlin, or chivalry. Our tusked heroes have carved a bloodstained, obliterated place in the hearts and minds of many players. In addition to being the object of nerdstalgia, Orcs had a competitive role early in Magic’s history. David Sligh’s tournament-destroying monored deck included tons of burn and cheap, effective creatures headlined by the vicious Orcs.

Chances of Survival: Grim

I’m sad to say it is highly likely our fantasies of holding Helm’s Deep against the unwashed hordes of these monstrous invaders, (or better yet, of leading them) will most likely remain just that: fantasies. The first major killer of the species is time; Orcs last played a large role in a set during Fallen Empires, and since then, the species has become harder and harder to find. This isn’t to say the occasional tribal warrior or vicious cutthroat hasn’t crept into a set — Time Spiral block even boasted a small return of the Ironclaw Orc tribe — but as a whole, the Orcish culture has disappeared.

In addition, other species have evolved in ways that make survival for Orcs incredibly difficult. From a design standpoint, red already boasts a plethora of cheap (one to three mana; two to three power and toughness) creatures in the form of Goblins. In the three- to four-mana chunk of red, there are Giants and Ogres aplenty. Orcs would be continually pressed on both sides, and because those are two popular groups, Wizards has no compelling reason to bring back our favorite fantasy creatures.

And the design team has expressed a desire to stay away from anything vaguely Tolkien-esque. In a recent Q&A session on the Wizards forums, designer Brady Dommermuth talked about the fate of the Orcs: “Orcs are Tolkien’s creation, and Middle Earth is so complete and epic and defining that I don’t want Magic (or any other fantasy game) to pillage it for every last detail. I want Magic to have some points of distinction, and that means including things not in Tolkien as well as excluding things that are.”


What They Are: Strange lizard-bear-snake-monster cross breeds that hunted the wilds of Dominaria.
Why They Need to Return: They are integrally linked to the game.

Those unfamiliar with some of Magic’s most bizarre creatures should find time to study this particularly peculiar one. These creatures were the poster-monsters for several of Magic’s key sets (including Invasion and Planeshift) that featured land-based mechanics. Some Kavus gained special bonuses like +1/+1 buffs or the ability to landwalk; some entered the battlefield with counters if you controlled a certain kind of land; and others tapped to change the nature of lands already in play. Magic is integrally linked to the mana that we use to cast spells, and recent sets such as Zendikar (with its landfall mechanic), and Mirrodin (when artifact lands were vital) are indicators of the true importance of lands. In a Limited environment, Kavus encourage players to splash colors and go for more ambitious strategies in the decks they draft. For casual players who like their game with a taste of nostalgia, Kavus provide the ultimate excuse to go crazy with the decks they build.

Chances of Survival: Strong
The only factor working against the Kavus is they are traditionally associated with the plane of Dominira. But this is not as large a hurdle as it may seem, because Magic’s iconic creatures often find their way into the strangest worlds. Merfolk somehow found their way into the pastoral world of Lorwyn, a world without oceans. Players love Merfolk, so Wizards found a home in the massive rivers and lakes of a world that would not have otherwise accommodated them. Elves managed to find a niche in the world of Mirrodin despite the lack of any traditional sort of vegetation. If these iconic creatures can make their way, why can’t Kavus? Because Dominaria has been Magic’s key plane of existence, it stands to reason that Wizards will eventually return — and if they do, the Kavus will be waiting.

In addition to being interrelated to the lands that are the lifeblood of Magic, Kavus have something else working for them: Flametongue Kavu, a.k.a. The Icon of Enter the Battlefield Effects. Long before Thragtusk reared its ugly head, Flametongue Kavu dominated games for players who wanted to blow up a troublesome foe and land a powerful monster of their own at the same time. Because the Kavus have a legacy as one of the most beloved, or maligned, four-drops in Magic history, their chances of survival are strong.


What They Are: Four-legged horse warriors of the forest.
Why They Need to Return: Unrealized potential.

Centaurs have had a strong heyday in Magic: They have played an important role in many sets from Onslaught to Odyssey, Ravnica to the Core Sets. With as robust a history as this, it might seem like an odd decision to include the mighty centaurs on a list of species that need to resurface. But they’re included on this list not because the species is in danger of dying, but because it is being held back from its full potential. Any time a green deck has dominated a major tournament, pointy-eared pretty boys have led the charge and won the games. I don’t know about you, but when I decide to throw my weight behind the might of the forest, I prefer my warriors made of sinew and bone, muscle and steel. I want my champions made of raw strength rather than grace and synergy.

Chances of Survival: Strong

While the current metagame is dominated by all kinds of creatures (especially cheap ones like Snapcaster Mage and Deathrite Shaman), there does appear to be room for larger creatures to play vital roles in decks. And Centaurs have played a part in tournament decks, with Phantom Centaur a vital part of Pro Tour green decks for as long as it was legal. Even now that the game has changed and developed in new and exciting ways, Centaurs are continuing to make a comeback: Centaur Healer is one of the most efficient three-drops and Call of the Conclave can also play an integral role in Selesnya midrange and aggro decks.

It is important to note the environment where Centaurs first saw popular play was the original Ravnica, when the Selesnya guild was a fan favorite of many players. It makes sense Wizards of the Coast would bring the tribe back to prominence, and this resurgence of Centaurs does double duty by satisfying fans of the tribe from the original block, and giving green competitive low-cost creatures.


What They Are: Magically endowed spirits that began their reign in the very first sets of Magic.
Why They Need to Return: A powerful legacy, and interesting interactions.

Djinn are perhaps the most peculiar and interesting of Magic species, with a long and storied history beginning with the appropriately themed Arabian Nights. The set was full of interesting Djinn, including the four-mana powerhouse Juzam Djinn. At the time a four-mana 5/5 was completely unheard of, and every Djinn made players risk everything to gain access to such power. Djinn had any number of drawbacks— sometimes they cost life per turn, sometimes they left combat, and sometimes they left you for your enemy. The Djinn were the experimental creatures for undercosted creatures with amazing power and toughness. Current monsters with strange drawbacks like Alms Beast can directly trace their lineage back to the Genies who set the standard for Magic design.

Chances of survival: Compelling
While not always faithful servants, the overwhelming power and intrigue of Djinns have allowed them to take their place in Magic history. And unlike Orcs, they have not faced any sort of competition for the title of weird, large-costed creature. They have also spanned a multitude of sets as well as the entire color spectrum of magic. Despite this, the Djinns face a hostile and evolving environment. Creatures have been getting stronger and stronger since the game began (just compare three-drops like Grey Ogre to Boros Reckoner), and the various drawbacks of Djinns would certainly hinder the tribe’s ability to see competitive play. But Djinn have continued to pop up, and there is always a chance the creatures could return if they were made competitive in Limited, and given a place in Commander. At the heart of Magic, it’s all about the interesting things that can happen in a game; and the Djinn are certainly interesting.


What They Are: Twisted abominations composed of magical energy, scattered and discarded elements, and a nasty will to live.
Why They Need to Return: An awesome balance between combo possibilities and nostalgia.

These creatures have so much going for them it’s kind of hard to understand how they could have fallen out of popularity in the first place. Lurghoyfs have helped define the Magic experience for many players, judging by the look on my 8-year-old face when I opened my first Lhurgoyf: Terravore. I saw it and couldn’t believe that it was actually my creature. It was a terrifying beast made of whirling stone and sand. It looked like the kind of monster that could stomp armies into the dirt and, most importantly, it was mine. At one point I held the card aloft like some sort of artifact and actually cheered. A friend opened a Mortivore and began to rave about how much he loved the card; he later crafted three black decks with that monster as the centerpiece.

Reminiscing aside, the Lhurgoyfs are as much a part of Magic history as the Djinn. These were the original primal elementals. In an age before the Titans, Planeswalkers and $20 mythic rares, these were Magic’s original badasses. They factored into the lore of the game, popping up in books and the flavor texts of cards. (The legend of Saffi Eriksdotter anyone?)

Prognosis of Survival: Strong
Of all the forgotten species of magic yore, the Lhurgoyfs are perhaps one of the most likely to resurge. There is a Lhurgoyf in every color of Magic, and it wouldn’t be a stretch to consider adding additional Goyfs to the colors, or perhaps even an artifact Goyf. Furthermore, the Goyfs have the ability to please almost every section of the audience. (For the bold player, Magnivore and Cantivore demand decks devoted entirely to their strangeness.) The Vorthos can appreciate the history, the Timmy likes the massive size, the Johnny will go bonkers for the combo implications, and the Spike enjoys the abilities of the more competitive Lhurgoyfs. Wizards has a creature that can please almost every player.

The Lhurgoyfs also have their own poster child who has brought this forgotten race back to prominence in the Magic community. Even now, when I enter comic stores and listen to the conversations of young and old players alike, the name Tarmogoyf is whispered in hushed, almost reverent tones. Few times in Magic history has a creature dominated a format like Tarmogoyf did during its stint in Standard; it was the premiere two-drop until the moment it cycled out. And when Wizards announced the Modern format, Tarmogoyf roared back to life, once again dominating games and finding a happy home in many decks. With that kind of star power, it’s impossible to forget the Lhurgoyfs; this factor alone could bring the race back into the game.

Until Next Time

Well, fellow Magic anthropologists, it has been a wonderful journey through the creatures of Magic’s past, present, and (hopefully) future. I hope you enjoyed our time studying the species that have been lost throughout the planes. With any luck, I will see you across the table soon, perhaps with some of these beasts in your deck. As always, good luck and happy playing.

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