Creatures are a defining element of the Magic experience. The colorful cast of lifeforms that inhabit the multiverse is essential to the flavor and vibrancy of Magic’s fantasy universe. In Magic, we take on the role of powerful spell casters traveling from world to world to engage in strategic duels with other planeswalking Wizards. One of the basic tenets of these showdowns is the tactic of summoning various creatures to fight by our side (but always in front of our lands!).
If you think back to when you first started slinging spells, it’s likely the first achievement you ever hoped to unlock was to get the biggest, baddest monster from your starter deck onto the battlefield. I still remember my first:
Today I’ll look at all things wacky, vexing, and downright confusing about creature types and some fascinating ways they impact game play today. I’m excited to highlight some fascinating moments in creature type history and wrap it up with a brief discussion of the often overlooked “Sand” subtype.
Types of Types
Before I get into the theater of the absurd that is the history of creature types, let’s take a second to review how types currently work. The deeper we go the more complex it becomes, but here’s the basics of understanding types. Let’s look at a card:
The line of text that appears between the image and the textbox always indicates the card’s type or types.
Legendary Creature – Dragon Wizard.
Cards can have supertypes, types, and subtypes. It’s a little confusing, but it’s not that bad once you break it down.
Supertype: Will always be listed first if a card has one. For instance, Basic, Legendary, Token, and Snow. Niv Mizzet has the supertype: Legendary.
Type: Will be listed after any Supertypes and always before the hyphen. For instance, Creature, Artifact, Enchantment Sorcery, or Instant are all types. Niv Mizzet has the card type: Creature.
Subtype: Subtypes appear after the hyphen and in the case of Creatures will indicate that creature’s Race and Class. Niv Mizzet has the Subtypes: Dragon (race) and Wizard (class).
It’s a fairly intuitive system once you realize how the information is being represented.
Let’s talk about my 1995 Force of Nature for a moment. For starters, the lines of text that I read in 1995 to describe type are 100% different than what would appear on a modern printing of the card. No hyperbole—literally every word on that line is completely different.
From “Summon Force” to “Creature – Elemental.”
Back in the day, what we now refer to as “creature spells” were called “summon spells.” On principle and nostalgia I appreciate that the syntax draws attention to the fact that players are casting a spell that summons creatures to our aid. The thematic upside was clearly not worth the confusion of referring to cards differently depending upon the zone it occupies. I counter a summon spell on the stack but I destroy a creature card in play…
The last block to feature the summon templating was Urza block and it is clear that even at that point summon was outdated:
Ostracize doesn’t crack “summon spells,” but rather “creature spells,” which makes “summon” on the card serve no purpose aside from being confusing.
We no longer summon, we cast creatures.
The Grand Creature Type Update of 2007
Every September the 26th Magic players worldwide set out a plate of cookies for Mistform Ultimus and celebrate the Grand Creature Type Shift of 2007. Not only did Mistform lose a bunch of hilarious sweet subtypes like Ali Baba but it also gained the subtype Coward around this time.
A noted coward.
Lorwyn, a block designed around creature-subtype-based themes (often called tribes), heralded significant change for the role of subtype moving forward as narrow, outdated types like “Force” were changed into relevant ones like Elemental. Also, design began to gravitate toward more types on individual cards to represent a creature’s race/class identity.
The only reasonable place to begin a discussion of the Grand Creature Type Shift of 2007 is with an examination of Floral Spuzzem:
Don’t look too closely at the artwork because looking only raises more questions than it answers. It’s kind of a cross between a plucked chicken/hot dog that is wrapping weird abdomen vine tendrils around a stone pillar. I’ve contemplated what a wild encounter with a Floral Spuzzem might be like:
Me: “What is going on here and what are you doing to that pillar?”
Floral Spuzzem: “Official Spuzzem business. Move along, sir.”
Me: “Are you an entity of unfathomable horror?”
Floral Spuzzem: “Keep standing there if you want to find out.”
Me: “So, I’m going to go…”
Floral Spuzzem: “Good chat.”
My inability to comprehend this card is further complicated by its rules text:
“Floral Spuzzem may choose to destroy a target artifact.”
You don’t decide. Floral Spuzzem decides! It’s also a summon Spuzzem. I’ve done a few Google searches for “Spuzzem definition” and all that comes up is info on a region and British Columbia and unsavory slang. So I’m pretty sure it didn’t ever need to be a creature type.
Floral Spuzzem is now a Creature – Saproling Fungus.
Gotcha! That would make too much sense, it’s actually a Creature – Elemental. The card never disappoints when it comes to being ridiculous. The good news is that I can now play tribal Elementals with Force of Nature and Floral Spuzzem.
Here’s a list of all the creature types eliminated from Magic in 2007 during the shift from Mark Gottlieb’s 2007 article “The Grand Creature Type Update” (2007) from the Wizards website. There’s some real gems in here:
Abomination, Aladdin, Albatross, Alchemist, Ali-Baba, Ali-from-Cairo, Alligator, Ambush-Party, Ant, Asp, Bandit, Banshee, Bee, Being, Bodyguard, Brownie, Bull, Bureaucrat, Caravan, Carnivore, Carriage, Cave-People, Cheetah, Chicken, Child, Clamfolk, Cobra, Constable, Cow, Crusader, Designer, Devouring-Deep, Dinosaur, Dog, Donkey, Dragonfly, Drill-Sergeant, Eel, Effigy, El-Hajjâj, Enchantress, Entity, Erne, Essence, Exorcist, Expansion-Symbol, Farmer, Fiend, Frostbeast, Fungusaur, Gaea’s-Avenger, Gamer, General, Ghost, Ghoul, Guardian, Gus, Gypsy, Harlequin, Heretic, Hero, Hipparion, Hornet, Horseman, Hyena, Infernal-Denizen, Inquisitor, Island-Fish, Jackal, Keeper, Kelp, King, Lady-of-Proper- Etiquette, Legionnaire, Leper, Lord, Lurker, Lycanthrope, Mage, Maiden, Mammoth, Marid, Master, Medusa, Merchant, Mime, Minor, Miracle-Worker, Mold-Demon, Monster, Mummy, Murk-Dwellers, Nameless-Race, Narwhal, Niall-Silvain, Noble, Paladin, Paratrooper, Penguin, People-of-the-Woods, Phantasm, Pig, Pikemen, Pixie-Queen, Poltergeist, Pony, Priest, Pyknite, Ranger, Robber, Roc, Rock-Sled, Sage, Scavenger, Shark, Ship, Shyft, Sister, Smith, Sorceress, Spuzzem, Spy, Stangg-Twin, Tactician, Tarpan, Teddy, Thief, The-Biggest-Baddest-Nastiest-Scariest-Creature-You’ll-Ever-See, Twin, Viper, Vulture, Waiter, Walking-Dead, Whippoorwill, Wight, Wiitigo, Wirefly, Wolverine-Pack, Wolves-of-the-Hunt, Wretched
Some of these types are obviously hilarious to look back on. But not to be overlooked: Dinosaurs were eliminated in 2007 only to be famously brought back as a centerpiece for Ixalan.
Pygmy Allosaurus was changed from a Dinosaur into a Lizard and has been changed back into a Dinosaur. Just like Serra intended. Life… finds a way.
Supertypes Used to be Subtypes?
For a long time legendary creatures were templated as summon legend, which meant that “legend” was basically what we would think of now as a supported tribe! You could cast a Coat of Arms and name legend. Obviously, this has been changed and legendary is now used as a supertype, but it’s funny to think of Nicol Bolas and Dakkon Blackblade being part of the multiverse’s most OG team!
Now it’s pretty straightforward that we expect every artifact creature (dual types) to include subtypes to indicate race, class, and tribal affiliation, but it actually took a long time after 6th Ed. for that to become automatic.
When Arcbound Ravager first saw print in Darksteel, it did not include any subtypes. It only gained the subtype “Beast” in the Grand Shift of 2007.
The importance of universal subtyping has played a major role in what Magic has become and obviously adds a ton to the strategic depth of the game. Tribal synergies may be taken for granted now, but it took a lot of revision over decades to get right.
Don’t Fence Me In
Walls may be boring, but they are a fascinating corner case of subtyping.
In the olden times, creatures with the type Wall had a special rule that prohibited them from attacking. It doesn’t say anywhere on the card that Wall of Swords cannot attack, but the rulebook specifies the rule exists.
Now, Walls have an ability called defender written on the card that specifies the creature cannot attack. So Mistform Ultimus and creatures with Changling now have the subtype Wall but do not have the ability defender. They are Walls that can attack!
I also couldn’t help but check the Oracle text for Tunnel:
The Oracle says “Destroy target Wall. It cannot be regenerated.” So you can Tunnel a Chameleon Colossus.
Here’s another neat interaction from the past:
Mistform Mask was a useful Draft staple in its time because it could be used to enchant a creature an opponent controlled. You could then activate the ability of the enchantment to give the opposing creature the Wall type so it would be unable to attack.
Other Wacky Types
I wanted to end my stroll down creature subtype lane with a few of my favorite examples of tribal gone wild.
So the name is a little confusing but here it goes… Hyalopterous is a word typically used to describe insects with transparent wings and a Lemure refers to spirits of unburied dead exorcised from homes in early Roman rituals.
The story of this card is that the illustrator didn’t realize Lemure was referencing the evil spirit definition and drew one of these cuddly little fellas with glassy wings.
The iconic illustration lives on but Hyalopterous Lemure now skulks around the battlefield as a Creature – Spirit.
Here’s another freaky one:
The original versions of the card featured the text “Summon Island Fish,” which led to some serious confusion when fetchlands first appeared in Onslaught:
Am I allowed to use Flooded Strand to search up an Island Fish Jasconius? It has the type Island, right? Island Fish Jasconius is currently Creature – Fish. Since it was way too confusing to have a creature with a land subtype, the “Island” was simply removed.
The first rule of Land Creature – Forest Dryad club is we don’t talk about Land Creature – Forest Dryad club.
Let’s end on a fun one:
It may surprise you to learn that Sand Warriors remain in the game to this day! Also, I didn’t realize these amazing rk Post Tokens existed but I need exactly ten of them for my Old School Battle Box.
Hazezon Tamar is the OG Avenger of Zendikar and creates an army of Sand Warrior tokens with the creature subtype: Sand Warrior. Hazezon is, of course, now a Legendary (supertype) Creature (type) – Human Warrior (subtypes).
Hazezon Tamar creates Sand Warrior tokens that have the following typing: Token Creature – Sand Warrior.
Token (supertype) Creature (type) – Sand (subtype, race) Warrior (subtype, class)
These tokens are the only thing in the game that have the subtype “Sand,” which is funny because you’d assume that “Sand” would be one of those ridiculous, antiquated items like “Spuzzem” that would have been extricated from the game during the Grand Creature Type Shift of 2007.
But there is a good reason that it wasn’t. If “Sand” was removed from the card Hazezon would make Warrior tokens, which means that when he leaves play all Warriors would be exiled, not just the Tokens created by his enters the battlefield trigger. I was looking for information about how exactly the card worked and found this:
“When Hazezon Tamar’s second ability resolves, all permanents with both Sand and Warrior creature types are exiled, not just the Sand Warrior creature tokens it created. Permanents that have just one of those are unaffected.” – SteelSentinal, Tappedout.net
The next time you play a Tribal Warriors deck that features Hazazon be sure to thank the “Sand” subtype for continuing to exist since it is the reason Hazezon won’t exile your whole team when he leaves play! Also, be sure to remember that if you have a Boldwyr Intimidator in play that Sand Warriors can’t be blocked by cowards. Sorry, Mistform Ultimus.
Do you have a wild example where the creature type created a strange interaction that I didn’t mention (or, even better, that I’ve never heard)? If so, please add it in the comments.