In the last article, we explored lands in Magic: the Gathering. Today we're going to take the opportunity to get to know the most used card type after lands: the creatures.
The time has come to understand how they work, what they are for, design evolutions through comparisons and much more!
Creatures: Your win condition!
Creatures are permanents that involve one of the main and most complex parts of the game, the combat phase, and often serve as the main victory condition of the game, helping to reduce your opponents' life to zero or even being part of countless combo possibilities.
One of the coolest parts is building a deck with creatures, as normally the use of these cards helps to bring a wide variety of strategies that often carry the name of the creatures themselves or the type with which they are being played.
Let's now go to a brief review of how the combat phase works to help you understand the creatures.
After the first main phase of casting (also known as Main Phase 1) of each player, we have the so-called combat phase.
In this phase, the player will identify the creatures that can attack and declare which ones to attack with. After declaring attackers, the player chooses an opponent and/or a specific Planeswalker for each attacking creature. If you don't have effects like "Vigilance", the creatures that attack are tapped.
The opponent who is being attacked and/or who has one of their Planeswalkers being attacked can use their creatures to declare block to the player's attackers, thus preventing or decreasing the damage that would be dealt to them or their Planeswalkers that turn.
With that in mind, it's worth looking at the main keywords that end up changing the course of combat, making the game more complex with interactions and the like.
It helps to attack the enemy without hindrance, in a simple and efficient way, present from the beginning of the game. A creature with flying can only be blocked by one with flying or reach.
Unlike flying, this one was created a few years later, and the idea is simple: a way to defend yourself from creatures with flying using one that doesn't have that ability, but can "reach" it.
To illustrate, imagine the classic scene of an archer shooting their arrow at a bird that is flying around them.
This is one that brings a more complex rule, as it divides the damage phase into two: that of creatures who have First Strike and those that don't. Those with First Strike deal their damage first.
Double Strike is a static ability that modifies the combat phase rules. If a creature participating in combat has the ability Double Strike or First Strike, two steps of combat damage will occur, one for creatures with the aforementioned abilities and the “normal” step.
The creature with Double Strike deals combat damage for both steps. If a creature with First Strike gets Double Strike during the first step, it deals damage in the second. If a creature loses its ability during the first step, it won't deal damage in the second.
You can check more about Double Strike by clicking here.
One of the ways the creators found to balance the turn-based game (one player at a time) was to prevent creatures from attacking or activating their abilities in the turn they entered, giving the opponent time to prepare and seek answers to possible threats on their own turn, known as "summoning sickness".
Haste breaks this logic, making a threat unpredictable and harder to respond to. That is, the creature or permanent with haste enters the battlefield without summoning sickness.
Simple and efficient, it is a form of evasion for large creatures that would be less relevant if the opponent made a simple chump block (block with a smaller creature and lose it just to not take damage).
With trample, the creature passes surplus combat damage to the defending opponent.
Although not exclusive to creatures, it is worth mentioning here because it allows the player to cast a creature at instant-speed, which can make a threat as unpredictable or more so than a creature with haste.
This ability makes swapping damage more advantageous, as its controller gains life when the creature deals damage (combat or non-combat) to the opponent, creature, and/or planeswalker they control.
The creature can attack a player without having to tap, leaving no guard open.
Last on that list to gain a keyword, the creature with menace can't be blocked by just one creature.
Makes the creature targetable only by its controller. It differs from Shroud, where no player can target it.
A static ability, where a creature with toughness greater than zero that has taken damage from a source with Deathtouch since the last time "state-based actions" were checked, will be destroyed.
You can check out more details about Deathtuoch in this article.
Tribes Across the Formats
Something vital about creatures is that they have types, and many often have more than one.
Who is used to D&D, it would be like race and profession, but here it will always be creature type. This ends up creating one of the most beloved strategies by Magic fans: the tribal decks.
Since Magic's first expansion, creatures were made that strengthen others that usually share a type with them, these creatures became known as Lords and justified the existence of such types of strategies.
Some of the most popular tribes are:
Merfolks are mostly blue with splashes of other colors (i.e. using some other color as support). Among all the tribes, these creatures see the most play as a tribe and have a lot of interesting, but not exclusive, evasions, such as the islandwalk ability that helps end games.
Merfolksoften sees play in Legacy and Modern formats. And for Arena players, there are also strong merfolks in Historic.
Among all the tribes, the elves are one of the ones that have the most possibilities for combos within the theme, as they generate a lot of mana and this allows for a very interesting approach.
In addition, we know that having a lot of mana is essential to cast different spells and finish the game.
The main formats where Elves appear are Legacy, Modern, Explore, and Pauper. In the case of the latter, players are well aware of the potential of Priest of Titania.
For a long time, goblins were the main example of Aggro decks, mainly because it is a very common tribe with many options of creature cards that grant Haste to the others.
In addition, decks focused on goblins tend to be quite numerous and end the game using many creatures. If you would like to know more about them, just click here!
There is quite a variety of sacrifice strategies with them, and this has become a combo strategy in both Modern and Pauper, where both play more in the combo style, while in Pioneer and Explorer, they work better with the Aggro strategy.
Here we have everyone's favorite dead in Magic, mostly in black, who also get support from time to time.
One of the common features of zombies is taking advantage of the graveyard to return creatures to the battlefield, bringing consistency to the deck and using sacrifice synergies. For more information, read here!
You can find Zombies lists in both Modern and Pioneer.
One of the strongest and most consistent tribes in the game.
Humans are a common creature type in almost all sets, which helps to build a deck around them, and the Innistrad humans are usually the most tribal in this sense to strengthen the creatures and put pressure on the board.
They used to see play in both Modern and Legacy as multicolored decks, but things have changed in both formats. Today this tribe sees more play on Mono White, as well as Pioneer, even using colorless lands that help with strategy.
We can't skip this part without talking about the most beloved creature type when it comes to tribal: Slivers!
What makes them so special is that every sliver is a lord, and all share their abilities with each other. In the first designs, it affected all of them: in the case of facing an opponent who also has a Slivers deck, the effects of some slivers would affect both boards. For example, the Muscle Sliver would give +1 +1 to your Slivers and your opponent's as well!
After some time, the text of slivers was changed so that it only affected your battlefield and had no influence on your opponent's creatures.
Due to the lack of slivers, they don't see a play on Pioneer, even though they have a land just for the tribe. The tribe sees occasional play in Legacy and Pauper.
In Magic, Faeries are usually depicted as light, small, and with wings. They are about 30 cm or less and are known to be great lovers of mischief. Although they usually use their small forms and illusion spells to get rid of their enemies, they can still fight remarkably well when needed.
The first faeries that appeared in Magic were green and had varied appearances. Scryb Sprites were the first creature of the tribe, introduced in Alpha.
You can get to know them better by clicking here.
In Magic, vampires are a characteristic creature who shows up often in the black color, although over the years they have also appeared in red and more recently in white.
Sengir Vampire was the first creature of the tribe presented to players in the early days of the game.
A great move from WotC to tribal decks came with Zendikar: the famous Allies. This tribe shares similarities with the Slivers, as they all synergize with each other, but in different ways.
Several allies have ETB abilities that trigger when another Ally enters under your control.
Possibly, the strongest tribe in Modern, especially with the recent additions of Core Set 2020 and Modern Horizon II, turning it into a huge value-based archetype.
I don't think I could finish this part without talking about everyone's darling: cats.
Mainly white, and sometimes in the green, with plenty of lords and often lining the boards with tokens, it has a very Aggro and efficient plan.
Eventually, we see cat decks in Modern and Pioneer (and of course, Commander)!
“When Enters the Battlefield” (ETB)
Something highly valued in creatures are powerful effects when they enter the battlefield, commonly called ETB (Enters the battlefield), this being a triggered ability.
It is very reminiscent of sorceries and instants (when the creature has flash), but leaves a body on the board to block or defend against an attack. They can have effects to draw a card, destroy a creature, create tokens - in short, the possibilities and effects are almost endless!
A powerful cycle of cards of this type came in Modern Horizons II.
Creatures + Another Permanent Type
Creature is probably the type that mixes the most with other types of cards, especially with permanents and here we will give some examples
This is a unique example that is both a creature and a land at the same time. We have several lands that turn into creatures, but only Dryad Arbor has both types as they enter the battlefield.
It doesn't get cast, since it's a land, but it has summoning sickness, like any other creature. Because it's a forest too, it can be fetched by a fetchland, and being a zero mana creature, it can be put into play with an Aether Vial without any counters.
Probably the most common permanent mix in the entire game. They are mainly known as automatons, ornithopters, myrs, golems, constructs and other machines that are considered as "artifact creature".
It is very useful in strategies that focus on artifacts.
On Theros, these creatures sometimes came with Constellation abilities, an ability triggered when enchantments came into play, or others that could be cast as auras on creatures, and remain on the battlefield as creatures if the target of the aura was removed.
Grist is the only one that makes it onto this list as a creature as long as it's not on the battlefield, which creates countless fun interactions, like it can't be discarded by Duress or countered by Negate.
It's worth mentioning the late Gideon, who has the ability to become a creature until the end of the turn, for example.
They are creatures that have a part that can be cast as an instant or as a sorcery, depending on the case.
When the spell is cast this way and resolves (i.e, is not targeted by a Counterspell and the like), the creature is sent into exile and can be cast normally from there. Otherwise, the creature goes to the graveyard.
And the spell isn't both types:
While casting this card, you choose which part, Creature or Adventure, will be cast.
- If you cast the creature, it goes on the stack as expected, can be countered or responded to normally, and if it resolves, enters the battlefield under your control.
- If you cast the adventure, it goes on the stack as expected for a sorcery or instant, it can be countered or responded to normally, and if it resolves, its instructions are followed... As an Adventure spell resolves, it is not put into your graveyard. Instead, you exile it.
- While the creature is on the battlefield, simply ignore the Adventure and all of its text. While this card is in your hand, your graveyard, your library, or even in exile, it only has the creature's characteristics, not the Adventure's.
- For example, if you cast a spell that lets you search your library and find a creature card, you might find Beanstalk Giant. But, if you cast a spell that lets you search your library and find an instant or sorcery card, you won't be able to find Fertile Footsteps.
Creatures have endless possibilities, even more so with a game in constant development, and they will always be the target of new ideas, as they form one of the main aspects of the game.
See you in the next article! Any questions, I'm available in the comments!