Creatures, together with lands, are probably the type of cards every new player learns to use first. They are the most reliable and common way to deal damage, and thus to bring your opponent's life to 0 and win the game. But that's not all: creatures are a great concept even when you don't take into account the gameplay. In fact, most players have a soft spot for creatures. How come?
While being technically just one of several card types (along with lands, artifacts, instants etc.), creatures offer special value from a lore perspective. They are spells, just as any other type besides lands. And they are permanents, just as any other type besides instants and sorceries. But above all, they are the only cards that represent living beings. (Perhaps excepting Zombies, Vampires and other undead, but you get the point.)
As living beings, they are more interesting than any other card type. They have power and toughness, can battle each other during the combat phase, and can die and go to the graveyard. So many interactions, and so many ways to use creatures, both in terms of flavor and gameplay.
That's why I find them so special. And I'm a huge fan of Basri's Solidarity decks, so I'm not biased at all! Anyway, after ending the series on "Real-World Flavor" (you can read the last piece here), I have decided to begin exploring other aspects of Magic IP flavor. This new series deals with magical creatures.
Races, Classes, and Other Types
Since creatures represent humans, animals, beasts, and a huge number of combinations in between, they also offer unmatched potential for lore development. Magic combines gameplay and lore using the creature type. In fact, every creature that was ever printed has at least one creature type (and often more). In the course of Magic's history, over 250 different creature types have been used.
Not all of them are on the same level. Certain creature types (such as Human, Elf, or Goblin) are called "races." Others (such as Warrior, Cleric, or Archer) are "classes." Both categories apply mostly just to humanoid creatures, whereas other types of creatures (monsters, animals, and the like) tend to skirt them.
The Evolution of Creature Types
The waters can therefore get murkier than with simple instants and sorceries. For this reason, over the course of time, several changes and updates have been necessary. Many things have changed since Limited Edition Alpha. Back then, creature' types were mostly used for reasons related to flavor, and only seldom did they impact the game. Some of the earliest examples are long-winded typelines such as Lord of Atlantis, Zombie Master, and Goblin King, but it wasn't common.
Over time, Magic R&D realized that creature types held much more potential than they thought, and began to put it to good use. Fifteen years ago, in 2007, they ushered in the "Grand Creature Type Update." Some minor changes had happened before, of course, and of varying notability. For instance, with Mirrodin (in 2003), the Human subtype was introduced, and with Champions of Kamigawa (in 2004), the creature type Legend became the supertype legendary.
None of them, however, were nearly as pervasive as the big Lorwyn update. No less than 146 obsolete creature types were purged, and a few were added. Since 2007, almost every new set introduced new creature types, but there have been no changes of such magnitude since.
Magic IP and Borrowed Types
With the astonishing number of 264 different creature types, it goes without saying that many of them were not created just for Magic. In fact, many creature types are simply names of real animals: think Bears, Lizards, Serpents, and so on. Other types are fantastic animals that, while absent from the real world, are common in the fantasy literature: Dragons, Merfolk, and Zombies. More interesting still is that quite a large number of creature types are actually unique to the Magic: The Gathering franchise.
There are 45 different creature types that were conceived specifically for us Magic players. Some of them are rather famous (Atog, Eldrazi, Myr, Sliver), while others only appear on few cards (Bringer, Homarid, Zubera). Still, even these unique creature types need to take inspiration somewhere... at least in the majority of cases.
A Magical Birth
And that's what we'll explore throughout this new series! For some of Magic's unique creaures, we'll be able to dive in for some close analysis. Other times, when the number of examples is too large, we'll only touch on the most famous and memorable cards. Do you have a favorite Magic-specific creature type? Let me know in the comments and on Twitter!