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Welcome back to Magical Creatures, a series dealing with the unique living beings invented for this game. Last time, we discussed the birth and evolution of two creature types designed specifically for Magic: Lhurgoyf and Phelddagrif. And Graveborn, a token-specific creature type.
While 264 different creature types exist so far, only a small fraction of them meets our criteria. According to MTG Wiki, that number is 45, and since I generally agree with their choices I have decided to borrow that list. We began about a month ago with the very first set to introduce creature types designed for Magic: Antiquities, which yielded Atog and Tetravite. Since then, we have proceeded chronologically, tackling a few new creatures every week.
Mirage and Its Many Records
Today, we leave behind Ice Age and Alliances to foray into Mirage. Released in October 1996, it was the last set of the year, and the ninth expansion of Magic overall. It also was the first set in the Mirage block, which in turn was the first block to be designed as a whole. And the first to be consistently playtested with a focus on Limited, too. Talk about primacy!
So which new creatures did Mirage introduce? With that release, Magic gained 16 new creature types, including gems such as Mantis, Pirate, and Wyvern. And as is often the case, most of those types didn't survive the Grand Creature Type Update. Regardless, just two creature types were created specifically for Magic: Brushwagg and Viashino.
What Is a Brushwagg?
Let's start with what is probably the more confusing and elusive of all Magic creatures: the Brushwagg. We really don't know much about this weird creature, but darned if we won't do our best.
First of all, only two creatures with this type exist, one from Mirage and one from Ikoria, and they are both green. If you really want a third Brushwagg, an honorary mention goes to Interplanar Brushwagg, although it's just a test card from the Mystery Booster set and thus illegal in any Constructed format.
The only things we know for sure: brushwaggs are animals with bodies resembling a ball of briars, and Brushwagg somehow survived the Grand Creature Type Update. It's not much, but after all, even Mark Rosewater hasn't really helped to unravel the mystery. It has been suggested that the creature might be in fact a rodent (or hedgehog) "whose elongated spiny body can inflate itself with air to form a globe".
The Brushwagg's Deception
This theory about self-inflation may hold weight, as both Brushwagg and Almighty Brushwagg have abilities allowing them to change their stats under certain circumstances. The former, for instance, gets -2/+2 when it blocks or is blocked. The latter looks like a 1/1, but gains +3/+3 when its ability is activated. I'm not saying this is unusual for a green creature (think Basking Rootwalla), but at least it's something that our two Brushwaggs have in common...
One last characteristic we can deduce is their deceptive nature, hinted at by the ability to grow unexpectedly. Such a trait also manifests in the flavor text of both creatures. Brushwagg's flavor text is among my favorites, and I think it deserves a full quote:
Defiantly, the young cyclops popped the brushwagg into his mouth. His cheeks suddenly puffed, his eye bulged, and he was forced to agree with his elder.Afari, Tales
It's particularly spot-on if you think that Cyclops is another creature type introduced with the advent of Mirage, although obviously not unique to Magic. The flavor text of Almighty Brushwagg flavor defines the idiom "Laughed at the brushwagg" as a hunters' expression meaning “died unexpectedly.”
To wit, brushwaggs remain mysterious creatures, and we can only try to glimpse its unthinkable secrets. What is certain is that Magic's makers had fun designing them, as they might look good in an Un-set, too. The original sketch by Magic artist Ian Miller, where the Brushwagg has a hallucinating gaze, reminds me of John Tenniel's Mock Turtle.
And What Is a Viashino?
And now, forget about brushwaggs (although we could always use some more)... it's time for Viashino! The second creature type invented for Mirage had a very different fate, and today over 50 creatures exist with its type. Viashino are mostly red, and represent a sentient, humanoid lizard-folk descending from Dragons.
They tend to be aggressive creatures, being aligned with red, and normally have higher power than toughness. Mirage alone had three different creatures with the type Viashino, and two of them were legendary! So, let's see how it all started...
What do they have in common? Not much, really. Especially Viashino Warrior, which is just a vanilla 4/2 for four mana, a variation on Hill Giant with slightly altered power and toughness.
With the two legendary Viashino, things get more interesting. They are both 3/4 for five mana, illustrated by Andrew Robinson, and seem to exert some sort of control over Dragons. The first gains control of opposing Dragons, while the second searches the library for a Dragon and puts it onto the battlefield.
Viashino After Mirage
What next? Viashino came back a few months later, with Visions (Viashino Sandstalker). And kept on coming in Urza's Saga (Retromancer, Viashino Outrider, and more). Many other Viashino came out in the original Ravnica block (2005-2006). Other blocks containing Viashino creatures were Time Spiral, Alara, and more recently the expansion Streets of New Capenna.
Not much has changed in the course of the last 25 years of Viashino's development. Of course, these creatures have become more powerful, but so have they all. Again, we had a decent pinger for the Ravnica block (Viashino Fangtail). And we had some Viashino showing off the typical mechanics of new sets, such as devour on Thunder-Thrash Elder or blitz on Plasma Jockey. Although none of them were good enough for Constructed, many Viashino have proved fairly playable in Limited, suggesting Wizards sees them as a safe creature type to experiment on with new abilities.
Sentient Lizards vs. Bramble Cats
What's the biggest difference between the two creature types we analyzed today? As far as I'm concerned, Brushwagg is definitely among the most memorable types ever, while Viashino is not that remarkable. Although the latter has over 50 cards dedicated, and the former only has a couple, the pure genius of a feline-like beast covered in briars is tough to match.
What do you think? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter, and stay tuned for the next piece. We are going to tackle a new set with no less than six creature types unique to Magic!