Hello everybody! Welcome to the latest installment of Magical Creatures, a series reviewing every creature type that was created specifically for Magic: The Gathering. Last week, we finished our double feature on Tempest. That expansion set introduced so many new creatures that we had to split the analysis into two pieces. The first dealt with Thalakos and Soltari; the second, with Licid, Spike, and Sliver.
What's next? The Rath cycle was followed by a starter set (Portal Second Age) and by the first "Un-set" (Unglued). Neither of them, however, introduced new creature types unique to Magic. Therefore, we'll have to wait for one of the most beloved cycles ever: the Urza block, often regarded beetwen 1998 and 1999 as the most powerful block ever and printed.
Beeble, Masticore, and Metathran are the three creature types unique to Magic that were created for the Urza block. None of them appeared in the first set, Urza's Saga, which introduced no new creature types at all. Not that it needed them in order to become legendary! It boasted plenty of powerful spells and lands, as you can see.
Anyway, we'll get back to this abundance of high-power cards on another occasion. For now, let's focus on the three creature types introduced in the other two expansions from Urza block, Urza's Legacy and Urza's Destiny.
Beeble looks a lot like a creature from an Un-set. And for good reason. Of the five unique creatures with that subtype, three are from an Un-set! However, when they were first printed, Beebles were included in a regular set, by which I mean one legal for sanctioned play. The first two Beebles are Bouncing Beebles, from Urza's Legacy, and Bubbling Beebles, from Urza's Destiny.
Both are small, magical beings, similar in concept to the fantasy creature known as the "homunculus." Their history is well-known, as Beebles may be the most adorable and funny creatures ever created for Magic. But one interesting fact about the Beeble is their first appearance: the cover of Duelist n°22. Illustrated by Jeff Miracola, it showed a famous Magic character (Squee, as in Squee, Goblin Nabob) with a bunch of little, pink beings bouncing around. The illustration was published exactly one year before the arrival of the first official Beeble!
The creatures are obviously unplayable, at least in competitive lists, as their only feature is a semi-evasive ability. The first is unblockable if defending player controls an artifact, and the second is unblockable if they control an enchantment. Despite their relative elusiveness, Beebles are depicted on many other cards, such as Donate and Wizard Mentor. I personally hope to see many more of them in the future.
Masticore, on the contrary, is a totally serious creature type. The exact opposite of Beebles. You can tell as soon as you check out the illustration of the first of its knid, which is called Masticore. So, what's a masticore, apart from being ferocious? Well, its menacing and aggressive qualities are surely relevant characteristics, but they are shared with another similar type: Manticore. Why create a new type entirely?
Let's start with the similarities. Both types are fierce, lion-like beasts of a certain size. And... that's it. Now, what about the differences? The most relevant, at least for our purpose, is that a manticore is a legendary Persian creature which enjoys countless appearances all across the history of literature. A masticore, though, is a creature that just didn't exist before its introduction in Urza's Destiny in 1999. All this to say that the masticore takes inspiration from the manticore, and not the other way around.
Another difference is the alignment. Masticores are colorless, whereas Manticores are normally aligned with red (and sometimes with black and green). What else? If you look at the art, you'll see that most Manticores are winged, while Masticores are always flightless. (To be honest, this was true only for the first Manticores, since in recent years they printed some wingless specimens, too.) Finally, the very name "masticore" is a pun. It doesn't only refer to the famous Persian manticore, but also plays with the verb "masticate," meaning "to eat!"
Finally, all Masticores are artifact creatures, and they share the trait of having an effect that deals direct damage (normally as an activated ability). Another trait they share is making their owner discard cards, either at the beginning of the upkeep or when they enter the battlefield. In both cases, that's a drawback used to balance the fact they are colorless (making them easier to cast) and generally quite powerful.
Metathran is probably the least famous among the creature types we're dealing with today. And yet, it's the most printed... in fact, no less than eight different cards exist bearing this subtype, versus five for the other two! That's not all. As we'll see soon, metathrans appear on many other cards, at least if you focus on illustrations.
What differentiates Metathran from Beeble and Masticore is also that this creature type followed the same path as Thalakos, Soltari, Kithkin, and many others. In other words, when the first Metathrans appeared, they didn't bear the Metathran subtype, as shown in the gallery above. It was only with Tenth Edition (2007) that Sky Weaver appeared, the first Metathran that actually received the type.
From an in-game perspective, this subtype is not that consistent. I mean, their art is always recognizable, but their abilities are quite varied. The first two Metathrans share an evasive ability, while the others don't. Four of them have activated abilities, but their effects are not alike. The only thing Metathrans share is their blue alignment.
The most interesting thing about Metathrans, given their unexceptional power level, is the frequency with which they appear in the illustrations of other cards. Some of those include Chromatic Sphere, Kavu Scout, and Minotaur Tactician, to give an idea of how widespread they are across all colors. If you're interested, a full list is available here.
In today's piece, we sw some new creature types, but also some long-standing characteristics that we have by now come to recognize. For instance, the very common practice of naming the first card of a new creature type with the same name as the subtype itself. Masticore was just the latest in a long line of creatures such as Lhurgoyf, Phelddagrif, Homarid, Orgg, Atog, and many others!
The most relevant feature we came across today, though, is the opposition between serious and comical creature-type designs. We saw something similar while analyzing Brushwagg and Viashino, or unpacking illustrations. This time, however, the opposition is particularly strong, perhaps because of Masticore's epicness, in total contrast with Beeble's playfulness.
What do you think of today's creatures? Are you team grandeur or team irony? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter, and stay tuned for next week's piece, where we'll deal with the new subtypes from Mercadian Masques!