This past Friday, Aaron Forsythe wrote about the challenge of creating another basic set and the issues inherent in the task. The Article addresses the creature type thinning that has been occuring for some time now in the game, not only for flavor reasons, but mechanical reasons. Both lines of though are the reason that I write this today.
To start out, the main issue is 'To Errata or No?' As most people know, errata can be confusing for the newer players of the game or the most extremly casual players of the game; errata isn't printed on the older cards themselves-- only the new cards. People without much rules knowledge will not know whether the card is an 'Archer' or a 'Soldier' when looking at the two different printings of the cards. To this, I say 'bovine excrement.' The 'confusion' of the rules is a common action of these groups of people, one more small (and usually benign) change won't cause that many more arguments on the living room coffee table. Those who know of errata don't hate it-- unless it's against common sense, such as how Waylay or Aether Storm were handled. Thus, errata on creatures that could recieve it on their types only allows the cards to be used more effectively, and open up new avenues for casual decks to 'abuse' them.
The options given in Mr. Forsythe's article aren't as detailed as they could be, however. In addition to updating the creatures that now requre the default 'Race Class' creature types focused upon in the article, a blanket-errataing would be a good time to change a few of the stranger creatures into the types they should have originally had, not just update the species or jobs of specific creatures. Aaron Forsythe actually addressed this slightly as a footnote to one of Mark Rosewater's articles from a few years ago; later in the article, MaRo addressed the issue as well. There are myriads of creatures in Magic that have oddball creature types or that need additional types to function as they seem like they should and there are also some 'outdated' types that really would fit newer creatures better than their current types given. Below, I will make my suggestions in list form and in some kind of loose grouping of similar cases. Also present in my lists is the oddball mistake or mis-errataing.
Please note that a few sets have been omitted from the research, as I use Magic Online as my card database; the Starter set, Portal Three Kingdoms, and Unglued are not included, nor are the Promotional cards of Magic's history. This could be a rant in and of itself, as two of those three sets were included before Magic Online was released for public consumption-- a little more evidence of Devolution. Also, I may have missed a few creatures that should be on these lists-- do not consider this the be-all end-all of what needs to be done, only a fair sampling of such.
Creatures that should not be what they are
To Begin, let us start with the creatures that just aren't correctly marked, and let me start with the card that caused me to fire off a hundred e-mails a day to various people in WotC for a week. Trained Orgg should be an Orgg, not a Beast. Orggs are creatures with a specific look, and, as said in an older 'ask wizards' question, are Magic icons. The next single up is Roc Hatchling; the older Roc cards had the creature type of 'Roc.' If Wizards of the Coast assumes that all Rocs are actually Birds, it should remain the bird that it is and the older cards changed... however, if a Roc is more than a giant bird, the baby should follow suit being a Roc as well. This is one case that could go a couple of ways. Poltergeist is a very flavorful nomer, an invisible entity that thrives on chaos; for some reason, however, while Xenic Poltergeist is one, the Mischievious Poltergeist isn't... what a shame. Another shame is the Summoner's Egg, which seems to be a tribal mate of Rukh Egg... if it only had a creature type. Agent of Stromgald is a creature that really doesn't seem important, though the name strikes me more as Minion fodder than as a Knightly name, and has for quite some time. Dead creatures and things have been shown to not lose their species identity, so Anaba Ancestor shouldn't be ashamed to give himself a little boost-- if Zombies remember that they were Birds, why wouldn't spirits remember they were Minotaurs? (Look for the Ancestor to show up later for what other type I believe should be tacked onto him.) The last few creatures on this list aren't as cuddly or beloved as they could be, but still shouldn't be left without meaningful creature type additions. Narwal should be a Whale, Dross Scorpion a Scorpion, Ebony Rhino a Rhino, Goblin Rock-Sled a Goblin, Clockwork Beast a Beast, Skyshroud Troll a Giant Troll, and, last but not least, Baron Sengir a Vampire Legend-- a change that is long overdue with the additional creature types now given to Legends.
The next catagory I'll cover I'd like to call 'incomplete errataing.'
The articles on Magicthegathering.com already touched the surface of these creatures, such as the non-Bird birds Aesthir Glider, Clockwork Aven, Darba, Giant Albatross, Hunting Moa, Silver Erne and Whipporwill or the Non-Cat cats Brushwagg(debatable, but probable), Carnassid, Jamurran Lion, King Cheeta, Mtenda Lion, Savannah Lions, Stalking Tiger, or Jungle Lion. Both Cats and Birds have their 'lords,' and allowing these kitties and tweeties their say in addition to those already marked as so is just fair. Granted, many unerrata'd birds wouldn't fit into current Bird decks, but Clockwork Aven, in addition to being colorless beef, could possibly be milked for an additional card from some of the Onslaught tribal cards. The Lions of Magic aren't unique as Wizards of the Coast thinks-- Glittering Lion, a favorite creature of our fellow CPA member Ura, is in touch with it's inner kitty-- It's a creature-Cat.
Also included in this section should be the non-snake Snakes of Coiled Tinviper, Crypt Cobra, Hornet Cobra, Marsh Viper, Naf's Asp, and Serpent Warrior/Assassin, each of which should have additional creature types giving them their proper species. The lattermost in the list of snakes is a case of mis-errataing of additional creature types. Many of you know by now that Portal 1's offering of creatures had errata to give them a type other than 'creature.' Serpent Assassin was gifted with the type 'Serpent.' However, in Magic, the type 'Serpent' doesn't refer to snakes, but rather to 'large sea snakes' or Sea Serpents. Thus, the Assassin is quite a confused creature. As the sets near to Champions of Kamigawa and it's Loxodon-flavored Snake Hominids, the creature type of 'Snake' becomes more pointed and valuable to these mislabeled creatures. Still on the Snake issue, both Snake Basket and Serpent Generator also need their tokens errata'd to have the creature type of 'Snake.'
Not to leave out the Undead, most Ghouls are considered to be 'Zombies' nowadays, yet Kabal Ghoul, Scavanging Ghoul, and Ashen Ghoul aren't, much to their embarrassment. Zombies are quite a popular theme, and leaving three 'out to dry' isn't fair. If zombies feel pain, they're probably in much pain right now, too, as dry skin sounds like it would be a much bigger problem to them than it would to us living.
Other unfortunates left out of their tribe are the Insects, as of which Carrion Ants, Clockwork Swarm, Emerald Dragonfly, Giant Mantis, Killer Bees, Locust Swarm, Swamp Mosquito, and Yavimaya Ants should be related to (and, to match it up with the Odyssey block Insect Druids, Thelonite Monk).
Abandoned or Non-existant Tribes
The unlucky brainfood that Magic once had has been lumped into the type of 'Beast,' and most are decidedly not beastlike. Fish, of which Dandan, various eels such as Devouring Deep and Slipstream Eel(to name a few), and Giant Shark should be akin to each other. A 'Fish' deck that doesn't feature Merfolk as the fish could be entertaining, though the creature type obviously isn't going to be supported by Wizards of the Coast anymore-- aquatic beings are now taboo... see my Rant on the creatures of Blue. Why can't the family be reunited after WotC abandons them? Where's the harm?
The froglike Anurids that populate the Magic world are labeled as Beasts, Toads and Frogs. The four Toads are called Morgue, Bloted, Chub, and Noxious, the Frog called Spore, and Frogmite, an obviously mechanical Frog if I ever have seen a mechanical frog, is not labeled at all... The lattermost list includes Anurids of Oddysey and Onslaught block, a well known creature type that doesn't require a list, their name obviously coming from the term for an amphibian without a tail. The other Anura that could be related to those 'beasts' are either Frogs, Toads, or, in the case of Frogmite, typeless. The type of Anura for all those anphibious creatures would allow another 'type' to exist for those of us who enjoy theme decks, and would make Magic more subtly educational. Most people wouldn't know what an Anurid was until they spotted it on several of the amphibians it relates to. On that note, allow us to move onto the facet of creature types, or , 'Educational' creature types, or creature types that would benefit the younger audience Magic attracts.
In addition to Frogs, Toads and others becoming Anura, a race with both mechanical and educational advantages, there are some creatures that almost beg for a type of their own, or their type to be reclaimed and condensed. First up are the various Horselike, Piglike and Cowlike animals in Magic. All three of these catagories have been used on cards before, and should share a common bond. Since the formermost and lattermost of the trio don't necessarily include purebred horses and cattle within, a more general and scientific (and thus educational) name of the common 'barnyard venacular' should be used: Equine for the Horselike creatures, Bovine for the cowlike creatures, and Porcine for the piglike creatures. The equines are: Clockwork Steed, Dwarven Pony, Hipparion, Sacred Prey, Tarpan, and possibly Thundermare (which may truly be an Equine Elemental). Bovines include: Aurochs, Barishi, Colos Yearling, Deepwood Tantiv, Raging Bull, Stampeeding Wildebeests, Wild Colos, Ironhoof Ox, Wild Ox, and the Antelope Pair of Trained Pronghorn and Graceful Antelope(check Dictionary.com for 'Antelope.' "Any of various swift-running ruminant mammals of the family Bovidae, native to Africa and Asia and having long horns and a slender build."). Porcine animals include the Argothian Swine, Crashing Boars, Durkwood Boars, Pygmy Razorback, Giant and normal Warthog, Clockwork Vorrac, and Copperhoof Vorrac. Also sitting in (or curled up in) the 'Educational' column is the lowly Lycanthrope, or Were-person. Early episodes of Lycanthropy in Magic were the Greater and Lesser werewolves... but Were-people have popped back up recently without the race of Lycanthropy invoked. Dirty Wererat, Werebear, and Trecherous Werewolf are all 'job-creature' style creature types instead of 'Rat Lycanthropy,' 'Bear Lycanthropy' and 'Wolf Lycanthropy' respectively.
Will work for Type
Up next, allow us to peruse those whose Jobs should be brought more into line with the current day's thinking. First off are the Knights that aren't: Akron Legionaire, Aysen Crusader, and Whirling Dervish-- all three obviously beknighted yet uncredited. Related to the Knights are the Heros, a type that has become unsupported with the flushing of Banding-- and that interract with the Aysen Crusader. The Crusader points in the direction the Heros should go, as it makes sense getting bonuses from Soldiers it fights alongside... so the Benalish Hero, Kjeldoran Hero and Beast Walkers should become Soldiers. Also needing the Soldier type but not recieving it for some odd reason are Pikemen, Seasoned Tactician, and Border Patrol.
Since White seems to be in need of the biggest employment need as of right now, let us move onto the Clerics that just aren't clerics, including Clergy of the Holy Nimbus, Death Speakers, The Exorcist, Hazduhr the Abbot, The Miracle Worker, and The Dark's infamous Preacher-man. Nearly anything religious becomes a Cleric nowdays, so the label sticks quite well.
Moving onto decidedly non-white areas, the Wizards that should be include the Mage Musician from Ice Age, the Sorceress Queen, and the Vulshock Sorceress. All other 'Sorcerers' are labeled as such, why not those two? 'Mage,' as the Ice Age Musical tax man is labeled, seems to be a flat-out mistake, seeing as there are no other Mages in Magic-- at least by creature type.
Other not so pure jobs that need to be given out are Assassin and an interesting little cornercase that I'll get to after listing the assassins-that-arn't, including Merfolk Assassin, Mogg Assassin, Rathi and Silent Assassin, Suq'Ata Assassin, and the miserrata'd Serpent Assassin. The next job that needs appending is related to Assassination, but is not exactly a job... more of a lack thereof or a lifestyle: the Criminal. There are plenty of Pirates (both in Pirate and in Ship versions) but Pirate doesn't really cover every occurrence of the criminal in Magic; there are Thieves, Vandals, Robbers, Bandits, and Ambush-Parties(!?) strutting around, seeming like they'd share a pint with Aladdin down at the least reputable tavern on Dominaria (or whereverthehell the game is taking place nowdays...). To be specific, and omitting the Pirates from Masques, Mirage, Homelands, Alpha, and Portal 1 and 2, the criminals are: Ingenious Thief, Cephalid/Goblin/Ouphe/Keldon Vandals, Highway/Grave Robbers, Charging/Scarwood Bandits, and the should-be-a-bandit Ambush Party.
Moving on, there are only three more catagories that I see requiring Wizards of the Coast and R&D's attention.
Help Wanted: Creature Type Definitions
Starting with the smallest or largest would be too predictable, so let us pick through the 'In Need of Definition' stack. We'll make a game of this-- sound good? Think in your mind with what you've picked up about the following creature types: Zombies. Thrulls. Horrors. Nightstalkers. (odd that they're all black, eh?)
I'll give you space to think.
Think of what each race is by definition.
Think of what each race is damned to do by their duty.
Think of what each race enjoys.
Think you've had enough annoying spaces telling you how to shape your thoughts?
I hope so.
Here's a few definitions without much backup: Zombies are reanimated corpses, Thrulls are genetic mutations or experements cobbled together and bound into servitude, Nightstalkers are violent pranksters with a dark sense of humor and great trickery, and Horrors are things of nightmares or worse.
To expand the definitions further on two of the races that need to reclaim their bretheren, I would like to quote Wizards of the Coast and Terry Pratchett in turn.
"Horrors are usually out-and-out monsters with little or no physical similarity to humankind. They are nightmares come alive." Thanks, Magic Arcana! Thus, Horrors are Eldric Lovecraftian beings that could quite possibly drive someone insane. Good definition, I'd say, but for some reason, Wizards of the Coast didn't follow it on Abomination or Phrexian Monitor, both twisted beings. Speaking of Lovecraft and Cthulhu, Yog-Sothohthoth, Daigon, Pikathulu, and Yawgahtahwhg, another Lovecraftian menace currently resides in the Core Set of Magic: The Gathering and belongs here: the Nekrataal. The name fits right in with the insanity-driven Lovecraftian beasts, and fits thematically as well by driving a creature your opponent controls mad, scaring it to the graveyard with a quick heart attacks, unless it's as tainted as itself or otherwise immune to its power.
As for Zombies, their animate dead flesh mystique is alluring to many players. However, there's nearly a dozen Zombies left out in the cold by having a badly allocated creature type: Skeleton. To quote Terry Pratchett in reference to Gak, Evil Harry's skeletal henchmen:
"'And what do we have here?' said Cohen. 'A real old zombie? Where did you dig him up? I like a man who's not afraid to let all his flesh fall off!'
'Gah,' said the zombie.
'No tongue, eh?' said Cohen. 'Don't worry, lad, a blood-curdling screech is all you need, and a a few bits of wire, by the looks of you.' "
-Terry Pratchett, from The Last Hero, a Discworld storybook for adults.
Those poor fleshless zombies include Carionette, Drudge Skeletons, Fallen Askari, Kjeldoran Dead, Lim Dul's High Guard, Restless Dead, Skeleton Scavengers, Unworthy Dead, Urborg Skeleton, Walking Dead, and (very oddly, as all other Nims are already Zombies) Flayed Nim. Want other evidence that Skeletons are Zombies? Rent Evil Dead ][: The Army of Darkness.
Sadly, I cannot think of a good source to quote about the Thrulls, originally created in Sarpadia and reproduced by Volrath in his Stronghold and Gatha during his experiments which also created a variation of Orggs. Both Grollub and Servant of Volrath fit into the mold of an abused creature not birthed by normal means, and many creatures in the future may fit a similar mold... hopefully with the creature type of 'Thrull' to accompany their ancestors.
Onto the Nightstalkers, stars of Portal 2 and terrors of the streets of Urborg. They slink around swamps and know how to avoid most creatures (both Fear of some sort and Swampwalk are common abilities of the Nightstalker), and know how to empower themself-- many Nightstalkers have P/T increasing abilities; the Nightstalker is usually very clever, yet mischevious-- much like a cross between Dwarven intellect and Goblinesque humor. Why Darkling Stalker, Marsh Lurker, Urborg Stalker, and Witch Engine are not Nightstalkers I do not know, as they fit in with the race perfectly. This race has potential, much like the race of Dwarves that has fallen out of favor with Wizards of the Coast.
Allow us to move onto the poor unfortunates that are named after themself and don't fit into any catagory on their own (for the most part). Will-O-The-Wisp, People-Of-The-Woods, Nameless-Race, Murk-Dweller, Cave-People, Carriage, and Mob are their creature types, and adding 'Black to the lattermost's former and 'Angry' to the beginning of the lattermost's name are needed to also know the cards referred to. Every occurrance of the 'dashed-creature-type' should be obliterated, and the cards requiring them changed to reflect current times. Possibly the abysmal 'Human' type would replace a few, possibly 'spirit,' 'zombie,' or 'townsfolk' would fill in, possibly the catch-all of 'Beast' could be utilized. The 'dashes' need to be killed, though-- It was cool when some creatures had the creature type of 'The,' but now that possibility is gone: 'the' is encapsulated with several other words connected to it. Rid Magic of an ugly thorn.
Wouldn't that be better as...?
The final catagory is quite simply the most glaring of all, as it points out some oddities that still exist. First let us grant creature types to those who never had it, but by today's standards would: The Golems. Presenting Adarkar Sentinel, Beast of Burden, Brass Man, Brass Secretary, Cathodion, Clay Statue, Soldevi Sentry, and Soldevi Simulacrum. Give them a round of applause and a creature type, please!
Let's cover the shortlists, next. Starting with the 'Should Be Angel column, we have Angelic Curator, Angelic Page, and an angel of Death, the Dread Reaper.
Moving to Illusions, Shyft, Phantom Monster, and Phantasmal Sphere fit into there.
Also, the Kolbold Drill Sargent, Overlord, and Taskmaster should benifit from their own abilities, as they are obviously Kobolds themself-- why not give an eight-year-old unsupported creature type a little boost?
Elementals that aren't include Ball Lightning, Bogardan Firefiend, The Force of Nature, Gaea's Avenger and Gaea's Liege.
Onto the Fae; many obvious things should be of the creature type 'faerie' due to their stereotypical nature, yet are not. Faeries arn't just the little fluttering things-- they include brownies, pixies, satyrs, and Leprechauns... yet only the Leprechaun are credited with being of the fae. Missed are the Faerie Noble, Fyndhorn Brownie, Niall Silvain, Pixie Queen, Pyknite, and Willow Satyr.
The next group I will touch upon is the dead-but-not-corperate, the Spirits. Ghosts and Phantasms of an aethric type should be included here, as well as a few oddballs: Anaba Ancestor, Chilling Apparition, Enchanted Being, Ghosts of the Damned, Haunting Apparition, Hell's Caretaker, Lost Soul, Phantasmal Fiend, Phantasmal Forces, Phantasmal Mount, and Skulking Ghost. The 'Phantasmal' or 'Phantasm' creature type fits in two places-- one kind of Phantasmal creature seems to be the same as ghosts, but the other form of Phantasm seems to be illusionary.
The final pair of creature types that I will beg for reintroduction are fan favorites which also have quotes from famous members of the Magic Elite to back them up.
First, I would like to quote Mark Roswater from his Beast Week article: "When you hear Beasts, you think of large, feral animals." Truth. Big, feral animals that make conversations go like this while walking in the forest: "Yikes! What is it!" you say. "RUN!" says your friend. That definatly means 'Beast' to me. However, I disagree with what MaRo says next: "Big behemoths that hunt prey and roam the landside." Actually... that doesn't sound like a Beast to me. Beast has a more 'exotic' feel to it, something a cryptozoologist would fawn over. Something that definatly hunts prey and roams the landscape sounds more primitive, more... like a Dinosaur. While Magic does have a Dino, Pygmy Allosaurus, looking at creatures like Tyrranax and Craig Saurian feel very much like they belong in the Jurassic or Cretacious period-- the same with Dromosaur, Pangosaur, Pygmy Pyrosaur(not his fault he's smaller than usual, there were small dinos!), Shivan Raptor, Slit Crawler, Skyshroud War Beast, Ember Beast, Macetail Hystrodon, and Ridgetop Raptor. Those should not be simply 'Beasts,' but 'Dinosaurs.' Much more grand, flavorful, and exciting!
Finally, allow us to end with a quote from the Doctor of Magic himself, Richard Garfield. "...a card that affects all fungus is a reasonable card to have, but a card that affects Fungusaurs is not." Yes, I am here to rally for the creature type of Thallids and other Odd Sentient 'Icky' creations. Things made out of Fungus have a unique touch, a Magically shaped creation that is sent after your opponent. Who doesn't like squashing someone with a giant mushroom? Included in the final catagory of 'fungus' are Fungal Shambler, Aboroth, Floral Spuzzem, Fungusaur (STILL has the 'saur' appended? Huh? 9th Edition can take care of that...), Fungus Elemental, Lichenthrope, Mold Demon, Mossdog, Moss Monster, and Skyshroud Behemoth.
One thing that might help keep creature types manageable is not finalizing the creature's type until after the artwork has been returned and cemented to the card-- this would have allowed Hyalopterous Lemure to drop the 'e' and be an Ape instead of Spirit, and allow many other things to be creature typed with more inherent flavor. We can only hope.