Better Know a Card Type – Tribal

better-know-a-card-type-tribalTo help you design better cards, I thought it would be a good idea to know what you can do with this card game.  First I looked at colors (something I’ll come back to again), and now is my overarching look at Magic.

Welcome to part 1 of my 19 part series: Better know a card type.

Today’s card type: Tribal; The Fightin’ Tribes!

Tribal is a new card type introduced in 2007 with the release of the large expansion set Lorwyn.  For those that want to argue that it was infact Future Sight that first debuted Tribal you’re wrong.  That set was in the future brought to us in the past by a man in a DeLorean going 88 mph.  Great Scott!

57-lorwyn-nameless-inversion-jeff-miracolaAt the moment there are only 50 cards that have the card type Tribal in it’s card type.  It’s the second smallest major card type and the third one to only feature inside a single block.

MaRo-Type Aside: For those of you wondering why I’m calling it a major card type is there have been alot of card types that have been printed.  Some are still in use (Artifact) while some have been left behind (Mono Artifact).  While I combined Mono and Poly artifacts into just artifacts, I’m giving some of them their own part in the series because you have to know the past to build toward the future.  Yes, I’m even covering the card type with one card.  Sigh, that brings back memories.

But what is the Tribal card type?  Commonly thought of as a super type to whatever it’s effecting, it is actually a card type in itself.  Because this can be confusing, let’s go to the rule book:

212.8. Tribals

212.8a Each tribal card has another card type. Playing and resolving a tribal card follows the rules for playing and resolving a card of the other card type.

212.8b Tribal subtypes are always a single word and are listed after a long dash: “Tribal Enchantment — Merfolk.” The set of tribal subtypes is the same as the set of creature subtypes; these subtypes are called creature types. Tribals may have multiple subtypes.

And this means what?  Why tribal works is that it allows non creature spells to have creature subtypes.  Just as artifact creatures are considered artifacts as well as creatures, this is the same concept here.  Take a look at Boggart Birth Rite:


Because this is a spell that a Goblin would cast, it gets the card type: Tribal Sorcery – Goblin.  While this an interesting mechanic, this is very flavorful in a fantasy sort of way.  It makes sense that Goblins would produce Goblin magic, and other creatures the same way.  While these cards don’t have to see play in decks only focused on these creature types, they fit in much better in those types of decks and create the linear way of putting together a set (see here for an overview, it’s something we’ll talk about in a later post).

goblin-assultBut the question is does this card type belong outside of Lorywn?  Flavor-wise, yes in my opinion.  Just like you see sorceries and enchantments from plane to plane, so should Tribal.  It shouldn’t be littered all over the place, but a couple cards here and there would continue The first real test was not Shadowmoor and Eventide, since they were not focusing on hybrid not Tribal, but Shards of Alara.  One card proved that Wizards didn’t want to push it.

Goblin Assult screams that it wants to be Tribal Enchantment – Goblin.  Everything that should be Tribal is in this card.  Was it going to be Tribal but was too powerful in testing, did Extended or Legacy Goblins seem too good?  Using Goblin Assault as an example, it shows when you create cards in your vacuum of a card pool, don’t hesitate to think about how it will interacted with cards from the past.  Think about how that 2 mana instant you created might interact with Icochron Scepter, or that awesome artifact with Tezzeret.

Keep this card type in mind when you design cards.  While it doesn’t have to be in a Tribal block, keep in mind that if you create a Tribal card, make sure it’s there to interact with something.  Sacrifice a Soldier, return an elf to your hand, search your library for a wizard with casting cost 3 or less.  All of those things can see play in almost any set and all of those can be Tribal spells.

So with that, we finish our look at Tribal.  It’s mostly a bookkeeping card type that allows non-creature spells to interact with creature types.  Yes, it might be considered a super type, but it really isn’t.

Remember, don’t abuse the mechanic.  While it might be interesting to design a whole set with the Tribal card type (look at Legions) it would have to be playtested, just like anything you should create.  Also, be careful of what cards you do put Tribal on.  If you learn anything about Tribal from standard, learn Bitterblossom.

So Jimmy, let’s put it on the big board:


Join me next time when I talk about something Magic related.


One thought on “Better Know a Card Type – Tribal”

  1. Are you mostly trying to help people who work at Wizards of the Coast or those of us making our own sets? How many sets have you designed?

Leave a Reply to James Gray Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: