Design Class – Who’s Afraid of Big Green Monsters?

It was announced yesterday on the Mothership the names of the Intro Decks in M11 (now 60 cards), and the foil rares we’ll be getting with them. Each color gets a shiny new creature to play with in iconic creature races.

Except Green.

Green, being the creature color, should have some iconic large creature that is easily identifiable in its color but doesn’t; Elves aren’t as big, size-wise, as Angels. It’s the only color with this issue.

White has Angels.

Blue now has Sphinxes.

Black has Demons and Vampires.

Red has Dragons.

Green has, Wurms?

That’ll strike the fear in your opponent. “Fear my Wurm!”

Yeah, let’s not go there.

But what does it even matter? Green has Beasts and Wurms as large creatures, they don’t need iconic creature type help. Oh yes they do, and even Wizards has acknowledged that as well. Way back in 2006 Devin Low said as much:

Say your two friends are opening sealed decks on either side of you. One of them says he opened an Angel, a White Dragon, and a Vampire. The other says he opened an Illusion, a Beast, and a Green Elemental. Which friend would you guess probably has the more powerful deck? If you said Angel, White Dragon, and Vampire, you’re right…

…The fact that we usually make these Iconic creature types awesome feeds into everyone loving them and thinking they’re awesome, which feeds into us making them more awesome, creating a self-fulfilling loop. I love that. And I love casting Dragons, Angels, Vampires, Demons, and Legends….

Putting power into Iconic creature types and green’s lack of iconic creature types is one of the key reasons for the lack of green in the top ten lists above. From the Onslaught top ten, why are Exalted Angel and Eternal Dragon super-pushed? Largely because they’re an Angel and a Dragon!…Since Green doesn’t historically have a top-tier rare iconic creature type this awesome, it has missed out on a lot of that bonus power we give to them.

Pushing iconic creatures are a given when it comes to Magic. Ever since the beginning of the game, these iconic creatures helped sell Magic and were some of the lasting and more popular images. Not everyone knew what a Lotus or a Mox was when Magic first started (and maybe some new players still don’t), but summoning an Angel or a Dragon to fight on your side, that’s pretty bad-ass. The game needs creatures that can be identified with the game and Genre. If this was a space-themed game instead of a fantasy based one, you’d have Aliens and Spaceships. You need icons because that’s how people identify with something, hence its definition.

To the right I’ve put together four “iconic” creatures that were printed in Alpha; anyone who played back then surely remember these cards. All but one were taken out of the Core Set in future printings only to find their way back again. You think it might be Craw Wurm, but Shivan Dragon has not left the since the beginning. When someone mentions a Dragon in Magic, you automatically think of our good old friend Shivan. And when Serra Angel and Sengir Vampire both returned, there was much rejoicing; these icons were coming back to Magic.

I might have been the only one excited to see Craw Wurm when it came back in 8th Edition. Why? For me, it brought me back to a time when I would fill my decks with those guys and my friends would tremble when I played it; after all, it was a 6/4 that was almost bigger than everything. It’s iconic for being Green: a big giant creature. Some might argue that Force of Nature might have been Green’s iconic fatty, but no one liked having to pay that upkeep or have it deal damage to you.

As you might have noticed, Blue didn’t have a big iconic creature that I featured. And what would I choose, Mahamoti Djinn? Sure, I guess that’s a little iconic, but Djinns and Genies faded out over time and aren’t considered “real” fantasy icons. Then again, wurms aren’t either but continue to be used in Magic more often than not. The problem is, most of them aren’t rare; 13 out of 39 Green Wurms in Magic are rare. Yes, there are almost 40 different Wurms in Magic; compare that to 52 White Angels, 37 Red Dragons, 35 Black Demons, and 47 Black Vampires (and while there’s smaller Black vampires recently, I believe there’s enough big ones to justify this).

But let’s see this another way. Here’s a rarity breakdown of these five races plus the “new” Blue iconic race Sphinxes (which we’ll get into in a minute) with the last pack-printed rarity breakdown (meaning put together sets like Duel Decks won’t count). Just for fun, we’ll include Green’s other large iconic tribe, Beasts. All of these stats are mono-colored:

Mythic 0 4 1 4 3 1 1
Rare 13 27 33 27 20 8 27
Uncommon 14 17 2 4 13 1 30
Common 12 4 0 0 11 0 39
Total 39 52 36 35 47 10 97
% is M/R 33.3% 59.6% 94.4% 88.5% 48.9% 90% 28.9%

Sphinx looks so low since we haven’t added multicolor (which we’ll do in a sec). As you can see, every one of those other large creature types has almost 60% or better as rares or Mythics except for Green creatures. Angels are abnormally low but share the lead with most Mythics. This is part of the issue: Green doesn’t have a real identifiable large icon creature because it’s spread out across the rarities and not made special.

Having an icon makes designing cards a little bit easier. You want a flying rare Red creature? Guess what it’s going to be? Slap on something that you think a dragon can do and you’re on your way. You don’t want that Angel you just opened up to suck, right? The expectation of having an Angel or a Demon be powerful is on every player’s mind. I doubt players really care if that Wurm is really awesome, right?

Let’s do the same chart again, but have it include multicolors this time. To be on this table, the creature must have a base color of its creature type.

Wurm Angel Dragon Demon Vampire Sphinx Beast
Mythic 1 7 5 7 3 4 3
Rare 17 37 50 29 24 12 35
Uncommon 16 17 3 6 14 1 37
Common 15 4 0 0 11 0 46
Total 49 65 58 42 52 17 121
% is M/R 36.7% 67.7% 94.8% 85.7% 51.9% 94.1% 31.4%
# is not main color 11 4 21 2 0 1 129
% is not main color 18.3% 5.8% 26.6% 4.5% 0% 5.5% 51.6%

Taking a look at these numbers we can conclude several things:

  • The 21 non-Red Dragons seem high until you realize that there have been several Dragon cycles spread across all the colors (Legends, Mirage/Weatherlight, Invasion, Planar Chaos). All 21 non-Red Dragons are rare which means 96% of all Dragons printed have been Rare or Mythic (the two missing are the promo Nalathni Dragon for Dragon Con and the one of a kind Shichifukujin Dragon. I do mean one of a kind, there’s only one copy in existence. Sorry, Dragon fans).
  • Beasts, which players most likely think of as Green, aren’t always Green. In fact, most beasts (over half) are not. The creature type “Beast” is a catch-all in the Magic Multiverse, from understandable (Ridgeline Rager), to the questionable (Sand Squid), to the really stretching it (Barbarian Outcast), to the big fluffy bunny (Vizzerdix). A beast in Magic doesn’t bring an image of terror if it also brings up an image of a bunny.
  • Demons used to be gone from Magic due to “religious issues” and after Onslaught they made their return. Even after they were gone for so long they’re still iconic enough to have 7 Mythics in the past two blocks.
  • Green is the only color without a flying iconic fattie. Wurms don’t fly, otherwise they’d be Dragons.

Blue used to have this problem that Green currently has: no iconic fatty. With the introduction of Sphinxes in Ravnica, Blue found their iconic fattie race. While not a “traditional” fantasy race (much like Djinns and Genies), Sphinxes are mystical enough to see inclusion as a major fatty in Magic (and Genies have been brought back in M10). It’s a flying creature with the history of being smart which totally fits into Blue’s flavor. Infact, if you look at all the fatties, it all makes sense. Dragons firebreathe and destroy/cause havoc (Red’s flavor), Angels protect/attack and set rules (White’s flavor), and Demons kill things/do stuff with the graveyard and help players do “evil” things (Black’s flavor).

That’s one of the issues with this whole problem: what about Green’s flavor. Back to what Devin Low said earlier:

…The fact that we usually make these Iconic creature types awesome feeds into everyone loving them and thinking they’re awesome, which feeds into us making them more awesome, creating a self-fulfilling loop. I love that.

Yes, it’s that loop that has pushed Green from having high quality fatties that you see in tournament decks (Bloodbraid Elf is not a Fatty and Broodmate Dragon is in Jund and a Dragon, so it doesn’t count). Name the last mono-Green fatty that rocked a tournament (Tarmogoyf is not a fatty)? Kodama of the North Tree? Chameleon Colossus if you’re stretching it? It’s been a long while since players have put a huge Green creature in the red zone to pound face in Top 8’s (If it used to be all that common in the first place). Because Green is the creature color, how do you personify that into having a Green iconic fatty?

You make it the creature fatty.

In the last few sets, Wizards has introduced Hyrda as the Green fatty. Well, kinda fatty since some of them have X in their casting cost. Looking at the Hydras in Magic, they started out as Red, then finally moving more and more Green. While the whole idea isn’t completely fleshed out yet about what Hyrdas are going to do, but at least Wizards is trying to have it be the big Green iconic fatty. Tweets Aaron Forsythe:

We keep trying to make cool Hydras… @mtgcolorpie @RobJelf @Alex_V_S @justnisdead

What would Hydras do besides grow heads (getting bigger)? According to mythology, that’s all it does. Khalni Hydra might be a step in the right direction seeing how you can get a big fatty creature for cheap with lots of other creatures in play, something that fits Green’s flavor. Having a creature with many heads can make it seem like multiple creatures, which is the great irony/awesomeness of have a creature fatty. This is a great opportunity to take something iconic fantasy players know and make it fit into the Magic world; the possibilities are almost endless with what this Green iconic race can do.

If you want to see the breakdown of Hydra using the same chart as above you get this:

Mythic 4
Rare 8
Uncommon 2
Common 0
Total 14
% is M/R 85.7%
# is not main color 6
% is not main color 42.9%

Well, seeing how it’s in transition from Red to Green that last number is forgivable. Somehow, I think we’ll be seeing more of this multi-headed beast.

This is where you guys come in: let’s hear some ideas for what you would like to see in Hydras. I’ll let you throw out ideas in the comments. Don’t give us the whole card, but just what kind of things would you like to see Hyrdas do. Sac a head (+1/+1 token) to give a creature shroud until end of the turn? Rosterbate down below. If you don’t like the idea of Hydras, what would you suggest using then?

Thanks to @RobJelf for some of the ideas in this post, who was in my head with what I was thinking as well.

22 thoughts on “Design Class – Who’s Afraid of Big Green Monsters?”

  1. I think a Hydra that came into play with a certain amount of counters (heads) and had the ability to remove a +1/+1 counter to regenerate the creature would be pretty flavorful. I know the ability has been used before but it seems really in line with the creature type.

  2. How about a Hydra that can block a # of creatures up to its toughness?
    Or one that can’t be blocked except by a number of creatures equal to its power?

    Or perhaps a Hydra lord that gave similar abilities to all hydras?

    For whatever reason the Hydras found a special place in my heart. I pack a Protean Hydra in a Scute mob slot in my Next Level Bant deck. I just like the little (big) guy.

  3. I e-mailed Devin Low when that article came up with some suggestions, such as Dinosaur and Behemoth, but the best I had was Chimera.

    That is a very, very green creature type and would be a terrific ‘iconic’ fattie alongside the Hydra.

  4. I think there should be a hydra with a XG casting cost that behaves like an X-headed dragon, that is, can block x creatures, and can’t be blocked by fewer than x creatures.

  5. I think I tweeted this last night. But decided to tweak it a bit more.

    Theoretical Hydra: GG6 – 0/0
    When TH ETB, put 7 +1/+1 counters on it.

    Whenever TH takes damage, remove a +1/+1 counter from it instead.

    GG3, T: Put 2 +1/+1 counters on TH. TH doesn’t untap during its controllers next untap step.

  6. I’ve aways seem the “maro” creatures like molimo, multani and maro as the best iconic green creatures, followed by Gaeas Liege, because they are powerful and don’t need to be in a “Overrun” deck to be effective.
    Also creatures like verdeloth, and mycoloth do it very well.

  7. I think Protean Hydra got it just about right for an iconic hydra. I like Khalni Hydra (a lot!) but it doesn’t really feel like a hydra. Protean Hydra does exactly what a hydra did in mythology.

    I think the only way to do Protean Hydra better would to not be an X casting cost. Instead, something like GG4 for a creature that comes into play with 7 +1/+1 counters, and then had the rest of the ability. That way it definitely starts as a fatty, since a 1/1 Protean Hydra for G1 is boring.

    I like the idea of Chimeras, but I think they would actually end up being RG of RGW beasts. Part snake, part lion, part goat, with firebreathing? Sounds like a beast.

  8. If Hydras are going to be green’s icon, I’d like to see some that don’t necessarily rely on having tons of mana around (i.e, X spells). Don’t get me wrong – I think being big/awesome/flavorful is important, I’m not asking for 2/2 hydras (quite the opposite). Khalni Hydra is definitely an example of this – it just needs some other (green!) support Hydras. Protean Hydra I love, but I hate casting it as a 3/3 or a 4/4..

    And yes, I do have a tri-color Hydra deck that has at least one of every Summon Hydra (Phytohydra is white!). It’s a lot of fun to play. Multi-player only, of course.. I’d get demolished in single player.

  9. Another point is that I’m not sure Hydras ‘feel’ quintessentially green. But that probably has something to do with the fact that I played many, many games against Rock Hydra in the Revised era, and still remember things like Balduvian Hydra as though they were yesterday. Hydras just ‘feel’ red as a result, to me. Even in recent times we’ve had Apocalypse Hydra.

    I’d suggest Elementals, but they have a similar issue (all colors nowadays.. used to be the domain of Red.. though obviously I remember Water Elemental and Air Elemental).

    Does Green need something new? Wurm would have been brilliant, but it’s already filled with commons, etc.

  10. Another characteristic of the mythological hydra was that it was very hard to kill – Hercules managed to pull it off because he burned the necks after cutting off the heads. I would suggest the Mossbridge Troll ability, or maybe something even more annoying like “This is indestructible.” I hate Doom Blade Guy.

  11. I like the idea that Green needs a huge creature, but I really don’t think that the Hydra is that creature. The creature is obviously the Treefolk, but they decided to give these Ent-wannabes a really unattractive name.

    Remember Isengard in Two Towers (book or movie), remember how they appeared from the very trees of the forest and annihilated everything in their path. There just needs to be some tree-folk cousins, maybe even a planeswalker that shows how awesome these creatures can be.

  12. Good article, Hydras are fantastic. In order to make them on the same level as the other colors’ fatties, however, they do need some work. Since the other fatties all get flying, Green needs Reach at least, or maybe some sort of Canopy Cover effect. With Reach, Hydras can still be blocked by ground forces, thus, Hydras also need Trample to be effective. This works nicely, as Trample and Reach are Green’s signature abilities. Next, I like the idea of Growing/Regeneration, lore-wise. I think all hydras should either come with Protean Hydra built-in, or a Regenerative ability. It would be like how Shivan’s effect is standard in most dragons. Combine these, and you’ve got a pretty solid formula for a fatty. I don’t even see it as being too powerful. Opinions?

  13. What I don’t like is the tension between what creature types should be iconic in the established colors. White has angels, and nobody doubts that. But red has dragons AND phoenixes. While phoenixes aren’t nearly as iconic as dragons, they still exist and fit that mid-size flying creature mold, and I think they’re cool enough to deserve some time as iconic creature type. Blue has both djinn and sphinxes, and leviathans if we want to count them. Black gets vampires, which are no longer big flying beatsticks, and demons (and horrors).

    But green. Beasts, unlike dragons and angels, have a mundane quality about them. Elementals like Gaea’s Revenge could work, but they also exist in the other four colors. Wurms could be good, but iirc, the backstory for wurms in MtG is that they were once dragons who lost their limbs and wings (=weaker dragons).

    Hydras. That’s the way to go: hungry, and ever-growing.

  14. Phantom Hydra

    Cost- (X GB)


    PH comes into play with X +1/+1 counters on it.

    Whenever PH would be dealt damage, prevent
    that damage and remove a +1/+1 counter from

    3: Put a +1/+1 counter on PH.

    1G: Regenerate PH.

    Did I miss anything?

    1. Wait, it can’t be regenerated, it would come in as a 0/0. Hm….. rather than regenerate, how about the rest of the card then without the regen.

  15. I don’t have any suggestions, but I do want to say that I appreciate the Hydra push. It’s not as obvious as the Sphinxes were when I heard those announced for blue, but it seems like a good option.

    Maybe I do have a suggestion. Red doesn’t get much flying, but it does get flying when you have dragons. It makes them special for Red. Haste is allowed in green, yet is hardly ever seen. Give every hydra haste to make them stand out amongst the hulking beasts and elementals.

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