The old Magic boxes used to call on us to play with”magical spells and fantastic creatures.” It’s almost Extended season, so the magical spells are getting a bit more magical – the creatures are a bit more fantastic, too. Extended is the season of Palinchron, Avatar of Woe, Multani, Spiritmonger, and Yavimaya Elder.
I want to talk about another type of magical creature. These are the creatures that cause effects when they come into play. They are also called 187 creatures. In some cases, they are almost better described as”a good spell that has a creature attached.”
If you look hard enough, you can find almost any Magic spell replicated in the form of a 187 creature. These creatures are generally pretty good in duels, but are often even better in multiplayer. A good spell that leaves a chump blocker is almost always superior to a good spell on its own.
You can build decks around 187 creatures. You can search for them with Survival of the Fittest, Citanul Flute, Worldly Tutor, or Living Wish. You can bounce and reuse them with Lifeline, Umbilicus, Stampeding Wildebeests, or Equilibrium. You can pull them back from the graveyard with Living Wish, Diabolic Servitude, Corpse Dance, or Animate Dead. You can put them back in hand (or on the library) with Volrath’s Stronghold, Haunted Crossroads, Raise Dead, or the black spellshaper whose name I cannot recall. (Me neither – The Ferrett) You can get the effects at instant speed with Aluren, Flash, Winding Canyons, Sneak Attack, or Vernal Equinox.
A lot of the current crop of extended decks involve around 187 creatures. At PT Houston, the T8 decks used Mesmeric Fiend, Cavern Harpy, Wall of Blossoms, Raven Familiar – almost a dozen creatures with useful comes into play abilities.
If you play the 187 creatures, however, be sure to check the Oracle for revised wordings. A long time ago, there was a combo deck that used the Great Whale and Recurring Nightmare. The combo: Have one Whale in the graveyard, one in play. Tap seven lands for mana, cast Recurring Nightmare to switch Whales and untap the lands, repeat until you have plenty of mana, then Stroke of Genius the opponent out. Free Whaley was a powerful little combo deck, and the result was that the creatures that untapped lands were given errata, so that they only work when they are actually played from your hand. That wording was also included in some of the more powerful newer creatures, such as Hypnox. Anything with that wording only works if you actually cast the creature; putting it into play via reanimation, Sneak Attack, Quicksilver Amulet, Show and Tell, and the like is different from actually playing it, and the comes into play effects will not trigger.
Along the same lines, some of the best comes into play effects were associated with the Invasion creatures with kicker. Shivan Emissary, with kicker paid, will kill a creature, but you can only pay kicker if you play the creature. Once again, all the fun options, like Exhume, Oath of Druids, and Elvish Piper do not give you the opportunity to pay kicker costs, so those effects don’t happen. However, kicker does allow for some very good utility creatures in the five battlemages.
I’ll list a few of the good 187 creatures, by effect. I’m going to start with the first Invitational card to have a 187 effect – Avalanche Riders. The Riders were a great land kill card. Other 187 creatures include some good and some bad ones, and the only white card I can think of that kills a target land (Benalish Emissary – Armageddon isn’t targeted, as it kills everything.) Here’s the list: Avalanche Riders, Ravenous Baboons, Goblin Settlers, Keldon Firebombers, Desolation Angel, Benalish Emissary
In addition to killing land, 187 creatures love to kill artifacts and enchantments. The artifact killers are old favorites, and commonly appear in my decks for everything from T2 to T1 to multiplayer. The artifact destroyers start off with Uktabi Orangutans, and continue through Woodripper, Keldon Vandals, and Verduran Emissary. Enchantment killers include Monk Realist, Cloudchaser Eagle, (and its reprint, Aven Cloudchaser), and Tolarian Emissary.
Another common 187 ability is discard. A number of creatures can accomplish some hand destruction. Ravenous Rats is probably the best. Mesmeric Fiend is more selective, but temporary. Cackling Fiend, which forces every opponent to discard, is the creature of choice for multiplayer. Abyssal Horror is 2 card discard attached to a pretty decent creature. Earsplitting Rats even affects you, so it’s marginal. The ultimate hand destruction creature has to be Hypnox, which would be an ideal turn one play. Swamp, Ritual, Ritual, Ritual, Ritual, Black Lotus, Hypnox. Now neither of you has a hand, but you have an 8/8 black flier, and your opponent will be convinced you stacked your deck.
Some 187 creatures kill other creatures. The classic, Nekrataal, will be reprinted in 8th edition, so it will be back next summer. Bone Shredder had flying instead of first strike. The other examples include Dakmor Lancer, Dark Hatchling, Gloomdrifter (sort of), Shivan Emissary, and Faceless Butcher (who really only borrows the creature.)
If some creatures kill, others let you recover the bodies. The oft-reprinted Gravedigger puts the creature back in your hand. Crypt Angel does the same, but only for favorite colors. Karmic Guide puts the creature into play. Intuition for three Karmic Guides is kinda funny, but remember that the Guide has Echo.
If you need something other than creatures back from the graveyard, we have creatures that will do that, too. Cartographer fetches land. Anarchist fetches sorceries. Scrivener fetches instants. Iridescent Drake will get an enchant creature, and wears it. Monk Idealist (a.k.a. Auramancer) will put enchantments back in your hand. Treasure Hunter fetches artifacts. Saprazzan Bailiff, one of the strangest, removes all enchantments and artifacts from all graveyards, temporarily. Bailiffs are weird.
I mentioned the creatures that untap lands when they enter play. Here’s the list: Great Whale, Palinchron, Cloud Fairies. All of these have errata to limit the effect to when it was played from your hand, but they are still powerful any time a land can tap for more than one mana. Palinchron/Mana Flare is still a viable deck. Cloud of Fairies / Equilibrium still works, but you need two Clouds, because Equilibrium cannot target the creature being played.
Up until now, the colors had shared the 187 abilities – not always equitably, but shared. However, the bounce ability is blue, and blue alone. The classic bounce creature is Man-o-War, which would Boomerang a creature when it comes into play. Other creatures would bounce lands (Glowing Anemone, Aven Fogbringer), creatures of certain colors (Hunting Drake, Llawan, Cephalid Empress) or even artifacts and enchantments (Stern Proctor).
I almost forgot Urborg Emissary, a black creature which bounces creatures when the blue kicker is paid. So I guess it is not altogether a blue ability.
The Pirates, from Masques block, had a similar ability – when they come into play, each opponent must sacrifice a permanent unless they pay some amount of mana. These were the comes into play equivalent of Fade Away. Ingrid used to play a Pirates deck, back when it was Standard-legal – and it was an amazingly annoying deck.
The next category of effect is direct damage. There are a lot of 187 creatures with this ability – but by far, the one that had the most powerful impact was Flametongue Kavu. None of the others combined it’s low casting cost with the high amount of damage. Crater Hellion did more damage, but cost a ton more and hit everything. Ghitu Slinger was a more direct predecessor, but only did two damage. Goretusk Firebeast, a.k.a. Facetongue, only hits players. Keldon Champion was a closer equivalent to the FTK, but there was so much broken stuff in Urza’s block that it never stood out. Other lesser lights include Pardic Arsonist and Spark Fiend.
Loss of life is a similar effect. Loss of life has one big advantage over direct damage – it generally cannot be prevented, and things like Worship don’t save you. The most recent, and powerful, life loss 187 creature is Laquatus’ Champion. Others in the genre include Maggot Carrier, Rathi Fiend, and Soul Scourge. Surprisingly enough, it is Maggot Carrier that is seeing play as a win condition in Extended at the moment.
Some creatures have the ability to search your library for copies when they come into play. The original was Llanowar Sentinels, which could put copies directly into play. In Nemesis, several creatures who would search for multiple copies and put them into your hand were introduced, including Howling Wurm, Nesting Wurm, and Coiled Woodwurm. The next incarnation of this mechanic were in the recruiters (Recruitment Officer, Goblin Matron) which looked at the top few cards of your library and put all card of a certain type into your hand. Onslaught has given us the newest twist, where playing a creature lets you search for a copy and put that into hand. These include Avarrax, Daru Cavalier, Embermage Goblin, and Screaming Seahawk.
A few creatures will let you search, not for creatures, but for lands. Wood Elves allow you to search for a Forest – including Dual lands counting as Forests. Silverglade Elemental lets you get only basic Forests, but it is a 4/4 creature. Yavimaya Granger and Quirion Trailblazer allow you to search for a basic land of any type. The fact that these creatures put the land directly into play can really speed mana acceleration. This can be very good. In a recent game, I got a gawd draw. Turn one I played Taiga, Sol Ring, Scroll Rack. Turn 2, I used Scroll Rack to put four bad cards back onto my library, then played Forest, Wood Elves. The Wood Elves both shuffled the bad cards back into my Library and put a Savannah into play. On turn 3 I played Thran Dynamo, Voltaic Key, used the Scroll Rack, then played Wood Elves # 2 for another shuffle. At the start of turn 4, I had five lands, in play, plus the potential to generate twelve mana, and had seen about 20 cards.
I won that game.
Okay, back to creatures with special comes-into-play abilities. A small number of creatures bring some friends along. The Deranged Hermit has four squirrel friends. Goblin Marshal brings some spare goblins to the party. Finally, Sengir Autocrat has three serfs serving him – but even the serfs are useful (see my Grave Pact deck from a couple weeks ago for an example.) Only three creatures in the category, but at least two are playable.
So, after the smallest category, one of the biggest. There are a lot of creatures with a comes into play ability that lets you draw a card, and I’ll make the category even bigger by including the creatures that let you stack the top of your library, since many do both. Raven Familiar may be the best – it is both cost efficient and relatively useful. Other, similar creatures include Sage Owl, Sage Aven, and Aven Fateshaper. Some creatures let you draw and discard, like Merfolk Traders and Cephalid Sage. Finally, there are a host of cantrip creatures, like Wall of Blossoms, Jungle Barrier, Kavu Climber, Multani’s Acolyte and Phyrexian Rager. Phyrexian Gargantua is a super cantrip – you draw two cards.
Actually, cantrips and card drawing may not be the biggest category. I haven’t counted, but Wizards has printed a number of creatures that give life. Ignoring the Portal and Starter only cards, the list includes: Angel of Mercy, Radiant’s Dragoons, Teroh’s Faithful, Devout Monk, Venerable Monk, Soul Warden, Staunch Defenders, and Ancestor’s Chosen. Soul Warden isn’t, technically, a 187 creature, but since it triggers on every other creature, it is pretty close.
That completes the main categories of 187 creatures. There are some others, but the effects are unique, or close to it. When Academy Researchers comes into play, you can put an enchant creature card from your hand into play on the Researchers. Highway Robbers comes with a built-in Drain Life for two. Gilded Drake swaps for an opponent’s creature. Gulf Squid taps all an opponent’s lands. Gravegouger pulls cards out of a graveyard. Hunted Wumpus lets all opponents put a creature into play – but it is a 6/6 for 3G. Mystic Snake counters a spell. Priest of Gix provides three mana. Rank and File slaughters elves, birds and River Boas. Spike Cannibal takes all those +1/+1 counters and puts them into one convenient place. Telepathic Spies let you see an opponent’s hand. Thundermare taps all creatures (use Winding Canyons to play Thundermare during your opponent’s attack phase, before declaration of attackers. All his attackers are tapped, and you get a free attack without worrying about blockers.) Whirlpool Warrior lets you swap your hand for new cards. Finally, Centaur Chieftain is a mini-Overrun.
I’ll finish some deck ideas. Before that, however, I should mention a final 187 ability: gating. Gating requires you to return another creature when the creature with gating comes into play. By itself, gating is simply a way of making creatures a bit cheaper, e.g. Horned Kavu is a 3/4 for RG. However, if you can gate back 187 creatures, it becomes even better. At the Planeshift Prerelease, I had a deck with two Flametongue Kavus, but three Horned Kavus, one R/B gating creature and a Dragon. One match, I cast FTK seven times. Yeah, I won that one.
The first deck is a basic R/G Gating deck. It’s main advantage is that the deck is cheap (no rares), but does pretty well in multiplayer games. The Kavus can pick up FTKs, plus the fading creatures
4 Flametongue Kavu
4 Horned Kavu
4 Ancient Hydra
4 Llanowar Elves
2 Uktabi Orangutan
2 Elvish Lyrist
2 Wood Elves (if you have duals, great; otherwise maybe use Keldon Champions.)
If you have Karplusan Forests or Wooded Foothills, add them. If you have Birds of Paradise or Cities of Brass, or duals and Wood Elves, add those and add some white: A Radiant’s Dragoon/Teroh’s Faithful for lifegain, a Cloudchaser Eagle for enchantment kill, and a Fleetwood Panther or two as a means of bouncing white creatures. (Fleetfoot Panther also let you fizzle removal spells by bouncing the target at instant speed.)
The second decklist is all green, but it revolves around a classic bounce creature – Stampeding Wildebeest. Given time, this deck will develop a ton of mana – bouncing Wood Elves does that.
A final one is built to abuse one of the most broken multiplayer artifacts ever. Lifeline. Lifeline is insane. Lifeline and Echo creatures is even more insane. Imagine this: I have a Lifeline and a Wall of Blossoms in play. I have Echo creatures – and if I never pay Echo, I get the comes into play effects for free every turn.
4 Birds of Paradise
4 Wall of Roots
4 Yavimaya Granger
2 Avalanche Riders
1 Crater Hellion
1 Cloudchaser Eagle
1 Keldon Champion
1 “Bone Shredder
1 Radiant’s Dragoons
2 Deranged Hermit
1 Phyrexian Plaguelord
1 Squee, Goblin Nabob
1 Treasure Hunter
2 Fountain Watch
Add lots of assorted basic lands to fetch with Grangers, and go heavy on the forests. Phyrexian Plaguelord (or maybe Skull Catapult) are there to sacrifice creatures if they are in play and Lifeline is around. Treasure Hunter can get back a Lifeline.
It’s too many cards, but I did say it was unfinished.
Living Wish targets: Wood Elf, Avalanche Riders, Crater Hellion, Woodripper, Mageta the Lion, Cloudchaser Eagle, Keldon Champion, Radiant’s Dragoons, Phyrexian Plaguelord, Squee Goblin Nabob, Treasure Hunter, Fountain Watch, Ghitu Slinger, Ticking Gnomes.