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Top 10 Magic: the Gathering Creatures You Won't Believe Were Actually Good


This week, I was randomly browsing through old decklists from the early and mid-1990s. The biggest thing that stood out is just how laughably bad some of the creatures were back in the early years of Magic. This inspired me to make a top 10 list of creatures that used to be good. I should say that, for the sake of the video, "good" means that it showed up in the Top 8 of a Standard / Extended Pro Tour or Worlds event. We can debate whether any of these cards are good in a vacuum, but if you're top-eighting a Pro Tour, you're probably doing something right!

So, here's the plan for the video: for each of our 10 creatures, we'll look at three things. First, we'll look at the card itself; then, we'll take a quick look at at least one decklist featuring the card (so you'll know I'm not just making it up because some of these creatures top-eighting a Pro Tour / Worlds are pretty unbelievable); and finally, we'll look at a comparable card printed in the last few years to see just how far creatures have come over the past three decades. Anyway, here are the top 10 creatures you won't believe were actually good. 

Note: If a deck is listed as "Freeform," it's because it was originally an Extended deck, and it's been so long since Extended was a supported format that we no longer have it listed on the site. Standard decks were originally played in Standard events.

#10: Waterspout Djinn

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The part that cracks me up most about Waterspout Djinn isn't so much that it was played. A 4/4 flier for four, even with a massive drawback, was pretty above the curve back in the day. It's the decks where it saw play. Apparently, Waterspout Djinn was so good that you'd play it in Merfolk tribal, even though it's very much not a Merfolk. Today, we regularly get blue 4/4 fliers for four with upside rather than drawbacks, and these often aren't even good enough to see play outside of specific decks.

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#9: Orgg

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Much like Waterspout Djinn, Orgg was really big for its mana cost, based on 1990s standards. The problem is all the opponent needs to do to Pacifism your finisher is play a creature with power three or greater and leave it untapped. Today, we get Orggs that have just as much text but all of it is upside...

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#8: Deadly Insect

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Sometimes, you just really need a finisher that your opponent can't target with their Swords to Plowshares. Enter Deadly Insect. Sure, it costs five mana and trades down with an Orcish Spy (which might sound like a joke, but as we continue our countdown, you'll see this actually was relevant back in 1995), but you could argue that Deadly Insect was the original Carnage Tyrant. Unfortunately, it looks pretty silly compared to literal Carnage Tyrant.

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#7: Orcish Spy

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Back in the '90s, players were just figuring out how to play Mono-Red Aggro (originally called Sligh after Paul Sligh, the first person to play it at a Pro Tour). The idea was to curve out with cheap red creatures and then finish the game with burn. Sadly, the red creatures available to curve out with just weren't very good. Orcish Spy is just a 1/1 for one, and while it has an ability, not only is it an ability that does nothing (you look at the top cards of someone's library and put them back in the same order), but the ability also requires Orcish Spy to tap, which is exactly what you want to be doing in your curve-out Mono-Red Aggro deck. Today, there are about a million red one-drops that are better, to the point where most sets have a forgotten common that is essentially Orcish Spy but with an ability that actually could be helpful in some situations.

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#6: Woolly Spider

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Woolly Spider isn't actually all that bad compared to some of the other creatures on our list. A 2/3 for three with a tiny bit of upside if you block a flier, thanks to its pseudo-reach ability, is under the curve but not completely laughable. So why is it on our list? Because Woolly Spider was basically a staple in the early 1990s. I was shocked to find that most decks that had green mana were playing it, making it pretty similar to Lovestruck Beast in our current Standard format, except Lovestruck Beast has double the stats and is two cards in one...

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#5: Phyrexian War Beast

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Players in the '90s were willing to put up with basically any drawback if it came attached to a creature with somewhat reasonable stats. A colorless 3/4 for three is actually still on-curve today, although today, creatures with drawbacks like "sac a land if this leaves play" just don't show up in tournament Magic—it's way too easy to get blown out and lose the game as a result. Sparkhunter Masticore is probably the closest comparison. It still has what might be a drawback (discarding a card to cast it), although it's all upside once it's on the battlefield, and Sparkhunter Masticore has basically gone unplayed since it was printed in Core Set 2021.

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#4: Spectral Bears

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Spectral Bears offers solid stats. A 3/3 for two is great for the '90s. The problem is that unless you are up against a black deck, it's a 3/3 for two that you can only attack with every other turn, which actually makes it more like a 1.5/1.5 in a lot of matchups. Today, we get 3/3s for two in green with no drawback at all, and they aren't even that good.

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#3: Ironclaw Orcs

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Ironclaw Orcs was basically Robber of the Rich—a red two-drop with a ton of text—26 years before Robber of the Rich. The problem is that all of Ironclaw Orcs' text is bad, which means it's basically a downgraded Grizzly Bears. Early Mono-Red Aggro players were so desperate to curve out that if you were a warm body that cost between one and three mana with red mana symbols, you were probably top-eighting Pro Tours in the '90s. 

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#2: Blinking Spirit

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Blinking Spirit was the control finisher of the early / mid-1990s (well, alongside Millstone, which would certainly be on this list if we were including non-creature spells). Sure, it's ground-bound and only hits for two a turn, making it a 10-turn clock, but if your opponent tries to kill it, you can always bounce it back to your hand, spend four more mana to recast your 2/2 ground creature, and start chipping in for two again. Assuming you didn't time out or die of old age, it was a pretty guaranteed way to win a game of Magic eventually, especially backed by removal and counters. Still, it looks hilariously bad compared to more modern control finishers like Dream Trawler, Aetherling, or even something like Legion Angel.

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#1: Ghazban Ogre

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On one hand, Ghazban Ogre has solid stats, as a 2/2 for one. On the other hand, if you play it and your opponent Lightning Bolts your face they'll gain control of it before you even get to attack. In general, you play creatures because plan on using them to kill your opponent, not to give them to your opponent. Still, this didn't stop Ghazban Ogre from being a four-of in green aggro decks back in the '90s. Today, there are about a million green one-drops that are better, and if you're willing to put up with a drawback, you can even get a 3/3 for one in green!

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 Conclusion

Anyway, that's all for today. What other creatures that use to be good look laughably underpowered based on 2021 designs? Let us know in the comments! As always, leave your thoughts, ideas, opinions, and suggestions, and you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive or at SaffronOlive@MTGGoldfish.com.



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