Nope. No creatures for me. Not even Serra Angel or Juzám Djinn. And especially not Erhnam Djinn or Serendib Efreet. I sometimes enjoy playing Triskelion, Atog or even Shivan Dragon.
But most of the little attacking things simply do not do it for me.
There, I said it. It’s here again: I don’t like playing creatures. I know this probably won’t fall lightly in a community of players adoring the old monsters, and I don’t expect many of you to agree with me. Actually I am a little sad, that I feel this way, because if there is anything that gets my nostalgic vibes tingling, it is Force of Nature and Sengir Vampire! I even agree that these critters are possibly the most flavorful part of Old School.
But they always seem underwhelming to me!
When I play Magic, I want to feel like a mighty wizard, slinging world-shattering spells at my opponent. I don’t want to summon things, just to get them blocked, killed or even worse; Sent to the fields plowing…
Creatures are bad…
Basically, I think creatures in Old School Magic are generally bad. Most of the time, they don’t offer any interesting ability or any possibility to sway the board state in my favor.
I know this feeling is probably because I have had a long hiatus to other formats like Vintage, Legacy and not least Commander, where creatures are all the rage. I mean, try and compare what you got for 3GG back in 1994…
To what you get for the same price today…
Imagine that in Old School!
Even if we don’t compare the Gargaroth to a crap card like Moss Monster, but to some of the best creatures of our format: Serendib Efreet, Serra Angel, Sedge Troll, Juzám Djinn… The Gargaroth is absolutely ludicrous! It is the result of 25 years of almost constant power creep when it comes to creatures. The Elder does all the things that can be difficult to achieve in Old School at once: Draws you cards, makes monsters, gains life and even blocks fliers!
And yet; it still succumbs to these:
And, I might add, this immense beauty:
Spells – and not least removal – are just so much more powerful than creatures in the first editions of the game. Lightning Bolt and Swords to Plowshares are still two of the best removal spells in the history of the game. Even Terror is a great piece of removal, even though very under-played. And if you try to cheat your Terror-wielding foe by playing artifact creatures, such as the mighty Su-Chi, Disenchant is still there to get you!
I know “Dies to removal” is a lame, intellectually lazy argument against a creature, because, let’s face it, most creatures die to removal. But in Old School the difference in general power level between creatures and removal is just vast. And way more often than not, when I play a deck that wants to win through the combat phase, I feel like I have made a poor choice.
Spells? Not so much…
In a format where you can play cards like these:
Hell, even these:
Creatures with no crazy abilities just seem so very lackluster. I always feel that I am getting left behind, when I play creatures with no other ability than to attack.
When comparing creatures to spells in Old School, I think it is very clear, that it is in the spells-apartment, things get crazy. It is without a doubt, one of the biggest changes Wizards has made to our game throughout the years. At the beginning spells were crazy – as mentioned, several Alpha cards still see a lot of play in Legacy, and even more are banned – and creatures were less than impressive (when looking with today’s eyes).
Today, in every new release of Magic cards, there is a new absolutely horrendously overpowered creature with 3-5 abilities and no disadvantages. Still, of course, blue also gets some overpowered spells – something never changes, I guess.
I am not here to judge whether it is a wise change or not – I guess Wizards’ Market Analysis showed them, that not all players enjoy being steamrolled by different spell-based combo decks or prison-strategies.
But having a vast experience from formats with powerful creatures, I simply cannot get myself to play creature-based strategies in Old School very often. And especially not, if I am playing to win.
And I guess I am not alone. When looking at some of the best decks of the format – The Deck, Atog, TwiddleVault – they are often almost entirely creatureless (I know Atog is actually a creature, and I know that The Deck has recently switched to Su-Chi as kill, but I think my point stands; there are very few to none creatures in the best decks). There are, of course, other decks in the high tiers, who play creatures – DiscoTroll, Artifacts, ErhnamGeddon. But we only very rarely see real creature decks with more than 12-15 attack-worthy critters place well at tournaments.
That is a pity. But it is not surprising giving the fact, that creatures – in general – are just so much worse than the removal and other spells, surrounding them.
So, is it a problem?
That is very hard to answer. For me, personally, it is not a real problem. I enjoy playing combo and prison more than anything else. So I won’t cry about the fact, that spells are generally more powerful than creatures. Luckily, there is no really oppressive Prison or Combo deck out there.
But in the sense that Old School is a nostalgic format, the almost complete absence of creatures like Kird Ape, Sengir Vampire, Force of Nature and even Serra Angel saddens me somewhat. I guess it is one of the best evidence, that even though some of us also play Old School for the nostalgia and for reliving the schoolyard battles, it is not truly possible.
One of the things about the schoolyard experience was that there was almost no power present. The decks were in no way streamlined, and we didn’t understand basic things like mana curve and card advantage. Except for burning people to death with Fireballs or Disintegrates around turn 21, we simple couldn’t think of any other way to kill our foes than by attacking them.
Therefore we threw together a pile of the best monsters we could get our hands on.
Today’s Old School metagame is nothing like the metagame of my elementary school years. Decks are extremely streamlined and optimized, and there is a crazy amount of power! I know I am privileged enough to live in one of the wealthiest nations on the planet, but it sometimes astonishes me, how many pieces of power the Danish Magic players has amassed!
And the sad truth is that if I play a optimized deck, built to win matches, creatures are not the way to go.
So could we do something about this? Well, yes, of course. One could just decide to play creatures. Organizers can make special rules and prices for “spicy brews” or the likes. Or we could go ahead and restrict cards like Mishra’s Factory, Maze of Ith and Swords to Plowshares. I am all for the first two options, but, without wanting to start a long discussion on restrictions; I really think the latter option is rather bad.
So what do you think? Is it a problem that we often see relatively few creatures at the top tables of our tournaments?