Written by Jonathan Wojcik
Horror Token by Pete Venters
You're reading the first of several Magic: The Gathering creature type reviews on Bogleech! The HORRORS (like I'm really going to use that as a noun in only lowercase) are a big favorite of mine with an interesting history; in the mid 90's, paranoid religious watchdogs were still taken just seriously enough that when Magic was criticized for including "demons" in its mythical fantasy setting, publisher Wizards of the Coast complied by banishing all devilish imagery from subsequent expansion sets, leaving a villainous void soon filled by the HORRORS - creatures more Lovecraftian than Luciferian, trading cloven hooves and flaming horns for squirming tentacles and bulbous eyeballs. For once, pressure from religious parents had done something positive.
Phyrexian Boon by Mark Tedin
By the time it was safe to slowly re-introduce "Demons," (read: people were too busy burning Harry Potter books to still care about pieces of cardboard) the HORRORS had already established themselves as something entirely different, and the two categories have continued to coexist. HORRORS have no unifying origin, motivations or theme. They're simply things so alien, so unnatural, so ghastly and unpleasant that there's just nothing else you can call them. They're just HORRORS, alright? Magical taxonomy works a little different.
Illustrator: Mark Tedin
I'm not going in any real order, so let's just start out with the Guiltfeeder. It's an excellent design, roughly octopoid without looking too conventional; the limbs twisting together into two long, stilt-like legs is extra creepy, and I like how its lips all converge into a single tentacle without completely obscuring its nasty, toothy mouth. It's easy to miss how a tendril is completely passing through that guy's head, and he doesn't feel a thing. He probably deserves it. He looks like a real crybaby about whatever it is the Guiltfeeder is dredging up. There's a whole story there, somewhere. I'm sure he back-stabbed someone pretty fierce.
Illustrator: Anthony S. Waters
I should mention, for the non-fans, that most Magic cards come in one of five thematic colors, and almost every single HORROR is a "black" card, the color of everything dark and goth and gloomy. Dread Slag is a partial exception, being a "multicolor" card combining black with red, the color of fiery chaos and war.
The Dread Slag is conceptually "an amalgam of phobias," according to Wizards.com, which I suppose explains its design. I guess there are certain people, in certain circles, who might be afraid of a gigantic spider-termite-snake of mutilated human remains, and at least one guy really terrified of fanged croissants.
Illustrator: E.M. Gist
With its sad, beady eyes and button nose, I feel like this HORROR is just a big puppy dog at heart, even if its very feeding process perverts the laws of physics; normally, a "dead" creature card goes to the graveyard pile, from which many other cards can eventually retrieve it, but with a Void Maw in play, dead creatures skip the graveyard and get removed from the entire game, as though utterly annihilated by the Void Maw's...void maw.
Fortunately, you can put these banished creatures (preferably only your own) back in a proper graveyard to give Void Maw a temporary power boost, so I guess it eats things clear out of existence only to poop their corpses back into reality. Void Maw, you are darling.
Illustrator: Jeff Remmer
This poor thing actually dies if a spell of any sort is cast on it, even a harmless one, unless you discard a precious land card from your hand. I'm not sure what that's really supposed to signify, but I know what I like, and what I like are eyeless, naked moles with one useless bat wing and giant hairy spores floating around everywhere for some reason. We've all got our quirks.
Illustrator: Ron Spencer
This beautiful, polypous abomination is apparently a weapon of Phyrexia, a sort of bio-technological hell which many of the game's foulest creatures call home. This tripodial bag of guts (notice the third limb in the background) grows in strength every turn, but dies once it attacks, implying some sort of kamikaze balloon-tumor that I always assumed exploded, or at least burst open in some torrent of corrosive bile. And that guy's going to hit it with a stick. Haha, do it.
Illustrator: Mark Nelson
Another product of Phyrexia, this eyeless, hairy bag of bird bones suits the words "Witch Engine" about as perfectly as you could ask for, and would look right at home in Jim Henson's The Dark Crystal. Capable of generating black mana (what you spend to play or "cast" black cards in the first place) it's implied that these are essentially mass produced sorcerors of the Phyrexian army, even appearing on a number of other spell cards in the same set:
"Pestilence" by Pete Venters
Maybe it's just me, but don't they look just so happy here? There's just something about the way they're striding through those fields of writhing bodies, like big, happy chickens. No?
"Contamination" by Stephen Daniele
Illustrator: Mark Hyzer
Another multicolored card, the Kederekt Creeper is a being of black, red and blue mana, Magic's color of air, water, order and the mind. A weird combination and a weird, weird creature. I love the crusty, scabby skin and distended baby-arms. The whole thing is "bloated with venom" according to its text, and really gets that across with its design alone. One look at the creeper, and you know that it's not only bloated with something, but that something is probably detrimental to your health.
Illustrator: Igor Kieryluk
In addition to multicolor monstrosities, recent expansions have introduced the rather novel concept of entirely non-black HORRORS, like this Tangle Angler, a "green" creature card. Green, if you haven't guessed, is the color of good old mother nature, which we all know is no stranger to mind-bending abominations anyway. I love the Tangle Angler's big, ungainly fish-face on such a weird body, with what seem to be eyeballs lining its gnarled legs.
Illustrator: Efrem Palacios
A pure blue-mana "Bird HORROR," this could very well be the cutest little thing ever corrupted by Phyrexia's pandimensional contaminants. I know it's just as likely part of the digestive system, but my mind wants to interpret that orange globe as its eye, a very interesting place for one to be. I wonder what you put in a Thrummingbird feeder? Maybe you just string up a whole baby and call it a day.
Illustrator: Stephan Martiniere
Even stranger than a nonblack HORROR, Psychosis Crawler is a colorless Artifact Creature, and I do believe it's Magic's first disembodied brain in a walking robotic canister. It was about damn time. This is literally what I've aspired to be in my old age since I was four years old.
Illustrator: Todd Lockwood
This is a pretty nice one, with its featureless dome head and Vagina Dentata stomach. It's like David Cronenberg's whole career got up and walked away, and the little screaming faces of absorbed souls are just the sprinkles on the cupcake.
Illustrator: Dave Allsop
I love the concept of this illustration, showing only the meaty, green-eyed lower tentacles of a much larger entity whose face is left completely up to our imagination. It's just too bad that my imagination is so prone to filling blanks with either kittens or breasts.
Actually, that still conjures a pretty uncanny visual.
Illustrator: Daren Bader
Anything that lives up to the name "Faceless Butcher" is going to be awesome, there's just no way around it, and this one really goes the extra mile with its asymmetrical chopping limbs and tentacle centipede body. I'm not sure whether it actually does have a face - with about a dozen little spider-eyes - or what seems to be a "mouth" here is just its gaping, hollow upper abdominal cavity. Perhaps it has to chop things up and just drop the cuts inside.
Illustrator: Mark Tedin
Nemesis. Of Reason. I'll forego the cheap political jokes I could make here and move on to the NEMESIS OF REASON'S creature type, which isn't just "HORROR," but "LEVIATHAN HORROR." Its card includes the text "Words describing it fail. Pages relating it shrivel. Tales recounting it end."
It's one giant multi-layered cake of ridiculous, but if only one monster could get away with playing all this straight, I think it's exactly the one that we're looking at here. I love the "mane" of tentacles, giving it a touch of deformed equine, the eyes situated on that little knob of a cranium and especially how its lips trail off into tentacles. The appendage tearing itself against the jagged rock in the foreground is also a nice extra touch of nastiness.
A little back down to Earth, the roly-poly Plague Spitter somehow strongly reminds me of a guinea pig, even though Chippy was probably aiming more for "engorged tick." I also used to interpret those three tiny holes as its eyes, and the white face-plate as a goofy nose, but now I'm pretty sure those are breathing pores and an angry, bony little mask. I'm not sure if spewing flies from a series of dorsal vents can be considered "spitting," and in fact, I had a hard time finding this card when I remembered it as "Plague Spewer." I don't know why I'm picking it apart so much; spitter or spewer, pug-nose or skull head, it's a cool and charming little whosamabob.
Illustrator: Dave Allsop
Many cards imply an incredible background story, but with only so much room for text, we're often left to wonder what we're actually looking at. Gleancrawler isn't just any old HORROR, but the game's very first INSECT HORROR. Now we're talking! It also allows all your other creatures to continuously return from death, and it looks more like something stitched together from laboratory scraps than just another big bug. It's all pretty awesome, and it ties in to a whole guild revolving around insects, fungi and corpses. I'm home.
Illustrator: Jeremy Jarvis
Gleancrawler was a big enough hit to get a special edition tournament reprint with a shiny new illustration by Jeremy Jarvis. I'm not sure if I like it quite as much as Allsop's, but it's more or less the same monster at a different angle, now carrying a big armful of corpses in a way I find endearingly innocent. It makes me think of a little girl playing with her dollies. There's no malice or cruelty, here...it's just doing its job.
Illustrator: Nils Hamm
At first glance, this looks like little more than a hulking, headless mass of septic sludge with one penetrating, lidless eyeball, and that would be more than enough to make my MVP list, but on closer inspection, the Sewer Nemesis is actually comprised largely of rats, their adorable little bodies hideously melding together just to form this thing's all-too-human arms! It's probably not all rats, sure, but almost everything we can clearly make out is rats. Rats upon rats, like adorable, hairy, sewage-smeared legos, with that wonderful haunting eye completing the picture. It's like the cherry on a sewage and rat birthday cake.
Illustrator: Mark Zug
There are at least three or four completely different "faces" you can get out of this thing, though its true eyes might be just above its lolling tongue, beady and blue. Besides looking really, really cool, it doesn't do much other than immediately die when you play any other creature, hence the card's flavor text: "This monstrosity will do...for now."
Illustrator: Rk Post
The Skittering Horror would have remained just another one-off weirdo if not for the Time Spiral expansion, seven years later, which was packed with in-jokes and callbacks to older cards both infamous and obscure. Skittering Monstrosity is just a negligibly stronger version of its predecessor, but with a rather more menacing face-plate. I really like the little, purple eyes placed behind the false "sockets" of its bony mask. It's also a mommy!
Illustrator: Gary Leach
When we first met the Ridged Kusite, it wasn't even a creature card - just some nameless, ectoplasmic bog-monster on a card called Guided Strike. This beautifully bug-eyed design really stuck with me, however, and I must not have been the only one, because it was eventually honored with a card of its own in the aforementioned Time Spiral series:
Illustrator: Rk Post
The official "Ridged Kusite" is slightly modified from the original, with smaller, yet freakier eyes, a tentacle nose above a toothier maw and a more substantial body - overall like a cross between a tardigrade and opabinia, a win/win if there ever was one. I loved the original's solid high-beam eyes, but I also love that veiny lattice we can see on this one's dimmer peepers. If you were wondering what a "Kusite" is, Ridged Kusite is just an anagram of Guided Strike.
Illustrator: Christopher Rush
I'm going to end this with the very first HORROR I ever owned, because I'm the kind of person who would clearly remember that. Possibly more clearly than how I lost my virginity (honest, that did happen at some point). This card could directly damage your opponent by sacrificing your own creatures, but there's no telling which step of this process is happening here. Is it draining that poor bastard of power, or doling it out?
Whatever the case, I remember thinking this was hands down the most fascinating design I'd ever seen, and it's still pretty high up there. I want to say it calls to mind the best aspects of arthropod, annelid and mollusk, but Vicky (I'm going to call a magic card Vicky now. Sorry) truly looks like nothing of this Earth. I love those weird "exhaust pipes" on her (now it's a her, too!) back, and a face so inhuman I still don't know if she's supposed to have eyes. It's just the icing on the gelatinous, undulating cake that the entire entity is utterly transparent, like some deep sea pteropod.
There's a whole lot more I could talk about when it comes to Magic creatures - even just the rest of the HORRORS - but for now, I'm just glad to have brought them back out of my mental closet for at least this one brief tour.
I also really want some cake.