A Magic: The Gathering Creature Review by Jonathan Wojcik
"Spirits" are kind of a given in any magical fantasy setting, and encompass such a vast array of supernatural entities that it's almost as vague as the term "monster" itself. The world of Magic is no exception, with the "spirit" type slapped on everything from wandering human souls to mind-bending transdimensional nightmares. In some sets, the development team hatches a thoughtful set of rules for what does and doesn't qualify as a spirit, while in others - especially during the game's older years - the type was a dumping ground for just about anything spooky and ethereal.
There are a few hundred spirits in the game now, but we're going to go over just a couple dozen of my favorites, in no particular order, whether or not they make a single lick of sense. Most of the time, that's exactly the point!
Illustrator: Dermot Power
This forgotten oldie from the Rath cycle (see Thrulls) looks awfully solid and organic for a "spirit" and may as well have been a horror, but it's a great design in any case, with uncomfortably human-like arms attached to a featureless, bladder-like body. Its legs have knees, but only terminate in boneless tentacles, and it seems to acquire souls through a long, flexible hose. If you can't get a good grasp of its anatomy, look closely in the lower right - another Souldrinker floats jellyfish-like on the horizon!
Illustrator: L.A. Williams
Even older, but far more popular, is the nigh-invulnerable blinking spirit, able to return to its owner's hand for free when things get hairy. With its fleshy, insectoid appearance and glowing light for a head, this was once the very weirdest creature ever to grace the predominantly human "white" cards, and retained that status for a surprisingly long time.
Illustrator: L.A. Williams
Williams would later be commissioned for an update to old blinky, and I must say, the result is far cooler, stranger and even a little scarier. Sure, it's adorably frolicking with bizarre little fairy-bugs, but that scythe looks pretty nasty, and I don't trust the contents of that bucket one bit. This fleshy, fishy freak remained one of the most alien-looking white card for years to come, until somebody realized that "lawful" and "good" didn't have to be so white bread all the time.
Illustrator: Ron Spencer
Spirits really took off in 2005's Kamigawa setting, with outlandish Kami haunting all five colors. These guys are going to dominate most of this page, in fact, and I'm sure you can already see why. It was quite surprising to see a giant, crawling hand-eyeball-monolith among the white cards. It's a nightmarishly impossible design with a nonetheless "angelic" atmosphere; exactly what I always wanted to see from the white cards, and exactly how to take advantage of the "spirit" category. What is this thing even doing? Do we want to know?
Illustrator: Dave Allsop
At the opposite end of the spectrum lurks this lowly supernatural embodiment of dead phagocytes and bacterial waste products, quite cool with its blind, flesh-draped face, orbiting eyeballs and tremendous, bloated, presumably pus-filled ass. It's another that looks more like one of the biological "horrors" than any kind of phantasm or specter, though horrors were actually a rather rare card type in Kamigawa - just about everything was some sort of spirit.
Illustrator: Dany Orizio
Probably good friends (with benefits, I say because I want you to picture it) with the Pus Kami, Bile Urchin is another black, eyeless, horror-like spirit of unpleasant bodily humours. I have no idea what those floating things are supposed to look like, but I like the obvious mint lifesavers it tethers to itself. You don't want offensive breath when you're swapping saliva - and bile, and pus - with your girlfriend. Pus Kami is a girl now. A girl with some fine booty.
Maybe they're both girls. <3
Illustrator: Rebecca Guay
A flower-like nature spirit with a woman's face doesn't sound all that exciting on paper, much less horrifying, but Rebecca Guay proves us wrong by painting it like some acid-induced nightmare jellyfish, puking forget-me-nots because why the hell shouldn't it?
Illustrator: Ron Spencer
A multi-beaked, multi-taloned, multi-eyed bird with its own island is exactly what I turn to when I need some secrets kept. It sure as hell isn't that "little bird" that tells everyone everything. This thing would murder that bird and defile its grave. Nobody ruins perfectly good secrets on Secretkeeper's watch! It sees all and knows all, and never shares anything remotely interesting or useful with anybody, ever!
Illustrator: Daren Bader
This is another black spirit, but one that definitely says "supernatural" and even communicates "lunacy" quite well. I love that cartoonish, maniacally joyful smile, situated so far from the expressionless mask we want to think of as its "head." Those weird, broken off joints or sockets above it can come across as eyes from a distance, making the whole thing into an even goofier, more peculiar "face." There really aren't enough black creatures having this good of a time.
Illustrator: Tomas Giorello
Holy hell, now that's really how you pull off a spirit! A being whose anatomy completely, utterly defies all convention and could never, ever evolve naturally. I don't think anything could ever possibly look more like a manifestation of pain than this toothy, screaming thing-a-ma-doodle either, ironically far more hellish and horrible than any of the controversial "demon" cards.
Illustrator: Heather Hudson
A little more down to earth are Heather Hudson's lovable "wandering ones," entirely adorable even with blank knobs for heads and gnarled, clawed appendages attached to all the wrong places. They would still be creepy to encounter in the real world, but with crazy shit like Pain Kamis flying around, bile urchins feeling up pus kamis in public restrooms and god knows what else, these pretty blue sweeties with funny little hats seem refreshingly chill. The back one even wants us to tag along! "Come on!" he says, "Wander with us. It's awesome! It's like all we do!"
The card itself is only one mana, with one power, one toughness, and no abilities - pretty much the bare minimum for a creature card, and what more do you expect? They don't even care about your stupid battle, unless you've got some strategies that involve a lot of wandering. They're totally down for some of that.
Illustrator: Rk Post
Wow. There is a lot going on with this red-mana monstrosity, with a face like a goosefish and a body like a centipede making love to a coelecanth. Printed so small on an actual card, it can almost look like it has spooky white eyes situated on fat, warty turrets, but they're actually faces, like porcelain masks, its real eyes held in small, floating baubles.
Illustrator: Tim Hildebrand
If anything would ever literally "steal" your "hope," running off with it like a snatched wallet, I'd expect nothing less than this fleshy, gangly, grimacing abomination. This probably comes closer to actually disturbing me than any other spirit here, and I love every inch of it, especially the hairless dog-face that looks as pained and miserable as it looks perversely happy, and I love its little skin-bee orbiters. They'd look cute on their own, until this wincing hand-worm-jackal drifts around the corner, wheezing like a dying old man between childish, high-pitched giggles. That's all I can hear when I stare at this guy's face long enough.
Illustrator: Mark Tedin
Perhaps I spoke too soon, since this humongous, hovering hodgepodge of humanity would be fairly distressing to behold, supposedly a form the Kami took to reflect the fractured, confused state of mankind, or something. My favorite detail are the teeth lining that single, halo-like sliver of gum-flesh. Nasty. It couldn't bite you, sure, but it could probably grind you apart like a lumberjack's saw with that thing. It seems oddly fitting that one of the most horrid-looking spirits is actually a blue card, a color most embodying the forces of the mind - whether scientific enlightenment or insanity.
Illustrator: Thomas M. Baxa
How many of these black spirits are just going to look like horrors? Honestly, every other color is pulling off a much more dreadful, otherworldly feel here, and that's kind of a little sad. Even so, I like this thing, especially that little alien skull-face above its sphincter-like throat. The "arms" at the top contribute to a sort of semi-humanoid form hidden in the face of this slimy, alien bug-slug-newt.
Illustrator: Mark Zug
Another bizarre white card, I like everything about this floating...uh. Well, it's floating, that's something. There's really nothing you can easily compare this to, except perhaps a bloody fetus in a radish hang-glider. Actually, yes. That's something I have no trouble wrapping my head around, I see it all the time. I like how the orbiting ornaments resemble crying faces, and how those two big spots look like the "eyes" to me. I hope the little guy can dodge that sword in time, though.
Illustrator: Jim Pavelec
More floating, disconnected eyeballs...and goofy, rolling eyeballs in its mouth. And big, lidless saucer-eyes apparently staring out of its back. There's another eye on one of its tails, if you care to notice, but apparently no eyes in its actual head. Between its taste in oculars and the wheel of impaled brains (also my third favorite game show), Gibbering Kami is one pimped out ride.
Illustrator: Mark Zug
Another white one from Mark Zug, and almost weirder than the Pain Kami, if not nearly as menacing. Like all the best spirits, it's not so much a "creature" as a bunch of sheer weirdness, with decapitated lady-heads hatching out of gross spiny nuts and ribbon pies and who knows, who cares, it's all just really neat. If I believed in things like angels, I'd probably expect them to look more like this than like ugly little flying babies.
Illustrator: Kev Walker
This isn't really just a "spirit" card, but a Legendary Demon Spirit. Maybe he leans more towards the "demon" side than anything else, but there aren't enough appealing demons in the game to give them their own review, so here you go, one of the few Magic demons that felt bogleech-worthy. That giant, crazy skull head is just too cool to pass by - the skin hanging from its horns kind of forms what look like "eye sockets" in the expected place, but he really has adorable, tiny little rodent eyes closer to his nose! Aww!
Illustrator: Alan Pollack
A green one even creepier than the Hana Kami - and still vomiting! Thank goodness! We've got what's basically a seahorse-like body plan, cuttlefish eyes, membranous webbing and an unsettlingly humanoid, eyeless "head," all tastefully arranged into the shape of a pregnant quad-amputee. Maybe I'm just be seeing what I usually want to see? It also breathes swarms of mosquito-fish-plants and its name doesn't make any sense. I would marry this thing.
Illustrator: Heather Hudson
There's a "deceiver" spirit for every color, but I think this one is by far the coolest, and leave it to Hudson to make the white one the creepiest! I love those totally inhuman, floating "bones" flared out like fish fins, and it's nice to see a white card with detached, sickle-clawed skeleton hands. I don't think that's ever going to happen again, honestly.
Illustrator: Martina Pilcerova
Black spirits continue to be totally interchangeable with "horror" cards, but however the hell they felt like categorizing this one, it would still be up there with my all-time favorite creature designs, because look at it. The comical dragonfly-fish-face. The emaciated torso. The chicken legs. The sewage-spurting tubes. The halo of flying maggots. This little creep is a masterpiece. I adore even the most minor details here, like how absurdly wide its jaws are opened as it barfs and barfs, forever, and the flaps of skin that call to mind dangling, deflated breasts. I also appreciate how hard it is to even guess at what its lower body looks like from any other angle; just how do those big, egg-like pods fit in? Are they even attached at all?!
Again like the horrors, there are loads of other interesting spirits in the game, and I could probably find things to say about a few more, but I think I'll stop here; I've gone through all my uppermost personal favorites and then some, so if it really pains you not to know my thoughts on some other one, you can always ask me in a comment!