A Magic: The Gathering Creature Review by Jonathan Wojcik
Last time, we learned how the nefarious Order of the Ebon Hand crumbled under the might of the Thrull uprising, only one of several wars ravaging the land of Sarpadia in the Fallen Empires card set, and delightfully enough, not the only one in which an unnatural mutant slave-race rebels against its arrogant creators. The more, the merrier!
Elvish Scout by Christopher Rush
The creators in question need little introduction; they're the same idealized, superhuman forest elves pioneered by J.R.R. Tolkien and copy-pasted by a million other fantasy settings. These pointy eared pricks are always begging to be taken down a peg, and that's exactly what happens - to a humiliating degree - in Fallen Empires.
Night Soil by Heather Hudson
See, as a rapidly cooling climate wiped out their traditional staples, the Sarpadian elves turned to the cultivation of fungi as their primary food source, and foolishly enough, borrowed alchemical principles from the Ebon Hand themselves to modify and enhance their crops. The result? A race of resilient, prolific, highly adaptive fungal monsters designed to be slaughtered and eaten. Do I even need to explain how well that worked out for them? The Thallids (from the defunct scientific group Thallophyta!) closely rival thrulls as my personal favorite Magic species, and come in just as wide a range of oddball forms!
Illustrator: Daniel Gelon
The most common, basic Thallid - just called Thallid - is another card originally printed with four completely different illustrations, and demonstrates the race's core gimmick: every turn, the Thallid gets a "spore counter." If you spend three spore counters, you create a Saproling token, which is treated just like a creature card with 1/1 power and toughness. Small, but ever growing in number! Saprolings have since become a common element of green cards, whether related to the Thallids or not, representing any tiny plant-based or fungus-based creature.
This bubble-eyed, pink-petaled version always stuck in my mind as the "default" Thallid, not necessarily my "favorite" (which is impossible to determine) but a good, solid, iconic design for a fungus-based race. By simple virtue of holding a stick, it's also the only one we ever see showing signs of intelligence. The story goes that Thallids never do evolve true sapience, but mimic the intelligent and organized behavior of their creators and other races they've observed, gathering compost to grow more of their own kind not because they know why it works or even necessarily care about proliferation, but because the elves were doing it.
Illustrator: Jesper Myrfors
Myrfor's thallid is a much spookier interpretation; you can't help but feel sorry for it, with its misshapen, pulpy attempt at an anthropoid form and those pleading, mournful eyes. Can you believe elves were apparently eating these things? Did they make them look like frightened, crippled people on purpose? What the hell is up with elves?
Illustrator: Edward Beard Jr.
This thallid, on the other hand, looks relatively happy and carefree, its silly little smile betraying its attempt at a menacing zombie-walk. I really like everything about this guy, though the single, penetrating eyeball is its best feature. The green, hairy growth says "algae" more than "fungus" to me - maybe we're even looking at a Lichen-based Thallid? Overall, it always reminded me heavily of various stock aliens used in the original Lost in Space.
Illustrator: Ron Spencer
I must admit that Ron Spencer's Thallid might beat out the others as my favorite, though it's still a fierce competition. Its gaunt, hunched body, though superficially humanoid, seems comprised almost entirely of worm-like fungal hyphae, terminating in a featureless trunk where a head ought to be. The design, stance, lighting and even the background all contribute to an alien, downright disturbing image, almost worthy of a black card. You can definitely see a little Ebon Hand influence, here. There's also a strong resemblance to certain monsters from the much later Silent Hill, right down to color scheme.
Illustrator: Jesper Myrfors
Where a regular thallid generates saprolings, a thorn thallid spends three spore counters to inflict one damage upon any creature or player - not really very useful, to be honest, but that doesn't make these battle-fungi any less cool, even if I've never heard of a fungus with "thorns" before. This one by Jesper looks similar in physiology to his basic thallid, but with wicked little teeth and more menacing, emotionless eyes. As simple as it is, it's pretty damn cool and another strikingly creepy one.
Illustrator: Mark Tedin
This very different thorn-slinger looks like a direct upgrade of the first thallid we looked at, with the same octopoid body and multi-eyed (multi spore-sacked?) head. We don't actually see any thorns on this one, but we do see a tiny hole on one of its tentacles, which could perhaps be its firing mechanism. It's funny how much Mark Tedin's Thorn Thallid looks like Daniel Gelon's basic Thallid, though, when Daniel Gelon's Thorn Thallid looks like this:
Illustrator: Daniel Gelon
This is just god damned crazy. Who would have expected that gentle, pink octoshroom to be even tenuously related to this tentacle-hentai carousel from hell? The lipless, screaming brain-demon faces are sexy enough, but the needle spitting puffball-breasts in their throats take the whole thing to an even more glorious level of weirdness.
The flavor text on this one is rather funny. "The danger in cultivating massive plants caught the elves by surprise."
Really? They made this thing, made sure it was huge, looked directly at it and thought to themselves "we can't imagine how this might go badly for us. We would be so surprised." You get what you deserve, really.
Illustrator: Heather Hudson
Heather Hudson's thorn thallid may be the most sentimental magic card still in my possession; I wasn't even into the game yet when I casually dug through a bin of used cards at a comic store, took one look at this artwork and took it home with me for just a quarter. How could I not? It's a fly-eyed walking fungus with a dust buster mouth and a gigantic, prickly armadillo shell. It exudes irresistible charm from its chitinous hump to its telescopic feet. Telescopic feet! Can you imagine how this thing must look in motion, teetering around waving its silly little arms and sneezing spore clouds? You just know it makes a sound like an accordian every time. You can tell by looking. If I could meet one Magic creature, this might be the one, just to give it a great big old hug.
Illustrator: Rob Alexander
One of the rarer thallid cards, this one had only a single illustration. I didn't use to like its rather plain, humanoid design all that much, but I've since grown to appreciate the general atmosphere of it, and the catfish-insect face doesn't hurt, though at first glance, I always see the end of that log as a little brown bunny tail. I suppose there are worse things I could see it as. With an offensive power of 6, this one can do three times the damage of the next strongest thallid, and removing spore counters allows you to regenerate it in a pinch.
Illustrator: Ron Spencer
Another unique, advanced thallid, the "devourer" can generate saprolings or destroy them to temporarily increase its own strength. Was it engineered in a last-ditch effort to help control their numbers, or is this cannibal a deviant mutation arising in the wild? Ron Spencer gives it a similar design to his regular thallid, but more powerful and bestial, its face unfurled into a more Cthuloid mass of tentacles. The background was also always interesting to me, since it looks like one massive wall of fungal overgrowth, with a bit of a Giger vibe.
Illustrator: Margaret Organ-Kean
I wasn't even sure if I should include this one, since I can't really tell if it's supposed to be a "thallid" per se, but it shares their "fungus" creature type and even builds up spore counters; spending three will neutralize all creature combat damage for one turn. Flowers are not fungi, and have nothing to do with spores, but maybe these fungi adapted to mimic flowers?
It's especially strange for a magic card to have an artsy, symbolic background like this - they usually depict a scene as it would supposedly appear to an onlooker. This is, unfortunately, the last remaining "fungus" card in Fallen Empires...but like the thrulls, these fun guys wouldn't stay down forever...
Illustrator: Tom Wanerstrand
Twelve years after Fallen Empires, the Thallids made an unexpected and glorious return via the Time Spiral card set, which brought together creatures and characters from every corner of the multiverse. The former elf-chow seem to have diversified into more than twice as many forms, and even developed a more cooperative social structure; the eerie, quasihumanoid germinator here is an almost identical card to the old Thallid Devourer, except that it can give its power boost to any other fungus, not just itself - they learned sharing!
Illustrator: Luca Zontini
In the same vein, savage thallid functions similarly to the original feral thallid, but can now both produce saprolings and sacrifice them to regenerate any fungus-type creature, whether itself or its pals! They learned caring! The caring of your doom!
This design feels sort of plain overall, but I really like the eyeball-pods sprouting from it body, one of which occupies its eye socket! Are those its saprolings?
Illustrator: Carl Critchlow
Shell-dweller is the closest thing the new wave has to the original, basic thallid, since it doesn't do anything but slowly spawn saprolings, but it differs slightly in having heavy defense, zero offense, and no ability to attack - a peaceful, protective creature. I like the rusty, artificial appearance of that nautilus-like shell; it could very well be something the thallid found and grew into, like a hermit crab.
Illustrator: Ron Spencer
It's great to see Ron Spencer return to the Thallids after all those years, and in excellent form! I love the massive, fleshy hunch of this faceless fungus, split like a gross oyster as it spews forth its genetic material. This one not only makes saprolings, but puts an extra spore counter on every other fungus, every turn, to speed production! This would also apply to creatures with the "fungus" type who have no abilities actually utilizing spore counters, but who cares? You sow those spores, sporesower. Sow them how it's done.
Illustrator: Randy Elliot
The delightful Deathspore is the very first non-green fungus card, as well as the first with an additional creature type - this black card is a zombie fungus! Fungi and the undead are like peanut butter and jelly, and this lurching toadstool looks perfectly putrescent. It acts a lot like the germinator, but uses saprolings to reduce the strength of other creatures. Perhaps they take on an infectious or venomous quality, or explode in a rotten burst of zombie-fungus sludge?
Some people like it.
Illustrator: Dave Kendall
Three more thallids were introduced in Time Spiral's first expansion, Planar Chaos, and exhibited even further specialization. I love a creature design that leaves me puzzling for a while, and it took me quite some time to figure out that the left side of this being, with the pretty blue eye-stalk, was its front, its whole seed-like body bursting with dozens of precious babies! This one allows its owner to sacrifice a saproling and draw an extra card, essentially consuming a toxic baby fungus monster to power up your spellcasting. All the cool wizards are doing it. You want to be cool, don't you?
Illustrator: Christopher Moeller
This one lets us sacrifice saprolings to give the "haste" ability to other creatures (allowing them to attack the same turn they're played) so I guess those spores are ultra-caffeinated, or something. Its sac-like, multi-mouthed design is okay, but the crawling, octopoid saprolings themselves are what I'm really drawn to, their designs lifted straight from earth stars! Surprisingly few of these borrow from such specific, real world fungi. I think these little cuties are by far my favorite saprolings. Run, little guys! He's coming down off his buzz!
Illustrator: Jim Nelson
Another non-green thallid, but this time a white card; the color of order, purity, healing and all that holy mumbo-jumbo. With the impressive ability to temporarily boost all other fungi and saprolings, we can deduce that this one acts as a sort of cleric. Its rather conventional mushroom-man design isn't bad, but I think the other thallids in the background are a little more interesting, especially the gangly guy on the right with the dripping face tendrils. Jim Nelson has a pretty cool personal vision of the thallid race, and it's just too bad they only gave him a single card to play with.
Illustrator: Anthony S. Waters
The second, final Time Spiral expansion was known as Future Sight, and brought us a glimpse into the thallid's ultimate evolutionary destiny - the "mycon" here generates saprolings at the usual rate, but can then convert saprolings at any time into mana of any color. Producing raw, magical energy in every flavor option is kind of a big deal in the Magic universe, and shows just how far these guys have come from the elf dinner table. This design is as alien as I'd expect from a hyper-evolved magical mushroom, with that giant, utterly abstract blue "head" and what appears to be a long, prehensile tail or tentacle.
Illustrator: James Kei
The only other "fungus" card in Future Sight, the Sporoloth Ancient appears to be a thallid descendant of titanic proportions. Its card text tells us that all creatures we control can now produce a saproling at the cost of only two spore counters. This even solves the Sporesower's problem of sowing spores onto creatures who can't normally use them, a pretty cool combo. Though just another man-shaped mass of fungus, it has a hauntingly beautiful quality to it and really looks like something from the far future, like some space-age bio-technological fortress. I can't help but think those big, pink holes would be constantly howling. I just like the mental image.
Illustrator: Raymond Swanland
A couple years after the Time Spiral block came Shards of Alara, a new story set in a strangely fractured world. A single "fungus" creature appeared in this set, not explicitly a thallid but able to produce saprolings every single turn. I really like the shambling, rotting quality of its body, like a walking mass of compost. It even seems to be swarming with insects!
Illustrator: Vance Kovacs
The first Alara expansion, Conflux, firmly linked the setting's fungi to the thallids with the bizarre Tukatongue, a fungus with the anatomy of a quadrupedal vertebrate. This wouldn't usually be up my alley, but I really love this thing's little buggy eyes, needly teeth and that long, clawed appendage like the labium of a dragonfly nymph. Despite its menacing appearance, Tukatongue Thallid is a rather weak creature, and produces a single saproling only when it dies. Its flavor text explains that the tukatongue is a sort of spiny tree, and that these thallids collect the spines to try and "disguise their deliciousness." After all this time, everything still just wants to eat them.
Illustrator: Trevor Claxton
A multi-colored green and white creature, the Mycoid Shepherd doesn't generate saprolings or do anything else particularly thallidy, but seems to be a more enlightened upgrade to the Mycoloth, born from Alara's eventual repair. That's nice, I guess, though I rather miss the rot.
Illustrator: James Paick
Thallids would eventually get their very own "legendary" character in the Commander card series, intended for a special play format where certain creatures act as "leaders." Ghave is a legendary black, white and green "Fungus Shaman" who can essentially convert his power and toughness into saprolings and vice-versa, which I guess is guruey enough. Personally, I'd have liked to see a stranger, grosser design than yet another "plant man" type, but I guess I can't really complain; I never thought thallids would come half this far, and he's still a pretty cool guy. He fights elves and doesn't afraid of anything.
When I first took an interest in this damn game, it was still common to trash Fallen Empires as the worst set of all time, races like the Thrulls and Thallids were looked back on as a campy joke, and decks were built around them more for laughs than hardcore strategy. I'm glad someone realized that these mushy fiends had earned a legitimate fan base, and showed the gaming community what a bunch of renegade shrooms could really do. I'll take even the weakest thallid design over an elf any day.