Written by Jonathan Wojcik

   With my review of HORRORS so well received, I've decided to continue writing on my favorite Magic creature types, and while I could probably fill another page or two with more of those precocious HORRORS, there are still other categories worthy of attention, and another favorite of mine are the Thrulls, creatures more horrifying for their own suffering than any they could bring upon their foes.

Order of the Ebon Hand by Ron Spencer

   The 1994 Expansion set Fallen Empires was, for whatever reason, the worst selling and least valuable in Magic's entire history; strange, considering its exciting and imaginative theme. While other sets pit the five primary card colors against one another, this one gave each color its own internal war between two races or factions apiece, each conflict leading to the ultimate downfall of an entire civilization. For Black, the color of death and destruction, this civilization was the ancient Order of the Ebon Hand, a fanatical cult that went through sacrificial victims like I go through Reese's Peanut Butter Cups.

"Soul Exchange" by Anthony Waters

   Perhaps not wanting to waste too many perfectly good virgins, the Ebon Hand came to rely almost entirely upon the Thrulls as victims of their dark and bloody rituals, a lowly slave-race artificially engineered by the wizard Endrek Sahr through arcane science, alchemy and necromancy. "Bred to suffer and born to die," these malformed abominations were eventually modified for a variety of nefarious purposes, from magical test subjects and organ banks to deadly semi-living weapons...until at long last, the poor bastards had enough. Let's explore how!

The Basal Thrulls

Illustrator: phil foglio

   Nothing sums up the saga of the Thrulls like good old Phil Foglio's morbidly hilarious take on the "Basal" thrull, a creature which can be sacrificed just to generate a couple of black mana points (used in casting spells or summoning more creatures). I love the variation between these poor bastards, especially the one whose entire face is just a sad, hairy eyeball. The blue guy sure looks calm about all this, though.

Illustrator: Kaja Foglio

   Interestingly, these early Magic sets were typically released with multiple illustrations for the same exact card, in some cases up to four - which makes sense, as only four of the same card are allowed in a deck. I suppose this went out of practice to save time and money, but I loved the extra level of customization it added to deck-building.

  This alternate basal thrull by Kaja is a tad less sympathetic than her husband's, even a little menacing with its long claws and disturbingly contorted crab-walk. It doesn't seem afraid of its inevitable sacrifice, if only because it might be too deranged to fear anything.

Illustrator: Richard Kane Ferguson

   Our third basal thrull carries a much more serious tone, and though I'm really more a "dash of whimsy" monster fan, this beautifully surreal and haunting image certainly communicates an unnatural, tormented existence. It's hard to even make out this thing's features very clearly, but we can certainly see some sort of miserable, dripping wretch.

Illustrator: Christopher Rush

   The last "basal" is another serious one, and this time pure menace. It's rather neat how all four run the full gamut from harmless and funny to fearsome and dramatic. The dangling tongue, bandages and organic tubes still give this one a satisfying touch of the degenerate, and it definitely looks like the product of a mad wizard's biological tampering.

The Armor Thrulls

Illustrator: Pete Venters

   It should be obvious what an armor thrull is bred for, and this one really tugs at your heartstrings. This chitinous, needle-toothed ghoul would look pretty damn frightening if it wasn't cowering in a corner, pleading with its eyes not to die. You just want to scoop him up and cuddle him like an armor-plated puppy, taking him back to your trailer to play with your other sixty "rescue thrulls."

Illustrator: Ron Spencer

   Ron Spencer's glistening monstrosities are always a treat, and while this thorny fiend looks a lot angrier and more defiant, it too appears to be fleeing from impending slaughter - scrabbling across a floor splattered with its own blood. I don't think you could save this one. It looks like it would only respond to snuggling with face-eating.

Illustrator: Jeff a Menges

   I always leaned a little towards this as my favorite of the armor thrulls; its insectoid exoskeleton really looks like it was bred to be worn by a human, but it's forced to drag around a worm-like lower body. It's not showing the emotion of the others, but doesn't really need to. It's a gloomy, atmospheric image of a horrifyingly helpless creature.

  This one's flavor text describes the armor of this creature is impenetrable, except for a soft spot at the base of the neck; a weakness we can presume was bred in for ease of slaughter.

Illustrator: Scott Kirschner

   The fourth and final armor thrull used to be my least favorite, since it isn't even depicting an armor thrull, but now I realize just how cool and unique that is. I don't think any other creature card in the game has ever done anything similar; this thrull is so tragic, it was murdered and skinned before we even got to see it. From the looks of things, a breed not too different from our previous example.

The Mindstab Thrulls

Illustrator: Richard Kane Ferguson

   This is one of the "weaponized" thrulls I mentioned earlier, and seems to function as a magical suicide bomber; if sacrificed during a successful attack, the opponent can be forced to discard three cards from their hand, representing spells wiped from their memory, or something. I'm not entirely sure what's supposed to happen to the thrull itself; does it explode? Implode? Melt into a puddle of goo?

Illustrator: Mark Tedin

   This one is easily among the most disturbing monsters in the entire Magic universe, punching clear through the floor of the uncanny valley into an uncanny abyss where even decomposing clowns dare not tread. Even I have a hard time sympathizing with this biological perversion, who seems all too eager to carry out his uncomfortably ambiguous purpose. He's exactly the right size to hide in a dresser drawer or under a laundry pile, too, waiting to clamber up your bedposts and administer a stealthy lobotomy while you sleep.

Oh, I'm sorry, are you up late?

Illustrator: Heather Hudson

   While not as balls-to-the-wall terrifying as Tedin's, this warty, lanky little monkey-man is its own special kind of creepy, and it's a lot more obvious how this one kills itself. The gloomy, stoic look on his face is rather unsettling, as though he doesn't even understand his own sad fate, and the fleshy membranes hanging off of him like clothing are ingeniously bizarre. I also love the people in the background, who are just so completely aghast that this thing is running through their streets. As a slightly rarer thrull, there were only these three takes on the mindstab, much like our next species:

The Necrites

Illustrator: Ron Spencer

   While the mindstab thrulls specialize in mental assault, necrites are more traditional assassins, and can be sacrificed to take an enemy creature down with them. It's still not clear exactly what this signifies, and even more confusing when we're clearly shown a gigantic knife. Does this guy stab somebody and then just drop dead, his task complete? Maybe he kills himself next, to keep the Order's secrets out of enemy hands? Maybe it has something to do with the giant centipede tethered to his nose. There's being punk, and then there's just being a crazy-ass mofo.

Illustrator: Christopher Rush

   A souped-up version of Rush's basal thrull, this apparent Alien homage looks pretty cool with its pink hoses and bony plates. In fact, I thought it was the second or third coolest monster in the whole game as a kid, before the HORRORS and other weirdos really exploded in number. I also really enjoy that sickly, insane green void in the background. Artist aside, I like to think the "RUSH" on its leg is just its favorite Canadian rock band.

Illustrator: Drew Tucker

   This is a strange one; it's simple, vague and indistinct, but I like it. You never see cards with art this raw and abstract anymore, the kind of art you might see in a serious gallery exhibit. The card is still called "Necrite," so logically only one of these figures can be the necrite, and it's probably the "dominant" one. Then again, for all we know, this necrite could have two entire humanoid torsos and heads.

The Thrull Wizard

Illustrator: Anson Maddocks

   We're getting into great storyline territory with this one, with a hyper-intelligent thrull bred not to be sacrificed, but to assist in sacrifice. Its ability even allows it to counter enemy black spells, hinting at its traitorous nature. It's such a perfectly conniving looking creature, too, I love that lipless, knowing grin. My favorite part is the "collar" of giant teeth and gums. He has to floss his neck. No wonder he hates his creators.

The Derelor

Illustrator: Anson Maddocks

   This big, beastly thrull is a bulky fighter, but increases the cost of your own black spells for as long as it's alive. Its additional "flavor text" reads "Strength it has, but at the cost of a continuous supply of energy. Such failure can bear only one result. - Execution order of Endrek Sahr."

   That's a bit harsh, isn't it? After all those successes, a whole empire built on his mutant progeny, they execute him just because his tentacled frog-taur was a mana-guzzler? Look, it happens. Just call it a "sport utility" thrull and pawn it off on yuppies. Endrek Sahr apparently escapes to another dimension, or something, but the damage is done.

The Thrull Champion

Illustrator: Daniel Gelon

   Last of the original Fallen Empires thrulls, this gruesome gladiator boosts the attack and defense of all other thrulls in play, and just in case your opponent has some thrulls of their own, thrull champion can steal them over to your side. I like the balance between ferocity and deformity, like a pit fighter from a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Three mangled faces, but four slimy tongues!

The Breeding Pit

Illustrator: Anson Maddocks

   This isn't a thrull card per se, but an "Enchantment" card that generates thrulls in the form of tokens - functional creatures the player can represent with whatever they have handy. They're not very good thrulls - they don't even have attack power - unless of course you've got a couple of thrull champions to pump them up. I'm not sure if this illustration represents one of the young thrull spawn or some sort of "queen mother" thrull, but I really dig that combination of dead supermodel face, black, spidery claws, half-formed extraneous arm and "gangrenous giblets" figure.

You think that's a nice pit, you should see my basement, cutie.

I'm joking, they don't even have basements in Florida :(

"Thrull Retainer" by Ron Spencer

   ...With their own mighty warriors, treacherous wizards, ever-growing numbers and a creator MIA, the thrulls began to wonder why they should take orders from fragile Homo sapiens who only rip their hearts out, wear them as hats and blow them up. Evolving far beyond their creator's intentions, the Thrulls systematically exterminated the Ebon Hand, and according to an interview with artist Kev Walker, went on to conquer the entire realm of Sarpadia. Unfortunately, Fallen Empires still tanked, and it would be several years before thrulls quietly snuck their way back into the game...

The Blood Pet

Illustrator: Brom

   Oh. My. God. Oh my god. Tell me this isn't precious. Tell me to my face, you miserable sack of crap. It's like a mole rat had a baby with a slow loris, and then at some point it was set on fire. It would be darling enough even without one comically oversized, glazed over cartoon eyeball, but I think that's what really does it for me. You know if it could talk, it would sound exactly like Droopy the dog.

  Blood Pet appeared in the 1997 Tempest set, the beginning of an epic story arc set in the alien plane of Rath, ruled by Volrath the Evincar, an evil overlord complete with an evil laboratory in his evil volcano lair. Trust me, they took it in far more creative directions than that sounds. Harkening back to the basal thrull, Blood Pet can be sacrificed at any time for a single quick black mana. Nothing spectacular, but I can't (or perhaps shouldn't) tell you how happy I was just to see the word "thrull" again.

Illustrator: Heather Hudson

   Blood Pet would be reprinted several times in the game's core editions, but with a new illustration by Heather Hudson, and although she's done some of my very favorite monsters (including my favorite Mindstab thrull!), I don't know why they ever thought this needed new art to begin with. As much as I like this bat-nosed, toothy toad on its own merits, it doesn't hold a candle to Brom's heart-melting scab-lemur, and doesn't really have that unnatural, decrepit "thrull" feel. Let's look at the other one's face again:

That's the face of something grown in a laboratory just to die.

The Blood Vassal

Illustrator: Chippy

   Following Tempest was the expansion Stronghold, and with it, the blood pet's upgraded cousin, worth both a black mana and "colorless" mana. While this one isn't nearly as cute, it definitely has the misery down, and is another of my personal favorites. I just like the entire twisted shape of this poor thing, built directly into the surrounding equipment as a quasi-living mana battery.

The Morgue Thrull

Illustrator: Robert Bliss

   Also from Stronghold, this little floor-sweeper is a lot less bizarre and a lot less pathetic than the blood bros, but with a charmingly disgruntled countenance I find hard not to love. Just another long night mopping up corpse-dribbles.

The Thrull Surgeon

Illustrator: Rk Post

   Exodus, the third and final set in the Rath Cycle, brought with it just one more Volrathian thrull, and this six-limbed butcher does not disappoint. It's great to see a thrull in the medical field, and you have to love the eyeball sticking out of its massive underbite.

The Ravnican Thrulls

Style Guides by D. Alexander Gregory

   With Volrath's defeat, thrulls would disappear for another nine years until the Ravnica trilogy, set in a great city ruled by myriad guilds. At the top of this food chain was the Orzhov syndicate, a corrupt religious sect tied to both black and white cards, usually polar opposites. This power-mad, money-hungry megachurch employed thrull slaves with an interesting stylistic theme, expressionless masks fused directly to their flesh. I especially like the middle design here, with the headgear crudely forcing a more humanoid appearance.

"Douse in Gloom" by Kev Walker

   Largely background characters, none of these cute little blue bastards ever got their own cards, but other Ravnican thrulls were a bit luckier.

The Exhumer Thrull

Illustrator: Warren Mahy

   This human-like grave robber isn't all that strange at first glance, but on closer inspection, there appear to be squirming tentacles emerging from somewhere between its legs. Nice. I must have looked at this a dozen times before I noticed. Is it really exhuming that corpse, or did we catch it on its "me time?"

The Ostiary Thrull

Illustrator: Ron Spencer

   Here we have a thrull designed to oversee worship at Orzhov churches. Do the words "mistakes of the past" mean anything to these people? Ron Spencer's work is as METAL as usual, setting this thrull apart with gigantic, mangled, many-fingered hands. That monk better watch it, though; if you had hands like that, could you keep them to yourself? It's not like anyone would have the guts to complain. This guy would have a field day on a Japanese subway car.

The Absolver Thrull

Illustrator: Rob Alexander

   No offense to Rob, who's a good artist and all, but this is definitely the most underwhelming thrull design I've seen. Being an entirely white card, I surmise that it's supposed to be a more people-friendly thrull, but that doesn't mean it has to be so plain.

The Mourning Thrull

Illustrator: Dany Orizio

   Case in point, this is a half white, half black thrull and quite nice, as well as the only flying breed we've ever seen. These Thrull-o-dactyls are apparently made from the "shed flesh and emotion" of Orzhov patriarchs, so I guess these things just fly around angsting.

The Rakdos Ickspitter

Illustrator: Christopher Rush

   Our very, very last thrull comes to us from the same setting, but not the same creators; the Rakdos guild is a black and red rival to the Orzhov, and said to be the cruelest, most sadistic of all the Ravnican guilds. As such, their thrulls are nothing more than living acid-guns, and "dissolve from the inside out in a matter of days." It's a shame they were given only one card, but it's another one painted by Christopher Rush. Maybe not as fun as his original basal thrull or necrite, but it's cool to see him revisit the theme. Its head and overall spininess remind me a lot of a seahorse, and I always love monsters that remind me a lot of a seahorse. Seahorses are weird, man.

Orzhov Pontiff by Adam Rex

   I don't know what the future of Magic might hold for Thrullkind, but even if they never rear their scabrous, oozing mugs again, they're easily among the most charming bastardizations of the natural order ever to drag themselves, mewling and bleeding, from a bubbling vat of raw, organic corruption and straight into our hearts.

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