Ever since Magic: the Gathering was first printed back in 1993, creatures have always had a type associated with them. Adding flavor and mechanical complexity, creature types have persisted for 30 years, with many becoming deeply synergistic in that time. As a result of these synergies, themed (or Tribal) decks have become incredibly commonplace in MTG.
With the right support from premier sets, themed MTG decks can often be remarkably powerful. Decks themed around humans, Soldiers, and Elves, for instance, occasionally even make waves in competitive formats! For the most part, however, themed MTG decks have their home in the predominantly casual-focused Commander format.
Thanks to the variable power level of Commander, themed decks are incredibly popular as they allow players to express themselves. Due to this popularity, it didn’t take long for this type of MTG deck to be given a nickname: Tribal. For literal decades players have been using this terminology without a second thought. In 2023, however, that’s all changing.
Tribal Is Out. Typal Is In
Earlier this week, MTG’s Lead Designer, Mark Rosewater, released an article titled “Lessons Learned, Part 4.” As you might expect from the title, this article detailed the lesson learned by Wizards while designing recent MTG sets. Considering this is the fourth article in the series, this wasn’t seen as anything out of the ordinary. Upon reading the article, however, several MTG players were quick to point out an unexpected detail.
When recounting the design of 2017’s Ixalan set, Rosewater didn’t use the nomenclature Tribal when discussing the set’s factions. Instead, Rosewater used the word Typal, which is obviously rather out of the ordinary. Thankfully, despite obviously being different words, Typal and Tribal are the exact same thing in MTG. They’re both words used to describe archetypes of creature types.
Since these two words can be used interchangeably, it begs the question ‘Why the change?’. Thankfully, alongside using the new word, Mark Rosewater did just that, revealing why Wizards is changing their wording slightly. “We’ve stopped using the word ‘tribal’ in R&D as numerous consultants have stressed that it carries negative connotations, so we now use ‘typal’ to mean ‘creature type mattering mechanically.’”
Alongside this major reason from Wizards, it’s worth noting this change will also help clear up some confusion. For better or worse, Tribal is the name of a deeply popular, although unlikely to return, MTG mechanic from Future Sight. Since Typal is now its own thing, this should hopefully help clear up any confusion between these topics.
Unexpected but Not Surprising
Considering that, on social media, the use of the word Tribal is hardly the most complained about topic, this may seem like an overreaction. It’s important to keep in mind, however, that Wizards of the Coast is a corporation at the end of the day. Due to this, Wizards needs to maintain an ideally squeaky-clean public image. Subsequently, it’s better to replace seemingly innocent yet arguably outdated terminology before controversy sparks.
In the grand scheme of things, this move is nothing new as this is hardly the first self-censorship in MTG. The game’s art, for instance, has been tweaked and even banned by Wizards of the Coast on numerous occasions. The most prevalent example of this can be seen, or rather not seen, on cards from some of Magic’s earliest sets.
In 2020, Wizards elected to remove the art of cards with racist art and imagery from Gatherer. Explaining this decision at the time, Wizards emphatically stated “There’s no place for racism in our game, nor anywhere else.” Alongside promising to do better in the future, Wizards also apologized to the MTG community.
Thankfully, in recent years, Wizards of the Coast has not repeated this specific past mistake. That being said, however, Wizards hasn’t completely stopped self-censoring artwork. Most recently, this happened with the Secret Lair art of Stonecoil Serpent. Much to players, and seemingly Wizards’ surprise, this card featured an additional NSFW serpent! While players did love this cheeky detail, after it was pointed out, Wizards decided to remove it.
At the end of the day, while Wizards of the Coast has changed their terminology, there’s no mandate that you have to do so as well. This was stated by Mark Rosewater in a recent Blogatog post. “What language you wish to use is a personal choice.” Subsequently, if you don’t want to change the language you’ve been using for decades, there’s no pressure to do so. Just don’t be surprised when you see Typal popping up in articles from Wizards from now on.