Crib Swap
30, Apr, 23

Remembering Magic: the Gathering's Forgotten Card Type

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Article at a Glance


The debut of Battle cards in March of the Machine brought a brand new card type into Magic: the Gathering. Battles joined Lands, Creatures, Instants, Sorceries, Artifacts, Enchantments, and Planeswalkers in the pantheon of MTG card types. There is, however, one more card type that has been left to the wayside and forgotten by history, “Tribal”. By Tribal cards, we aren’t referring to cards that support decks that run a lot of creatures of the same type. Wizards of the Coast are not going to stop printing cards like Vanquisher’s Banner or Rally the Ranks any time soon. Instead, these are cards that have the “Tribal” card type.

Tribal is a card type that can go on Instants, Sorceries, Enchantments, or Artifacts. It enables them to have a Creature subtype, despite not being a Creature. For example, the card Eldrazi Conscription is a Tribal Aura, with the Eldrazi subtype. This means that effects that care about it having the Eldrazi subtype like Eye of Ugin apply to it, even though it is not a creature. Let’s look at the brief rise and fall of Tribal cards, and why they were brought into the game and then quickly taken out of it.

The Rise of Tribal Cards


Tribal cards debuted in Future Sight with the card, Bound in Silence. Bound In Silence is a Tribal Enchantment which functions as a Pacifism effect and has the Rebel subtype. This gives it synergies with cards like Lin Sivvi, Defiant Hero, and Amrou Scout who can bring Rebels from the library straight into play. It makes these cards a bit stronger, as now they can seek out not only Creatures, but also a removal effect.

Bound In Silence was designed as one of Future Sight’s “Futureshifted” cards, a card which would show off a new mechanic not yet fully implemented into the game. Players did not have to wait long for the Tribal card type to make its debut, as a large number of Tribal cards showed up only five months later in Lorwyn.

Lorwyn was mechanically themed around making Creature types matter, so it made perfect sense that the set would make use of this new tech, to allow players to construct decks where their Boggart Harbinger could be used both to search out Goblins Creatures, but also Goblin Instants and Sorceries like Tarfire or Boggart Birth Rite.

Bitterblossom is probably the most iconic of these Tribal cards, as the card was hugely powerful, especially for its time, and the centerpiece of many Dimir Fairy decks.

After Lorwyn block, Tribal cards appeared again on a few cards in the Set Rise of the Eldrazi like All Is Dust and Not of This World before vanishing from the game almost entirely.

The Fall of Tribal Cards

Magic’s chief designer, Mark Rosewater, has stated that Tribal cards stopped being printed because they created inconsistencies and often did not matter mechanically.

He wrote in a blog post: “if we only labeled some things [as tribal], it was horribly inconsistent and if we labeled everything, it added a lot of words that mattered a tiny percentage of the time.”

This is a fair point, what makes a card like Elvish Promenade worthy of being a Tribal card, but not a card like Elven Ambush which is otherwise completely identical?

The Tribal card type did make a single surprising return in Modern Horizons 2 in 2021 thanks to the card, Altar of the Goyf. This card is designed to support the card Tarmogyf which cares about gathering lots of different card types together in the Graveyard, so bringing back a previously retired card type here makes sense. Rosewater has stated that this card does not indicate that Wizards of the Coast have any plans to print more Tribal cards in the future.


Altar of the Goyf

So that is the tale of Tribal cards, a forgotten Magic card type. Whether they should never have been printed in the first place, or they are deserved better is a matter for the community to debate. Battles, the game’s newest card type, seem unlikely to suffer the same fate. They don’t carry any of the baggage that Tribal cards did, as they don’t create any inconsistencies about what should and should not be labeled a Battle. The fact that all of the Battles which currently exist have the “Siege” subtype also seems to imply that there is a lot of untapped design space with the mechanic which we are yet to see fully explored.

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