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CasualNation #55 – The Top Ten Utility Creatures of All Time


Hello, Nation! At the end of the day, creatures have the most important card type in the game. You could have a game without sorceries. They are all fast instants. You could play without instants—they are all slower spells. You could play without enchantments by making them artifacts, and vice versa. Lands would be tough, but you could find a different way make resources—perhaps artifacts, like Moxen. But creatures? That would be impossible! What would a fantasy card game be without dragons and trolls, orcs and elves, or angels and demons? Could you imagine grabbing all of your books for your next D&D session and playing the game without monsters of any sort? Sure, you walk around the dungeon, check for traps, and find treasures—all without encountering anybody or anything! That would be lame.

Creatures are the most important thing about Magic. Sure, you can build a deck without creatures, but it feels like that dungeon that has no encounters. At the end of the day, this is a game about playing creatures and doing stuff. Creatures make the game feel organic, rather than just like a puzzle.

As my Top 10 lists became more popular, I knew I wanted to do a few around creatures. I did the top ten 1-drops for the cheap guys. I expect to do at least another four on creatures. Today, we will be looking at those creatures that are played for their abilities. This does not include simple powerful beaters or defensive creatures. Instead, what I am looking for are those creatures that have the best abilities for changing the game. Remember that this list is for cards that are powerful in Casual Land. It doesn’t matter if something was megapowerful in tournaments or not. What matters is what the card does at the kitchen table. I’m looking for those creatures that have a truly special level of power. You’ll see what I mean in a few seconds.

Like all of these lists, I’d like to start by counting down a few honorable mentions. Remember, if our ideas differ as to what cards are the bestest, that’s okay (all made-up words my own!). Let’s look at some utility creatures!

Honorable Mention #1 – The Mana-Makers: Utopia Tree, Birds of Paradise, Silver Myr, Gemhide Sliver, Noble Hierarch, etc. – You need mana to do things. That’s the basic rule of the game. The cheap, utility creatures that make mana are essential to helping you out. Whether it’s these guys or simpler cards like Llanowar Elves and Skyshroud Elf, these are the basic creatures you need to thrive. Their creature status is both a curse and blessing. You can have them jump in front of attackers, nip in for some damage, or wield a Loxodon Warhammer. They also die to every piece of mass removal ever. I’d like to see this card printed someday:


Mana Man

That would be great! Until we see Mana Man in print, you have to understand that your little mana guys are going to be killed. It’s sad. The benefit they provide is worth it. These guys rock!

Honorable Mention #2 – [card]Soul Warden" href="/p/Magic%3A+The+Gathering/%5Bcard%5D%26amp%3Bamp%3Blt%3B%2Fdiv%26amp%3Bamp%3Bgt%3B%0D%0A%26amp%3Bamp%3Blt%3Bp%26amp%3Bamp%3Bgt%3B%26amp%3Bamp%3Blt%3Bspan+class%3D%22type+smallertext%22%26amp%3Bamp%3Bgt%3BCreature+%26amp%3Bamp%3Bmdash%3B+Human+Druid%26amp%3Bamp%3Blt%3B%2Fspan%26amp%3Bamp%3Bgt%3B%26amp%3Bamp%3Blt%3B%2Fp%26amp%3Bamp%3Bgt%3B%0D%0A%26amp%3Bamp%3Blt%3Bdiv+class%3D%22text%22%26amp%3Bamp%3Bgt%3BMana+Man+is+indestructible.%0D%0A%0D%0A%5Bmana%5D%7BT%7D%5B%2Fmana%5D%3A+Add+1+mana+of+any+color+to+your+mana+pool.%26amp%3Bamp%3Blt%3Bbr+%2F%26amp%3Bamp%3Bgt%3B%26amp%3Bamp%3Blt%3Bem%26amp%3Bamp%3Bgt%3B%26amp%3Bamp%3Blt%3B%2Fem%26amp%3Bamp%3Bgt%3B%26amp%3Bamp%3Blt%3B%2Fdiv%26amp%3Bamp%3Bgt%3B%0D%0A%26amp%3Bamp%3Blt%3Bdiv+class%3D%22powtou%22%26amp%3Bamp%3Bgt%3B0%2F1%26amp%3Bamp%3Blt%3B%2Fdiv%26amp%3Bamp%3Bgt%3B%0D%0A%26amp%3Bamp%3Blt%3B%2Fdiv%26amp%3Bamp%3Bgt%3B%0D%0A%26amp%3Bamp%3Blt%3Bdiv+style%3D%22clear%3A+both%3B%22%26amp%3Bamp%3Bgt%3B%26amp%3Bamp%3Blt%3B%2Fdiv%26amp%3Bamp%3Bgt%3B%0D%0A%0D%0AThat+would+be+great%21+Until+we+see+Mana+Man+in+print%2C+you+have+to+understand+that+your+little+mana+guys+are+going+to+be+killed.+It%26amp%3Bamp%3Brsquo%3Bs+sad.+The+benefit+they+provide+is+worth+it.+These+guys+rock%21%0D%0A%0D%0A%26amp%3Bamp%3Blt%3Bstrong%26amp%3Bamp%3Bgt%3BHonorable+Mention+%232+%26amp%3Bamp%3Bndash%3B+%5Bcard%5DSoul+Warden">[card]

Creature — Human Druid

Mana Man is indestructible.

t: Add 1 mana of any color to your mana pool.


That would be great! Until we see Mana Man in print, you have to understand that your little mana guys are going to be killed. It’s sad. The benefit they provide is worth it. These guys rock!

Honorable Mention #2 – [card]Soul Warden, Auriok Champion, Essence Warden, and Soul’s AttendantThis list is looking a bit like my top ten 1-drops, and will continue to do so until we get into the all-new Top 10. Each of these cards is ideal for its ability to massage your life total up just a bit at a time. Before long, you are at 33 life and someone attacks you with his Goliath Sphinx to bring you back down. They’ve been played in a ton of decks and found a ton of value. If you haven’t played them or against them, are you even playing causal Magic? What messed-up formats are you playing?

Honorable Mention #3 – Mother of RunesShe is an ideal utility creature and the number one 1-drop of all time, in my opinion. She can:

  • Keep one of your creatures alive through mass removal that is damage-based (such as Earthquake or Blasphemous Act)
  • Protect one of your creatures from pinpoint removal, theft, bounce, or tapping
  • Allow one of your dudes to block a creature and then prevent the damage to it to keep it alive
  • Make a creature unblockable to certain opponents so that you can swing for damage
  • Act as a virtual Asceticism when untapped
  • Act as a Demystify for enchantments like Vow of Wildness, Pacifism, and others that are on your dudes

That’s a potent slate of abilities. There’s no more justification needed for her being here, either.

10. Kiki-Jiki, Mirror BreakerOh, yes, one of three Legendary creatures to place on our list is also the second most expensive creature here. It’s also the only card on my countdown that’s not Green or Blue. When you pay 5 mana for a 2/2 utility creature, you need it to rock. Kiki-Jiki rocks out with his mad mirror break-dance. Go, Kiki-Jiki! Go! Go! Oh, yeah! Making copies of dudes is seriously awesome. Get an extra hit in with any beater you have. You can also acquire extra triggers from an ETB creature or extra death triggers when it expires. You have found your Morbid triggers right here! From Rage Thrower to Pandemonium, you’ve got the power. Go, Kiki-Jiki, go!

9. Selesnya GuildmageWhen Ravnica came out, something changed in me. Of all of the ten dual-color combinations, I’d never had a favorite, but I’d had a least favorite: gw. Then Ravnica dropped a whole set of awesome right into my G/W bias. Privileged Position? Glare of Subdual? Loxodon Hierarch? Tolsimir Wolfblood? Watchwolf? All hot. Then, add in cards like Civic Wayfinder, Faith's Fetters, Chord of Calling, Seed Spark, Primordial Sage, Carven Caryatid, Recollect, and Vinelasher Kudzu. I played so many cards from these colors in my decks. The Selesnya Guildmage was right there with them. To that point, name me all of the creatures that could be used to make token critters. It’s not that many—and most of those only do it slowly, poorly, or just once (like Deranged Hermit, Thallid, Saber Ants, Jungle Patrol, and more). Now, all of the sudden, I can put 4 mana into it any time I want, and out comes a 1/1 dork. No tapping a land or a creature. No one-time uses. No 0/1 Walls that sacrifice for r. Just put in 4 mana any time you want. Green has a lot of spare mana! In addition, you also can spend 4 mana to pump to all of your creatures for the turn. Not only does it make your army bigger, but it also pumps it! That’s not only a very synergetic set of abilities, but the abilities are also powerful on their own. Today, you can make dorks more cheaply—Ant Queen and Jade Mage come to mind. But the combination of mass-pump, plus the creation of Saprolings, has never been duplicated on a creature. Enjoy it.

8. Qasali PridemageDid you know that only two of the creatures on my Top 10 list were made before the switch to new borders? It’s true. Qasali Pridemage is one of the newest on the list, but it hardly needs introduction to most of you. As a 2/2 for 2 mana, it’s right on curve, and it can swing or block when needed. That’s not exactly the best thing for a utility creature, but it’s there. You’re not seeing Grizzly Bears on the list, though. The Pridemage begins to show value as a sacrificial Cat to destroy your opponents’ artifacts and enchantments. That has tremendous value, too, but you’re not seeing Nantuko Vigilante on the list, either. Exalted is keen in any deck with enough creatures to matter but not enough to get in the way of each other. As it turns out, that’s a lot of decks. You’ll find many decks with a number of creatures between sixteen and twenty-two, and that’s where this shines. Exalted is nice, but you aren’t seeing Dawnray Archer on this list. What the Qasali Pridemage does offer is everything together. It can blow up stuff, it helps the team, it’s on curve, and it’s cheap. If Kiki-Jiki costs 2 mana, it’d move up to third on my list. If this cost 3 mana, it wouldn’t even come close to charting. The combination of everything makes for a powerful utility creature that’s strong enough to see play here.

7. Sygg, River CutthroatThere are few 2-drops with the power to change the multiplayer game. Sygg does that quite well—thank you very much. He encourages you to attack, which is fine. People are losing 3 life all of the time to stuff, so you regularly grab free cards with no annoying mana expenditure on your end (like with Mind's Eye, for example) and no annoying taxing on theirs (Rhystic Study). Because everybody knows they can kill him at any time, they don’t. They figure they’ll off him if you acquire a combo or play Organ Grinder. He’s a game-changer that draws you a ton of cards, because he draws them at a much slower rate. He’ll die, but he can net you a lot of cards before he does. This is the last card on the countdown that is not exclusively Green or Blue. With a nod to Black and White in the last trio of cards, now we turn hardcore to the great utility creatures in Blue and Green.

6. Ninja of the Deep HoursI’m not sure how many uses I’ve found for this Ninjutsu guy over the years, but it’s been a ton. It seems that every time I build another quirky deck, there’s a use for Ninja of the Deep Hours. My favorite place for him is in decks that want to reload a creature for another go. Considering how popular ETB creatures are, you can see this as a great boon. I attack you with two AEther Adepts, bounce one and draw a card, and play it again. It’s a great way to use creatures like Invisible Stalker or one of my favorites—Thalakos Seer. The Seer draws you a card whenever it leaves the battlefield. You attack with its Shadow body, bounce for the Ninjutsu after blockers are declared, draw a card, hit with the Ninja for another card, and then replay the Seer for 2 mana. You can bounce creatures to use their Cycling, Transmute, or Channel abilities, to prepare for a major removal spell, or sometimes to protect the creatures. How often have you ninjutsu’d out a Ninja just to protect a creature from a Chastise or Order // Chaos? It’s a beautifully powerful creature.

5. Glen Elendra ArchmageWelcome to the Top 5! Who likes to counter spells? Blue does. This girl is hot. It’s not often you see rares from this long ago at $7.50 and sold out all over the place. In addition to tournament demand, she’s also rocktastic at the casual table. She flies, so you can always nip over and deal some damage while keeping u open for a sacrifice. She’s just a 2/2, but at least she has some value there. Persist allows her to come back from removal. It also allows her to jump in front of a big bad—not once, but twice. That’s quite useful, I have to admit. And then there’s the whole, “I sacrifice to counter noncreature stuff!” Just pay that 1 mana and sacrifice her to counter anything that bugs you. Watch as the Archmage comes back for another go around! Have I ever told you the story of when I was playing Abe’s Deck of Happiness and Joy and I locked out someone with this and Nim Deathmantle? Fun times! With so many useful abilities tacked onto one card, I’m sure you can see how this tournament staple is also a power at the kitchen table.

4 . Sakura-Tribe ElderIf there is one card on this list that I can point to and say, “There should be no argument on this,” this is it. Can you question the power of Sakura-Tribe Elder? The ability to block and fetch a land is a massive amount of tempo for a Rampant Growth. The ability to sacrifice for no mana for a land allows you to play with a lot of powerful cards. A few weeks ago, I tossed this in a Verdant Succession deck to show off the power of the deck. Later in the game, when your mana is all set, instead of drawing a useless Rampant Growth–style card, you at least have a creature. It can still attack, block, use cards (like Kyren Negotiations or Earthcraft), be pumped, and carry items. The massive value of Sakura-Tribe Elder is huge, and it dominated Standard during its time because of how good it is. No list of the Top 10 Utility Creatures of All Time should leave this off.

3. Arcanis the OmnipotentThe awards for being the highest-charting Legendary creature, being a Blue card, being just one of the two creatures printed in the old frames, and having the highest casting cost on our list go to Arcanis. When I talked about Kiki-Jiki, I mentioned that a casting cost of 5 needed real power to make this list. For a casting cost of 6 to make this list, you need a creature with such a powerful ability that it makes everything else weep. For a simple tap ability that requires no mana or anything else, I think these are the three most powerful printed abilities:

t: Destroy target creature. It can’t be regenerated.

t: Reduce target creature’s power or toughness to 1.

t: Draw three cards.

That’s the trifecta of tap abilities. You can’t get more powerful than those. All of them are on expensive creatures. What is the second most broken card-drawing spell ever printed? Ancestral Recall. Tapping to Ancestral every single turn for no additional investment of mana is staggeringly good. Vhati il-Dal almost made the list, too; he was just outside of my Honorable Mentions. Anyway, in addition to rocking the card-advantage scene, Arcanis does have a self-protection racket going, as well. You see, if something happens that would be unfortunate for Mr. Omnipotent, you can just pay 4 mana, and back he goes. It’s a bit pricey for the bounce and replay, but you will use occasionally. It’s a nice added bonus to make him even more deadly than he already is.

2. Fauna ShamanThe newcomer shines! People were so afraid when they saw the latest take on Survival of the Fittest because of how closely the Shaman resembled it. However, it turns out that adding Survival to a creature and making it a tap ability really reduces its power. You can’t use it immediately, and you can only use it once per turn. Anybody can kill a creature at any time—even Blue. *cough* Psionic Blast *cough*. With that restriction, this is still megapowerful, but no longer brokenly so. It’s still a Survival activation every turn for the perfect creature for every situation. But it remains. It lingers. If you play a Survival of the Fittest at a multiplayer table, somebody will kill it before you have completed saying its title, and you’ll be attacked five times for your impudence. It’s among the biggest targets in the game that doesn’t actively affect another player (as opposed to something like, say, Manabarbs). Fauna Shaman just does its thing with its Grizzly Bears self. There is no question that, in the short period of time we’ve had it, it’s deserving of this spot.

1. Hermit DruidI’m still surprised by the severe lack of play Hermit Druid receives sometimes. This guy is more powerful than Fauna Shaman. They cost the same to play, they cost the same mana to activate, and they both tutor something from your deck. The Hermit Druid is card advantage, and the Fauna Shaman is as much card advantage as Mirri's Guile (and by that I mean “not at all”). The Shaman is card quality, and the Druid is all about getting cards now. The Druid does things the Shaman can only dream of. The Shaman puts one card in your graveyard, and the Druid puts anywhere from a few to roughly thirty. That builds decks. The Hermit Druid is an engine. It works well with any deck idea, ever, that wants cards in the graveyard. It is so good that it has been banned in formats—can you say that about Fauna Shaman? Here are some of the tons of great decks, mechanics, cards, and strategies it works with: Dredge, reanimation, Flashback, Incarnations, Mortivore, Boneyard Wurm, Ire of Kaminari, Soulshift, Ashen Ghoul, Yawgmoth's Will, and Replenish. It is the master of the graveyard, and it helps smooth your mana, too! There is no utility creature ever printed that is better than Hermit Druid. I don’t understand why it’s super-mega-cheap (a buck fifty; are you kidding me?), and I don’t understand why it isn’t seeing massive play in casual formats more (Commander players, I’m looking at you). This is worth the top spot all day, every day. And twice on Sunday.

I don’t know why Green and Blue have the best utility creatures, but they do. When you play a Red creature, you almost always want a cheap beater or a big beater. How often are you really playing guys like Starke of Rath in your decks? I’m surprised there was even a Red card mentioned today, let alone one cracking the Top 10, but Kiki-Jiki is good enough, too. White has great utility creatures, and you can expect it to dominate another list later (Top Ten Defensive Creatures), but compared to cards like Hermit Druid, Fauna Shaman and Ninja of the Deep Hours, creatures like Weathered Wayfarer just aren’t at the same level. Mother of Runes and Soul Warden received honorable mentions, and White is at that next level, but it’s just outside of the Top 10. I’m surprised Black’s not here; I was expecting Royal Assassin–like cards, but none really jumped out at me as Top 10 of All Time level, you know?

What you are left with are two colors that rock great utility creatures. From Birds of Paradise to Fauna Shaman, Green has had great utility creatures. From Prodigal Sorcerer to Glen Elendra Archmage, Blue has them, too.

Anyway, I hope you had fun with another of these articles! I always do.

See you next week,

Abe Sargent

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