One of the most iconic elements of Magic: The Gathering is the tiny snippets of lore written on the bottom of each card, known as “flavor text” to fans. These bits of story are frequently funny, but just as often they can be haunting. Here are 12 bits of flavor that turn good Magic cards into memorably creepy ones.
12) Brood of Cockroaches
Set: Visions Artists: G. Darrow and I. Rabarot
“It’s like waking on a bed of a thousand olives during an earthquake of subtle force.” —Afari, Tales
A good Magic card combines its art and flavor text for maximum effect—Brood of Cockroaches is an excellent example of that, and is bound to send a shiver up your spine. The image itself is bad enough, an unsuspecting sleeper being approached by a swarm of bugs, but that description of the cockroach’s movement is fantastically shudder-inducing. Blergh.
11) Army of the Damned
Set: Commander 2013 Artist: Ryan Pancoast
Sometimes death comes knocking. Sometimes it tears down the walls.
There’s also sometimes a third element to making a good Magic card—combining the art, flavor text and gameplay mechanics to tell a story. Army of the Damned, already horrifying enough for the idea of a mass of zombies literally tearing their way through the floorboards, roof, and windows of a house (you can see the art in the header image), summons thirteen zombies onto the field when you use it. Sure, they’re weak creatures, but in great numbers, you can’t stop them all.
10) Squirrel Farm
Set: Unglued Artist: Ron Spencer
“And the ignorant shall fall to the squirrels.” —Chip 2:54
At first, Squirrel Farm is kind of funny. Squirrels are cutesy, and the playful mechanic of getting your opponent to guess the artist of a random card you draw from your deck is neat. But when you think about it, it’s about a horde of extremely violent squirrels ripping someone to shreds, death by a thousand nibbles.
In a world as morbid as that of Magic, that’s the “funny” way to go out.
9) Thought Scour
Set: Duel Deck: Jace vs Vraska Artist: David Rapoza
“As you inject the viscus vitae into the brain stem, don’t let the spastic moaning bother you. It will soon become music to your ears.” —Stitcher Geralf
One part horrifying artwork, one part disgusting description makes for a disturbing card—but the bit that actually freaks you out? The fact that such a horrible moment of torture is apparently something that you’ll become used to.
8) Yomiji, Who Bars The Way
Set: Betrayers of Kamigawa Artist: Hideaki Takamura
“As I died, I rejoiced. I would see my family again. But then I woke up back on the battlefield. Back in Kamigawa. Back in hell.” —Kenzo the Hardhearted
White-colored cards in Magic usually represent some sort of nobility or divinity, and are usually the direct opposite of creepy, unlike the many Black-colored cards in this list. But Yomiji is one of those ones that sounds good on the surface—he lets you return a vanquished Legendary card to your hand rather than your graveyard pile—but the flavor text makes it sound like anything but pleasant. Sending someone who longed for the embrace of death and the afterlife back into a shitty world of monsters and violence?
Dick move, Yomiji.
7) Delver of Secrets/Insectile Aberration
Set: Innistrad Artist: Nils Hamm
“Unfortunately, all my test animals have died or escaped, so I shall be the final subject. I feel no fear. This is a momentous night.” —Laboratory notes, final entry
Ah, Innistrad. Not only was this set of cards themed around the horror genre, it also introduced two-sided cards that could “transform” a card by flipping it over. Delver of Secrets/Insectile Aberration is pretty much classic body horror through and through: Human scientist delving too far into things they don’t understand? Privileged information in the flavor text that we know the outcome of? A transformation into a horrifying bug monster? Check, check, and check.
6) Phyrexian Hulk
Set: 8th Edition Artist: Matthew D Wilson
It doesn’t think. It doesn’t feel. It doesn’t laugh or cry. All it does from dusk till dawn Is make the soldiers die. —Onean children’s rhyme
Who doesn’t love a good children’s rhyme to scare themselves? It’s one of the defining aspects of many children’s rhymes. When it’s about a nightmarish mechanical monster that slaughters soldiers on the battlefield—a sight often enough that children sing about it—they just get even more messed up.
Set: Eventide Artist: Steven Belledin
A gwyllion’s favorite trap is the vanity mirror. A bewitched piece of glass traps the looker’s soul and does away with the body.
Remember how I said White-colored cards aren’t usually creepy? Well, when they decide to delve into nightmare fuel, they go all the way. The text itself simply describes the effect of the Vanity Mirror, but the art punches home the scare factor of a disembodied soul literally watching its body shatter to pieces.
Set: Innistrad Artist: Terese Nielsen
In the forest villages of Kessig, parents feed their children wormwood and other bitter herbs, hoping to make them less palatable to things that roam the night.
Things that go bump in the night and abduct children for snacks are already disconcerting enough, but in Kessig, it apparently happens often enough that family make their children eat disgusting-tasting herbs in the hopes it makes them unappealing to would be monsters. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t, kids.
3) Lord of Extinction
Set: Alara Reborn Artist: Izzy
The forlorn cries of the dead combine to make its laugh.
Another great card that combines its gameplay mechanics with flavor text. Lord of Extinction’s attack and defense are equal to the number of cards in every player’s graveyard when it’s summoned, so it’s a formidable card to play in the late stages of a game—it’s literally an amalgamation of dead things. All those dead things, shrieking and moaning, and it’s a laugh? Jesus.
Set: Magic 2012 Artist: Michael C. Hayes
“Of course I’m sure I’ve gone mad. The little man who crawled out of my eye was quite clear on this.”
Distress’ artwork is already, err, distressing enough, but it’s seeing that and then scrolling down to the flavor text that packs a one-two punch. That little guy crawled out of his eye? I’d say it’s a facet of the madness the poor guy is succumbing to, but in the world of magic, I wouldn’t put it past it being literal too.
And it’s meant to be something as relatively mild in the Magic world as “Distress”, in the grand scheme of things.
1) Elbrus, The Binding Blade/Withengar Unbound
Set: Dark Ascension Artist: Eric Deschamps
Those who grasp its hilt soon hear the demon’s call.
There are not enough lives on Innistrad to satisfy his thirst for retribution.
Given its horror themes, it’s only natural we return to Innistrad for number one—and another double sided transforming card, too. Elbrus and Withengar is one of the ultimate examples in Magic of using mechanics to tell a story, and in this case, it’s one of a bloody blade summoning a gigantic demon who thrives on death and destruction. I’ll let MTG Narrative Game Designer James Pianka succinctly describe how it works:
A grand demon-in-a-dagger would be hard to obtain, naturally, so the mana cost is high. The demon wants out, however, so the equip cost is low—the blade wants to be used. It doesn’t offer much as far as weapons go, but that’s because its function is containment, not assault. It’s an ornamental prison with a restless occupant.
When Elbrus becomes Withengar, it first abandons (unattaches from) its pawn. Then the actual card changes types, revealing the color identity it had all along. The liberated demon—his power and toughness set with Innistrad’s numerology—is triply persistent at pushing his vengeance through.
Creepy demon summoning, as told through the actual game mechanics? That’s as awesome as it is spooky.