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By: Kumagoro42, Gianluca Aicardi
Apr 17 2018 12:00pm
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I love this game. I love writing about it. Compiling lists about it. Evaluating it. Sometimes, I even play it. I'm an Accidental Player.

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 I wanted to wait until August 5, Magic: The Gathering's actual date of birth, before doing this, but then I realized there would have been other, more interesting things to talk about by then, and this set is already semi-irrelevant as it is. So here we are: happy 25th, everyone! Isn't it weird, but also a little bit amazing, that now there probably are pros who are younger than the game itself? It recently occurred to me that writing about the beginning of Magic in 2018 means that a part of the readership might not have experienced those times firsthand. I did, although starting from 1994, as here in Italy I caught wind of the new phenomenon almost a full year later, just in time to see the release of The Dark, opening marvelous rares such as Frankenstein's Monster and Leviathan. What a time to be alive was then.

 So, the awkwardly named Masters 25 (with the even more awkward "A25" code, because the "M25" code was reserved for the core set that'll be out in 2024) is the anthology set designed to celebrate this incredible milestone by revisiting Magic's 25-year-long history. Last November's Iconic Masters sort of tried a first, feeble attempt at this, and miserably failed, so A25 had the inherent responsibility to do better. How did it fare? Well, for one, and for what mainly concerns this evaluation's focus on creatures only, it didn't miss the truly iconic creature types Iconic Masters couldn't find a way to include. In fact, A25 touches a record 71 different subtypes, 16 more than IMA (for comparison, Mirrodin had 45, Magic Origins 56, Ixalan 29, and the very insular Betrayers of Kamigawa only 18). This is of course far from involving all 216 creature types that appear on cards, or even the 194 with more than 2 members to their name. But as far as the major tribes go, A25 represents most of them, even if in some cases, it must have happened purely by accident (a lot of creature cards bear more than one subtypes, after all). Almost all the glaring absences from IMA have been amended here, with the exception of Avatar, Dwarf, MinotaurSliver, and especially Eldrazi, which as one of the main villain tribes in the storyline for the past 9 years, deserved at least a nod. Where A25 did worse than IMA is in excluding Demon, Drake, Kithkin, Sphinx, and both seminal green fattie tribes, Hydra and Wurm, while the other tribes with more than 50 members that didn't show for the celebration are (the admittedly less iconic) Archer, Drone and Pirate.

 Some other statistics: of the 134 reprinted creatures, 21 have the supertype legendary, 6 are artifacts and 3 enchantments, which means the major supertypes that ever appeared on creatures have been included. A peculiarity of these reprints is the watermark showing the original set's symbol under the rule text (in all cards except planeswalkers), which I think is a nice touch in keeping with the historical theme.

 Anyway, let's have a look at these two decades and a half worth of creatures, and see how well each included tribe was represented, and how aptly they evoke all these years of playing this little game. As always, the tribes are listed alphabetically, and you'll find a hypertextual list at the end.

 Infodump

  • Cards: 249
  • New cards: 0
  • New creatures: 0
  • Reprinted cards: 249
  • Reprinted creatures: 134
  • Creature types affected: 71
  • Tribes with more than 5 appearances: Human (35), Soldier (10), Warrior (10), Wizard (10), Shaman (8), Goblin (7), Rogue (7), Beast (6), Elf (6), Horror (6), Spirit (6)

Advisor: 2

 

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 Related Tribes: Human

 Historicity: High

 Comments: We're off to a good start. Imperial Recruiter is a crucial, widely played member of the Advisor tribe that was still a quite big money card in paper to this day. He features, or could feature, in pretty much all creature-based combo decks in Legacy, chiefly Aluren. He also sports some nice new artwork in the occasion of this reprint, although it makes him look way too happy to be sending young peasants to die in the war. Then again, maybe it's important for a good recruiter to look reassuring. His fellow Portal Three Kingdoms alumnus, living universal anthem Kongming, Sleeping Dragon, is definitely less impressive, let alone remembered. But it's fitting for A25 to remind people of that time (May 1999) when Magic was briefly set in actual Third Century China and weirdly populated by historical characters.


Ally: 3

  

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 Related Tribes: Goblin, Human, Merfolk, Rogue, Scout

 Historicity: Low

 Comments: The Ally tribe first debuted in October 2009 with the original Zendikar block (they're the multicultural coalition of the willing that fights the Eldrazi reawakening), and back then had a strictly linear mechanic that rewarded having a lot of different Ally cards on the battlefield. Of course you'd need more than three slots to build an Ally theme in Limited with the original Allies, which is why A25 included only the ones from Battle of Zendikar, which are less dependent on each other – or, like in these cases, no dependent at all. This kind of defies the entire purpose of having Allies, though, and considering these three aren't particularly good, or particularly famous card, I wonder why they even bothered. I, for one, would have skipped Ally entirely and maybe replaced them with one or two representative Slivers, something like Harmonic Sliver, which is a strong card on its own merit, has seen serious play since its creation even outside Sliver tribal, and doesn't need a Sliver theme to be worth the inclusion.


Angel: 5

  

 

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 Related Tribes: Spirit

 Historicity: High

 Comments: Iconic Masters has robbed A25 of a number of great historical Angels, cards like Restoration Angel, Emeria Angel, Archangel of Thune, Avacyn, Angel of Hope, and even the most historically iconic of all, Serra Angel. And yet, A25 didn't bow down, finding centerpieces in Akroma, Angel of Wrath and her colorshifted sister from Planar Chaos, Akroma, Angel of Fury (both with their sweet From the Vault: Angels art). Then, Avacyn Restored's Gisela, Blade of Goldnight is recognized as one of the most powerful members of the tribe, and even Fallen Angel from Legends, as outdated as she is, was sort of iconic at the time, and conveniently represents both the "dark side" Angels, and those from older times.

 Finally, Angelic Page is... also there. But with new art, for some reason. Granted, Rebecca Guay's original Urza's Saga artwork wasn't one of her best ones, and the oft-reprinted, Middle Eastern-ish Seventh Edition version with the sun on the red flag is just weird. The A25 one is cool enough, though it makes the Page looks more fierce than she actually is on the battlefield.


Ape: 1

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 Related Tribes: Spirit

 Historicity: Medium to High

 Comments: I maintain this Ape inclusion is entirely accidental. If one had to think of an historical member of this tribe, it would necessarily be Kird Ape. Maybe Gorilla Shaman (or Uktabi Orangutan, but mostly for trivia reasons). Then again, Simian Spirit Guide is a notable card on its own, and even if hits the battlefield less than 1% of the times it gets played, it's historically very relevant, a permanent fixture of Storm decks and other builds where you need early acceleration in Legacy and Modern (it's sort of disappointing that its progenitor Elvish Spirit Guide wasn't also included, then). It's just only incidentally an Ape, so it's a strange representative for the tribe. Then again, it's not like they had plenty of options.


Artificer: 1

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 Related Tribes: Human

 Historicity: Medium

 Comments: I don't really know what to think of this choice. On one hand, Hanna, Ship's Navigator is a good card, sees some play in Commander, and depicts a member of the Weatherlight crew, which dominated the storyline consecutively from 1997 to 2001. On the other hand, she's far from the first card you would think of when thinking of an Artificer. With so many historical members (from Goblin Welder to Grand Architect), it's baffling to have Hanna as the only Artificer to appear between Iconic Masters and Masters 25. Oh well, at least they gave her the neat Terese Nielsen art from Commander 2016 rather than the pedestrian comic book-ish original version from Invasion.


Assassin: 1

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 Related Tribes: Human

 Historicity: Null

 Comments: Assassin remains awfully underserved in A25 the same way it was in IMA. All in all, this is a better card than those other two, she's a solid 1-drop, and her deathtouch might actually catch some attacker or blocker by surprise, but it's still an Assassin with no direct killing ability whatsoever. And I can assure you, there have been a few of those in the 25 years since Royal Assassin.


Assembly-Worker: 2

 

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 Historicity: Weird

 Comments: This has to be one of the most baffling inclusions in Masters 25. Ladies and gentlemen, we have here exactly half of the entire Assembly-Worker tribe, i.e. the tribe that probably most of you didn't even realize existed. It's most notably the creature type Mishra's Factory (which is also in A25) turns into, and then Time Spiral thought it would be fun to have a creature that's a permanently transformed version of Mishra's Factory (except bad, because it costs you 3 mana rather than a land drop). Kaladesh block didn't get the joke and churned out three more members of the robotic tribe, all of which share with the original the key characteristic of being truly unremarkable (though I guess Cogwork Assembler might have some casual applications in Commander). Maybe they started by including Self-Assembler and then they wanted to add something else it can search for? I don't know, I remember watching Kaladesh drafts where the drafter considered picking a Self-Assembler, but then you need to devote another pick to get another one, and it invariably ended with the Self-Assembler being left alone. Maybe one day there'll be Assembly-Workers good enough to warrant a 5-mana tutor. I don't particularly look forward to that day.


Barbarian: 2

 

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 Related Tribes: Human, Zombie

 Historicity: High

 Comments: Two strong and fondly remembered Barbarians here, both graced with new art. Balduvian Horde's random discard clause is too severe for today's standards (our 5/5s for 4 look like this now, or at least like this or this – and I won't even go there), but back in its time, it was Juzam Djinn's country cousin. And Undead Gladiator is still relevant, an excellent design where you can cycle him, then bring him back by simultaneously exploiting him as a discard outlet.


Bat: 1

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 Historicity: Medium

 Comments: I'm not sure this is the card I would name if you asked me to name a Bat, but then I'm not sure I would be able to name a Bat to begin with. It's a tribe with 18 members and not a single rare, for crying out loud.


Bear: 1

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 Related Tribes: Illusion

 Historicity: Low

 Comments: This is another incidental tribe. Phantasmal Bear is very clearly an Illusion that just so happens to have the form of a Bear (and for not entirely sound reasons, the form of an Illusion determines its secondary tribe). It's a good card, though. And Bear is not an extremely relevant tribe (it wasn't in Iconic Masters, either), although most people do remember Grizzly Bears fondly, and they're one of the parameters for establishing if a creature is above or below the curve, so they have some degree of historicity to them.


Beast: 6

  

  

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 Related Tribes: Boar, Cat, Horror, Zombie

 Historicity: Medium to High

 Comments: This is far from being a perfect selection for Beast, which is one of the most recognizable tribes in the game, possibly the signature green tribe. It's not terrible, but I might have liked IMA's selection better, if only for the presence of Obstinate Baloth and Spiritmonger alone. This said, Krosan Tusker and Protean Hulk are definitely two historical cards, the former as a spell-like ramp/fixer card, especially in Commander, and the latter as a celebrated combo piece, either with trusty Flash (which is included in A25), or in more recent, Modern-legal ways. So those two are gold, and Ravenous Chupacabra is one of the best cards in the current Standard, and fittingly represents the more contemporary brand of bestiality.

 The lesser half of this group is more problematic. At least Krosan Colossus is the genre of silly morph fattie from Onslaught block that people kind of remember (Krosan Cloudscraper would have been more fun, but it's even sillier). And I guess Chartooth Cougar is there because of mountaincycling, as a Limited mana fixer. But what the hell even is Baloth Null? What part does this obscure yet fairly recent piece of junk (it's from Oath of the Gatewatch) have to play in the A25 environment? This could have been literally any other uncommon Beast (it was a chance to bring Beasts of Bogardan online, for instance!), not to mention, an uncommon from a different, unrepresented tribe.


Berserker: 1

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 Related Tribes: Goblin

 Historicity: Medium to High

 Comments: Look, Frenzied Goblin is a good common. It helps RDW archetypes, it's commonly played in those, nothing to object here. Except, this is one Berserker within two back to back anthology sets. It's not like the tribe is really major, but it's big enough, it's beloved, and could have used something more than a measly common. Maybe just something like Stormblood Berserker, or maybe something with haste, like the historically relevant Flame-Kin Zealot, or even a certain Elf?


Bird: 4

   

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 Related Tribes: Soldier

 Historicity: Medium to High

 Comments: All right, this selection is entirely carried by Squadron Hawk, which is one of the most iconic Birds ever printed, this side of Birds of Paradise. I mean, not many cards gave their name to a major archetype (well, sort of: their cry did). But speaking of Birds of Paradise, why aren't they just there? It's not like they are a money card anymore, they've been reprinted countless of times. But they're extremely iconic and extremely useful in any environment. Instead, we get another landcycler in Shoreline Ranger (A25 contains most of the landcyclers from Scourge), and two different death trigger-friendly specimens, one also from Scourge, the other from Innistrad, both neither well-known nor particularly good. Still, better than IMA's single dork, I admit.


Boar: 1

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 Related Tribes: Beast

 Historicity: High

 Comments: Krosan Tusker is one good, juicy Boar for sure. Tribe is flawlessly served.


Cat: 3

  

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 Related Tribes: Beast

 Historicity: Medium to High

 Comments: Chartooth Cougar's landcycling cycle aside, they went with two very iconic white Cats: the original one from Alpha, which is still mightily playable, and the tricky Whitemane Lion, a star of Pauper and beyond. IMA had more, but these ones seem more poignant, albeit I feel like some green member like Wild Nacatl, or even some higher rarity like Brimaz, King of Oreskos or a Mirri. Cat's a big tribe, after all.


Centaur: 1

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 Historicity: High

 Comments: All right, that's the one Centaur everyone knows and loves. Really no complaints at all here, as Centaur is not even so large a tribe to warrant more slots (I mean, it could have, but it wasn't absolutely necessary).


Cleric: 4

   

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 Related Tribes: Human, Soldier

 Historicity: Low

 Comments: Fiend Hunter is an apt choice, it's removal for white weenie builds, it's a well-known card. But all the other ones aren't very recognizable Clerics, and we're talking of the 8th largest tribe in the game. Noble Templar is part of the landcycling cycle, so that's okay. However, looking at Karona's Zealot, I don't remember him at all (and he doesn't even have new artwork). That morph trigger isn't terrible. I'm not sure why morph is featured so heavily in A25, though. As for Urbis Protector, it's a bad card, but also a way to fetch a 4/4 with Imperial Recruiter, I guess.

 I can't even start to list the Clerics that could have been selected here. IMA had Auriok Champion, at least. This time, they didn't even get one chase rare.


Construct: 1

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 Historicity: Null

 Comments: Treasure Keeper's mechanic is a take on cascade that works as a death trigger rather than as an ETB trigger. It's clearly strictly worse in comparison, but I'd say it's not atrocious per se, it can lend itself to some shenanigans. But seeing as how this guy is worth 1 cent, I'm gonna go out on a limb and say it was never taken very seriously since its first printing in Aether Revolt last year. So it's baffling that it was chosen to represent all Constructs in the whole of Magic history. I mean, we're talking Construct, as in the tribe of, among others, Triskelion, Metalworker, Stuffy Doll, Steel Overseer, Memnite, Kuldotha Forgemaster, Adaptive Automaton, Hangarback Walker, Walking Ballista, Foundry Inspector, and Torrential Gearhulk. Considering the appalling treatment they also received in IMA, I'd say the designing teams from these sets either don't like them, or are scared of them. Give me Cathodion or Mindless Automaton, at least! Or even some harmless old-time oddities like Dragon Engine!


Crab: 1

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 Historicity: Medium

 Comments: Well, it's a Crab. Can't expect much from a Crab. In fact, you can expect worse (well, maybe not in the cases of Hedron Crab or Shambleshark). Of course, one could expect not to find any Crab at all in a set that should collect only cards that made the history of the game. But once half of all the existing Assembly-Workers are there, everything goes.


Dinosaur: 1

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 Historicity: Low

 Comments: I kind of get why they wanted Dinosaur to be a part of this, since they represent both the present of the game, and the far past, back when Pygmy Allosaurus was printed as a Dinosaur in Ice Age. Plus, everybody loves dinosaurs, and everybody has wanted them in the game since 20 years. What I don't get is why choosing Colossal Dreadmaw in particular, though, since it's not a very meaningful member of the tribe (it's a strictly better Craw Wurm, but that's it), and it's been printed already twice in the past six months, both in Ixalan and in Rivals of Ixalan. I assume it was filling some environmental niche that needed filling, namely the common big green guy to complete an archetype's curve. Looking at the list of available Dinosaurs, there aren't many that fulfill this specific role (one is the retconned Alpha Tyrranax from Scars of Mirrodin, which is strictly worse than the Dreadmaw). I still think this was a missed opportunity to actually reprint Pygmy Allosaurus to bring it online.


Dragon: 3

  

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 Related Tribes: Elder, Wizard

 Historicity: Severe

 Comments: All right, this is close to perfection. Iconic Masters had many Dragons (too many, even), including star players like Thundermaw Hellkite and Bogardan Hellkite, but here we are in the presence of three high-profile legends, in any sense of the term. And not just any legend, Nicol Bolas and Niv-Mizzet are among the most famous, awe-inspiring characters in the game, while Prossh had a Commander deck to his name, and is ultimately the most powerful card of the trio. Niv-Mizzet comes in the more combo-prone version (compared to the less favourite Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius), which is a relief; and Bolas creature is clearly not as formidable as his planeswalker incarnations (he's from freaking Legends, after all, home of stuff like Kasimir the Lone Wolf and Lord Magnus); but they are all bombs in Limited, and deserving of a place in anybody's collection.


Druid: 2

 

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 Related Tribes: Elf, Insect

 Historicity: Medium

 Comments: I'm personally glad to have gotten new art and the Modern layout for Broodhatch Nantuko, since I like to play it in Insect Tribal alongside Hornet Nest, but I gotta admit, it doesn't really add up to a historical Druid by any stretch of the imagination. As for Arbor Elf, it's certainly a card that saw a fair amount of play over the years, and in some regards it's even better than Llanowar Elves (barring Armageddon scenarios), since untapping a land can lead to shenanigans with Auras and stuff like that. I'm still not quite sure why they didn't reprint any of the more straightforward mana dorks, though. But we're definitely better off here, given that Iconic Masters contained neither Druids nor Elves.


Elder: 1

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 Related Tribes: Dragon

 Historicity: High

 Comments: You gotta give it to Nicol Bolas, if you took out the stupid old-school upkeep cost, he would be a pretty powerful finisher. Considering he came in the same cycle that gave us Chromium (which amusingly means repeatable Amnesia was seen as equivalent to Rampage: 2), it's nothing short of amazing that he turned out the way he did. He was always destined to be a memorable big bad. I so wish they had reprinted the original, nerd-looking version where he's just chilling on his chair reading some book. The modern art is clearly better, but the old one is so ridiculous, so poorly fitting the Mephistophelian character he would become, that it ends up looking kind of awesome. Like, that's how Nicol Bolas really is in the privacy of his own lair, far from the public eye! I bet he's even wearing slippers!


Elemental: 5

  

 

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 Related Tribes: Hound, Shaman

 Historicity: Medium to High

 Comments: Back in Iconic Masters, I noted how badly the Elemental tribe was approached by that set (basically, only Kiln Fiend was anything even remotely close to relevant, although Earth Elemental is historical enough). It is one of the largest tribes in the game, after all. Masters 25 marks a definite improvement in all things Elemental, in particular with a timeless classic like Ball Lightning, and a completely different, extremely representative creature like the Commander darling Animar, Soul of Elements, an intricate card that's at once tactical and strategical. And even Brine Elemental, while being yet another morph dude, boasts a powerful trigger that can be parlayed into a lock. And if Pyre Hound, solid as it is, doesn't feel memorable enough next to the abovementioned Elementals (it's also too slow to see play in the Young Pyromancer kind of builds it wants to be a part of), Soulbright Flamekin fully represents the occasional oddity that the tribe sometimes produces, a 2-mana guy whose main purpose is to ramp from 6 mana to 8, or to 12 to 16, all while filtering generic mana into red. It's not something you see played often, or with a clear application, even in Elemental Tribal, but it's not entirely obscure or insignificant either; just those eight red mana symbols next to each other in the rule text are enough to make it unique (proving a limitation of the current graphic, since it's hard to grasp at first sight how many they actually are).


Elephant: 1

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 Related Tribes: Warrior

 Historicity: Null

 Comments: Plain vanilla morpher as the lonely Elephant representative? Sorry, that's just a no. Elephant is not a very large tribe, but it still counts among its ranks truly historical cards like Rogue Elephant, Loxodon Hierarch, Loxodon Smiter, and Terastodon. To devote one slot to one of these would have been the correct way to go. (Then again, their cousins the Rhinos haven't been featured at all.)


Elf: 6

  

  

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 Related Tribes: Druid, Mutant, Shaman, Warrior

 Historicity: Medium to High

 Comments: This is a singular but not exactly disappointing selection of Elves, containing no tier-1 members of such a key tribe, but quite a few tier-2 ones. Nettle Sentinel is the most prominent, part of a well-oiled Elf engine that involves Heritage Druid and Glimpse of Nature (neither of which have been reprinted here). Arbor Elf is there on behalf of all Elvish mana dorks, though in a subtly different way than you would expect (since he doesn't actually tap for mana). Elvish Piper was never reliable enough to generate ultra-competitive decks, but her ability is seminal and potentially game-breaking; the sensual Rebecca Guay artwork has circulated since Ninth Edition and is now the more commonly associated with the card, but in the original Urza's Destiny version the character was playing a sort of panflute rather than a flute, and in the Seventh and Eighth Edition reprints, there was a male figure playing bagpipes (Seventh Edition was just weird like that).

 Fierce Empath is a tutor for fatties that was never particularly popular, but has some use in Elf builds fetching a finisher like Craterhoof Behemoth or a combo piece like Regal Force. At the bottom of the totem pole we find one of the Invokers from Rise of the Eldrazi (the only one that's been reprinted here); and the truly bizarre Elvish Aberration, which is indeed what its name suggests, since it's a 6-mana dude that taps for 3 mana, and it's paradoxically the only true mana-producing creature in the set (though it's mostly there as a member of the landcycling cycle).


Faerie: 1

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 Related Tribes: Wizard

 Historicity: Severe

 Comments: If you only get one slot to devote to Faerie (which might be... unfaerie! – I'll see myself out), then you really can't do better than Vendilion Clique. It's one of the most effective and valued creatures ever printed; it is no coincidence that it's one of the top 6 most expensive cards in the set.


Giant: 1

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 Related Tribes: Warrior

 Historicity: High

 Comments: Sure, the most illustrious Giants in the game are the M11 Titans (and Iconic Masters boasted Primeval Titan indeed). But Brion Stoutarm, though not nearly as much played as the five 6-mana wonders, is still a terrific creature, with a worthy cost/body ratio, lifelink, and repeatable and flavorful Fling (that in turn exploits lifelink). He might not be history's pre-eminent Giant, but he's quite the dignified representative for the tribe, and one that most players are bound to remember.


Goblin: 7

   

  

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 Related Tribes: Ally, Berserker, Rogue, Shaman, Wizard

 Historicity: Medium

 Comments: Since it's Goblin we're talking about here, aka Magic's most played tribal division, this selection leaves much to be desired. And yet, it still makes a modicum of sense. Spikeshot Goblin was a bomb in Mirrodin Limited, where he could boost his ability via equipments, and is a solid way for the tribe to deal noncombat damage. Frenzied Goblin and Mogg Flunkies see play, especially in Pauper. Grenzo, Dungeon Warden is a bit convoluted, but he can be effective in Commander, and the manipulation of the bottom of the library is fresh design space. Of course, IMA's Kiki-Jiki was more prestigious (and Guttersnipe to a lesser extent), but as far as Goblin legends go, Grenzo is not meaningless. As for (Izzet Chemister) and Skirk Commando, I never stumbled onto them in any format, Tribal Wars included, but they're not entirely devoid of sense, if a bit tortuous in the execution of their respective plans (i.e. recycling spells and killing creatures). The same might even go for Zada, Hedron Grinder, who's basically applying a positive spin to Precursor Golem's ability. With him, we fully delve into "obscure & unplayed" territory, though, and that kind of runs contrary to what Masters 25 should be about.


Golem: 1

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 Historicity: High

 Comments: Another case of "just one card, but at least it's the right one". There might have been other well-known and well-liked Golems, but few as powerful and as widely played as Sundering Titan (mostly just Blightsteel Colossus comes to mind). I don't particularly like this art, even if nobody ever managed to fully grasp the anatomical/engineering intricacies of the original one.


Griffin: 1

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 Historicity: Medium

 Comments: This guy sort of perfectly embodies what Griffins have mostly been throughout Magic history: shameless filler.


Horror: 6

  

  

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 Related Tribes: Beast, Nightmare

 Historicity: High

 Comments: Outstanding and ample selection for the Horror tribe (which had only one card to its name in IMA, albeit a nice one). The very scary Phyrexian Obliterator leads the pack here, followed by two of the best Nightmares, Mesmeric Fiend and Laquatus's Champion. The Obliterator is actually less played than one might think, due to that steep colored mana cost, but when it is, it can be really frightening to face.

 The easiest card to play from this bunch is probably the newest and most straightforward one, Ravenous Chupacabra, the latest in a series of black removal on legs, along the lines of creatures like Nekrataal and Skinrender. Horror of the Broken Lands is also quite recent (was first printed in Amonkhet), but not as good, if not for the fact that you can cycle him for one mana.

 The oldest Horror proposed by A25 is also the most fascinating: Legends' Hell's Caretaker, a Recurring Nightmare on-a-stick (or Goblin Welder for creatures, if you want; but it's worth noting that the Caretaker predates both), which is only hindered by that pesky upkeep clause, the main reasons why it has never been a thing. The A25 art comes from Ninth Edition (this is only the second time it ever got reprinted). The original art just shows what used to be accepted as illustration for Magic cards in 1994. This is part of MTG history, too!


Hound: 2

 

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 Related Tribes: Elemental, Shaman

 Historicity: Low

 Comments: These two are just not very eminent members of the Hound tribe. It's another one of those tribes that are kind of middle of the road: not large enough to command immediate respect, but not minuscule either. Something like Wild Mongrel and/or Isamaru, Hound of Konda could have been more expected choices.


Human: 35

  

  

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 Related Tribes: Advisor, Ally, Artificer, Barbarian, Cleric, Knight, Monk, Rogue, Scout, Shaman, Soldier, Spellshaper, Warrior, Wizard

 Historicity: Medium

 Comments: Of course it's hard, and mostly futile, to try and establish which Humans would be a better fit to represent such a mastodontic tribe (not only amounting to the largest subtype, but to the third largest type in the game). As seen from the images above, A25 includes a few of them that are very well-regarded, like Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, Azusa, Lost But Seeking, Master of the Wild Hunt and Imperial Recruiter. The selection is wider, and I'd say more successful, compared to the analogous one from IMA.


Illusion: 2

 

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 Related Tribes: Bear

 Historicity: Medium

 Comments: Phantasmal Image and Phantasmal Dragon would have been stronger Illusions from M12 (which had an Illusion theme), but Phantasmal Bear  does see play, and the older Fathom Seer (from Time Spiral) comes with zero-mana card-drawing; in fact, you might even boost your mana when you turn it face up, by returning a tapped Island to hand then play it again. The morph support is so heavy in A25 that I'm actually surprised either Ixidron or Ixidor, Reality Sculptor haven't been included. Also, I think Phantasmal Forces, as outdated as it is, would have fulfilled the nostalgia factor better than some of the unabashed filler we've gotten for other tribes (the same way Phantom Monster did in IMA).


Insect: 1

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 Related Tribes: Druid

 Historicity: Medium

 Comments: Well, Broodhatch Nantuko is an Insects' Insect, since it creates Insect tokens (also, surprise surprise, it's a morph creature). Alone, it's already probably better than the couple of Insects from IMA. There definitely could have been more apt cards to represent the tribe, though. Especially since it's very large, and should have warranted more than a single uncommon slot. Ideally, even something like Ant Queen, Hornet Queen, Vorapede, or Deadbridge Goliath.


Jackal: 1

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 Historicity: Medium to High

 Comments: If Jackals really have to be there, their Pup is both historically relevant (as the first, playable 2-powered 1-drop in red) and adorable.


Jellyfish: 1

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 Historicity: High

 Comments: When I read Jellyfish among the list of featured tribes in A25, I knew it had to be Man-o'-War! Magic history at its finest. I so wish Aether Adept was a functional reprint, though, because I love the Adept's art (yeah, I confess I like pretty sorceresses better than jellyfish).


Kavu: 2

 

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 Historicity: Medium to High

 Comments: Kavus are strange beasts (like, literally, they should be part of the Beast tribe). These two are adequate representatives. Kavu Climber was not played much, Kavu Predator comboes with Grove of the Burnwillows (which, however, is not in the set; it was in Iconic Masters). Kavu Titan, Horned Kavu, and especially Flametongue Kavu would have been the superior choices.


Knight: 3

  

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 Related Tribes: Human, Shade, Vedalken

 Historicity: Medium to High

 Comments: Knight is an important tribe, and these are three nicely diverse members, each taking a different approach to the Knightly heritage. Or better, Knight of the Skyward Eye is just bad, I don't know what possessed the design team to include it, any White Knight clone would have been preferable. But Court Hussar is first-rate, it's card selection and tactical defense for a reasonable price. While Ihsan's Shade is genuinely a chunk of MTG history: it was the first large creature with protection from white (it's still the second largest after Akroma, Angel of Fury), and back in Homelands times, it was a big deal. The new art is serviceable, but I still prefer the original one: the character was a bit cartoonish, but there was a great use of lighting.


Kor: 1

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 Related Tribes: Soldier

 Historicity: Medium to High

 Comments: Just one Kor in A25 (which is one more than in IMA), but it's a sweet one, the bane of monored decks. Stoneforge Mystic and Nomads En-Kor are both more historically charged, but they'd need other cards in the set to properly function, while Kor Firewalker only needs to face red.


Lizard: 1

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 Historicity: Low

 Comments: It's not like Lizards ever produced truly brilliant creatures. But you can find more relevant members than this one (Basking Rootwalla, Sprouting Thrinax, Bounding Krasis), although Thresher Lizard was a decent pick in Amonkhet Limited.


Merfolk: 3

  

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 Related Tribes: Ally, Rogue, Scout, Wizard

 Historicity: Low

 Comments: Merfolk is as historical a tribe as they get (Lord of Atlantis was the first tribal lord in Alpha, and back then there was only one creature affected in total!). Of course the most acclaimed Merfolk are the lords, and the lords make no sense if there's no room to support a full tribal theme, which obviously there isn't here. So we get Cursecatcher, which is a good one, as it's actually played in proper Merfolk decks across the formats; and then Merfolk Looter, which is nothing of the above, but at least it's the original looter, first printed in Exodus in June 1998. Coralhelm Guide is just baffling, both as Merfolk, Scout, or Ally.


Monk: 3

 

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 Related Tribes: Human

 Historicity: Medium

 Comments: Mixed bag for Monks here. Azusa, Lost But Seeking is a tremendous bannerman (bannerwoman?) for the tribe, as entire decks are centered around her and whatnot. But Mystic of the Hidden Way is yet another insipid morpher, and Iwamori of the Open Fist is hardly playable; even if you're 100% sure the opponent won't be Show-and-Telling their Eldrazi titans for free, the gain of a 5/5 for 4 is not worth the drama.

 Monk had Serra Ascendant and Monastery Swiftspear in IMA, and is a quite large tribe with interesting members like Geist-Honored Monk and Rhox Faithmender; thunderously powerful ones like Narset, Enlightened Master and Soulfire Grand Master; straightforwardly efficient ones like Rhox War Monk and Mantis Rider; or just simple but fashionable commons like Lone Missionary and Avacyn's Pilgrim. Not to mention such classics as Whirling Dervish from Legends (given the Monk type in occasion of its Time Spiral "Timeshifted" reprint).


Mutant: 2

 

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 Related Tribes: Elf, Zombie

 Historicity: Medium

 Comments: Both these Mutants are part of the landcycling cycle. The Zombie one, Twisted Abomination, actually sees play, being in the right color and tribe for reanimation shenanigans. Plus, regenerate is a relevant ability. Surely more than tapping itself for three green mana.


Myr: 1

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 Historicity: Medium to High

 Comments: In my Iconic Masters evaluation, I wrote that if the Myr tribe was given just one slot, as it was the case in IMA and it's again here in A25, either Palladium Myr or Myr Battlesphere were ideal and iconic choices; it turns out, I had forgotten about Perilous Myr! As a 2-drop that can chump block and kill 3-powered creatures, Perilous Myr is invaluable in the early game, and fuel for shenanigans later on. There's more to the Myr tribe than this, but it's valid representation nonetheless.


Nightmare: 2

 

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 Related Tribes: Horror

 Historicity: High

 Comments: The namesake of the Nightmare tribe is the grim horse from Alpha, and it would have been a good idea to include it here, even considering it's still a pretty serious threat in black-based decks. However, the intersection with the Horror tribe from Torment has produced interesting specimens with a consistent mechanic, and these two are perfectly positioned at the opposite ends of the curve, both doing useful things: disruption for Mesmeric Fiend, and a finishing blow in the case of Laquatus's Champion. Fun fact: Ambassador Laquatus is a blue Merfolk with a milling mechanic that has apparently nothing to do with his Champion, theme-wise.


Ogre: 2

 

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 Related Tribes: Rogue, Warrior

 Historicity: Medium

 Comments: Ruric Thar, the Unbowed is a tough guy who hits hard and hates noncreature spells, but is also somehow defensive, what with sporting both vigilance and reach as his combat abilities. Ratcatcher is a peculiar fella that's actually a Rat-based card (there are only two Rat cards in A25, but one of them is Relentless Rats). The thing is: the Ogre tribe counts more than 80 members, but there's a lot of fluff in there, and several "Demons matter" members that had no reason to be included in a set where there wasn't any Demon to begin wtih, so I'm not sure what I would  have chosen. I actually think Ruric is a solid finisher, and perfectly encapsulates the Ogres' essence of big, scary, unreasonable brutes. Kazuul, Tyrant of the Cliffs could have been a viable alternative, maybe.


Orc: 1

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 Related Tribes: Shaman

 Historicity: Medium

 Comments: Orc has historically been a neglected tribe in MTG, despite being one of the signature elements of the sword and sorcery genre, from Tolkien to D&D. It is neglected in A25, too, even if Ire Shaman is not a bad card (it was originally a rare, after all): its megamorph is very easy to trigger, so it's a 3-powered menace beater that also sort of draws you a card. The only problem is that it's not really familiar card for most players, but what is in the Orc tribe? Orcish Artillery? Orcish Settlers? One version of Zurgo, maybe?


Plant: 1

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 Historicity: High

 Comments: Wall of Roots or Wall of Blossoms beat it as iconic Plants, but Tree of Redemption is still a milestone for the tribe. And it's a Plant-Plant, not a Plant Wall.


Rat: 2

 

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 Related Tribes: Warrior

 Historicity: Medium

 Comments: Nezumi Cutthroat feels random, but I guess he represents the humanoid Rats from Kamigawa; Relentless Rats, on the other hand, is a quintessential Rat, incorporating a mechanic that was flavorfully part of the tribe since Plague Rats in Alpha. And they have a new, terrifying artwork.


Rogue: 7

   

  

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 Related Tribes: Ally, Goblin, Human, Merfolk, Ogre

 Historicity: Low

 Comments: Rogue has never had a clear identity. The closest thing to a "typical" Rogue deck I can think of is one using the prowl cards from Morningtide (and especially Stinkdrinker Bandit), since prowl was expressly meant as a Rogue mechanic. With 7 slots devoted to the tribe here, we could have actually had a prowl subtheme in the set, but I'm not even sure it would make sense, being so specific, and not widely known. They chose to take a generic approach, which resulted in disparate group of cards, of which only Notion Thief is something people will actually remember playing, plus maybe Merfolk Looter since it's been around for 20 years, even if I believe it's never been particularly crucial anywhere.

 Fortune Thief is yet another morpher, Humble Defector is an oddball, Grenzo, Dungeon Warden will mostly be known to Commander players, and that's more or less it. A rogue Rogue selection, you might say.


Scout: 2

 

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 Related Tribes: Ally, Human, Merfolk

 Historicity: Null

 Comments: These might well be the most preposterous picks for a tribe in Masters 25. I choose to think their Scout subtype was entirely ignored, and they just wanted to have those cards around for other reasons. I fail to understand what those reasons could be, though. Cloudblazer doesn't belong to any other meaningful tribe (i.e. it belongs to Human), and it's a subpar card that only enjoyed a moment of celebrity because it was included in Panharmonicon decks in Kaladesh Standard. And Panharmonicon is not part of A25. As for Coralhelm Guide, that's an Ally, yes, but a very unimpressive one, not to mention never actually played.

 The thing is, the Scout tribe feels even too narrow in what it usually does, since the most recognizable of its 125 members have something to do with fetching or exploiting lands, which is something any set could use more of, as it improves Limited. You know, cards like Wood Elves, Veteran Explorer, Borderland Ranger, Sylvan Ranger, Sakura-Tribe Scout, Viridian Emissary, Nissa, Vastwood Seer, Tireless Tracker, Merfolk Branchwalker, Jadelight Ranger. Those are the first things that come to mind when you think of Scouts. The tribe also contains some trendsetting legends like Melira, Sylvok Outcast and Saffi Eriksdotter, both enablers to different, historical combos. There was the ground (pun intended) to have a meaningful Scout presence in our celebratory set.


Shade: 1

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 Related Tribes: Knight

 Historicity: High

 Comments: This is both a satisfying choice for Shade, and one that plays outside the box. Because the typical Shade is a black creature that can be pumped with black mana, a la Frozen Shade from Alpha, the originator of the mechanic. But Ihsan's Shade is very fondly remembered, too, and paramount in its own way, as the one black dude that stands against the color's sworn enemy, white (those were the times before Orzhov came to exist, of course). By the way, did you know that Ihsan, before becoming a shade of his former self, was a Serra Paladin who tried to trick Baron Sengir into giving him the power necessary to destroy him? But the wicked baron didn't bite (pun intended), and instead of turning Ihsan into a vampire, he made him into a sort of ghost. But considering Ihsan's Shade is actually a stronger creature than Sengir Vampire, the joke is on the baron, I think.


Shaman: 8

   

   

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 Related Tribes: Elemental, Elf, Goblin, Hound, Human, Orc

 Historicity: Medium to High

 Comments: Shaman is a very eclectic tribe, and this selection reflects that. Although, it ranges too much from well-known and powerful members like Elvish Piper, Spikeshot Goblin and especially Master of the Wild Hunt, to meaningless guys like Wildheart Invoker and decent but obscure cards like Ainok Survivalist, Ire Shaman and Crimson Mage. Plus an oddity like Soulbright Flamekin. All in all, the selection is not entirely disappointing, as most of these are fairly playable, but I feel like it could use a few more members with higher street cred, like, say, Vampire Nighthawk (which would also improve the Vampire selection) or Eternal Witness. Or even just Elvish Visionary.


Shapeshifter: 2

 

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 Historicity: Medium to High

 Comments: That's fair. One clone variant (the one with morph, of course!) and one other thing that doesn't particularly shine anymore, but is old enough to make people go, "Hey, I remember that!". By the way, since Primal Clay was included in Revised Edition and then reprinted in many of the following core sets of that early era (it most recently showed up with the current art in M13), people tend to forget it was part of Antiquities originally. Also, in Fifth Edition, it looked like this. Now, that's NOT how I remember it.


Sheep: 1

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 Historicity: Severe

 Comments: There are just two Sheep in the game, and the other one is the less than memorable Rustspore Ram (so there's shortage of female sheep representation). But that's not why Nyx-Fleece Ram is a good inclusion. It's a good inclusion because Nyx-Fleece Ram rocks! The time it buys against aggressive decks is invaluable, and it can even nicely combo with cards that care about lifegaining (say, Crested Sunmare, just to mention a fellow farm animal) and with cards that use the toughness to deal damage (like Doran, the Siege Tower or Assault Formation).


Snake: 2

 

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 Historicity: High

 Comments: Two might not feel like a satisfying number of slots for a tribe like Snake, but boy, are these two Snakes the perfect sample. They're possibly the two most substantial members of the tribe, Mystic Snake providing an answer to anything, and Lorescale Coatl an increasingly dangerous threat. To stay on par with these, the third slot should have been Lotus Cobra.


Soldier: 10

  

 

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 Related Tribes: Bird, Cleric, Kor, Vampire, Zombie

 Historicity: High

 Comments: Soldier is the kind of big tribe (the fourth biggest after Human, Wizard and Warrior, 600 members strong) that is charged with some level of filler in any given set. That's true of A25, too, although even negligible stuff like Dauntless Cathar and Fencing Ace is not unplayable. The highlight here is Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, who styles herself as the poster girl for historical Soldiers, despite being only 6 years old (as a card, I mean; I'm pretty sure in the storyline Thalia is supposed to be older than 6). I wish they took the occasion of this reprint, the first in an official set, to use the art from Thalia promo, because that's one pretty close up of our heroine.

 The other legendary Soldier is Darien, King of Kjeldor, who has a mighty, potentially game-breaking trigger, and I always wanted to like him for that, but he's a 6-mana creature with boltable toughness that needs for you to suffer damage in order to do something. He looks better in theory than he is in practice, so he was never actually part of anything. Sorry, Your Majesty.

 Loyal Sentry is similarly not the most well-known or played Soldier in history (it debuted in Starter 1999, whatever that was, and only reprinted in Tenth Edition and a Duel Deck), but I'm happy to see him back, because it's a 1-drop with a killing effect that's stronger and more abusable than mere deathtouch. He also sports a new uniform for the occasion, even if that mask looks weirdly like a mix between a supervillain and a vaudeville performer in blackface.

 Among the non-Human Soldiers, Kor Firewalker is the one to mention, the other ones are more distinctly filler.


Spellshaper: 1

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 Related Tribes: Human

 Historicity: High

 Comments: Oh my God, Spellshaper! That's one of those tribes that were linked to one specific setting, in this case Masques block, and then never came back. Well, it did come back in Time Spiral block, actually, but that was the whole point, to bring back the obscure tribe from the game's past. It ended up amounting to 56 members that way, which makes it a greater tribe, but being confined to only two points in time, it's too narrow to warrant more than a passing mention in the history of the game. Which is what it gets here, and I'm fine with that. It was also a very one-trick-pony of a tribe, since all Spellshapers tap and pay a cost to essentially turn any card into the one spell they're able to cast, typically mimicking some already existing spell. In the case of Stampede Driver, the spell is a mini Overrun. On a pocket-size 1/1 for 1, it might come handy.


Spider: 1

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 Historicity: Low

 Comments: The Spider you expected to see here is green and has reach and more toughness than power. Ember Weaver is all of that, but it's also somehow NOT the Spider you expected. Granted, it's not bad in a Gruul deck, where it might turn into a 3/3 first striker for 3. But we're in Masters 25, and this is some obscure Conflux common. Why not just go with Pauper star Penumbra Spider or core set veteran Deadly Recluse? Or you know what, this was the right occasion to bring back good ole Giant Spider. You can't get more historical than that.


Spirit: 6

  

  

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 Related Tribes: Angel, Ape

 Historicity: Medium to High

 Comments: So, currently sold north of 18 tix, Eidolon of the Great Revel is the money card of the set, creature-wise. It's deserved, as it's the glue of many a Burn build, and it was never reprinted since its debut on Journey into Nyx. Spirit is a tricky tribe to properly represent, because it's ginormous (it's the 5th in the game for number of cards), and it contains multitudes. Spirit like the Eidolon depict the emanations of the Gods on Theros; but Spirits can also be the ghosts of the dead, like Geist of the Moors, which however is not the most exciting card to acknowledge this aspect of the tribe. And the third major subset, the Kami from Kamigawa, aren't even present at all in this selection. They went with some unusual Spirits, like the still very significant Simian Spirit Guide, or their occasional intersection with the Angel tribe (Karmic Guide would have been the ideal choice for that).

 And also two very old, kind of endearing, almost entirely forgotten cards like Will-O'-the-Wisp from Alpha (which is still a strong early blocker, one must admit), and Ghost Ship from The Dark, she of the most ridiculous triple blue regeneration. The presence of regeneration is actually a good indicator of the old age of these cards, isn't it? And truth be told, this is exactly the kind of "look who's back", nostalgia move I opine Masters 25 should have done more consistently. Unfortunately, that ship has sailed, and it wasn't a Ghost Ship, except this one time.


Treefolk: 1

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 Related Tribes: Warrior

 Historicity: Null

 Comments: Oh, c'mon, just one Treefolk, and it doesn't even have a big butt? Does anybody really care about a War Mammoth that gives a 1/1 as a bonus? I mean, it's a two for one, but Treefolk is a tribe with so much potential, even for one-of inclusions, and it wasn't even part of Iconic Masters.


Vampire: 2

 

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 Related Tribes: Soldier, Warrior

 Historicity: Low

 Comments: And speaking of disappointment, Vampire is another truly historical tribe, a fan favorite even, that wasn't treated fairly in A25. Just two members, one of which has been first printed this same year? Don't get me wrong, they're solid, even highly playable (one draws you a card, the other is one of the always coveted 1-drop 2/2s), but they're still two throwaway commons for a tribe that's filled with terrific, groundbreaking creatures.


Vedalken: 1

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 Related Tribes: Knight

 Historicity: Medium to High

 Comments: The more famous Vedalkens would end up being the Artificers of Mirrodin and of the Esper shard of Alara. But the tribe showed up in a less technological form on Ravnica, too, and Court Hussar is a good example of this other side: an overall excellent card that saw plenty of play for its inherent card advantage and the cheap stopping power. If only one Vedalken had to be inducted into A25, it might well be this one.


Warrior: 10

   

> summary <

 Related Tribes: Elephant, Elf, Giant, Human, Ogre, Rat, Treefolk, Vampire

 Historicity: Medium

 Comments: Warrior, the third largest tribe in the game, is as much filler-prone as Soldier, maybe more. Rather than finding the most memorable Warriors ever printed, A25 took the tribe down memory lane, giving a fresh coat of paint to a couple of very old, hopelessly outdated guys: Erg Raiders from Arabian Nights (last time seen on Fifth Edition), and Stangg from Legends (only formerly reprinted in Chronicles). The former's black-silhouetted new art is actually very appealing, whereas Stangg looks like the character from some opera buffa: a sturdy, bald black guy with a red beard, glaring at you? I wish there was an entirely different art for his twin token: maybe he has red hair and no beard! And look at that mechanic: you pay 6 mana, but you don't even get two independent creatures; and they're just vanilla 3/4s, not anything particularly board-shattering. Ah, those old-timey critters.


Wizard: 10

   

   

> summary <

 Related Tribes: Dragon, Faerie, Goblin, Human, Merfolk

 Historicity: Severe

 Comments: Wizard doesn't disappoint. Vendilion Clique and Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind would already be enough to call this selection a success, but we also get Shadowmage Infiltrator and Willbender, both heavily played at some point or other (and yeah, Willbender is a morpher). Plus, Magus of the Wheel is an apt representative of the Magi supercycle, and Auramancer has her applications, as it's the kind of ETB trigger that you may want to abuse. Then Dragon's Eye Savants is just filler, and Jalira, Master Polymorphist is a junk rare from M15, awkwardly attempting to be Polymorph on legs. You can't win them all.


Wolf: 2

 

> summary <

 Historicity: Medium

 Comments: These are two perfectly serviceable Wolves. The tribe is larger than one might think, but doesn't have many highlights (Witchstalker, Wolfir Silverheart, Wolfir Avenger). Watchwolf was actually played in Selesnya builds back in the time, as a strictly sturdier 2-drop bear, and M13's Timberpack Wolf is reminiscent (in name only) of the original Timber Wolves, which couldn't be reprinted because nobody wants to have to deal with banding ever again.


Worm: 1

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 Historicity: High

 Comments: Worm is a silly, tiny tribe we could just make do without in A25 (unlike Wurm, which should have been there), but I like this guy a lot because it's an entire marine ecosystem in one card. Brilliant design.


Wraith: 1

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 Historicity: Severe

 Comments: Wraith is less of a tribe and more of 5 cards that should have been given the Spirit or Specter type, but never did. Of these, Future Sight's Street Wraith is the only one that matters, not just because it's a very important part of mass reanimation archetypes like dredge and Living End, but also considering every other Wraith is essentially the same midrange guy with swampwalk over and over again.


Zombie: 5

  

 

> summary <

 Related Tribes: Barbarian, Beast, Mutant, Soldier

 Historicity: Medium

 Comments: Admittedly, it was hard to do Zombie properly, because the tribe is among the richest and most diverse in the game, and yet they lend themselves to common themes and mechanics. Arguably, the Zombie tribe is the most accomplished piece of meta-design in the game. This said, what we have here appears, conversely, to not have been very well-thought-out. First of all, Baloth Null and Returned Phalanx are just bad (the latter's art doesn't even make them look like Zombies; what's the deal with those golden masks?). Twisted Abomination improves matters, as it's the best of the landcycling cycle, thanks to a high power and regeneration (of course its prime destination is the graveyard, but we're in black, so there's a chance it'll come back).

 Then Phyrexian Ghoul and Undead Gladiator are both good cards, very effective sacrifice and discard outlets, respectively. They've both been played in the past, and are still relevant today; only, they seem too little to fully represent what Zombies can do. I think even just the addition of Gravecrawler would have been enough to change the overall feeling of unfinishedness of this selection, especially because it would nicely combo with the Ghoul, which is a common. Missed opportunity there.


SUMMARY

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 Check the Complete Creature Types Reference Table here.


 THE LANDCYCLERS
(click on them to go to their main tribe)

   

 

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KUMA'S TRIBAL EVALUATIONS