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By: CottonRhetoric, Cotton Rhetoric
Apr 03 2013 7:03am
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Anyone who watches the Doctor Who reboot knows there's something alluring about the last of a species' kind. For Magic players who don't get the reference, Thrun, the Last Troll.

But what about the only one of a species' kind? (Is it even a species at that point?) There at 19 creatures in Magic who share a creature type with nobody else—quite a feat in a game that consistently scrutinizes and updates its tribes. As of August 15, 2012, there are 224 tribes in circulation. Two sets have been printed since then, but neither has any new tribes—just new combinations.

So let's take a walk through these peculiarities, in chronological order.

Cockatrice  

Cockatrice
(Alpha, 1993)

Alpha was full of screwy creature types. A lot of cards had types matching their card name, like Gaea's Liege or Fungusaur. Some creatures' tribes reflected their abilities, like the quaint "summon mana birds." Then there are creature types that simply got phased out, like Roc becoming Bird, or Nymph becoming Dryad, or Bodyguard becoming... Human. (One of my favorites? Force of Nature used to simply be a "summon force"!)

But did you know that out of every oddball tribal type in Alpha (and believe me, I've only scratched the surface), Cockatrice was the only one to remain unique after the grand tribal update? It's true. Gone are the Paladin and the Shadow and the Clone and the Lord of Atlantis types. Only the Cockatrice stands.

Power rating: ●● (out of 5)
They're good at blocking, and they can take down nearly anything, but they can't survive anything Serra Angel-sized or larger. And you can't combo them with Lure as profitably as you could their partners Thicket Basilisk.

Odds of staying unique: ●●●
Deathly glares are very explorable in mechanical terms, but unfortunately for the cockatrices of the world, they're already being divided among both Basilisks (11 strong) and Gorgons (7 of these). Why have three tribal types that do the same thing? (Then again, we do have knights, soldiers, warriors, and berserkers all in high numbers.)

     
     
 

Spawn
(Legends, 1994)

Spawning Pit makes Spawn tokens, and tons of cards make Eldrazi Spawns... but Elder Spawn is the only card to have spawn written on the creature type line. It counts.

It must be pointed out: at a 6/6, this card sure doesn't have a lot in common with those tokens!

Power ranking:
If you want a big creature, there are better options. If you want to hose red, there are better options. If you want to hardcast a spawn, this is your only option. (inb4 changelings)
 

Odds of staying unique: ●●●●●
That's right, five! Why am I so cocky? Because if Wizards wanted to make more creatures have the spawn type, they would have given it to Deep Spawn, Pit Spawn, Isleback Spawn, Spawn of Rix Maadi, or Vertigo Spawn! But they didn't.

     
     
Rabid Wombat  

Wombat
(Legends, 1994)

I was nothing short of flabbergasted when I found out Wombat was a unique type. Rosewater loves this card. So do tons of fans. Why has it not been given any peers? All it got was a lousy Timeshifted reprint. Orgg got that and three spinoffs!  (I like Orgg more than most people, but you have to admit it's a less popular card than Rabid Wombat.)

Yes yes it got plenty of references, in cards like Auramancer's Guise, Evershrike, Kor Spiritdancer, and Uril, the Miststalker, but it hasn't gotten a single other friend to hang out with.

Power rating: ●●
When it was printed, it arguably deserved a 3. It was the only card like it, and it was a favorite of many kitchen table players. Now though, we simply have better options, and lots of them.
 

Odds of staying unique: ●●●
Had you asked me 10 years ago, I would have said a 1. But now I'm beginning to wonder: if WotC has gone this long without printing any wombats, perhaps it's on purpose? The tribe's absence in Time Spiral Block was a pretty damning statement. They even brought back Eye! I can't count it out completely though.

     
     
 

Nameless Race
(The Dark, 1994)

Their Oracle creature type is not listed. As of the grand update, they do not have a creature type. So does this count as a unique tribe? It depends on your definition. You couldn't fetch them with a Brass Herald or play them with a Belbe's Portal. But I worded the criterion as creatures "who share a creature type with nobody else." These guys do not share a creature type with any other creature. I'm counting them.

Has anyone ever played this card? Would anyone? It starts to read really well, like an undercosted Minion of the Wastes, but then you get to the last clause about white permanents and its utility goes down the drain. Not even with a Painter's Servant combo is this worth the time.

Power ranking:
This card's only real contribution to Magic is the trivia and humor of its type line. And that wasn't even present in its original printing!
 

Odds of staying unique: ●●●●
This is a possible candidate for receiving five stars, as it's very hard to see WotC repeating this gag. But consider this. What if there is another tribal block, like Lorwyn, only this time the gimmick is not to go creatures with two tribes, but creatures with zero? This would prevent them from being hosed by "choose a creature type" cards. Right now, Nameless Race is the only creature in Magic that cannot be hurt by an Engineered Plague!
 

     
     
Joven's Ferrets  

Ferret
(Homelands, 1995)

Nice pet, Joven!

I'm being sarcastic!

Power rating:
Like most Homelands cards, this is utter bunk. In some sort of sadistic joke, it gets +0/+2 while attacking, and sister card Folk of An-Havva get +2/+0 while blocking. What's that about!
 

Odds of staying unique: ●●●
There's no driving force to reprint another ferret. But there is also absolutely no reason not to. Gremlins got a second card, and that seemed even less likely. We had a meerkat. We've had multiple mongeese. Why not this oddly-shaped animal, too?
 

     
     
Giant Oyster  

Oyster
(Homelands, 1995)

Having an oyster in your army makes as much sense as having a venus fly trap. Of course, there was one of those in The Dark....

Power rating:
I tried to play with this card when it came out. It didn't work. I tried it again when Time Spiral came out, this time having the ability to power it up with Thousand-Year Elixir, Rings of Brighthearth, and Paradox Haze. Guess what? It still didn't work. This card is as good as the rest of Homelands: not good!!
 

Odds of staying unique: ●●
Here's my prediction. We will not only have another oyster card, we will have several. They will be a cycle, and the theme is that they contain treasures inside them, the way real-life oysters sometimes have pearls. They won't help you fight; they will just give you things. Like those guys in Megaman that drop down and give you a powerup. You know those guys. The red things.
 

     
     
Brushwagg  

Brushwagg
(Mirage, 1996)

People who don't play Magic: "What's a brushwagg?"

People who play Magic: "It's an animal that looks like tumbleweed with a cat's head poking out."

Dictionary.com: "No results found for brushwagg. Did you mean brushwork?"

Okay, so this isn't one of those times when playing Magic makes us smarter. It still helps us to win Who Wants To Be A Millionaire though (scroll down to the Crash of Rhinos section).

Power rating: ●●
It's an acceptable body. But it can never kill anybody unassisted. But it can survive a Hill Giant. But it can't survive a Lightning Bolt. But it's kind of like an Armored Transport. But people don't use that outside of limited. But this can also block....
 

Odds of staying unique: ●●●●
A lot of us expected this to lose its type during the grand update and become a cat beast, or a wolf mutant, or a vampire plant, or an anything-except-brushwagg-sheesh. But it didn't, and it's not beloved enough to get a reference years later. And yet, I have to keep coming back to that Gremlin incident....
 

     
     
Phyrexian Dreadnought  

Dreadnought
(Mirage, 1995)

Force of Nature, then Colossus of Sardia, then Leviathan, then Polar Kraken, then Phyrexian Dreadnought, then Krosan Cloudscraper, and we're still waiting for the 14/14! And since Emrakul, the Aeons Torn doesn't have trample, we technically need a guy of his size as well.

The first four cards in the cycle had kitsch value going for them. The dreadnought was actually powerful, though. His mana to p/t ratio has never been surpassed, and his clause has an unbelievable number of workarounds. You could Stifle it, or use Illusionary Mask, or Fling, or Pandemonium, or Sundial of the Infinite, or Torpor Orb, or....

Power rating: ●●●●
If you use it honestly? One. But why would you do that? Just reread the last sentence of the previous paragraph and you'll understand the true spirit of the dreadnought.
 

Odds of staying unique: ●●
You cannot suppress something as cool as a dreadnought. What a perfect word! It's not a juggernaut or a colossus or a giant golem. It's a dreadnought. D r e a d n o u g h t. It's beauty. It's poetry. We need more of these. Any war-themed block would create an opening. (If you aren't already aware, look up the original meaning of the word before MtG coopted it to mean a gigantic metal monster.)

     
     
Gibbering Hyenas  

Hyena
(Mirage, 1995)

And Mirage is in the lead with three unique creature types! It's also the most recent expansion to have more than one. Yes, we're currently in an 8-year streak of sets containing no more than one unique creature type. I bet you've never heard that statistic before.

Power rating: ●●
Before we had Trained Armodon, we had Gibbering Hyenas. It might sound hard to believe now, in the days of Leatherback Baloth, but in 1995, a green creature costing 3 and with a power of 3 was at the top of its curve. Gorilla Pack got a huge drawback for those stats. Brushwagg could not so much as kill a Llanowar Elves. And Elvish Ranger was killed by Llanowar Elves. Of course, zoo decks generally preferred the 2/2 Jolrael's Centaur over any of those as their three-drop, but Gibbering Hyenas was the Fusion Elemental to his Cromat. (Kind of....)

Meanwhile, green's three-drops were being outclassed by blue's Serendib Efreet and black's Hypnotic Specter. But at least we had finally caught up to red's Brassclaw Orcs!

It's no wonder that beatdown was rarely a viable strategy back then. And that nobody serious was playing green.

Odds of stying unique:
I could easily see hyenas being printed more some day. They're a well known entity in real life, and they're carnivorous. The creepiness of their laugh is also fairly evocative. Why aren't there already more?

     
     
Spiny Starfish  

Starfish
(Alliances, 1996)

Starfish are famous for exactly one thing and this card captures it perfectly. When you thought it was dead, it's still alive, and in fact another grew out of that stump you cut off. The only card that captures this spirit so well is Sprouting Phytohydra, but that was green so they had to make up an animal instead of using starfish.

Unfortunately, the artist didn't get the science of it as well as design and development did. He thinks that new starfish are just shot out of the old one's stomach at machine-gun rates.

The only question is, should starfish be as large a creature as an 0/1? If an Eager Cadet is attacking me and a starfish gets in his way, would it even slow him down? Maybe these are giant starfish.

Power rating:
I cast this in 1996 against my brother. He went two turns without attacking, thus thwarting any plans I had of making new creatures. (See, it can't work unless it would die first.) Then he attacked once, and I finally got a token! A worthless, non-regenerating token. Then he attacked again and killed me, making me wonder why I had wasted three mana on this garbage.
 

Odds of staying unique: ●●
I don't see this as being doomed to isolation for too much longer. As I said above, starfish have a thing that they're known for in real life, making them perfect for the flavor focus WotC's been pushing since Magic 2010.

     
     
Chambered Nautilus  

Nautilus
(Mercadian Masques, 1999)

I'll admit it, I hadn't heard of this card until I started researching for this article. In fact, I hadn't even heard of the animal, unless you count the exercise equipment named after it. It's real though, and the art captures it pretty accurately.

It was printed as a beast, but they changed it to a nautilus beast. Unnecessary, perhaps, but technically correct.

Power rating: ●●
It wasn't worthless in limited. For constructed, that same set had the cheaper and combo-friendlier Saprazzan Heir. Which itself doesn't deserve more than a rating of 2.

Odds of staying unique: ●●●●
When is the last time anyone ever wanted, missed, expected, or asked for a nautilus?

     
     
Walking Sponge   

Sponge
(Urza's Legacy, 1999)

Not EVERY blue card in the Urza block is broken!

The flavor for this card actually kind of makes sense. Sponges absorb thing. And as shown in the art, this sponge is absorbing creatures' abilities. Cool.

Power rating:
Maybe if it had higher p/t... and vigilance... and it affected a few more abilities... permanently....

Do I sound greedy? I should be making more demands! Even with all those it still wouldn't be very good.

Odds of staying unique: ●●
This card shows how doable the sponge flavor is. And this is hardly the only implementation of it. Experiment Kraj possibly could have been a sponge. As could Llanowar Behemoth!

     
     
Prowling Pangolin   

Anteater
(Onslaught, 2002)

He might be the only anteater in Magic... but at least he has plenty of ants to choose from. (Yavimaya Ants, Carrion Ants, Army Ants...). In fact, being the only anteater might even be a benefit, since he has less competition for his meals.

I'm thinking about his change from Beast to Anteater Beast though, and it's making me think of a question. A one-word question. "Why?"

Look at this guy's artwork and then look at real anteaters. Why is he called one? He has a similar body shape, but he also has scales (wrong), huge claws (wrong), and—most importantly of all—NO ELONGATED SNOUT!  In other words, the single most important characteristic of an anteater... the one that allows them to, well, eat ants... and this guy's missing it! It's pretty clear that Heather Hudson was not imagining an anteater when she drew this thing. A giant armadillo, maybe. A dream she once had, that's possible as well. But not any kind of an anteater!!

Power rating: ●●
I played this in casual a couple of times. Either half was a decent deal. Or you could remove your opponent's option by running a lot of creature removal, so they wouldn't have two creatures to sacrifice. Don't forget the Nausea to remove all of those 1/1 tokens first! (Or you could just play with a better 5-drop.)
 

Odds of staying unique: ●●●
"This game needs more anteaters," said nobody ever about anything in history.

     
     
Rustspore Ram  

Rustspore Ram
(Mirrodin, 2003)

Of course there are ways to get sheep tokens. Ovinomancer was taking care of that since 1996! Unglued helped out with Flock of Rabid Sheep two years later. This guy is the only creature though. He is made of metal so I'm not sure he should count. But nobody asked me! (Could we at least change him to a "sheep construct"? I'll put it this way: a flock of real sheep would not want to play with this thing.)

Flavorwise, they should have just made it a goat. That's the old joke, isn't it? An animal that eats metal? Well, once again, nobody asked me.

Power rating: ●●
It had mild usefulness in limited, but even then it was a late pick. Mirrodin's equipment-heavy set was this guy's ideal place to shine. Obviously he's not as good in a mixed-set environment.

Odds of staying unique: ●●●●
I would like more sheep in Magic! It's hard to think of a good role for them though. I get upset at the thought of them attacking (or blocking!). And what is left for a creature to do? Ping creatures, but does anyone want to see a sheep wizard? Draw cards, but does a sheep librarian make any sense? It's a tough one.

     
     
Hunted Lammasu   

Lammasu
(Ravnica, 2005)

Lammasu! I would have thought that by 2005 WotC would have these bizarre creature types out of their system, but apparently not! (And not by a long shot, as you'll see in the below few items.)

How come nobody else in the hunted cycle got a made-up card type, huh? They were all trolls and dragons and stuff.

Power rating: ●●
Hunted Phantasm, Hunted Troll, and Hunted Horror could combo with Leyline of Singularity for some big, undercosted beats. Hunted Dragon was used without any specific combination since its stats and abilities made it into a more powerful Lava Axe that didn't really care about the tokens it made. And Hunted Lammasu... have you ever seen it on a battlefield? Please describe it in the comments section if you have.  I haven't.

Odds of staying unique: ●●
Lammasus aren't a household name (except for households in which Magic or D&D are played), but that's fine. Neither are manticores, wyverns, or rocs, and there are plenty of them. Lammasus are defined, they're mighty, and they're cool. We could use more of them, and very well might see some the next time our block needs meaty white fliers that aren't all angels.

     
     
Assembly-Worker  

Assembly-Worker
(Time Spiral, 2006)

Antiquities' Mishra's Factory could become an Assembly-Worker in 1994. We didn't get a native one until twelve years later though. And you're lookin' at 'im.

What are they assembling? All they do is fight and make each other stronger. This is not a good business plan for your factory. Then again, we live on Earth, not Dominaria. Things may be different there. Macroeconomics might not exist. Have they heard of supply and demand? I know they're familiar with The Law of Diminishing Returns....

Power rating: 
This was printed for one reason: nostalgia. Unless you count "aw that's cute" and "aw that's clever" as additional reasons. But playability was certainly not on that list.

Odds of staying unique: ●●●●●
Another five! I am calling shots today. There is nothing else to possibly do with this "tribe" besides reference the original. Unless you want to turn them into the next slivers, with each Assembly-Worker tapping to give one another different abilities. This sounds like a nightmarish, dystopian future to me though. One in which Magic is either about to stop making money or already did a year earlier.

     
     
Alluring Siren  

Siren
(Magic 2010... printed in 2009, paradoxically)

The call of the siren has been around since Alpha. And we had to wait 15 years to see where that call was coming from! Was it worth the wait? Was it an anticlimax? You decide.

One thing is for sure: this new siren has better fashion sense than the original. (Sorry Anson! We still love you.)

Power rating:
The best part of Siren's Call was combining it with tap effects to destroy your opponent's creatures. The new one can't do that! All it's "good" for is breaking up stalemates and occasionally making your opponent lose a small creature. But if you're in a situation where that's helpful, you probably have the advantage anyway and don't need a stinking siren to exacerbate it. Did you notice how I put good in quotations?

Odds of staying unique:
That's right, one out of five. We will see another siren. This one has already been printed in three consecutive sets. Eventually they'll make one with the destroy clause reinstated. And they'll make ones that affect multiple creatures. Count on it.

     
     
Razor Hippogriff  

Hippogriff
(Scars of Mirrodin, 2010)

What is a hippogriff besides a Harry Potter thing? Actually it's kind of like a Lammasu: one of those old mythical hybrid animals that's fallen out of popularity lately. And yet it's not the expected combination of a hippopotamus and a griffin; it's a mare and a griffin. Which is weird enough, and then you realize that a griffin is itself a mythical hybrid animal, of a lion and an eagle!

What a mess!!!  My new animal is going to be called a felinegriff, and it's a combination of a dog and a hippogriff, how about that.

Power rating: ●●●●
It's good in limited. It's good in constructed. It isn't broken or anything, but it's solid!

Odds of staying unique: ●●
Unlike the others, this one hasn't been sitting around for ten years lonelily.* It's hot off the presses, and with Top 8 steam in its wake. There I go again with the mixed metaphors. But the (sort of)popularity of this card is practically begging for an addition to the tribe.

___
* "Lonelily" is actually a word—isn't that awesome?

     
     
Signal Pest   

Pest
(Mirrodin Besieged, 2011)

Our most recent unique creature is a semi-unique one, thanks to 2003's Nuisance Engine. But you can't get a Nuisance Engine with a Riptide Shapeshifter!

When will WotC just keyword this half-flying ability? And when will they make up their minds as to whether it's stoppable by reach? Treetop Scout walked right past those spiders. I'm not sure why; spiders can climb trees. According to Signal Pest's flavor text, he travels through the same trees that the elf does.

Power rating: ●●●●
Aggro decks everywhere proved that, while Scare Tactics isn't a good card, it becomes one when made into a permanent for no additional cost. Or if you prefer, compare the pest to Orcish Oriflamme.  It's one-fourth of the cost!

Odds of staying unique: ●●
Pests won't be printed often. But WotC likes a cheap small artifact creature every now and then, and "pest" is a proven card type for it. The two cards having both appeared in Mirrodin sets makes the new one seem primarily nostalgic... but I don't think it'll stay that way forever.

 

Let's recap, sorted by their odds of staying unique!

1: Hyena, Siren (LOOK FOR THESE CREATURE TYPES)

2: Oyster, Dreadnought, Starfish, Sponge, Lammasu, Hippogriff, Pest (probably, at some point!)

3: Cockatrice, Wombat, Ferret, Anteaters (maybe!)

4: (nameless), Brushwagg, Nautilus, Sheep (probably not!)

5: Spawn, Assembly-Worker (no, N.O., no-zero*)

___
* "No-Zero" is something Ice-T once said that I never fully got but instantly liked.

14 Comments

Mistype. by AJ_Impy at Wed, 04/03/2013 - 07:45
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Mistype.

Did a Lammasu Tribal deck by AJ_Impy at Wed, 04/03/2013 - 07:44
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Did a Lammasu Tribal deck once back when Moat was legal: The horror token doesn't have flying. 'Hippo' is Latin for 'Horse' (Hippopotamus being 'horse of the river'), although what a griffin is doing with one, eh, just blame a wizard.

Just to be an ass, I have to by jaspax at Wed, 04/03/2013 - 10:02
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Just to be an ass, I have to point out that "hippos" means 'horse' in *Greek*, not Latin.

The first literary reference by Paul Leicht at Wed, 04/03/2013 - 14:23
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The first literary reference to Hippogriff that I can cite is from the Compleat Enchanter a book by L'Sprague De Camp and Fletcher Pratt. I read it in the late 70s but the stories range from the 1940s forward. Funny stuff by the way. Anyway that provides some provenance for the odd bird I hope.

Hum this is good to know. by CottonRhetoric at Wed, 04/03/2013 - 19:43
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Hum this is good to know. Thank you!

"My new animal is going to be by Rerepete at Wed, 04/03/2013 - 11:50
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"My new animal is going to be called a felinegriff, and it's a combination of a dog and a hippogriff, how about that"

That would be a cat (feline) cross not a dog (canine)

Alluring siren should be a merfolk ala Seasinger.

That was the joke :) by CottonRhetoric at Wed, 04/03/2013 - 19:43
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That was the joke :)

Love the article! by caliban17 at Thu, 04/04/2013 - 11:03
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Great stuff, I love looking at forgotten classic cards.

I never realized Siren was introducing a new type to Magic...

I think that they could still do a little consolidation here.

-Hyena could become Hound, which is applied pretty widely.

-Anteater is a weird one, but it could just lose the Anteater and be a beast. I appreciate them adding to the Beasts of this era (Slug Beast, Frog Beast, etc) but creating a type just for this seems pointless.

-Brushwagg could be a Cat Elemental Beast or something else weird to keep its weird flavor.

-Nautilus could be Squid. They're related, and Squid could use some help.

-Sheep should probably be Goat, I agree.

-Spawn could just be Elemental. Spawn doesn't really mean anything and there's other cards with Spawn in the title that don't have it as you say.

Most of this stuff are by Kumagoro42 at Thu, 04/04/2013 - 14:32
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Most of this stuff is a residual of failed consolidations back in 2007 during The Grand Creature Type Update. Occasionally they fix something. For instance, they created Anemone back then (what's with this obsession for marine creatures?), because of Glowing Anemone. At some point, they realized it was just stupid, and now Glowing Anemone is a Jellyfish.

Great stuff. But since it's by Kumagoro42 at Thu, 04/04/2013 - 14:18
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5

Great stuff. But since it's my territory, I need to correct you about one thing: 224 are the creature types currently existing in the game. 20 of them aren't featured on the type line of any actual card, they just exist as tokens: Blinkmoth, Camarid, Caribou, Citizen, Coward, Deserter, Germ, Graveborn, Orb, Pentavite, Pincher, Prism, Reflection, Sand, Saproling, Serf, Splinter, Survivor, Tetravite, Triskelavite. (I like that we can say "There are cowards in Magic" or "There are survivors".)

So the tribes are actually 204 (203 online). Plus Nameless Race, that defies any classification. In fact, it never appears in lists. It's nameless AND forgotten.

Good info! I hope you don't by CottonRhetoric at Thu, 04/04/2013 - 16:00
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Good info! I hope you don't mind my traipsing through your territory.

Absolutely not. I actually by Kumagoro42 at Thu, 04/04/2013 - 20:48
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Absolutely not. I actually hope your tribal traipsing will lead you to play in Tribal Apocalypse one of these days. :)

You even finally pushed me into adding Spawn to my creature types database. It's MTGO-based, but it mentions what's missing online. Spawn wasn't there because its online quantity is zero, but it feels right to put it in the list nonetheless.

Sheesh! I wish I had known by CottonRhetoric at Fri, 04/05/2013 - 07:25
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Sheesh! I wish I had known about that chart when I was researching this article.

See what you miss by not by Kumagoro42 at Fri, 04/05/2013 - 08:39
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See what you miss by not coming to Tribal Apocalypse? :)