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By: Adam_the_Mentat, THE WOTC TOOK MY BABY AWAY
Jul 22 2014 12:00pm
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Vegetation Week: A History of Saprolings


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Hello readers! Saprolings have been near and dear to my heart since Fallen Empires. Back then, I was a young whippersnapper and had no idea how to make a proper deck before I encountered these weird token creatures. I had two decks, both gigantic because I was as Timmy as they come, and these decks were Grixis colors before Grixis was even a thing, like waaaay before, and the other was Orzhov, and, well ditto.

When I found Saprolings, and the Fungi (and one elf) that produced them in Empires, I totally latched on. I made a theme deck, Saprolings! I loved them then, and honestly, Verdeloth the Ancient got me back into magic simply by existing when I took a hiatus between high school and college.

I even created saprolings for both my high school and college art courses. Such is my love.


What is a Saproling?

From MTGSalvation: Saprolings are fungus and/or plant-based, green-aligned lifeforms. They are capable of reproducing by spontaneous generation, though thallids and some treefolk have the ability to create them as well. "Saproling" seems to be a generic term for small plant/fungus creatures rather than a specific species. As a creature type, saprolings are used for tokens only. There are about 60 cards that produce saproling tokens.


There has never been a single "Creature – Saproling" in Magic history! Every single Saproling, from those produce by Verdant Force to those grown through Spontaneous Generation has come through token generation!

Fallen Empires

'Empires brought us Saprolings. Fallen Empires was also one of those sets, in the early days of Magic, like Alliances, that printed multiple versions of cards to use different pieces of art. When I think of Saprolings from this era, I think of the saproling coming out of the compost heap in the version of Night Soil to the right of this paragraph.

The first known saprolings on Dominaria were native to Sarpadia, the setting of Fallen Empires. They shared a symbiotic relationship with the thallids and spread rapidly by feeding off of the dead from the thallid rebellion against the elves.

Havenwood a is tremendous forest in the north of Sarpadia, reaching to its northern coast. It was home to a vast elven empire. The elves lived in many isolated fortress-like villages throughout the forest. Composed of primarily hunters and druids, when trouble arose all of the farmers and hunters armed themselves and served as militia. Thelon, a powerful druid, learned to create creatures from fungus called thallids which produced saprolings. Saprolings and thallids were used as a food source when crops began to wither, but they soon grew sentient and, vastly outnumbering the elves, crushed the elven empire in a single day.

Fallen Empires gave us the original Thallid, which was reprinted numerous times, and had four different pictures in the original set. The guy to the right, Octoshroom, is sadly not available online.
Fallen Empires also gave us Night Soil, Elvish Farmer (Which is a staple in my various Saproling decks), Thallid Devourer, and Fungal Bloom which, while not working on the Farmer, still helped increase Sap production and could be used on non-token-producing fungi from the set, like Spore Flower.

Night Soil
Thallid

Tempest: 

The Next time we encounter Saprolings, it's a doozy of a card. Verdant Force is pretty darn impressive when you consider Magic days of yore and compare it, to, say, Gargantuan Gorilla.

This guy is great for multiplayer, and spawned a cycle of card like him over the years in the form of Magmatic Force, Baleful Force, Tidal Force and Celestial Force.

He was and is a popular choice for reanimation decks, so much so that he appeared in Premium Deck Series: Graveborn.

In a period of Saprolingless times, when fans thought they were forgotten like the craptastic Homarids, Verdant Force shined down his Saprolingly goodliness, and there was much rejoicing.

Verdant_Force.jpg

Urza's Saga

Urza's Saga - is the next set to include saprolings, and it only upped the card count by two, and they were sorta bad. If Sporogenesis didn't say 'nontoken' it might've been great. Sometimes when I want to throw in a little timmy with my johnny, when I am playing Commander, like Kresh the Bloodbraided, I'll throw this in for a laugh.

Greener Pastures may seem usable perhaps, again, in Commander, but it will always invariably be cut to make way for something more poignant for the deck.

In Urza's Block, Urza is starting his planeswalker journey and epic Machiavellian quest to thwart the Phyrexians' invasion (the original series, not the next generation: Mirrodin version). I could not locate on the interwebs how they explain saprolings on this part of the plane, but they could have migrated there somehow from Sarpadia, or maybe Urza's Tolarian school helped produce them through some sort of agricultural class or maybe, shut the fungus up.

Sporogenesis
Poor Pumba....

Mercadian Masques & Nemesis:

Again, I don't really know, story-wise, where these saprolings are coming from. Stylistically, though, they are beginning to look like the overall depiction of Saprolings in the Phyrexian invasion, which is a cross-combination of the Dark Ones/Muck Leech from Futurama: Into the Wild Green Yonder / Tremors / Chest-bursters from Aliens. They do not look like food.

Spontaneous Generation is a staple of my monogreen Saproling deck, because I like to produce massive amounts of saprolings and then sacrifice them all to Elvish Farmer, to gain life, while having out Fecundity, to draw cards. Do it enough, and this thing becomes profitable beyond first glimpses.

Saproling Burst was big on the tournament scene when I was playing in local card shops, but I never much cared for it. It never fit into my Saproling schemes, but it has a documented history of being a beater during its hay-day.

Saproling Cluster is fairly terrible and hardly playable.

Spontaneous Generation
Saproling Burst
 

Invasion, Planeshift, Apocalypse:

The Saprolings of Yavimaya shared ties with the treefolk of the forest. They proved remarkably effective against undead during the Phyrexian Invasion, as they would drop out of the trees and burst open, spreading rotting agents over the Phyrexian zombies that would cause them to rapidly decay. As Yavimaya had been heavily involved in preparation for the invasion, it may be that their Saprolings were specifically bred for that purpose.

This set really upped the ante, so to speak, not literally (We don't play for ante anymore, gosssssh!). Nemata? Amazing. Saproling Symbiosis? Still amazing to this day for so many reasons. Verdeloth? I was looking through a friend's Magic binder after borrowing cards from a friend to play in college, and seeing Verdeloth got me going to card stores with my crappy Burger King earnings.

The Apocalypse mutation cycle of double colored Saproling spells, not to mention Rith and Last Stand, and Rith's Charm and truly, it was a great time to be a Saproling enthusiast.


 


As an honorable mention, check out this sweet Planeshift art from Fervent Charge, which shows a Magnigoth Treefolk (the type of treefolk Verdeloth is), some Kavu and a bunch of Saprolings beating up Crovax.


At this point, Saprolings fade from Magic except for some reprints in some core sets, mostly of Verdant Force. We go through Odyssey Block, Onslaught Block, Kamigawa Block and Mirrodin Block before Ravnica picks up our little fungus-plant friends.

Ravnica, Dissension, Guildpact:

Saprolings exist on the plane of Ravnica. They are more plant-like than the fungal Dominarian saprolings, resembling crystals enveloped in floral tendrils. They are common in the Selesnya Conclave, where they bond with the guild's root-kin elementals. The Golgari Guild's saprolings are made of the bond between plants and rotting flesh. They are also featured to a minor extent in the other two part-green guilds.

Ulasht, the Hate Seed is clearly Gruul and spits out Saprolings. Flash Foliage's flavor text indicate the Simic Guild was experimenting with them. Fertile Imagination, though it looks like it may be some Saps growing out of a dead-dude's head, seeming Golgari, the card is in Dissension, which featured only Simic in terms of part-green guilds. The blue veiny-ness of the growing spore also points to Simic.

While there are a ton of great Saproling producers in this block, the Johnny in me loves the interaction with Fists of Ironwood, Bramble Elemental and Flickerform, a very nontraditional way to produce tons of Saproling tokens. If you throw in an enchantress of some kind, that's a fun deck.

Fists of Ironwood

Time Spiral, Planar Chaos, Future Sight, Timeshifted:

For a while in Magic we hadn't seen hide nor hair of Dominaria. Time Spiral Block brought us back to Dominaria after a long absence and visiting other planes like Mirrodin or Ravnica.

This set was all about time rifts happening all over the plane thanks to Teferi; It paved the way for the new card type of planeswalker and tied up a crapton of loose ends -- but the important thing is it brought us back to places already explored, which included Yavimaya and Sarpadia and, by proxy, it gave us loads more new Sap-producers.

I don't know the absolute nitty-gritty of the storyline here, but Sarpadia was revisited as many of the fungi in the sets were named "something thallid" or "thallid something." On top of that, Thallid was timeshifted, and the tome quoted on so many Fallen Empires cards, Sarpadian Empires, Vol. VII was an artifact that could produce Saps. Verdeloth the Ancient was also timeshifted, so we got reprints of Sap-producers of yore from both Sarpadia and Yavimaya.

Planar Chaos gave us some nifty white creatures that were colorshifted sporekin. Pallid Mycoderm has a Nemata, Grove Guardian ability to it and Mycologist is a colorshifted Elvish Farmer. It also gave us Life and Limb, a Kormus Bell hyped up on green mana steroids. I like to combo Life and Limb with Conspiracy, which was also timeshifted. If you slap out a Terra Eternal and/or Steely Resolve it can be really fun.

Time Spiral gave us a lot of fungi who collected spore counters, but rather than reprint Fungal Bloom, it gave us both Sporesower Thallid and Sporoloth Ancient. Sporoloth Ancient is fun because it turns Feral Thallid and Spore Flower into the fungi they were meant to be.

Finally, let's talk about Thelon of Havenwood, the definitive proof we have revisited Sarpadia. He's the dude who created thallids and saprolings in the first place. Read about him here. He's also great with Conspiracy.

The artwork for Sprout Swarm, seen to the right (last picture) shows the crystaly-plant-appendage form of Saprolings from the Future Sight era.





Lorwyn/Morningtide/Shadowmoor/Eventide was focused on fantasy tropes from gaelic, celtic, and olde english which left no room for our plant-like fungal-seeming friends.

 Shards of Alara:

Saprolings exist on the shattered plane of Alara, in the shard of Jund. Fungi apear in other shards, such as Naya (ex: Mycoid Shepherd), but Saps seem to be solely on Jund. Tukatongue Thallid and (Spouting Thrinax) drop saps when they perish, and Mycoloth seems apt to devour them. Necrogenesis, a 'fixed' version of (Nightsoil) and Morbid Bloom can find uses for the devoured dead. Jund Battlemage can produce Saprolings, and Spore Burst paired Sap production with Domain.

Apparently, Jund's thallids, as Tukatongue Thallid's flavor text extolls, are delicious, hence why they are so Devourable.

 Tukatongue_Thallid_f.jpg

Again, we face a period of three blocks which are saprolingless. Zendikar focused more on actual plant tokens; Scars of Mirrodin revisited both Mirrodin and the Phyrexians, and included no Saprolings. Innistrad was horror-movie tropes-themed, and though the Yavimaya Saps during the Phyrexian Invasion were pretty darn scary, they weren't conventional.

Return to Ravnica Block saw only one card with Saproling creation on it, Korozda Guildmage: A Golgari-aligned guildmage. Though riddled with Saproling producers in its original set, by Return to Ravnica the plane of Ravnica has apparently all but ceased producing new saprolings. Selensya Guild seems content producing centaurs while Simic and Gruul don't have any associate with them anymore either.

 

Theros Block skipped Saprolings as well, and rightly so. Ain't no Saprolings in ancient Greek mythology tropes.


 

 Core Sets:

Since Magic 2010 or M10 began inserting new cards into core sets, occasionally core sets give us some new cards.

Fungal Sprouting is an amazing Sap-producer if you have a huge Mycoloth. Sporemound has a Landfall trigger which produces Saprolings, while Druidic Satchel can also produce them based on what you pull off the top of your library. Jade Mage has the first half of Nemata, Grove Guardian's abilities and if you have extra mana, it's a great token maker. 


Special Sets:

 When monsoons devastated the land of Drakkus, the herds drowned and the harvests washed away. The humans there were forced to the fungal forests to find sustenance, and find it they did—in the form of the mycoids and their saproling offspring. What the humans saw as salvation, the mycoids called genocide, and they declared war on the invading mammals. Mages tore through the sporeborn troops with fire and steel. Only when the mycoid hero Ghave, Guru of Spores emerged did the tide finally turn. Gifted with mystic influence over the sporeborn, Ghave sculpted the fungal matter of his people into an ever-mutating army and reclaimed his forest home.

Where the heck is Drakkus? Is it a plane? Is it a place on a plane? Who knows. All I know is Ghave is one of the best Commanders ever printed. He combos with +1/+1 Counters, he combos with token production staples and he combos especially well with Saproling production. He is epic, and I thank WOTC for him.

Also in special sets, appearing in the 2012 Planechase deck Savage Auras, led by Krond the Dawn-Clad, is Dreampod Druid. He was reprinted in Vintage Masters. Modern Masters gave us new pictures for Thallid and for Thallid Germinator.


Support Cards that Saproling Enthusiasts Should Know and Love:

  • Fecundity: This card will change your life and perception of good Saproling decks if you add it alongside a ton of Saproling production and an Elvish Farmer. Sacrifice a Saproling to the farmer, gain two life and a card. If you can work it right, you can cast a massive Spontaneous Generation. To a lesser extent, the VMA/Conspiracy card (Deathreap Ritual) works as a less powerful version, and may warrant inclusion in a Saproling-themed Commander deck that also features black. 
  • Doubling Season: Probably the best addition to Saproling decks, it'll double your tokens and the spore counters on Fungi. Primal Vigor does a good job at being not-as-good strictly as Doubling Season, because it gives the ability to all players like some sort of mana flare for tokens and counters. Parallel Lives is a nice add to any Sap deck, but it won't double spore counters.
  • Parallel Evolution, originating before any of the cards listed in the second bullet point, was a great spell from Torment that could be flashbacked to up your saproling count.
  • Rhys the Redeemed and (Trostani, Selsnya's Voice) mighty come in handy. Essence Warden too.
  • Gaea's Anthem; Shared Triumph; Shared Animosity; Cover of Darkness; Coat of Arms; Creature-type based stuff or buffs like Gauntlet of Power.
  • An-Havva Inn was a staple in my early paper Sap decks, but it doesn't exist on MTGO :(. Luminescent Rain is almost ok, but the Inn would include your Fungi and green support creatures.
  • Citanul Hierophants and Earthcraft used to be the old school way I would sorta rock Life and Limb.
  • Conspiracy, as I've mentioned, can make everything on your board into either Saprolings or Fungi.
  • Cards with Proliferate, Populate, or Gilder Bairn.
  • I'm sure I've forgotten some cards I want to mention and I'll only notice after publication.

What more can I say about Saprolings, other than: "Please continue to make cards that produce them WOTC!" ?

Here are some helpful links:

  • A history of Dominaria, which is context for much of the Dominarian Saprolings: Click Here.
  • A history of Thelon of Havenwood, who created Saprolings in Sarapadia during Fallen Empires: Click Here.
  • A Gatherer search of all the Saproling-producing cards in Magic the Gathering: Click Here.
  • A Gatherer search of all the Fungi, Saproling-producing or not, and all the cards that affect Fungi, for fun: Click Here.
  • Some specifics on the plane of Ravnica, where Saprolings also thrive: Click Here.

Thanks for Reading!

 

4 Comments

That is one massive, by Kumagoro42 at Wed, 07/23/2014 - 08:33
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That is one massive, exhaustive Saproling treatise! Kudos!

Now I've one more reason to be glad I decided to cover only Plant and Treefolk for my 'pedia (mostly just because I wanted to call it Dendropedia, and Fungi wouldn't fit the denomination).

Some notes:

Saproling Cluster would be great if it didn't say, for unfathomable reasons, "Any player may play this ability." It's a fast, solid discard outlet. It makes you able to download your fattie to the graveyard and get a saproling for Recurring Nightmare (or even Natural Order), which is more than Bitterblossom does for the same cost. In fact, I might even try it in a Rec.dec. If the opponent isn't reanimator/graveyard based as well, they'll just get to exchange a couple lands for 1/1 blockers, not a big deal.

Do you like Verdeloth better than Nemata? I also was playing saproling decks back then (of course I was), and never cared much for Verdeloth because there was already Nemata in his slot, and he couldn't compare.

"We go through Odyssey Block, Onslaught Block, Kamigawa Block and Mirrodin Block": Mirrodin came before Kamigawa.
There's a mnemonic way to remember the sets' order. Starting from when they first organized new releases into 3-set blocks, they are doing 7-year cycles, and the first block of each cycle is a MIR: MIRage, MIRrodin, Scars of MIRrodin. There are also other recurring elements within the 7-year cycle. I might write an article about this.

You can tell Fertile Imagination is clearly Simic because its name merges a green watchword, "fertile", with a blue watchword, "imagination".

I like your formatting, has a by RexDart at Thu, 07/24/2014 - 10:44
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I like your formatting, has a good look to it. Also, what did you use to make the extra banners?

photoshop by Adam_the_Mentat at Thu, 07/24/2014 - 23:08
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I was a graphic designer for many, many years for an NYC marketing company. I use photoshop CS5 presently.
The formating is owing to using html tables without borders. I used to design webpages and still do occasionally freelance. I can write code in notepad. I'm not trying to sound pompous, I'm just answering ya!

Sounds reasonable to me. :) by Paul Leicht at Fri, 07/25/2014 - 02:08
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Sounds reasonable to me. :) Though there are a number of people have done that it is not that often you find people who have the knack for it. As a graphic design background helps a lot with layout issues and technology familiarity that all seems like a reasonable explanation. (Though I knew all that already. :D)