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By: CottonRhetoric, Cotton Rhetoric
Apr 24 2013 12:45pm
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It's happened with Werewolves in Innistrad; it's happened with Scarecrows in Shadowmoor; it's happened with Treefolk in Lorwyn.  Every once in a while, WotC takes a creature type that's only been printed a few times and expands in into a fully defined tribe. I'll be using this premise to figure out what the next big tribe is going to be.

Of course, WotC also frequently prints brand new tribes, but I can't predict those. Who could have guessed before the first Ravnica block came out that Weirds would be a thing? Or that something called "Sarrakul" would ever exist?

Below are (nearly) all of the tribes that have between 2 and 5 creatures currently in print. (Why not tribes with only 1 creature? I covered those in a previous article. And for the ones with 6+ creatures—wait a week.)

I've excluded cards that were already part of a cycle (like Elders or Bringers). I also am not counting tribal types only mentioned as tokens (like Citizens). For each tribe, I'll discuss them a little and comment on their likelihood of being fleshed out one day. Come along, if you'd like. It's sure to be the adventure of a tooth time.

 

Giant Badger    

Badgers

Currently in print: 3

Most recent: Mercadian Masques, 1999

Assessment: Not our strongest candidate. A badger is a small, weak animal (although two of the ones already printed are able to kill an elephant). They don't have much potential for flavor, as a badger is just a plain old predatory animal. They have a low in-game popularity, and arguably an even lower out-of-game popularity. Contrast this with werewolves, which people thought were cool before seeing them in MtG. When's the last time anybody made a movie called A Badger In London?

What it would take: A nature-centered block. Something with lots of flora and fauna. In this block, Ewok villages are the height of civilization.

Likelihood: ●● (out of 5)

       
       
Bouncing Beebles    

Beebles

Currently in print: 3 (counting silver borders)

Most recent: Unhinged, 2004

Assessment: WotC has already made it pretty clear that these are to be a recurring gag, appearing one at a time, and possibly not even that often anymore. They're likeable (for some people), but their likeability seems to come from their rarity and the way they don't fit in with anything else.

What it would take: I'll be honest—not even with a third Un- set do I see this happening.

Likelihood:

       
       
   

Camels

Currently in print: 2

Most recent: Ravnica: City of Guilds, 2005

Assessment: Any card that mentions Deserts is automatically one of my favorites. In other words, I love Camel and Desert Nomads and I'm patiently waiting for a third in the series. Do other people love Camel as much as me? WotC doesn't seem to, after slighting them in not one but four consecutive Master's Editions. Even after reprinting Desert itself in Time Spiral! His only tribal peer didn't come until the first Ravnica set, in the form of Dromad Purebred. Note that he wasn't even printed with the Camel type at first: he was merely a Beast, and they changed him to a Camel Beast in the grand creature type update! Presumably only because of the art, which presumably flew in the face of a years-old edict NEVER TO PRINT ANY CAMELS. Not since Hyalopterous Lemure had there been such a massive art screw-up.

What it would take: A block with a very arid setting. Lots of sand. Maybe a block in which we return to Arabian Nights? I should start a petition!

Likelihood: ●●

       
       
Phyrexian Denouncer    

Carriers

Currently in print: 4

Most recent: Urza's Destiny, 1999

Assessment: No, not like Beast of Burden—the other kind of carrier.

All four of these were printed in Urza's Legacy, and all four are Phyrexians. They already have a pretty defined tribal niche, which is giving –X/–X to things. If the Scars of Mirrodin block hadn't just been printed, I'd say this tribe has a shot. But Phyrexians came back in there with nary a carrier to be seen, so I think we missed the boat.

What it would take: A third block with Phyrexians? That's not too farfetched, as they're beloved by fans and creators alike. Even if they did though, I don't see carriers playing too central a role in it.

Likelihood: ●

       
       
Great Sable Stag    

Elk

Currently in print: 5

Most recent: Return to Ravnica, 2012

Assessment: I don't see a lot of potential here. Like badgers, elk are little more than "just another animal." They make good one-ofs though.

What it would take: An anthropomorphic version of the animal, like what Kamigawa block did to snakes. Yes, if there was a whole deer society in which deer wore suits and monocles and they stood on their hind legs and the female deer had human breasts with ample cleavage, I could see them becoming a supported tribe.

Likelihood: ●

       
       
Evil Eye of Orms-By-Gore    

Eyes

Currently in print: 2

Most recent: Time Spiral, 2006

Assessment: Oh please oh please oh please.

What it would take: Some sort of nightmarish block. Like Innistrad, but without the Universal Horror inspiration. WotC would also have to abandon their current notion of what the Eyes are. The two in print are clearly a pair, but the tribe could be so much more than that. Lots of other fantasy games have huge floating eyes! We can do this. Please, WotC. Please.

Likelihood: ●●

       
       
   

Gremlins

Currently in print: 2

Most recent: Mirrodin Besieged, 2011

Assessment: Antiquities came out in 1994, and most players spent the following seventeen years looking at Phyrexian Gremlins as an oddity that was forever doomed to remain one of a kind. Sure, "gremlin" is a regular word that can't be copyrighted, but does anything other than the 1984 movie come to mind when you hear the word? So why would Magic want more of these? Yet, seventeen years later, MtG got a second gremlin. This is bigger than any other gap between two creatures of the same tribe.

What is would take: Remember how after Twilight came out there was a big vampire craze in the country, and you started seeing tons of vampires everywhere, including not only books and movies but Magic sets? (Do not tell me the timing was a coincidence!) In the semi-likely event that a new Gremlins movie comes out, and in the supremely unlikely event that it sparks a national craze, I believe they would make a tribal appearance.

Likelihood: ●

       
       
Screeching Harpy    

Harpies

Currently in print: 3

Most recent: Planeshift, 2001

Assessment: I was just replaying God of War recently, and that game is full of swarms of flying harpies. In fact, mythological harpies usually travel in groups. So why are the ones in Magic always so isolated? Each of the 3 in print are all alone in their respective blocks. What's more, they have nothing in common mechanically except flying and small stats. But you know what? I think this one could work. Harpies are famous for being ugly so the new mechanical tie could involve inspiring aversion from other creatures. Harpies could be hard to block, or remove creatures from combat. They're also known for stealing things, and that would be an easy mechanic. How about this as a sample card?

1BB
1/1 flying
When * enters the battlefield, gain control of target nonland permanent with CMC less than *'s.

What it would take: Honestly these could fit in almost any block. I would have to say the only thing it would take is willingness on WotC's part. Of course harpies aren't hugely popular in the real world—perhaps because of their ugliness?—but every set needs its villains after all.

Likelihood: ●●●●

       
       
Pygmy Hippo    

Hippos

Currently in print: 2

Most recent: Urza's Saga, 1998

Assessment: My first thought was that the idea of printing a hippo tribe is crazy. Can you even picture a gathering of these things doing anything besides rolling around in the mud? My second thought was, one could say the same about elephants, and look at all the Loxodon cards. This did nothing to change my first thought; I just wanted to describe my process.

What it would take: Perhaps if WotC wanted to lower their stock prices as part of some evil plot. Its employees read science fiction, I'm sure. They've been exposed to the idea.

Likelihood: ●

       
       
Conquering Manticore    

Manticores

Currently in print: 4

Most recent: Rise of the Eldrazi, 2010

Assessment: They're currently on the every-three-to-five-years plan, but I don't see why there can't be an increase. It happened with Sphinxes (also acceptable: "Sphinges"), and Manticores are pretty similar to them. Red already gets beefy fliers in dragons; there could easily be a block where their fliers are smaller than usual. I don't expect it, as WotC seems to already have a clear vision as to what the roles of Manticores are, and it doesn't include regularity. But it's totally doable.

What it would take: Just one lone employee to say "We made Sphinges work. We can make Manticores work." The idea would slowly take root and spread like wildfire. That was a mixed metaphor but my point stands.

Likelihood: ●●●

       
       
Blurred Mongoose    

Mongeese

Currently in print: 3

Most recent: Odyssey, 2001

Assessment: I was about to write this tribe off completely, for the same problem that plagues badgers and elk, until I noticed something. Out of the three mongeese in print... all three have seen tournament play. That alone means they have cachet in the Magic community, which means a tribe could possibly be well received by people. At least theoretically.

What it would take: Lots of market research, I think. But WotC is always doing that stuff.

Likelihood: ●●●

       
       
Giant Octopus
Should he also have the Giant creature type? Discuss.
   

Octopi

Currently in print: 2 (Dark Depths creates an avatar, not an octopus, no matter what the art looks like.)

Most recent: Zendikar, 2005

Assessment: In Magic's early days, blue was free to get whatever water-locked creatures it wanted. Merfolk were drawn underwater and an Electric Eel could swing next to a bear. In the Odyssey block, the flavor department famously addressed this issue by replacing merfolk with cephalid—creatures that still loved the water but were free to walk around it. And in the third stage of blue's life, the flavor department went back to printing merfolk and said "deal with it!" They're cool enough that they override any flavor concerns.

Same deal with octopi. The recent appearance of Lorthos, the Tidemaker proves that WotC is okay with the idea. We just need to figure ways to represent them mechanically other than, um, tapping 8 permanents every time they attack. That could get old fast.

What it would take: Frankly, I don't even know what's been holding them back this long. Yes I do: it's the absurdity of the visual of a school of octopi helping one another out. Do octopi ever travel in packs? They must not, since they aren't anywhere on this page. Even porcupines, thrushes, and something called capercailles are on there!

Likelihood: ●●

       
       
Orgg    

Orggs

Currently in print: 4

Most recent: Judgment, 2002

Assessment: I would love for this to happen. Think of how good you felt all over when they printed the second Orgg. The first was already great, and then they expanded it! Then came another. And another! Best of all, when the grand creature type update happened, Orgg got to stay! Most people expected WotC to lump in Orggs with Beasts, or call them Goblin Mutants or something (seriously—look at how much they have in common with a certain other Goblin Mutant), but they didn't. They kept Orgg its own thing. With this, I believe, was a tacit hint... no, a tacit promise... that more would be on the way.

Here is what their tribal lord could look like:

1RR
1/4
All creatures controlled by other players have their power reduced to 3. 

Pow! Now our Orgg can always attack and block. The lord does nothing to help Soulgorger Orgg or Butcher Orgg, of course, but I'm workin' on it.

What it would take: Not very much. This is another tribe that's flexible with its setting. What's prohibitive is the precedent that they all have to be large and expensive, which usually spells doom for a tribe (look at Lorwyn's Giants and Kamigawa's Demons—neither got a lot of play). Of course, people used to say the same about Treefolk, but they did fine. There are workarounds. Print some smaller ones called Dwarf Orggs, or Orgg Wizards, or Pygmy Orggs, or Orgg... Cubs. Whatever you call the young'uns.

The likelihood of another Orgg singleton being printed is decent. But I'll admit it—their chances of being an actual tribe? Less stellar.

Likelihood: ●●

       
       
   

Rabbits

Currently in print: 4

Most recent: Starter, 1999

Assessment: What are you, nuts?

What it would take: A long series of horrible decisions.

Likelihood: ●

       
       
Steamflogger Boss    

Riggers

Currently in print: 2

Most recent: Future Sight, 2007

Assessment: WotC, you jokers. You had to push this future gimmick as far as you could, didn't you? You even retrofitted the type to a 2004 card called Moriok Rigger.

Of course, the strength of the Rigger joke rests in the fact that no Riggers will ever be printed, at least not ones that can assemble contraptions. So I don't think we can count on this one happening.

What it would take: Both the design and the development teams not to understand the joke.

Likelihood: ●

       
       
Willow Satyr    

Satyrs

Currently in print: 2

Most recent: Mercadian Masques, 1999

Assessment: Of the two satyrs, one is a 1/1 that steals legends and one is a 5/4 that grants forestwalk. I would argue that these are perfect for a tribal reboot. Satyrs are a well-established concept outside of the game. The difficulty is that they're typically more focused on fun than fighting, but that's not much of a problem. There are already three creatures in print with Trickster in the title, and two with Jester. Magic has plenty of room for these gleeful mischief makers.

What it would take: Any set with a traditional fantasy vibe. In other words, almost any set.

Likelihood: ●●●●

       
       
Sand Squid    

Squids

Currently in print: 3

Most recent: Prophecy, 2000

Assessment: The cousins of octopi! Most of what I said for those creatures applies to these ones. Squids have the advantage of having appeared in Super Mario Bros., potentially giving them bigger reach. (That wasn't a tentacle pun.) They also commonly appear in real-world restaurants in the form of calamari, whereas octopus as a dish is less common and doesn't have its own name.

What could their mechanical tie be? What do squids even do down there besides swim around? Compare them with jellyfish, which are famous for stinging people and ruining beach trips. This explains why there are 8 jellyfish in print and only 3 squids.

What it would take: A real grass-roots campaign. Fans of squids would have to make their voices heard across message boards. Maybe get some petitions going. Other than that, I don't see it happening.

Likelihood: ●●

       
       
   

Whales

Currently in print: 3

Most recent: Urza's Saga, 1998

Assessment: We have a 2/2 with pro red, a 3/5 that can jump into the air??, and a 5/5 that enables infinite combos. Whales are ripe for some redefinition and tribal unification! Let's brainstorm: what are whales famous for? Jumping through hoops at sea world; getting beached; swallowing Jonah... are any of these sparking any ideas? Maybe something involving their blowhole? This is tougher than I thought.

What it would take: Whales don't seem to have that sense of community that a tribe needs, so I'm not sure I see this one working. Perhaps in a block centered around tourism. Like a world where lots of rich people get on a yacht with binoculars....

Likelihood: ●

       
       
Bog Wraith    

Wraiths

Currently in print: 5

Most recent: Zendikar, 2009

Assessment: Before I looked this up, I was positive that there were like 18 wraiths. What happened? Where are all the wraiths?

This is a well-worn trope in non-Magic media, and a rich one for exploration. Unfortunately, there are a few obstacles. One, wraiths are already pretty well mechanically defined, and in a way that doesn't leave room for a full tribe. All five wraiths in print are mid-sized creatures with swampwalk. Two, a lot of the design space that would make sense for wraiths is already allotted to spirits.

What it would take: We just need to explore what else besides swampwalk wraiths can do, and we need to find something not already taken by spirits. Snakes used to be all about poison, then the Kamigawa block made their venom into the staying-tapped ability. If we can figure out wraith's new thing, we can make them a working tribe.

Likelihood: ●●●

 

Grouping the above by likelihood rating, we have the following.

1 (not happening!): Beebles, Carriers, Elk, Gremlins, Hippos, Rabbits, Riggers, Whales

2 (doubtful!): Badgers, Camels, Eyes, Octopi, Orggs, Squid

3 (maybe!): Manticores, Mongeese, Wraiths

4 (probably!): Harpies, Satyrs

5 (definitely!): Come on, I'm not that hubristic.

 

Remember these lists! I am planning on checking back in a year and seeing how my predictions did. Even though, realistically, it would probably take at least 3 years' worth of blocks before any one of them shows up.

22 Comments

Given the upcoming Theros by AJ_Impy at Wed, 04/24/2013 - 13:07
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5

Given the upcoming Theros block and the classical greco-roman feel of the art hints so far, we might well see harpies, satyrs or manticores show up, but probably not as a big tribe.

Great read by kelvinmai at Wed, 04/24/2013 - 13:48
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5

This was a great and interesting read. It also points out some tribes that could come up in Theros, I'm excited :D

The Plural of Mongoose is... by Fred1160 at Wed, 04/24/2013 - 15:02
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Mongooses!

You're right. I can't believe by CottonRhetoric at Wed, 04/24/2013 - 16:02
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You're right.

I can't believe I got sphinges but missed mongooses.

There are only 4 slugs by BlippyTheSlug at Wed, 04/24/2013 - 17:25
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5

There are only 4 slugs (online)... what are we? Chopped liver? Or do the 2 paper slugs (Giant & Rocket-Powered Turbo) count, and put us in the next one? :)

They do. I actually really by CottonRhetoric at Wed, 04/24/2013 - 18:07
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They do. I actually really enjoy the slug writeup I did.

...Hopefully you will not find it offensive.

Is "Sarrakul" supposed to be by Misterpid at Wed, 04/24/2013 - 18:09
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Is "Sarrakul" supposed to be Surrakar?

That does it I am firing my by CottonRhetoric at Wed, 04/24/2013 - 18:39
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That does it I am firing my copyeditor

So the poor schlub is going by Paul Leicht at Wed, 04/24/2013 - 20:36
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So the poor schlub is going to have to find another 0 paying job? :/ Mean ole' cotton!

Hey I paid him 40 shekels per by CottonRhetoric at Thu, 04/25/2013 - 09:45
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Hey I paid him 40 shekels per page. The salary might have been imaginary but so was the editor so the arrangement worked out fine.

I would rate Eyes as a 3. :) by Felorin at Wed, 04/24/2013 - 19:25
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I would rate Eyes as a 3. :)

How many more tribal articles by Kumagoro42 at Thu, 04/25/2013 - 09:43
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5

How many more tribal articles you'll need to write before deciding that it's time to build a tribal deck and come to play? :) (So you'll find out that you don't need small guys to win with midrange or fattie tribes!)

So many things to say.

1) About (things somehow similar to) Badgers: Maybe at some point they'll do another Japanese-flavored block (medieval Japan is always popular, especially if you give it non-crappy mechanics this time) and we'll get tanuki like in Miyazaki's Pom Poko. That would be cool.

2) Sorry to disappoint, but there's now a single chance in the world they'll do a "Return to Arabian Nights" block, seeing how Arabian Nights wasn't set in the Magic multiverse, but in the freaking real world. Because at the time, "background story" was treated as "something other games have".

3) Did the Twilight craze give us the Zendikar vampires? Because in that case they found a pretty original way to roll with that, as they mostly are feral savages. And I don't think the Twilight vampires are often seen covered in cockroaches.

4) Find a unifying mechanic isn't always necessary: look at how little the modern Kor, Kithkin or Faerie have to do with their ancestors. Plus, if a tribe get big enough, it stands to reason that it might/should be able to do a bit of everything, even without getting to the ginormous tribes, where this becomes obvious (of course being a Wizard means doing everything and its opposite, including not doing anything at all, as befuddling as it is).

5) According to back story, Dark Depths actually summons a beautiful (?) sorceress who likes to take the form of a Kraken to scare her enemies, or something like that. So that's the Avatar of Marit Lage, where Marit Lage is, say, a Human Wizard, and the Avatar is a Kraken. Not confusing at all.

6) Maybe the next evolution of the Rigger meta-joke will be to really print them in the end. Meta-joke on us!

7) Why the Merfolk shouldn't be able to walk the land? They have legs, occasionally. Some of them have great legs, even.

1) Good point! I could see by CottonRhetoric at Thu, 04/25/2013 - 09:52
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1) Good point! I could see this (or something similar) happening.

2) Sad but true. I can still dream. It is possible that they'll do something Arabian Nights inspired, if not Arabian Nights exactly.

3) I certainly don't think the Zendikar vampires were meant to be mimics of the Twilight ones. I'm just saying the decision to make them a tribe was very likely influenced by their sudden nationwide popularity. Of course after they were voted into the set they were retooled to be more uniquely Magic-y.

4) True again. Haha maybe those vanilla wizards are still young and their powers are latent. That's a pretty popular trope in YA fantasy fiction.

5) Looks like an octopus with all those tentacles. That's all I meant.

6) It's possible, but I can't imagine it feeling like anything other than a let-down.

7) It's mostly the newer mefolk that have legs, due to the exact flavor concern I raised. But I never minded the flavor contradiction back in the day, personally. I mean this is a game that lets a stone wall hold a sword. I don't care if a sea-dwelling creature attacks a powerful wizard. Maybe he was visiting the beach that day and doing some wading in his clamdiggers.

2) Yeah, most definitely they by Kumagoro42 at Thu, 04/25/2013 - 10:20
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2) Yeah, most definitely they could, should, maybe will.

3) I'm always happy to underline the good job they did with the Zen vamp. However, I don't dislike the more Sturm-und-Drang Innistrad ones, and they were needed both in the block and in the game in general.

7) While I was looking at the Merfolk art to find some leggy ones, I saw that they essentially have been depicted in the largest possible spectrum. Basically, they are anything from the Little Mermaid, to Lovecraft's Deep Ones or the Creature from the Black Lagoon, to barely humanized fish-like creatures or sea monsters. It depends on the plane, I guess, although I wouldn't be surprised if a deeper analysis would show that that's not entirely true, and in fact it depends only on the artist's whim.

"This is a game that lets a stone wall hold a sword" is so wonderfully hilarious that should be used as a slogan!

I'm kind-of planning an article tracking the time every tribe has been introduced. I started laying down something when I listed the 64 Original Tribes (in Diaries of the Apocalypse 102, the spam filter doesn't allow me to link it, weirdly), the ones from Alpha. But of course something like that would need a lot of research. If you like the idea, I can give it to you, or we could do it together somehow?

I'm pretty sure Mirage was at by Paul Leicht at Thu, 04/25/2013 - 10:20
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I'm pretty sure Mirage was at least partially inspired by their earlier Arabian Nights set. There could be a return to Mirage block too. Though I guess it would be weird without the Weatherlight crew.

I'm pretty ignorant about by Kumagoro42 at Thu, 04/25/2013 - 10:22
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I'm pretty ignorant about background of that era, but Mirage block always looked like some kind of African setting/African fairytale to me.

It was meant to be African. by RexDart at Thu, 04/25/2013 - 10:26
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It was meant to be African. The lore of the depicted region was pretty well fleshed out, they even had somebody write a full-length poem within the universe to use for flavor text and all that. It kept some of the cohesive world-building efforts of Homelands but made sure not to totally compromise set design just for flavor and story as Homelands did. I love Mirage, and I think it's worth going back there. Weatherlight was kind of crammed onto it at the end and didn't feel right with the block anyhow.

I have a theory (that maybe by Kumagoro42 at Thu, 04/25/2013 - 10:40
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I have a theory (that maybe I'll flesh out in an article at some point) where the MTG blocks are proceeding in a 7-year cycle. After the "Ancient Age" (or Ancient Age plus Middle Age, if you consider the Dark/Homeland/Alliances as the lowest point in MTG history), the first cycle started with Mirage, which is when organized play and a more clear "we know what we're doing" feel originated (so Renaissance Age?) Mirage to Onslaught are 7 blocks. Then the Modern Age starts.

We have 1. Mirrodin (artifact block), 2. Kamigawa (heavily flavored, underpowerd, top-down design block), 3. Ravnica (multicolored block), 4. Time Spiral (experimental/return to Dominaria block), 5. Lorwyn/Shadowmoor (tribal block), 6. Alara (differently multicolored block), 7. Zendikar.

Then the third cycle is having:
1. Return to Mirrodin
2. Return to a top-down, flavorful block
3. Return to Ravnica

I don't know if the next one will be something comparable to Time Spiral (which maybe is meant to remain unique in MTG history), but so far it works. Of the three remaining blocks/planes, I think I'd like a return to Lorwyn the most, but I don't know if the story allows it.

Definitely African but the by Paul Leicht at Thu, 04/25/2013 - 20:20
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Definitely African but the set was very reminiscent of AN and imho was inspired by it.

7. Darryl Hannah, still the by RexDart at Thu, 04/25/2013 - 10:20
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7. Darryl Hannah, still the only merfolk for me, established that merfolk can have legs for some period of time while on land. Strangely, that movie also established that a merfolk can give a human permanent waterbreathing abilities.

On one of the article's other points, I suspect Rabbits and Badgers could be anthropomorphized a bit into a full tribe, which would be cute if they basically still looked like rabbits and badgers -- but if they walked like humans and had monocles and breasts, it would be creepy as hell, like some teenaged furry-fetishist's sketchbook. When they made Foxes a two-legged species in Kamigawa, they must have been aware of that danger, since they avoided anything that looked even remotely like the anthropomorphic foxes from the Disney Robin Hood movie.

T: Target Human gains by Kumagoro42 at Thu, 04/25/2013 - 10:28
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T: Target Human gains islandwalk.

Hey, you're right, anthropomorphic rabbits are cool! Donnie Darko! Usagi Yojimbo!

The rabbit from Donnie Darko by RexDart at Thu, 04/25/2013 - 10:37
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The rabbit from Donnie Darko should have been in Innistrad, as a horror trope. Or I guess it was a Human in a rabbit suit in that one scene. Or it was an Illusion created by that guy's mind to reconcile living in an impossible future, or... what the hell was that movie about??!!

I think your Merfolk design is pretty good right there and could easily see them do it in certain limited environments where that might make sense.