A matter of some proportions

Ah, Easter week. The most magical week of the year. For well over two decades, my Easters has been synonyms with playing Magic. The GothCon convention has been a fixture in the calendar since the 90s, and in the twelve years counting down to this pandemic, I hosted old school tournaments around this time each year. Maybe again next Easter. But until then, I'll let the people who actually knows how to run online gatherings do their thing, and take my joy in playing instead of organizing. n00bcoM 2 is coming up Friday, and I aim to slay some n00bs.

As I was flipping through the binder for n00bcoM tech, I paused at this card:

Maybe not the most potent tech to propel me into the top8, but it got me a bit curious about the flavor text (which I had read a thousand times before without thinking too much about). And after verifying that it was indeed the same in my Fourth Edition set, I had to venture out on the internet and look up the Fifth Edition printing:

Hehe, yep. The very same flavor, except that "Dominia" has changed to "Dominaria". New schoolers gonna new school.

A good fifteen minutes of silent bemusement later, I started to think a bit broader about the flavor text on the bears. It tells us that we shouldn't mess with Dominian Grizzly Bears. A "normal creature" won't stand up to them in a fight, and they are strong enough to knock down a tree. And as the original card mix goes, this flavor actually make sense. Like, if we look at it, the relative size of all creatures in The Gathering has both sensible and consistent flavor. The almost arbitrary power/toughness for many contemporary creatures is a far more modern thing. So today I felt like having an "old man yells at clouds" rant where we look at how size is represented in the original game, and how modern hipster magic has ruined the flavor text of Grizzly Bears. Yep, we're gonna look at every non-wall creature with (mostly) constant stats in The Gathering. List time.

Power level 1

At power level 1 we find any standard human, merfolk, goblin, dwarf, or elf; pretty much regardless of occupation (e.g. normal humans are 1/1, whether they are druids, wizards, heroes, clerics or assassins). We also find a few more odd creature types at the same power level - skeletons, imps, pegasi, dryads, sprites, and spirits - and we see that wolves wont beat grizzly bears in a smack down. Finally we have a few creatures here that are mostly harmless and won't really kill anything in a fight, in particular random birds and ghostly lights. This power level is further cemented in the first expansion Arabian Nights where fight-capable humans or animals of "wolf size" are 1/1 (e.g. King Suleiman, Ali Baba, Wyluli Wolf, and Hurr Jackal); and peaceful or sickly humans as well as passive animals are 0/1 (Abu Ja'far, Ali from Cairo, and Camel).

We find that most things you could pick as your starting character in Dungeons and Dragons would roughly correspond to a 1/1 in Magic, and that they would have a bad time in a fight with Dominia's grizzlies.

Power level 2

Power level 2 is where we find savage animals and and our first proper monsters. Orcs, zombies, ogres, minotaurs, and trolls hang out here. These creatures are mostly 2/2s, but I've put the range between 2/1s and 2/3s to avoid having like fifteen different levels (though I did sort them in the picture according to relative strength of sorts). Power level 2 contains the lords of the different races; the king of the goblins, the lord of the merfolk, and the master of the zombies. It's also where we find the real high end warriors of the common races; the elvish archers and the black and white knights. These stats make sense in a high fantasy setting, and the flavor feels spot on. 

This is also where we find the mighty Grizzly Bears. These bears are fit to trades blows equally with a spectre, ogre, or even a group of zombies. So what could beat those savage bears and live to tell the tale?

Power level 3

Power level three is where we find actual giants. Giant Spider, the monstrous Roc of Kher Ridges, and humanoid giants of Stone and Hill variety. Mythical monsters like the basilisk, cockatrice and the wraith also hang around here, flanked by phantasmal monsters and young dragons. Most curiously on this power level is perhaps the two "superheroes"; rare humans with just insane power level for their race. Looming toughest of all we have the 2/5 Veteran Bodyguard; a rare creature that was even granted "Super Hero" as its playtest name.

Power level three is also a place where we sometimes find larger groups of human(-oid) warriors using combat vehicles or other modes of transport, like the Pirate Ship here or the Moorish Cavalry in Arabian Nights. They would be able to kill some Grizzly Bears and tell the tale, but any victory against a Giant is likely a pyrrhic one.

Power level 4

Now we're starting to talk Timmy-creatures. What would win a fight with a giant? Well, a mutated two-headed giant for a start. Or an Angel or a tolkienesque Ent (the playtest name for Ironroot Treefolk, #trivia). Also a physical incarnation of one of the four elements, that seems reasonable too.

I guess Sengir Vampire may look like the odd one out. One could argue with some merit that the Magic vampires appear insanely powerful compared to fantasy settings like Dungeons & Dragons. But I suspect this is because WotC was really into White Wolf's Vampire: The Masquerade game in the early 90s, and Sengir Vampire is most likely WotC's take on a Methuselah. The second ever game in the Deckmaster line, Jyhad, was even fully set in The World of Darkness, which could give some credibility to this presumption.

Power level 5

Hey, wanna know why people kept trading away their moxen for Craw Wurms back in 1993? Because Craw Wurm has a combined power/toughness of ten. Ten! Also because we didn't have checklists to know a card's rarity, and because we didn't understand tempo. But mostly, TEN! These creatures, in particular the rare ones, came with responsibility back in the days. If you were a green player and opened Demonic Hordes, you were now a green/black player. This power level holds full-grown dragons, royal djinns, gargantuan wurms, hordes of demons, and giant sea monsters. These guys will fully annihilate any stupid bears in their wake, and faceplant any air elemental crazy enough to blow in their path.

Power level 6

Yeah, there's only one guy here, and it's you! You have the power to beat a dragon, you just have to wish it enough <3 

Planeswalkers in the original (pre-mending) Magic story line are basically gods, and when you lose a duel in a game of Magic, the in-game explanation is that you run (planeswalk) away from the fight; you're never really killed. Throwing down an incarnation of yourself on the battlefield is a pretty big deal. I guess one could argue that the incarnation only holds half your power (horcrux style), as when it is defeated you'll "only" lose half your life points rather than all of it. So maybe you, the glorious planeswalker god, in fact has power 12. But your incarnation at least has power six, and it stands alone at this level.

Power level 7

And here we have the Devil.

In early development, this card was Magic's take on a Balrog, but I guess copyright concerns had them change the name, similar to the Treefolk/Ents. So they just went with Satan instead, and religious groups across the US anti-rejoiced. 

The Lord of the Pit will send you running to the next plane in just three attacks. It has the highest mana cost and steepest upkeep requirement of any card in The Gathering, and the fact that it is often considered less iconic than, say, Shivan Dragon, is nothing short of baffling to me. This card is everything that is early 90s Magic awesomeness. I mean, do you know why The Lords of the Pit choose Lord of the Pit as the namesake card for their team? Because they were the first guys to create a team named after a card, and they got first pick.

Power level 8

Being more powerful than dragons, demonic hordes, your own incarnation, or even the Lord of the Pit is a tall order. But high fantasy has you covered. The pure forces of nature itself is as powerful as things get around these parts. To keep it under control you'll have to be very invested in green magic, but if you can handle it, nothing will be stronger.


Level eight is where the scale ends in the original game. Arabian Nights followed these implied guidelines almost perfectly. I suppose one could argue that "twenty flying men[...], each well trained in the art of combat." could be a 2/2 rather than a 1/1, and that Island Fish Jasconius maybe should be a 5/7 rather than a 6/8. But those kinda complains are few and far between, and the rare "miss" never differs with more than +/-1 in either column. In the first edition of Magic, as well as in the first expansions, you could look at a card's name, art, and creature type, and make a highly qualified guess of its power and toughness. That is very impressive, and a true testament to the game's immense detail to flavor.

Now comes my old-man rant, as I accidentally stumbled upon some new (Standard legal) cards. Here's one:

And here's another:

These are just two random commons I happened to run across; I'm sure there are better examples out there. But these were the couple within my field of vision, so these are the ones I'll stat-shame. When looking at these cards and knowing a bit about the fundamental flavor of stats, what size would we put these guys on?

Ok, so Glory Bearers are Human Clerics that focus on protecting other creatures. A standard Human Cleric is a 1/1, but as these care about protecting people and doesn't look too battle ready, they might be 0/2 (like an Enchantress), or perhaps even 1/2.

Grizzled Outrider is an elf (1/1) riding a grizzly (2/2). We know that a larger group of Elves riding wolves are 3/3 (via Elven Riders), and this is just one guy. However, the flavor text implies that this guy and his mount can beat a troll (2/2) and survive. So I guess 2/3, maybe even 3/3 if they are selling the character as a "superhero" of sorts.

If you don't know the answer, I won't bother you with their actual stats. Obliviousness here is pretty sweet. But these are clouds I occasionally feel like yelling at. Thanks for indulging me.


I guess my main point is that The Gathering was incredibly well designed, and that it provided an almost intuitive understanding of power/toughness of its creatures. Also it is pretty fun to make a list sometimes. And even though the flavor displayed in the original 93/94 sets is almost spotless, if we ever get into an argument with adherents of modern era creature design, I guess we'll eventually have to acknowledge a few golden characters from Legends...

Don't mess with Riven. Dude is a legend.

That's all the ranting I have. And I hope to see a bunch of you on Good Friday. Happy Easter!


  1. "If you were a green player and opened Demonic Hordes, you were now a green/black player." Yes :). This was me. Good memories. Then I opened Shivan.. That caused some problems until I also got mana flare. For some reason I don't think I won a match ever since..

    1. Haha, that is a great story Joost :D

  2. I played monoblack and opened a Deflection. Added a svylenuite temple to my deck and the plan was when I had cast my deflection I could sac the land because I won’t be needing blue anymore. A friend told me but what if you drew deflection before the temple? Never occurred to me that that scenario might occur. Good times! The same friend had an German guardian angel that somehow worked like a fireball with a built in stream of life. No one understand German so it sounded right. Quite powerful...

    1. Yeah, Deflection certainly was in that ballpark of awesomeness back around 1995. I traded away a Bazaar of Baghdad to get mine, and had no regrets there ;) And that German Guardian Angel sounds extremely spicy!

  3. Well, Dragon Whelp does neither look like, or sounds like, more powerful than Goblin King. And besides, there is error with the Dragon Whelp : Egg-laying creatures does not have a belly-button! AT

    1. Hehe, I think I'll have to out-nerd you on the stats there, as "[Magic] draws on the milieu, the fantasy of Dungeons and Dragons" (quote by Garfield at the time), and the stats for a red Dragon Wyrmling (as power and hit points go) are about 1.5x that of a Goblin King in D&D. For those who who had D&D as their introduction to these kind of things (which was a lot of people, including me), a young dragon should beat a Goblin King, though not by a lot.

      As for the Amy Weber art, I actually hadn't though about that before, that is a fun observation! But I must say that I do find the art awesome regardless ;)

      (Links to my nerdy stats:
      Goblin King: https://www.5esrd.com/database/creature/goblin-king/
      Dragon Wyrmling: https://www.5esrd.com/database/creature/dragon-red-wyrmling/)

  4. Is there, in your opinion, any creatures from alpha to arabian that does'nt fit your "flavour chart"? you mention the Island Fish, any else?

    1. Not really. I mean, the creatures with variable stats can be a bit tricky (like keldon warlord or clockwork beast), and one could argue that the Rukh token (from rukh egg) should be the same size as Roc of Kher Ridges, but they are really close (and the power of Rocs differ a bit between stories). I'd say that the flavor of size is pretty much spot on for the entire 1993 product line :)

  5. What a great article Magnus - I continue to learn about the beauty in the construction of Alpha, even in 2021. As for Flying Men...I had always assumed that though 20 are mentioned in the text the card represents only one of them, hence a 1/1 and not bigger.

    1. Thanks Scott! Haha, yeah, the art for flying men certainly implies a 1/1, but the name is still a bit confusing. If they would only have called it Flying MAN I'd be fully on board ;)


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