Vanilla Tiers

Here's a statement: Magic is a great game. Like, the game system is really, really good. The whole concept with the turn structure, mana development, color wheel, combat math, and all that is second to no game I've ever played, and I'm the kinda guy that have been frequenting tabletop conventions for the last quarter century.

The way Magic does "creatures" and "combat" might seem a bit complicated at first glance - e.g. back in 1994 me and my sister didn't realize that creatures "healed" at the end of each turn, and it took well into late 1995 before we understood that one attacker could be blocked by multiple creatures - but it was really the thing that made the game what it was. It was in combat you won after all. The size/cost ratio of creatures was a huge learning experience. You could not have convinced me in the first months of playing the game that Savannah Lions was a better card than Fire Elemental. Pretty much everyone who played in 1993 have stories of a friend (or themself) trading away a Mox for a Craw Wurm. Creatures, "clean creatures" in particular, defined the experience that made Magic a world-wide phenomena.

That's not to say that the creatures with abilities weren't even more sought after, of course. A Mahamothi Djinn or Shivan Dragon would always look more impressive than a Craw Wurm. An appearance of Granite Gargoyle had all the Gray Ogres in the area hide in shame. But the vanilla creatures - the creatures without any abilities - would still provide the baseline for the game. This was how we learned. This was Magic.

In my not-so-humble and wind-scarred opinion, a great core set will have twelve to 16 vanilla creatures and a great expansion will have three to six. That tend to create the best flavor and a good limited experiences. It also makes it possible to introduce new players to the game without making it neither overly complicated nor overly simplified.

Like, 9th Edition had 26 vanilla creatures, which was way too many (that's the same number as Portal!). Starter 1999 had 29 vanilla creatures - a third of all the creatures in the set - and no living human has fond memories of Starter 1999 (with the possible exception of Kalle stumbling across a Grim Tutor in a bulk bin in 2009). ABU however, arguably the greatest core set, had 15 vanilla creatures. 4th Edition had 16. Two of my own personal favorite core sets, 6th Edition and Magic 2010, had 16 and 13 respectively.

Craw Wurm still going strong.

With the more complicated (and specific) expansion sets, we can severely cut down the number of vanilla creatures but having a handful is still important for both flavor and limited purposes. Looking at a few of "the greats" of modern Magic expansions, Innistrad had six vanilla creatures, Khans of Tarkir had five, and Dominaria had six.

Craw Wurm has grown a bit since 2010...

In traditional oldschool, Alpha through The Dark, there are 34 vanilla creatures out of the 871 legal cards. In the current Standard, there are god damn zero vanilla creatures out of 1,874 legal cards. That is a strange combination of being ahistorical and disrespectful to the core mechanics of the game. So I figured it was high time to raise our glasses for our currently dismissed ability-less friends with a good ol' power level list of the 93/94 vanilla ensemble. Let's go!

 S Tier

The S tier goes beyond any measure of vanilla, and goes straight into "top creatures in oldschool, period". Creatures in the S tier need to have been in multiple World Championship top8s, and have been on active duty in Shark-winning decks. Hello Savannah Lions!


The A tier holds the other vanilla creature that has been represented in a World Championship or other highly competitive 100+ player tournament top8. I actually thought there would have been two or three creatures here, but Durkwood Boars and Grizzly Bears seem to have fallen just short in 100+ player Gatherings.


B tier have the creatures that - while very good - have come just short of fully proving their glory in fierce competition. Andrés Hojman took a pair of Durkwood Boars to 11th place in the 193 player Summer Derby 2022, Grizzly Bears have been putting up some solid results in Green Weenie and similar decks (though being a bit unlucky in that Argothian Pixies compete on the same mana cost), and Jasmine Boreal and Earth Elemental are spicing it up in the right meta; beating Angels and Su-Chi in combat while surviving Psionic Blasts.


C tier holds cards that you would definitely consider spicy in a non-highlander tournament, but are a common sight in highlander; in particular in formats like Brothers' Highlander. These are cards that are auto-include in any old school cube and high picks in any oldschool limited format. (Kobolds of Kher Keep snag a tier higher than the other Kobolds due to their interaction with Rohgahh of Kher Keep.)


D tier cards are kinda bad, but do see some play in fringe decks; mainly due to their creature type or for purely flavourful reasons. Ironroot Treefolk might not be a very good card compared to Durkwood Boars or Moss Monster, but it does have some very nice flavor text. And Hurloon Minotaur goes nice with a demin jacket.


At tier E we have proper chaff. These cards are some combination of overcosted and strictly worse than alternatives. Though still somehow iconic stuff here; Gray Ogre and Squire are renowned cards, and most oldschool players show great respect to a Raging Bull these days.


Tier F holds cards that are overpriced by two mana, dies to random blasts (elemental and psionic), and are stopped dead by a miser's Karakas. The mana cost is a bit sad because these two are really flavorful cards on most other metrics.

Here's a handy chart to print out for self-study:

Now Imma run down to the train station and jump on a ride to Arvika. Hope to see a bunch of you there!


  1. The artwork of Craw Wurm and Fire Elemental are both iconic.
    I would easily replace Earth Elemental and Boars with these. I guess that such a replacement will matter in less than 2% of the games.


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