Salt Tiers

In the oldest days, the main purpose of a creature was to attack and block. And whenever a summon would stray from this core raison d'être, it would be to act as another type of permanent. Llanowar Elves would do a good impression of a land, Ali from Cairo could seem like an enchantment, Prodigal Sorcerer basically has the text of an artifact. But what creatures were not, were spells.

All that was to change with the set Visions in 1997. A small handful of creatures in Visions came with a spell attached to them; Unsummon, Verdigris, Terror. It was a taste of things to come.

In the industry, we call these "Virtual Vanilla".

These days it's almost a given that a good creature should have a positive effect the turn it comes into play. Combat stats and keyword abilities have become secondary to the spells or additional rules text slapped onto our summons. When was the last time a creature with only keyword abilities was actually good in Standard? Baneslayer Angel in the early 2010s, something like that?

Back in the 90s, us beggars couldn't be choosers. We needed them creatures for combat, and stats were critical. When Alliances was released in 1996, the by far most hyped card wasn't Force of Will or Lake of the Dead. No, the chase rare (and most expensive card) from Alliances was Balduvian Horde.

Now that's a 5/5 for 2RR that would be strictly better if it had no rules text at all. 

A couple of months ago we looked at the "vanilla creatures" from Magic's first year; the creatures that have no abilities. Today I'd like to introduce the concept of "salt creatures"; the subset of summons whose entire textbox consists of drawbacks.

Land, Mox, Tempting Wurm, scoop.

Now, there are a few creatures that have drawbacks that could be considered beneficial in the right deck without jumping through too many hoops. The poster-child for that kinda salt creatures is probably Tolarian Serpent - a card that was initially play tested as an Enchantment called "Super Self-Mill" that simply milled you for seven each upkeep. 

In honor of the Tolarian Serpent, I shall call this kind of salt creatures "sea salt creatures".

The set in which Tolarian Serpent was printed, Weatherlight, was the first proper "graveyard matters" expansion. Hence the ability to put cards from the library into the graveyard was for the first time seen as a potentially beneficial thing by the playtesters. Most players at the time would need a bit of convincing though - having lost their fair share of games to the popular Millstone decks of the era - and so the "drawback" was plastered onto a huge body to make the card a bit more appealing to both Johnny and Timmy.

Weatherlight was also the first set where I personally got to see the joy of turning drawbacks into benefits when I was on the receiving end of a turn one Dark Ritual into Hidden Horror, turn two Animate Dead into a ludicrous fatty.

I distinctly remember the guy saying that he played Hidden Horror for the drawback - not for the body - which blew my mind.

These days salt creatures are few and far between, even more so than vanilla creatures. There's the occasional reprint, like Emperor Crocodile, or the rare new creature that would be stronger with an empty text box, like Death's Shadow, but they are more of curiosities than staples.

Though I cannot properly express how much joy this card gives me.

When we get salt creatures with the modern frame, it is more often than not "sea salt"; creatures with drawbacks that - at least on paper - could be built around.

Play me in your BR Madness deck.

(Sidenote: There exists a number creatures that in sum total would be superior if they had no abilities, but they have some beneficial abilities alongside the drawbacks. These are, I don't know, "flake salt creatures"? They are flaky because they don't know if they should be good or bad?)

Flake Salt?
Sure, flake salt.

End sidenote)

Ok, enough history and linguistics. It's 93/94 list time!

S tier

The S tier summons are the dudes that have been on active duty winning Giant Sharks in recent years. The number of major tournament top8s these three have would be too plenty to mention, but each of them have tournament wins in 100+ player fields, including World Championships. They are among the true cream of the crop among old school Magic creatures, and they all have the data to back it up.

A tier

The A tier is also very data driven: which other salt creatures have top8'd Shark tournaments or other major gatherings in the last years, but are short of the very top in our current meta? A few players might know that Dan-Dan Top8'd e.g. n00bcon 11 in Jordan Boyle's Merfolk deck, but did you also know it actually won n00bcon 6? Yeah, Dan-Dan has a Shark and a Worlds title to its name, so maybe it should be up rubbing elbows on the S tier. It is a kinda close call, but I feel like it comes just short of the highest tier in 93/94 Magic. Oh, and speaking of Dan-Dan, if you've somehow missed it and want to try a cool way to use your fishes, check out the Forgetful Fish format!

B tier

From a purely stats perspective, a couple of the summons in the B-tier also have Shark top8s to their name. Though I believe Erg Raiders last claim to high fame was in 2014, and Wall of Earth around the same time. These are still eminent summons and excellent creatures to sleeve up in most metas, though they tend to be a bit more tier2 than tier1 on the battlefield. Erg Raiders do need some backup to not be stopped cold by opposing Factories, Wall of Earth decks unarguably play second fiddle to Time Vault decks, and Ydwen Efreet has to compete with cards like Ball Lightning and Blood Moon as red 3-drops go. But these guys could still surely win a tournament, and when they do, it comes with a spicy feather in the hat to the pilot.

C tier

So these are all fine I guess. Cyclopean Mummy is the best oldschool zombie if you want to build something with Zombie Master. And if everyone would just stop playing Lightning Bolt, Ghazban Ogre could be awesome. Maybe he could be a sideboard card in Green Weenie or RG Berserk or something? And I could probably write around a thousand words on Brass Man right here btw, but I'll spare you.

D tier

Now we're cooking with spice. At least if we're playing non-highlander 60-card formats, these critters are a rare sight to behold on the battlefield. But you know you want to beat someone down with Mijae Djinn, right? And how on earth could an aggro deck ever hope to beat Wall of Heat? These are proper wildcards in 60-card constructed formats, but still serious role players in Brothers' Highlander and auto-includes in any oldschool cube.

E tier

As an honorary member of the Ohio Akron Legionnaires I feel a little bad placing our mascot all the way down here, but if I'm paying 8 mana for a creature that dies to everything between a Psionic Blast and an opposing Dan-Dan it would be kinda nice if he didn't stop my other creatures from attacking. I still play him in my Brothers' Highlander deck, but I can't help thinking about Zetalpa, Primal Dawn when I see the mana cost.

Island Fish Jasconious is a bit too janky for normal formats, but it is excellent in any R&D's Secret Lair deck. As it is printed with the creature type "Island Fish", it is technically an Island and you can fetch it with Polluted Delta.

F tier

God damn Mold Demon. Why can't you cost four mana? I might even be inclined to sleeve you up at five, but SEVEN? 


  1. Hello MG, nice to read your article again.
    Am I right, if I miss Wood Elemental in your list?
    Thanks for this writing and have a nice start of summer!

    1. Hi Jirka! Hehe, well, I guess technically Wood Elemental would simply be a 0/0 for 3G if it didn't have any abilities, so the rule text on it still somehow makes it strictly better than if it didn't have any abilities. But on any list it could fit it, that one surely is an F-tier summon...

      I wish a great summer to you as well!


Skicka en kommentar