Continuing this voyage of weird corners of the Magic design, we come to [card]Grizzly Bears[/card], but I’m limiting this to a very specific subgroup of blue.
Why blue? Because it’s the only color that hasn’t received a true [card]Grizzly Bear[/card] yet, meaning a 2/2 vanilla creature with a casting cost of 1U.
There’s a total of 204 2/2 creatures with a casting cost of 1C (including Un-Cards). Each other color has some of them and has even creatures that are strictly better than that. It took a while for black and red to get to that point, but here we are and now they aren’t even interesting any more. But blue is still making it’s way towards that goal and I’m not sure it will ever reach it. (Although it should be noted that in order to be truly strictly worse or better than something, the cards should be of the same color.)
Blue only has ten Grizzly Bears throughout the history of the game, and I’m going to leave out the Un-Card, which leaves us with nine total, meaning that they are quite rare.
Our first example comes from Weatherlight (1997). [card]Ertai’s Familiar[/card] doesn’t really do much, as by the time you can actually use it, it has been outclassed by pretty much everything. On the other hand, self-mill can be advantageous, even though I assume it was concocted here as a downside, as graveyards weren’t used that much as a resource at this point in the game’s history.
The drawback is actually even worse than you might first think, because blue often wants to play on their opponent’s turn, so this card from Tempest (1997) doesn’t really do much. It didn’t even make Tempest Remastered.
If blue was an aggressive color in general, there might be something here, but because it is not, this card from Nemesis (2000) doesn’t do much.
This Invasion (2000) is a part of a cycle of creatures (all Leeches) that hinder their own color in the same way. This probably isn’t the worst top-deck in the late game, if the ground gets clogged up.
Odyssey (2001) actually had two of these. Didn’t see that coming, when I saw the total number of these. Of course, the chances are higher than one might think at first, but still. These are so rare and since they aren’t put into sets randomly, but as part of a bigger design where curves for each color is taken into account, it wouldn’t seem like something that would happen.
[card]Thought Eater[/card] can be used as an unreliable discard outlet, but that probably wouldn’t work. You could also play it safely on turn two on the play, if you have a one-drop, but that doesn’t feel like a strong plan either. At least it can fly.
[card]Phantom Whelp[/card] is part of a cycle of hounds. It doesn’t quite hold up to the same standard as [card]Wild Mongrel[/card], though.
[card]Wormfang Newt[/card] from Judgment (2002) is probably the weakest of all of these. It’s quite hard to say, but losing a land on turn two just isn’t what the doctor ordered. Maybe it can be a good defensive maneuver, because maybe your opponent doesn’t want to attack, because you are so far behind, if they don’t trade with the Newt, but that doesn’t sound like a good plan.
It took four years to get the next one, but in Dissension (2006), we had [card]Plaxmanta[/card]. Now, it isn’t strictly blue as it has a color requirement of green to get it on the table, but at the same time, it does do some work without it as well, although there are much better options, if you can’t pay the green. This was also reprinted in Commander 2015.
It took another eight years to get this one, but Magic 2015 (2014) finally brought another 2/2 for 1U. It is quite situational, but I like to play one main in certain decks in Modern, which have a lot of creatures with ETB-abilities. Returning [card]Spellstutter Sprite[/card] to your hand to reuse it is just great, if manahungry.
All in All
Interestingly enough, only two of these are Modern legal and both of them have potential. They might be quite situational, but also quite strong in certain situations.
Another interesting thing to note is that even though none of these are strictly better than [card]Grizzly Bears[/card] (well, expect for their color, of course), I can’t really say they are strictly worse either. Sure, some of them downsides that are horribly difficult to abuse, but there can certainly be benefits to being able to flicker your own lands or returning your creature to your hand to flicker some other card. The others mostly have Flying and in one case Flash, so there’s no question about them being better in many situations, even if they had horrible downsides.
Will blue ever get their own [card]Grizzly Bears[/card]? I wouldn’t count on it, nor would I bet on it. To me it would feel like the color would lose some of it’s nature if that were to happen. Blue is the color least interested in playing creatures. That should mean it doesn’t get the most efficient ones, except in some rare situations, where it gets something that works very well with spells and even those should be used very carefully (I’m looking at you [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card] and [card]Delver of Secrets[/card]).
Blue does get a lot of powerful 2/1s for 1U (like the aforementioned [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card], but often 2/1 fliers with upsides as well), so maybe a 2/2 isn’t that far off. Again, I wouldn’t bet on it.
Update 27th of April, 2021
There’s two new arrivals since I first wrote this:
Both are interesting additions. They are fairly strong, but still have downsides. At least the latter has seen some fringe play in Historic, but not much. They are still a big step up from previous.