If you’ve been around older players, you’ve probably heard them discuss how big [card]Craw Wurm[/card] was back in the day. I mean 6/4 with no drawbacks… we didn’t have many of those back in the day. And at common no less!
How far have we come from those days… Actually, not as far as one might think.
I narrowed this down to creatures that cost 4GG, because there’s plenty of huge common creatures in green, but focusing on this very specific place, it’s easier to see how these have evolved in 25 years. They tell a lot about the general power level of the game and a little about where that power is placed.
My narrow demilitation does mean that huge chunks of the games history are left out, as what has often happened is that the biggest green creatures at common have either cost 5G or 5GG. These creatures are often relevant in limited, but are also often completely blanked by cheap removal or
Oh, yes. A vanilla 6/4 for six. It wasn’t exactly good even back in the day, especially if you were playing 14 lands in your 40 card deck, as most people were. Still, it was there and it definitely raised many beginner eyebrows. It’s probably the primary reason for green been seen as a lil’ kid color for a huge chunk of the game’s history. (Oh, how that has changed…)
One might think that there has been a common thread of power creep throughout the history of the game, but it’s not true. There’s worse creatures on this list and some are only marginally better. Not strictly worse, in any case, mind you, but there are cards I wouldn’t play before this one.
It was reprinted quite a few times. It was part of the core set from Alpha (1993) until Fifth Edition, it returned in Eight Edition, as well as Ninth, Tenth and Magic 2010, which was, as of now, the last time it has been seen. I don’t expect to see it again, other than for nostalgia reasons.
It is worth noting that creatures on par with this aren’t seen much in other colors at common. White has a bunch of six mana creatures, but they are generally much smaller. Blue often has one with sort of similar stats, but not always and they have historically had severe drawbacks, usually limiting attacking capabilities.
[draft]Frilled Sea Serpent
Black has some, which are often better than the original, but considering that power is often more valuable than toughness, they are also often worse.
Red has been encroaching on green ground with fairly efficient creatures for quite some time, but has historically lost the race.
.. but onto the green creatures.
[card]Shambling Strider[/card] (Ice Age, 1995) is a 5/5, so it’s not quite the same as our benchmark Wurm, but it has an activated ability, which enables it to change it’s stats. This was actually very novel back in the day. Legends and The Dark had gold cards (The Dark had only a few), but activation cost from another color wasn’t really something that had been used before Ice Age. There was [card]Sedge Troll[/card] in Alpha and there might have been few others, but it was really toyed in Ice Age for the first time. Of course, many things we regard normal were very new back then. It was reprinted in the Beatdown Box
[card]Yavimaya Wurm[/card] (Urza’s Legacy, 1999) was a huge step up. [card]Craw Wurm[/card] was still around (for a while, actually), but this did eventually replace it in the Core Set in M11. Before that, it was also printed in the Beatdown Box.
[card]Needleshot Gourna[/card] (Legions, 2003) was very overcosted for what it does. The reach (which wasn’t keyworded back then) would definitely occasionally be very important, but you wouldn’t want to pay this much for these stats and this text. It’s 1G more for a [card]Giant Spider[/card] with a [card]Holy Armor[/card].
[card]Tangle Spider[/card] (Darksteel, 2004) is a weird variant of the Gourna. You exchange 2 toughness for Flash (which wasn’t keyworded yet either), which I do feel is a good switch, but I would need to understand the context better to really know. Still, kind of underpowered. It was reprinted in M11 alongside [card]Craw Wurm[/card].
[card]Tyrranax[/card] (Fifth Dawn, 2004) is another example of under underpowered fatty. Of course, from the point of view of a clock, 5 and 6 damage per turn are often the same, but losing that one point of power might not be worth the activated ability.
[card]Nightsoil Kami[/card] (Saviors of Kamigawa, 2005) is another strictly better card. The Soulshift 5 is an added, possibly very strong, bonus. Since Spirits aren’t plentiful in most sets, this ability or the card have not been seen since (although Spirits have been a theme in Modern Masters).
[card]Gruul Nodorog[/card] (Guildpact, 2006) seems like another step back in the power level of creatures. It does have a nice ability, but you probably wouldn’t play this today, unless you are really lacking in creatures in a sealed pool.
[card]Durkwood Baloth[/card] (Time Spiral, 2006) has the same total power and toughness as our baseline [card]Craw Wurm[/card], but in general I would probably currently rather have a 5/5, because there are so many creatures with 2 power, although there’s not much of a difference in attacking into a bunch of 2/2s with a 6/4 or a 5/5. It’s actually easy to come up with situations where one is better than the other. The suspend does make this much better, though. Having this with haste on turn six is great and the flexibility is a good quality in a card, even if you might sometimes end up using it in a way that backfires in this particular case, because the suspension time is so long. It was brought back in Mystery Boosters.
[card]Alpha Tyrranax[/card] (Scars of Mirrodin, 2010) again with the vanillas… The evolution in 17 years hasn’t been that big here. Only one point of toughness (and a somewhat more relevant creature type after errata into Dinosaur). Still makes it strictly better.
For some reason, I like [card]Pathbreaker Wurm[/card] (Avacyn Restored, 2013). It’s strictly better, but can make a number of other creatures better as well. Granted, you didn’t usually have anything meaningful to pair it with, but still. Well, there was [card]Flowering Lumberknot[/card], but this couldn’t make that playable alone. I guess there was also [card]Nettle Swine[/card] and, another personal favorite, [card]Vorstclaw[/card].
[card]Vulpine Goliath[/card] (Theros, 2013) was a sign of what was to come. This was actually a little pushed, as giving these creatures Trample can be very important.
[draft]Humbler of Mortals[/draft]
[card]Humbler of Mortals[/card] (Journey Into Nyx, 2014) is not really strictly better than a 5/5 with a same mana cost, as being an enchantment is a real drawback. Also, giving things in this particular format didn’t seem very necessary. In general you won’t have much to give trample to that’s relevant, or you are already winning the game.
[card]Carnivorous Moss-Beast[/card] (Magic 2015, 2014) is kind of small for it’s cost, but does have a pretty good ability as at that point of the game (in those days) players would often have turns when they didn’t have anything better to do. Still, it was very slow.
[card]Tusked Colossodon[/card] (Khans of Tarkir, 2014) was clearly a big step back from [card]Vulpine Goliath[/card]. The spot for the big green creature was also largely dominated by [card]Woolly Loxodon[/card], which can’t be called strictly better, but was just so much more flexible that playing the Colossodon pretty much meant that something had gone terribly wrong.
[card]Canopy Gorger[/card] (Oath of the Gatewatch, 2016) is the same as the previous card, so I guess this was sort of the baseline at the time. There were other cards with 5G casting cost from around this time, which were often somewhat better.
[draft]Kessig Dire Swine[/draft]
[card]Kessig Dire Swine[/card] (Shadows over Innistrad, 2016) is again a signpost of where these beasts were going. It is strictly worse than what we will see in just a a year, but it is a clear step up from what we had before. The format was built in such a way that achieving Delirium was fairly easy, especially by the time you could cast this.
[card]Cowl Prowler[/card] (Kaladesh, 2016) was a big step back and didn’t see much play. Not having trample on this just makes it that much worse. It was still reprinted in Battlebond.
[card]Rampaging Hippo[/card] (Hour of Devastation, 2017) was cycling, which automatically makes it playable. It does have worse stats than most of these from this era, but the cycling is a huge benefit, so this would see a lot of play, even if just being cycled.
[card]Brambleweft Behemoth[/card] (Hour of Devastation, 2017)? Say what? Why can’t I remember this card? Well, because it’s from the Planeswalker decks and doesn’t show up in boosters. It is a nice preamble for what’s to become the baseline. It was originally in Nissa’s Hour of Devastation deck (2017).
[card]Colossal Dreadmaw[/card] (Ixalan, 2017) was printed four times within a year (Rivals of Ixalan, Iconic Masters, Core Set 2019), so it’s pretty safe to say that this is the baseline as of this writing, although it’s inclusion in Iconic Masters does hint at it being above baseline in power, but you could also argue that it’s many appearances actually do make it iconic as well. It has been printed two more times after that in Mystery Booster and M21.
[card]Primordial Wurm[/card] (Dominaria, 2018) After Dreadmaw, this one was a bit of a bummer, but it does have the best stats of all these cards. +1/+2 when compared to the original. It also returned just a year later in War of the Spark, which had a sort of theme around power 4 or greater, which made this somewhat more playable.
[card]Vorstclaw[/card] (M20, 2019) was downgraded from Uncommon in Avacyn Restored to Common. This is the biggest creature we have had in this slot, which is another sign of power creep. The creature type was also relevant, as the Temur colors (blue-green-red) had a very strong elemental theme, which would often enable things like ramping to this card early.
[card]Honey Mammoth[/card] (Ikoria, 2010) has another angle. The lifegain was actually important in a format with a lot of racing. Otherwise, this is clearly better than for example [card]Cowl Prowler[/card], but not really a more powerful card than the other recent big green creatures, which is actually interesting, as many other things have gained in power in that time.
Like all creatures, these cards have grown stronger over the last 27 years. However, their relative power level is often less important than the context within their respective formats. On the other hand, for a new player, who just opened their first or second pack and sees one of these, is going to get the message. Green things are big and it’s part of the color’s identity. While all colors have the same benefit of having huge, cost-efficient creatures at high rarities (think the Titan cycle), statswise green does have the edge when looking at commons, even though the other colors can often compete on some level with it these days.
We have come a long way from the old [card]Craw Wurm[/card], which did fill my teenage soul with warmth all those years ago, to the dominant Dreadmaw we see so often these days, or the [card]Vorstclaw[/card], which is even easier way of looking at how much these things have grown. That’s 1 more power and 3 more toughness for the same mana (plus a relevant creature type). Starting to give these things Trample regularly also means that these have become relevant finishers. Now just chump blocking them over and over again, is not an answer.