Last updated on May 18, 2022
Counterspell (Secret Lair) | Illustration by Mateus Manhanini
Magic is a serious hobby for many of us. But let’s face it; it’s a fantasy card game, and it’s not all that serious. Magic’s game designers are self-aware enough to recognize this and not take themselves too seriously all the time.
Magic’s nearly 30-year history is littered with funny cards, artworks, flavor texts, and more. Today I’m going to dive into some of my favorite examples of Magic trying (and in many cases, succeeding) to be funny.
Let’s jump right in!
Magic’s Un-sets are the biggest collections of joke cards in the game. Starting with Unglued back in 1998, these sets are full of cards that may look like Magic cards, but they barely even follow the rules of Magic. Jokes in this set rang from Magic in-jokes like Look at Me, I’m the DCI, a joke about how seemingly random Magic’s banned list policy was, or Urza’s Contact Lenses, poking fun at the fact that there are a lot of cards in the game that depict items that Urza once owned, to downright absurd cards like Charm School that tell you to balance a card on your head.
WotC printed these cards with a new silver border to show that they weren’t tournament legal under any circumstances, and this trend continued through all future Un-sets.
2007’s Time Spiral block was packed full of weird cards that probably wouldn’t make the cut in any other set. Time Spiral itself featured reprints from the past, and Planar Chaos took popular cards and shifted them into different colors like Serra Sphinx, which is just a blue Serra Angel. Future Sight was tasked with doing the same thing but by looking into the future.
This set was a chance for WotC’s designers and developers to throw caution to the wind and just design a huge slew of new mechanics without needing to get them correctly balanced. Or in the case of Steamflogger Boss, without even knowing how the mechanic would end up working. The set is full of brilliantly weird cards, and some that ended up as competitive tournament staples because of how weird they are.
Mystery Booster Playtest Cards
We saw 121 “playtest cards” in the 2019’s Mystery Booster: Convention Edition. These are cards printed on the same blank card frame that WotC’s R&D uses when they’re playtesting cards for a new set.
Every Magic card starts as a playtest card, sleeved up in front of a real Magic card so that it can be tested and tweaked before being released to the public. Releasing these cards was another way for Magic’s designers to just create a bunch of weird card designs and put them out into the world to see how the public reacts. While they were all unique designs, some of them have in fact become real since the Mystery Booster’s release.
WotC has been printing special holiday gift promos since 2016. These are always distributed to local game stores as a gift for their contributions over the previous year. Each one is a top-down design of a traditional holiday trope, like the original Fruitcake Elemental, brilliant puns like Topdeck the Halls or Yule Ooze, and the most recent Last-Minute Chopping.
This card was a really fun throwback to a segment of flavor text from Alpha’s Granite Gargoyle. The name was supposedly made to have a name long enough to span the length of a Magic card. Asmoranomardicadaistinaculdacar was particularly hard to design because its name removes the space for the mana cost, imposing an alternate cost.
Athreos, God of Passage
Language is a beautiful thing. What sounds perfectly innocent in one language can be hilarious in another. This German translation of Athreos, God of Passage makes me know I don’t want to be standing downwind of him given that he’s apparently the god of the uber fart.
The original art for Bearscape was pretty good already, but this incredible version for the newly announced Pride Secret Lair really knocks it out of the park. The name is a pun based on the awesome artwork and the flavor text manages to squeeze another pun in too. I absolutely love it. A+ to Wizards on the execution. I’ll certainly be picking up a copy or two for myself.
We all know that blue mages have a tendency to be a bit arrogant (I know I certainly do). So you don’t need to look further than a simple counterspell before finding some beautiful gems of flavor text. These two are some of my particular favorites.
Descend upon the Sinful
Sometimes Magic’s translations go a little bit awry, such as with the French translation of Descend upon the Sinful. The French word for the sinful or for sinners is “pécheurs.” But the word as printed on this card has a different accent over the first ‘e.’ This word, “pêcheurs,” actually means fishermen. So, in French, Avacyn doesn’t care if you’ve committed any sins, but you’re screwed if you’re a fisherman.
Exotic Pets | Lagrella, the Magpie
The text on Magic cards seems to be getting more and more complicated. Be honest, how many times did you need to read Exotic Pets and Lagrella, the Magpie before you fully understood how they worked? I’d consider myself pretty good at understanding card texts and these still took me a few tries.
I don’t have a big family and only have a few cousins of my own. I’d probably run out if I used Fodder Cannon too often.
Goblin Balloon Brigade
“Inflate the toad!” is likely not an instruction you can give too often in real life, so you might as well get your fill while you can.
Goblin “Bum Specialist” Kaboomist
Another funny translation makes Goblin Kaboomist look like it knows quite a lot about bums.
I kind of want it to get the banana… Gorilla Titan certainly seems to deserve it.
Ib Halfheart, Goblin Tactician
Funny piece of flavor text or valid critique of political attitudes towards war? In the words of System of a Down, “Why don’t Presidents fight the war? Why do they always send the poor?”
Another cool counterspell and another brutal piece of flavor text.
Lhurgoyf: A Saga
Starting with an innocuous piece of flavor text back in Ice Age, Lhurgoyf and “Ach! Hans, Run!” ended up inspiring card versions of both Saffi Eriksdotter and Hans Eriksson, the named characters in that text, even though it took us 25 years to finally see Hans printed.
I don’t really have a clever quip for this one. Manabarbs really just speaks for itself.
Another funny translation from the Spanish version of Myr Sire. “Señor myr” sounds so much more formal than what this card actually is.
There’s a rule in the Magic Tournament Rules stating that you can’t display inappropriate or offensive imagery while participating in a tournament. Bear with me…
At one particular Modern GP about seven years ago, a dredge player made it to an 8-0 record and the coverage team naturally wanted to see them on camera. They were playing out their game and then the coverage team noticed that their Narcomoebas looked a bit odd. Upon further inspection they realized they’d been altered by having large penises drawn across each of them.
Somehow the player had managed to get to round nine without a judge noticing it, but it resulted in a penalty on coverage. That story still makes me laugh.
A popular Commander card that dates all the way back to Alpha, but did you know that “Nevinyrral” is Larry Niven spelled backwards? Larry Niven is the science fiction author who first coined the term “mana,” referring to a magical resource drawn from the land around you.
Richard Garfield used this to design the game’s mana system and left this fun little credit to Larry Niven on Nevinyrral’s Disk in the game’s original set. While not exactly a funny card, it is a fun piece of trivia that I always like to share.
Oko, Thief of Crowns
I mean… seriously? Oko, Thief of Crowns is easily Magic’s biggest joke. How could this have possibly been printed? How is it that in all the time they spent playtesting this card, they never thought to try using its +1 on their opponents’ permanents? Unbelievable.
“He raged at the world, at his family, at his life. But mostly he just raged.” This classic flavor text made Raging Goblin the favorite card of a friend of mine who helped teach me how to play Magic back in the day.
Scute Mob | Scute Swarm
While Scute Mob quoted us survival rule 781 (presumably of the 2071 tips for survival mentioned on Spire Barrage), Scute Swarm had to give use the next rule as it pertained to this annoying Commander staple.
As someone who has cast a lot of red spells in his time, I agree with Jaya Ballard on this one.
Squirrels have a long history in Magic. Mark Rosewater had apparently been trying his best to create squirrel cards despite a lot of resistance from other members of R&D. His efforts must have paid off, because they’re main themes in both Unstable and Modern Horizons 2.
Squirrel Mob in particular has some great flavor text, making it the card I’m highlighting here.
Storm Crow | Crow Storm
Storm Crow quickly became one of the most memed cards across social media for whatever reason when it was printed. It resulted in this Secret Lair printing and the brilliant Unstable card, Crow Storm.
Uktabi Orangutan | Uktabi Kong
I guess we now know why Magic has a 13+ age rating. It must be for “mature” content.
I’m sure the second amendment is a contentious issue in American politics and not one that I want to get into in a fun Magic article. But regardless of your own point of view on the topic, I’m sure we can all agree that Werebear most certainly has the right to bear arms.
Here’s an official Gatherer ruling for Void Winnower:
Yes, your opponent can’t even. We know.Source
Say what you like about Secret Lairs, they do give us some cool gems from time to time. And nobody likes to see a Cyclonic Rift resolve.
Did you know that sponge is an official Magic creature type? Next time you have to pick a creature type and it doesn’t matter what you choose, you know what to pick.
John Avon Alter
Back in 2017 it was announced that we would get a very special guest at that year’s UK National Championships: John Avon. I’m a big fan of his artwork so I trawled through my collection to find some cards for him to sign.
As he was going through a stack of cards that I asked him to sign, he stopped on a Japanese foil Simic Growth Chamber. He turned to me and asked, “Do you mind if I do a little scribble on this?” Of course I said yes, what else could you possibly say to one of Magic’s most legendary artists?
The end result was this:
This is by far my favorite card I own to this day. I love it. And what’s even better is that it’s now illegal for tournament play because of the profanity. Doesn’t mean I can’t use it as a great card for my Prime Speaker Vannifar Commander deck, though.
Squirrel Mob | Illustration by Carl Critchlow
That’s it for the funniest cards in Magic’s history! Do you have any fun stories about ridiculous cards or flavor text? Maybe your favorite joke card didn’t make the list and you need to complain? Whatever it is, you can let me know in the comments down below or find me hovering around our official Discord server.
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