Thopter Assembly - Illustration by Svetlin Velinov

Thopter Assembly | Illustration by Svetlin Velinov

Thopters are pretty unusual in that they’re instantly iconic to pretty much any Magic player, but they aren’t really something we see in any other game, or universe, and are pretty much exclusive to MTG in a way only planeswalkers probably surpass them (E.N.: do you feel slighted, Dune fans?).

But what exactly is a thopter? And what makes a good one? Let’s have a look and figure it out!

What Are Thopters in MTG?

Ornithopter - Illustration by Mathias Kollros

Ornithopter | Illustration by Mathias Kollros

Thopters are artifact creatures in the many worlds of MTG and have existed in some ways since the early days of MTG in the ‘90s. They’re flying creatures that come in a variety of forms, and in the lore they can either be autonomous or have a crew (they existed before vehicles were a thing in MTG, otherwise their design and lore could well have been different).

It’s somewhat of a generic term for any flying machine, whether it’s the Thran relics that Urza and Mishra worked on in the dig sites of Dominaria, the Aether-powered machines from the artifice world of Kaladesh, or some other worlds’ version of a flying drone. They’re generally seen as simple, cheap machines, but bigger versions like Liberator, Urza's Battlethopter also exist.

#17. Flowstone Thopter

Flowstone Thopter

Thopters are an old creature type, and creatures, particularly artifact creatures, were generally not great in the early days of MTG. There’s some laughably bad cards by today’s standards, like Flowstone Thopter.

I doubt that this was even that good when first printed, but a 7-mana 4/4 that you then need to pay to give flying (and the power boost is balanced by the toughness loss) just doesn’t cut it in any format these days. Still, it’s a perfect example of just how far things have come in the last two decades.

#16. Telethopter


Telethopter is another unusual thopter that needs work to get it flying, which just seems odd. Tapping one of your other creatures to jump this is just way too much of a cost for all but the weakest of formats.

#15. Roterothopter


Coming in marginally higher than the bottom two is Roterothopter, with some of the same issues as we just discussed. The good news here is that instead of costing seven, it now only costs one, but this time for a 0/2.

The pump ability is much better, and to be honest it’s not a horrendous card. It’s just never really going to make the cut either.

#14. Drill-Skimmer


I admit when I first read Drill-Skimmer, I thought it got hexproof when you had an artifact, making it a pretty good card for Voltron decks. Unfortunately it gets shroud instead, making it pretty useless if you want to target it with equip abilities and auras.

It’s an odd set of abilities looking through the eyes of modern Magic, but back in the day a 2/1 flier that you could protect was probably a real threat in the right deck. How times change!

#13. Reconstructed Thopter

Reconstructed Thopter

Next is a have a surprisingly recent card for this low in the list with Reconstructed Thopter from The Brothers’ War. It’s a significant jump up from the previous cards as a cheap flier with unearth.

Ultimately it’s a weak Wind Drake that can come back for a turn, which isn’t exactly flying high over the quality of creatures these days.

#12. Spined Thopter

Spined Thopter

Phyrexian mana is one of the most notorious mechanics in Magic history, delivering some powerful cards ever like Splinter Twin and Gitaxian Probe. Others are just “good,” and that’s what this two or three mana 2/1 flier is in Spined Thopter.

A 2-colorless mana 2/1 flier is a pretty good rate, even if you have to pay two life for it too. It’s likely not going to win any Legacy tournaments any time soon, but it can still see a home occasionally.

#11. Snare Thopter

Snare Thopter

The last in the line of “it’s just a fairly plain beater” thopters is Snare Thopter. The rate on this one isn’t bad, though. 3/2 fliers with haste are pretty on-rate below rare, and being colorless means it can fit into a number of decks.

This card has probably killed plenty of players the turn it’s come down in the past, and I can imagine myself getting sick of losing to it if it were ever in a random Draft format.

#10. Pilgrim’s Eye

Pilgrim's Eye

A Limited player’s favorite is Pilgrim's Eye. Great for those multicolor soup decks, grabbing a basic out of your deck and having a relevant, if small, body on top of that.

This may not be the big hitter it once was as the power level of Limited decks goes up. I wouldn’t be shocked to see it in even a Masters set, and I’d be even less shocked to see Limited fans getting excited over the chance to draft it again.

#9. Skyscanner


It’s tough to decide between Skyscanner and Pilgrim's Eye. It’s like Coke or Pepsi, McDonald’s or Burger King. Phyrexians or Eldrazi, even!

It’s just a question of what you like more; fixing, or drawing cards. I picked Skyscanner for this list, but to be honest it probably changes every day for me!

#8. Ornithopter of Paradise

Ornithopter of Paradise

Modern Horizons 2 brought lots of powerful cards to Modern (and Commander). One of the not-quite as powerful ones was Ornithopter of Paradise.

That’s not to say it’s bad! Far from it. It’s a fine card, smashing together two independently favorite cards, Ornithopter and Birds of Paradise. It’s just a bit expensive to see extensive play.

#7. Chrome Courier

Chrome Courier

Chrome Courier follows the trend of 3-mana flying thopters that get a bit of card advantage, like Skyscanner. It’s also the only colored thopter card, coming from MH2 where affinity was the Azorius () archetype.

The card selection it offers is great, as is the lifegain you get from ditching an artifact. A fantastic role-player which I could definitely see sneaking into Pauper, or the right Commander deck.

#6. Spotter Thopter

Spotter Thopter

The big thing that Spotter Thopter offers is flexibility. Well, that and a lot of card selection. Neither half of it is particularly amazing, but having the ability to choose either is great.

Also, you know what’s better than flexibility with this? Blinking the prototyped version…

#5. Hope of Ghirapur

Hope of Ghirapur

Hope of Ghirapur is one of those cards that seems to be a good role-player, but it never really found a home. A 1/1 flier for one with an ability feels like it should be played, but it just doesn’t quite do enough.

That said, it could still easily find a good home if the meta in Pioneer or even Modern shifts in the right way.

#4. Ornithopter


You knew it was coming sometime, but it was just a question of where! It didn’t quite make the top three this time, but it’s still not only iconic, but powerful.

The original 0-mana creature, Ornithopter was a real boundary pusher at the time. It’s still a role-player, whether you’re trying to combo off with Song of Creation or just use it as a beater with Tempered Steel. It’s a super fun card that has seen play for almost three decades and is likely to see play for quite a while to come.

A pretty perfect card, if I’m honest!

#3. Thopter Assembly

Thopter Assembly

Top three time, and we’re really getting into the good stuff. Thopter Assembly is really interesting. If it sticks, you can create an army of chump blockers or even better, practically infinite sacrifice fodder.

Of course, you can also just use those bonus thopters to beat down in the air.

#2. Thopter Squadron

Thopter Squadron

Thopter Squadron is a card that’s been full of potential for years. It’s just itching to be broken by something.

Yes, you can go infinite with Phyrexian Altar, but it feels like it can do so much more than that. I doubt a creature like this would be printed these days without some kind of safeguards on it to try and prevent silly things happening. But it exists, and even at five mana it’s great fun to try and abuse.

#1. Liberator, Urza’s Battlethopter

Liberator, Urza's Battlethopter

It kind of feels right for Urza’s private flagship to come at the top of the thopter list. Liberator, Urza's Battlethopter is an aggressively-costed card, specifically designed to put a different spin on a colorless EDH deck as its commander.

Giving all your artifacts flash and growing itself is an unusual combination of abilities, but it’s clearly a combination that was designed to work nicely together.

Wrap Up

Liberator, Urza's Battlethopter - Illustration by Ekaterina Burmak

Liberator, Urza's Battlethopter | Illustration by Ekaterina Burmak

Thopters are pretty uniquely iconic to Magic and have seen a bit of resurgence in the last few years. 5 of the 17 were printed for the first time in the last couple of years. I wouldn’t be shocked if we see more in the next few years, and they’ll likely also push the envelope of what’s possible in the same way as other modern designs.

Do you like thopters? Do they make you think of Magic when you hear about them? Are you an Ornithopter fan, or is it boring to you? Let me know in the comments down below, or over in the official Draftsim Discord.

I look forward to seeing you in the next one!

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