Last updated on December 9, 2023

Bitterblossom - Illustration by Rebecca Guay

Bitterblossom | Illustration by Rebecca Guay

Magic’s history is full of experiments and mechanics that haven’t returned much since they were introduced. Cipher is a pet favorite of mine, and the arcane spell type associated with spirits is another weird relic from the past.

Magic players everywhere have probably heard of typal/tribal synergies, but newer players might not be aware that tribal has also been a card type.

So what were tribal cards in Magic? Is it a supertype, a subtype, or neither? Will we ever see it again? Read on for the run-down on tribal Magic cards!

How Do Tribal Cards Work?

Crib Swap - Illustration by Brandon Dorman

Crib Swap | Illustration by Brandon Dorman

Tribal cards have at least one creature type in their type line, but they aren’t creature cards. For the most part, tribal cards work as their rules text and other card types indicate. Tribal instants, sorceries, enchantments, and artifacts are bound by the same rules as non-tribal ones.

The main change comes in how tribal cards interact with other cards. Tribal cards are fetchable and countable by effects that grab or count cards with the matching creature type. However, they aren’t fetchable if the effect specifies or implies a “_____ creature,” because they aren’t creatures. They don’t have power or toughness unless you animate them, after all.

A tribal artifact with the goblin creature type can be grabbed by an effect that’s searching for a “goblin card” (Wort, Boggart Auntie), but it can’t be fetched by an effect that’s searching for a “goblin creature” (Muxus, Goblin Grandee). It can be counted by an effect that counts the “goblins you control” (Muxus’s second ability), and it triggers Bog-Strider Ash’s “whenever an opponent casts a goblin” text. You can sacrifice a tribal goblin artifact to Pashalik Mons, but it won’t trigger Pashalik Mons’s first ability unless it’s an artifact creature.

And you can use wizardcycling to pull a wizard tribal card from your deck, too.

The History of Tribal Cards in MTG

The tribal card type was introduced in 2007’s Future Sight, which featured a rebel aura named Bound in Silence. Lorwyn and Morningtide expanded upon the card type, and there were new cards printed over the next few years until Rise of the Eldrazi.

Altar of the Goyf

Innistrad featured lots of focused synergies among creature types like zombies and vampires, but it was notable for not using the tribal card type at all. That was pretty much the end of its run, although it returned on Altar of the Goyf from Modern Horizons 2.

Aquitect's Will

Tribal cards have also been reprinted in duel decks (ex: Aquitect's Will in Duel Decks: Merfolk vs. Goblins), Masters products (ex: Feudkiller's Verdict in Modern Masters), and Commander products (ex: Crib Swap in many products including Commander 2018).

There’s even been a Secret Lair Drop called Bitterblossom Dreams which features a Bitterblossom with new art and four distinct Faerie Rogue tokens.

Is Tribal Still a Card Type?

Atraxa, Grand Unifier

Yes, tribal is a card type, it just isn’t used anymore. It still counts towards effects like Atraxa, Grand Unifier.

Is Tribal a Card Type or a Supertype?

Tribal is a card type, not a supertype. It is a separate card type that can be counted by effects like Consuming Blob.

Is Tribal a Type of Permanent?

No. Tribal is a card type, but its other types dictate whether it’s a permanent. Tribal artifacts and tribal enchantments are permanents, but only because of the second type.

How Is a Tribal Instant Different from a Regular Instant?

Crib Swap

The main difference is the “tribal” in a tribal instant’s type line and how it interacts with other cards. It can be counted by, fetched by, or trigger abilities that care about the matching creature type. For example, a tribal card with the shapeshifter subtype and the changeling ability like Crib Swap triggers Rin and Seri, Inseparable twice, since it counts as both a dog and a cat spell.

Do Tribal Cards Count as Creatures on the Stack?

No. Tribal cards have a creature subtype (ex., giant, merfolk), but they aren’t creatures. They don’t trigger “whenever you cast a creature spell” effects.

Will Tribal Cards Ever Come Back?

Altar of the Goyf

The short answer is “probably not.” At least, we probably won’t get many new cards with the tribal type. Lignify was reprinted for LTC, but the last new card was Altar of the Goyf from Modern Horizons 2. The tribal card type is probably relegated to reprints only.

According to responses from Mark Rosewater on his Blogatog Tumblr, he and the design team feel that you “can’t go half in,” which to me, sounds like they believe you have to label everything. Every burn spell, card draw spell, spot removal, sweeper, stax piece, and mana rock would have a creature type like goblin, wizard, rogue, elf, squirrel, shark, fox, ooze, or ouphe. That’s a lot of extra text that wouldn’t matter much most of the time, so the card type has been dropped.

Tribal/Typal

Tribal cards as a mechanic are also unlikely to return based on some WotC decisions about game design. As of Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth, Magic designers have started stepping away from the word “tribal” to describe synergies within a same theme, like how Anowon, the Ruin Thief buffs all your rogues. They say that “typal” is a more inclusive way to talk about those relationships between cards.

Gallery and List of Tribal Cards

Best Tribal Cards

#7. Eldrazi Conscription

Eldrazi Conscription

Attaching Eldrazi Conscription to your commander in EDH is all kinds of scary, especially if it has or you can give it double strike. Or you could just enchant some big Eldrazi like Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger.

#6. Lignify

Lignify

Lignify lets you cheaply deal with an opponent’s threat by turning it into a 0/4 vanilla treefolk. Aside from Kaima, the Fractured Calm and Danitha, New Benalia's Light, I see this more as a general use card than something with a specific home.

#5. Elvish Promenade

Elvish Promenade

Elvish Promenade can make your board of elves multiply faster than rabbits, especially if you’ve got any token doublers on board when you cast it. Being green lets you play this whether you’re doing mono-green, Golgari (), Selesnya (), or Simic () elves.

#4. Crib Swap

Crib Swap

Crib Swap is an exiling piece of white removal that’s also a shapeshifter spell, and there are lots of ways to make incredible use of this. You can cast it from the top of your library with Nalia de'Arnise, and you get double triggers from Rin and Seri, Inseparable when you cast it. That’s just scratching the surface, but changeling is one of the more interesting creature types for a tribal card because of abilities like these.

#3. Thornbite Staff

Thornbite Staff

Thornbite Staff turns any of your creatures into a pinger, but pairing it with Viridian Longbow makes it that much better. A deathtouch creature equipped with both can go infinite to destroy an entire board in a hurry.

#2. All Is Dust

All Is Dust

You’ll probably want to wear a mask with a good filter after playing this. Destroying every colored permanent is pure Eldrazi fun. The fact that All Is Dust forces everyone to sacrifice stuff gets around all kinds of protection like hexproof, and this is a key card for any Eldrazi-focused deck. Of course, Karn reminds you that you don’t have to play Eldrazi to play in the colorless card pool.

#1. Bitterblossom

Bitterblossom

I mean, it pumps out Faerie Rogues on your upkeep. For 2 mana. Bitterblossom is one of the best token generators in black, so good that it used to be banned in Modern.

Decklist: Giant Tribal Cards in Modern

Crush Underfoot - Illustration by Stteven Belledin

Crush Underfoot | Illustration by Stteven Belledin

Thank you to DisturbedOrange for posting this deck years ago and never deleting it. Don’t ask me if this is a good, current deck in Modern; we’re just using it as a case study.

This is a Boros () deck focused entirely around the giant creature type. Every creature in the deck is a giant, and even three of the non-creature spells, Feudkiller's Verdict, Favor of the Mighty, and Crush Underfoot have the giant subtype thanks to their tribal card type.

Favor of the Mighty works especially well because Blind-Spot Giant and Borderland Behemoth care about the other giants you control, but they don’t specify “giant creature.” That means that the enchantment counts, letting your Blind-Spots attack more easily and buffing your Behemoths even further.

There’s also Awaken the Ancient to animate some of your mana base into more giants, and having giants in hand lets you play your Ancient Amphitheaters untapped.

Wrap Up

Feudkiller's Verdict - Illustration by Dan Scott

Feudkiller's Verdict | Illustration by Dan Scott

And that’s the story of tribal cards in Magic. While we aren’t likely to see many new cards, you’ll find some of the best ones creep into Commander and Masters products. It was an interesting experiment, but I can see why designers felt that it needed to be left aside.

Which are your favorite typal cards in Magic? Which formats and decks do you use them in? Let me know in the comments below or over on Draftsim’s Discord!

Take care and stay hydrated!

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