Last updated on December 9, 2023
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.
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!
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 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.
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.
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).
Yes, tribal is a card type, it just isn’t used anymore. It still counts towards effects like Atraxa, Grand Unifier.
Tribal is a card type, not a supertype. It is a separate card type that can be counted by effects like Consuming Blob.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
- All Is Dust
- Altar of the Goyf
- Aquitect's Will
- Blades of Velis Vel
- Boggart Birth Rite
- Boggart Shenanigans
- Bound in Silence
- Cloak and Dagger
- Consuming Bonfire
- Crib Swap
- Crush Underfoot
- Diviner's Wand
- Ego Erasure
- Eldrazi Conscription
- Elvish Promenade
- Eyeblight's Ending
- Eyes of the Wisent
- Faerie Tauntings
- Faerie Trickery
- Favor of the Mighty
- Feudkiller's Verdict
- Fodder Launch
- Form of the Mulldrifter
- Giant's Ire
- Gilt-Leaf Ambush
- Hoofprints of the Stag
- Hunting Triad
- Knowledge Exploitation
- Merrow Commerce
- Militia's Pride
- Morsel Theft
- Nameless Inversion
- Noggin Whack
- Not of This World
- Notorious Throng
- Obsidian Battle-Axe
- Prowess of the Fair
- Reach of Branches
- Rebellion of the Flamekin
- Sage's Dousing
- Sarah's Wings
- Shields of Velis Vel
- Skittering Invasion
- Stream of Unconsciousness
- Summon the School
- Surge of Thoughtweft
- Thieves' Fortune
- Thornbite Staff
- Veteran's Armaments
- Violet Pall
- Warren Weirding
- Wings of Velis Vel
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Crush Underfoot | Illustration by Stteven Belledin
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.
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!
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