Kappa Cannoneer | Illustration by Jesper Ejsing
Comin’ outta my shell, and I’ve been doin’ just fine…
Wait, that’s not how the song goes.
Turtles are awesome, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. They’re the ultimate nomads, bringing everything they’ve got everywhere they go. You might say they’re prone to wandering or meandering. Ever have to wait for one of these to cross the road?
Magic’s best turtles come in one size: big. But which among them are the best? What abilities do they have, and can they be useful to you? There’s only one thing to say before getting started:
What Are Turtles in MTG?
Silburlind Snapper | Illustration by Tomasz Jedruszek
Turtles are a creature type in MTG that reflect the turtles you can find at a zoo, pet store, or out in the wild. Of course, a few of the ones in Magic are a teensy bit bigger than some map turtle you found in a pond.
The first turtle in Magic was Giant Turtle from Legends, but Arabian Nights’s Giant Tortoise was errata’ed to have turtle typing, too. Turtles sometimes come with evasion like hexproof, ward, and shroud to fit that “hide in your shell” flavor.
For those who are curious, there are about four times as many turtles in Magic as there are rabbits. Two thoughts on this: slow and steady wins the race, and it seems like Magic’s bunnies don’t know how to multiply.
Patient, and polite! Just don’t you and your friends all go running Patient Turtle at the same time.
“No, after you.”
“Please, I insist.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it.”
And/or phrasing means that for our rankings, Shellephant is Schrödinger’s card. Is it a turtle? Is it an elephant? No. Yes.
… My brain hurts.
Best Blue Turtles
#16. Wormfang Turtle
Huh? I don’t really see where you’d use Wormfang Turtle other than a janky landfall deck where you’re expecting this fella to die to something. Maybe you kill it yourself.
Are you using this to return a land that you stole from your opponent? I’m stumped.
#15. Silburlind Snapper
I mean, it’s here if you’re doing turtle tribal and need a creature slot filled. Silburlind Snapper is pretty expensive for a creature that won’t be able to attack some turns, so I probably wouldn’t snap it up for my own deck.
#14. Tidepool Turtle
I think I’d prefer Tidepool Turtle if it were a slightly cheaper and smaller creature. You’re spending seven mana before you start scrying, and that just feels slow.
#13. Armored Whirl Turtle
You can get Armored Whirl Turtle’s stats on a much cheaper creature, so it’s hard to endorse it or give it a high ranking.
#12. Giant Tortoise
Giant Tortoise invites you to use it as a blocker, and a blocker only. What a nice way to give a creature defender without giving it defender.
Go find your basking lamp, buddy. You can sit this one out.
#11. Horned Turtle
Oh, look! A Giant Tortoise with actual 1/4 stats! And Horned Turtle isn’t even limited to having that toughness when untapped. For one mana more.
In a tier-list they’re the same, but this is a ranked list and every perk counts.
#10. Calcite Snapper
Switching Calcite Snapper’s power and toughness can make it a lot stronger in a combat or fight setting, but it also leaves it very vulnerable.
#9. Cold-Water Snapper
It’s got pretty standard turtle evasion, but Cold-Water Snapper doesn’t do much else. It’s fine for what it is, but you’re likely to be leaving this in your collection rather than playing it.
#8. Thriving Turtle
This turtle looks like it’s just about ready to dig a hole, lay a bunch of eggs, bury ‘em and high-tail it back to the ocean.
Thriving Turtle fits into energy strategies, but you probably want it more as a cheap body. Given the energy it provides on ETB, any deck can have it as a 1/4 even if energy isn’t part of their game.
#7. Mistford River Turtle
I’m going to call Mistford River Turtle “Grand Master Oogway” for how it makes one of your non-humans unblockable. It’s like it’s being a teacher or mentor or something.
Oogway was a tortoise, not a turtle, but we’re not splitting scutes here.
#6. Sailors’ Bane
Counting cards in exile as well as the graveyard helps the viability of Sailors' Bane. It’ll be tough for your opponents to get rid of it without a big creature or without burning a higher-cost card, a board wipe, or a forced sacrifice effect.
#5. Aegis Turtle
Aegis Turtle is a 1-drop creature that can take a 5-tougheness punch. There’s lots of use for something like that in a deck’s early game.
#4. Angler Turtle
Your opponents will have a hard time getting rid of your Angler Turtle. And they should want to get rid of it, considering what it’s forcing their creatures to do. Yup, that’s definitely bait.
Off-topic, but I find this art reminds me more of an ankylosaur than a turtle.
#3. Dragon Turtle
“Flash” and “turtle” don’t seem to go together but here we are. I guess it also makes sense that an aquatic dragon wouldn’t have flying. Dragon Turtle’s drag below tapping ability helps to shut something down for a while after it enters the battlefield.
#2. Riptide Turtle
Riptide Turtle is like an Aegis Turtle, but with both flash and defender. It costs a little more to get out, but that’s okay.
Flash lets you hold it up on an opponent’s turn while defender lets you slot this into defender matters decks.
#1. Kappa Cannoneer
Artifact payoffs are always in season, and Kappa Cannoneer has improvise to help your non-mana artifacts pay for it. Ward 4 is pretty dang close to hexproof, but it won’t save your turtle from everything, and artifactfall makes it grow and become temporarily unblockable, so that’s a plus. A big plus.
Best Black Turtles
#2. Wandering Tombshell
Black doesn’t have many turtles, which makes Wandering Tombshell both runner-up and last. It can take a hit, but its base power is one and it has no abilities.
#1. Gorex, the Tombshell
You might not want to focus on it, but Gorex, the Tombshell gives you an interesting combination of abilities.
Its 4/4 stats and deathtouch make it a solid body to have around. You can make it cheaper by exiling cards from your graveyard, and its attack/death trigger returns one of those exiled cards to your hand.
Best Red Turtle
#1. Yidaro, Wandering Monster
In archaeology, the earliest currently known turtles are from the same period as the earliest known dinosaurs, so I have no qualms with Yidaro, Wandering Monster’s typing. You’re likely to use this turtle in decks that care about cycling (Gavi, Nest Warden) or dinosaurs (Gishath, Sun's Avatar).
It’ll cost slightly more mana to cycle Yidaro four times rather than cast it normally, but that just means your patience will be that much more rewarded.
Best Green Turtles
#6. Giant Turtle
The original Magic turtle, Giant Turtle’s attacks are restricted to every other turn. It’s slow. But it’s a turtle, what did you expect?
#5. Hexbane Tortoise
Hexbane Tortoise is nothing exciting, but ward 2 fits its name. Enlist can help this trade for a bigger threat, although it’s a pretty glassy 2-toughness turtle regardless of the power it borrows.
#4. Vintara Snapper
Vintara Snapper essentially has shroud when you’re tapped out. It could be fine in the early game, but having no lands up to tap leaves you at a disadvantage.
#3. Meandering Towershell
Meandering Towershell takes the “attack every two turns” design and turns it into slow blinking. You could use creaturefall to try to take advantage of it, and the islandwalk makes it mildly evasive.
#2. Kappa Tech-Wrecker
Turtle… ninja. Close, but no pizza.
Kappa Tech-Wrecker works as enchantment or artifact removal if you time it right. Proliferation makes its ability repeatable without having to return your “turtle ninja” to your hand. It can be a cheap creature for your Fynn, the Fangbearer deck, too.
#1. Steelbane Hydra
The world of Magic allows for all kinds of creature hybrids, and Steelbane Hydra gives you some of the best of hydras and turtles. It’s another example of turtle artifact and enchantment destruction, while its synergy with hydras, counters, and X spells make it the Neapolitan ice cream of turtles.
Best Multicolored Turtles
I sure wouldn’t want to run into Scuttlegator while on a hike or something. It’ll take 14 mana to cast and adapt this creature, but you could cheat it out or use other counter-giving effects to skip adapting and attack anyway.
#4. Thunderous Snapper
Thunderous Snapper pays you off in card draw when you play high-cost spells. Cascade effects like Imoti, Celebrant of Bounty can get a real kick out of this, but its hydra typing also helps it fit in there.
#3. Quandrix Cultivator
More turtle irony: Quandrix Cultivator speeds up your mana game by bringing out an untapped land with it. But it’s a druid, so a form of ramp totally makes sense.
#2. Colossal Skyturtle
How do you like your Colossal Skyturtle? On the battlefield with its flying and ward 2? Or in your hand, ready to discard with channel? Perhaps in your graveyard, primed for reanimation?
There are a lot of ways to fit a Skyturtle into what you’re doing.
#1. Archelos, Lagoon Mystic
If you’re playing a turtle tribal Commander deck, Archelos, Lagoon Mystic is your guy… er, reptile. It doesn’t prevent itself from untapping, but you could definitely throw some of that into your deck if you want to slow the game down further.
Aesop would be proud.
Best Turtle Payoffs
There aren’t a lot of turtle tribal payoffs, but there are a few similarities between them.
The main one is how many big slow bois there are. You might not want to run more than one turtle in a deck, and Volo, Guide to Monsters is in the right colors to take advantage of having just one. The bigger turtles’ high mana costs also play into cascade strategies.
ETBs and ETB payoffs are another part of the turtle toolbox. Dragon Turtle has its drag below that triggers when it enters the battlefield. Meandering Towershell has ways to leave and enter the battlefield multiple times. And, of course, Kappa Cannoneer has its artifactfall.
Calcite Snapper has a landfall ability that switches its power and toughness, but turtles in general can be good for other stat-switching strategies. Just make sure that your effects of choice won’t nerf your 0-power turtles, like Arcades, the Strategist’s second ability.
How Does Dragon Turtle Work?
Dragon Turtle has a drag below ability that triggers when it enters the battlefield. When it resolves, you tap the card and up to one target creature an opponent controls. They don’t untap during their controllers’ next respective untap steps.
If you target a creature that becomes an illegal target by the time drag below tries to resolve, the entire ability is countered. You don’t tap Dragon Turtle, and it untaps as usual during your next untap step. Your target can become illegal if it’s exile or killed before drag below can resolve, for example.
If there are no legal targets, drag below still taps Dragon Turtle on its ETB. It’s because of that “up to” phrasing; you don’t have to choose a target, but Dragon Turtle still taps itself if you don’t.
Archelos, Lagoon Mystic | Illustration by Dan Scott
That’s about it for our deep dive into Magic’s Turtles. There are lots of interesting design choices, like giving them evasion or making them faster than you’d expect. I don’t expect a full turtle-focused set unless we visit some underwater or swampy realm, but they should continue making appearances as we go forward.
Are you Team Fast Turtles, or Team Slow Turtles? What do you hope to see from future turtles? Please tell me it’s a TMNT product. Or don’t; I can’t force you. Whatever’s on your mind, our comments and Discord are open.
Now time for some pizza of my own!
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