A Magic: The Gathering Creature Review by Jonathan Wojcik

   Of all my favorite monster categories, scarecrows probably come up the least often. There's just something I find so charmingly dreadful about a crude figure of sticks, rags, burlap and hay lurching to life, but rarely are they executed with the care they deserve.

Illustrator: Anson Maddocks

  Unsurprisingly, this is far from the case for Scarecrows in the world of Magic. The first ever printed, known only as Scarecrow, was this ghoulish "artifact creature" painted by good old Anson Maddocks. Simple, straightforward, remarkably scary. In the years since, scarecrows have returned to the game on a few modest occasions, and what they lack in number, they make up for in sheer ingenuity.

   This is another review where I'll be trying to include every qualifying creature. These moldy marauders span more than one set, but we'll be going in the usual "however I feel like it" order, ending on my undisputed favorites. Let's scare some crows!

The Tatterkite

Illustrator: Ron Brown

   Tatterkite is one of a few flying scarecrows, and how terrifying is this thing? It looks like something straight out of Scary Stories with that fuzzy, whispy body and decomposed face. You couldn't ask for a better locale than a fog-shrouded tangle of dead trees, either. It wouldn't look right flapping around anywhere else.

The Rattleblaze Scarecrow

Illustrator: Trevor Hairsine

   Not the only one we'll be seeing on fire, though this one has the added edge of including human remains in its construction. How many monsters have you ever seen with a skeletal human arm and rib-cage for a leg? Whoever put this thing together is a true visionary. Or did it put itself together? That seems to be implied by a lot of these fiends.

The Chainbreaker

Illustrator: Jeff Miracola

   This one has a classic, cartoonish Halloween feel to it, with nice lopsided proportions. Its branching, rootlike legs are quite cool, as are the branches sprouting down its back like some sort of spinal outgrowth. This one's gimmick is that it enters play unable to attack, until it breaks out of its chains in a couple turns. A murderous scarecrow can even make an obvious disadvantage seem bad-ass.

The Heap Doll

Illustrator: John Avon

   It's hard to make out the finer details of this one, but that really only adds to this atmospheric scene. The Heap Doll's sole function is to remove a creature from any graveyard (discard pile) completely from the game, basically ensuring your opponent can never use any spells or abilities to resurrect it. This, sadly, destroys the Heap Doll as well, so you won't be counteracting any massive zombie uprisings with the little guy, but you can take care of one particularly bothersome cadaver. The art really nicely conveys a creature toiling away at a single, grim mission.

The Fang Skulkin

Illustrator: Ron Brown

   Another scuzzy one from Ron Brown, the Skulkins are some of the most interesting of the Scarecrow family, seemingly so named as a play on their use of animal skulls. Fangy seems to be one of the smallest Skulkins, a nasty little clot of bone and hair with what may be the skull of a large bat or vicious, swamp-dwelling rodent. Skulkins are actually able to grant abilities to other creatures of specific mana colors, and this one gives black creatures the "Wither" ability, allowing them to permanently weaken their foes!

The Watchwing Scarecrow

Illustrator: Chuck Lukacs

   Another flying one, not as terrifying as the Tatterkite, but a little more bizarre. The two bird-like heads are pretty neat, particularly how that dangling belt-flap, or whatever it is, gives the impression of a screeching mouth with a bright yellow tongue.

The Scarecrone

Illustrator: Jesper Ejsing

   Damn. Somebody beat me to an all-too perfect Mortasheen monster name. Scarecrone is just what you expect, a cackling pointy-nosed witch made of twigs and muddy bedsheets. She allows you to sacrifice scarecrows in order to draw extra cards, but can also bring creature cards back to life, recycling scarecrows as magical fuel again and again!

The Hoof Skulkin

Illustrator: Joshua Hagler

   A Skulkin able to boost the strength of green-mana creatures could have used some moss or mildew on its bones, but you can never go wrong with cow-skull heads. I like how the skull is held on with rusty, bent wire.

The Scuttlemutt

Illustrator: Jeremy Jarvis

   A cute one in both name and design, if difficult to figure out. Which end is the front? What the heck is that jointed appendage we're looking at? Scuttlemutt has the impressive ability to generate mana of any color and change other creatures to any color or combination of colors you wish until the turn is over, which would be pretty handy in conjunction with the skulkins.

The Blazethorn Scarecrow

Illustrator: Dave Kendall

   Our second flamer and with a frighteningly odd anatomy for a humanoid. It's tough to say which piece qualifies most as its "head" or "face," between the broken jaw-like pail, forked branch and dangling lantern. Love those little guys cowering in the corner, too.

The Wingrattle Scarecrow

Illustrator: Trevor Hairsine

   Another creepy-as-hell flyer and a simply gorgeous image, with the dim sunlight filtering through the dark, torn wings. That little bag head is almost cute, cocked like a curious animal and regarding us with beady, emotionless little eyes. It's an ominous figure, but it kind of conveys a lot of innocence. It's not conscious enough for malice, but it is going to kill you.

Painter's Servant

Illustrator: Mike Dringenberg

   This Scarecrow is one of the most human-shaped for an added dash of the disturbing. Apparently having long abandoned, outlived, or possibly killed its artistic creator, it wanders the world and "paints" things as it pleases. That is, it can change the color of everything in play to whatever mana color you prefer.

The Thornwatch Scarecrow

Illustrator: Chuck Lukacs

   So Chuck Lukacs has done both the "Thornwatch" and "Watchwing" scarecrows, both multi-headed. This one is made up largely of thorny old vines, which is neat, and its heads are actually overturned buckets with fangs attached. A mean looking little bastard with a lot of ways to hurt things. I know I say this a lot, but it reminds me of a chicken.

The Grim Poppet

Illustrator: Kev Walker

   I love this one's menacing, indistinct "face" of sticks, rags and nail-like teeth, but even more than its lovely design, you have to appreciate the Grim Poppet's attack strategy. It enters play with three "-1/-1" counters (negative offense and defense) that it can distribute as it pleases to enemy creatures. It's not an entirely new or unique ability, but the art and the flavor text give this mechanic just the greatest context:

"Beware a scarecrow bearing gifts. Especially sloshing vessels of acid."

It carries big, metal cans of acid around and it hands them to things. Or maybe it dumps them on things. Either way, I like to think it really does believe they're "gifts."

The Scrapbasket

Illustrator: Heather Hudson

   CUTE! And by one of my favorite artists, too. I love the visual of this broken little basket running around with its waving broomhead-head, a jar of pure magical energy functioning as a sort of "heart."

The One-Eyed Scarecrow

Illustrator: Dave Kendall

   Yet another incredibly terrifying image, this cycloptic horror also deserves some extra-special mention for actually functioning as a scarecrow. Out of everything on this page, old one-eye is the only thing that sits in place - able to defend, but not attack - and weakens enemy flying creatures just with its presence. You really couldn't ask for a scarecrowier scarecrow, and the thought of it twitching there, nailed in place, giving everything an evil glare from that one shining (glass?) eyeball is truly chilling. Just check out the flavor text:

"Farmhands and priests mutter curses at the ragged thing; it unnerves more than the crows."

  ...Seems like a shout-out to the old folk tale of Harold, a Scarecrow who slowly came to life through the sheer abuse and malice its creators vented upon it. You know what happened next if you grew up with your own copy of Scary Stories.

The Jawbone Skulkin

Illustrator: Jeff Easley

   I'm sure you're sick of me talking about how adorable these are, but look how adorable this is. Look at it trying to intimidate that totally unimpressed beetle! What a sweetie! My favorite thing about this is, though, the brain-like walnut in its center. Not many of these Scarecrows have such fleshy components attached. I enjoy how easily you can see this as either a two-headed, armless being or a nut-headed humanoid with skulls on its arms.

The Pili-Pala

Illustrator: Ron Spencer

   Mr. Spencer was probably the only thing missing from this page, and graces us with his usual flair. I have no idea where the name "Pili-Pala" comes from, (update: Welsh for "Butterfly!" Awww!) but it feels perfectly suitable for a cloth ball with such incredibly awkward, jangling wings and limbs. It's little, it flies, and it can generate mana of any color you want for twice the cost in any other color - or colorless - which can be more useful in a multi-colored deck than it sounds.

The Antler Skulkin

Illustrator: Dave Kendall

   Every single Skulkin is pure gold - it's tough for me to choose a favorite among them - but I think this one is the clear winner in the creepiness department. Antlered skulls are eerie as it is, and the two stacked together here just create such a haunting, unnatural visage, made all the more nightmarish by the overall sickly, hellish color palette of the piece itself. I'd hang a lot of these illustrations on my wall, but I think Antler Skulkin would be one of my first choices.

The Wicker Warcrawler

Illustrator: Carl Critchlow

   I just really enjoy how far removed this one is from the typical Scarecrow, even considering the weirdos we've seen here. It's not even vaguely anthropomorphic, just a big old gnarly tangle of wood with a few spidery legs. Of course it's still a Scarecrow, what else would it need?

The Lurebound Scarecrow

Illustrator: Nils Hamm

   Almost freakier than the good old Tatterkite, every little detail of the Lurebound Scarecrow adds another pinch of terror; the tripodial, stumpy legs, its sheer size as it steps over the picket fence, its dangling humanlike arms, the little pale face with painted-on eyes, even the crows hanging out on its back all make this an exceptionally unwholesome creature to be carrying a pink doll as a "lure." There are only so many things that would be fooled by a pink doll as bait, and all of them make for an incredibly depressing story.

Those trophy skulls do not look fully developed.

The Shell Skulkin

Illustrator: Cole Eastburn

   Another really weird, inhuman one, and possibly my favorite Skulkin, though like I said, that's not an easy choice. This one's massive, broken skull apparently qualifies it as "shelled," so it's like a snail or a turtle, only it's a squat little shuffling scarecrow hiding under a massive, broken skull. Awesome. Also awesome is how it constantly spews some sort of toxic miasma, or possibly spores. I'd have really expected this to be the "green" themed Skulkin, but it gives the "shroud" ability to blue creatures, for whatever reason.

The Lockjaw Snapper

Illustrator: Daren Bader

   A Scarecrow with a bear trap for a head is an ingeniously straightforward concept, and it would be hard not to make that look cool, but I really commend Bader's decision to leave the trap in a "set" position. It would have been obvious to position it like a set of chomping teeth, but it feels so much less "human" and more unnerving for those steely jaws to be spread so wide. The way it seems to tip-toe along is even better; you can really see it sneaking up on some poor bastard and ramming its trigger into his ass. SNAP.

The Reaper King

Illustrator: Jim Murray

   This legendary Scarecrow truly lives up to its terrifying name, not only boosting the power of all other scarecrows, but allowing you to destroy anything you want - another creature, an artifact, even an opponent's land (how does that even happen?) - every single time you bring another Scarecrow into play. Its only flavor text? "It's harvest time." Kick ass.

   The design, of course, is every bit as killer as the concept. The enormous, spindly hands, multiple legs, hunched body and impaled skulls are all tied together gloriously by that head. I almost mistook it for a wasp's nest at first glance, which would have been admittedly even better, but the remains of a dripping, rotten, green pumpkin are something special in their own right.

   We were definitely missing a pumpkin-headed Scarecrow, and surprisingly, I don't think I've ever seen this route taken with one. Making it this far gone is an excellent way to squeeze some real nightmares out of what's traditionally a somewhat comical image. I've seen a lot of pumpkin-headed monsters, and I've loved every single one of them, but I've never seen one this genuinely frightening.

   We actually entered my "possible #1 favorite" territory somewhere around the Grim Poppet, but I think anything called a Reaper King with a mushy giant pumpkin head deserves pretty high standing, and a fitting one to end this on.