A Magic: The Gathering Creature Review by Jonathan Wojcik
According to me, we're smack in the middle of Halloween, and that means everything on Bogleech needs an extra-ghoulish twist, regardless of how ghoulish it already is by default 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It's been a while since my last Magic: The Gathering creature feature, so let's take a look at some of the wildest and wackiest of the zombie creature type!
Illustrator: Ron Spencer
Ron Spencer's repulsive Plaguebearer feels like the best possible zombie to start out with. Not too far removed from your typical shambling corpse, but neither too conventional. This was easily one of the grossest, most graphic cards ever released back in the day, with the pure, steamy essence of disease just boiling that poor sap's flesh. I love those transparent cheek sacs, swollen with infectious filth like some kind of pus-filled hamster. In fact...
It's kind of exactly like a Hamster. Good one, Ron.
The Bone Dancer
Illustrator: Scott Kirschner
A long time favorite of mine, this spindly-limbed funkmaster can reanimate your opponent's dead creatures and bring them back to your side, presumably to re-enact Thriller. Scott Kirschner's striking, stylish artwork really sets this one apart, especially with that freaky mask, those cloven hooves and purple pocketbook. What does he even keep in there? More bones? You've got bones, Bone Dancer! You're dancing on them! Some people.
The Shambling Remains
Illustrator: Nils Hamm
This one isn't just any zombie, but a zombie horror! It's also exactly what I think of when you say the words "shambling" and "remains" together. I dig the vertical, toothy maw peeking from behind all that ragged, drooping flesh, and the single, bulging, glazed over eyeball!
The Severed Legion
Illustrator: Dany Orizio
What's a proper undead army without some disembodied, crawling hands? I don't know how the hell some of them are able to move while carrying things, unless they're supposed to be using strands of muscle as tiny tentacle-legs, which almost seems to be the case here. This ruthless gang of appendages marching through the streets is an overall fun image, and they couldn't have possibly picked a cooler name.
The Gravespawn Sovereign
Illustrator: Adam Rex
This is another one that makes loyal minions out of any dead creatures you want, but a little more surreal than the dancer. That huge, nearly skeletal head makes a wonderfully nightmarish visual, and apparently regurgitates more zombies into existence. It also always looked to me like it was flying, which is the only worse thing it could have possibly been doing. It could just bust in through your window, puke zombies into your bedroom and soar off into the night sky, oblivious to the screams as it waves farewell, content with a job well done.
The Carnophage and Sangrophage
Illustrator: Pete Venters
This eyeless, skinless flesh eater would be pretty horrifying groping blindly from the shadows behind you right now. I'm glad that isn't me! I especially like the crazy shard-like teeth just impaled through its lips. This is a zombie from the Rath cycle, which as we've discussed before, took place on an alien plane lorded over by a guy with an evil laboratory.
Illustrator: Pete Venters
Later, in the Time Spiral sets, we meet the Sangrophage, basically the same monster, but even less human, almost saurian with its now massively oversized chompers and more bestial skull!
The Cyclopean Giant
Illustrator: Mark Tedin
Scary. As. Hell. The only thing worse than a giant-sized zombie is definitely a giant-sized zombie missing huge chunks of its gross, mostly hollow head, and its flavor text says something about "tomb eyes," which we can assume are giant, brain-like stone eyes from which giant, broken corpses emerge. Why? I don't know of any story materials explaining this one, which makes it all the more disturbing. Imagine a land just littered with these freaking tomb eyes. Imagine the Cyclopean Giant trying to eat you and you just sort of fall back out one side of his face. Chilling!
The Nested Ghoul
Illustrator: Dave Kendall
This is exactly what it both looks and sounds like. An undead bio-mechanical monster in another undead bio-mechanical monster, with apparently even more where that came from. This isn't even all that unusual for the creations of Phyrexia, which you met when we went over the Horrors. The littler zombie looks damn near insane, too, and subtly insect-like, perching like a locust to form the thing's "head."
The Marrow Chomper
Illustrator: Lars Grant-West
Marrow Chomper is the only "zombie lizard" I'm aware of, and immediately cool for its upturned pug-like skull face, loosely connected flesh and winding tongue. It also took me a while to notice that this thing is gigantic. Look at the little dude on the horse!
The Nim Abomination
Illustrator: Jim Murray
The "Nim" are a whole family of undead warped and twisted into strange, half-metallic forms, and the abomination lives up to its name as the most twisted of all. It took me an embarrassingly long time (we're talking years) before my mind ever pieced together this thing's anatomy. I'd glance at it, fail to register what I was looking at besides some odd tangle of unrelated body parts, admire how cool that was and wonder no further. Eventually, it just sort of "clicked," like an optical illusion, and while making more sense should theoretically make it less cool, I really enjoy this thing's layout. If you're having any trouble yourself, let me help:
Mine is at the beach!
The Organ Grinder
Illustrator: Adam Rex
This silly pun looks fairly terrifying as it slices open its conscious victim to suck something or other through its freaky, doll-like face and into collection bottles. That stuff certainly doesn't look like any "organs" that I know of.
The Hand of the Praetors
At first glance, this Phyrexian zombie is just a totally awesome biomechanical vulture-man with freaky metal eyes and an adorable smile, but look closer at his "torso!" Does it just look that head-like for fashion purposes, or does he even have his brain in there, the "bird" head little more than a feeding and/or speaking appendage?
The Coffin Queen
Illustrator: Kaja Foglio
Coffin Queen wasn't originally printed as a zombie (I believe "coffin queen" was also its card type) but has since been retconned as a zombie type for future prints, so a zombie she is! A real cutie, too, yet fairly unnerving with her pale face, four arms and defiance of gravity. Love that background, too. This is another of those older cards with a really painted look to it, rather than attempting the utmost realism.
The Phyrexian Ghoul
Illustrator: Pete Venters
From the same mind who brought to life the Carnophage, this zombie looks even less like we've come to expect. It seems to have an exterior of mostly rusted metal, and those enormous crocodilian jaws rest upon a surprisingly tiny body, when we really look him over.
Illustrator: Adam Rex
This is another "retconned" zombie, originally printed as just a "minion" creature type. Zombie or otherwise, there is everything delightful about a pallid, monstrous ghoul just floating around in a nightcap and a cartoon wizard's cape - or maybe that's just a child's bedsheet. It seems to put people to sleep with its very presence, but doesn't have any other clear intentions here, destructive or otherwise. It's half silly, half disturbing, my favorite combination!
Illustrator: David Rapoza
The very least zombie-like zombie here, Skinrender combines the aesthetics of Alien and Pumpkinhead into a reasonable scary, slimy skinned predator, but are those nostrils above its mouth, or incredibly tiny, dopey eyes? I have to say I prefer the latter visual, which gives it the deranged stare of some nightmarish moray eel.
Illustrator: Steven Belledin
Ths laboratory construct is another that looks fairly plain at a distance - especially with the tiny size these cards are printed at - but you can probably see what's supposed to be so brain-hurting about it:
I don't know if this would crush my mind, exactly, but innumerable, scattered human eyes are always pretty fun, especially on a monster whose head looks this much like a potato.
The Infectious Horror
Illustrator: Pete Venters
One more weirdo by Venters, and easily the nastiest. He really has a knack for twisted, alien undead and I find everything about this design extremely cool, from the totally alien lower mouthparts to the disgusting, gaping armpits. The fused human skulls are the only explicitly human element, and the sheer mindless misery in their eyes is enough to double the horror of the whole damn thing. It does seem to have several additional, less human eyes, unless those are just more orifices full of ickiness.
The Phyrexian Delver
Illustrator: Dana Knutson
According to Phyrexia, a "zombie" can just be a big, silly robot with a couple of zombie heads fused into it. Do you dare question their genius? This is such a strange, unreal thing, even by the standards we've already established, and looks exactly like it belongs in a video game like Contra or Doom. Of the two heads, I have to say I vastly prefer the one on the right, which looks substantially ghastlier and really deserved to be the "lead" head. What function do additional heads even serve this daft contraption?
Illustrator: Rk Post
They look completely different in almost every sense, yet something about the Ragamuffyn reminds me heavily of the Organ Grinder. Like, they would just look and sound really cute together, with their creepy doll features and whimsical names. I really think they should hook up.
The Plague Dogs
Illustrator: Chippy and Matthew Wilson
One more from Phyrexia, and one more that I believe was only later made into a zombie, though I could be mistaken. You may already be aware that "plague dogs" is the name of an incredibly depressing book and animated film, which was probably intentional. I love how these look nothing like dogs in any way whatsoever, with elongated eyeless skulls and an almost insect-like appearance. The concept that they just perch atop these rocky pillars, pouring their contagion into the wind, is a fairly haunting image.
The Gurmag Angler
Illustrator: YW Tang
So, as with the thallids, I've come back to this article a whopping six years later to add some fresh additions, and the first one I want to share with you is this giant, rotten, undead anglerfish. What's really cool is how the lure is meant to resemble a humanoid body, because it apparently preys on other zombies and assorted man-eating monsters! The fact that this creature evolved especially for such a biome tells me it's not just some animal that became a zombie, but possibly always a zombie. You are what you eat?
The Wandering Tombshell
Illustrator: Yeong-Hao Han
A zombie turtle?! Not a common concept at all, and this zombie turtle is so huge that it shell is apparently also an entire tomb! A gorgeous image, too, with fantastic use of minimal color.
The Fleshbag Marauder
Illustrator: Pete Venters
EUUUGH. What is it about something with a goofy human face that feels SO much more hideous? This blobby fellow would be downright adorable with a more monstrous visage (or no face at all) but that intensely staring, grumpy old grimace pushes it into extreme depths of uncanny nightmarishness, as do the little patches of black hair.
Mark Zug actually illustrated a later reprint of the marauder, and it's a very, very different beast. Still horrifying, but in a somewhat more sympathetic looking way, and I really like that big flap of blubber hanging down over half of its face. Both fleshbags have their own unique charms, and it's difficult to pick one over the other. You both did a great job!
The Crypt Creeper
Illustrator: Scott Chou
Wow, nice. Just how the heck does Crypt Creeper keep those so pristine, anyway? But seriously, it's a cool looking ghoul with or without its strangely undecomposed gazongs, I love the pose and the colors and the foggy pale background and the light softly catching the hair. I think I'm getting a crush here.
The Diregraf Colossus
Illustrator: Vincent Proce
Is that your real name, Vincent? Is it really just ONE letter away from such a horror legend?! I'm sure Mr. Price would approve of this wholeheartedly, too; enough regular zombies bound together in a giant, man-shaped cage that it actually functions like one giant zombie. INGENIOUS. I guess some additional magic or a "hive mind" would have to be at work here to keep it from just sort of lying on the ground and flailing chaotically.
Illustrator: Volkan Baga
This zombie treefolk is interesting in how little it resembles other "treefolk." It has no anthropomorphic limbs or face of its own and really just consists of a walking, rotten tree, but with a number of embedded human corpses, and apparently it walks around swinging a chain covered in skulls.
Illustrator: Greg Staples
Easily my new favorite zombie, the Slitherhead is an undead plant with an amost starfish-like or octopus-like appearance, but apparently holes itself up in human skulls the way a hermit crab utilizes a discarded snail shell!
The Corpse Connoisseur
Illustrator: Mark Hyzer
This is an example of a design that isn't anything remarkable in concept, but compensated for by just such a phenomenal artistic style. Hyzer's work is gorgeous, and difficult to mistake for anybody else's. He's taken a simple corpse-man and given it so much unique beauty and charm, from the subtly blocky skull to the embossed looking textures throughout, and the pose that just tells you immediately, yes, we are looking at a connoisseur of corpses, connoisseurrering some corpses as we speak.
The Siren of the Silent Song
Illustrator: Anthony Palumbo
Kudos to Magic for remembering that Sirens were traditionally part bird in classic legend. I don't know when they came to be conflated with mermaids or other fish-folk, but while I do appreciate a good fish-siren, horrible bird people are fun as heck.
Most sirens in this game have fully human faces, but this undead variety sports a beautifully freaky animal skull, and eye sockets charmingly covered over by a mop of greasy hair. It's a simple combination of design features, but really really neat!
The Yixlid Jailer
Illustrator: Matt Cavotta
Another that's just gorgeous, both as an art piece and as a character design. This elegant, spindly, androgynous ghoul has a fashion sense so rad it hurts, like one of the subtler and classier Hellraiser cenobites, and I think my very favorite part of the design is the huge, red lamplight eye. Is there another on the other side? Are they just wearing GIGANTIC light-up goggles? God that's a great choice. That could not possibly ever even be a greater choice to complete this look. I think...this might actually be the single raddest looking zombie in the whole damn game, and that is a status with some pretty stiff competition.
The Drakestown Forgotten
Illustrator: Steve Prescott
I'm not sure I want to end on one as grim and saddening as these poor souls, but holy hell, what an image. No flavor text is offered by this card, but the name and illustration alone weave a downright harrowing horror story all their own.
Drakestown is a nice looking place, isn't it? All bright, shiny white paint and picture-perfect red rooftops and shiny gold trim. The people seem healthy, nicely dressed, and shocked enough that they aren't nearly as used to this shit as so many other towns and cities in the MTGverse. It looks like they were all just going about their oblivious business when a pack of hideously tortured, mutilated corpses clawed their way up into the middle of town square.
The expressions of these townfolk feel like so much more than just the fear of a few scary monsters; these really seem like people who either had no idea the atrocities committed beneath their town's modern facade, or simply didn't care because it didn't affect them. I really didn't think a painting of Magic the Gathering Zombies could be so profoundly sickening, and that's not at all a criticism. I'd eat up an entire novel about how these poor souls exacted their revenge.