I haven’t played Magic: The Gathering in a long time. The last time I was really into it was over a decade ago, back during the Lorwyn/Shadowmoor cycle, when I tormented my friends with my faerie deck (casting things on your own turn is for chumps). But my fondest and strongest memories of the game are from my childhood. Back then, nobody I knew really understood “the meta,” getting new cards usually meant buying fakes out of coin-fed dispensers at the rec center, and you kind of just built decks based on your favorite cards. As for the ones you didn’t like, you left them in binders or cardboard boxes. And the cards you really disliked, because they were too horrifying to look at? Well, you couldn’t just throw them out — so you hid them behind other cards and tried to forget about them. Here are ten such cards that, nonetheless, snuck into my nightmares back in the day.
10. Goblin Soothsayer
This card isn’t so much horrifying as it is just really, really gross. You’ve got a fucked up semi-skeletal little goblin with spindly legs examining a gooey pile of guts on a twisted branch. Robert Bliss — not to be confused with the 20th century gay artist of the same name — could really draw some awful little guys, as demonstrated by his art for Skulking Ghost and Goblin Elite Infantry. But none of those cards was as gross as Goblin Soothsayer.
9. Living Wall
Speaking of gross, here comes Living Wall — a horrifying tumorous mass of flesh by Anson Maddocks. If you look closely, you can identify what looks like intestines and possibly even testicles, but I don’t recommend it.
Pestilence was a super-powerful card back in the early days of Magic, which meant that you saw this horrible little ghoul constantly. There’s nothing deep about Jesper Myrfors art here, nothing subtle. It’s just a terrible, lesioned-up gremlin staring directly into your soul.
7. Juzam Djinn
Hey kids! You like genies, right? Like Robin Williams from Aladdin? What if they were terrifying monsters with scaly faces who could pick you up between their fingers like you were a mere insect? What about that?
6. Blood Lust
Honestly, this whole list could just be Anson Maddocks art. My guy was on some shit in the 90s. Blood Lust isn’t immediately horrifying or disgusting in the same way as some others on this list, but it’s a really bizarre interpretation of the term. Like, is she literally lusting after a bloody wall? The whole thing just looks so alien and unnerving and my child brain definitely could not made heads or tails of it.
Another Robert Bliss card, Polymorph features a screaming rabbit with extremely defined teeth and musculature sprouting enormous, spindly claws, as if it’s turning into the guy from Goblin Soothsayer. Blue cards typically aren’t so freaky, instead opting for more whimsical or fantastical imagery, but Polymorph wouldn’t be out of place as a gruesome close-up in Ren and Stimpy.
Absolutely not. Get this shit out of here.
3. Llanowar Elves
Standing out from the mostly Red and Black cards on this list, we’ve got Llanowar Elves. The card is a staple of Green acceleration decks, and later versions of it depict much more normal-looking fantasy elves. But Anson Maddocks, of course, couldn’t just draw a little guy running around in the woods for the first incarnation of Llanowar Elves. Instead, we got this — a grimacing, fanged elf with some kind of cyber-goggles. Definitely the image I conjure up when I think about elves gathering the fruits of their forest.
2. Greater Werewolf
This guy isn’t turning into a wolf — a wolf’s head is growing out of the side of his face. Thankfully, Dennis Detwiller later atoned for his crimes by helping to develop The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction and Prototype. We love to see a man of many talents, even if one of those talents is horrifying children.
1. Blistering Barrier
David Ho: Ok here’s the art, it’s a giant mouth.
Wizards of the Coast: Not nearly upsetting enough.
David Ho: Ok what if I put a guy in it too?
Wizards: Keep going.
David Ho: He has a fucked up alien head?
David Ho: And his skin is melting off?
Wizards: David, you’ve done it again.