y former podcast co-host and now Wizards R&D member Jon Loucks used to design Magic cards for fun. Being a talented game designer by trade, he was especially good at it. One of my favorite designs of his was more of a joke than anything. The keyword mechanic was called "Big." The idea was a creature would be, say, a 3/3 for four mana. If it had Big, though, it was a 4/4. He didn't take it much further than that, but I was always amused that he made the mechanic.
It wasn't enough that the creature gets +1/+1, it was that it was Big. As it turns out, while Jon and I were having fun with his designs, the R&D machine was working on their own version of Big. But instead of Big, they went monstrous.
Monstrosity is a mechanic introduced to us in Theros, and it's gone from one that is pretty straightforward to one of the more skill-testing mechanics in recent memory. When I first read it, I thought, "Right, it gets bigger and does stuff. Got it." But it actually goes quite a bit further than that. The timing on when you activate the monstrosity ability is crucial, and not without risk.
Let's take a look at the monstrosity cards we see draft in and draft out in Theros.
Ill-Tempered Cyclops is not only very grumpy but also quite powerful. I remember reading the card, caching it away in my memory as the "Hill Giant monstrosity guy," and moving onto other cards. It was only after playing in an early Theros draft that I realized this guy has trample. That was a game change, as a 3/3 for with trample would already be pretty good. Adding on monstrosity changed it from good to one of the better red commons in the set.
This is as good a time as any to bring up some of the key nemeses of any creature with monstrosity.
These may not be the only answers to a monstrosity creature, but they are the ones I think about every time I consider firing off the expensive but powerful ability. The tempo swing afforded by Griptide on a freshly monstrous creature is staggering. Not only does the opponent not get to recast the creature, he or she also has to draw it, cast it, wait a turn, then pay for monstrosity the next turn.
Another key thing to remember is that your monstrosity effect won't happen if the creature isn't there anymore, since monstrosity says, "When CARDNAME becomes monstrous..." This means that the act of paying for the monstrosity cost isn't enough, the creature has to actually become monstrous in order to get the bonus. If the creature isn't there, it can't become monstrous, and the bonus won't happen.
Let's look at my favorite monstrosity creature from the set as an example:
What a dream. When it comes to blocking, it's hard to imagine a better specimen than Keepsake Gorgon. Sure, it doesn't block fliers, but there are precious few attackers that can get through a Keepsake Gorgon on the ground. And so what if our opponent has a flier? In a few turns, we get to activate the monstrous ability and kill it off. While it's perhaps not the most flavorful monstrosity creature (getting +1/+1 is hard to consider monstrous), it's my favorite by a mile.
One thing that has surprised me about Keepsake Gorgon is how often I block with it. The ideal scenario is that it comes down, halts any aggressive action from our opponent, and then sits there threatening to kill something at any time. Often, this leads our opponents to attacking into it with a combat trick in hand. I'm often quite happy to just block and get my coveted two-for-one right away. There aren't that many cards in Magic that actively encourage our opponents to two-for-one themselves, but Keepsake Gorgon is on that list.
Speaking of blocking:
Similar to the Ill-Tempered Cyclops, Nessian Asp was one of the less-flashy monstrosity creatures when they were first revealed. It didn't take long to see how good this green common really is. There are a few factors that make this card as good as it is. First, it's a very respectable 4/5 for five mana. Second is that it has reach, which makes Nessian Asp a French Vanilla test crusher. Third, it has monstrosity 4.
Monstrosity 4 is a lot, it turns out. Becoming an 8/9 at instant speed is a fairly ridiculous thing. 8/9s end the game, and just as importantly, gobble up almost any other creature on the battlefield. What I love most about Nessian Asp is its ability to hold the ground until it's time to get big and start beating down. It's a lovely combination and I appreciate that it's built right into the card itself.
Nessian Asp reminds me of a few more enemies of monstrosity:
Deathtouch has never been better. Thanks to monstrosity, having a creature with deathtouch can hold off massive threats. I have been in games where turn after turn, an 8/9 Nessian Asp was held off by a lowly Sedge Scorpion. Baleful Eidolon ups the ante here, essentially creating this effect twice if you use its bestow ability. While this is a solid line against most decks, it's particularly devastating against a deck relying on monstrosity creatures to seal the deal.
Cards like Spark Jolt and Viper's Kiss have gone up in value as a result.
Our next creature is beef incarnate:
Talk about big. Nemesis of Mortals can cost as little as two mana, for a 5/5! Usually, the discount doesn't go quite that deep, but a 5/5 for four or five mana is still quite strong. A 5/5 that becomes a whopping 10/10 down the line can outright take over a board. I was hoping for more ways to abuse this card when I first read it, but it turns out Returned Centaur and Commune with the Gods aren't really worth it, even if you have a few Nemesis of Mortals in your deck.
Still, this kind of efficiency is welcomed, and the threat of a two-turn clock is nothing to scoff at in the late game.
Our next monstrosity creature brings the beef as well, but with a side of seafood:
Sealock Monster harkens back to the old days of Magic, when early card designers strived to recreate various mythical sea beasts in cardboard form. They used to have restrictions regarding Islands, often had islandwalk, and were massive (as all sea monsters should be).
These days, things are more streamlined. Sealock Monster is still huge. At 5/5, it's one of the biggest creatures you can cast for five mana. Gone are the days of "islandhome," where you had to sacrifice your sea creature if you controlled no Islands. We did hold onto the flavorful part about not being able to attack unless the defending player controlled an Island, however. And since this is a particularly adventurous monster, it will actually splash some water on one of your opponent's lands in order to facilitate some attacks.
It also becomes an 8/8. This is huge for blue, which is usually relegated to more delicate fliers and the like. Sealock Monster plays two roles, and it plays them both quite well. Upon casting, it's a blocker, plain and simple. It's there to clog up the ground. Once enough bounce spells have been accumulated in hand, it's time to go big and start attacking with your massive blue creature.
Setting up an end-step monstrosity payment followed by a Sea God's Revenge is a delightful feeling that I recommend to all my readers.
One thing we have noticed about many of these creatures is how adept they are at blocking. Even grumpy old Ill-Tempered Cyclops is a reasonable blocker for the mana, and he's the worst of the bunch.
This next card is a reasonable blocker as well, but his specialty goes the opposite direction:
Stoneshock Giant is scary. Already a reasonable 5/4 for five mana, it can just start scrapping and make a nice difference on board by itself. If the game goes long, though, it threatens to end things in one fell swoop. One key thing to remember about Stoneshock Giant is that it is a full 8/7 once monstrous. It doesn't take much more to finish off your opponent in most cases. Paired with green, Stoneshock Giant shines. Not only do you get access to cards like Voyaging Satyr and Karametra's Acolyte, you also have a ton of huge creatures to back up that one big attack. Eight mana for a monstrosity ability is a ton, but when it just wins you the game on the spot, it feels like a bargain.
Big and Simple
Monstrosity has exceeded my expectations as a mechanic. I liked the simple idea of a creature turning from one thing to a bigger, better thing. It fits the theme of the set, and it's easy to grasp. I was concerned that it may be too simple to add much to the Limited experience, but thanks to some subtle rules text and well-thought-out costs, it turns out monstrosity is a mechanic I enjoy immensely.
Now if I could just open more Keepsake Gorgons.
Until next week!
Marshall Sutcliffe hosts the Limited Resources podcast, does Pro Tour and Grand Prix video coverage, writes articles, and produces strategy videos. Marshall came back to Magic after discovering Limited following a long hiatus from the game, but he enjoys all forms of the game. He lives in Seattle, WA.