Magic has explored many types of fantasy during its twenty-year run, such as sci-fi influenced like on Mirrodin and the Alaran shard of Esper, and takeoffs on real-world mythology like in Kamigawa and Theros. But one of the consistently coolest types that the game returns to time and time again is dark, horror-influenced fantasy. Innistrad and Shadowmoor were two blocks whose flavor was based entirely around this, but it has crept in everywhere from the techno-organic hellscapes of Phyrexia to the dead world of Grixis in Shards of Alara block. Here are ten examples of the creepiest, scariest, Halloweeniest individual cards from all throughout Magic’s history.
Number 10: Woeleecher
Lorwyn’s Elementals were odd combinations of animal and inanimate characteristics, but by and large they were pleasant to look at. Then the Aurora happened, day turned to night, the plane started being called Shadowmoor, and we got barely describable abominations like this… this… thing. A glowing-eyed sickly pale membranous slug avian fetus monster and it’s one of the nicest things on the plane according to the flavor text, which somehow makes it all worse. Keep in mind this is the baseline we’re starting with in terms of skeeves – it only gets creepier as the list goes on.
Number 9: Overgrown Estate
This may only have particularly creeptastic meaning to people who followed the Invasion block story, but an abandoned, extremely opulent old mansion already has resonance Fall of the House of Usher-style, and thinking about a once-promising nobleman being so corrupted (first vampirism, then Phyrexia) and looking at his childhood home with nostalgia means that some horrible things happened at the Windgrace estate that are best left to the imagination.
Number 8: Horrible Hordes
Blame the “Ehh, just paint whatever” era of art direction for the surreal scares of this oddity. It’s like a bizarre and terrifying version of Transformers, or David Lynch’s The Brave Little Toaster, wherein everyday objects like… vases, lampposts, some-kind-of-boxes, and windmills… turn into fanged rip-you-apart monsters. The flavor text raises more questions than it answers, and I don’t even want to think about why this is on Jamuraa in the first place.
Number 7: Grozoth
The Leviathan creature type is full of unexpected scares for what should just be prosaic big sea monsters, from eyeless seaworthy trypophobia warning Kederekt Leviathan to traumatic-childhood-memories-of-Sea-World-invoker Jokulmorder, but they all pale in comparison to the sheer “what in Serra’s name even is that” factor of the uncomfortably humanoid Grozoth that House Dimir apparently is keeping in the Ravnican Undercity and feeding god-knows-what.
Number 6: Murderous Betrayal
This actually represents a much more psychological and adult fear than the previous list items: A Phyrexian agent in Rath is about to poison the elven king Eladamri’s beloved only daughter to death – and as if that weren’t enough, her corpse is then brought to Phyrexia and reanimated as the monstrous infiltrator Belbe, whose memories of her father have been twisted into hatred. In other words, an unimaginably nightmarish scenario for any parent.
Number 5: All Hallow’s Eve
It’d hardly be a Halloween list without this, another example of the scariness that careless art direction brought to the beginnings of Magic. Not only is the art creepy and moody, with a quite agonized-looking jack-o-lantern and a spectral demonic face just waiting to be reborn when the spell goes off, it’s also scary to rules gurus – the wording of the original was so imprecise its card type had to be changed by errata. Twice.
Number 4: Blasphemous Act
Innistrad’s infamous mass removal spell and Boros Reckoner combo piece has a simple message to convey: Nowhere is safe anymore. The power of the almighty and omnibenevolent Avacyn cannot protect you even within the walls of her cathedral. In a Gothic-horror-themed block packed with creepy monsters, this might be one of the scariest cards of all. Fuel for paranoia and heart-stopping fright.
Number 3: Reaper King
For the most part, Shadowmoor’s Scarecrows are cute despite their cobbled-together creepiness. All in all quite harmless-looking; even Grim Poppet is rather hard to take seriously with that sad-looking straw face. Until their lord comes around with his pitiless rotting pumpkin head, freaking noose arms, ability to turn even the most unassuming Scarecrow into an engine of absolute destruction, and one of the most ominous flavor texts of all time. (The number one on the list has my pick for most ominous, period.)
Number 2: Pernicious Deed
This is scary in gameplay terms, as the pitiless fist of Rock decks that is almost impossible to answer. But flavorwise? The once-beneficent nature-loving planeswalker Freyalise is about to make a last-ditch attempt to destroy the Phyrexian invasion forces on Dominaria, and she doesn’t give a damn about the collateral damage. A chilling portrait of an emotionless killer twisted by war.
Number 1: War Report
Underling Ethu’s 263rd report read simply “Yes, my lord. Overwhelmingly, my lord.” This marked the end of the Mirran-Phyrexian War.
That’s it. Phyrexia wins. Compleation awaits. All will be one.
After a block of rooting for the Mirran resistance in Scars of Mirrodin and Mirrodin Besieged, the bad guys have won. And almost nothing in the Magic multiverse is scarier than the idea that the Phyrexians can’t be stopped. They were barely held off during the Dominarian invasion. Now they have their sights set on other planes. And anywhere could be next. I actually held my breath for a few seconds when I first saw this card, that’s how shocked I was. And all that on a simple lifegain common.