Dinosaurs are not lizards, and Magic: The Gathering shouldn’t conflate them.
This isn’t some grand essay, nor some branded point of principle. This is a hope that the flavour department can look at and consider, and decide to incorporate. I will not mention amateur card designs and I am not going to cuss out anyone who works for Wizards the Coast. I will even, if you want, apologise for being rude in the past (as I’ve already done).
Wizards of the Coast have been feeling around the Iconic creature type lately, and for the most part, I feel they’ve been successful. There’s no hard lines for most of the creature types, just solid impressions. You can have Dragons in Green, and you have Angels occasionally showing up in blue or red. For a good long time there, there was a real struggle to find an iconic Green creature, but thankfully, in the past few years, Hydra has become their central, go-to type for Green iconic creatures.
Iconic in this context refers not to a creature that is emblematic of the colour, by the way – iconic is the creature type you’ll see attached to mechanics that are meant to excite players, of different types. Hooded Hydra, for example, is a Khans hydra, wonderfully tying together Morph and the more exotic jungle temple feel of the Sultai. Hydras, when you pop them open, are badass cards and that does what Iconics are meant to do. Same with Angels, Demons, Dragons and Sphinxes – these big impressive cards rarely have a hard mechanical identity, but they do have what I will call, for the lack of a better term, a vibe.
Dinosaurs are in that space to potentially be a secondary iconic creature for Green.
Now, look, Dinosaurs as we understand them now are pretty diverse. If you just said ‘dinosaurs are green’ and followed that to its logical conclusion, we would wind up with Storm Crow, literally Storm Crow itself, being a green card. That’s not what I mean – I mean Dinosaur, as we generally feel it, is a term connected to big, dangerous, predatory animals which have a certain primality that predates our human experience. They are emblematic of a savagery that humans barely ever touch upon – the world without humans to even perceive it, one of the greenest things you could possibly show.
Recent history has only a small handful of dinosaurs – Deathmist Raptor, Allosaurus Rider, and Imperiosaur. They have no distinct mechanical identity, but each are considered Lizards. I’m not going to invoke the wrath of Gottlieb that they should be errata’d to be Dinosaur Lizards, or anything like that, but please, Wizards of the Coast, hear my plea, and going forward, make dinosaurs into their own type: Dinosaur.
Why Should We, Though?
First things first, to take the very broad, wide-world application of this stuff, the word dinosaur isn’t well understood at all in the English speaking world. There are plenty of people (some of whom probably work in Wizards!) who think that lizards pretty much are dinosaurs, or that dinosaurs are lizards, or something like that. It’s okay for this misconception to exist – after all, the word dinosaur means ‘terrible lizard’ and we kinda sold that idea well for a good long time. But dinosaurs aren’t lizards – dinosaurs are dinosaurs, and lizards, well, ‘lizard’ kind of means ‘squamates,‘ the group that includes most living species we consider lizards and snakes. If you want to see the group that evolved out of dinosaurs, it’s not lizards – it’s birds.
Magic: The Gathering is a piece of media embraced by kids, and I think that if we can avoid spreading wrong information to kids – and I know, I know, kids shouldn’t be getting their science information from a game with fairies in it – we should probably try doing that. It’s a really small tangential thing – but it also doesn’t cost anything to avoid spreading false information.
Second of all, Dinosaurs have great cachet amongst nerds. Lots of us love dinosaurs! Not enough to know that much about them, but we totally like dinosaurs. Look at how easily you can make us love things by putting dinosaurs in them. If you told players they could get a promo card that was a tiny allosaurus – and crucially not a pygmy allosaurus – then I’m confident you’d get people talking about how it was cool, ‘just because it was a dinosaur.’ Hydras work well for gigantic things, and things that grow out of hand – but a more stable-bodied creature that’s meant to cause a splash may work best as a dinosaur.
Dinosaurs, as they exist, did a ton of things. There were dinosaurs whose heads worked like massive battering rams, there were dinosaurs that could fly, dinosaurs with enormous jaws, dinosaurs that could snap their tails like whips, dinosaurs that could hunt prey in packs, dinosaurs that could hunt underwater, and more. There are a lot of mechanical structures that could fit, in flavour, under ‘dinosaur’ that make a quick, intuitive sense.
Basically, I hold Dinosaurs forward as a creature that can do the jobs that Hydra can’t.
I think the easiest reason not to do this is a pretty simple one: It’s not broken. Don’t fix it. There are plenty of terms in Magic: The Gathering that are bad and inappropriately attached – almost all Fish could be handled more specifically, and the word Fish is so ambiguous that it could probably include Great Whale and Jokulmordor without straining at the edges. The word ‘lizard’ may not be appropriate, but there’s no reason to start making a new Green Iconic, and making a new tribe, unsupported, serves almost no purpose. And lizards don’t have a unified mechanic, either. Magic’s creature type line isn’t a cladistics lesson (hence Snakes and Lizard being separate).
These are … pretty robust reasons. I don’t want to say they’re wrong, but I think they cede ground you don’t have to.
Ultimately, I don’t imagine this will get heard. I’d like for it to be so – I mean, hypothetically it’s a tiny thing that it just requires a developer to stop, and think, and go oh yeah that makes sense and make changes going forwards. But it would be nice, you know? Science, especially as it pertains to prehistoric life, has been going uphill of late against a public consciousness that is confident it knows things it doesn’t know.