Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Gnomes in Magic: The Gathering

Bottle Gnomes by Ben Thompson

Eight. This is the number of gnome cards in Magic: The Gathering – seven Gnome creatures and one Gnome-token-creating card. Of all the 10,000+ unique cards in Magic, Gnomes are represented on a severely miniscule portion of Magic cards. To put this into perspective: the rare, mythical Yeti appears on MORE Magic cards than the Gnomes. As beings that appear prominently enough in multiple other magical fantasy-related properties, Gnomes are due for their time in the Magic spotlight. With all of the vast number of unexplored planes of the Multiverse, there HAS to be a plane amongst them home to Gnome creatures – and I’m not talking about artifact creatures.

Sins of the Flesh

There are those who prefer Gnomes stay as they mostly have been established in Magic: The Gathering – as artifact creatures. I have a problem with this. When Mirrodin was first designed, initially, Gnomes were filling in as the small artifact creatures for the metal world. Creative didn’t like them and replaced them with the more-fitting Myr creatures. Thank goodness for this decision as the kind of Gnomes that are depicted on artifact creature cards are: lawn gnomes! And if Magic chooses to stick to its guns and keep the creature type Gnome only represented on artifact creatures, the potential for a rich array of Magic cards is killed and the type Gnome stifled from continuing to see more cards printed with that type. Magic isn’t exactly yearning for more lawn gnome cards. But the “lawn variety” is how Gnomes have always been in Magic, right? …Actually, no.

The very first (and the only one of its kind) Gnome printed in Magic: The Gathering is Quarum Trench Gnomes. This is a non-artifact flesh-and-blood Gnome creature that matches the flavor found in other popular works of swords & sorcery. In Dungeons & Dragons, the Gnome race is available for you to choose for your player character. In World of Warcraft, again, fleshy Gnomes are readily-available to choose for your character. And Gnomes are not just found in popular video games – in the board game Small World Underground, one of the races is Gnome. Red Dragon Inn 3 has a Gnome character deck. With Gnomes this prevalent in fantasy works, and with Magic’s recent focus on resonance, we’d be remiss to not create a plane of proper Gnomes.

An aside regarding World of Warcraft gnomes: Interestingly enough, the story behind flesh gnomes is that they were originally created as "mechagnomes," non-flesh gnomes. Later, they were affected by the "Curse of Flesh," which transformed mechagnomes into flesh gnomes. This whole flesh-and-non-flesh existence of gnomes in WoW is eerily similar to Magic: The Gathering's artifact Gnomes and... single flesh Gnome.

Gnome Man's Land

I’ve discussed this Gnome subject before on Twitter, and it’s been pointed out to me that Dwarves, one of the strongest and most popular races to use in a work of fantasy, don’t even get a lot of cards printed. The newest Dwarf cards in Magic: The Gathering make up four in Eventide – and that was four years ago! They’ve been trumped by Goblins as the core red creature race (which is fine) which causes Dwarves to sit on the sidelines (though, there are those who believe Dwarves deserve to fill in the role of white’s missing iconic race – a thought that is supported by Eventide Dwarves being red-and-white hybrid creatures). So with the ever-popular Dwarves not getting cards printed, what hope do Gnomes have?

Actually, in his column “Thirty-Two Short Columns About Dwarves,” Mark Rosewater confirmed that there WILL be new Dwarves in Magic: The Gathering someday and even went so far as to state that there will be specific Dwarf card names printed. So, really, Dwarves are not a question of whether they’ll return, which helps the case for flesh Gnomes being a possibility in the future.

Metrognome by Jeff Laubenstein
When I sat down to spellsling with Ken Nagle, Magic: The Gathering designer, in Oakland during the Magic World Cup Qualifier; I asked what he thought about Gnomes in Magic. He brought up the fact that Creative isn’t too keen on Gnomes (as they are now). But he also mentioned that Gnomes were a bit too silly for Magic, along the same lines as Squirrels. They don’t quite match the theme of dueling planeswalkers casting spells of a more… serious nature. To be fair to Ken, since he works on the inside of Wizards, he wouldn’t want to reveal something crucial like “Yes, we’re doing Gnomes again someday,” or “No, we will never do Gnomes.” when answering my queries in regard to Gnomes.

Whatever the case may be, I disagree with the claim that Gnomes are not serious enough to be included in Magic: The Gathering. Here’s why: Faeries and Noggles. Faeries seem a bit on the preposterous side, when you judge them in works outside of Magic, especially when you consider Tinkerbell from Peter Pan going into combat. However, despite this, the flavor of Faeries has been molded appropriately enough for Magic. In Magic, faeries are tricksters, something that aligns with blue’s illusory/deception tactics. It also helps that they fly, supporting blue’s dominance in the flying creatures department. Noggles, on the other hand, are anthropomorphic miniature donkeys whose heads are comically disproportionate to the rest of their body. …They’ve only appeared in Eventide, whose setting was more accommodating for this type of creature, but I fail to see how Gnomes cannot find a place in Magic while chibi donkeys can get printed on some cards.

The Red Dragon Inn 3's Wizgille by Rose Besch
So how WOULD Gnomes fit into Magic: The Gathering? When they do make an appearance in Magic, I’d put them primarily in blue and secondary in red. Here’s why: Gnomes, in at least Dungeons & Dragons 3.5, have a favored class: Illusionist. Illusions are a blue thing. Gnomes love pranks and giving nicknames to folks in Dungeons & Dragons – something I associate with being red. In Small World Underground, the Gnome race is represented by an image of a gnome with a giant drill burrowing – quite red AND reminiscent of Magic’s Quarum Trench Gnomes. In Red Dragon Inn 3, Wizgille the Tinkerer is a character labeled as a Gnomish Artificer. Also, her tinkering sometimes blows up in her face. This feels very blue with some red thrown in (Magic’s Goblins usually gets artifacts blown up, showing red’s relationship with artifacts). In World of Warcraft, Gnomes are known to be expert tinkerers who refine their works into reliable and useful pieces of technology – something that I associate with blue. WoW Gnomes are also quite eccentric and obsessive with their engineering, something that is fitting of Ravnica’s Izzet League guild.

In fact, I highly believe that if flesh Gnomes were something that appeared before Ravnica was created in some significant manner in Magic: The Gathering, we would have seen at least a Gnome or two within the Izzet guild. For example, take a look at Wee Dragonauts; those are supposed to be Faeries strapped to that jet-like device. But those could easily be Gnomes. I actually have a more difficult time believing them to be Faeries (perhaps they were originally concepted as something other than Faeries - perhaps Gnomes?). Another example is the faerie with goggles depicted in the art of the card Electrickery. Given that gnomes love trickery and fun names like Electrickery (or Magic 2013’s Switcheroo), a gnome depicted in the art would be more fitting than a red faerie. In fact, a monored Faerie creature card doesn’t even exist in Magic! The only red Faerie creature in existence is Wee Dragonauts, and that’s already blue, a color that Faeries are a better fit for (Faeries inherently have flying while red is the second-worst color at flying).

Wee Dragonauts by Greg Staples

Gnomes, Assemble!

When Magic: The Gathering was first created, Gnomes weren’t as prevalent as they are now in popular fantasy games. Now that Gnomes have more presence in these non-Magic works, I believe it’s just a matter of timing before we’ll see flesh Gnomes show up.

Take, for example, Werewolves. Werewolves had a scant number of cards in Magic: The Gathering – until something happened in popular culture. There were a lot more horror-themed and zombie movies than before. And Twilight happened, featuring vampires and werewolves. This caused Wizards to greenlight the plane of Innistrad, the horror-themed block, thus breathing life into the Werewolf creature type. I wouldn’t be surprised if there will be more Dwarf cards making an appearance in Magic due to The Hobbit trilogy coming out, featuring thirteen dwarves.

Here’s what I imagine could happen for Magic: The Gathering at some point in the future: a steampunk fantasy-themed plane with an artifact theme. This artifact theme would be different from Mirrodin in that there would be a focus on building steam-powered technological innovations. And with a focus on this steam-powered technology, I would imagine the flavor of the world would naturally have technologies that enable land-dwellers to take to the skies and the seas. Merfolk, the iconic blue race, don’t need technology to explore the depths of the oceans, and they certainly don’t tend to fly sky high. What other core race can we use in a steampunk fantasy block with an artifact theme? Oh, yeah! Gnomes! They’re pretty good at assembling contraptions, right?

Actually, in regards to “assembling contraptions,” a steampunk world would be perfect for actually finding a home for what’s teased on Steamflogger Boss: the Rigger creature type, and “assembling” Contraptions. Assembling can be a keyword action associated with a keyword mechanic. For example, scavenge’s reminder text says to only scavenge as a sorcery; a verb! A Contraption would be an artifact subtype, and a creature with the Rigger creature type would have something to do with Contraptions.

Steamflogger Boss by Warren Mahy
Gnomes in this steampunk world would make for great blue creature replacements for Merfolk. They would sport creature types like Wizard, Artificer, and Rigger. The inclusion of Gnomes with their ingenuity and intellect regarding artifacts could be contrasted with red Goblins being clumsy and volatile with their equipment with a tendency to scrap their artifacts or blow them up.

But that’s just one possible environment for Gnomes. What’s important is the fleshy Gnome becoming a significant creature type for at least one block, whenever that will be.

Gnomeward Bound

Along the way, another way for Wizards to tell the world, “Hey, we recognize flesh Gnomes as something that are possible in Magic: The Gathering.” is to include a Gnome creature in one of the Magic Core Sets. Ever since Magic 2012 contained one strange “Salamander folk” creature named AmphinCutthroat when there have never been humanoid Salamanders before in Magic, I’ve been given hope that there might be a Gnome creature given the same treatment. Magic 2013 increased the number of cards that showed glimpses of other planes with its legendary creature cycle and the Shandalarian Rings cycle. From now on, whenever a new Core Set is released, I’ll be on the lookout for a flesh Gnome creature card.

Small World Underground's Gnomes by Miguel Coimbra
Lastly, you might ask – who cares?  Well, I know I at least care. I don’t know how many other people are as much of a fan as Gnomes as I am, but I’d like to believe that I’m not alone. Mark Rosewater was passionate about bringing poison back, and it took him well over a decade to return them in Scars of Mirrodin’s infect mechanic. In this case, my own personal passion will be getting those fleshy Gnomes printed onto a bunch of Magic: The Gathering cards. If I end up designing Magic at Wizards of the Coast someday, on my agenda will be to increase the number of Gnomes in Magic from eight to a whole lot more.


Bradley Rose


  1. Make them creature type "Faerie", and Gnomes in name only. This makes them perfect for Izzet or Esper artificers and non-flying illusionists elsewhere.

    1. Oh, no! I would HATE for Gnomes to be grouped within the creature type Faerie! They are important enough elsewhere that they deserve their own identity!

      Thanks for the suggestion, though. Sorry, I'm a bit too passionate to let this to happen to Gnomes in Magic without me at least putting up a fight. =)