Birds! Birds are great. From the majestic eagle to the humble chicken, birds are wonderful creatures, and have been represented in Magic on all sorts of cards over the years. Many well-known Constructed playables across different formats were birds, and one of the most famous Magic cards of all time is a bird – entirely by accident, as it turns out! Let’s have a look at the most iconic birds from Magic’s history.
10. Storm Crow
I’m just putting this here to avoid any angry feedback from anyone outraged by the fact that I didn’t lean into the meme. Consider yourselves pandered to. For those of you who don’t know, for some reason Storm Crow has taken on this legendary status amongst Magic nerds who love to pretend it’s the most powerful card ever printed. It’s a silly in-joke, but even Wizards got on board with it, when they printed Crow Storm in Unhinged. Nice.
9. Cloudfin Raptor
Cloudfin Raptor was the ideal opening of the old Mono-Blue Devotion decks from original Theros Standard, where it would often be followed up with things like Tidebinder Mage or and Nightveil Specter in order to wake up Thassa, God of the Sea. Cloudfin Raptor could get huge – particularly thanks to Thassa when she came in as a creature – and quickly evolved from a measly 0/1 into a monstrous 3/4 or 4/5 that got you dead very swiftly.
8. Wingmate Roc
Another throwback to Standard decks of yore, Wingmate Roc was once the top-end of old midrange decks during Khans Standard, particularly Abzan, where it would follow a Siege Rhino attack. Generating six power and eight toughness in the air, as well as incidental life gain, meant it was a great defensive play, and if the skies were clear then it would get in for a lot of damage straight away. It probably doesn’t seem like much, given the power level of today’s white five-drops like Ao, the Dawn Sky, but Wingmate Roc was a powerful card back in those days.
7. Aven Mindcensor
Everyone loves a gotcha card (except for those getting got, I suppose), and Aven Mindcensor is the archetypical example of one. Flashing this in in response to a search effect like a fetchland is a great feeling, especially when your opponent could have played around it by just cracking it in their main phase, or something like that. No-one expects the Aven Mindcensor! The only risk with this card is that they actually do find the card they’re looking for in their top four, in which case… you paid three mana for a 2/1. Great job.
6. Baleful Strix
Baleful Strix was a very sought-after and therefore very expensive card after its first printing in Planechase. That was the only version of the card available for Legacy players, and I remember being baffled at an LGS one time when playing Planechase with my friend Ben Layton, only to have members of the Melbourne Legacy cabal come over and offer Ben all these fancy rares and mythics in exchange for the stupid 1/1 that came with his precon! Since then, Baleful Strix has been printed a bunch of times and is a lot less expensive, but no less impactful – it still replaces itself, trades with anything, and pitches to Force of Will.
5. Gilded Goose
Gilded Goose is one of the weirder mana dorks out there, but what it does it does very well – it provides a bump in mana early on, then can sit back and poop out eggs for you to use. Food decks in Historic still rely on Golden Goose to kick-start their games, and that’s after it had a very successful run in Standard. I still remember the outrage amongst players when it debuted on MTGA – its come-into-play sound effect was an eagle screeching! That was quickly rectified, and now it honks away as it enters the battlefield, like any goose should.
4. Squadron Hawk
Here’s a bird that goes back a long way – all the way to the days of Caw-Blade, which was one of the most powerful and dominant decks in the history of competitive Magic. It played a playset of Squadron Hawks and mythic Swords from Mirrodin Besieged, hence the name Caw-Blade, and in addition it also ran Stoneforge Mystic and Jace, the Mind Sculptor, two enormously powerful cards. Jace could Brainstorm back the Hawks to be searched up again and again, while Stoneforge searched up Equipment for the Hawks to carry to victory. Squadron Hawk’s glory days might be over, but what glory days they were!
3. Kykar, Wind’s Fury
The most popular Jeskai commander by a considerable margin, Kykar is the perfect general in any spellslinger deck – or just a deck that isn’t filled with creatures. You can build around Kykar in a bunch of different ways – there are spellslinger decks, polymorph decks, cantrip decks and even Spirit tribal decks! What’s more, Kykar enables a range of instant win-the-game combos with cards like Thassa’s Oracle, Leveler and Synthetic Destiny/Mass Polymorph: cast Synthetic Destiny with Kykar out, exile it and the spirit it makes, fetch up Thassa’s Oracle and Leveler as the only two creatures in your deck, and win thanks to the Oracle trigger!
2. Yorion, Sky Nomad
Yorion is probably the second-most popular and powerful companion, after Lurrus – who, as you probably know, just got the axe in Modern. It turned out that Yorion’s deckbuilding restriction wasn’t actually all that taxing to fulfil, and with enough redundancy available in formats like Historic and Modern, Yorion remains a popular choice for slower decks. Having a “free” eighth card is still pretty good, despite the three-mana tax, and a 4/5 flyer that blinks your squad for value is a very respectable play. The sky noodle continues to show us just how powerful the companion mechanic is!
1. Birds of Paradise
The original and – arguably – the best! Originally, the art featured on Birds of Paradise was meant to be for Tropical Island or maybe even just a basic Island, but given that it featured birds so prominently, Richard Garfield simply designed a card for the art, rather than the other way around. Thus, Birds of Paradise was born, and it has remained an iconic and very powerful mana dork ever since. It doesn’t see the play it used to in formats like Modern, but nonetheless it remains one of the most famous cards in Magic’s history.