Autumn is my favorite season. I love when the weather cools off and the leaves change. I’m also a big fan of the Fall holidays: Thanksgiving (which I get to celebrate in October AND November now that I’m a Canadian resident!) and Halloween. Halloween, in particular, is one of my favorite holidays. I love scary novels, movies, copious amounts of sweets, and the costume dress up aspect as well. It’s probably the most fun and exciting of the holidays.
All Hallow’s Eve:
“Boys and girls of every age,
Wouldn’t you like to see something strange?”
Today, I’d like to kick the season of right and dive into some of the creepiest Magic cards of all time! Fear is subjective, which means what weirds me out might be different from what makes you uneasy, but I’ve put together a fun list of cards that strike me as particularly scary and uncanny. I’ve also tried to pick a swath of cards that cover, and strongly represent, as many Horror tropes as possible.
There are over 10,000 unique Magic cards (and many have multiple artworks!) so narrowing down to a definitive list is a fool’s errand, but I took a stab at it anyways. I’m going to require a little help to get it done right, so be sure to drop an image of your favorite ghoulish card into the chat forum below and check out and upvote the Reader’s picks below.
Cheap Thrills and Honorable Mentions
I really want to emphasize cards that are frightening in flavor more so than power level. Yes, turn 1 Glistener Elf is scary, but not the angle I’m going for today. My vote for scariest turn one play:
“Abandon hope all ye who enter here.”
I’m also a huge fan of Classic horror. When I did my graduate studies, I focused on Gothic Literature and so I love seeing allusions to many of the texts I used in my studies represented in MTG form.
“Beware; for I am fearless, and therefore powerful.” -Mary Shelly, Frankenstein
“Loneliness will sit over our roofs with brooding wings.” -Bram Stoker, Dracula
“Very well,” said the Voice, in a tone of relief. “Then I’m going to throw flints at you till you think differently.” ― H.G. Wells, The Invisible Man
“If he be Mr. Hyde” he had thought, “I shall be Mr. Seek.”
― Robert Louis Stevenson, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
One of my favorite aspects of Innistrad block is how it embraces the psychological horror themes of the Gothic. It’s such a trove of spooky cards!
I also have to honorable mention my favorite horror writer of all time:
“Take thy beak from out my heart…” is exactly how playing against Loam + Crime feels, and it’s not Halloween until “Treehouse of Horror” has played.
“Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn.” -H.P. Lovecraft.
The Eldrazi are a neat MTG take on Lovecraft’s Old Ones: gigantic, unbeatable, and ancient creatures of unfathomable power and unknowable motivations.
Don’t even try to fathom the Eldrazi. It can’t be done.
The Top 8 Scariest Magic Cards
While being a Constructed staple was not requisite for making today’s list, Pestilence has found a home in Pauper Black and Orzhov decks! It was also quite the force (at common!) in Urza’s Saga Limited as well.
I vividly remember opening this card in my first starter deck and thinking it was extremely creepy, and not understanding what the card did but wishing it was a creature! It was actually MUCH nastier than even the ghoulish artwork implied.
#7. Demonic Hordes
Back in the day when I started playing Magic, there were not extensive databases for looking at cards. I remember a local LGS, Time Travelers, used to sell binders with photocopies of complete sets (Beta, Antiquities, Arabian Nights, and Legends) and that was how I learned about the cards I hadn’t opened yet!
Before I ever got that far, there was cracking boosters to see new cards. I distinctly remember cracking Demonic Hordes and thinking, “Wow, this card is messed up…”
So simple, but also eerie. I love the concept and flavor. It’s a swarm of pillaging devils that together are quite powerful in combat but also attack and ravage the land itself when they arrive. Also, these demons are demanding! If you don’t feed them BBB each turn, they’ll turn against you in a heartbeat (as most demons tend to do!).
I was a little bit worried my parents would not approve of these cards with overt occult themes and imagery. One of my friends in elementary school had his cards taken away by his parents after his church sent out a flier warning of the evils of these corrupting cards. So, clearly these early demonic cards were scary enough to strike fear into his parishioners! Oh, to be a 90’s kid again!
#6. Treacherous Urge
Easily one of the creepiest and most disturbing images I’ve ever seen on a Magic card.
Even on a puppet, the concept of being forced to see oneself in half at the waist is, to put it lightly, disturbing. No vivid gore, just sawdust, but this is clearly an image that would scare even (especially?) Billy the Puppet.
“You’ve got to pick up every stitch…”
I love these old cards with vague references, creepy artwork, and great flavor. It’s such an eerie image with the skull in the ember glow sky signifying there is a sabot taking place somewhere just beyond the horizon.
What Halloween list would be complete without a little bit of witchcraft? Hocus Pocus is one of the all-time great Halloween movies, and pretty creepy for a children’s film by today’s standards. Sarah Jessica Parker’s song about abducting children makes me super uncomfortable every time I watch it, but Bette Middler’s cover of “I Put A Spell on You,” helps take the edge off! Classic.
#4. Living Wall
There are plenty of great examples of Magic artwork that depicts Cronenberg-style body horror.
Delver of Secrets is a great horror homage to The Fly. However, Living Wall is on another level. I get uncomfortable just looking at this image! It’s so gross. Even more disturbing when you consider the image only depicts a small portion of the wall itself. Can you even imagine a wall of this that spans, say, half a mile? Sorry, to put that image in your head, but that is why it is one of the undeniably creepiest Magic cards of all time!
#3. Juzam Djinn
“This is not how genies work! THIS IS NOT HOW GENIES WORK!!!!”
I wanted to get a big, bad monster onto the list and there were a couple of solid choices. To me, it came down to The Juice and The Lord of the Pit.
In terms of name, flavor, and fluff, I would have given the honor to LOTP. A demon that lives in a pit and requires its caster make a sacrifice each turn in order to appease this evil deity? It even has creepy art.
On the other hand, Juzam Djinn has one of the scariest images from all of MTG. The idea of something that is so physically overwhelming that it makes a mere human seem insignificant. There’s also an aspect of The Monkey Paw at play here, where it’s clear the caster is not getting exactly what they wished for as the Djinn plays by its own rules.
It was a close race, but Juzam’s flavor text puts it well in the lead for me.
There are plenty of demons with bigger flashier stats than Juzam, but in terms of “look at the image and read the flavor text,” Juzam is unmatched ominous.
#2. Uncle Istvan
Leave it to The Dark to coagulate at the top of my list–Uncle Istvan is a blood-chilling card.
The idea of a creepy, old, insane hermit who captures people to keep him company? Yikes. The name itself is +10 nightmare points. The bloody axe and human bones decorating his clothing put it way over the top.
Old Man Istvan is an actual serial killer in Magic card form. Not only is Uncle Istvan a homicidal maniac, but he’s also a bad and out of touch uncle. For his nieces 14th birthday, he bought her coloring books and crayons. He’s the worst. Jinkies, let’s get the Mystery Machine the heck out of here!
#1. Maze of Ith
Maze of Ith is my vote for creepiest card of all time for a couple of reasons. On the one hand, it’s gross (like Living Wall). The Maze itself appears to be an intestine structure that the person attempting to traverse the maze must crawl through… Ahh… No thanks!
Not only is it conceptually disturbing and disgusting, but it also invokes the concept of claustrophobia. Can you imagine trying to drag yourself through this massive structure? It’s so nasty. Ith is quite the sicko for dreaming up this nightmare.
Those are my picks! Thanks for gutting them out with me. I’d love to see the cards that make you squeamish in the comments section. There are too many wonderfully awful cards to mention in one article on the topic, but these are certainly at the top of my list of cards that kind of freak me out a little bit. If anything, it’s a great reminder that cool design, flavor, fluff and artwork can take a playing card and bring it to life (or, un-life!).
Have a great Halloween!