Another new year, another set of fresh intentions (not lying to myself calling them „resolutions“); among them, as always, the desire to blog just a little more regularly!
I just noticed – again – how estranged the younger Magic generations have become to their hobby’s roots, so I decided that I would write a few words about them whenever I feel like it.
Today’s topic are „187 creatures“, a term I believed to be still generally known, but which seems to have become obscure without me realizing it, especially outside of the US. In short, an 187 creature is a creature with an ability which triggers when that creature enters the battlefield (known later as „CIP“ – „comes into play“ – and nowadays as „ETB“ – „enters the battlefield“), and more specifically a creature whose ability removes something from the battlefield.
The use of this term dates back to 1997, when Visions was released. In earlier Magic sets, very few cards had abilities which were technically ETB triggers by modern definitions (for example, Icatian Moneychanger or Electric Eel), and a couple more would retroactively be made into having those triggers (like Earthbind or Ritual of Steel). The timing of such effects was poorly understood then; they were just supposed to happen.
Visions changed all that, or more precisely: Portal did. That set, designed to be some kind of „Magic light“ for beginning players, was not allowed to feature any card types other than „land“, „creature“ or „sorcery“. Since these restrictions, in combination with others regarding the maximum complexity of cards, made for rather stale gameplay, the designers of Portal stumbled upon the idea to create creatures which produced simple effects when they entered the battlefield (albeit not at all with that modern terminology) to spice things up a bit. Visions, although to be released a little earlier than Portal, acquired this concept gladly, leading to a few immensely popular and iconic cards: Nekrataal, Man-o‘-War, Uktabi Orangutan, and to lesser extent Knight of the Mists. (Others, like Shrieking Drake or Goblin Recruiter, would not yet be seen as belonging to that category.) Magic players soon caught on to the strength of these creatures with added effect, aided by the rise of widespread limited play in that era. (Note that back then triggered abilities were even a bit stronger than today, because under the old rules, they could not be responded to!)
Someone must have noticed that these abilities felt as if the creature itself was „killing“ the permanent, and drawn parallels to human criminals committing murder. „187“ is the section in the Californian Penal Code referencing murder, and that number – pronounced „one-eight-seven“ – had already become a slang term in gang parlance for that crime, and subsequently – promoted by hiphop songs – all over the world. California, at that time, was extremely influential in the Magic scene, not the least because of the existence of the Pacific Coast Legends, the first professional Magic players team, founded by – among others – Mark Chalice, Preston Poulter and Henry Stern, and soon also featuring Mark Justice. If these people started to call those creatures from Visions „187 creatures“, that term was certain to enter the conscience of dedicated Magic players all over the world soon, and once it had been described and explained in The Duelist, the print magazine about Magic WotC used to publish back then, every semi-competitive player could be expected to be familiar with it.
When a growing number of creatures with ETB triggers were printed, many of those not exactly „murdering“ something (like Gravedigger or Venerable Monk), that term gradually fell out of favor and was replaced with „comes into play“. I suppose that another reason might have been WotC realizing that promoting a slang expression for murder might not be the best move with regard to public relations, and thus actively avoiding it and instead using the new term. I guess you might still come upon it from time to time, especially when reading articles from US-based players or watching their streams – so if it used to confuse you: Now you know!