Card Dump: French Vanilla or Lack of inspiration

Hello! Today i’ll be discussing vanilla creatures and how i feel about them. First and foremost, though, i should explain what i’m talking about. Disclaimer: i don’t know the artist for some of these images, so those won’t be going to the Multiverse gallery.

vanilla creature is basically a creature with no rules text. It’s your classic Grizzly Bears or Savannah Lions, as simple as it gets.

There are three other types of vanilla creatures: French, Virtual and Virtual French vanilla. French Vanilla refers to creatures with only keywords as rules text. Virtual Vanilla means that the creature has an effect that only does something when the creature enters the battlefield and is ignored afterwards, making the creature essentially Vanilla; Virtual French Vanilla joins these two concepts in the same creature.


Above are represented French and Virtual French Vanilla creatures. Curiously i don’t have a single decent example of a Virtual Vanilla creature, which ties in to the second part of this post’s title: i hate designing vanilla creatures.

Vanilla and french vanilla, to me, feel like the laziest and least-inspired way to dump out cards; indeed, that’s how i dumped a lot of them back when i first started and is why i avoid them like the plague now.
Don’t take me wrong though, i have nothing against these types of creatures. In fact, one of my favorite creatures of all time is french vanilla. I believe they are important, but only in the context of a block. A block needs french vanilla creatures for a myriad of reasons, like proliferating a new keyword, balancing the metagame of Limited or keeping things simple at lower rarities. Vanilla creatures are not nearly as common but do still exist, with the main purpose of exploring and showing the player more of the block’s world and inhabitants. I filled my Binding of Isaac set with several examples of this. When designing in a sealed-off void, however, none of these concerns make sense.

My top-down approach to design ensures that i always want the text to be flavorful and make the player go “ah, i get it”. And while giving first strike to a creature holding a spear is flavorful, it’s not nearly as interesting as giving a gorgon the ability to petrify creatures through petrification counters. That’s why i call french vanilla the easy way out, when inspiration lacks, and why i don’t do them anymore.
Virtual is a different subject. Enter-the-battlefield effects are, to me, immensely more interesting than keywords and have a much broader design space. While i tend to couple them with other abilities, i wouldn’t disdain designing virtual french vanillas.

There are a few exceptions to my french vanilla aversion, such as cycles or to represent evolution, like so:


These were designed to be in successive sets – adding fuel to my former statements – and to represent different stages of a creature through time (very much like Sky SwallowerSimic Sky Swallower). They’re flavorful in their own way when grouped together, but not so much when looked at individually.

This isn’t a broad subject, so that’s really all i have to say. Until next time!