The History and Lore of Tarmogoyf

Art Request to Ryan Barger:

Color: Green creature
Location: Ancient coniferous forest, touches of snow
Action: We see a huge pile of debris atop a hill in the forest—rich loam, broken and rusted armor pieces, and countless bones amid the black dirt. From the debris heap bursts a massive monster that feeds on death. It’s yours to design, but it should have a grey-brown hide maybe mottled with green or beige, an enormous set of jaws, and huge hands that can scoop up chunks of food, living or dead.
Focus: The ancient and terrible creature
Mood: A devouring monstrosity

arc1241_art
“Tarmogoyf” by Ryan Barger

An ancient and terrible monstrosity devouring everything in its wake. A Tarmogoyf. A creature that has terrorized formats for over ten years as the supreme green beater. To evaluate Tarmogoyf and everything it’s accomplished over the years, we have to start at the beginning. We have to go all the way back to April 2007 when Future Sight spoiler season was in full swing.

Spoiler season is a crazy and exciting time for the Magic community. People speculate on the next big Standard staple or even Eternal staple. Prices fluctuate like crazy with cards skyrocketing and plummeting every day. When Skaab Ruinator was was spoiled, people went nuts over it.

 Skaab Ruinator

The mythic demanded a $25-30 price tag at pre-release and had a ton of potential. I mean, look at those stats! 3 mana? 5/6? With Flying!?  The converted mana cost and P/T (Power/Toughness) jumped off the card at you and made you almost forget that you had to exile three creatures in your graveyard to even cast it.

This card is a perfect example of how card evaluations are not always so simple or obvious. There have been many flops in Magic’s history, Aurelia’s Fury, Time Reversal, and Grinning Demon are some others that didn’t live up to their pre-release hype. Here’s a pretty great video that reflected the communities reaction when Time Reversal was spoiled. People thought it would be banned in every format and restricted in Vintage before Standard would rotate. You can buy any of the cards mentioned above for less than $2 today.

When Tarmogoyf was revealed, there just wasn’t much that was flashy or cool about it. No keyword abilities like Trample or First Strike, no activated abilities, and no enter the battlefield triggers. The card was just stats. A “vanilla” creature on par with the bulk rares that don’t even make it into your binders. Not to mention that Future Sight was a bit of a weird set. Lots of crazy things were going on in Future Sight, like Gravestorm and Transfigure, along with weird borders, so it’s no surprise there wasn’t that much excitement surrounding the card.

Tarmogoyf didn’t even get the spotlight treatment with an exciting reveal the way Pact of Negation, Spellweaver Volute, or Seht’s Tiger did. It was just released with the rest of the rares, uncommons, and commons. In fact, most of the hype for the card, if there was any, was more about the mention of Tribal and Planeswalker card types in its rules text. Those card types didn’t exist yet and there was more excitement about what those meant than the card they were printed on.

Here are some of the reviews Tarmogoyf got before the set was released. They range from cold to lukewarm at best with only one or two realizing its full potential.

“Yeah yeah yeah – he can be a beast in a Dredge deck. Know something else? So can Avatar of Woe. Which would you rather cast for two mana?”  –Bennie Smith

“Design your deck right to use this nicely and you will find that this is often at least as big as a thresholded Werebear, and one whose size increases very early in the game and continues to increase so long as a little effort is put into it.”  Sean McKeown

“An interesting card to throw into the dredge decks.”  –Jamie Wakefield

“They’re just teasing us with the Tribal and Planeswalker card types. Still, you could have a 6/7 for two mana, and that’s just ridiculously good.” –Chris Romeo

“Amazing in Threshold, not so amazing everywhere else.”  – Josh Silvestri

 “I’m only including a review of this card because I need more Green cards to review. This card is cheap, and if you can find a way to reliably make it a three-powered critter on the third turn, which it would be attacking, then you might see it considered. Otherwise, I doubt it gets much of a look.”Abe Sargent

At release, Star City Games had presold the card at $3 apiece.

No one could have accurately predicted exactly how powerful the card would end up being and how popular it would become in every format.  The card appears fairly innocuous at first, has a weird static P/T, and is a…….lhurgoyf? What even is a lhurgoyf?

llurg
“Lhurgoyf” by Pete Venters

The lhurgoyfs of Magic are supposed to be the scavengers of their plane. They have an appetite for all kinds of rotting decay. The more they get, the bigger they are. Therein lies the “flavor” of the lhurgoyfs and their fondness for cards in the graveyard and relative P/T. Their appetite knows no bounds, so long as there is energy to devour, their growth and hunger will match it.  Their lanky limbs, reptilian skin, and many-toothed faces make them a terror to behold. Not the kind of creature you’d want to cross in the wild, that’s for sure.

Tarmogoyf is the final evolution in a short lineage of lhurgoyfs in the Magic multiverse. The orginal Lhurgoyf was printed in Ice Age, very early in Magic’s history. Its power was equal to the number of creatures in all graveyards and its toughness the same +1.

The next lhurgoyfs to be printed would become a cycle of rare creatures in the set Odyssey. Each would drop the *+1 in Lhurgoyf’s toughness and would each have their P/T equal to a card type and have an ability synonymous with that creature’s color. As a lhurgoyf, it seems that if you enjoy munching on the arcane powers that enable instants, you turn a little blue and gain flying. While apparently snacking on some lands makes you appear a bit gluttonous with the ability to plow right through your foes. This means a lhurgoyf’s diet directly influences their appearance and abilities.

lhurgoyf

The lhurgoyfs wouldn’t show up again until Planar Chaos with Detritivore and again in Future Sight with the infamous Tarmogoyf. Instead of playing off one specific card type, Tarmogoyf looked at the number of different card types. Just as the original Lhurgoyf had the extra point of toughness, the last lhurgoyf to be printed would have the same. The lhurgoyfs are pretty unique and rare creatures in the Magic multiverse and it’s unknown whether we’ll ever see them again.

Tarmogoyf had perhaps the lowest ceiling compared to all previous lhurgoyfs. The number of lands that could end up in a graveyard could be huge for Terravore, maybe 10 or even 15! At the time, there were only 6 card types and realistically it would be very difficult to get all of those types into the graveyard to make Tarmogoyf consistently large. Of course there’s also the fact that it doesn’t even have evasion the way Terravore does. For this reason, it took a little while for Tarmogoyf to take off.

Slowly over next couple weeks after release, people began to test the limits of the card and eventually builds began to circulate that were “all in” on Tarmogoyf. There were three similar lists that Top 8’d Grand Prix Montreal in 2007; this version was played in the hands of Jason Imperiales.

 tarmo origin

There are some strange things going on here, Terramorphic Expanse in a two color deck? Chromatic Star in a G/W Beatdown strategy? Edge of Autumn in an aggro deck?

This deck was all in on getting Tarmogoyf as big as he could possibly be. Flagstones, Canopy, and Expanse were all ways to get a land in the graveyard, Chromatic Star provided a “free” artifact, and Griffin Guide was a value oriented enchantment that didn’t mind ending up in a graveyard if the creature died. Edge of Autumn’s role was to get both a land and sorcery in the graveyard when cycled. Saffi could be sacrificed to get back a Tarmogoyf and also provided an easy way to get a creature card in the graveyard. The payoffs for all this narrow deck building were Tarmogoyf and Mystic Enforcer. Tarmogoyf was easily a 4/5 or 5/6 in this deck and Mystic Enforcer became a 6/6 flyer before long.

Now, I can’t go any further without helping myself in mentioning that Saffi Eriksdotter being in this deck is a hilarious flavor win. The very concept of the card originated from the flavor text of the original Lhurgoyf:

Ach! Hans, run! It’s the lhurgoyf!” – Saffi Eriksdotter’s last words 

Perhaps it’s the dreaded Tarmogoyf that she’s running from in her art.

Saffi EriksdotterLhurgoyf

Of course this flavor text would also go on to influence the card with the same name as the flavor text in the set Unhinged. Hans is also mentioned again on the the flavor text of Revenant.

"Ach! Hans, Run!"Revenant

Okay, side rant over…

After the “all in” decks ran their course and more people began playing the card, they realized that it didn’t actually require building around. The motto became, “just play Tarmogoyf.” The events of the game moving forward did all the work for you. As the game continued, spells are casts, creatures die, fetches are sacrificed, and all of a sudden your Tarmogoyf is a 2 mana 3/4 or 4/5 without effort. This became the main beater for many decks and just goes to show that simply because a creature is nothing more than “just stats,” doesn’t mean it can’t be a great card.

The secret was out, Tarmogoyf is great. With a very splashable mana cost of one coloress and one green mana, Tarmogoyfs were popping up everywhere. If you were playing green, regardless of the format or archetype, you were playing Tarmogoyfs.

The card became the most expensive Standard single in the history of the game hovering around $50-60. It remained there for a while and spiked when Modern became a format. Before Modern, when people played Extended, it was normal for cards to plummet in price when rotation was around the corner. The fact that Tarmogoyf would now be a staple in at least two eternal formats, Legacy and the new Modern, meant that its high price was protected.

greed-730x280
“Greed” by Izzy

The card soared to $100 and it became clear to Wizards that eternal staples needed a place where they could be reprinted. Wizards has had a troubled past with reprints. The set Chronicles was released in 1995 and was the first set to be entirely comprised of reprints. The intention was to broaden the card pool and make the game more accessible to starting players. Many of the game’s staples and powerful cards had become too expensive and were hard to find.

The reaction was not as expected: collectors lashed out against the set, angry that they were losing value in their collections with the secondary market suffering. Wizards, in response, created the Reserve List, a list of cards they would never again reprint, a promise to the collectors that their cards would maintain value. After Chronicles, Bill Rose, then-president of R&D, published this statement:

“Wizards has no plans for another reprint expansion. We will continue to publish new editions of the Core Set with new and different reprints, as well as include reprints in expert-level expansions.

We’re happy with the Standard cardpool size maxing out at around 1500. Two three-set blocks plus one Core Set is just over 1500 cards.”

I preface Tarmogoyf’s reprinting with this to give you a larger idea of the sentiment felt at the time Modern Masters was announced, some 18 years after Chronicles. Some people were uneasy with the idea of a reprint set, fearing the same outcome as Chronicles, while others were eager to open up the powerful cards they never could afford before. Wizards was careful, very careful, maybe even too careful, and ended up printing a very limited set to test the waters.

The community’s verdict…

Success!

The set accomplished exactly what it intended to do and created an influx of Tarmogoyfs and other staples available to the market. Players who had been longing to get their hands on a playset saw their chance to grab them for their own decks and collections.

Unfortunately, the increase in interest vastly overshadowed the amount of Tarmogoyfs that had actually entered the market due to limited printing. The result was a reverse effect that drove Tarmogoyfs up to $150 directly after being reprinted.

Things only got worse after Modern Pro Tour, Born of the Gods. Thousands of folks at home were watching the card do work in various green decks like Zoo, Jund, and Twin. The exposure only drove the price up and the card reached an all time high shortly after the tournament at $200 a card, $800 a playset! The trend continued after Modern Pro Tour Fate Reforged where Abzan was a whopping 28%+ of the meta.

llurg

The frenzy was at its pinnacle when Pascal Maynard value-drafted a top 8 stamped Tarmogoyf in a Modern Masters Grand Prix. With an invitation to the World Championship on the line, Maynard had to choose between a card he actually wanted for his deck or the shiny Tarmogoyf. The card had no business being in the deck he was drafting but in the end, he took it anyway. Pascal auctioned the one-of-a-kind Tarmogoyf on ebay for $14,800 dollars and donated half to charity. The scandal gained the hashtag #GoyfGate on Twitter and polarized the Magic community between casual players and pros. Many players criticized him for the move but, I mean, can you blame him?

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Even regular Tarmogoyfs were worth more than their weight in gold — literally. The card became a huge barrier for entering the format. Most people can’t afford $800 decks, let alone $800 for a playset of one card. Nothing could replace it. It wasn’t like trading out your Go for the Throat for Victim of Night. There wasn’t a substitute that even came close to its power level and it left many players wanting to get into Modern on the outside looking in.

Goyf was in almost every single green archetype, including Jund, Abzan, G/B, Temur Delver, Zoo, Temur Twin, Eternal Command, and more. It was efficiently costed and dodged the best one mana removal spell at the time, Lightning Bolt. Bolt decks had to play dedicated hate like Threads of Disloyalty to even have a chance at the creature or risk being inefficient and using two spells to kill it.

Over time, we even saw players revert back to the “all in” plan again. Jund Death’s Shadow played cards like Mishra’s Bauble and Tarfire to ensure they’re Goyfs were always 5/6’s or 6/7’s. Delirium and Traverse builds began to pop up and take advantage of the decks already utilizing Mishra’s Bauble. Cards like Traverse the Ulvenwald and Grim Flayer synergized well in dedicated Tarmogoyf decks.

The card has now seen 3 reprints to date, which has been enough to keep it under $100. Although it seems that regardless of how many  reprints there are, it continues to be a highly valuable, powerful, sought after card.

fatal-push-e1484122210313-730x280
“Fatal Push” by Eric Deschamps

Every legacy has an end and many people thought the mighty reign of Lightning Bolt and Tarmogoyf was finally over when Fatal Push was printed. Jund and Abzan lists were falling off the radar and Grixis Delver in Legacy became the format powerhouse, leaving Tarmogoyf in the dust. It was a bit of a scare for the Tarmogoyf’s playability as prices dropped to their lowest since it was Standard legal. Partly because of MM17 and partly because of the declining popularity.

As time has passed, it seems that the formidable creature has endured the Push and you see more Tarmogoyfs played alongside it than you do played against it. It turns out Rock strategies are still pretty good and they continue to make strong finishes in big events. The unbanning of Bloodbraid Elf has ensured the scaly monstrosity still has a seat at the top of the meta. Many other green decks also rely heavily on Tarmogoyf as their main finisher and would be significantly weaker without it.

Who would have thought that a little 2 mana 0/1 would be so powerful across so many formats? One day though, and who knows when that will be, Tarmogoyf will be outclassed as the power creep in new sets continues to rise. Until then, this seemingly innocuous lhurgoyf is still king and doesn’t show signs of giving up the crown any time soon.

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