Flavorwise, creatures represent Warriors, Minions, Beasts, and Monsters that serve the player, usually by fighting on their behalf. Because almost all creatures can attack each turn to reduce an opponent's life or block the opponent's attackers, creature cards are fundamental to most deck strategies.
Creatures are played on the player's own main phase when the stack is empty. When a creature comes into play or changes controllers, it has what is commonly called "summoning sickness" until the beginning of its controller's next turn. A creature with summoning sickness cannot attack or use an activated ability with the tap symbol in its cost, but it can block or use any other abilities it has. A tapped creature cannot attack, block, or become tapped for and/or fulfilling a cost.
On the bottom-right corner of each creature card is that creature's power and toughness, respectively. The power is the amount of damage a creature deals with an opponent or other creatures in combat, and the toughness is the amount of damage a creature can survive. A creature with damage equal to or greater than its toughness has "lethal damage," and is destroyed. Similarly, a creature whose toughness is reduced to zero or less will go to its owner's graveyard (though it is technically not destroyed.) Any damage a creature takes will accumulate until the end of the turn when all damage is removed from all creatures.
Unlike other card types, almost all creature cards have a subtype, also referred to as a "creature type." There are no rules inherent to creature types, but there are many cards that affect specific types. In addition, creature types are often associated with particular colors and abilities, typically for flavor purposes. For example, Angels are almost always large white flying creatures, Spiders are typically green creatures with high toughness and reach, and Goblins are often small red creatures with self-destructive abilities.
Faster, stronger, better
Creatures are nowadays better than they were ten or fifteen or twenty years ago. In Alpha there was a fundamental imbalance in power between creatures and spells. Since Alpha there has been an ongoing effort to make creatures stronger in comparison to non-permanents.
Small, medium, large
The Mystery Booster test card Scaled Destruction defines small creatures as having a total power and toughness 4 or less, medium creatures have 5-8, and large having 9 or more. Mark Rosewater has provided slightly different scales on several occasions. There is no "Extra Large" category. These categories have no mechanical relevance and are only used during design to generalize unfilled creature slots.
The Mystery Booster test card Louvaq, the Aberrant defined modified creatures as having a power, toughness, or ability different than their printed versions. For Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty this was reworded as "Creatures that are equipped, enchanted, or have counters are modified".
- A card type. A creature is a permanent. See rule 302, “Creatures.”
- 302. Creatures
- 302.1. A player who has priority may cast a creature card from their hand during a main phase of their turn when the stack is empty. Casting a creature as a spell uses the stack. (See rule 601, “Casting Spells.”)
- 302.2. When a creature spell resolves, its controller puts it onto the battlefield under their control.
- 302.3. Creature subtypes are always a single word and are listed after a long dash: “Creature — Human Soldier,” “Artifact Creature — Golem,” and so on. Creature subtypes are also called creature types. Creatures may have multiple subtypes. See rule 205.3m for the complete list of creature types.
Example: “Creature — Goblin Wizard” means the card is a creature with the subtypes Goblin and Wizard.
- 302.4. Power and toughness are characteristics only creatures have.
- 302.4a A creature’s power is the amount of damage it deals in combat.
- 302.4b A creature’s toughness is the amount of damage needed to destroy it.
- 302.4c To determine a creature’s power and toughness, start with the numbers printed in its lower right corner, then apply any applicable continuous effects. (See rule 613, “Interaction of Continuous Effects.”)
- 302.5. Creatures can attack and block. (See rule 508, “Declare Attackers Step,” and rule 509, “Declare Blockers Step.”)
- 302.6. A creature’s activated ability with the tap symbol or the untap symbol in its activation cost can’t be activated unless the creature has been under its controller’s control continuously since their most recent turn began. A creature can’t attack unless it has been under its controller’s control continuously since their most recent turn began. This rule is informally called the “summoning sickness” rule.
- 302.7. Damage dealt to a creature by a source with neither wither nor infect is marked on that creature (see rule 120.3). If the total damage marked on that creature is greater than or equal to its toughness, that creature has been dealt lethal damage and is destroyed as a state-based action (see rule 704). All damage marked on a creature is removed when it regenerates (see rule 701.15, “Regenerate”) and during the cleanup step (see rule 514.2).
Friendly to creatures
Green and white are the main creature colors (they have the highest percentage of creatures versus spells) so they most often like you having creatures (they reward you for playing them, having a certain number on the battlefield or in your hand, etc.).
- Sam Stoddard (August 9, 2013). "Dealing With Power Creep". magicthegathering.com. Wizards of the Coast.
- Mark Rosewater (January 27, 2012). "Power creep that seems to have happened". Blogatog. Tumblr.
- Sam Stoddard (November 15, 2013). "Where the Wild Things Are". magicthegathering.com. Wizards of the Coast.
- Mark Rosewater (July 12, 2021). "We usually define small as a combined power and...". Blogatog. Tumblr.
- Mark Rosewater (March 21, 2021). "Could you clarify whats a small medium and...". Blogatog. Tumblr.
- Mark Rosewater (July 13, 2021). "If large is 8 whats 12 16 20 i guess im...". Blogatog. Tumblr.
- Mark Rosewater (June 5, 2017). "Mechanical Color Pie 2017". magicthegathering.com. Wizards of the Coast.