Wizards of the Coast is changing a bunch of MTG cards for sensitivity reasons with the upcoming MTG Arena release of Khans of Tarkir. The Tribal card type is becoming ‘Kindred’, while the totem armor mechanic is becoming ‘umbra armor’.
The other two changes have gameplay ramifications: Rakshasa demons will have their cat creature type removed, while nagas are getting wiped out altogether, replaced with ‘snake’.
These MTG card changes haven’t really been explained by Wizards, beyond a November 3 article stating they’re “to make our game as inclusive and welcoming as possible”. It’s therefore been left to Magic fans to interpret the company’s reasoning, causing plenty of lively online discussion throughout the weekend.
The change from Tribal to Kindred seems the most self-explanatory, in light of Wizards’ recent decision to use the term ‘typal’ instead of tribal when describing MTG creature type decks. The swapping of ‘totem’ for ‘umbra’ is likely connected. All the totem armor cards have umbra in their name, so it seems like a sensible word to opt for.
The declawing of Rakshasa is at first more puzzling, especially since, when you look at the card art: those sure do seem like cats. The reason seems to be that in actual Hindu mythology, Rakshasa are no more cats than they are dogs, snapping turtles, or budgies. They’re shapeshifters, able to turn into whatever form they like, and usually they’re depicted as fanged, taloned monsters that aren’t especially cat-like.
The association may have been ported over from Wizards of the Coast’s other game, Dungeons and Dragons, where Rakshasa have long had tiger heads in their ‘true form’.
It seems a shame Wizards didn’t think to add a second creature type to replace cat – they’d make more sense as MTG changelings or shapeshifters.
Scrapping naga seems to be the only change that defies an easy explanation. It’s possible that Wizards wasn’t motivated by cultural reasons at all and the change was purely motivated by gameplay. After all, snake is an established creature type in Magic, whereas naga-themed decks are unlikely to ever get off the ground. There’s a certain logical sense to making snake people snakes, just as lion people are cats.
These changes will appear when Khans of Tarkir comes to Magic: The Gathering on December 12, 2023, but they’ll affect the paper cards too, as their Oracle text is being changed. Obviously, it’s a shame for anyone who enjoyed playing Rakshasa in their cat tribal deck, but on the flipside, snake players have some new toys to play with.