Tuesday, 16 February 2021 09:48

Stuffy: Magic's First Running Gag

Written by
Stuffy (A.K.A. "Stuffy Doll). Stuffy (A.K.A. "Stuffy Doll). WOTC/RICHARD THOMAS

In the early days of Magic: The Gathering, there wasn't exactly a lot of formality when it came to the cards. After all, the rules since Alpha seemed to change wildly between decks, with even things like card backs possibly changing with each expansion. There was one carry over, one running gag that helped tie everything together -- even in an informal way, almost silly way: Stuffy Doll.

Black ViseStuffy, a rag doll who keeps getting into Mr. Bill-like situations, was more-or-less the unofficial mascot of early Magic. Drawn primarily on cards featuring artwork by Richard Thomas, Stuffy began as a need. The Alpha card Black Vise needed a non-living character to be caught up, well, in a vise filled with spikes. Thomas wanted to do something fun, and in a later interview, said he chose Stuffy because he just really wanted to draw a tortured doll. And it was pretty powerful. According to the text on Black Vise, the card says "If opponent has more than four cards in hand during upkeep, black vise does 1 damage to opponent for each card in excess of four." So, like a number of powerful early-game Magic cards, it was destined to be banned or restricted sooner rather than later.  In fact, it became restricted in Standard (then called Type-II) and Vintage (Type-I) in February of 1996, and banned in the now-defunct Extended format in July of '97, as well as in Legacy as a hold-over from when it was called Type 1.5.  While the card would become unrestricted in Vintage in June of 2007, it wouldn't be until September of 2015 that it became unbanned in Legacy.

The RackRather than being a one-time joke, Stuffy just kept on coming. There were a lot of cards coming up where there was a lot of undue pain to be represented. It's somewhat difficult to draw a living thing going through that, but a lot more palatable for an inanimate object after all.

The next year, two more cards came up that needed a Stuffy cameo. Antiquities saw the doll on a torture device in a card simply called The Rack as well as being horrifically yet mangled again on the card Cursed Rack. A couple of sets later, Thomas continued his Stuffy hurt-a-thon with Wall of Wonder in Legends and, in 1995's Ice Age set, ripe for sacrifice as seen on the the card Leshrac's Rite.

Cursed RackWall of WonderLeshrac's Rite

But then it just, well, stopped. Thomas never really commented on why he ceased including Stuffy in his artwork, but, sometime around 1995, Magic: The Gathering had hit a new peak of popularity. With that, cards began taking on more mature themes. What was done with a doll could now be done easily with virtually anything else. Plus, Magic was finding a firm footing in the fantasy arena, with a doll being one of the outliers in this new world. For whatever reason, it appeared that it was gone for good.

Stuffy Doll

That is until 11 years later in the set Time Spiral when Stuffy made its return in the form of the artifact creature Stuffy Doll. Although not illustrated by Thomas this time, the 0/1, 5 mana, indestructible Stuffy Doll made for a fitting coda, now finally becoming its own card. Thankfully for Thomas' Stuffy, Time Spiral also included a reprint of The Rack with its original artwork.

Aside from a M13 reprint with drastically and disappointingly different artwork, Stuffy hasn't returned since 2006. It's presence, however, still lingers over the game as one of the oddities that seeped into early Magic and helped harbor in running gags of future cards such as the squirrel creature trend of the late 90's and early 2000's (though, that's a story for another day).