Phelddagrif: The Flying Purple Hippo Creature Originally Created as a Joke


Magic: The Gathering has, well, a lot of creatures.  Not all have serious origins.

Magic: The Gathering has, well, a lot of creatures.

Some are standard fantasy. Dragons, elves, gnolls, etc. Others are those created specifically for the game - zuberas, kithkin, those heckin' beebles, etc. And out of all those created ones there are stories behind them. Some are twists off already existing creatures. Others were more alien. And one took an off-hand comment meant as a joke and ran with it. Guess which one this is?

The year is 1996. At the time Magic: The Gathering had a bunch of running in-jokes. One was over Richard Garfield, the creator of Magic. The brand team insisted that every time he was mentioned it would be as "Richard Garfield, Ph.D.". Another one was how, after three years of the game going on, they were running out of magical and fantasy creatures to base cards on.

The joke?

It's only a matter of time before a flying purple hippo is added.

So, as a joke, East Coast Playtesters made a Phelddagrif. The name? An anagram of "Garfield Ph.D", just as the rule was. What was it? Flying purple hippo. The card that should never have made it past playtesting? Selected for Alliances, the first expansion after Ice Age.

Amazingly, Phelddagrifs turned out to be pretty popular. But Magic, seeing the creature as peak silly, wasn't ready to make anymore. Well, that is until 2001 when Planeshift had Questing Phelddagrif come out. But after that, gain, it was deemed too out there.

In 2012, Mark Rosewater was asked if the giant purple winged hippos would ever return. His response? Um, not too promising:

"While we do Easter eggs like Grave Bramble (Plants vs. Zombies) and Creepy Doll (Jonathan Coulton) we no longer do what I’d call vanity Easter eggs where we reference the people involved in Magic. As Phelddagrif is an anagram of Garfield, Ph.D. (after Magic’s creator Richard Garfield) it unfortunately falls into the latter category. Also, flying purple hippos isn’t really in Magic’s look and feel these days. (Although maybe one day in silver border.)"

So, yeah, it's a solid 9.5 on the beeble scale. It's not impossible it won't be back, but it would take some effort. Crazier things have happened though, especially in this game.  After all, Questing Pheldagriff was reprinted not too long ago in Mystery Boosters.

Still, for a while there, Magic: The Gathering had a creature that was a joke suggestion they ran away with that turned out to be pretty iconic.

Barry White

Barry White is a longtime Magic: The Gathering player, having started in 1994 shortly before the release of 'Fallen Empires.' After graduating from the University of Nevada, Reno, he went on to a 15-year journalism career as a writer, reporter, and videographer for three different ABC affiliate newsrooms.