Four-mana 4/4 creatures have existed since the earliest days of Magic. The first was  Su-Chi from Antiquities. Yet for so much of the game’s history, these creatures cam with drawbacks—Derelor, Breezekeeper, Illusionary Forces. Back in 1994 when the rules still included “mana burn” Su-Chi was dangerous—you would take four damage if you couldn’t use that four mana—but it made for excellent Ashnod’s Altar fodder. The first four-mana 4/4 Beast wasn’t green—it was Tempest’s Kezzerdrix, a high-risk/low-reward beater who punished you for winning the game.

The first one without a potential drawback, however, was a green beast: Onslaught’s Ravenous Baloth. His fame has diminished, but at the time he was a gamechanger, coming down off Birds of Paradise on turn three and allowing Big Green decks to face off against Burn. Back then the rules put damage on the stack, so Ravvy B could both take down a 4/4 and gain you four life. After the M10 rules change, you had to choose one; his fame diminished for a reason.

Since the days when Baloths roamed the earth, we’ve gotten several 2GG 4/4 Beasts. It’s a satisfyingly square mana cost, and hits a fair-but-powerful-midrange target that has been a part of Magic since Jamie Wakefield’s day. Throne of Eldraine alone has three: Thunderous Snapper, Fierce Witchstalker, and Questing Beast—plus honorary potential 4/4 for four Wicked Wolf. Indeed, in the last year or so, we’ve seen a plethora of these—from Nicol Bolas, the Ravager, to Leonin Warleader, to Sphinx of Foresight, to Spawn of Mayhem, to Nightpack Ambusher, etc.

Few are more powerful than the Planeswalker-slapping chimera that is the Questing Beast. Part Vengevine, part Baloth, part Akroma, the Beast is a befuddling mix of cards stapled onto one aggressive body.

I’d argue that the Questing Beast is like a challenging piece of art—when I first saw it, I bounced off it, in the same way I did Twin Peaks or baby’s first experimental metal record. “This is dull,” I thought, “and cluttered instead of creative, like the custom card of someone trying to solve problems in their kitchen table metagame.” I called it bad design and railed against power creep coupled with keyword gumbo. But that’s the point: often described as being born of disparate parts, with a serpentine head and a feline body and caprine legs; the Beast was named not only for its destined purpose—to be the focus of questing knights—but for the noise it made, like the sound of sixty dogs howling inside its scaled belly.

In Middle English, “questen” means both the act of hunting and the noise dogs make while on the hunt. Alternately, the “questing,” or baying bark, is made by the unborn young in its womb, howling to get out. It’s a chimera, a fancy, an ugly and dangerous thing that’s nonetheless the object of desire for Pellinore in T.H. White’s The Once and Future King and a subject of art for Arthur Rackham, whose Beast is more similar to an alligator than Eldraine’s noble wyrm.

If I balked when first seeing the Questing Beast, it was because I wasn’t ready to receive it as the noble and hideous amalgam it is. I couldn’t understand its patchwork beauty. But now, having lost to it in Limited and run it as a two-of in my Pioneer deck as an Oko slayer, I feel like we’ve grown closer, the Beast and I.

Bucking its tradition as an unclassifiable hybrid in Arthurian legend, Magic’s Questing Beast is a beast, and not just in creature type. The 4/4 for 2GG statline is the archetypal Beast-point, ever since Ravenous Baloth solidified it. That chunky, beefy-but-cost-efficient mana point feels right for a Beast, and it makes Questing Beast feel more grounded.

From there, though, the Questing Beast defies categorization. Even in its definition—in the play between “to hunt” and “to bark”—the Beast defies description. It is both the subject of quests, as in Malory and White’s depictions, and the source of danger. In Kieryluk’s art, there’s a suitable mood of arrogance and uncertainty, underlined by the strong and whorled brushstrokes, making the Beast appear mossy and misty, almost constantly in motion. While lounging, this is a Beast who can’t rest—even at home, something is either close behind or chewing it alive from the inside.

It’s a beautiful piece of art, and one I’m overjoyed to see anytime I draw it. But it makes me vaguely and appropriately uneasy, as each time, I wonder what, precisely, it’s meant to be. Is it a purely Timmy card? Obviously not, since it’s exceptionally playable. It seems to solve problems that don’t exist yet—why is it Fog-proof? Why does it super-trample over onto Planeswalkers? The three keyword abilities seems to match its three heads—a Magic innovation, as most of the depictions of the Questing Beast in literature depict it as monocranial. The deathtouch, presumably, comes from the scorpion-like tail Igor Kieryluk has beautifully rendered; the vigilance from the sleek and maneuverable body; and the haste from the lion’s paws and forebody. I’m at a loss on the anti-Fog effect—maybe the Beast can hunt its prey even in the mists of Albion.

Likewise, the Planeswalker hate aspect of the Questing Beast doesn’t seem tied to anything in the Arthurian legend—my personal theory is that it’s the Beast being so affronted by a lack of pursuit that it lashes out at anything and everything nearby. The “can’t be blocked by creatures with power 2 or less” makes sense, in contrast—in the French Vulgate legends and in Malory, the Beast can only be hunted by knights and heroes. I’ve been sideboarding in the Beast again Mono-Black Aggro in Pioneer, and it feels suitable to watch the Beast tear past a horde of Lord of the Accursed and Zombie tokens to hit for four and slap a Liliana down to nothing.

More than anything, that’s what the Beast seems designed to do—to serve as future-proofing for Pioneer and Modern, as a counter attack to Fog decks, to Planeswalker control, to sorcery-speed removal, and to low-to-the-ground aggressive decks. It may never define formats, but as you build decks in the brand new world of Pioneer, it’s worth asking: what does my deck do if they drop a Beast?

A lifelong resident of the Carolinas and a graduate of the University of North Carolina, Rob has played Magic since he picked a Darkling Stalker up off the soccer field at summer camp. He works for nonprofits as an educational strategies developer and, in his off-hours, enjoys writing fiction, playing games, and exploring new beers.

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