I love lizards. And I love over-analyzing very specific things. For this article, I want to talk about the second best creature type in Magic: the Gathering – viashino.
How do viashino differ from plane to plane? What are their real life and other fantasy property inspirations? Why is that viashino uncomfortably ripped? Some of these questions will be discussed in length in this article.
What Are Viashino?
The viashino are Magic: the Gathering’s main reptilian species. Originally introduced in Dominaria, viashino have also been found on the planes of Alara and Ravnica. Viashino first appeared in the Magic canon, specifically in the novel The Prodigal Sorcerer. They first appeared in card form in Mirage, with Viashino Warrior, Hivis of the Scale, and Zirilan of the Claw.
The Viashino of Dominaria
The early Dominarian viashino lived in the Shivan sands, called Shiv. They were best known for their sandswimming, where they could hide in the sand and move through it like water to pounce on unsuspecting travelers.
Viashino are stated to be related to dragons, and they can sometimes exert some control over dragons, as shown in Hivis and Zirilian.
Viashino lived in clan-like colonies, led by a Bey, as a nomadic warrior society. Interestingly, they were best known for their metal crafting, as shown on some cards like Viashino Weaponsmith and, arguably, Viashino Heretic.
Typically the viashino fought with goblins, the ghitu tribe, and dragons. However, they did eventually ally with the goblins and the ghitu, forming the Shivan Nation.
Magic lore also mentions other subgroups of Viashino throughout Dominaria. The Tamingazin, for example, lived in a treetop society that was described as having “no stairs, only poles.” This part of the canon stated that viashino did not know their gender until they reached maturity.
Visually, viashino were all over the place, like most things in early magic. Sometimes they were drawn bulky, with forehead frills, very reminiscent of dinosaurs. Other times, they were depicted as thin and lanky.
I personally like the recent designs on cards like Viashino Sandsprinter, where they are depicted with features similar to a lizard species called the Desert Horned Lizard, better known as the Horny Toad or that lizards that shoots blood out of its eyes.
The kinship with dragons feature with viashino is very similar to 3rd edition DnD kobolds, who are stated to be “distantly related to dragons.” These kobolds often serve their dragon overlords, which we don’t see as many examples of with Dominarian viashino.
The Viashino of Alara
Before the conflux, viashino were found primarily on Jund. Instead of being led by a Bey, viashino on Jund group up in “gangs” known as Thrashes.
These Thrashes are “led by elders who have survived countless challenges” according to Thunder-Thrash Elder. In keeping with their Jund home, these viashino are much more brutal than their Domanaria counterparts, wielding spiked clubs instead of crafting crossbows.
There are also dead viashino found on Grixis. We don’t know a lot about these viashino, but we do have one depiction of a reanimated viashino skeleton that we can assume is from Grixis. Interestingly, this skeleton does not depict a crocodilian viashino – rather, this one is much more the traditional lizard-like bauplan.
During the Conflux, the Jund viashino then apparently had to meet their counterparts on Naya. This was interesting to me because this was the first time in my research that I had heard anything about viashino on Naya. However, there is one Naya viashino card – Gloryscale Viashino.
This one looks no different than the Jund viashino, however, so there’s a chance this is in fact a Jund viashino who has adapted after the Conflux.
Additionally, there is the card Skyclaw Thrash, depicting an Izzet viashino that is also an artifact creature. It can perhaps be assumed these are a group of viashino who have embraced the Esper way of life post-Conflux.
Compared to viashino on Dominaria, these viashino take on a more crocodilian appearance. I did try to find out if they were specifically based on alligators or crocodiles.
Magic art isn’t something that’s going to be specifically one way or the other. However, after looking through the art and different options, I think that Jund viashino actually look a lot like caimans.
Caimans are also known to live in the marshes and swamps of Central and South America, which seems like a fitting comparison to the Cairns of Jund.
The Viashino of Ravnica
Ravnican viashino are a big reason why I started writing this article. Even though they don’t have quite as much lore as the viashino on other planes, the Ravnica viashino have a lot in terms of their depictions on cards that we can make interesting speculations on.
Ravnican viashino primarily show up in three of the red aligned guilds – Gruul, Izzet, and Boros. There is little evidence of viashino aligning themselves with Rakdos.
Viashino are generally seen as cannon fodder, on par with or maybe even lower than goblins. Early depictions of viashino in Izzet show them as more unwilling test subjects than actual guild members, though later art in Guilds shows viashino actually wearing guild uniforms and wielding Izzet weapons. I’d be interested to know if this reflects an actual change in the way the guild views viashino.
Viashino in Gruul and Boros seem to serve similar roles, as soldiers or other vicious agents to deploy. The Bloodscale appear to be a group of Gruul viashino, though again, not much else is known about them.
War of the Spark briefly featured a viashino planeswalker who, upon planeswalking during the events of War, was immediately killed by an eternal. It’s not known if this viashino was a Ravnica native or from another plane, since they were literally shoved in the novel to die.
Many of the viashino on Ravnica are drawn very dinosaur like, similar to raptors. However, some cards depict another type of viashino on Ravnica, a more gecko looking variant.
As a longtime Elder Scrolls fan, these lizards are the ones most similar to the Argonians in appearance and storytelling role. Many viashino who are either allied with the Gruul or otherwise guildless are depicted as rogues or slinking warriors.
It really does surprise me how few viashino cards there are over magic’s history. I tried to do an analysis of viashino using the tools from my “In Analysis – Wizards, Druids, and Shamans” article. However, I honestly felt there just weren’t enough viashino out there to make any substantial claims about how viashino function in the game.
Additionally, I don’t feel like they’re well explored story wise. As mentioned, the one time we even saw a viashino planeswalker, they were immediately stabbed to death by a skeleton. Especially with the city life of Ravnica, I want to know more – Is there fighting between viashino who choose a guild or non-Gruul life and their counterparts? We’ve seen goblins like Mizzix rise to high ranks in the Izzet league, but do viashino have those same opportunities? On Alara, did viashino show up throughout all the shards, and if so, how are they different? How are viashino treated in the Shivan Nation?
These are the questions everyone is asking, Wizards. We demand answers.