Guns in Magic: the Gathering

Explore the introduction of guns in Magic: The Gathering. Understand how this evolution impacts gameplay, strategy, and the MTG universe.


With Outlaws of Thunder Junction coming in just a few weeks, it’s easy to think of classic Western tropes like cowboys and train robberies, but one image that stands out amongst them that presents an interesting question for current Magic players is the high noon duel. Western heroes are lauded for being “the fastest gun in the west,” but they’re now being included in a game that, allegedly, does not include guns in its artwork or lore.

Today, I want to look through some examples of how guns have been depicted in Magic: the Gathering and see if this perception we have of it being a gun-free game is accurate. Of course, Universes Beyond products like Fallout or Warhammer 40k include characters and settings with guns, but for our purposes here, I want to look at just the Magic-branded sets.

Some History

Weaponry and warfare has been part of the soul of Magic: the Gathering since the very first release with the gameplay itself even being presented as two powerful wizards battling presumably to the death. As a result, swords, bows, and countless other weapons have appeared in art and flavor text throughout the game, but guns aren’t nearly as common. But has that always been the case?

Magic the Gathering Card - Rocket Launcher - MTG Circle

The oldest depiction of a firearm can be found on the card Rocket Launcher, which was first printed in Antiquities (1994). In this art, we see an orc or goblin firing a shoulder-mounted weapon with detailing resembling the spines of Phyrexian Dreadnought. Mechanically, the effect lets you stack instances of one damage onto multiple targets, resembling a machine gun more than a rocket launcher, where one large sum of damage would be more thematic. The card is inefficient at best and, as a result, has been largely forgotten.

Magic the Gathering Card - Mogg Assassin - MTG Circle

Firearms weren’t present for another four years until the release of Exodus where a single card, Mogg Assassin, shows a goblin with a clear pistol grip holstered at its waist. Interestingly enough, there appears to be a barrel of a large assault weapon on its back as well alongside a bow and arrow. Why you would want to fling pointy sticks when you have bullets is beyond me, but here we are. This art seems out of place as nowhere else in this set, nor any of its surrounding sets, do we see firearms. Automatons and thopters are present, but weaponry is either magical in nature or more classical fantasy with swords and bows.

I’m personally willing to chalk this up to art direction and review not being as refined as it would later become – growing pains of a relatively new game.

Magic the Gathering Card - Prowling Nightstalker - MTG CircleMagic the Gathering Card - Trokin High Guard - MTG Circle

Firearms really step into the limelight in Portal Second Age, a set geared towards new players that was released in June of 1998. This set took place on Dominaria and followed multiple factions on the island Caliman. The art, as you can see above, clearly depicts firearms in use. These are generally shown as flintlock muskets or muzzle-loaded pistols with a distinct aesthetic all their own. These firearms were, according to MTG Wiki, poorly received by players because they clashed with the established sword and sorcery aesthetics of previous sets. This also presents canonical issues because these cards depict an island on Dominaria, the plane on which a large amount of the story takes place, yet this technology remains isolated to this one island. We haven't revisited it since, nor have any other characters (many of whom could literally walk across dimensions) leveraged it.

It’s reasonable to assume Wizards of the Coast simply would like this segment of the history swept under the rug as it no longer meshes with the style they're employing, but they included Trokin High Guard in The List and printed it (with the original artwork) in recent set boosters.

The last historical example I’d like to discuss is Goblin Sharpshooter. This card’s original art depicts a goblin in a sandbag bunker reminiscent of images you’d see from World War Two with a crank machine gun unloading on something off screen. Beyond just the art, however, the mechanical identity of the card is clearly a top-down design depicting someone firing an automatic weapon with it dealing ping damage potentially many times during one turn.

Unlike some of the shooters before it, this card is very strong and has been reprinted into Commander products and Secret Lairs with modified artwork making the gun appear less realistic. The Commander 2013 art exemplifies this with the gun simply dropping a hammer rather than firing a bullet. It definitely fits the harmful scamp motif we see from other goblin cards.

Magic the Gathering Card - Goblin Sharpshooter - MTG Circle

Non-Gun Guns

Magic the Gathering Card - Makeshift Munitions - MTG CircleMagic the Gathering Card - Predator, Flagship - MTG CircleMagic the Gathering Card - Power Armor - MTG Circle

Aside from the previous examples, Magic has included a number of mechanisms and technologies that are gun-like without representing proper firearms. Cannons and warships that can fire lasers or magical blasts are commonplace and have been for large swathes of Magic lore.

Sets telling the story of the original Weatherlight crew, the Phyrexian invasions, and The Brother’s War depict futuristic-looking technology that wouldn’t be out of place in BattleTech or Warhammer 40K. These vehicles and automatons often have ballistic weaponry visible, but they are described as being powered by magic energy and, therefore, do not constitute firearms. I’m willing to give these depictions a pass because they certainly aren’t realistic, as was the complaint about Portal Second Age’s firearms.

Magic the Gathering Card - Arc Spitter - MTG CircleMagic the Gathering Card - Arming Gala - MTG Circle

This argument is being tested, however, in recent magic design. There are items in New Capenna, for example, that are powered by magic, but clearly designed to look and behave like tommy guns that you’d see from the gang imagery the set is trying to evoke, and Thunder Junction will be taking this same approach with the iconic six-shooters by having energy-launching handheld weapons.

Fantasy creators are certainly welcome to take any form of technology or magic they find fun an interesting and lean into it. Magic: the Gathering is a 13+ game, after all, and guns are not out of bounds by any but the most strict societal standards. I merely find it funny to hear members of the community or even WotC employees claim the game does not include guns when their clear stand-ins are on full display even in the marketing materials. I would encourage everyone to call a spade a spade, an orc and orc, and a gun a gun. There are guns in New Capenna, and there are guns in Thunder Junction because the top-down designs of these planes is based on media where guns are an iconic focal point. It’s unavoidable, and it’s okay.

As a fun parting note, there were pistols in artwork during the original Ixalan on the Dire Fleet Captain’s belt. It fit so naturally that I suspect most players didn’t even notice.

Magic the Gathering Card - Dire Fleet Captain - MTG Circle

Thank you for joining me on this little exploration and if you have any questions or comments, please leave them below, or catch me on my Twitch channel!

Graham, also known as HamHocks42 on the internet, is a Twitch streamer who adores Magic: the Gathering in all its forms and tries to find the fun, even in the most competitive and sweaty environments.

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