Thursday, June 13, 2013

Casual Sighs

We'll just start with this, which I am glad R&D found amusing. Yes, that's my tweet. (Should tweet be capitalized? Damn.) In a moment of irony I have to note that following the #mtg7 thread on Twitter I have realized; 90% of suggestions are not made with the long term survivability of the game in mind, or are just terrible because they are self-centered (I want X, instead of the game needs Z.) So here I am with just that... Anyway; Onward!

I use the Legacy banned list to dictate what is acceptable for me to build. Even though I wasn't breaking Survival of the Fittest when that card was banned, I started playing it in Commander decks, replacing it with Fauna Shaman. So while I am not competitive in Legacy, I keep up with it because it innovates with a card pool that is reflective of what I own.

However, Legacy has it's drawbacks; the synergies are so high that every deck might as well be a combo deck. The upside is that every decision becomes critical but the down is that every game moves either really fast or mind crushingly slow, with the game frequently decided by turn 2. Playing casually means my games move slower but still include aspects of innovation that Legacy brings up.

The other part of Legacy is the critical component that Blue has in the format. So when I see an interesting article like this on cards that the Legacy format could use that focus on Red and White with very little for Green...I think, um, wait!

It's not that the ideas are bad in colors that don't fit. Planeswalkers, stack interactions and library manipulation are all ones I agree with. I dislike the execution of 'Better early game defenses' but I can see the point. I even appreciate that there is a push to make Red and White matter more, as those colors are ones that are frequently less relevant to the format. But only one Green card in the lot suggests that something bigger is wrong, something that goes back to the earliest days of the game, when Green was the worst color and Blue was the best.

This isn't new: part of Magic's problem has always been that Blue is a powerhouse. This is for three reasons:
  1. Card draw
  2. Stack interactions
  3. Affinity for artifacts 
Card draw is the most powerful mechanic in the game. Not to take away from the strategic element of Magic but many, many games can be boiled down to; the person who draws the most cards will win. This is because card draw does two things; a) decreases randomization and b) increases resources. The more cards you see, the more likely it is that you will find the cards you want (decreased randomization) while ensuring you have the mana to pay for it (increased resources).

Black was second in this but Green in recent years has been catching up to Blue in Standard environments. I think it can be fair to suggest that Green even surpasses Blue occasionally-but it is hard to make that case for Legacy. Spreading card draw to every color is only part of the solution, though.

WotC doesn't like to do 'punishing' mechanics, like Underworld Dreams, but I think these kinds of cards can fill vital roles and are important-in addition to being a space to explore in design, even if a limited one. There must be more space to explore there, if on a limited basis.

Stack interactions is probably the most difficult arena to deal with, because WotC (rightly) considers naming the stack on the cards to be inelegant. Nevertheless, it is a place where Blue has near to total dominance and to balance the game out, the other colors are going to have to have ways to strut their stuff a bit. Bind is a great example-that nobody cared about until it was printed in Blue and made better. Yet it was great and in line with Green's color philosophies, as activated abilities tend to come from permanents, not spells. It expanded that color's role, while defining Blue as well-a color that should have trouble with permanents. Alas, it did not seem to to stick.

On the positive front, Red now is getting more 'copy' effects, giving it access to stack interactions, White has been dabbling in soft countermagic for years now but never really given a toehold and Black...doesn't really have anything. However, Black has access to hand destruction, which is probably the second most powerful mechanic in the game so an argument for Black needing stack interactions is difficult to make. Still; Green is left in the cold here.

Finally comes the stuff that nobody seems to talk about; Blue's affinity for artifacts. Going way, WAY back, Blue has been the color that has been best able to access Artifacts to 'shore up' places where the color would naturally fail. This strength becomes more apparent in artifact heavy blocks (Urza's, Mirrodin, Scars) but never really goes away and is, I believe, one of the reasons for continued success in Blue. The color essentially has easier access to an extra color-one that up until Mirrodin, the others couldn't match and post Mirrodin, when White starts to have a thing for Equipment, Blue finds an easy partner to work with.

However, I see time and again when Blue is given access to powerful artifacts, card drawing, and powerful stack interactions, it dominates formats. Over and over.

Now, maybe you don't play Legacy. But if you play long enough, you will probably play Modern. And what Legacy is, Modern will become, unless WotC addresses the Blue problem. Not necessarily by simply nerfing Blue, because the game needs Blue, in order to keep combo decks from running over the whole format, ending games on turn 2. However, I think by rounding out what the other colors do in order to keep decks from strangling everyone from turn 2 on.


  1. *Legacy has its drawbacks;

    I agree so much with this. I've always felt that Blue is overpowered. It is chock full of instants, the card draw is amazing, and they can cancel anything. ANYTHING. The only drawback is that they're creature light. But the creatures they do have tend to fly or be unblockable. Unblockable? Seriously??!

    On the 'punishing tactics', it seems that's the only way around Blue's advantage. It's always seemed to me that Blue has had an unfair advantage: there's never anything that counters Blue's magic other than playing Blue. The punishing of someone for drawing more cards than you is sort of the only way around this.

    Of course, I'm sure the more learned player has plenty of ways around the Blue Problem. But as a novice, I generally find Blue to be the elephant in the room.

    1. I think it's something that designers could get around, if they really looked into it and I think it's necessary in order to keep the game interesting.

      Some of this pushback could be seen in Return to Ravnica, with the cycle of uncounterable spells--though two of the five had blue in them so it's hard to really draw contrasts. And I certainly understand not wanting to cut too deeply: Blue's abilities do matter and are necessary. Combo could be too degenerate without someone saying 'No.'

      But someone once shared this quote with me--from some Youtube comment.
      "I have a theory; Richard Garfield was once beat up by a tree and saved by a dolphin."

      It would explain a lot...