Cruel Tutor

Necro, Prosbloom, Turbostasis, Turbobalance, Fruity Pebbles, Cocoa Pebbles, , , , Academy, , , , Oath, Wheaties, Trix and all have one thing in common. Yes. They’re all good decks. Something else. Yes. They’re comboriffic. Something else. Yes. They’ve all played heavily into their respective metagames. Something else. Do you know what it is? They…

Necro, Prosbloom, Turbostasis, Turbobalance, Fruity Pebbles, Cocoa Pebbles, Dream Halls, Living Death, Hatred, Academy, High Tide, Sneak Attack, Bargain, Oath, Wheaties, Trix and Replenish all have one thing in common.

Yes. They’re all good decks. Something else.
Yes. They’re comboriffic. Something else.
Yes. They’ve all played heavily into their respective metagames. Something else.

Do you know what it is?

They all use a form of card-specific search. That means they use either Demonic Consultation, Lim-Dul’s Vault, Intuition or some card ending with the word Tutor. Some card X that allows them to search for some card Y, which is hanging out in their deck, somewhere.


Demonic Tutor is, possibly, the coolest card ever, from a design standpoint. Really. Have you ever drawn a Demonic Tutor, as you were about to lose the game? You know what he says when you draw him?

“Hey there! Wow. Heck of a game we got going on here. Look, I know I’m really not what you wanted to draw. You wanted to draw Card X. Sorry about that. Tell you what I’ll do, though. You pay two mana and play me, and I’ll go get you Card X, then you can win the game. Cool?”

Demonic Tutor. A wild card. Joker.

But, of course, this proved too powerful, even with the restrictions. If you ever played Type I, what did you Tutor for?

Unless you were about to die, Ancestral Recall or Timetwister. The two most powerful cards in any deck.

So, Demonic Tutor became less of a wild card and more of an Ancestral Recall.

Flash forward to a time when we’ve said “smell you later (or goodbye, to the un-Simpson-o-fied)” to all the cards in question. The philosophy behind set design is to make every card balanced, with nothing so key as Ancestral Recall. In a field where everything is balanced, a Tutor shouldn’t be such a big deal, right?

Well, there’s still the problem of flexibility. If all cards are about the same, and two decks are playing: one with four tutors and one with zero, the deck with the tutors has a huge advantage. His or her cards will come up when he or she needs them, creating card advantage, board control and other advantages more frequently, while his or her opponent will often struggle to draw the correct cards at the correct times.

So, obviously, a Demonic Tutor is still unfair. But the mechanic is still cool. R&D then added balances to the mechanic, first Demonic Consultation.

“Hey, look at me! I’m faster than a Tutor! In-stant, baby. And, I’ll only cost you half as much. Sure, I’ll get you your card BUT, I’m going to tear your deck apart looking for it. So it had better be worth it!”

It was quite some time before anyone touched a Demonic Consultation.

Alliances brought us Lim-Dul’s Vault. Eh.

“I’ll get you your card… eventually. It’ll cost you two different colors of mana, and probably a little life – but hey, we all make sacrifices, right?”

It made it’s way into a couple of decks, but nothing major.

Then there was Mirage. We had reached a point of balance in Magic where the tutor was seen to be a good idea again. There weren’t any truly unbalanced strategies to be worried about. The Necro fad had died down, since it lost its better disruption. The Mirage tutors were pretty much a wash their first time out. As Hammer of Bogardan grew to be a threat, Mystical Tutor showed up some, for both Hammer and Dissipate. But not much.

These tutors were the most balanced yet. Between the three of them, Worldly, Enlightened and Mystical, a player could fetch any type of spell. However, each was fairly narrow on its own *and* they all required a player to virtually skip his next draw phase for the card.

Now, what kind of deck would want to do that? There are only two:

Decks with lots of “one-of’s” and decks with something totally broken.

The first time I played Enlightened Tutor was in a deck I built to stop Big Red, a deck that was dominating the local metagame. I was using four Tutors and one maindeck CoP: Red, along with several other strong artifacts and enchantments (like Null Chamber. Hammer me now!). I only played it because I knew that in five rounds, I’d probably face four red decks. I faced five, actually. Turn two CoP: Red is pretty demoralizing, especially when followed up by a Null Chamber on Nevinyrral’s Disk.

Every game I Tutored for CoP: Red, it was like looking at the card and saying (in a lovely dog-fancier’s voice) “you’re so good, yes you are! You’re the bestest card in this whole bunch. Uh, huh! Come on here and show this nice man here all your tricks!”

I was willing to give up a whole card, to go get this one.

And that’s fine. In a perfect world, this is what Tutors do. But then, another Tutor was born.


He says “skip your next draw step and give me five percent of your life. Deal? Okay, now, what can I get for you? Swamp? Dark Ritual? Or… or… YAWGMOTH’S SOMETHING OR OTHER?”

Again, an expansion on the Mirage Block tutor theme. It’s balanced, yes. It gives you a larger selection of search, in exchange for a life payment.

Much like Dark Ritual and Ancestral Recall, the power of Tutors depends totally on the other cards in your deck. Who cares if you can get anything you want, if you’re playing a deck full of junk?

Is it worth the investment? What if every card in your deck is just about as good as every other card? Are you going to care which card you draw, 95% of the time? If not, why bother cluttering up your deck with tutors? That’s not an entirely fair argument, as sometimes you’ll need a Disenchant instead of a Ramosian Lieutenant, but I’m sure you can see my point.

If you can’t, my point is that you have to have something *very* special in your deck, before these modern, balanced tutors become desirable. You need some Card X that is SO integral to your strategy that you DARE NOT play a game without it. Something that is SO good, you don’t mind giving up cards or life to get it.

Something like Replenish.
Or Bargain.

So, by removing the tutors, you severely weaken combo strategies. It really shocked me, more than anything else, that the tutors were reprinted in Sixth.

Remove Necro: get rid of a whole can of worms. That’s good.

Add tutors: open new can. That’s bad.

It seems like we should lean away from the tutor mechanic, until the environment stabilizes a lot more. But then, who’s going to play them?

take care.

Omeed Dariani.
[email protected]
Eic – www.starcitygames.com
Contributing Editor, Scrye Magazine

“I am Jack’s wasted life.

Fight Club, Chuck Palahniuk”

-Should have been the flavor text on Vampiric Tutor.