Enter Portal

As the guy with the Portal ramblings here on StarCityGames, as well as a former member of Beyond Dominia (the place for Type One tech), I feel like I should comment on what Portal means to Type One and other formats as well. The biggest impact will be in, not surprisingly, 5-Color.

I am writing this article on March 1, the day of the announcement – the day when Wizards announced to the world that previously casual Portal sets would be joining every other black and white bordered set in Type One legal land.

As the guy with the Portal ramblings here on StarCityGames, as well as a former member of Beyond Dominia, the place for Type One tech, I feel like I should comment on what Portal means to Type One and other formats as well.

I’ve already seen some impressive comments in the forums. Here is what some people have to say about Portal, directly from the SCG forums:

“Other than that…Jungle Lions! Woo Hoo!”


“I should get some Jungle Lions and Plant Elementals, Personal Tutors and Imperial Seals….”

“I definitely like the idea of legalizing Portal.”

“One word: Portal?”

“In good news portal is now legal in Vintage”

As you can see, opinions are both good and bad – and also uninformed.

Let’s be perfectly honest: I love Portal sets. That’s why I wrote two articles about them. But I suspect that Portal will barely have any impact at all on Type One. In fact, Imperial Seal may not get the play that everybody thinks it might, since being sorcery speed is often a killer in Type One. However, Portal may have a bigger impact on something else: 5-Color.

The 5-Color Question
Every few months, the 5-Color list goes through the same debate, typically with different players. The usual suspects include debating whether or not to restrict or ban Contract from Below, whether we should unrestrict/unban X, and whether we should allow Portal cards.

We have a fairly established range of views regarding the inclusions of Portal into 5-Color. It was during one of the most recent debates that I realized there is a large disconnect in how different people view Portal.

At its heart, despite its Championships, Invitationals, and Qualifiers, 5-Color is a casual format. Portal is a casual set. You might have thought that including Portal in 5-Color would be easy, and might have been done long before. Even Peasant Magic lets Portal cards in the format.

But you’d be wrong. 5-Color bans all Portal cards not reprinted in a legal set. This is where I first witnessed that disconnect. I personally saw otherwise reasonable people dismiss Portal as Magic-lite, a kid’s game, and not even Magic, but some other collectible card game.

The Three Sides
The 5-Color Portal debate can really be summed up into three sides. The first side, which includes myself, wants Portal to be fully legal in 5-Color. Since Oracle has recently instituted official wordings for all cards in Portal, there was no barrier between Portal cards and normal cards. Now, we know what creature type a card has, when a card targets, and so forth. Therefore, we believe that there are no major remaining obstacles to including Portal cards into 5-Color decks.

The second side makes the opposite claim. Despite Oracle rulings, there are still too many issues with the inclusions of Portal cards. Sorceries that can be played as instants, a disconnect between card wordings and Oracle rulings, and horsemanship have all been pointed to by various players. Some people will simply outright claim that a legal Portal would cause them to quit (which is usually the cry of someone who doesn’t want the system to change).

The third side said that we should not make Portal legal until Wizards of the Coast makes Portal legal. Let Wizards lead on this one, and then we’ll make Portal legal – but if they don’t feel that Portal is worthy of being made legal, then why should we?

Now that things have changed, and Portal is going to be legal in the DCI’s two most expansive formats, we need to reassess where we stand as a 5-Color playing community.

If the people on the third side meant what they said, then they should now be for the inclusion of Portal cards. Of course, some people may not have meant it. If you thought that Portal was never going to be made legal, then why not say, “I’ll support bringing it into 5-Color when Wizards brings it into tournament level Magic?” After all, you have nothing to lose, and you make the two sides on either end happy.

Now that Portal will be legal, it’s time to make an official decision: Will we allow Portal cards into 5-Color?

The Effect
Let’s suppose that we allowed Portal into 5-Color. What would change? Well, I think that people would initially want to look at the tutors. With several powerful tutors, we would need to immediately restrict several spells. Let’s begin by taking a look at the tutors in Portal:

Cruel Tutor

Grim Tutor

Imperial Recruiter
Imperial Seal
Personal Tutor

Sylvan Tutor

Of these, Sylvan Tutor is the easiest to dismiss. Sylvan Tutor is a sorcery-speed Worldly Tutor – and Worldly Tutor is completely unrestricted, so there would be no real reason to restrict Sylvan Tutor. Even with four Sylvan Tutors, four Eladamri’s Calls, and four Worldly Tutors, there is no major issue.

Imperial Seal is also easy to deal with. In my Portal review, I called Imperial Seal the third-best tutor ever printed (Vampiric Tutor and Demonic Tutor taking numbers 2 and 1 respectively). Even if you rank another tutor or two as being better, Imperial Seal is still in the top tier, so it should be restricted. (Note that Imperial Seal has a hefty price tag attached to it, though.)

Grim Tutor puts a card directly into your hand, costs one less than Diabolic Tutor, and costs three life. That seems like a pretty powerful card, so it would need to be restricted as well. Even the three loss of life is not that big of a hindrance when you can grab any card from your deck.

How bad does Vampiric Tutor have to be before we allow it to be unrestricted? Cruel Tutor is a three-mana sorcery that still costs two life and still puts the card on top of the library. Yet even Cruel Tutor is easy to play in 5-Color with its single black mana. Tutoring for any card is simply too powerful in this format, and something has to be really terrible for us not to restrict it. Rhystic Tutor and Diabolic Intent are both restricted, and Cruel Tutor is certainly better than either of them.

That leaves us with two vague tutors. Personal Tutor grabs any sorcery. A sorcery-speed Mystical Tutor that only puts a sorcery on top of the library may not be much in Type One, or Legacy… But in 5-Color, Personal Tutor really reads, “Place a Contract from Below on top of your library.” As a result, Personal Tutor will likely get the restricted axe as well.

Imperial Recruiter is a three mana 1/1 that tutors for creatures with two or less power. Yes, that’s right – I said creature. It may be nice addition to Battlemage.dec, but we frown upon creature tutors here, and this is very comparable to Fierce Empath.

Are there other cards that might deserve action? Time Warp was once on the watch list to be restricted. Now we are adding Temporal Manipulation and Capture of Jingzhou. You can go from having four Time Warps to having twelve. That’s an impressive number. I wouldn’t be surprised if somebody went and found a full set of Time Warp duplicates and we had to take action. Although I do not suspect that it will be a problem.

Lots of people are pointing to Jungle Lion as the ideal Portal card for the new age. Jungle Lion may very well make the cut in an aggro 5-Color deck. It is in a color that’s more likely to be played on the first turn than Savannah Lions and whatnot. Who cares if it can’t block? Aggro decks don’t want to block. Creatures with two power for one mana are always strong.

There may be the occasional other card that makes the cut. If we let horsemanship stand as printed, than Rolling Earthquake hits flyers where the original Earthquake does not. That may be powerful enough to play, for example. Gift of Estates may be used to retrieve three dual lands. Sea Drake is a 4/3 flyer for just 2U, a cost which may make a few players take notice. (You’ll have to click through for the drawback – The Ferrett)

Any Other Effects?
Although this is a 5-Color article, I wanted to take a few seconds and mention that this will likely increase the amount of playing time Portal gets in casual circles. That may seem odd, since Portal was always able to be played casually – but it makes sense when you start thinking about it. A lot of playgroups went by Type One or 1.5 rules (err…Vintage and Legacy rules). As a result, those playgroups will now be playing with Portal cards.

If any representatives of those groups are reading right now, let me say, “Welcome to the Portal Madness!”

I didn’t go over the classic issues of horsemanship and sorceries that can be played at instant speed. "Instant sorceries" is a minor issue to me, as we already have instant enchantments, creatures, and artifacts and no one complains. I address these concerns, and more, in earlier Portal articles. If you want an overview of Portal cards, problems, or ideas for decks, look no further than my two previous Portal articles – Bringing Portal Into Your Casual Game, Part I and Bringing Portal Into Your Casual Game, Part II: The Cards.

So what’s my ultimate view of Portal’s impact upon 5-Color? Well, we’ll be bringing in four more restrictable Tutors. That’s not a good thing for the environment, because the more Tutors we have, the more likely you are to draw a tutor and get a broken card, combo piece, Contract from Below, or whatnot. 5-Color is random, and it should be about random things, not precision tutoring instruments.

We’ll get a few creatures. Jungle Lion, Sea Drake, maybe the occasional Portal Three Kingdoms legend (like, say, Sun Quan or Meng Huo). That’s about it. In other words, I do not suspect that Portal will have much of an impact outside of the casual players who may add fun Portal cards to their deck for the fun of it.

I suspect that its impact on Type One to be even lighter.

In one fell swoop, Wizards has made hundreds of cards suddenly tournament-legal. It’s arguably the biggest news ever through the banned and restricted announcements. Enter Portal.

Until later,
Abe Sargent