I Don’t Want No Dissension, Just Dynamic Tension

Today Adam tackles the common color wisdom of Mirrodin Block Limited in an attempt to debunk some popular myths. If you aren’t reading Adam’s work, you are missing out on one of the best new writers on the site!

An Apology from the Author

I have received a letter from the Westphalia Pork Producers Association:

Your writing, steeped as it is in a stream of vicious slander, has been the cause of considerable discontent within our organization. In one article, you implied that blood sausages are ugly, possibly even disgusting. This claim is hotly disputed by our members, many of whom look upon blood sausages as things of beauty. Even more injurious was your statement that a certain collectable card is ‘the worst saddle of pork this side of Westphalia.’ This suggests either that Westphalia is somehow the world capital of low-quality pork or, just as monstrously, that Westphalia produces no pork at all. We demand an apology.

I had no wish to cause offense. The profoundest apologies all around.

Know Your Friend

My recent article, Wild and Untamed Thing, included a statistical comparison of the power, toughness, and casting cost of Green and Blue common creatures in Mirrodin Block; the comparison showed that, in terms of power and toughness, Green’s creatures were less efficient than those of Blue. This analysis provoked a small outcry in the forums. Mark Young of Washington, D.C. posted the following criticism:

By this reasoning [the judging of creatures based solely on power, toughness, and casting cost], Viridian Shaman and Lumergrid [sic] Sentinel are equal cards, and both are better than Spikeshot Goblin just because of an extra point of power for the same mana cost. Of course that’s not the case. Shaman is better than Sentinel because it has a better ability, and Spikeshot (I would argue) is better than both because of ITS ability.

Mark is, undoubtedly, correct, and it was not my intention to suggest otherwise. Though another poster, Mightily Oats, would later defend my thesis, I can see how my data selection could be misleading. By including statistics only on power, toughness, and casting cost, I left open the theoretical possibility that, in other senses, Green holds a clear advantage over its fellow colors. Therefore, I have decided to extend my investigations (and most of all, my explanations) to include other colors and factors.

The importance of knowing how much it costs to summon the average Green creature, the number of Red and Black creature removal spells, how many Blue creatures have flying, and other similar facts lies in how this knowledge aids you in selecting which colors to draft. It is all well and good if someone drafts Green because she is keen on powerful attackers, but she will have difficulty explaining her resultant failures until she understands that Green’s creatures, while large, are not relatively undercosted. By the same token, she will be better able to draft Black, a fine color in Darksteel, if she can see why Black works well. As I wrote in Wild and Untamed Thing, many of our assumptions about draft are based on previous experiences which, in this highly-unusual artifact block, might no longer be applicable. Naturally, some assumptions and”common sense” ideas are still true: Just as in Onslaught Block, Blue possesses the most flyers. Most Onslaught Block devotees, however, will not realize the extent to which Mirrodin Blue does other, uncharacteristic things as well.

This article will only concern itself with Mirrodin and Darksteel colored commons. It is true that uncommons and rares are vital to most draft decks, but due to their relative scarcity, they are difficult to plan for. Telling you to take Molder Slug before anything else in your first pack would be strategically meaningless, since this situation occurs only slightly more than once every one hundred drafts. Draft strategy, at least so far as pre-planning for color choices goes, must focus on commons. Although this would appear to simplify things quite a bit, I must warn that if you attempt to reproduce my data through your own calculations, you may well discover discrepancies. In general, I will explain exceptional cases that had to be taken into account, yet in Mirrodin Block, color-boundaries, casting cost, and power are not so cut-and-dry. Should, for instance, Malachite Golem be considered a Green creature? How about Tangle Golem? How should one calculate the casting cost of Consume Spirit (without even questioning the color commitment required for the sorcery)? Or the power of Nim Lasher? For the present, I suggest that you just trust me.

Creature Spells

In this section on the colored creatures of Mirrodin Block, I have made a number of admittedly debatable judgments. First, Mirrodin Golems and Replicas count toward the colors present in their activation costs (for example, Pewter Golem and Nim Replica are Black). Second, artifact creatures with affinity for artifacts are recorded as Blue creatures. As in my previous article, I have not assumed a devoted Affinity deck, just a deck that runs a decent number of artifacts. When I calculate the casting costs of the Affinity creatures, I do not take into account late-game situations, only what the cards would cost if cast as early as possible. Thus, even though Myr Enforcer and Quicksilver Behemoth will often cost less and sometimes more, they are both considered to cost five mana. Finally, Black causes special problems for our calculations. I have decided, on the basis of my decision on affinity creatures’ casting costs, to give Nim Lasher and Nim Shrieker the powers that they would be likely to have if they were cast as soon as possible by a deck not devoted to pumping them. By this reasoning, both of these creatures have a power of two, despite the fact that in reality their power will usually be higher.

Fig. 1.1 Average Casting Cost

Green: 4.23

Mean: 3.42

Blue: 3.41

Black: 3.36

White: 3.30

Red: 2.82

As can be seen, Green common creatures in Mirrodin and Darksteel have a significantly higher average casting cost than creatures in any other color. The fact that the average casting cost of creatures of all colors (the mean) is higher than that of any individual color other than Green proves just how big this differential is. For the mana that it takes to cast a Green creature, almost one and a half Red creatures could be played. While it is true that Red’s creatures are exceptionally inexpensive (almost half a mana cheaper than those of White, the color with the second least expensive creatures), even Blue’s creatures cost about four-fifths of a mana less than Green’s. The immediate implication here is that Green-heavy decks will tend to have slow starts. Even though it must be said that Red’s small creatures are generally less powerful than White’s, these figures show that the argument for tempo-oriented Red decks should not be discounted.

Fig. 1.2 Average Power

Green: 2.69

Blue: 2.17

Mean and Black: 2.09

Red: 1.82

White: 1.70

Befitting its high average casting cost (Fig. 1.1), the typical Green creature has substantially more power than the typical creature of any other color. Nonetheless, this does not skew the mean value anywhere near so much as Green creatures’ casting costs did. This is not a promising sign for the color. Blue’s creatures are surprising powerful, partially as a result of the affinity giants, Myr Enforcer and Quicksilver Behemoth. The power of the average Black creature is even with the mean power and thus absolutely unexceptional, both in good and bad senses. White creatures, on the other hand, are shown to be quite weak.

Fig. 1.3 Average Power Efficiency (Average Power ¸
Average Casting Cost)

Red: 0.65

Green: 0.64

Blue: 0.63

Black: 0.62

Mean: 0.61

White: 0.52

Unexpectedly, we see that Red has the most efficient attackers in Mirrodin Block. Not too much can be made of these statistics since, with the exception of White, the differences in power efficiency among the colors are not extreme. Green drafters, however, ought to find it worrisome that, in opposition to the previous block, Mirrodin Block Green no longer provides any special efficiency of power.

Fig. 1.4 Average Toughness

Green: 2.69

Blue: 2.5

Mean: 2.2

White: 2.18

Red: 2.09

Black: 1.64

Here, we see that the average Green creature’s toughness is equal to its power (Fig. 1.2). Interestingly, the closest competitor, Blue, is not so far behind Green in toughness, the implications of which will become clear in the next table. Although Black’s creatures are exactly in the middle of the power scale (Fig. 1.2), they are very badly off in terms of toughness. Even though the average Black creature costs over half a mana more to cast than the average White creature (Fig. 1.1), and even though White has a remarkably low power efficiency (Fig. 1.3), the typical White creature can, in combat, kill the typical Black creature and survive.

Fig. 1.5 Average Toughness Efficiency (Average Toughness ¸
Average Casting Cost)

Red: 0.74

Blue: 0.73

White: 0.66

Mean: 0.65

Green: 0.64

Black: 0.49

These numbers are, perhaps, the most damning of all for Green. Traditionally the color of efficient creatures, we have already seen how Green receives less power per mana spent than Red (Fig. 1.3). When toughness is considered, Green’s inefficiency is just exacerbated. Red’s figures are, again, a source for surprise; the color with traditionally the least tough creatures is now the most efficient in this sense.

Fig. 1.6 Average Power and Toughness ((Average Power + Average Toughness) ¸

Green: 2.69

Blue: 2.34

Mean: 2.16

Red: 1.96

White: 1.94

Black: 1.87

With the exception of a switching of positions between White and Red, these figures fit with those of concerning average toughness (Fig. 1.4). Again, note how far Blue stands above the mean.

Fig. 1.7 Average Power and Toughness Efficiency ((Average Power ¸ Average Casting Cost) + (Average Toughness ¸ Average Casting Cost)) ¸

Red: 0.70

Blue: 0.69

Mean and Green: 0.64

White: 0.59

Black: 0.56

As of yet, I have not taken into account colors’ abilities and have simply ranked them in the objective terms of their creatures’ power, toughness, and casting cost. The danger to using this approach in isolation is shown by the preceding figures. Black as a whole cannot be evaluated only by its creatures, and White’s creatures are done a severe disservice when viewed merely in terms of size. To correct this, I have, as I am certain Mark Young would have wished, delved deeper into the Mirrodin Block card pool.

Fig. 1.8 Number of Creatures with Flying

Blue: 5

Black 3

Mean and White: 2

Red and Green: 0

There should be little surprise that Blue has the most flying creatures (Spire Golem is not even counted here). Black is better off than White though, admittedly, this is a result of Black having been”blessed” with Chimney Imp. Though Red and Green have no flyers, one should note that Green possesses two creatures that can block flyers. Situational evasion abilities have not be taken into account here simply because, in many cases (Tel-Jilad Chosen, for instance), they are too situational. Remember, however, that Blue’s Neurok Spy is usually unblockable.

All Spells

This section concerns not just creatures, but all colored common spells in Mirrodin Block, including the Mirrodin Golems and Replicas, but excluding non-creature artifacts with colored activation costs. This time, the artifact affinity creatures are excluded. It is assumed that the Entwine mechanism is not used. Again, Black gives us trouble; it is impossible to definitively calculate the casting cost of Consume Spirit, so I have costed it rather arbitrarily at three mana.

Fig. 2.1 Average Casting Cost

Green: 3.48

Black: 3.14

Mean: 2.93

Blue: 2.86

White: 2.62

Red: 2.57

Generally, creature spells cost more than non-creature spells, explaining the all-around drop in casting costs from those in Fig. 1.1. This drop is less evident in Black than elsewhere, meaning that the typical Black non-creature spell costs almost as much as the typical creature spell. Since most of the non-creature spells used in draft decks fall into the categories of combat tricks and/or removal, this is a serious issue. With the exception of Terror and Echoing Decay, use of Black removal is unlikely to result in significant tempo gains. Green, however, possesses relatively cheaper combat tricks, tricks that compare well with Green creature spells. It is interesting that the mean casting cost of all spells is still higher than the average casting cost of Red creature spells (Fig. 1.1).

Fig. 2.2 Average Number of Colored Mana in Casting Cost

Green: 1.10

Black: 1.05

Mean: 1.01

White: 1.00

Blue and Red: 0.95

While it would be wrong to say that these numbers show that colored mana commitments are unimportant for Mirrodin Block commons, they nevertheless show that there is no great variability between the splashability of the colors. Only Green posts a particularly large color commitment value, yet this, notably, is in part the fault of Fangren Hunter and Wurmskin Forger, two creatures which, due to their high casting costs, give players more time to draw into green mana producers. Recall that Black’s Consume Spirit and Grimclaw Bats both rise in effectiveness parallel to the availability of Black mana. Incidentally, the reason for the presence of less than one colored mana per Blue and Red spell is that the artifact Golems and Replicas reduce the already low colored mana requirements. This reduction is present in all colors.

Fig. 2.3 Non-Creature Artifact Removal

Red: 3

Green and Blue: 2

Mean: 0.80

White and Black: 0

Equipment removal (Turn to Dust and Unforge) is not included. The Blue spells are Inertia Bubble and Psychic Overload.

Fig. 2.4 Targeted Creature Removal (Not Including General Artifact Removal)

Black: 6

Red and White: 3

Mean: 1.8

Blue and Green: 0

Black and Red are historically colors with large amounts of targeted creature destruction, and this holds true in Mirrodin Block. White, however, possesses as many removal spells as Red. Note that all common creature removal spells in Mirrodin Block are conditional; for this reason, both Arrest and Nim Replica are considered.

Fig. 2.5 Cards Enhanced by Their Controller’s Artifacts

White and Blue: 7

Black: 6

Mean: 4.8

Red: 4

Green: 0

These spells’ artifact dependence comes in a variety of forms including power enhancement (Nim Lasher and Krark-Clan Grunt), cost reduction (Quicksilver Behemoth), removal (Irradiate), and”other” (Drooling Ogre). Of the White cards, three are creatures that benefit from Equipment and three either regenerate or revive artifacts. Four of the Blue spells either produce mana or have affinity for artifacts. Although Black has numerically fewer artifact-enhanced spells than White and Blue, these spells tend to be more dependent on artifacts. For example, Irradiate, Nim Shrieker, and Hunger of the Nim are not merely enhanced by artifacts; without artifacts, they do not work at all.

Examining Prior Assumptions

Of course, strategizing with these statistics can only be taken so far. What can be done, for instance, with knowledge of Red spells’ low-casting costs when it is widely recognized that many cheap Red cards simply are not good? One use of these statistics is the purely reactive confirmation or rejection of”common knowledge.” Below, a number of instances of”common knowledge” are evaluated for accuracy on the basis of the above calculations.

1) Green is the Color of Big Creatures

To this, there is no easy answer. Though Green’s creatures tend to be much larger than those of other colors’ creatures (Fig. 1.2), they are scarcely more efficient in terms of power (Fig. 1.3) and strikingly inefficient in terms of toughness (Fig. 1.5). Whereas White, Blue, and Red creatures receive what amounts to a”toughness discount” (points of toughness cost them much less mana than points of power), Green gets no discount at all on power or toughness. That said, whether or not Wurmskin Forger is efficient, it is a 5/5 creature and therefore difficult to defend against in Mirrodin Block draft games. The high average power of Green creatures in comparison with creatures of other colors is, however, somewhat misleading; only two Green creatures have power greater than three. It turns out that the average Green creature has such a large size because there are very few small Green creatures, not because there are many big ones. Green has only two creatures with a power of one (of these, Viridian Joiner still costs three mana); compare this with the number of creatures with a power of one in the other colors: White and Red have five, Blue four, and Black three. Briefly put, even though the largest Green creatures are larger than the largest creatures of other colors (though an argument could be made for Blue), Green is severely lacking in small utility creatures of the kind it flourished with back in Onslaught Block (for example, Wellwisher, Timberwatch Elf, and Wirewood Symbiote).

2) Blue is the Color of Small Flyers

That Blue is the color with the most flyers is easily seen. That its creatures are small, on the other hand, is less certain. The average power of Blue’s flyers is 1.8, that is, just slightly lower than the average power of all Red creatures and a bit higher than the power of a typical White creature. Additionally, the affinity for artifacts creatures pull Blue in another direction entirely, making it the color with the second largest creatures.

3) White Needs Equipment

This should be reworded as”White Enjoys Equipment.” The three White creatures that specially benefit from being equipped are unexceptional, but hardly awful when unequipped; with an average power and toughness efficiency of 0.84, these creatures are, in fact, considerably more efficient than the average creature overall (Fig.1.7). They lack activated abilities, not efficiency in power and toughness. No one wants to play a Leonin Den-Guard if he or she has no Equipment, yet in a block without Grizzly Bears, Lumengrid Wardens are not as terrible as they would have been otherwise. Remember, however, that all three of White’s Equipment-happy creatures are small, and every color has”highly efficient” small creatures (after all, Crazed Goblin has an average power and toughness efficiency of 1.00). The point is, it is an exaggeration to say that White decks need Equipment like, say, Black decks need artifacts.

4) Red and Black Creatures have High Power/Toughness Ratios:

This is true of Black. Red creatures, contrary to what might be expected, tend toward having lower powers than toughnesses.

5) Green and Red are the Colors of Artifact Destruction:

In a sense this is true, as Green and Red are the only colors with common, unconditional artifact destruction. Nevertheless, since Red has triple the number of artifact removal spells as Green, it is incorrect to place them in the same category.

Putting Forth New Hypotheses

The above statistics can also be evaluated proactively. A few examples of how this might be done follow.

1) Black Presents Difficult Draft Choices:

We have seen that Black requires artifacts in order to work; in an absolute sense, it has more synergy with artifacts than Blue and White. Theory parts from reality when an actual draft is considered. If someone decides the draft Black, he or she must choose to also draft a good number of artifacts. Drafting a good number of artifacts pushes one to also accept splash colors. At the same time, three of Black’s keynote commons (Chittering Rats, Grimclaw Bats, and Consume Spirit) require a heavy Black commitment and are adverse to the presence of splash colors. Quite often, one’s deck will suffer from either too few artifacts or not enough Black mana.

2) Average Casting Cost is Important in Choosing Colors:

Regardless of whatever synergy they might have, Blue and Green are unwieldy partners, if only because they are both at the top of the average creature casting cost scale. This is not to say that the two colors cannot compliment each other, yet special care must be taken to ensure that they can provide an adequate early-game. Black and Red, Black and Blue, and Red and Blue, on the other hand, are all color combinations which, at least so far as casting costs are concerned, offer security. A more tempo-oriented deck might combine Green with White or Red.

3) Black is the Only Color Innately Adverse to Splashing:

Double-colored mana requirements are unusual in Mirrodin Block commons. All colors beside Black are nearly equally capable of accepting other colors as splashes.


This exercise in data evaluation could be carried on much further. Although numbers do not represent some mystical key to understanding Magic, they can be used to supplement our naturally garnered knowledge. As Mark Young states, statistics on objective facts do not, by themselves, evaluate such card qualities as uniqueness and synergism. However, studying the”physical” make-up of a card set allows us to test certain assumptions that we might otherwise take for granted. My sole wish for this article is that it can spur a more inclusive movement in Magic strategizing, a movement that makes use not just of experimentation and”common sense” but also statistical analysis.

Adam Grydehøj

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