Myriad Thoughts On Blue’s Power (And How To Fix It)

I do love a good argument more than almost anything else in the world. Alpha Dan May’s article was in fact, originally an e-mail to me, which I promptly wrote a reply to – then Internet Explorer crashed and I instead decided rather than explaining to Mr. May the nature of the beast, I would…

I do love a good argument more than almost anything else in the world.


Dan May’s article was in fact, originally an e-mail to me, which I promptly wrote a reply to – then Internet Explorer crashed and I instead decided rather than explaining to Mr. May the nature of the beast, I would write an e-mail to Bennie Smith. Unfortunately, Mr. Smith has not replied to said e-mail, so no article was born that replied to Mr. May’s concerns. Thus, now I get to respond in a public venue as to this e-mail that was sent to me a few weeks ago.

Mulch is not a green Fact or Fiction. Never was, never will be, never came even close. I did actually think of Mulch when I wrote my original article. Think I’m lying? Read the last paragraph again:

But don’t you just wonder what a green Fact or Fiction would look like? Munch or Mulch?

However, I dismissed it out of hand. It’s not a green Fact or Fiction; it’s nowhere near. Why would you even remotely think of it? When I say”Green Fact or Fiction,” I am implying the big part is Fact or Fiction – you know, something powerful. It’s like saying Howling Gale is the same card as Hurricane. Let us count the ways:

  1. It’s a sorcery, and it’s two mana to cast. The second part is unimportant, but the first part is. Instants can start counter wars at the end of the control player’s turn, or during his upkeep or whenever; sorcery spells can not.

  2. The spell does not imply card advantage. It can… But it is possible to reveal four non-land cards and get nothing. (I know, I’ve done it.) Cards that are inconsistent do not make it into Tier One decks unless they are insanely powerful.

  3. The dig is five cards, not six – a minor qualm, but still relatively important. In this case, the dig isn’t even really a big deal because if you’re looking for something, Mulch isn’t going to get it.

  4. The card works against itself. Mulch looks for land, which means you would likely use it to dig for land spells in a land-light deck. However, in a land-light deck Mulch is much less effective. Fact or Fiction has synergy between its internal powers; Mulch does not.

The fact that you could read a whole article and then dismiss it by bringing up one bad card seems a little hasty. The core point I stated was that other colours need to get good, decent, usable resource cards. I mentioned Symbiotic Deployment as an example of”bad” green card drawing… But it’s there. If the concept is being stated as universal and that the only point is card versatility, then Deployment is a fine enough card for that. It’s not, but that’s the sort of comparison that is being made.

If we’re going to sit around and discuss game balance, then I would like to make the point that presenting pre-existing cards as an example of”balance being flawed” only proves that game balance was previously flawed. Thank you; I think we already knew that fact and it’s the whole reason we’re having the discussion. So green’s”Resource” is considered to draw out land? Fine; now it’s drawing out creatures. Is that better? Does that challenge blue more? Maybe. If Mulch put the lands directly into play, then it would be impressively more powerful, wouldn’t it?

Options don’t win games. There are right answers and there are wrong answers. You need the right answer and absolutely nothing else.

All cards are balanced against a threefold internal mechanism. A card can be very, very powerful but see very little play – like Suffocating Blast – if it is punished through its other mechanisms. The first is mana cost. If a spell is too expensive, it doesn’t matter how powerful it is, it will never ever see play. The second is situation. If a spell does not lend itself to being played, it will again not be played. Suffocating Blast is a”great” card – and if you think otherwise, you’ve never successfully cast it. However, its mana cost is a little too high for ease of use, and it requires a very specific target to be at full power. You want to take out a */3 creature with it, not a 1/1 elf… But the card’s situation means you most likely will have to take whatever you can nail. Then the card isn’t powerful at all. Hurray, you killed an Elf. Wanna cookie? The third is a card’s straight up”power.” A weak card may see play if the other two lend themselves to it.

Fact or Fiction completely dominates this threefold scale. It is a very powerful spell, it can be played easily, and its mana cost fits perfectly. I’ve already been over this. But Mr. May conveniently ignored this and went on to explain how as long as Blue had access to the best card drawing, it would always be the best colour and create the best decks. But Fact or Fiction’s big power isn’t that it’s strong card drawing. What, do you hear about Concentrate or Deep Analysis being environment defining? No. Concentrate is actually more likely to generate card advantage than Fact or Fiction is, Fact or Fiction is usually a two-for-one or a three-for-one where you get two lands. If its card drawing is inferior, why is it better?

The core of Magic still remains the second two mechanisms. Mana cost and situation decide how useful a spell will be before that spell’s actual abilities ever come into play. You can have all the card drawing you want. You can have a big card-drawing parade and march it right through the middle of blue land and have a big cake and it won’t matter… Because as long as other colours can hit faster than blue can draw and cast those spells, they’ll never matter.

The realisation that hasn’t hit R&D yet is that instant spells are pretty much”free” to a control deck. Although such things sound absurd when you first read over it, you begin to realise it when you play against decks toting Fact of Fiction. If he’s casting the Fact during your end step, this is mana he wouldn’t use otherwise. He didn’t have to counter a spell that turn for whatever reason, and therefore ends up with Fact or Fiction basically costing nothing. It costs neither tempo, nor mana, nor cards in hand. It’s all advantages.

Free spells are one of the stupidest things created in all of Magic. Force of Will is dumb – and there’s nothing else I can say about that. The card’s drawback is that the deck using it has to pitch a card. Right. That’s a drawback? Free spells should never be made; all they are is an excuse to be abused.

If green’s resource cards are inferior but green itself interacts with tempo better, then green will come out ahead. But the problem is that green not only does next to nothing with its resource cards (I mean, what green resource card has been seen in a tournament deck? Oh yes, Harrow… Which gets land. I heard getting land was bad), it also doesn’t use its speed well. You have a big pile of mana… Which produces one lone fatty. That lone fatty gets countered or otherwise removed, and then you have a bunch of elves sitting around singing. If you do use your speed well, most of your cards are cast during your mana phase and do nothing to frustrate a blue player’s controllish intentions.


Michael Granaas has an article sitting right under Dan May’s – and Mr Granaas does me the favour of writing about something I planned on writing about. You think blue hoses everyone, do you? You’ll be the green mage and I’ll be the white mage, and we’ll whine about the blue mages!

No, really – I really liked his article. It touched on exactly what I wanted to talk about. But I still want to go over it again.

Okay, all you people out there with real cards. Or Magic Online.* Or some pictures of real cards. The rest of you who can’t actually look at the cards, um… Go eat some paint chips.

Now, take the card known as Vindicate. It’s a rare, eh? Now take a long look at it. Look at the pretty artwork. Note the golden status of the card. Look at that casting cost! One colourless, one black, and one white mana! And what does it do? Oh, it blows up any permanent.

Damn, that’s nifty. That card is strong, isn’t it?

Now go back to your box. Dig out the blue section. You heard me!

Now find the spell known as”Counterspell.” What a creative name. That’s right. You’ve seen one before, haven’t you? Dig out the Ice Age version if you need some extra entertainment. Look – chick in a bikini! (Or something. Hell if I know.) Look read that spell. It reads”Counter target spell.” Now look at the casting cost. Two of those little drop symbols; it isn’t gold. Now look at the spell type: Instant!

For a brief fact sheet, let’s look over the two spells again in case you’re not following my logic.

Vindicate is a gold card. It is a sorcery. Its casting cost is a bit clumsy, with two opposing colours. It costs three mana to cast. Barring targeting restrictions,** Vindicate can target the following things: Land, Creature, Artifact or Enchantment.

Counterspell is a blue card. It is an instant. Its casting cost can be slightly restrictive in multi-colour decks, as it is two blue mana… But it is only two mana total. Counterspell has no targeting restrictions**; no spell can not be targeted by it. It may target anything.

Counterspell”drawback” is the point that it can’t do anything about creatures already in play. (Vindicate, however, can’t do anything about a Skizzik or Halam Djinn attacking you until it’s your turn.) A long time ago, I’m sure people gave a damn about that”drawback.” They really, really cared. Stuff slipping into play was dangerous.

They don’t really any more.

Go back to your binder. Dig out Recoil or Repulse. Notice something? Both of those cards allow you bounce an opponent’s permanents to their hand at no”card” cost. Recoil will force them to lose a card, if not the very permanent you were looking to remove if they have an empty hand. Repulse draws you another card. Both are instants.

Blue theoretically answers anything an opposing deck can play. Card drawing allows blue to dig for those answers; instants allow blue to disrupt an opponent on their turn and not be vulnerable on its own turn. Counterspells can not be targeted by Vindicate. They can not be burned by Fiery Temper. They can not be stalled by Bind. The only thing that can meet a counterspell head-on is another counterspell. Nothing else exists in Standard Magic like that. Blue is the only colour that truly right now hoses itself.

(Just for fun, though, compare Repulse to Aggressive Urge. Unsummon gets +2 to its casting cost, you draw a card, and becomes Repulse. Giant Growth gets +1 to its casting cost, you draw a card… And then they make it +1/+1. Ha ha ha. You guys are great.)

Mr. Granaas wants blue to continually print Counterspell – and no more new Counterspells. Well, I don’t agree. I’ve long felt two islands and a card should not be able to cancel anything else out. If the control players go first, you have a single turn in which you’re unmolested (not mentioning Force Spike), and then he can counter anything. If the blue player wants a pure counterspell, it should cost him more than two mana.

Can’t react fast enough? Then try harder.

Lastly, Wash Out, Evacuation and Hibernation shouldn’t exist. Why does blue need Wrath-style effects in addition to everything else?


But let’s get back to Dan May. First off, let’s create a green ‘resource’ card that truly resembles Fact or Fiction – you know, one that doesn’t suck.

Munch or Mulch



Choose creature or land. Reveal the top six cards of your library, place all cards of the chosen type in your hand, then place the remaining cards in your graveyard.

Now, if your reaction to this card is”That’s broken,” then you’re probably part of the ‘Why is Fact or Fiction restricted in Type One**** but not Type Two?’ group and you just haven’t realised it yet.

Is this card as strong as Fact or Fiction? Maybe, maybe not. True, it can’t dig for instant, enchantment or sorcery spells – so if you’re looking for those you’ll have to go for blue… Actually, if we’re going to start generating cards, I’m going to say”go for other colours,” not just Blue. Design is nigh infinite; the only limitation is our own imagination. However, it can dig up the spells you probably want. It can be triggered at the end of his turn or in response to him casting FoF at the end of your turn.

It is not card drawing, though. It does read like a green card would – and should. And it is powerful. That was my goal in designing the card, and I think it does suit the ideal. Would a Stompy deck really care if it can’t draw instants or sorceries? No, it wouldn’t.

Resource cards are more than just putting more lands into your hand. And if it just putting land into your hand, maybe that land should do something more than just slowly get played. Land can give blue players fits: It’s called Treetop Village and Mishra’s Factory. Or Seismic Assault. There needs to be more cards like those to manipulate land both in your hand and in play if green is going to be pulling up a lot of it, and not in Prophecy-style ways. (Wow! Spitting Spider is the bomb diggity!)

Responding that other colours require card drawing is, simply put, not creative. They are more ways for a deck to manipulate itself, more ways to pull up resources or use your cards effectively than just drawing cards. What exactly is that suggestion here, if taken literally, supposed to mean? That green is supposed to have spells like ‘Draw three cards’ printed in further expansions? Cards can be balanced regardless of whatever the heck they do. The realisation that one ability is stronger than another doesn’t prove that one colour will always dominate Magic. It only proves that those abilities, like Ancestral Recall and Necropotence in days of yore, are unbalanced. No more, no less!

Iain Telfer

Taeme in some places, Spiderdrake in others. Send your mail to [email protected] so I can ignore it.

* – If you don’t own the card, turn off”My cards” – and for more fun, turn off”working” and set Sets to”All” in Deck Editor. Poof! Tons of Magic cards to look at.

** – As I said later on in the article, counterspells can target anything; their effect simply won’t resolve for some uncounterable spells. This can seem unimportant at times, but it means that they are not”dead,” only reduced in power. As witness Absorb versus Urza’s Rage.

*** – Powerful, colour-themed cards should never be splashable. Call of the Herd is a huge, stupid mistake and so is Fact or Fiction in that regard.

**** – Dear Oscar ‘Rakso’ Tan, I’m a huge fan of your work. I am wondering something. I’ve heard rumours that cards in Type One are very powerful and only the very best cards get played. Is this true? What would it take for a card to earn restriction status?

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