Reply To “Bear With Me, There’s Three Decks At The End”

Why IS blue so damn strong?

Colour balance is no different than any other sort of balance in a game. Whether it be between characters, classes, monsters, or whatever, anyone with any background in gaming has to realise that balancing a game is an active, pressing, and complex duty.

[author name="Bennie Smith"]Bennie Smith[/author] touches on an issue that probably rings true to a lot of people. It’s long been stated that the Island taps for the most powerful colour of mana in Magic. I’m sure that this hasn’t always been true – but more often than not, it is. Right now I think blue is ahead in the race, in both Extended and Standard. Why is this?

To really think about things, you most consider how the nature of most spells in Magic work. There are basically three types of cards, be they green creatures, blue instants, or non-mana producing lands. Those three categories are somewhat vague, but I’ll try to explain here.

The first is aggression cards: Cards that deal with something or deal out damage. Ball Lightning, Fireball, Wrath of God, Pillage, Repulse, and Duress would all be fine examples. You might choke a little on Repulse, but it’s important to realise that these categories are vague and based on the nature of the card.

The second are defensive cards. Circles of Protection, Pacifism, No Mercy, Pyroclasm, Ivory Tower, and so on. You might not agree on my notions of defensive, but everyone thinks differently anyways.

The last are resource cards: Cards which do not solely function to destroy or protect fit into this vague and rather large category of cards. Ancestral Recall, Necropotence, Land Tax, Yavimaya Elder, and so on. These are cards that tend to give you more of something other than life, which is generally not a resource. More lands, more cards in hand, more cards in your graveyard, more turns, so on. Resource cards can be very vague or tricky to consider, though.

Resource cards are the strongest type of card most of the time. Although Aggressive cards have long powered R/G beats, Sligh, Weenie, and so on, the power of resource cards leads into the strongest decks of all: Combo. When a deck’s cards allow it to acquire cards at breakneck speeds, the deck does stuff like, oh… Academy, ProsBloom, and Replenish-style decks. Just compare the basic three-for-ones; Giant Growth, Healing Salve, Lightning Bolt, Dark Ritual, and Ancestral Recall… Which is the strongest of the five?

For a long time, R&D had a lot of trouble balancing between the three types of cards. I don’t blame R&D for this and I admit freely that they’ve come along way towards balancing the three. I mean, just consider Healing Salve compared to, say, Lightning Bolt. The difference between the value of the two is huge; Salve versus Ancestral, I don’t even want to begin to think on.

Blue is the strongest at producing top-notch Resource cards, although black has long given blue a run for its money with cards like Yawgmoth’s Will and Necropotence. Still, by and by, over the ages blue has acquired a number of spells that make it extremely strong at acquiring certain resources. Be it card drawing, library manipulation, theft, or taking extra turns, blue is generally the best colour if you want to dip into that pool of ideals.

Bennie Smith introduces the point that Wizards should spread card drawing and its kin across other colours as a universal theme to Magic, rather than relegating these cards to blue. The first flaw in that is the obvious point that other colours do have card drawing – or at least did. I think he means decent card drawing, which right now is pretty limited in other colours. Symbiotic deployment has that key”skip your draw step” on it, which prevents it from ever being much of a card, since it’s dependent on creatures.

I agree and I don’t agree. I agree that the core element – resources – should be spread over Magic’s colours, but I don’t agree that card drawing needs to be the item that should be spread. All colours have traditionally had some resource cards, but blue’s have always been the best. This shouldn’t be true.

Look at what Fact or Fiction, which is probably the most defining card in Standard right now, does. First off, it’s set up perfectly for a game-breaking card. It’s four mana, which puts it right on the edge. Cards that go over four mana are very often slighted for cheaper, faster, and more consistent alternatives. It’s an instant, so unlike Breakthrough and Concentrate, comparable recent cards, it doesn’t force a control deck to”wait” for enough mana to cast it or run the risk of having no countermagic open. Lastly, it has only one mana symbol its casting cost, often making it easier to cast than Concentrate or Reviving Vapors in multi-coloured decks.

Fact or Fiction then provides three, count ’em, three separate resources. First, it puts between one and four cards into your hand. That is generally known as”kärd &d-‘van-tij,” usually resulting in a three-for-one or a two-for-one. The card also puts two to five cards into your graveyard. This may or may not historically be a big deal, but given that we’re looking at Odyssey block with its delightful threshold and flashback mechanics (they really are delightful, though) this is a huge deal. Lastly, Fact or Fiction’s subtler element is that it digs through your deck. If you are looking for a certain card, Fact or Fiction will either get you that card through its splits, or it will, through drawing and the casting of it, make sure you are a full 10% closer to drawing at least one copy of it.

That’s a lot of resources out of a single, instant, one-symbol card.

Compare Fact or Fiction to Wrath of God (pardon me, I can’t even think of a recent, decent White resource card that saw play. Tithe? Was Tithe the last one?). Think about what Wrath of God would have to pull off to do that. First, it would have only a single symbol in its casting cost. This alone is one of the biggest”drawbacks” when seeing if your deck can successfully use Wrath. Second, it would be an instant. Rout costs an additional three mana, one of which is tacked on even if you don’t use the ability, to do so. Third, it would only work on your opponent. So not only would it be card advantage, that way it would be a complete no-brainer into figuring out how to generate card advantage with it. Last, it would somehow manage to put cards you don’t really want into your graveyard to push you towards threshold.

Wow. Wouldn’t that be an amazing card! And yet, that would be put on the same level of Fact or Fiction. Well, okay, it wouldn’t be… But that’s only because Wrath of God has an effect on a game’s tempo, which Fact or Fiction does not directly interfere with. Wrath of God is just coffee-flavoured-coffee, though. It does one thing, and it doesn’t really do it that all that well.

I’m not complaining about Fact or Fiction, though. Don’t take me as such. Maybe it should have been printed in Apocalypse, where Squee’s Revenge sits, with a weird two-colour casting cost like Pernicious Deed that leaves us wondering. But maybe not. There, it would probably have been one blue mana, one red mana and nothing else.

The point is that there should be cards like Fact or Fiction in every colour.

It’s not my point to sit here and design cards for Wizards (although if Mark Rosewater wants to e-mail me and ask for ideas… different story, right?) but we can (as the players) analyze the game and state which things wreck balance in the game. It’s true, however, that right now the game has a fair variety of decks, although things are a little bit jaded by the over-mind of blue mages reaching into almost every deck. But there should be green cards that suit the green themes, and white cards, and red cards (well maybe not red) that do these things. Not necessarily card drawing, but cards that acquire resources – be it land, library manipulation, drawing, cards in graveyard or whatever – should be available in all colours and useful in all colours.

Doing that will push towards producing proper colour balance and making the game better, in the long run. Of course, as with anything else in Magic, things have growing pains and we might not want to go through them. But don’t you just wonder what a green Fact or Fiction would look like? Munch or Mulch?

Iain Telfer

(Taeme|j1 on IRC and Taeme on Magic online. Send your e-mail to [email protected])

Oh, and guys, you know this whole Magic create a creature thing? What do you want to bet we’re going to end up with something akin to Spiritmonger? Ugh.