Salt the Fields! Making White Not Suck

White’s most often reiterated themes have been lifegain, enchantment kill, protection-from, and sucking. If a card says”Counter target spell”, you could be pretty sure it’s Blue. If it says”pay X life to do something”, it’s probably Black. Is it a creature which produces mana? Most likely it’s a Green elf-type card. Does it blow things up good? Red. What themes are White? White has the lowest incidence of”look at this card and figure out what color it’s from” of any color in Magic. I take that back – chances are if the cards are bad en masse, they are easily White cards.

Thankfully, I’ve got some ideas on how to fix things…

Two weeks ago, I looked at a lot of problems that White was having lately. White sucked in every format except T2, where it sucked outside of five very specific cards (Akroma’s Vengeance, Wrath of God, Exalted Angel, Eternal Dragon, Decree of Justice). Randy Buehler had promised a lot of different changes to the color White, and virtually none of them had been delivered.

But that was two weeks ago.

It doesn’t take a brave man to sit and snipe the efforts of other people. This is called being a critic – and while I don’t want to denigrate the work of critics everywhere, I’ve found it’s often better to pose some solutions if you see some problems.

Don’t worry folks, I have plenty of good things to say about R&D (I’ll get to those next week), but this week we’re going once more into the breach to see how we can fix White.

Why doesn’t White work as a color? To answer this question, let’s look at how Mark Rosewater defined White in his MTG.com color pie discussion of the color (From his http://www.wizards.com/default.asp?x=mtgcom/daily/mr57 column):

“What does the color care about? What does the color represent?

Caught between the nature of green and the nurture of blue, White is all about balance. White understands the importance of valuing the past but also sees the importance of planning for the future. More than any other color White makes use of symbolism. In addition, White is the color of civilization. As such, the list of things it represents is slightly longer than the other colors:

Order, Purity, Religion, Civilization, Structure, Law, Honor, Construction, Morality, Politics, Courage, Optimism, Defense, Strategy, Chivalry, Loyalty, Cooperation, Military, Self-Sacrifice, Honesty, Light, Organization, Community, Medicine.

What does the color despise? What negatively drives the color?

White lives by its laws. As such, it cannot tolerate those that do not follow them. White views such disobedience very severely. The message White communicates is:”Break my laws and you will suffer.”

This is where White’s aggressive side comes from. White believes that it has a moral and civil right to stop what it considers to be evildoers. White sees this kind of an attack as being proactively defensive. If White does not stop them now, they will come later to hurt White’s way of life.”

And from Randy’s column the same week:

“small but efficient creatures that work together to form a powerful swarm, game-changing enchantments that set the rules of the game, powerful mass-destruction cards with which to”balance” the game, the best fliers, the best life gaining, the best enchantment removal, the third-best creature removal, the third-best artifact removal, defense, protection, combat tricks, and don’t mess with White or White’s boys.”

Is this what White needs? It seems that more so than any color, White is so loosely defined that you cannot help but see why the color has no strong identity! Compare it to the other colors (a sampling):

Blue: The pursuit of the intellectual, control (countermagic, card drawing, control magic effects)

Red: Chaos, disorder, fire (Goblins, burn spells, blow-everything up type Jokulhaups effects)

Black: Greed, the undead, death (powerful effects with drawbacks a.k.a. Necropotence, zombies, graveyard recursion/creature kill)

Green: Nature, large creatures, anti-civilization, mana production (Hurricane/Stream of Life effects, large men, and artifact/enchantment kill cards, Birds of Paradise/Llanowar Elves/Fertile Ground).

White: ????????? (???, ???, ???)

White’s most often reiterated themes have been lifegain, enchantment kill, protection-from, and sucking. If a card says”Counter target spell”, you could be pretty sure it’s Blue. If it says”pay X life to do something”, it’s probably Black. Is it a creature which produces mana? Most likely it’s a Green elf-type card. Does it blow things up good? Red. What themes are White? White has the lowest incidence of”look at this card and figure out what color it’s from” of any color in Magic. I take that back – chances are if the cards are bad en masse, they are easily White cards.

The problem is that White is diluted into too many directions, and needs some tightening up. Let’s review:

White has angels, soldiers, clerics, birds, does-not-tap-to-attack effects, damage prevention, life gain, damage redirection, first strike, protection-from, creatures which help other creatures, big flyers, enchantment-based removal spells, symmetrical mass-destroy effects (Wrath of God, Armageddon), Plains tutoring effects (Tithe, Eternal Dragon), creature tapping (from Blinding Beam to Master Decoy and all between), enchantment removal, good weenies, defense boosting, mess with creatures while attacking/blocking (Dive Bomber effects), permanent-based creature pumpers (Crusade, Shared Triumph) and a couple of other lesser themes running through the color.

First off, let’s get rid of Plains tutoring effects. How are these White? Sure, I loved Land Tax as much as the next guy, but this mechanic pretty much belongs in Green – the color of Lay of the Land and Rampant Growth. White isn’t about cultivating the land, and it just serves to branch the color off in a direction it doesn’t need to be.

White shares themes with other colors. White and Red both share first strike, though White has usually more aggressively costed first strike creatures than Red. However, Red got double strike while White got bupkus – why does White have first strike at all? I’ll tell you why – because White is the color of planning. Blue is the color of research – knowledge and all that. However, White is the color of using said research for military planning. First strike reflects White’s ability to plan a battle ahead of time in order to make things work out in White’s favor. It represents planning and militarism.

This is the theme that really has been ignored in White. In my mind, the”order” and”militarism” aspect of White has been virtually ignored, where these are the strongest areas to be developed for the color! There are a number of pre-existing mechanics that really should be shifted into White, and let’s discuss why they are in the wrong colors as we speak.

The Lure mechanic: Most of the provoke creatures in Legions were White guys. This makes perfect sense, as White would be the color most likely to use combat strategy (have creatures act as a decoy) in order to prevail. This type of card has usually been Green (Lure, Taunting Elf) or Red (Invasion Plans, False Orders) – but isn’t it perfectly representative of how a well-trained army might outmaneuver a less organized opponent? White should the cards which control the flow of combat, from who attacks to how many creatures should attack to who should block. Cards like Invasion Plans, Dueling Grounds, and Bloodscent all belong as White cards.

Temporary Control Magic effects: These have recently moved into Red (Threaten, Grab the Reins), but why in God’s name aren’t these White? White is the color of order and conformity! Blue’s attitude is”Your power is my power now.” Red’s the color of emotional outbursts. White is the color of”You’re either with us or against us, so you’ll do things our way, dammit.” If there is a creature which isn’t part of the White army, they should be made to conform – if even for a moment. This harkens back to the days of Preacher – although that would be more of a Blue than a White effect. Threaten would be a White card – it’s as if the forces of Order said”you will be one of us.” Imagine the following card:

Conscripting Knight: WW2, 2/2: When Conscripting Knight attacks, each opponent chooses a creature they control. You gain control of that creature until end of turn.

Simple, no? It combines White’s militarism with the”conformity” aspect of the color, while working as a creature which affects other creatures – and unlike Seasoned Marshal, it gives you the opportunity to work with the”join us or die” attitude of White.

If White is the color of order and planning, it should also be the color that would most be willing to lay traps. Cards such as Standstill and Hesitation (which reflect the ability to plan on the battlefield – a.k.a. control the tempo of the board) belong in White and not Blue. Blue is great at using such effects out of the hand (Counterspell, Concentrate), but Blue’s planning is more of a search-for-knowledge type of planning then shrewd board-control planning.

White should be a lot more distrustful of the other colors, since it views itself as the peak of society – Red is an enemy because it is chaos to White’s order. Black is an enemy because it represents sacrifice of others, as opposed to sacrifice of self (serving the self versus serving the greater good). Blue is an ally because it recognizes the need for civilization (through gathering of knowledge). Green is an ally because… well, because Wizards says so. Honestly, White should view Green with the sort of contempt that the U.S. usually displays to opinions of third world countries (if I can get political for a moment) – White would think Green has good intentions at heart, even if they are a backwards people who could only improve themselves if they let White decide what would be right for Green.

White is the color of conformity, so make other colors conform dammit! Cards like Harsh Mercy, Blinding Light, and Holy Light reflect this theme perfectly. This is more of the”if you aren’t with us, you’re against us” attitude that needs to be pushed with White. I realize that some of the following spells are horribly unbalanced, but this would be an example of what Wizards could (and should) do with this theme:

WhiteaGeddon: WW4, Sorcery: Destroy all lands which cannot produce W mana.

WhiteaWrath: WW4, Sorcery: Destroy all non-White creatures. They cannot be regenerated.

Crusade: WW, Enchantment: All White creatures get +1/+1. Oh wait, this one lost the 8th edition vote to Glorious Anthem.

Stress the flavor of military/religion on White. This is really sticky ground, since Wizards has really backed away from this flavor of White. We used to get cards called Jihad, Crusade, and Wrath of God. Now we’re stuck with wussified versions of these themes: Daru,”Kirtar’s” Wrath – I understand that Wizards is trying to back away from potentially harsh backlash (through religious symbolism or names of real-life cultures in a fantasy world), but part of what made White so cool in the beginning was the force behind the flavor of their religious/military cards.

This one is a little more nebulous, because it reflects flavor more than mechanics – but White has gone from kicking ass and taking names to being the”nice” color. Screw that. White should be conquering the enemy village, taking over their political structure for their own ends, and then salting the enemy fields and killing their men so that the enemy can never mess with White again.

White needs to have creatures which cooperate. Screw this Equipment theme – why should I be forced to play with artifacts in order to have my creatures have anything even resembling synergy? Take a lesson from Goblins – they have the Prospector, Sledder, Piledriver, Warchief, Siege-Gang Commander, Sharpshooter, Sparksmith, Taskmaster, and others which literally all feed onto one another. Each and every one of those can benefit the group as a whole – whether you’re sacrificing Skirk Prospector to get out an early Siege-Gang, or using Siege-Gang to deal two damage with Skirk Prospector. Recent Goblin decks have proven that you don’t need high-power-to-casting-cost weenies to ensure a win – having all the creatures work in synergy with one another is more than enough.

This is most of the reason why the Goblin deck will always be better than the current White Weenie theme – White will be futzing around with White Knights and Savannah Lions and Silver Knights all sitting around picking their own asses while Red has every single creature in their deck working together in perfect harmony to kick ass and take names.

There are dozens of more ideas that could improve White – but the main problem stems from giving White a solid identity. I view White as the color of civilization and militarism – they are the color of cities, of military conquest and campaigning and of all things related to a controlled war. Healers and Clerics exist to help the battlefield, not to be passive. Make Samite Healer into the following:

W1, 1/1 Cleric. Tap: Prevent one damage to target creature. Put a +1/+1 counter on that creature for each damage prevented in this way this turn.

Push the themes of the military. Make White’s creatures work with synergy. Make the cards reflect a color that believes it knows what is best for everyone else – where Blue steals, White makes others into White. [I am Akroma of Borg, prepare to be assimilated. – Knut] White should control the flow of combat more than it does (temporary control effects, attacking/blocking decisions, damage prevention, damage redirection).

White shouldn’t be the color of helping others – White should be the color that helps itself – because only once it ends up on top, it can help other colors help themselves. A Black mage would want to be king because he feels he is the best choice to be king. A White mage would want to be king because he believes that he is the best choice to be king. The difference between the two is that the Black mage would feel entitled to be king because the Black mage feels he is smarter/stronger/more able than everyone else, and would use any method at his disposal to get this power. The White mage would think they would be the best king because they know what’s right for everyone else, and would be able to benefit the greater good the most through their rule.

That both the Black and White mage would crush the opposition on the way up to king is irrelevant – the best of intentions often leads to Hell. The difference in philosophy would be that the Black mage would be aware of their evil, whereas the White mage would truly believe they were doing good as they destroyed entire other kingdoms on their way to holy righteousness.