The Lion’s Share – Has R&D Kept Their Promise?

R&D needs to sit down and ask themselves if they’re keeping the promise they gave us to scale Blue down to the levels of the more mortal colors… because I don’t think they’re doing it. Blue looks like it’s about to hit a Golden Age.

How to begin, how to begin? Let’s begin where it began with me, in the forum signature of RisingPhoenix, I saw this quote:

This falls in line with a great tradition of Wizards of the Coast taking a Green mechanic that needs a lot of help, and making it into an uber-powerful Blue card.
Ben Bleiweiss

Curious, I inquired as to the nature of the quote, and found out it was from a recent Premium article, regarding Teferi, which prompted this reply from me:

Well, it’s true. I mean, I know Wizards is shagging the color pie left and right in this set, but seriously… if this isn’t the Blue set, I don’t know what is.

Obviously I don’t have premium or I’d have recognized the quote, but just going off of my own observations – Blue is getting three Tims, Psionic Blast, Whispers of the friggin’ Muse, and a buyback counterspell that makes sweet love to the Urzatron every night.

I hate getting on the “Blue rules the game, Green is the game’s bitch” soapbox, because I feel there’s no way to do so without coming off as whining (I’m a Black mage, but Blue has been awful tempting lately). The problem right now is two-mana artifacts – Signets and Prismatic Lens. They’re great cards, especially in Limited. They help make the game easier to play because they lessen the impact of manascrew. However, they also lessen the color identity of Green. Blue by far has the largest share of the color pie and continues to get more and more, despite Wizards’ claims to be scaling it back.

Instant speed draw is no longer rampant, but it exists. Cerebral Vortex, Perilous Research (Hatching Plans, if desired), Whispers of the Muse, Careful Consideration. Blue isn’t supposed to be able to deal with permanents – bounce as a mechanic is so far above the curve, it’s silly. Boomerang is an insane card, always has been, always will be. It says, “Oops, my counterspells missed that one, but now I’ve drawn more of them thanks to my draw ability which often puts the other four colors combined to shame, and now I can handle it, so put it back in your hand”. Blue mages used to fear Scragnoth at least a little. Now they’ll just sideboard in Vesuvan Shapeshifter and giggle like little girls.

I especially like how, every single block, the “worst” creature color gets some bombtastic critter with (usually) Green abilities and it rocks the format. Psychatog is a manifestation of Green’s growth, Onslaught block mostly missed, but the Affinity mechanic of Mirrodin allowed Blue to have Green’s cheap fat, and then Kamigawa Block gave it Green’s token production, and Ravnica doesn’t say much about mono-Blue, but the multicolors… Windreaver? SSS? Niv-Mizzet? I honestly don’t think R&D can handle designing Blue creatures unless they went an entire block without giving them any at all.

Blue already starts off ahead of the game because, along with Black, it’s one of the two colors that can maindeck cards that interact with Instants and Sorceries. Red was supposed to be having the Shunt effect, but I haven’t seen any playable ones since. Add to this Blue getting the lion’s share of draw, all the counterspells, all the bounce, strong creatures, and what are you denying it? Direct damage? TS solved that for two years. Blue can even answer land with Annex, Dream Leash, or Confiscate, and lands should definitely be out of Blue’s reach. They’ve got the benefit of being uncounterable for a reason, I’d like to think. Who gets the solutions to Split Second? Blue, of course. Counterbalance and Willbender.

When there’s a new mechanic, who gets the cards that manipulate it? Blue, of course. Invasion’s color theme? Go to Blue. Threshold? Go to Blue. Affinity? Ha, well Blue has a long documented love of artifacts, so let’s give them that, too. Non-Glacial Ray splice spells? Well, go to Blue. HAHAHAHA. Ravnica was let off primarily because mechanics were given primarily to Guilds and not colors. Snow? Thermal Flux and Rimefeather Owl, my friend! Green is the color of nature, but Blue controls the snow! But Suspend? Yes, surprise surprise, BLUE!

R&D needs to really sit down and ask themselves if they’re keeping the promise they gave us to scale Blue down to the levels of the more mortal colors, because I don’t think they’re doing it. Blue looks like it’s about to hit a Golden Age, in fact.

Here’s one for you, though. If R&D removed Green from the game tomorrow, only one mechanic would leave Magic: the Gathering. One. Don’t believe me? Let’s consider just the Extended card pool.

Mass token production? Decree of Justice.
Land fetch? Wayfarer’s Bauble.
Mana acceleration? Any number of two-mana artifacts, Cabal Coffers,Temple of the False God, Cloudpost, Urzatron.
Untargetability? Pemmin’s Aura, Frost Raptor has it and Plaxmanta grants it. Let alone gold cards.
Card draw from combat damage? Shadowmage Infiltrator, Dimir Cutpurse.
Trample? All over the place in Red and Black. Oh, and Lucksack Snorehammer.

Life gain? See above. See White.
Disenchant? Oh, hey, it’s back. Even if it wasn’t, Red covers artifacts and White covers enchantments and sometimes artifacts.
Cheap fat? Black – be ready to accept a drawback, though.
Regrowth effects? Scrivener, Anarchist, Izzet Chronarch, Gravedigger, Crucible of Worlds, Skeleton Shard, et cetera.
Giant Growth? Well, you got me there. Other colors don’t have instant speed effects that give both a power and toughness boost to a single creature in general. White tends to give them to the whole team, and Red doesn’t care much for toughness. Green gets Giant Growth effects.

Blue gets unique access to counters, bounce, permanent theft and the lion’s share of most everything else.
White gets unique access to damage prevention, damage redirection, almost unique access to cheap fliers and Vigilance, First Strike, and Protection.
Black has unique access to negative toughness effects, destroy creature effects, life draining Sorceries and Instants, Fear, and Necropotence knock-offs (enchantments which trade life for cards – Greed, Necropotence, Phyrexian Etchings/Arena).
Red has relatively unique access to direct damage not based on other factors (such as restrictions on Consume Spirit or Corrupt which are based on Black mana production or controlled Swamp), almost all of Haste, the lion’s share of LD, supposedly Shunt effects, and temporary theft.

Green gets one — ONE – unique mechanic. Everything else other colors can do. Sure, Green has effects it does cheaper and better than other colors, primarily acceleration with one Green in the casting cost so Blue can use it (I say Sakura-Tribe and Kodama’s Reach should have been double Green), but all in all, if Green were suddenly put out of existence, we’d still be able to do everything we can do now, we’d just pay more mana to do it. And without Green to show us that we’re overpaying for it, it doesn’t seem like we’re overpaying, and so we’re not. Perception defines reality.

Green… Green’s legacy is Giant Growth. Good show.

I fixed a couple of typos in it when I quoted it here, but the message is still the same. Some time ago, Wizards said to us that they knew Blue was too powerful and they were going to try to bring it back into check. They stopped printing Counterspell, they weakened Instant speed draw for awhile, and otherwise paid lip service to the Great Blue Nerfing. Insofar as I can tell, it hasn’t happened. Aside from just the cards listed above, which were all off of the top of my head, there’s been things since like Vedalken Shackles, which was supremely irritating, and there’s other Blue-biases now. Morph originally was spread more or less equally around the colors, but in Time Spiral, Red and White each get one Morph, Black and Green each get two, one a reprint, and Blue gets six new Morphs and two reprints – quadruple the number of Morphs as the nearest competitor. Blue ruled that mechanic, too – the "lord" was Ixidor, Blue.

The immediate question that springs to my mind is, "Why in Hell’s name is Blue the king of the roost for a creature-based mechanic?". That is so incredibly opposite the stated weaknesses and themes of Blue as to be laughable. Now understand – I don’t hate Blue for being Blue. I’m not a huge fan of permanent theft or just bunches of counterspells backed up with Fact or Fiction and some finishers, but I accept that it’s part of the game. I don’t want Islands banned, I don’t want Blue removed from the game. I just want it in line with the other colors so I can build a deck without thinking, "This needs draw. Hmm, well no good choice but to go to Blue" or "I need to protect some of my permanents from Instants and Sorceries, and Privileged Position is not an option. Well, time for Blue." I do not think that Blue is unbeatable, merely very high above everyone else’s curve.

Not only does Blue get the lion’s share of mechanics, it gets unique access to some of the most powerful mechanics within the rules of the game, drawing cards and countering spells. Counterspells that actually see play tend to do so because they’re an all-in-one. The typically used counterspell effect is equally capable of stopping any non-land permanent that is, in fact, counterable. Blue ruled in a Standard format where Dosan the Falling Leaf; Boseiju, Who Shelters All; Defense Grid; Leyline of Lifeforce; Isao, Enlightened Bushi; and Kodama of the North Tree were all available. That says something is wrong to me. This past Standard environment had some of the best Blue-hosing cards ever printed, and yet it still was capable of producing top results. You know what that reminds me of?

Ravager Affinity.

What other deck outside of Legacy, Vintage, or Block Constructed showed so much resilience and reliability in the face of hate? What other deck can safely ignore eight to twelve cards maindecked for its discomfort? And what had to be done with Ravager Affinity to keep it in check? It had to be weakened, because it was too strong. Sure, the official Wizards’ line had something to do with the deck being unfun to play against. Yes, that’s true. That’s why it pushed so many people out of Standard, some permanently no doubt. But the fact of the matter is, the deck was (and in Extended, still is) incredibly friggin’ good – even after multiple bannings.

That tells me that Blue is still too strong. It’s weaker, but still dominant. Very few environments were not eventually ruled by Blue, and Blue has been competitive in every format I can recall, and that includes a lot of recollection. So can we weaken Blue? Is it an option? Is R&D even capable of weakening Blue, or does some factor prevent them from doing it? Do they not see it as necessary? Is there personal bias involved? There are people amongst R&D who, prior to joining, were noted Blue mages. Does this affect the output of the cards they produce? I can’t say for certain. I’d like to think that this Golden Age of Blue that Time Spiral seems about to give us has more to do with R&D just not noticing how strong Blue still is, rather than think that they’re intentionally making Blue subtly stronger than everyone else and just hoping we’ll either not notice or forgive (or thank) them.

Maybe if R&D made a block theme of Blue being disempowered, they could stick to it. I’m serious, here. Consider a storyline where a Blue wizard becomes extremely powerful (last I checked, this ends up in most of the storylines anyhow) except this time, everyone else gets together and beats the living stuffing out of him or her. Tired of constantly having to keep Blue wizards in check, the hero(es) decide not only to imprison / capture / kill / maim / paint a clown face on the offending Wizard, but attempts to forever weaken the power of Blue mana, hopefully preventing more of these deranged, power hungry mages from springing up every couple of years.

Or maybe Blue’s enemy colors can be given tools to fight back. Avoid Fate is definitely a step in the right direction, but I can’t help but feel that Green deserves a version of Confound – Blue has better ways to protect its creatures already as part of the color pie, and it’s much more in theme for Green to want to protect its creatures, seeing as how they’re supposedly the creature color over there. Red? Red needs more of these Shunt effects it’s supposed to have. Or something new. Consider this:

Force of Personality
Instant – Uncommon
Counter target spell that targets a spell or ability on the stack that you control.

You can’t actually use it like a counterspell – it won’t stop any opposing threats your opponent has. What it does, however, is protect yourself from the effects of countermagic and gives you some way of interacting with Instants and Sorceries that might otherwise demolish you. What does it stop? Well, it stops almost any counterspell, excepting Last Word (cannot be countered), Time Stop (doesn’t target), or Swift Silence (doesn’t target). It stops even things like a Voidslime targeting your Arc-Slogger activation, and it can be used to try to push through a burn spell or somesuch. And because it is limited to protecting things on the stack, it doesn’t stop things like removal, bounce, or theft… so it doesn’t utterly destroy Blue, either. It does exactly what it’s designed to do and naught else. And feel free to use a card just like that, Wizards. I promise I won’t sue, here in print in public.

Even if such tools as Force of Personality or Avoid Fate end up not being enough to give people ways to combat Blue, it at least can’t be said then that R&D didn’t try, and then if necessary they can continue/resume/actually start nerfing Blue.

Further, if we’ve decided that mana fixing can go on artifacts because manascrew and poor draws are no fun for any color, then why can’t we do the same with draw? Everyone likes to draw cards, and drawn cards make for more interesting games. There’s more choices for each player to make, the likelihood of manascrew and flood abate slightly, and it just makes the game more fun. I don’t see any reason why artifacts should be denied draw any more than they are mana fixing; both are fundamental parts of the game and help make it more enjoyable to play, and properly moderated, artifact draw can lessen the chances of complete blowout games where one player dominates simply because they drew fifteen extra cards, and things like play skill either no longer mattered or were greatly lessened in importance simply because one player got to play more or less their entire deck while the other person only got to play with the top third.

Bottled Cloister, despite the many bugs that have (and still do, in some cases) plagued its online existence is a step in the right direction. Yes, there’s a risk factor involved with it, and it lessens the utility of Instants, but it also protects against almost all discard effects, so it’s a pretty even trade. It’s fairly costed, and the effect is desirable. Come to think of it, the card is entirely core set worthy insofar as I can tell. It mentions no block mechanics, the name is inconspicuous, and I don’t think it’s so complicated that it wouldn’t be fine in a rare slot. Perhaps even instead of Howling Mine.

Or perhaps, something simple like this:

Tome of the Ancients
Artifact – Rare
3, T: Draw a card.

Yep, strictly better than Jayemdae Tome. Tome was good enough to see play in older days in slower sets, but ol’ Jayemdae just doesn’t cut it anymore. We play a faster game today, with tighter mana, and lots of our creatures have activated abilities these days to use our mana on, so in order for anything not guaranteed to have an impact on the game to see play, it has to be cheap. Dark Confidant and Phyrexian Arena are great cards for draw, because they trade a resource in more abundance than mana for draw. A card like this can still let Blue be the king of draw, but allows other colors a chance to at least compete. This card is not likely to ever keep up with draw like Compulsive Research or Tidings, but I think at the very least it could potentially see sideboard play to give decks that don’t expect a long game (most beatdown) a chance to compete when a long game is forced upon them by a control deck. It probably would need some extra assurance against control (along the lines of "can’t be targeted" or "can’t be countered") or even a mana cost (or activation cost, but I’d be more leery there) of two to see tournament play, but even as is, it would at least see play in multiplayer or casual games. Mind you, I say this as someone who favors control decks to beatdown. It’s no more fun for me to play beatdown and get crushed by control than it is for me to play control and feel as though my opponent was never a credible threat to me. I like ending games on one life, just barely squeaking through the win, and knowing that if I had made even one (more) mistake, I would have lost a won game.

My work here is done. I can only hope that the people who need to see this do and at least give consideration to what I have said.

Signing off,
Rivien Swanson
flawedparadigm at gmaSPAMSUCKSil dot com
Flawed Paradigm on MTGO (Remember, /join SCG!)
GodOfAtheism just about everywhere else.