Yawgmoth’s Whimsy #180 – Green is Dumb, Blue is Stretchy

Read Peter Jahn every Tuesday... at StarCityGames.com!
Green is like chicken pox. You know it won’t help, but it is so hard to resist scratching. Those little sores are an irritation that you just can’t ignore. Even knowing that scratching actually makes things worse, nothing short of boxing gloves could make me leave them alone. So, because Mike Flores and Bennie Smith were talking about Green recently – scratch, scratch, scratch.

Green is like chicken pox. You know it won’t help, but it is so hard to resist scratching. Those little sores are an irritation that you just can’t ignore. Even knowing that scratching actually makes things worse, nothing short of boxing gloves could make me leave them alone. So, because Mike Flores and Bennie Smith were talking about Green recently – scratch, scratch, scratch.

I have thought about the Blue versus Green debate for a long time. I reread the Wizards articles on the color pie. I have reached a new conclusion.

Wizard’s definition of Green is inherently limited. Blue’s definition is extremely open-ended. It can be difficult to justify making a new mechanic Green, but about the only argument against making a mechanic Blue is that it is already belongs to some other color.

In effect, almost everything can “feel Blue.” A lot of mechanics won’t fit the definition of Green. That almost invariably means that Blue will have access to more – and better – mechanics. Jamie Wakefield has often written that Green needs new mechanics. Not only doesn’t it have them – it doesn’t even have access to them.

Let’s look at the definitions of Blue and Green, from Mark Rosewater‘s color pie articles. Each definition contains the general overview, followed by some words that illustrate what the color “is.”


What does the color care about? What does the color represent?
Blue is part student and part scientist. Blue’s ongoing quest is to collect as much knowledge as it can and then find ways to apply it. Blue wants to constantly better itself to maximize its own potential. This means Blue represents those qualities that collect and utilize information.

[Blue represents the following things:] Knowledge, Creativity, Subtlety, Man-made, Intellect, Trickery, Artifice, Passivity, Mind/Thought, Manipulation, Illusion, Cold, Academics, Control, Construction, The elements of Water & Air

From "True Blue, All Brains, No Brawn" – Mark Rosewater 6/11/03


What does the color care about? What does the color represent?
Green fights not for an ideal but rather for a way of life. As such, Green is the most spiritual of the colors (although not the most religious – Green leaves that to White). Green stresses the importance of the system over that of the individual. Balanced between the order of White and the chaos of Red, Green embraces the duality of nature. At times nature is gentle and loving. At other times it is fierce and harmful. While every other color fights to change the world, Green battles to keep it the same.

Green represents the following things: Life (birth), Growth, Nature, Reality (as contrasted to illusion), Community, Interdependence, Spiritualism, Instinct, Animals

From “It’s Not Easy Being Green: The Most Misunderstood Color” – Mark Rosewater 10/21/02

Imagine a new mechanic: whenever an artifact controlled by an opponent becomes tapped, you may search your library for a card with twice the converted mana cost of that of the artifact, reveal it, and put it on top of your library.

Don’t worry about whether the mechanic makes any sense, is balanced, is templated correctly, or could conceivably be playable. That’s irrelevant. I was specifically looking for a new mechanic that was different enough to not have a color association, and that weirdness was what I could concoct while running the dogs.

It is not, repeat not, a signature mechanic of the next block.

I hope.

The question is whether that mechanic is / can be “Blue” or “Green.” Reread the above definitions, if necessary.

Is it Blue? I think you can easily argue that it is. The mechanic involves artifacts, to which Blue is attuned (according to other parts of the Rosewater article, hence “artifice” in the list of terms.) The mechanic is also arguable “tricky,” “subtle,” and “intellectual.” It is clearly anything (which is why I created such a bizarre mechanic – but you can plausibly argue many of Blue’s signature terms.

Is it Green? Does it represent “Life (birth),” “Growth,” “Nature,” “Reality…” etc.? I love to debate. I can argue nearly any issue from any side, but I would have a hard time making any connection between the mechanic and what Green represents. At best, I could argue that the tutor effect depends on the tapping artifact – but that’s like arguing that a spell like Lava Axe and the opponent’s face are interdependent.

Let’s try again: Look at the top three cards of any player’s library. You may opt to rearrange those three cards or shuffle the entire library.

Is that Manipulative? Knowledge based? Controlling? Trickery? Seems like it. Is it Natural? Animalistic? Related to Birth or Community? Not so much.

Blue it is – according to the color pie. Of course, the card itself is Green.

The point is that the concepts that define Blue are far more open ended than those that define Green. If you had to match anything with a color, it is generally going to be easier to do it with the Blue concepts than the Green ones.

Take my morning for example:

Get up, get dressed, shower (water = Blue)
Breakfast, make coffee, improvise an omelet, (creative cookery, coffee maker = artifact = Blue? Food = partly dead animals = Green)
Run the dogs while listening to BBC and NPR news. (dogs = animals = Green. Ordering them to heel, not chase the pheasant = manipulative, controlling = Blue. Listening to NPR = Intellectual = Blue)

Fix the tractor (artifact, creative swearing when it failed to start, remembering to reconnect the battery cables = intellectual = Blue.)
Work in the garden (plants = Green, hybrids & yield managements = creative & intellectual = Blue )
Finish some chairs I was building (wood = Green. Power tools, synthetic stain, building to my own design = Blue.)
Write this article (creative, intellectual = Blue)
Drive to hardware store (car= artifact, passing other cars = manipulative = Blue)

I am a creative writer. I can probably find a way to twist any of these activities to look Green. The point is that the words and concepts defining blue are so much broader that it is easy to fit anything into the Blue mold. It is much more difficult to do so with Green.

Back to the Beginning

I went back to Alpha, and looked at the abilities Green creatures had, and compared that to Blue’s creature’s abilities. Here’s a condensed list, leaving out winners like Badding (or is that spelled Banding?)

Green’s abilities in Alpha:

Trample: War Mammoth, Force of Nature
Deathtouch: Cockatrice, Thicket Basilisk
Reach: Giant Spider
First Strike: Elvish Archers
Flying: Scryb Sprites, BoP
Tap for mana: Birds of Paradise, Llanowar Elves, Ley Druid
Forestwalk: Shanolin Dryad, Gaea’s Liege
Regeneration: Wall of Brambles
Card drawing: Verduran Enchantress

Straight vanilla: Grizzly Bears, Craw Wurm, Ironwood Treefolk,

Defender: Wall of Brambles, Wall of Ice, Wall of Wood.

Disadvantages: upkeep (Force of Nature),

Blue’s abilities in Alpha:

Flying: Air Elemental, Mahamoti Djinn, Phantasmal Forces, Phantom Monster, Wall of Air
Copy: Clone, Vesuvan Doppelganger
Islandwalk: Lord of Atlantis
Pinger: Pirate Ship. Prodigal Sorcerer
Firebreathing: Wall of Water

Straight vanilla: Water Elemental, Merfolk of the Pearl Trident

Defender: Wall of Air, Wall of Water

Disadvantages: upkeep (Phantom Forces), Islandhome (Pirate Ship, Sea Serpent)

Losing Disruption
Green’s creatures in Alpha had a lot wider range of abilities. They had first strike, and flying. Over time, and as the color pie was defined, Green creatures began to be defined by what they could not do: no flying, no first strike, etc. These abilities were given only to other colors. Green retained exclusivity only to the tap-for-mana abilities.

More importantly, Green lost some other abilities. In Alpha, all colors were able to mess with an opponent’s board and position. They were able to disrupt the opponent. White had Armageddon, Wrath of God, and Swords to Plowshares. Blue had Counterspell and Unsummon. Black had Terror and Mind Twist. Red had Lightning Bolt and Stone Rain. Green had Fog, Berserk, and Ice Storm.

Ice Storm is a Green Stone Rain.

In Alpha, Green had land destruction spells. Not just Ice Strom, but Ice Storm and Kudzu and Tsunami – and even Gaea’s Liege is a form of land destruction. It also had Regrowth to reuse all of those cards.

In Alpha, Green had the ability to mess with / disrupt the opponent.

The modern color pie does not allow Green to mess with the opponent.

The Creature Color

Green is commonly called “the Creature Color.” Let’s look at what that has meant.

It does not mean “best” creature. Over time, the “best creature” title has always been debatable. Some creatures were considered “too good,” and were banned. These include Juggernaut, Kird Ape, Hypnotic Specter. Serra Angel was a finisher of choice in “The Deck.” Morphling and Masticore were great in their day. The pump knights, Jackal Pup, and Mogg Fanatic were classic weenie beaters. Psychatog ruled the roost for years. Kiega and Meloku dominated Standard, and Kagemaro ruled block. They were not Green. To find Green creatures, you have to look at Maher Oath (where Spikes served mainly because they could kill themselves to prevent the opponent from Oathing) or Erhnam Djinn in Erhna-geddon.

The “creature color” did not mean biggest creature, either. The biggest creature in Alpha was Force of Nature (arguably Shivan Dragon, when pumped), but by Antiquities, the biggest creature belt went to Colossus of Sardia. When Legends appeared, the largest creature was Blue – Leviathan. Blue got one size larger with Polar Kraken, and Blue kept the title until Krosan Cloudscraper appeared. [And, of course, Draco is in there somewhere… also Not Green. – Craig.]

Not that the largest creature in the game has ever been particularly important – the biggest creature is nearly always unplayable.

Wizards has also said that “the creature color” was not guaranteed the best fattie – all colors would get dragons and other good monsters.

Instead, what “the creature color” had meant, in practice, is that “the creature color” has generally had more creatures than any other color*. Let’s look at the numbers:

Block White Blue Black Red Green
Ice Ages 49 44 50 52 57
Mirage 50 48 52 55 55
Tempest 51 50 56 54 61
Urza’s 45 45 45 49 56
Masques 58 56 61 59 59
Invasion 41 37 37 44 59
Odyssey 58 50 58 49 63
Onslaught 79 73 75 71 84
Mirrodin 33 29 33 30 40
Kamigawa 70 61 67 61 76
Ravnica 46 37 43 41 49
Time Spiral 81 78 72 81 86

The most creatures per block. What a great mechanic! Constructed decks are 60 cards. Assuming 20-24 lands, that means a maximum of 36-40 creatures – and since you can play four copies of each, that means your deck typically runs 9-10 individual creatures.

Green is also defined in terms of what its creatures cannot do. Green creatures don’t fly. First strike is Red (and Black and White) – not Green. Green creatures are not unblockable: that’s a Blue ability (and White with “Protection from Creatures.”) I could go on, but what’s the point?

In summary, Green is defined by a series of concepts that vague and narrow, and by words that are not active. (The Blue nouns, by comparison, translate easily into verbs: Manipulate, Control, Trick, etc. The Green nouns: Nature, Reality, Community, Interdependence, Spiritualism, Instinct, Animals – not so much.) The result is that it is harder to see how a mechanic – a process, doing something – can be Green, while it is easy to fit it together with the Blue definition.

This does not mean that Blue will automatically get more or better mechanics – just that Green has an additional hurdle to get over before it gets good / more mechanics.

One Final Rant

Green is supposed to be the color that hates artifacts and artificial constructs. Green is also the color of wild animals and creatures with fangs and claws.

Why can’t green kill a Stuffy Doll?

Seriously, every other color in Time Spiral can get rid of a Stuffy Doll – except Green.

Here’s my dog, Buster. He may look Red, and he’s smart enough to be Blue, but he’s really Green. Trust me.


And here’s a Stuffy Doll:


Here’s the Stuffy Doll after ten minutes with Buster. The squeaky is no longer included.


Nature / creatures can deal with a Stuffy Doll quite nicely, thank you. This picture was taken just 12 minutes after I gave the Stuffy Doll to Buster – and it’s that long because it took a while to get the picture. Eventually I had to scratch his tummy to get him to roll over. Otherwise, all I got was a picture of the back of his head.

Don’t believe me that only Green cannot deal with Stuffy Doll in Time Spiral? I define “deal with” as kill / remove: Chameleon Blur does not really count. I went through the entire Time Spiral card list. Here are the cards that will get rid of Stuffy Doll.

Flankers will – if Stuffy Doll blocks a flanker, it dies. Green has no flankers.

White gets Crovax, Ascendant Hero (-1/-1), Return to Dust (remove from game), Temporal Isolation, and Witch Hunter

Blue gets Cancel, Coral Trickster (okay, just for one turn), Crookclaw Transmuter (dead), Draining Whelk, Eternity Snare, Giant Oyster, Ixidron, Merfolk Thaumaturgist, Riftwing Cloudskate, Snapback, Trickbind (stops the ping, but that’s about it), Unstable Mutation (four turns later), Voidmage Husher (sort of) and Wipe Away.

Black gets Deathspore Thallid, Feebleness, Sudden Death, Sudden Spoiling (sort of – but better than most of the sort-ofs if Stuffy blocks), Faceless Butcher, Funeral Charm, and Nightshade Assassin.

Red has Flowstone Channeler, Fortune Thief (well, at least Stuffy can’t kill you), Ground Rift (for one attack), Word of Seizing (best with Greater Gargadon on the side), and Undying Rage.

Green gets nothing in Time Spiral, and nothing in Future Sight. It did get one card in Planar ChaosUtopia Vow can turn a Stuffy Doll into a Bird of Paradise that Pings instead of flies. That’s a pretty bad showing for the color that is supposed to hate artifacts – but then again, Green only got 127 cards in Time Spiral block. Every other color does a lot better.


“one million words” on MTGO

* The exceptions are Legions (all creatures, same number per color) and Alpha, where Red had more creatures than Green.