Yawgmoth’s Whimsy #198 – The Great Blue/Green Debate: Lorwyn Edition

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I don’t really want to reopen the ideological debate. Debating beliefs is pointless — debate is a rational exchange of data attempting to prove something, while beliefs, by definition, are idea held despite a complete lack of proof. Instead, I’ll look at data, and let people draw their own conclusion. It’s also a retrospective — I’ll look at creatures every few sets from Alpha to Lorwyn.

I don’t really want to reopen the ideological debate. Debating beliefs is pointless — debate is a rational exchange of data attempting to prove something, while beliefs, by definition, are idea held despite a complete lack of proof. Instead, I’ll look at data, and let people draw their own conclusion. It’s also a retrospective — I’ll look at creatures every few sets from Alpha to Lorwyn.

Specifically, I’ll look at the numbers and types of abilities, in blue and green. I’ll also look at White creatures, as a sort of control. If you want more of the classical debate, look at this article. Or look at the forums for this article — odds are 5-3 that the whole Blue/Green debate fires up there as well.

Green is supposed to be the creature color. Okay, let’s look at how Green creatures stack up against other colors, and whether the color does better or worse than it has in previous sets.

In the above-mentioned article, I argued that Green was not the “best-creature” color, it was the color with the most creatures. Here are the numbers.

Set White Blue Green
Alpha 11 14 21
Mirage 25 23 26
Masques 30 30 31
Mirrodin 15 14 17
Lorwyn 33 31 31

Now that is a promising start. Green has always had more unplayable (in Constructed, at least) 2/4 and 3/5 creatures than any other color. For the first time ever (with the exception of Legions) Green does not have more creatures than any other colors.

As I also pointed out in the previous article, green is not, historically, the color of the biggest creatures. Once again, the highest power in the set (*/* creatures aside) is Red. The second and third highest power, and the two highest toughnesses, however, are Green. Green is doing better as a big creature color — but all the colors have 6/6 Elementals in the set. On an overall basis, the colors are not that far apart, but Green is clearly the color of fatter creatures. Let’s look at averages (meaning arithmetical mean), in the standard power / toughness format…

White: 2.303 / 2.576
Blue: 2.161 / 2.387
Green: 2.862 / 3.207

Other statistics tell similar stories. Here are the median power and toughness for each color: (A median is the middle number in a string — the median number that has as many numbers above it in a sorted column as below it.)

White: 2 / 2
Blue: 2 / 2
Green: 2 / 3

The final stat is the mode — the most common number in the string. Among all the creatures in the color, these are the most common power and toughness.

White: 2 / 3
Blue: 2 / 1
Green: 2 / 2

This is what makes statistics so malleable — meaning you can bend them to show anything. The mode (most common value) makes White look tougher than Green. However, that’s because White has a number of x/3s — but White has only a couple creatures with a toughness greater than three. Green has more fat creatures, but they have a mix of 4s, 5s, 6s and 7s for their power stat, which affects the mode.

What does this all mean? It means that this is a typical Green creature in Lorwyn.

This creature has Reach. It is one of three Lorwyn creature that has reach. It’s even a common. Green also has Jagged-Scar Archers, which can ping fliers for some amount of damage — the amount depends on how well / tribally you drafted. Four creatures, spread throughout the rarities — that can stop fliers. That is not a lot, considering that White has seven fliers, and Blue a whopping eleven.

Of course, I am just looking at creatures. I don’t include instants, sorcery, enchantments, planeswalkers, etc. Fortunately, Green is known for its targeted removal spells.

Flying has always been one of the most highly effective forms of evasion. It is just behind Unblockable, and either just ahead or just behind Shadow, depending on the block. Green has always lagged in fliers, but this is about as bad as it has ever been. Let’s look at the numbers:

Set White Blue Green
Alpha 3 5 2
Mirage 9 9 4
Masques 5 11 3
Mirrodin 5 5
Lorwyn 7 11

Fortunately, Green makes up for this in other forms of evasion, right? Well, no. In this set, Green gets three tramplers, no unblockable guys, and nothing that requires multiple creatures to block. White gets six First Strikers (not really evasion, but hard to block), plus one pretty much unblockable dude. Blue gets an unblockable dude. Blue and White are as evasive as hell, Green not so much.

Blue also gets a ton of tap / untap dudes. (Okay, “ton” would mean that each of the four Merfolk weighs some 500 lbs, so maybe that’s an exaggeration. Still, four is a lot.) White has two, if I counted correctly. Green has, well, nothing like that.

Green does have some token generating creatures in this set, which is nice. I counted four, compared to one each for Blue and White.

Note that I am refraining from commenting on how good or playable these cards are. The main reason is that I have been drafting and playing sealed Lorwyn mainly on the MTGO Beta server. Which means, basically, that I don’t really know anything.

See, I won my last draft when I wrecked my opponent’s hand by getting my Infernal Kirin into play, then casting a pair of Shapeshifters. I forced him to discard five cards — including some really good ones.

Yes, Infernal Kirin.

You see, years ago beta testers did actual drafts. MTGO set up actual drafts, and ran them just like a normal drafts. Some players joined the Betas simply to get free practice drafts, and soon various pros were all logging in to Beta testers accounts to practice drafting. Some people even opened enough packs to learn the print runs, and shared that with friends.

In short, the Betas became less about finding bugs and more about getting an unfair advantage on the opposition. Wizards eventually decided to act.

In Beta drafts last weekend, booster packs contained a mix of Lorwyn cards and random stuff from other sets. I remember opening a pack with four rares, (including Decree of Silence) a Masters Edition goblin and some other strangeness. The extra rares do make it more likely that they will get played, and bugs will be found, but the end result is that the format really doesn’t resemble real-world Lorwyn much at all.

One draft I hate-drafted a copy of Guile in pack 3, but still played an opponent with two copies. How likely is that? I can also tell you that Exile is a nice answer to Purity, but unless you are playing in the Beta, that is useless.

I have spotted a number of bugs. Some are well known. Some were, well, strange.

Based on past experience, many will be fixed by the time you read this.

Some of my experiences are relevant, no matter what the format. The problem is that they are also obvious. For example, this is a good card:

It’s even better when you can play the Evoke ability as an instant. For example, I heard one player talking about getting blown out when he played a turn 4 Changeling Hero, and the opponent bounced his only other creature with Aethersnipe in advance. No, that was not a bug online — it was the prerelease, and I didn’t hear about it until the match was over. It became an “opportunity for education,” and I explained the importance of 1) calling a judge in a timely manner and 2) reading the fricken cards.

Back to the numbers. I like to use the “Morphling test.” Morphling had five useful abilities, although some of those were linked, but even so five is excessive. Any creature with three positive abilities passes my Morphling test. That’s three positive abilities — Phage the Untouchable has three abilities, although one (lose the game) is not a benefit. Instead, I look for creatures with three beneficial abilities. In Lorwyn, here’s what I counted:

White: 5
Blue: 8
Green: 3

It just seems like Blue gets all the good stuff. In this case, three of those Blue creatures are commons: Mulldrifter, Pestermite and Spellstutter Sprite. Of Green’s three creatures that pass the test, two are rares, one uncommon.

So far, I have been picking and choosing the abilities. I went through the sets and counted all instances of Flying, Trample, Deathtouch, Reach, First Strike, Mana Abilities, Regeneration, Card Drawing (non-cantrip), Cantrip, Landwalk, Pinger, Copy effects, Firebreathing, Pump abilities, Shroud, Protection from X , Flanking, Vigilance, Banding, Damage Prevention, Disenchant effects, Tap / untap effects, Bounce, Land Fetch, Unblockable, token production and Flash. I also noted weird things, like Rebel search and Pirate (in Mercadian Masques), and grouped the rest under “other positive abilities.” I did exclude some abilities that were evenly spread through the sets, like Changeling. I could make some huge table, but Craig would kill me. Instead, I’ll just show the results.

Sum of beneficial creature abilities, by color, in Lorwyn:

White: 51
Blue: 56
Green: 42

Back of the pack, but that is consistent with recent practice, although the early sets often gave Green creatures more abilities.

Total Number of Beneficial Abilities
Set White Blue Green
Alpha 12 11 16
Mirage 34 27 23
Masques 35 34 30
Mirrodin 17 18 23
Lorwyn 51 56 42

The total number of beneficial abilities for Green creatures is higher in some sets than the total for other colors, but some of that is because the number of creatures is greater is older sets. Let’s do the math.

Beneficial Abilities per Creature
Set White Blue Green
Alpha 1.091 0.786 0.762
Mirage 1.36 1.174 0.885
Masques 1.167 1.133 0.968
Mirrodin 1.133 1.286 1.353
Lorwyn 1.545 1.806 1.355

So, what does this all mean? It is not as simple as “Green sucks.” It just shows that Green creatures are more vanilla than other creatures, and more likely to be mid-sized and mid-powered. Mid-sized and mid-powered are rarely Constructed staples, unless they also have powerful abilities. Green creatures, generally, do not.

Yes, Tarmogoyf, sure. That, however, is a very cheap Green creature, and of very large size. It is also splashable. In my estimation, that is one of the few Green cards which will see play — and may see the most play as a splash in U/B/g Coalition Relic decks.

Of course, I expect to see some base-Green aggro decks at States. I expect to see everything, including land destruction, life gain and turbo-fog being played. Some of that will be lucky enough to beat the UB control decks.

Anyway, whether Green is good enough for states is not really the point. I am just, once again, lamenting the fact that Green has so few benefits. For years, Jamie Wakefield argued that Green needs new themes. That still seems to be true.

In the above data, I just looked at creatures. However, does anyone think that Green’s non-creature spells are better than other colors? Think of four mana White instants and sorceries — what comes to mind: Wrath of God? How about blue: Careful Consideration, Mystical Teachings? Black: Tendrils, Damnation? Red: (that’s harder — 4cc is high for Red, maybe Empty the Warrens and Sulfurous Blast?) Red certainly has solid cards at other casting costs. But do you think of any Green instants or sorceries at a converted mana cost of four? Other than Harmonize, that is — and Harmonize is a blue spell that got repainted. The only other cards that come to mind are combat tricks, like Might of Oaks and Stonewood Invocation.

Green gets creatures and combat tricks. Green also gets mana fixing, but the best mana fixing at the moment is via artifacts and lands. Coalition Relic and Prismatic Lens mean that any color has access to color fixing and mana acceleration.

Green does not have much left. It needs more themes.