I had some news tidbits from the Paragons, but they’re a tad dated by now. You can read about Shane Stoots and Marc Perez in Shane’s recently published tournament report,”Let’s Go Bowling.”
As I said in my last column, I went to a cousin’s wedding in Ohio, and am currently slipping in some midnight typing from Chicago. Since I left my cards in Manila, the closest thing I can offer to a playtest report is a half-joking attempt to hit on the bridesmaids.
Now, they were my cousin’s college friends, and the wedding was their only excuse to get back together from all over the country, so it wasn’t a time to butt in and get to meet them. Then again, I had an excellent wingman: my twelve-year-old cousin Ciana.
She was actually sitting on my shoulders when she pointed to the cutest of the bunch and shouted,”That one!” A tad obvious, but what the heck, so I walk over, point at her, and ask Ciana,”What do we do with this one?”
It went well enough. Ciana walked back to me and asked,”So, did you find what you were looking for yet?”
“Did you find a pretty woman yet?”
So I turn to the first girl’s roommate and answer loudly,”Oh yes! She’s definitely pretty, don’t you think?”
“Yeah, she’s definitely in the Top 3.”
“Is she married?”
At which point our mark starts laughing and answers,”Oh no, I’m definitely not married.”
So I add,”No, I checked. She’s very single. I just have to check if she’s rich now.”
At which point, the joke blows up in my face as Ciana frowns and begins a lecture on how it’s not important whether she’s rich or not, joined by a bridesmaid twice her age, within earshot of everyone else.
Good form, Tan.
And that was how I stuck the nickname”Top 3″ onto a new giggling friend for the rest of the weekend. As for Ciana, I can’t wait till boys start hitting on her instead. It’s not because she’s incredibly cute and she knows it. There’s also the little detail that she’s won a few karate tournaments. Her Dad taught her, and they practice together in the living room. He, incidentally, is a Marine First Sergeant who wore his dress uniform to the wedding, complete with campaign ribbons from Desert Storm to Baghdad and Tikrit.
So don’t blame me for not standing up to this particular twelve-year old. Even if she ends with,”Why are you smiling? You’re up to something aren’t you…”
Maybe next week, I’ll have less Knutson-esque segues. Feel free to e-mail your Fifth Dawn thoughts, and I’ll slip them into the prerelease brainstorming articles.
Thoughts on the color pie and Type I
For a guy who flew in from the equator, the most beautiful thing about the Midwest is the landscape. It’s just so serene driving past acres and acres of farmland interspersed with these temperate trees you don’t have back home. Over here in another cousin’s Chicago condo, my mind turned to an article I wrote two years ago,”Why there are only four colors of Magic.”
Since I publicly told Randy Buehler that Type I players still subscribe to the old joke about Green, designers have paid close attention to the color pie, and the popularity of each slice has changed quite a bit. Mono-Red, for example, has been reduced to the pseudo-combo Food Chain Goblins, with burn all but extinct (except Fire). Mono-Black has disappeared as well, with even its revitalized disruption unable to cope with real creatures, not to mention the hilarity of discard facing off against graveyard-intensive strategies.
Somewhere in all this shifting lies the much-maligned Green. While Stompy (see”Head to Head: Stompy”) remains the straw man of Type I aggro, Oshawa Stompy is the highest profile mono deck of the current metagame.
So we ask, has Green been resurrected?
This is an excellent question to ask before Fifth Dawn, since the answer affects the way we rate future cards for Type I.
Let’s take a representative decklist:
by Brad Ojala
1st place, 2004-03-14 Minneapolis
4 Wild Mongrel
4 Basking Rootwalla
4 Arrogant Wurm
3 Troll Ascetic
4 Hidden Gibbons
4 Survival of the Fittest
4 Null Rod
4 Bazaar of Baghdad
4 Squee, Goblin Nabob
1 Lotus Petal
4 Elvish Spirit Guide
1 Strip Mine
So, Oscar, has Green Yoda received better fight scenes?
My answer is typical legalese: Although mono-Green is looking better than ever, I don’t think Green as a color has strengthened all that much.
Again, historically and outside Stompy for casual change of pace, Green was seen as a collection of misfits, in the sense that Sylvan Library was described as a closet Blue card. You had lesser restricted cards like Regrowth, and cards that defined Blue decks like Oath of Druids, Holistic Wisdom, and Quirion Dryad.
When you go back to Green’s actual theme of good creatures and good creature support spells from Giant Growth to Berserk, the problems I highlighted two years ago still apply. Big creatures aren’t as scary in a format chock full of cheap counters and removal, and in any case, green can’t get them out faster than other Type I choices. Elvish Spirit Guide, for example, is called a Green Dark Ritual and even then it’s nothing compared to Mishra’s Workshop.
Now, wait a minute, Oscar, don’t we see a bunch of creatures in the above mono-Green decklist? You may want those eyes examined, since you read decklists the same way you pick twelve-year old girls as your wingmen?
Maybe not. If you look closely, the core of that creature base is really the Madness package of Wild Mongrel, Basking Rootwalla, and Arrogant Wurm. You don’t gauge the strength of the Green creature pool in general based on the trio in the same way that you don’t quite base conclusions regarding White Weenie on Ramosian Sergeant, Steadfast Guard, and Fresh Volunteers.
If you dissect the Big O further, you’ll figure that the creatures were selected less due to the sterling qualities of the Green creature pool than they were due to the strength of the card advantage engines Survival of the Fittest and Bazaar of Baghdad, and the TnT-esque difficulty of dealing with creatures, an enchantment, and a land.
If you accept this conclusion, then you further conclude that the key here is not so much Wild Mongrel as much as it is Survival of the Fittest. Now, while Green has card drawing somewhere in the periphery of its pie slice, Survival is just so far from Collective Unconscious and Slate of Ancestry that you’re tempted to consider it a fluke and call it Sylvan Library’s lost cousin.
Now, examining this creature core plus a Troll Ascetic here and some other creature there that works with Forests, you’ll note that the creatures are not geared for the traditional tempo and mana curve strategy (see”Counting Tempo, Part II“). Again, Elvish Spirit Guide and a few more artifacts try hard to skip the one-mana rung (see”A mana curve can be a line or a blob“), but they’re hardly the most spectacular by Type I standards. However, this is explained when you stop thinking of classic Stompy and try drawing a few parallels to classic Suicide Black instead (see”Counting Tempo, Part IV: The Death of Aggro“).
In the same way that an aggro-control deck with proactive disruption like Suicide will play creatures after disruption, the Green creatures seeing use don’t need to be paragons of efficiency in the one-slot (a losing quest, anyway). Looking at this aspect of Oshawa, a lot of it is about the Null Rod and it isn’t Green. And, while Duress, Hymn to Tourach, and Unmask are trademark Black, Root Maze and Xantid Swarm are hardly as close to any secondary theme compared to Ice Storm and Plow Under.
If you qualify Survival as I have, then you’re hard pressed to find a deck defined by Green in the way that you can have a burn archetype or a discard archetype. Certainly, for example, Berserk and Pernicious Deed don’t count. Naturalize, Oxidize, and the like are support cards that come after some other card has put your deck firmly in Green already. A similar argument might be made for something like Birds of Paradise in Vengeur Masque (see”Head to Head: Vengeur Masque“); certainly, the Green there is more about Survival than the Birds.
Let the pie slices fall where they may
From the above thinking, I’m sorely tempted to conclude that for Type I set reviews, you may as well just admit that it’s far simpler and more productive to gauge how a card fits into a specific set of interactions or breaks an existing card, rather than try to wax poetic about how it might advance a color’s strengths and open a new deckbuilding avenue. After all, Type I is a collection of R&D mistakes that really muddle up the current pie’s application to the format. For example, White and not Black is the best at creature removal, with the brutal efficiency of Balance and Swords to Plowshares. Even looking at card drawing in general, Blue has nothing on Necropotence and Skeletal Scrying mana for mana.
Of course, for initial brainstorming and for those zany searches for odd Type I tech, large swaths of colors are no longer relevant unless you look at a sideboard or support role. As noted, for example, no one cares about burn anymore, and a Red weenie is now measured less by efficiency a la Jackal Pup as it is by its relationship to Goblin Recruiter. On the other hand, aside from a handful of cards such as Goblin Welder and Gorilla Shaman, the best Red cards are outstanding support cards like Red Elemental Blast, Rack and Ruin, Blood Moon, and Flametongue Kavu.
Similarly, Black’s discard theme has been limited to supporting Duresses, plus the bombs led by Yawgmoth’s Will. Other secondary themes see narrow representation in sideboards, from Coffin Purge to Plaguebearer.
White’s removal, finally, has traditionally played a strong support role (see”The Control Player’s Bible, Part X“). Expansions of this role are more about specific cards like Decree of Justice and Exalted Angel than they are about any bigger White picture.
Going through the colors, it’s no surprise that Blue has the most pronounced flavor in card drawing, countering, and library manipulation. Green would count only if you consider that since you have Survival of the Fittest and the Madness core in your deck, you may as well round out the beatdown with a couple of solid Green creatures until some more exciting off-flavor gem gets printed.
Thinking along these lines, I’m tempted to conclude that there are just two real colors of Magic left: Blue and artifact.
It’s not just because of my cousin’s Bombay Sapphire, and in support of the latter, I note that Shane Stoots reiterated a strong comment regarding Mishra’s Workshop that probably has Smmenycakes in an epileptic fit right now. Maybe Mark Rosewater can do a developer diary column that explicitly ties together how they view artifacts’ flavor, with the mileage of near mono-brown in recent Type I and Extended.
Going back to Green and Fifth Dawn, I wonder, then, how fruitful it’ll be to just skip everything in the truly Green departments. In other words, maybe I should skip past creatures that handle mana fixing or creature pumping, and hold out for something that works with graveyards or mimics Null Rod.
Well, this is Type I. Broken things happen. You can just appreciate the color wheel while playing in the Prerelease.
Till next week. I’m headed to Nashville, and here’s to finding a better wingman if I find a Dolly Parton lookalike.
Oscar Tan (e-mail: Rakso at StarCityGames.com)
rakso on #BDChat on EFNet
Paragon of Vintage
University of the Philippines, College of Law
Forum Administrator, Star City Games
Featured Writer, Star City Games
Author of the Control Player’s Bible
Maintainer, Beyond Dominia (R.I.P.)
Proud member of the Casual Player’s Alliance