I hope everyone had a Merry Christmas, and that you rung the New Year in right! I also hope that most of you weren’t nursing too bad a hang-over after celebrating into the wee hours. New Year’s Eve was always a huge party event for me from my 20s and early 30s, but having kids has put a bit of a damper on that sort of thing. Still, I had my fun and have lots of good memories (along with a few fuzzy ones); this time, I plan on sipping some wine, eating some Hickory Farms goodies and avoiding Ryan Seacrest.
Before I get into it, let me just first do a public service announcement for all Elder Dragon Highlander fans in the area: don’t forget that Richmond Comix will be holding an EDH game this Sunday, January 4th at noon. Make sure you call ahead to register your general. I will be writing a report on the game for next week along with a write-up on my deck choice, so make sure you put in some cool cards and make some splashy fun plays! I did get an email recently asking me about the power level of the EDH games; basically, it varies – there are long time veterans of the game with access to some old, powerful multiplayer cards, and then there are new players fresh to the game playing glorified Block decks. I’ve found that most of the “old-schoolers” tend to self-regulate and not go full-tilt Spike since the goal of EDH is to have fun, and they also tend to put the brakes on each other. So please don’t worry about not having the cards you need to compete; it’s all about the fun!
The Official Elder Dragon Highlander Rules are here; note there have been some recent changes – Test of Endurance is no longer banned, but Karakas, Riftsweeper, Protean Hulk, Grindstone, Lion’s Eye Diamond, and Time Vault are. Also, house rules for Richmond Comix – Shaharazad is banned.
Drop me an email or Google Richmond Comix if you need contact information.
“I believe time will show that all our work on the color pie will have strong dividends in making Magic become a classic. And remember, nothing’s set in stone. If something doesn’t work, we’re more than willing to move it back.” — Mark Rosewater, Change for the Better
Last week’s topic was addressing how overpowered Cruel Ultimatum was in comparison to the other cards in the cycle that was inspired by Cruel Ultimatum in the first place, and how that plays into a larger issue regarding the design of Green cards and its general lack of clever and engaging cards in comparison to those of other colors (and Blue in particular). Because the article topic was a last-minute fill-in for what I had originally hoped to share with you, it came through a little less focused than I would have wanted, and for that I want to apologize. I also want to thank those of you who took the time to go to the forums and extend the debate and conversation further.
This week there is further delay on the EDH special treat, so I thought I would build upon the discussion from last week. Instead of just criticizing, however, I thought it might be more helpful to the conversation to propose a solution to the “problem with Green.” I’m working on the assumption that Green needs some help in terms of engaging in Magic outside of just summoning great creatures and hoping that they’re enough to get there. This is not to say that I think Green is the worst color in terms of power, because I don’t – there are plenty of great, tournament-caliber Green cards being made in every Magic set. My beef is that too many of Green’s cards are slow and not enough of them are clever. And I know there are some clever Green cards, like Cloudthresher and Chord of Calling. There are just far too few of them.
What do I mean by slowness and cleverness? These are elements of Magic that are two sides of the same coin. As we all know, Magic is comprised of turns passed back and forth between players, and each turn consists of different phases. The vast majority of Magic cards are “slow” — you play lands and sorceries and cast creatures, artifacts, enchantments and planeswalkers all during your own turn’s main phase.
Instant spells and abilities that can be played as instants are faster and more clever because they can be played during nearly all phases of the game no matter who’s turn it is. This is hugely powerful, giving you access to more information and the ability to outplay your opponent on more fields of battle – and, conversely, it allows for you to make more mistakes too.
Consider for a moment Portal, the Magic set designed as an introduction to the game for people who really had no clue how to play CCGs. In Portal, you had no instants… and you know what? Once you get past the beautiful cards and nifty flavor text and creature combat, Magic tends to be incredibly boring without instants.
So, you make all of Green’s most potent cards creatures and sorceries, while other colors get potent instants… what do you get? Even if you’re playing fantastic cards like Primal Command or Chameleon Colossus, Green is playing Portal while the other colors are playing Magic. I see that as a problem, don’t you?
The other day I was driving to work pondering what Green really needs. To give my thoughts context, MTG Salvation had just spoiled a real, honest to god playable if not improved Swords to Plowshares for White, along with an improved (cheaper) Icy Manipulator for White. Outside of Wrath of God, White has long desperately needed good removal to go alongside its awesome weenie creatures, and it seems that drought is quickly coming to an end since it already has the awesome Unmake available.
What does Green need? It’s needs control, disruption – it needs something to surprise, something to throw an opponent off his game long enough for Green’s awesome big creatures to seal the game. But what mechanic or theme in Magic could offer that sort of power that would also be in flavor for Green?
Then I saw the card like a vision from an ancient and cold, faraway place…
Go ahead and click on it. Yep, it sucks. What do you expect? Most green “tricky” creatures have sucked over the years, especially the ones from that time. Though the card sucked, it was the mana costs involved and the small body that made it bad. Imagine instead something like this:
Super Elder Druid
Elf Cleric Druid
G, Tap: You may tap or untap target artifact, creature, or land.
You may be saying, now hang on a second, Smith – Twiddle is Blue! Sure, it’s Blue — now. But Twiddle is wasted in Blue. Blue’s got so many great effects in its color pie that “tap all opponent’s creatures” is the least used portion of Cryptic Command. [Not sure if I agree with that one… Craig, amused.]
So why is Twiddle Blue? Presumably being able to tap or untap a permanent is considered to be tricksy, manipulation, and thus in Blue’s realm. You thought you were going to get to use that resource this turn — or you thought I couldn’t use that resource again — but MU-HA-HA-HAAAA!! You thought wrong!! I AM THE BLUE MAGE AND I AM CLEVERER THAN YOU!!
I’m here to challenge the assumption that Blue should be the “tricky” color. I think that particular mindset dumbs down Magic, constricts possibility. Players should be tricky, not colors, and when you boil it down the only thing “tricky” about Twiddle is its instant speed. Giving all colors access to good, flexible instant-speed cards opens up the interactive gamespace between two players, letting them fully engage with each other on both turns, during all phases. If I’m playing Green you shouldn’t be able to assume I’m playing Portal.
Also, Green has flirted with tapping/untapping flavor back in the day, with some awful-to-mediocre cards such as Roots, Storm Front, and Whip Vine. So it’s not unprecedented; I suspect that as Wizards started solidifying the color pie concept, that’s when they purposefully stopped making those sorts of cards for Green because it wasn’t in Green’s flavor.
Okay, so we’ve established I want to gank the Twiddle flavor from Blue and put it in Green. How do I justify it thematically, how do I make sure it fits?
Let’s think of the flavor fundamentals. What happens when you play a creature card? You’re summoning this creature to fight for you. You’re taking him from his natural state, and putting him to work for you, to very likely die for you. That’s certainly a different path from what he would normally — naturally — be doing if you hadn’t interfered with it. So if you tap him down with an effect, you’re basically preventing him from being used, you’re breaking control without taking control. You’ve summoned up a Demigod of Revenge, and I Twiddle him for the turn. Instead of listening to you he’s doing whatever it is that Demigods of Revenge do when they’re in a strange place and not following your orders.
Conversely, untapping a creature or some other resource suggests you getting something more out of it than you normally would. In nature, this could be an adrenal rush, a fight or flight reaction. Or perhaps because you get better attuned to its nature you can push it further that turn, like a horse whisperer taming the unbreakable horse.
I think it’s even easier to justify tapping and untapping when it comes to lands, considering Green’s already established affinity for land and mana manipulation. And since Green can already destroy artifacts and enchantments, tapping or untapping them shouldn’t be that big a thematic stretch.
Maybe it’s me, but I think this works. I don’t think it’s too difficult a stretch to work tap and untap effects into Green’s slice of the color pie.
Let’s consider something like this:
Tap or untap two target permanents. Draw a card.
Most of my more Spike-ish readers will look at this and immediately freak out thinking of the combo implications. So what? Green already has a history of having combo engine cards (Heartbeat of Spring decks, etc.) so I’m not overly concerned about that. How would this play in a more “fair” Green-based deck? Sure, a control deck could use it as a cantrip Fog, but the mid-range deck could use the same card to fight control. Would this be too strong? Stronger than Cryptic Command?
What about a straight up version of Twitch made Green?
You may tap or untap target artifact, creature, or land. Draw a card.
Twitch originally made an appearance in Tempest and got reprinted in 10th Edition. Many might not even know it’s now Standard legal, because it certainly hasn’t seen any play. I suspect that’s because Blue certainly has lots of better instant speed options available, but if this was Green I could certainly see it being played. It reminds me a bit of Snakeform, a card I learned to appreciate quite a bit last summer when I played the Mono-Green Elf Block Constructed deck for a PTQ. One of the strongest early plays in the deck was attacking with Nettle Sentinel, and then when your opponent attacked back, play Snakeform on their biggest creature, triggering Nettle Sentinel’s untap ability to block, and then draw a card. I could see Spasm playing a similar role with something like Chameleon Colossus or Doran, playing the role of attacker and surprise blocker. Imagine an elf deck running 4 Spasms and 4 Snakeforms.
Several years back, Chad Ellis wrote an excellent article in response to one of my columns, arguing that Green needed more clever cards. I’ve linked to it several times in the past, but it remains one of my favorite columns and still makes valid points so if you’ve never read it I highly recommend you do. In it, he argued that Mana Short should have been Green. Mana Short reads “Tap all lands target player controls and empty his or her mana pool.” Chad said, “Why can’t a Nature wizard mess with his opponent’s mana?” I think he made a great point; what do you think?
How about this:
Enchantment — Aura
Tap enchanted creature. It does not untap during its controller’s untap phase.
So until the creature’s controller figures out a way to get rid of the Aura or untap the creature, in effect, no one is controlling the creature. He’s there but he’s doing his own thing. This strikes me as perfectly reasonable — and Green — creature control.
Creature — Lizard
Untap Chameleon Drover: Tap target creature.
In the brave new world of tricksy green, Silkbind Faerie would be a green bear.
What about this?
Choose artifact, creature, or land. Tap all untapped permanents of the chosen type target player controls, or untap all tapped permanents of that type that player controls.
Yep, it’s Turnabout as a more heavily Green card. Turnabout used to be a totally sick combo card back when Urza’s block nearly destroyed Magic. What would a Green version do to Standard now?
Creature — Beast
G: Untap target creature.
Big Daddy would give a neo-Vigilance to your creatures, or let you go nuts with cards like Power of Fire. Would that be too broken for Magic?
Tap or untap target permanent.
Target creature gets +2/+2 and trample until the end of the turn.
How’s this for tricky and flexible? Use it as a mini-Mana Short, or tap down a blocker and go large with your attacker, or untap a dude, make him big and block an attacker to kill it. You could even go a little combo-ish with Devoted Druid.
So what do you think of the idea of giving the “Twiddle mechanic” to Green?
“As long as Wizards thinks of Blue as the clever color, two things will tend to happen. One is that Blue will tend to be overpowered… The other problem with Blue being the clever color is that Wizards misses chances to make other colors better and more fun.” — Chad Ellis
In closing, I hope that I’ve given you some food for thought. My goal here and in previous columns is not so much an attempt at making Green generally more powerful and Blue generally less powerful; my goal is to address some fundamental bias in the design of the game that naturally tends to push blue’s practical power while constraining that of Green and some of the other colors. Magic is a vibrant, fun, and challenging game in no small part because of instants and the ability to fully engage your opponent not only on your turn but on his turn too, during all the phases — again, think back to how Portal plays compared to regular Magic. In an effort to help Green better do that, I strongly urge the fine people involved in making the game to consider giving Twiddle to Green, and I also urge my readers to weigh in with their opinions in the forums.
â€˜Til next week!
starcitygeezer AT gmail DOT com