Yawgmoth's Whimsy #34: Ranting about Blue
I was at GP Milwaukee last weekend, talking to Aaron Forsythe about writing and the state of the game. I mentioned that"if I ever ran out of ideas for a column, I could always rant about blue."
Then I got back and read Randy Buehler's column on MagictheGathering.com about"Resurrecting Flying Men." Here's a quote:
"We kept pushing green cards and pushing green cards until we found out what it takes to make them good in Constructed. Since green had really never been on top before, we felt we were better off erring on the side of green being too good for a little while rather than continuing to be weak. Well... mission accomplished, and then some. We now know that it's very possible to make green good. In fact, we can now conclude that if we give green all the best creatures -- weenies and fatties -- that it's too good."
After reading that, I'm not going to wait until I run out of other ideas. I'm going to write that rant now.
According to Randy Buehler, green is"too good." No mention of whether blue is"too good." Apparently not, since blue gets a whole host of goodies in Judgment.
The last time green creature decks were good was in Urza's Block Constructed, when green beatdown was almost - but not quite - a Tier One deck. Moreover, it was only a good deck because it had Treetop Village, Albino Troll, Priests of Titania, Wild Dogs, Rancor, and Ancient Silverback to top off the mana curve. Most importantly, it had a mana curve with good weenies and good fat. That last point is as important as anything - it had a mana curve, and it could bring out threats faster than a control deck could handle them. It was also important that Urza's Block constructed did not have a lot of global sweepers (Wildfire and Catastrophe aside), counters were few and expensive (remember Rewind?), and the block had far fewer multicolored lands (Thran Quarry, anyone?).
A more important difference is that control is very, very good in Type 2 right now. A creature is only useful if the investment you have to make to get the creature into play is less than the cost to your opponent to counter or remove it. Right now, control decks have an amazing number of cheap ways to get rid of those creatures. This is especially true of blue, the color that supposedly has trouble with permanents once they hit the board... But more on that later.
Back to investment theory - the Magic kind, that is. Whenever you play a spell that makes an investment, you are spending mana and/or cards in an attempt either to obtain a permanent, to negate an opponent's investment, or to affect their life total directly. Anything else is an indirect investment. You can indirectly invest by paying mana and/or cards for more resources, like cards or mana sources, that will eventually turn into investments. Life gain is another indirect investment - you are spending cards and mana to buy, you hope, more turns, which will produce more cards and more mana. The reason that life gain is such a questionable investment is that you are also granting your opponent more cards and mana during those extra turns, meaning that the net effect could be that you are further in the hole. (As, for example, if you draw more life gain cards.) Even cards such as Necropotence, which allows you to trade one resource (life) for another (cards), is a form of indirect investment, but one with a higher probable payback. Cards are, in many ways, the most valuable resource.
Classic control decks won by paying a couple mana and a card to stop whatever you were investing in. Counterspell cost two mana and stopped one investment. Mana Drain also stopped just one investment, but it produced mana on a future main phase. Wrath of God cost twice as much, but it could negate several investments at once.
A bounce spell is also a form of denying an investment, if only temporarily. It is trading the cost in cards and mana of the bounce spell for a delay of a turn, plus forcing the player to pay the investment cost again. Bounce is usually only good in two circumstances - if you can negate a second investment at the same time (e.g. by bouncing the target of an enchantment) or if you expect to win rapidly enough that the delay is significant. It can also be very cost effective if you are bouncing something that can never return, such as a token. The current Type 2 is fairly unique in that powerful tokens are common, which makes bounce spells particularly good.
Flashback spells are good because they require, in effect, the investment of only half a card to cast (plus mana, of course). The other half of the card is the flashback, so you effectively get two spells for one card. This is a very powerful dynamic in that cards are one of the hardest, and most expensive, resources to acquire. Having the cards to spend is generally, in a long game, far more difficult than having mana. This is even more true with Armageddon and traditional land destruction not being part of the format.
From an investment perspective, you can not afford to spend more on investments than an opponent spends on negating those investments. Assume that you and I both have roughly the same amount of mana and resources available on a given turn. You spend it all on a threat... But I spend less mana and fewer resources countering that threat. I have some mana and resources left over to cast my own threat, or to get more resources (e.g. by casting Fact or Fiction) or to negate another of your investments (e.g. by bouncing or killing something at end of turn.) If that continues, I win.
Creatures have always been chancy investments. First, they have a built-in time delay in the form of summoning sickness (unless you invest a little more, and buy one with Haste). This means that they need to be a bit better to offset the delay - and it means that bounce spells buy an additional turn against creatures. Moreover, all colors have ways of negating investments in creatures - even green has tricks like Giant Growth. That cannot be said for other types of investments. Green cannot offset card drawing. Black cannot negate an investment, once made, in an artifact, nor red an enchantment. Blue is supposed to have some drawback, too, but I can't find it. (More on that later.)
The average cost of a spell to remove or negate a single creature, in T2, is just under two mana and a card. Innocent Blood, Ghastly Demise and Circular Logic cost one mana; Aether Burst, Counterspell and Edict cost two; and Urza's Rage costs three. Actually, for some of these, the costs are lower. Repulse costs just mana (because, as a cantrip, it replaces itself with another card), Chainer's Edict costs half a card (thanks to Flashback) and the second and third Aether Bursts cost a fraction of a card and one mana (or even less) per creature bounced. The costs of removal set a ceiling on what you can afford to invest in a permanent - especially in a creature. In this environment, you don't want to spend more than a card and two or three mana, or you risk seriously falling behind in the race.
At one time, people said that you should not pay more than five mana and a card for a creature unless it wins you the game. Morphling was the standard. It costs five mana and a card. It won the game, primarily since it is amazingly difficult to negate that investment.
Now the magic number is three mana and a card - the cost of Psychatog. That's the upper end of the creature investment you can afford to make in this environment.*
I think I can prove that statement: I went through the top 64 decklists from GP Milwaukee and compiled some quick statistics. I haven't done a recount, so my bad if I'm off a bit on some counts, but I should be close. In each case, I'll list the creature followed by the number of decks playing it, then a slash and total number of copies of the creature appearing - maindeck - in the top 64.
Creatures costing no more than three mana and a card:
Psychatog 24 decks / 96 appearing
Nightscape Familiar 22 / 86
Basking Rootwalla 14 / 54
Wild Mongrel 22/88
Arrogant Wurm** 14/50
Yavimaya Barbarian 1 / 4
Spellbane Centaur 1 / 4
Call of the Herd 12 / 35
Mystic Snake 1 / 2
Total: 431 creatures (plus FTKs, Braids, and so on. - someone else can count those)
By the time you add in FTK and maybe Squirrel Nest, the total is about 500 cheap creatures. In contrast, there were sixteen big creatures. The most telling stat is one Spiritmonger. In all of the top 64 decks, there was one Spiritmonger. Spiritmonger is an incredible creature, but just one person played just one copy.
The simple fact is that Wizards has created an environment where creatures are irrelevant. Ernham Djinn may be back, but it isn't playable. Control is everything.
In the current environment, you win by countering or negating your opponents' investments, locking down the board if possible, then dropping something to win. Psychatog wins by bouncing everything with Burst, Repulse, and Upheaval if necessary, then winning by attacking across a (generally) empty board. Squirrel Opposition wins by locking down the opponent, then beating with whatever creatures are around. Counter Trenches won the GP with lots of counters, some Wrath of Gods, and a cheap enchantment that creates men for the investment of two unneeded mana and a spare land.
The problem is that blue is far too good at negating investments at the moment.
Put another way:
Blue decks: 54
Decks not running blue: 10
Randy Buehler, of CUNEO Blue fame, must be happy.
Here's another way of looking at the format:
Control decks: 60
Non-control decks: 4
This environment is all about control - of finding ways to negate your opponent's resources and counter his/her spells, then win with something - anything - in the late game. There was no real creature combat. Winning with a creature is not the same as creature combat. (I suspect I'll have to explain that sometime, too.) This environment is all control.
Control comes in different flavors. Forced sacrifice and discard is one flavor of control. Land destruction is a second. Counterspells and card drawing (to enable more counters) is a third.
Braids decks, and possibly control black (Disrupting Scepter! Old school goodness!), rely on the first option. They are about the only decks that can do so in the current Type 2.
Counterspells and card drawing - well, that seems to be pretty strong right now. I think that is partly because it was a mistake to make both of these abilities blue. Imagine how different the world would be if Fact or Fiction, Opt, Sleight of Hand - and all the rest - were white. I'll discuss that some other time. Right now, counterspell decks work because blue can buy more cards more cheaply than any other color. Blue - more efficiently than any other color - can obtain cards in hand, the toughest resource to recover or maintain.
Here's another Buehler quote:
"Previously, we had been thinking of green as 'the' creature color and so it was getting the best creatures up and down the mana curve. Really, though, green should get the best fatties and white should get the best weenies. Creatures are simply too important to Magic to give one color all the best ones."
He says, in effect, that green will henceforth be the color of fatties.
He also says people have stopped saying R&D hates green. Maybe, but if R&D's plan is to make green the color of fatties - those creatures that no one can afford to play - then I have just one thing to say:
R&D HATES GREEN!
By the way: Buehler also said he sees blue as" the color of instants" and red as"the color of sorceries."*** As friends like to say, that means blue is the color of good cards and red is the color of bad cards. Maybe R&D hates red, too.
But this was supposed to be about creatures, so back to R&D and fatties. Let's define fatties, arbitrarily, as those creatures with a power and toughness that together total ten or more. (A lower total would make the list longer, but it would not change the results.) Let's look at the list of fatties that are T2 legal at the moment:
4/6s: Reya Dawnbringer, Loafing Giant
5/5s: Angel of Retribution, Atogatog, Cabal Patriarch, Cromat, Goham Djinn, Jade Leech, Ruham Djinn, Sabertooth Nishoba, Shivan Dragon, Stratadon, Vampiric Dragon
5/6s: Mahamoti Djinn, Petradon, Sunweb, Zanam Djinn
6/4s: Laqatus' Champion (only 6/3, but a regenerator), Fungal Shambler
6/5s: Ancient Silverback, Carrion Wurm, Halam Djinn
6/6s: Amugaba, Ashen Firebeast, Bloodfire Colossus, Crimson Hellkite, the 5 dragon legends, Penumbra Wurm, Sea Monster, Spiritmonger, Sulam Djinn, Trained Orgg, Vizzerdrix, (plus Wurm tokens, I guess)
7/4s: Tsabo Tsavoc
7/6s: Benthic Behemoth
7/7s: Shivan Wurm, Thorn Elemental
8/8s: Hypnox, Phyrexian Colossus
9/9s: Devouring Strossus, Draco
So, how many of those get played in any constructed event? Zippo. None. Okay - one single Spiritmonger was played in the GP top 64, but so what? And what's the point of making most of the biggest fatties in 7th edition blue? (Mahamoti, Vizzerdrix, Sea Monster and Benthic Behemoth for blue, vs. Ancient Silverback and Thorn Elemental for green.)
I'm going to do something that is sure to provoke tons of disagreement. I'm going to list the best creatures in T2 right now, by casting cost.
1cc: Birds of Paradise (Basking Rootwalla is a close second.)
2cc: Wild Mongrel
4cc: Possessed Aven (4/4 evasion creature w/o drawback for 4?)
6+cc: who cares - in Constructed play, nothing like this is ever cast*****
The green creatures are all weenies - and R&D says that we won't see such weenies in the future. Great. So unless the format really changes, green will be the color of nothing in particular. Or maybe nothing useful - and I am thinking of Tranquility. Blue will probably continue to have the best creatures.
One last look at why I think blue is too good. I'm going to choose the best card of a number of types in T2 at present. (Man, is this going to be controversial!)
Best card drawing: Fact or Fiction
Best evasion creature: Iridescent Angel (Escape Artist??)
Best offensive creature: Wild Mongrel / Psychatog (tie)
Best defensive creature: Psychatog
Best finisher: Psychatog
Best creature removal: Terminate / Aether Burst (tie)
Best non-specialized removal card: Rushing River / Pernicious Deed (tie)
Best color hoser: Hibernation
Most versatile color hoser: Wash Out
Best land destruction spell: Upheaval
Best reset: Upheaval
Best counterspell: Counterspell / Circular Logic
Best combat trick: Repulse (what else is playable? Giant Growth?)
I'm probably missing something, but in my not so humble opinion, blue has the best cards for nearly everything. Across the board, the blue cards fill every slot.
Hey - R&D, wake up. That's wrong. Very, very wrong!
Last weekend, at the GP, I beat every non-blue deck I played (okay, with a couple of flukey exceptions). If the deck ran blue, the matches were close. Otherwise - if the deck was not blue - I beat it. Even if the other decks got great starts, and I did not, I won.
Because, you see, I was playing blue.
I think it's a stupid format, right now. Did I get that point get across?
What the heck, here's a really short GP report.
GP Milwaukee Recap
Summing up GP Milwaukee part one: There was a convention of bowling coaches in the hotel that weekend. You absolutely could not tell the coaches from the natives.
I played U/G Upheaval in the Friday trial. My most memorable match: I beat a 'Tog player when I had Nimble Mongoose on the table and he had a Familiar out. He played Standstill - in response, I Aether Bursted the Familiar. He broke Standstill to replay the Familiar. We repeated this three times that game.
About midnight, with a record of 2-1, I quit. The trial had over 160 entrants, which means seven rounds, cut to top 8. Playing until 4 or 5 a.m. for a shot at some byes, with the knowledge that you will be overtired the next day, seemed pretty dumb to me.
At the main event I played Trenches, but with a Rakavolver in the sideboard. (Not recommended, but I wanted one just-for-fun card in the deck. It did win me two matches.)
- Mulliganing into a hand with double Skycloud Expanse, no other lands, and not drawing one until turn 5.
- A 'Tog player outcountering me: his graveyard game 2 was Gainsay, Gainsay, Gainsay, Counterspell, Circular Logic, Counterspell, Counterspell - all by turn 7 or eight.
- My fourth-round opponent played mono-black, and had three Duresses by turn 4 game one, and three Duresses and an Addle by turn 5 game two. He resolved a stick (Disrupting Scepter) and I lost.
I was 2-2 in the main, so dropped to play Type I. When I am just playing for fun in TI, I play a Stacker II variant, or something akin TOGADIA or Funker. Type I is amazing. I won one match when, with my opponent at 3 life, I broke Memory Jar but didn't draw a Bolt, used Goblin Welder #1 to turn a Mox into the Jar, broke it a second time but still didn't draw a Bolt, used Welder #2 to fetch the Jar again, broke it again and finally drew a Bolt for the win. I drew with an Oath player who played way too slowly but who resolved Ancestral Recall five times game one (I scooped in response to him casting it the sixth time), and lost to a Reanimator player who got a Verdant Force in play turn 2 both games. Tormod's Crypt, where were you when I needed you?
Watching that type of TI action is a lot more interesting than watching players slowly Geddon each other in the Trenches-on-Trenches mirror match.
Stupidest win of the weekend: Playing in a T2 side event, we were in extra turns. The TO said the match would be decided on life totals. I was at four life, my opponent was at five. On the very last of the extra turns, he cast Birds of Paradise; I countered with Absorb. (After he finished banging his head on the table, I showed him the Fire/Ice and Memory Lapse in hand - he would have lost regardless.)
That was that.
Next time: I'm not done ranting about blue, but I may stick some more strategy in somewhere. For one thing, I think I have a deck that beats Quiet Roar. It just may not be what you think.
* -Okay, Flametongue Kavu costs four mana and a card, but it also negates an opponent's permanent, meaning that the net investment is less than three and a card. Braids is also a bit strange to cost - it is four mana and a card, but destroys an opponent's permanents.
** -It costs three mana with Madness, and it never appears in a deck that can't cast it via Madness.
*** -That's why the blue Wish - and only the blue wish - is an instant.
****- Okay, it isn't T2 legal, but there is no way I can write best 5cc creature and not say Morphling. Spiritmonger is not in the same class.
***** -The extended Secret Force deck did, on occasion, hard cast Verdant Force, but the main methods of getting it into play are Natural Selection and Exhume. What do YOU think? Share your opinion with the community and you just may walk away with some FREE Magic cards... courtesy of your friends at StarCityGames.com!