Monday, July 16, 2012

Why Blue will always be great

I love Magic. I have been playing the game since I was ten years old, and I am 28 at the time of writing. The people who are currently making the game are doing some of the best work in the history of the game, and are succeeding at making Magic something more than just the game with cards- they are making it an experience. The recent announcements regarding the Return to Ravnica block and prerelease fill me with joy and make me eager to register for a prerelease today, two months in advance.

It appears to me though the people who make Magic have a bias towards blue. 

Rather, powerful cards in Magic are biased towards blue, and the fantastic employees of R & D are subject to this bias.

Every color (aside from blue) as at one point been considered "worst." Currently, that honor falls to red. Red is the color of impulses, emotions, passions, and blowing shit up. The philosophy behind red hamstrings it in design, and the struggles are well documented in Mark Rosewater's blog.
Aside: This blog is fantastic. MaRo is as honest and upfront as he can be. Even when presented with questions about apparent shortcomings in Magic, he strives to be direct and it is obvious he wants to see the game succeed on more than a financial level. His heart is in this game as much as his mind, and it shows.
Recently, red has been given access to looting (drawing some number of cards and discarding some number), an ability that had previously been blue.
Shocking, I know.
To distinguish the two abilities, blue has the advantage of drawing first, while red, according to MaRo, is supposed to get looting at a slightly discounted rate in exchange for discarding first and not being able to generate card advantage. This is designed to reflect the differences in the underlying philosophies of the colors: blue plans, red is willing to get rid of something in order to see something new. No harm, no foul. The first card with "red looting" was Mad Prophet, which is an absolute powerhouse in my Pauper Cube, but also was fantastic in AVR limited. 
Enter M13, and Rummaging Goblin. Compare this to the much older Merfolk Looter. The red one costs more. 
Now, I was willing to give Wizards the benefit of the doubt: they did not know how red looting would play, and were being cautious. The guidelines presented to us would be visible down the road (Fall 2012 and beyond). 

Then Zac Hill wrote this article.

My umbrage:

"That diversity is good for Limited Magic. He's costed at 2 ManaRed Mana because Merfolk Looter was hands-down the most dominant common in Magic 2010, even though it seemed comparatively innocuous. Given Rummaging Goblin's far more relevant creature type—thanks, Arms Dealer—we decided he ought to both require a discard first (as is red's tradition) and cost a little bit more."
Zac Hill
"The Cards of Magic 2013, Part 2"

I do not know what sort of cards are coming out in the future. I can imagine that Goblins will continue to be a supported tribe. But trying to tell us that Goblins are a more supported creature type than Merfolk feels like a boldfaced lie. Sure, Merfolk spend some time out of print while Goblins were getting awesome lords. Yet both tribes are relevant in Legacy, and a number of awesome new Merfolk were printed in M13. So Goblins are a better tribe, and therefore have to have looting at a higher price point? It is likely that Hill's article is focusing on Standard, but it does a disservice to cite Arms Dealer as a reason for making Rummaging Goblin far worse than its blue brother. 
The underlying message here is that blue is allowed to cheat at costs because it always has. And it can get away with it! Wizards could have printed a corrected Merfolk Looter in Magic 2012 and justified it with it being too strong in M10. Now red is being forced to pay for the sins of blue. Is Rummaging Goblin a fine card? Yes. It will win limited games and go into my Cube, but it is more expensive than it should be. Even if the effect is too powerful at 1C, since red is supposed to have its looting be pushed at cost, Goblin looter at 1R should exist (as per MaRo).

Blue has a history of getting effects for far too little (see Ancestral Recall). It also has a history of getting the lion's share of awesome effects (pure card draw, counter spells, "Control Magics," tutoring, et. al.). Over time these effects have become closer to correctly costed (see the abolishment of Counterspell and the prevalence of Cancel). The core of the issue goes deeper, however. 

Blue is the color of thought, it is the color of planning and outsmarting adversaries. It is about accumulating resources and generally being smarter than its adversary.

Replace "blue" with "Magic" and "the color" with "the game."

Red is a color of impulsivity and emotions and blowing shit up. Replace "red" with "magic" and "color" with "game."

Magic, as a tournament game, is firmly in the blue realm of the color pie. Yes, it has been shifting further out of this wedge for a long time. Yet underlying concepts of the game align very well with the driving forces of blue. As long as these are in line, it will be easy to give blue the best cards. 

That being said, I still  have the utmost faith that people like Mark Rosewater, Zac Hill, Aaron Forsythe, and everyone else in Magic R & D can work against the tide of history. They have taken the first few steps, they can take the next leaps. 

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