Tuesday, June 14, 2011

What Should Removal in Green Look Like?

Inspired by Metaghost's GDS2 essay on moving pacifism-like Auras to green, I explored removal that could feel Green and not break the color pie.

Here's what I think about green removal Auras:

Auras like Lignify or Utopia Vow don't feel so off to me and I agree with Metaghost that Auras are better for green than spells like Bee Sting. While green shouldn't get straight-up removal, green should be given tools to fight evasion and activated abilities of creatures. I think Green is a color that wants to take trickery out of the equation and reduce things to a contest of power and size.

I'm still on the fence of the acceptability of Arachnus Web, a new green pacifism in M12, despite its very cool story-evoking design.

Arachnus Web 2G
Enchantment - Aura
Enchant creature
Enchanted creature can't attack or block, and its activated abilities can't be activated.
At the beginning of the end step, if enchanted creature's power is 4 or greater, destroy Arachnus Web.

The part that makes sense to me is that it only works on small targets, so it's very likely to be used on evasive creatures or creatures with activated abilities, which green should be given tools to cope with.

It's also similar to the case of Ice Cage, where you get creature removal in a color that shouldn't, but it's fragile and risky. Players could board in power-boosting Auras to combat the Web.

What I don't like is that it can be used to remove blockers. When mono-green aggro players can potentially go "Remove your blocker, attack. Remove your blocker, attack," it just doesn't feel mono-green. That's what Giant Growths and trample are for. I guess the same could be said for Utopia Vow, and while I can't fully verbalize why Utopia Vow feels ok to me, at least it feels like converting the opposing creature's usage rather than virtually removing it from the board.

So, with that in mind, here are some types of Aura-based removal that I think could be a staples in green.

Hunt Cards:
These cards allow your creatures to hunt down the enemy's creatures. There are various rewards for the hunt, making it feel like some kind of quest. In that sense, they're story-telling cards.

This would allow your fatties to take out little birds, as well as tappers or pingers.

While there are one-shot sorceries that force blocking, I think putting it in Aura form would be better since your opponent can't waste your spell by killing your attacker in response. That goes a long way towards playability.

This is a variant that allows small creatures to join forces and take down a bomby Dragon or Demon, although there's no guarantee that those creatures will survive themselves.

This one forces a block even when the opponent's creature is tapped. It's somewhat funky to bend the blocking rules, but it was annoying when the provoke mechanic didn't work against creatures with tapping abilities because they could tap to avoid blocking.

By the way, I think it would be cool to have a higher rarity version with bigger bonuses:

Web Cards
These are an extension of the hunting cards above, but incapacitates the enchanted creature in some way.

This is where it starts to get like Pacifism, except that instead of preventing blocking, it forces blocking. Maybe I should stop there but if I add in the "hunt reward," it becomes:

The bonus could be any of the bonuses that appeared on the hunt cards above such as life gain, +1/+1 counters, or something else. But maybe it is too busy for a common, since the above card actually does 3 things.

This one doesn't prevent attacking, but it shuts off evasion abilities like flying. If it was a small evasive creature, it will die if it tries to attack. 

I hope the wording works, but it may cause confusion with attribute-setting text like Lhurgoyf or Maro. That kind of text don't get negated when the creature loses all abilities, but most players don't know that.

I also made a version with "Enchanted creature loses flying and activated abilities and must block if able. When enchanted creature dies, BONUS." But the text might look too busy. Also, it won't stop other evasive abilities that may be in the set, including intimidate and unblockability.

Token Punishment Cards

This could be put on an opponent's evasive creature or creature with a tap ability to dissuade that opponent from using the creature. If it enchants an opponent's non-trampling fatty, it produces a chump blocker for it every time it attacks, negating its offensive capability. I think it's a very green way of fighting creatures.

I like how you could play it on your own creature too, depending on the situation.

If the flying bee feels too much like a color bleed, it could be a non-flying token.

(Click on Image to Enlarge)

Finally, I like cards like Irresistible Prey and Feral Contest. These are great designs, but I often found it difficult to find space for them in my limited decks. The trouble is that they can be wasted by the opponent's removal spells in response. Also, they suffer from being situational. With removal spells, if you draw removal spells and no creatures, you are fine. But if you draw a hand with block-forcing and no relevant early creatures, you are screwed.

I hope there can be cards like this:

Repeat-use lure creatures can be too strong at times. I think a 1-on-1 forced block effect as an enters-the-battlefield effect would be just right.

I hope you enjoyed this, and please tell me what you think is most doable.


  1. I think the lesson from every discussion regarding ability-removal is that you should always set a P/T just in case.

    Regardless, another solid essay, Chah. While I will continue to push my belief that Green deserves primary ownership of the half-Arrest, I recognize that tracker-effects are the other form of logical green removal. With recent cards like Wing Puncture, I think designers can feel more comfortable distancing tracker-effects from Arena-style forced combat, assuming the flavor is on point.

  2. Good stuff. I like a lot of what you did here.

    I vastly prefer Worthy Prey to Tracked Prey, partly because of the much better bonus, but mostly because it makes it much harder for your opponent to protect the quarry.

    I think there's a simpler solution than Succulent Prey and Webbed Prey: "Enchanted creature can't attack and its abilities can't be activated." We can add "must block" but 95% of the time the defender will want to block anyhow since the creature will have no other purpose.

    Gift of Acorns seems imminently printable. For some reason, I still don't love it, but I very much respect it. That said, I see it being used on your own creatures (particularly tappers) much more often than your opponents. "Whenever x becomes tapped" penalty effects are universally underwhelming unless the result is as bad or worse than a full unit of card advantage.

    I love the idea of a one-off lure/provoke effect as Master Tracker presents. I'd rather add the "no activated abilities clause" than the "untap it" clause though.

    I was a bigger fan of Tower Above than Irresistible Prey because it was good whether the defender actually ended up blocking or not.

    I also love the path you mentioned of removing trickiness from creatures and making them fight straight up. Here's (another) possibility in that realm:

    Man Up (cmn)
    1G (or possibly R/G)
    ~ has Split-Second if you cast it during a main phase.
    Target creature loses all keywords and activated abilities and must attack or block this turn if able.

  3. Nice article. I enjoyed the brainstorming, but I think my favorite mechanic was the first one - Tracked Prey. It's the most interactive of the bunch (the same reason Jay doesn't like it). I would suggest giving it a better reward, however, such as your "draw two cards". Alternatively, if you're trying to design a nasty rare, you could add "When enchanted creature dies, return this to your hand."

  4. On Token Punishment cards:

    Should we maybe consider the "Enchant creature you don't control" option? I have often thought about this as an easy fix for designs that were meant to target opponent's permanents. Here are the pluses:

    Betrayal from Visions had “Enchant creature an opponent controls” to prevent the card from being used on your own guys to busted effect. But in a time with alternative multiplayer choices like Archenemy and Two-Headed Giant, I think the restriction could be relaxed to allow you to target other non-opponent players.

    The next benefit is for new players. Printing instructions on the card to help point out that it has a negative effect helps them learn the game a bit quicker. I have seen new players target their own creatures with Pacifism and Ice Cage because it didn’t occur to them that they could target another player’s creatures. So having some Auras that actually spell out the design attempt are good for the game. It removes one level of decision from the card.

    Here’s an tweak on Insect Pheremone:

    Eggsac Injection (Uncommon)
    Enchantment – Aura
    Enchant creature you don’t control
    Whenever enchanted creature becomes tapped, you may put a 1/1 green Spider creature token with reach onto the battlefield.

  5. I still think one of the best pieces of green removal I've ever seen was from the custom set Verdia, by fallingman. It was simple enough that I can recite it from memory:

    Instant, rare, G
    Target creature spell loses all abilities.

    It's beautifully simple and can function something like a counterspell against a utility creature.

    It may have problems with the issue metaghost points out, about CDAs. There isn't a very good solution; perhaps "and becomes X/X, where X is its converted mana cost". But nonetheless, you have to admire fallingman for coming up with the design.

  6. Animalize is fun, but was probably just until end of turn.

    Hunt 1G
    Sorcery C
    You may attack target creature this turn. (Unblocked creatures attacking that creature deal their damage to it.)

    Half the new players I teach think you can do this anyway, but it feels very green

  7. @Nick Grayson
    The eggsack is creepy, in a nice way. Having a reach token could be more balanced than a flying token.

    I prefer the flexibility of casting it on your own creature or the opponent's.

    I think it's totally ok if it doesn't occur to beginning players to cast the token punishment Auras on opponent's creatures at first.

    I believe Magic is a game where players can keep discovering things step by step. This card would be low-hanging fruit, in terms of accessible lessons. All it takes is for the opponent to cast it on their creatures once, and they will realize that it can be done. It would be an experience of discovery, and it would be better than knowing right from the start due to a "enchant creature opponent controls" clause.

    If they don't know how to play the card at all, or if it worked differently than expected due to some arcane ruling, that would be a problem. But with this card, they can still cast it on their own creature for a legitimate benefit.

  8. @AlexC
    Animalize is very cool and nifty. I wish it was a cantrip, though.

    I think it needs reminder text that the resolved creature will also have no abilities. (If that is how it works.)

    Hunt looks good. In the GDS2, some people were saying that there should be creatures that can attack other creatures, now that people are used to attacking things other than players due to the planeswalker rules.

    Some players might be confused about whether the attacked creature deals damage back. (My understanding is that the attacked creature should try to block the attacker if it wants to deal damage back.) Maybe it could be mentioned in the reminder text. Maybe, ("That creature only deals damage back to creatures it's blocking, if any.")