Monday, July 4, 2011

Subdivisions (Part One)

With the intent to expand Red's mechanical repertoire, a desire sitting patiently at the front my mind as I toiled away at eighteen demoralizing Red commons, I decided to get meta (more meta than usual) and divide one of the many pies within the pie: the Time Pie. Of course, the Time Pie had yet to be referenced in any other piece of Magic design ephemera, so it was up to me to decide what that entailed.

Much like its parent, the Time Pie is (or: will be) a visual tool for representing how the different colors relate. The obvious distinguishing characteristic of the Time Pie is that it pertains specifically to a subset of gameplay connected to the flow of time. At a basic level, time is most often represented in-game through: the order of events; the passing of priority and turns; and a wide spectrum of player behaviors filed under the word "tempo", typically used to describe one player's aggression vs. another player's patience. The Time Pie incorporates the above, as well as more exciting stylistic manipulations of temporal concepts found in cards such as Time Walk and evergreen keywords like Haste and Flash.

As I began to outline color-time relationships, it occurred to me that the Time Pie didn't really make all that much sense as a "pie". Instead it took form as a 6-sided diamond, with three colors forming a central triangle and the remaining oppositional colors functioning as poles. This allows for the easy visualization of seven distinct "shards" and immediately restructures our traditional perspective of the color wheel, important because the goal of the Time Pie is to partially redefine Red. This is not to say that traditional notions of what defines each color should be discarded, but that we're hoping to reveal new intersections of time-oriented behaviors that still fit comfortably within the parent domain, and this alternative visualization can benefit that process.

Each color's position within the structure of the newly-titled Time Diamond was partially determined by a quick and dirty word-association exercise that resulted in the following list:

White - Quantum Identity
Blue  - Pause, Repeat, Present
Red   - Fast-Forward, Accelerate, Future
Black - Stop, Erode Time
Green - Rewind, Repair Time, Past

While they sit as far apart as possible on the diagram, Black and Green actually share status as the carrier of the "Past" attribute, with a line through the center demonstrating this interconnected and unusually complementary nature. To more tangibly demonstrate what I mean: Black and Green are the two colors most commonly associated with graveyard interactions, each frequently possessing the tools to recur resources, and often benefiting from the death (or processing) of "organic" matter on the battlefield. Together they offer a clear representation of time's passing, from Life to Death. Therefore each half of the diamond possesses three sides — representing Past, Present, and Future — which are then distinguished by whether they're aligned with Green or Black:

Red    / Blue    / Green - Future
Blue   / White  / Green - Present
Green / White  / Red    - Past

White / Red    / Blue  - A mysterious sensation.

Black  / Blue   / Red    - Past
Blue   / White  / Black - Present
Red    / White  / Black - Future

Comprised of 4 allied shards and 3 enemy wedges, this structure should feel harmonious with the existing color pie — each of the enemy wedges bear either a relationship with the future or with the mysterious "quantum identity". The next step is to start defining mechanical hierarchies that abide by this structure. This may feel irrational, as you might expect the visual guide to have come after the hierarchies had been defined. But in this situation where most of what I'm "defining" has already been defined, the order of events is largely irrelevant.

Green / White / Red - Past | Life

Though these colors are most commonly associated with a mutual love of combat and the wanton destruction of artifacts (as well as the occasional enchantment), their temporal connection is a shared reverence for the past. We see this everyday in White and Green's ability to recur certain permanents from their graveyard to their hand, but in order to ensnare Red within this conceptual net we need to also recognize how these colors evaluate the content of graveyards in order to increase the power of spells and creatures. This may seem like something that only happens in graveyard-themed sets, but Red has actually acquired two recent commons that demonstrate this quality, Roiling Terrain and Scrapyard Salvo. These cards build upon Red's history with such designs, a history that started sometime around Tempest with the printing of Kindle, which went on to inspire similar designs during Odyssey block.

(It's important to note that I'm only commenting on one or two mechanical ideas that I feel best help tie these color groupings to their position within the Diamond.)

Blue / White / Green - Present | Life

Winding its way through these three colors is the ability to tap or untap on-board permanents, a mechanic that functions both as a restriction on progress (keeping things from moving towards the future) and as a return to recent states of existence (bringing the past into the present). Blue has always held primary control over this ability, with Urza's block being the strongest indicator of its relationship to time, with cards like the various "free spells", Turnabout, and Exhaustion. As the secondary color, White has diminished ability with both tapping and untapping, being less capable of mass control over permanent positioning and often only able to untap its own creatures and tap opposing creatures. In modern Magic, Blue's control over lands has been almost entirely moved over to Green, as per Green's dominance over the natural world. With Green's tertiary position, this is all Green gets, no tapping of opposing objects, and no control over nonland, noncreature permanents.

Red / Blue / Green - Future | Life

Blue and Green possess easily identified representations of Future-centric ideas, ranging from Blue's aptly named Future Sight (which has inspired a number of Blue and Green designs) to Green's use of "ramp" and universal board acceleration spells like Rites of Flourishing and Hypergenesis. But here is where I'd like to start expanding Red's toolbox, pulling from some of the just-described functions, as well as giving Red primary control over both Haste and Flash. Red has long-since been defined by its hyper-aggressive tendency to win at all costs, often foregoing the potential for a late-game. But hopefully you kind readers are willing to reinterpret that behavior as a desire to see the future before all others, as "winning" is the ultimate goal of this game and therefore the terminal moment — the final point in a game's timeline. The first small shift to accentuate this point is moving Flash into Red's control.

Conceptually, Flash is best suited to showing off surprise tactics (like a Proto-Morph) and conveying disruptions in the flow of time, a theme that Time Spiral block was largely built upon. Something of a long-standing free agent, fitting in wherever R&D would like it, Flash is most often employed by Blue. This is presumably because Blue is the color of instants and therefore should also be the color of instant-speed creatures. However, maintaining the status quo isn't going to solve this problem, and as much as Blue is the color of trickery, it's odd that there's never been a goblin ambush of any sort. With Flash, a number of Red's core creature staples can be reshaped into more appealing forms, forms that act when you aren't expecting. Something like Viashino Spearhunter need not be just a piddling little critter incapable of doing as its title suggests; blessed with Flash, the Spearhunter suddenly has the capacity to actually hunt down unsuspecting two-toughness creatures. Imagine the flavor of a Berserker, like M12's Stormblood Berserker, except gifted with both Flash and Bloodthirst, providing new dimensions to how Red can use instant-speed burn and showcasing a bloodthirst that exists beyond a single turn. A shift of this sort resonates with the philosophy of the color without resorting to unnecessary invention or remolding existing functions, like looting.


Pausing here for the time being, I'll finishing things up later in the week with descriptions of the other four groupings and post various designs derived from this exercise.


  1. I read up to the point that you put Blue as present instead of future, and red as future instead of present.

  2. This is definitely the bluest article I've ever read about red.
    Functionally, haste and flash are very similar. Do we really want to put such similar abilities in the same color?

  3. B-b-b-but it's not just about Red!

    Yes, Haste and Flash can function very similar, and something like Flash Spearhunter is mostly like putting Shock on a creature, but I do think it's a solid foundation to start building a better Red that isn't just BURN BURN BURN.

    And I get that Blue is technically the only color that we should ever consider as having anything to do with time, Time Warp and all that, but this is a thought exercise, not a revision of the Ten Commandments.

    Consider that most of Blue's common abilities (bounce, counterspells, tapping, and "freezing") are all rooted in destabilizing and restricting the opponent from progress. It's faculty with card-draw is certainly a strong connection to "the future", but I'm trying to explore an alternative perspective.

  4. It's a good point, though, that red's primary concern is the present. What do I want *now*? Future consequences are unimportant, as long as the moment's urges are satisfied.

  5. Red had zero direct damage effects in Arabian Nights, and in Homelands it only had one direct damage effect at common. The current crysis is because Mark Rosewater took away all effects from red because he didn't like them in that color, and moved the remaining ones at uncommon because he thought they were too good at common. Red also used to have a lot of creature types, nowadays is filled with goblins.

  6. While I agree with others that blue is more concerned with the future than red, all I meant by my comment was that the article is very high-falutin' as if it was written by a mono-blue author.

    I cling to the last paragraph because that's the one I definitely understood and it proposes an actual plan we can weigh the pros and cons against.

    I agree that flash would have been a good alternate path for red in a Planar Chaos sense, but haste is far too well established in red to add (or replace it with) flash.

    Dr Jones point about Arabian Nights made me curious so I looked it up. Man, that is a TINY set. 78 cards. Wow. Evading burn in just 11 red cards is less impressive than it sounded.

    Homelands red has little burn, but it's also a terrible set and shouldn't be used as a positive example of anything. That said, I still wholly support Metaghost and DrJones' goal of giving red different things to do.

    One thing we've seen more of in the last few years is the +2/+0 effect, of which I approve.

  7. I want to make clear that this essay is intentionally trying to operate with a degree of independence from strict oversight by the color philosophies outlined by Rosewater.

    When we say "red is concerned with the present and blue is concerned with the future", we're referencing the ideal described in those various Rosewater articles for how they should operate, and yes they do tend to behave precisely how he intends them to. (Typically shifting only when development decides to do otherwise.)

    But as I expressed in the Future | Life paragraph, I want the reader (you guys) to willfully re-frame your interpretation of elements of each color, just for a minute.

    This alternate perspective isn't necessarily rational, but I felt it was one that could result in some interesting benefits.

  8. When Red casts a mana ritual, it can be interpreted as caring about the present at the cost of the future, or it can be interpreted as trying to get to the future stage quicker.

    When Blue counters a spell, it can be interpreted as buying time to build up to the future/protecting the things it built up, or it can be interpreted as maintaining the present (the status quo.)

    So there's a side to this that I can agree to.

    But I'm not sure how to best apply this for expanding Red's abilities. The graveyard part looks good - recovering instants and sorceries, or counting the things you've destroyed.