Thursday, December 29, 2011

More like Doom'nt Blade!

I thought I liked Doom Blade. It's a cleaner, simpler version of black's most iconic removal spell and that's got to be a good thing, right? It has recently occurred to me that no, it's not.

Terror has great flavor. It kills by scaring the life out of you, literally. It can't kill black creatures because they're too scary to be frightened like that (or too familiar with black's scare tactics). It can't kill artifacts because they have no emotions to break. And you can't regenerate from it because it doesn't destroy your body, but your mind.

In being black's first great removal spell, Terror set a natural precedent that would be followed by Dark Banishing and countless other spells all the way through Doom Blade. The trouble is, they followed blindly. Almost none of them have the same scare-to-death flavor and can't actually justify the "non-black" restriction.

You might argue that black doesn't kill its own. And historically speaking, you'd be right. Problem is, history was wrong. If you consider the color pie philosophy of each color, black is the color most ready to kill its own. Remember that black will do anything for power including sacrificing its own creatures and destroying anyone that opposes it. Red and green are neutral in regards to killing their own: they value the battle or the hunt first and are not afraid to die in honorable combat to a stronger foe. Blue is friend to no one, but would rather not die and knows that other blue individuals feel the same, forging an implicit alliance between them. Further, blue looks down on the more primal, less educated colors causing it to discriminate against them where it has a natural respect for other scholarly blue entities.

White is the color least inclined to kill its own or, if you prefer, most inclined to make exceptions for creatures of its own color because it believes in community and in righteousness. White believes that it is pure and holy and it is white's duty to purge the world of what is corrupt and unholy. If anyone should target non-same-color regularly, it's white. Cards like Judge Soul show how white judges the world, discriminating against other colors simply because white only knows that white is above judgment; everyone else must be impure by nature of the fact they're not white—and therefore it is right to destroy them.

Stupid real-world analogy.

Ahem. So, what kind of removal should black get? Black should be opportunistic, destroying creatures when they're not prepared to defend themselves: Assassinate. Black should cause weakness and despair: Last Gasp. Black should spread disease: Necrotic Plague, Spread the Sickness. Black should prey on the weak: Smother. Black should pay any price to kill whomever it pleases: Vendetta (minus the nonblack clause), Disembowel, Bone Splinters. Black should kill indiscriminately: Mutilate, Damnation. And Black should force you to pay the ultimate price: Cruel Edict, Innocent Blood.

That's not meant to be an exhaustive/restrictive list, because black can be creative in its destructiveness and cards like Terror that resonate not only flavor to mechanic but with the black philosophy and with means that are unique to black mana should thrive and keep things interesting. Cards derivative of a mechanical/flavor that is now absent, however elegant like Doom Blade, must not. To be clear, I love how clean and concise Doom Blade is, but I hate that its flavor doesn't match its text and that it is so contrary to black's philosophy.


  1. I would like nothing more than a card that said "Destroy target creature."

  2. There's another purpose for Doom Blade's existence. It helps make the power of Black creatures self-balancing, to a degree. The more people play Doom Blade, the better it is to play black creatures, which then makes Doom Blade much worse. Which means people stop playing Doom Blade so much. Which means black creatures aren't as strong anymore. And so on, and so on. It's a way to have black removal that is objectively strong, but still has a fluctuating power level within the metagame, and doesn't dictate so strongly which creatures are actually viable to be played or not (such as the "Dismember test" for example).

  3. Black has had a lot of "destroy target non-X creature" over the years, where X is black, artifact, elf, spirit, snow, etc. I think the Terror/Doom Blade design is enduring not for flavor reasons, but because gameplay is more interesting if most removal spells can't quite answer everything.

    That said, I've always found it surprising that there is no spell whose text is simply, "destroy target creature."

  4. Go for the Throat is the better version of Doom Blade, in my opinion. It has the same flavorful resonance as Terror, but goes in the opposite direction; it CAN be regenerated from, since it hits the body (not the mind), and it doesn't work on artifacts because they don't have a throat to slit.

  5. Isn't the flavor of Doom Blade that it is the Void coming through and cutting out the lifeforce of living creatures? The nonblack component is admittedly intentionally mechanical, but since black's creatures (speaking generically) represent the non-living, I don't the flavor is off.

    It's true that there's occasionally those moments where your 1B Doom Blade can kill your 8CC creature, but that's not altogether a bad thing. While "bad removal is sometimes good design", having a healthy amount of good-but-not-great removal can really make a set much more livable in limited.

    I also have to wonder, the more you make black removal a "prey on the weak" focus, how do you differentiate black and red removal? Isn't the paragon of that discussion the fact that Doom Blade can kill creatures indeterminate of their size?

    To build on what Alex said- having Doom Blade is great because it's an answer to a lot of cards, but is easily answered itself. Black creature's are generally weaker than white's and so seeing Judge Soul makes me a little wary.

    I feel like we're in similar territory to the "why does white have Wrath when it also has weenies" debate, where the real answer is that that tension is good for the color and good for Magic as a whole.

    (tldr; "I disagree, homes.")

  6. The designer of Terror might not have intended that other future Black kill spells would work that way.

    But even without the "scare a creature" flavor, I think it's a very flavorful restriction on an abstract level. When Black mages have trouble handling Black threats, it feels like, "Those who wield dark power will also die by dark power."

    Stories are full of people being betrayed by some sinister ritual or contract they've used to gain power. That's what the color restriction represents to me, rather than meaning that Black cares about its own creatures. That might also be part of the reason why there are many powerful Swampwalk creatures.

    That said, I do agree that the color restriction fits White's flavor better, where you can have a more direct flavor of protecting one's own.

    It must have stuck in Black not just because of flavor tradition, but because it's a good balancing tool.

    Magic requires removal to function and play well. That's where a lot of the interaction and choice-making comes from. But cheap, catch-all removal cards would make proactive strategies very bad, so each removal must handle only a limited range of things. The non-Black clause must have remained because it's a convenient way to achieve that.

    It may be interesting to try to discover another flavorful targeting limitation for Black. However, I suspect it would be very difficult to find something that can be ported onto many different cards.

  7. I agree with Duncan. I'd love to see:

    Destroy target creature.

  8. I like Go for the Throat. It's as simple and as effective as Doom Blade, but the flavor fits well. It's a simple but important distinction.

    Doom Blade /is/ somewhat self-balancing in Constructed, but so is Judge Soul, for the exact same reason. I see no cost in swapping them (apart from the need to change other removal in black and white to level-set).

    I very much like Chah's argument for Doom Blade, "Those who wield dark power will also die by dark power." If there's any defense for Doom Blade, this is it.

    I approve of Kill et al, provided it is expensive.