Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Mark Rosewater, Please Read This Article: Differentiating Green and White

[This series consists of articles about the future of Magic.  Because they are intended partly as feedback for R&D, they contain no original designs.]

I'm thinking of a color. 

It likes playing lots of creatures, including tokens. It likes pumping these creatures as well, both temporarily and permanently. It sometimes gives them vigilance or untaps them. It tends to be good with enchantments. It gains life at the drop of a hat, and can prevent damage to itself or its creatures. It can destroy both artifacts and enchantments easily, but has less direct methods for handling enemy creatures.  

As you've probably guessed, the previous paragraph could refer to either green or white. If you try writing a similar description for any other color pair, you'll quickly realize that it's much harder.  Green and white have a huge number of overlapping effects, and that's a problem.

Colors should not be that similar. It would be far better to divvy up the color pie in such a way that they each feel genuinely different. Having colors this close also leads to awkward gold cards: why isn't Coursers' Accord mono-green? Why isn't Leonin Armorguard mono-white? Why isn't Rhox Bodyguard hybrid?

Admit it. This card makes way more sense.
Bringing G/W down to the level of overlap of other pairs would require copious changes to the color pie. I don't know whether that's feasible. However, there is a straightforward first step: remove White's ability to destroy artifacts.

I'm not suggesting White should lose artifact removal altogether; cards like Oblivion Ring and Soul Tithe wouldn't read well if they dealt with "nonland, nonartifact" permanents. But R&D often prints Disenchant effects with the text "artifact or enchantment". It would be a piece of cake to strike those first two words.
Fixed!  (Though I suppose this should cost W.)
Why do I want to take this ability out of White? Three big reasons:
  1. It would help differentiate White and Green.
  2. It would make artifact destruction less commonplace and therefore more valuable in red. Anything that will make Red's common effects more meaningful is worth considering!
  3. It would bring white removal more in line with the "answerable effect" (Fiend Hunter / Oblivion Ring / Faith's Fetters) model. One cannot claim with a straight face that White's answers have answers while simultaneously printing cards like Divine Offering.
Readers, what do you think? Should R&D finish what they started when they first printed Naturalize? I say yes.


  1. Sounds very good to me. They're scaling done white's artifact removal already (Erasure and War Priest of Thune come to mind), and making red's commons more meaningful seems a very nice side effect.

  2. Isn't that what' they've been doing in core-sets for a while now? In M13, there is no way for mono-white to destroy artifacts outside of O-Ring, and the only white artifact destruction in the current Standard environment is Sundering Growth, a Hybrid card. In fact, there are 7 Red Artifact destruction spells to Green's 5.

    This post also seems to be very reductionist on how Green and white share mechanics. While they do a lot of similar concepts, their executions are very different.

    1. There's also Banishing Stroke, Devout Chaplain, Soul Tithe, and Planar Cleansing. White's not exactly hurting for artifact removal.

      I admit that the comparison between green and white was simplified for rhetorical effect. But I do believe they are too close right now.

  3. Yes.

    I also think that white should get lifelink and gain life through creatures, but green can get direct lifegain. The reason I feel for that is firstly, you want to separate the two forms of lifegain. One through creatures and one through direct spells makes sense. Usually, green would be the one to get something through creatures, but here I feel it would be a mistake because white wants some bonus for having creatures fight, and lifelink works well. Secondly, allow direct lifegain in green means that green's lifegain comes from lands, which makes so much flavour sense. It's nice for green to have something that *aren't* triggered off creatures, and this would work because if green has no creatures out, this is what it needs, lifegain. Green doesn't need lifegain when its creatures are out because it's got the biggest guys and you're not getting through. White has lots of little guys racking up an advantage and buying you time. I think it'd be a nice split between the two.

    I'd also do something a bit more radical; I'd move tapping down a creature to green and out of white. Green tapping creatures is a great trick for evasion and makes a lot of flavour sense with vines and getting lost in the forest. I think it works better than Fog. White also doesn't really need the tapping as it can exile things temporarily. Tapping would give green an answer to creatures that doesn't let it destroy them.

    Finally, I'd give white a lot more indestructible abilities. Green regenerates, but white is indestructible.

    That's something I'd think about, anyhow. They're too similar, while Blue/Black and Blue/Red aren't similar enough.

    1. Nice thoughts! I particularly like the idea that white gains life through creatures but green does it through spells.

    2. I particularly like green tappers, although I must admit that they fit rather well in white's "teamwork" theme.

    3. Words of Wisdom!

  4. It seems like recently in constructed, green ramp has been a powerful strategy that makes the color play differently than white. Sometimes that style of play is available in limited, and it seems like it's most effective when your ramp cards also let you survive the early game (Overgrown battlement and eldrazi spawn in ROE, Axebane guardian in RTR). Emphasizing that kind of green ramp seems like another good way to differentiate how the colors play.

  5. Moving forward, should cards like Rootborn Defenses and Druid's Deliverance be switched? The former seems green - keeping indestructible more common in green and very sparse in white seems like due diligence; while the latter seems white, as it's not even a Fog - it's just preventing damage to YOU.

    We can imagine that Golgari having access to Deliverance and Azorius having access to Defenses was important for some Development reason, but it still seems like an oversight.

    Or is it? Maro's said that Holy Days are a thing of the past (though Safe Passage's return is odd there), and amateur designers love to put Indestructible all over white. Like hexproof, should we just be vigilant about how we show "white protects its own"? Is Indestructible broadly in white now? Should it be?

    1. Since green has Regenerate, I think white needs Indestructible more. More broadly, I think "save all my creatures" belongs in white more, and "save my one creature" belongs in green more.

      I definitely think Fog should be green and not white, since white is a more aggressive color, whereas green needs time to get its fatties online.

  6. I feel like the distinction between indestructible and regeneration is a little weak. What is the real play difference between

    "Maro is indestructible" and "0: regenerate Maro."

    or between

    "2G: regenerate Maro" and "2G: Maro becomes indestructible until end of turn"

    Sure, the indestructible version is better in a few ways

    1. you don't have to activate it more than once,
    2. you don't have to tap the creature,
    3. it's immune to "it can't be regenerated" kill spells (which are admittedly rarer and rarer) and....
    4. as a bonus it's easier for new players to grasp and...
    5. it sounds sexier (debatable)

    The indestructible version is potentially worse in only one way
    1. you don't remove damage, so if the creature somehow loses its ability, it will die

    In the vast majority of cases, the mechanics play the same way. What's the difference between Rootborn Defense and Wrap in Vigor? Not much. Until Wizards prints a mechanic that cares about the amount of damage on a creature, there won't be a difference. Both make the creature hard to destroy.

    Traditionally, Wizards has given regeneration to creatures when it wants its "hard-to-destroyness" to be limited to an activated ability and given indestructible to creatures where you pay for all the "hard-to-destroyness" up front. This is a nice distinction, but I really don't see a problem throwing "2G: Maro becomes indestructible until end of turn" on green creatures instead of regeneration. I believe Wizards has complained in the past about the complexity of regeneration, right?

    I think a better solution to this issue of differentiating Green and White is to give "hard-to-destroyness" to one and then give some good graveyard recursion to the other. Either I have the ability to reincarnate my dudes, or they're so resilient they don't wind up there in the first place.

    But wait. Both Green and White HAVE some amount of graveyard recursion already (you can add that to your initial list, HV). So, if I had the power, I'd give the "hard-to-destroyness" to Green and more (albeit limited) recursion to White. The flavor fit seems better. Green's dudes are tough and relentless. Hu-Hah! White's guys, on the other hand, are just as relentless as Green's but, well, mama (that is, YOU the player) have to take care of them (and constantly revive them).

    But wait! The "circle of life" flavor of Green NEEDS some sort of creature recursion! Or does it? What happens when a creature dies in the natural world? It rots, guys. It doesn't come back to life. I like the idea of Green using creatures in the yard as a resource, but without directly getting them back (think Scavenge, Delve, and cards like Repopulate rather than Dredge and Unearth).

    1. One of the good things about regeneration is that it only prevents the next creature death. It's possible to kill a creature through regeneration mana if you do it enough times. Activated indestructibility wouldn't work that way.

      I like your thoughts on breaking up graveyard recursion, although taking Regrowth effects out of green is pretty painful.