The Decline of Blue

Posted in Latest Developments on August 15, 2003

After reading the emails that came in after his Monday column was posted, Mark Rosewater let me know in no uncertain terms what I needed to talk about today. Many of you echoed the sentiment expressed by coleoptera on the message boards:

it's blue week! hooray! maybe he'll explain why blue sucks so much now.

Fair enough, I’ll do my best. (Note, by the way, that this subject is much more appropriate for my column than Mark’s. It’s the developers who tweak all the numbers on the cards and thereby decide at what power level everything winds up.)

First of all, in most environments blue isn’t actually bad right now. In Type 1 it’s by far the best color and I don’t think anything R&D does is ever going to change that. In Extended it’s not as clear which color is the best, but blue is clearly more powerful than at least white and green. Even in Standard, the rumors of the death of blue have been greatly exaggerated.

Goodbye, good blue Seventh Edtion cards.

I don’t mean to make light of this comment, because there is definitely some truth behind it, but I do think it’s important to keep things in perspective. The blue cards in the Onslaught block are indeed at a lower power level than the cards in the other colors. In addition, the blue cards in Eighth Edition are a good bit weaker than the blue cards that were in Seventh Edition. However, despite these handicaps blue still appears to be the best color in the Standard constructed format. The best deck at last week’s World Championships was a blue-white-green control deck based around the familiar recipe of card drawing, permission, and Wrath of God.

Despite the dominance of Mirari's Wake decks at Worlds and despite the 10-year domination of most constructed formats by this one color, it does look like things may be about to change (in Standard, anyway). Most of the good blue cards that are getting played in Standard nowadays are from the Odyssey Block, and thus they are slated to rotate out of the environment on October 20. In addition, you won’t see very many Islands if you check out the Onslaught Block Constructed Pro Tour Qualifier season that is going on right now.

For the last year whenever anyone has asked me whether we’ve ever going to print any good blue cards again, I have given them the same half-joke/half-truth answer: “We’ll print good blue cards as soon as we see evidence that blue is actually bad in the real world.”

I say “half-truth” because we’ve actually been trying to lower the power level of blue for quite some time. We made a conscious effort during the entire Odyssey Block to make the blue cards a bit worse because we were concerned that blue was too good in the Invasion block. Oops. Our efforts during the Onslaught Block sure look like they were more successful, but I’ll feel better when a major Standard tournament goes by where the pros didn’t uncover some mistake that we made on a blue card.

I say “half-joke” because we don’t actually want blue (or any color) to be so bad that it’s irrelevant to constructed. Magic is and should be a five-color game. Things would be less interesting and less fun if there were only four colors and while we do think it’s ok for some colors to be better or worse than other colors at any given time, we don’t think any color should ever be so bad that it’s unplayable.

What’s going on with blue right now is that it has pretty much never been a weak color. In the 10-year history of the game, blue decks have always been good. We think blue is long overdue to take its turn as a weak color so we’re going out of our way to make it worse than it has been in the past. Eventually, as with most things in Magic, the pendulum will swing back the other way and blue will be good again. For now though, we’re definitely looking forward to seeing how the environment works without Counterspell or any other super-efficient permission spells.

Coming soon... Goodbye, good blue Obyssey Block cards.

Note that it is permission in particular that has really been whacked with the nerf stick in Onslaught and Eighth. Other aspects of blue (like card drawing and deck manipulation) are still relatively fine. In the upcoming Mirrodin Block, permission will still be weak but other aspects of blue will get played up instead. Hopefully, the result is that a weak set of blue cards from the Onslaught Block will combine with an average-but-different set of blue cards from Mirrodin and the result will be a Standard environment where blue is playable, but below average and permission is at a low enough level that slow decks full of interesting but expensive cards can flourish. Then we can decide when we’re developing the “Earth” block what we want to do for next year.

We don’t normally like to isolate any particular color and target it to be either really good or really bad. We know that you guys don’t want us to build your decks for you or tell you what cards you should play with so we normally attempt to have all the colors be approximately the same strength (knowing that random errors will result in our desired situation of having one color be a little better for a while, but then later something else rises while it falls). However, with blue we have been missing high for so long that we decided to violate our policy and we specifically aimed it low. Based on the early results (especially Pro Tour – Venice) I’m currently happy with our decision, but obviously this is the kind of thing that we’ll be constantly studying and reevaluating.

So that’s what’s up … yes we have been making blue worse, but it needed it and it’s not going to last forever.


Last Week’s Poll Results:

Will you watch the Worlds webcast?
Yes - live 1869 24.4%
Maybe 1728 22.5%
Yes - archive 1718 22.4%
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No - no interest 771 10.1%
Total 7663 100.0%

In case you haven’t noticed the links on the front page of MagicTheGathering.com or the Sideboard, here’s a convenient place to click if you want to check out the broadcast.


Randy may be reached at latestdevelopments@wizards.com. 

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