Resurrecting Flying Men

Posted in Latest Developments on May 10, 2002

By Randy Buehler

This week’s article combines a Judgment preview with some more conversation about the Mechanics Pie. Suntail Hawk may look small, but there’s a lot going on with this 1/1 creature.

There have been a couple 1/1 fliers for one mana over the years, but it’s been quite a while since we printed one without a drawback. Blue is the color that has always seemed like the right home for it, since blue has always been the best flying color, but blue isn’t supposed to get good weenies. Back in Arabian Nights, blue got Flying Men, but as Wizards came to understand power level and the flavor of the colors better, Flying Men never got reprinted. (Scryb Sprites also disappeared, because green should have to pay heavily for flying.) Eventually, Cloud Sprite was printed and it looked like there would never be another “flying man.”

However, when we were working on Judgment, we knew we wanted to give white some good cards and white weenies have often been among the best cards white has. During our ongoing pie discussion we had already decided that white should get the best weenies in the game. Previously, we had been thinking of green as “the” creature color and so it was getting the best creatures up and down the mana curve. Really, though, green should get the best fatties and white should get the best weenies. Creatures are simply too important to Magic to give one color all the best ones.

So enjoy your Wild Mongrels and Basking Rootwallas while you still can because they’re a bit better than what we plan to give to green in the future. For 2 mana, green isn’t going to do much better than good old Grizzly Bears and the only really good 1-drops green should get are fatty-enablers (like Llanowar Elves or Birds of Paradise). I don’t really regret us giving green some really good weenies -- we developed them at a time when green wasn’t super-strong in Constructed. If you’ve been around for a while you probably remember hearing the cries that “R&D hates green!” Well those cries seem to have died out now. We kept pushing green cards and pushing green cards until we found out what it takes to make them good in Constructed. Since green had really never been on top before, we felt we were better off erring on the side of green being too good for a little while rather than continuing to be weak. Well... mission accomplished, and then some. We now know that it’s very possible to make green good. In fact, we can now conclude that if we give green all the best creatures -- weenies and fatties -- that it’s too good.

Now we’ve turned our attention to white. It’s going to be hard to make white truly the best weenie color until the current crop of great green weenies rotates out, but we think we can at least make it competitive and going forward we can put it on top. Suntail Hawk showcases this new philosophy. We first put it into the Judgment file because we figured even though white wasn’t the best flying color, it’s so good at weenies that it can afford to pay white’s price for flying and still have enough "money" left over for a full 1/1 body. (To extend the analogy: blue gets flying pretty cheap, but being 1/1 for just is so expensive that you can’t get a 1/1 flier without a drawback.)

Later, as we continued talking about the pie, we kept coming back to the fact that blue has too much and white has too little. But what could we switch from blue to white? We entertained some radical suggestions (and still are entertaining some -- this process is far from over). Someone said, “What about flying?” and initially this suggestion was stopped dead in its tracks by Elaine Chase, who replied simply, “But the sky is blue!” Her logic was pretty much unassailable, but after failing to come up with any other easy or elegant answers we came back to flying. It’s always been kind of weird that blue has these really efficient fliers when blue isn’t supposed to be a creature color. Meanwhile, we don’t get to make as many good fliers as we might otherwise like because we’re constantly fighting to keep blue from becoming too powerful.

Serra Angel and Air Elemental illustrate the new perceived power level of white's flyers versus blue's.

The solution to all of this is to make white the best flying color. Blue should still have a bunch of fliers, in fact it will probably continue to have more fliers than white. However, white’s fliers (especially the small ones) are going to be better than blues (because white is one of the two best creature colors while blue is the worst creature color -- I’ll stop repeating myself, sorry). Basically, Air Elemental will be the top of the line for what we give blue, but white gets 4/4 flying for 5 plus an ability... “does not tap to attack,” for example. The more I think about this set-up the more I like it. It makes blue’s flavor a lot more consistent: instead of “blue’s creatures tend to be weak except for the fliers” we have “don’t play blue for creatures.” In addition, since white just has less going on than blue, this will allow us to make better (and hopefully more interesting) fliers than before. Instead of Serra Angel being way out of line with what white normally gets, Serra fits right onto the curve and we might even be able to do something better someday.

In addition to Suntail Hawk, you can also see this philosophy in evidence on Commander Eesha, also in Judgment. We’re not done dividing up the pie yet, but I do think this is a step in the right direction.

This week’s article includes a special bonus poll -- two opportunities to tell R&D that we’re off our rocker. What do you think?

Meanwhile, here are the results of last week’s poll:

Which Wish do you want to play with?
Golden 365 8%
Cunning 1036 22%
Death 597 13%
Burning 564 12%
Living 1609 35%
None 479 10%
Total 4650 100%

I guess the wish that will be most sought after at next weekend’s pre-release is the green one.

Randy may be reached at

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