Exploring Wedges

Posted in Limited Information on August 27, 2014

By Marshall Sutcliffe

Marshall came back to Magic after discovering Limited and never looked back. He hosts the Limited Resources podcast and does Grand Prix and Pro Tour video commentary.

Khans of Tarkir is nearly upon us, with preview cards coming next week. It's (almost) the most exciting time of the year to be a Magic player. (And if you read Mark Rosewater's article this week, you'll know that we'll be experiencing more of this time of year in the future, too!)

This week gives us some time to explore the nature of the new set and how it's broken down. We'll be talking about a concept called "wedges."

If you look at the back of a Magic card, you'll see the five colors represented as little dots in a pentagon formation.

If you want to group the colors of Magic in groups of three, you only have a few ways to do it. The simplest way to look at this is by choosing one core color, then pairing two other colors with it.

So if we choose white as the core color, we see that white's friendly colors (the colors right next to it on the color pie) are green and blue.

The other option for white as a main color is to group it with its enemy colors: those opposite it on the color pie. In this case, they are red and black. We just made a wedge!

If we go around the wheel, we see that we get five different three-color pieces of the pie, which are called wedges because of the shape they make if you draw a line connecting the three colors.

Rewind

The first set I truly understood drafting after coming back to the game was Shards of Alara. Shards had a similar theme behind it: three-color groups of cards. People have been clamoring for the wedges we discussed ever since Shards block, and they are finally here!

We even get spiffy new names for them:

  • Abzan are white-black-green. (Colloquially, this was called "Junk" or "Doran")
  • Jeskai are blue-red-white.
  • Sultai are black-green-blue. ("BUG" was the shorthand name)
  • Mardu are red-white-black.
  • Temur are green-blue-red. ("RUG" for short, previously)

I'm happy we have these names, as they will be much easier to say and identify going forward. As someone who spends a good deal of time in a commentary booth for Magic, this will make my life a lot easier.

But I'm even happier we get a three-colored block again.

Shards of Alara was a deep and interesting set, and I have high expectations for Khans of Tarkir as a result. Sets based on three-color chunks of the color pie are complex. There are a lot of moving pieces for the design and development teams in R&D to juggle. The number one issue they face is allowing us Limited players to cast our spells. In a set laid out like Khans is, it's likely we see plenty of gold multicolored cards, and even some that are all three colors at once.

Remember this guy?

Building three-color decks in Limited can be tricky, as can making enough fixing available to facilitate it.

The R&D team has to walk a fine line here. If the mana fixing becomes too good, or too important, it can creep into first-pick territory for Booster Draft.

This isn't a great thing, as spending first picks on mana fixing cards isn't too exciting. I want to take big, sweet, bombs or ruthless removal spells with my early picks. Or even a build-around-me uncommon. I don't want to feel compelled to take mana fixing cards or lands this early.

I'm going to keep a close eye on how they tackled this challenge for Khans. There are many ways they could go with it, most of which we probably haven't even seen yet. In Shards of Alara, the main mana fixing came in two cycles; the "tri-lands" and the Obelisks:

There was one Obelisk for each shard at common, and one land at uncommon. The Obelisks never crept up into first-pick range, and that was a good thing. They did see plenty of play, however, which I thought was the perfect place for them to exist. The lands started out as low picks and crept steadily up the chain, falling just short of first-pick quality. (To be honest, they did get first-picked sometimes, but it wasn't like you felt compelled to do so).

I thought combining this common and uncommon cycle, plus the other mana-fixing options, made for a fun and dynamic Limited environment.

You could draft a two-color deck or a three-color deck. You could go deep and move in on four or five colors, too, if you were feeling brave. It was a beautifully balanced set in that way.

The challenge is similar for Khans of Tarkir. Will we see Obelisks and tri-lands? Or maybe something new? Will two-color decks be good and available to draft, or will you be heavily incentivized to be in three colors?

Time will tell.

The Clans of Tarkir

In Shards of Alara, the flavor of the set was something like posing the question, "What would a world look like with two colors of mana missing?"

What a fascinating idea for a set.

In Grixis (this is the blue-black-red shard), for example, the question was, "What would a world without green or white look like?"

As it turns out, pretty nasty. With no green mana to produce life and vitality, everything rotted into skulking corpses, zombies, and slithering poisonous things. With no white mana to bring order, the world became a barren landscape of deception and terror. Not a good vacation spot in any case.

Art by Noah Bradley

In Khans of Tarkir, it looks like the world is based around some clans of beings who leverage the mana they have access to in order to maintain presence or even dominate the landscape.

Instead of focusing on what a world would look like with something missing, it seems the focus is on what is most central to these three-color groupings.

Here is what we know for now:

  • The Abzan Houses (White-Black-Green) are all about the long game; endurance. They want to outlast any opposing forces.
  • The Jeskai Way (Blue-Red-White) prefer deception and cunning to get the job done. Once you get the opponent off balance, victory is inevitable.
  • The Sultai Brood (Black-Green-Blue) are into being ruthless, as if there were any other way to be.
  • The Mardu Horde (Red-White-Black) are all about speed and quickness. They figure if they can beat you fast, and nothing else matters.
  • The Temur Frontier (Green-Blue-Red) self-identify with savagery, whatever that means.

Each clan has a leader—called a khan—as well. I'll let my fellow columnists go deep on the khans, as I don't have any information on them and I am assuming we won't see them in Limited all that often.

These clans have cool themes and allow us to identify with them. They are similar to the guilds of Ravnica, in that we as players can also figure out how we relate to each one. I'm all about Temur, because savagery.

Soon

The funny thing is that I would be totally fine if the set played out just like Shards of Alara, but with the wedges as the base instead of the shards. I know this won't happen, but when it comes to three-color sets, I'm just happy to be here.

The thing I'm most looking forward to is the presence of three-color spells at common and uncommon. I really hope there are a bunch of them floating around like there were in Shards. They make such interesting risk/reward propositions in the draft portion (or sealed deck build) and in the game as well.

Plus they are just straight-up powerful, and powerful is fun.

Join me next week for our first wave of Khans of Tarkir preview cards!

@Marshall_LR

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