Acts of Destruction

Posted in Making Magic on August 11, 2014

By Mark Rosewater

Working in R&D since '95, Mark became Magic head designer in '03. His hobbies: spending time with family, writing about Magic in all mediums, and creating short bios.

Welcome to Annihilation Week. In honor of From the Vault: Annihilation, this week is dedicated to all things destructive. I thought of various topics to talk about, and in the end, I decided to talk about one of my favorite things—the Magic color pie. I am going to spend today's column looking at each color and talk about how it "destroys" things. I often talk about the color pie in general terms, but today I'll be going in depth on one particular aspect.

Before I begin, let me explain that to cover the breadth of the topic I am going to be talking about permanent destruction in the broader sense (meaning, what can each color do to deal with each permanent type) and not specifically how each color "destroys" permanents in the technical sense of the word "destroy," which in Magichas a particular meaning.

Let's begin, as we most often do in design, with white. R&D's files go white, blue, black, red, green, or WUBRG (pronounced "wooberg").

White

Destroy or exile attacking or blocking creature

White has a strong sense of morality, so it feels it's important to create a strict code about when it's okay to destroy another creature. As you'll see, white has come up with numerous ways to justify its actions. The first involves combat. As far as white is concerned, all's fair in love and war (well, war at least). If you attack white or block white, your creature has gotten itself involved in the fight and thus it's okay for white to destroy it.

Direct damage to attackers and/or blockers

This is a variation of the last category for white to deal with pesky attackers and blockers, except it uses direct damage instead of destruction. The biggest limitation here is that as the destruction is damaged based, it doesn't work as well on tougher creatures.

Destroying creatures that have damaged you and/or your creatures

One of white's philosophies is what R&D calls the "don't mess with me and my people" rule. This is very similar to what you will see with white knights or the Federation on Star Trek. White sees itself as the good guy, so it doesn't like "shooting first," but as soon as the opponent's creature takes a swipe at either the white mage or his or her creatures, white is in the clear to destroy it.

Destroy a creature with power 4 or greater

As the color of the "little guy," white gets a "David vs. Goliath" flavor that allows it to destroy large creatures, almost always defined as power 4 or greater.

Destroy tapped creature

White can destroy creatures that attack it or creatures that target it. As the net result of both of these things (most of the time) is tapping the creature, destroying tapped creatures is done from time to time as a simple version.

I personally am not a huge fan of these type of cards because they allow white to destroy creatures that tap solely to help an opponent without threatening the white player in any way, which feels a little off.

Destroy a black and/or red creature

White considers black and red evil and dangerous. As such, white feels justified from time to time preemptively ridding the world of evil and/or dangerous creatures. Note that this is done infrequently and more often is used against black than red.

Redirect damage

Another way white can destroy a creature is by redirecting damage to it. This plays directly into white's flavor of letting the opponent make the first attack.

Destroy target creature and give reparations

White is allowed to destroy a creature (usually any creature) and then give the controller of that creature something of value to make up for the loss.

This is another category I'm not too fond of, because when pushed, these type of cards allow white to have creature destruction that's the strongest in the game. As white is supposed to be weaker than black (and one could argue red) in this area, it has in the past warped the color pie. Swords to Plowshares, from Alpha, is the poster child of this problem.

Board sweeper (sometime with exclusions)

Besides having the ability to destroy individual creatures, white is one of the colors that gets to destroy all creatures (sometimes leaving a subset unscathed). This is flavored as white's sense of balance treating all creatures the same. It also shows a peek at the vengeful part of white.

Having or granting first strike/double strike

Another way white can kill things is to surprise the opponent mid-combat with an ability that grants first strike or double strike to one of its attackers or blockers.

Aura that prevents attacking, blocking, and/or activated abilities

Now we get a little fuzzier. Sometimes, white deals with a creature (and sometimes a permanent) not by removing it from the battlefield but by neutralizing it. Usually, this is done with an Aura. I'm a big fan of this group, as it both feels very flavorful for white to not kill if it doesn't have to and it allows white's answers to have answers, which makes white's removal feel different from the other four colors.

Aura that prevents damage from enchanted permanent

This is an offshoot of the above category. Instead of preventing attacking or blocking, the Aura instead prevents all damage from the enchanted creature. Occasionally, it also prevents damage to the enchanted creature.

Enchantments that tax the actions of the opponent's permanents

Another offshoot of the last two categories is an enchantment (often an Aura but not always) that restricts the use of a permanent (most often a creature but not always) unless the opponent pays a tax (most often mana but not always). This plays into the flavor of white making rules that restrict what others are able to do (aka taxation).

Creature or enchantment that exiles a permanent for as long as it's on the battlefield

This group is for cards that exile a permanent (often a creature, but white can hit any permanent type) when it enters the battlefield and keeps it exiled for as long as the card remains on the battlefield. This is another category that plays up white's "answers that have answers" feel.

Flicker (exile for a short duration) a creature

White is the color of delay, so I'll list this category as a kind of temporary removal. White has the ability to exile a creature until the end of the turn, which can allow white a short-term answer to certain problem permanents.

Destroy or exile an enchantment

White is primary in enchantment destruction and tends to always have a common in each set capable of destroying an enchantment. Unless enchantments are a major theme of the block (as with Theros), these cards tend to be on the weaker side.

Destroy or exile an artifact or enchantment

When the game started, white was the color of "destroy target artifact or enchantment," with the card Disenchant. That ability eventually shifted from primary white to primary green. White is secondary in this ability, which means it tends to do it more often at uncommon and usually at a lower power level than green. The one thing white sometimes does that green usually doesn't is to exile the artifact or enchantment.

Blue

Transform a permanent into another permanent (most often of the same type)

White has many ways to destroy permanents and many more ways to deal with them without destruction. Blue has plenty of the latter but few of the former. This first category can actually be seen as a form of destruction (although we are moving more toward exiling and putting on the bottom of the library over actual destruction) but, flavorfully, is not getting rid of the creature; rather, it is transforming it into a different creature. Usually, when used against the opponent, it is downgrading the creature by taking something dangerous and making it much less so.

Counter a permanent as its being cast

This is one of blue's most efficient ways, long term, to remove a threatening permanent. (Note that blue can also counter nonpermanents, but that's not the topic of today's column.) I often talk about how blue is the most reactive color, and this can be seen in that one of its most potent tools can only be used reactively to the casting of the spell. The pros is that blue has the tools to deal with any type of spell. The cons is that blue has a narrow window during which it can do so.

Return a permanent to its owner's hand

This is another area where blue is king. Blue is able to "bounce" any permanent back to its owner's hand. This then allows blue to use counterspells to stop it, but if blue doesn't have that answer, this category tends to only delay threats rather than get rid of them. Note that bouncing tokens permanently removes them, as they evaporate when they leave play.

Return a permanent to the top of its owner's library

This category is a stronger version of the last one. Blue can not only "bounce" permanents but it can "super bounce" them all the way back to the top of the library they came from.

Steal a creature

This is one of blue's more permanent, nondestructive answers. Why destroy something valuable when you could use it? Over the years, R&D has been moving up the rarity of control effects for Limited, so these days they are mostly seen in rare and mythic rare.

Copy a creature

Sometimes, blue can't steal what it wants, so instead it's forced to copy it. It's a little bit of a stretch thinking of it as destruction, but there are times that blue's only way to deal with a threat is by having the same threat itself. Like stealing effects, copy effects have also been going up in rarity over time.

Force an attack

Another way blue can deal with a creature is to force it to attack into something that will block and kill it. Blue is the secondary color in this ability, with red being primary.

Enchantment that keeps the permanent from untapping

One of blue's most common answers in Limited is an enchantment (usually an Aura) that keeps a permanent (usually a creature) from untapping. Sometimes, the spell taps the permanent when it is played, but not always.

Spell or ability taps a creature and, very often, that permanent can't untap during its next untap

This is an offshoot of the last category, and one that isn't quite as permanent an answer. This ability occasionally is put on permanents that can use the ability multiple times.

An activated ability that taps a creature

This is another offshoot of the last two categories, except it's an activated ability that can be used every turn. The ability most often costs mana to use and, in blue, usually allows the permanent to tap or untap a permanent, most often a creature.

Lowering a creature's power

Blue is the color that gets –N/-0 effects, what R&D nicknames "shrinking." This can be done on an instant, often affecting more than one creature until end of turn. This can also be done with an Aura. Occasionally, it's done with a non-Aura enchantment.

Changing power/toughness

Another trick up blue's sleeve is that it can change the base stats of a creature, making it less of a threat.

Granting illusionary drawback

Blue is the color of illusions, so we have given it what we now call the "illusion drawback" (previously called "skulking" after Skulking Ghost, when the ability was in black), which forces the controller of the creature to sacrifice it if it is ever targeted. Blue has the ability to graft this disability onto the opponent's creatures.

Flicker (exile for a short duration) a creature

I talked about this ability in white above. Blue also has this ability. White has ended up being the primary of this effect, but blue is secondary, so blue has access when it needs it.

Black

Creature destruction

Blue might not be good at destruction, but black definitely is, especially when we're talking about creatures. Black has multiple common creature kill spells in every set. In the past, it used to always have an exception (with "nonblack" being the most popular) but we've been allowing black to have more straight-up kill without exceptions these days.

Granting –N/-N

Black is so good at killing creatures, it has a number of different ways to do it. (Black is king of using death, after all.) Black can also reduce toughness, dropping it to 0 to kill the creature. This is sometimes done through spells or abilities. Other times, black uses Auras, so the bonus sticks around just in case it wasn't enough to kill the creature. Black often reduces power along with toughness.

Destroying damaged creatures

This isn't used as much, but black sometimes kills things that have already been damaged. We make cards like this because it is flavorful and it's good for Limited for not all of black's creature-kill to be so efficient.

Draining creatures

Normally, black destruction doesn't use damage, as that's red's thing, but black does make one exception (okay two—the other one's coming): what players refer to as "draining." These spells deal damage to a creature and then gain you, the caster, an equal amount of life. Back in the day, the life was directly tied to how much damage was actually dealt, but more recent cards just lock in both numbers upon casting.

Forcing sacrifice

But wait, black isn't done yet. Another trick up its sleeve is the ability to make players sacrifice creatures. This is weak against an opponent with a lot of creatures on the battlefield but allows black to kill some creatures it otherwise would have trouble killing (like creatures with protection from black).

Having or granting a creature deathtouch

Deathtouch is one of the tools in black's arsenal. Little creatures can be pretty scary if getting into a fight kills the other creature, no matter how big it is. Another popular black trick is to grant a creature deathtouch (often at instant speed, although black also has its Auras) during combat after attackers and/or blockers are declared.

Destroy all creatures

While white has the more iconic mass-creature-kill spells, black, as the color of creature kill, has no problem killing all (or all but a subset) of the creatures. Black can use any of the various kill methods listed above to do it.

Destroy a creature every turn

Sometimes black likes to take its time killing. This effect goes on a permanent that sits around and kills a creature every turn. R&D refers to these cards as Abysses after the high-profile Legends enchantment that did it first.

Permanent that activates to damage everything

This is something black doesn't do much of anymore, but it plays into black's flavor of being the color of disease.

Enchantment that causes pain when creature attacks or blocks

Sometimes, black likes to torture things rather than just kill them outright. This category has black controlling things through threat of pain rather than just destroying them.

Destroy a Planeswalker

Planeswalker is the one permanent type that only black is able to destroy with a spell or ability. (I guess any color can do it by attacking the Planeswalker with creatures. Okay, and green has an exception I'll get to below.)

Remove all counters

Whether it's removing loyalty counters from a Planeswalker or +1/+1 counters from a 0/0 creature, black can use this ability to kill things.

Destroy a land

Black is secondary in land destruction, along with green, and behind red.

Force a discard

As if killing things isn't enough, black also has one other major weapon in its arsenal to deal with pesky permanents. It gets rid of them before they ever see play. Discard is to black what counterspelling is to blue. It's a universal answer to a whole host of problems.

Red

Deal damage to a creature and/or a Planeswalker

If black is king of creature destruction, red is king of direct damage. In fact, of every mechanic inMagic, red has more direct damage spells per set than any other color has any other mechanic. This is somewhat misleading, though, as red's direct damage is in many ways multiple mechanics. Red's main source of damage is point-based, making its weakness creatures with high toughness.

Deal damage to all creatures and/or all Planeswalkers

Damage can be targeted at a single creature or it can be used to hit multiple creatures, and sometimes all the creatures (even your own). This category is where red gets its "board wipers."

Deal damage, dividing it up

This category is kind of the middle space between the first two. Sometimes, red gets to divvy up its direct damage, often destroying multiple creatures but usually not all.

Destroy a creature with defender

Red doesn't get a lot of creature destruction straight up, but somehow its hatred of things that refuse to fight allows it one exception.

Force two creatures to fight

Red is secondary in fight while green is primary. Red doesn't tend to use it too much, but it is a tool in red's arsenal.

Having or granting first strike or double strike

Just as black has deathtouch to kill its enemies, red has first strike and double strike. One of red's most common combat tricks is to grant first strike or double strike along with some power boosting mid-combat.

Damage other creature when it is damaged

One of the ways red can damage creatures is by giving as good as it gets. This category gets to deal damage for each damage the creature it is on receives.

Doubling damage

This ability is a little bit more roundabout, but it does help enable red's creatures and direct damage to kill creatures they normally couldn't.

Temporarily steal a permanent

Blue gets to permanently steal permanents (usually creatures) but red gets to do it temporarily. This category, combined with sacrifice effects, is a good combo for killing the opponent's creatures.

Force a creature(s) to attack

As the color of emotion, red can stir up creatures and get them to temporarily do things they normally wouldn't—like, say, attack...

Force a creature to block

...or block.

Destroy an artifact

Red is king of artifact destruction. Why? Because blowing stuff up is fun.

Destroy a land

Red is primary in land destruction. We've pulled a bit back on the power level of land destruction but it's still something red gets to do at common. Red has also dipped its toe in mass land destruction.

Green

Force two creatures to fight

One of green's weaknesses is its need to have creatures to destroy the opponent's creatures. The fight mechanic, primary in green, is a great creature answer for green provided, of course, it has the creatures to fight with.

Destroy a flying creature

Green normally doesn't get to destroy creatures, but it has three exceptions: flying creatures, artifact creatures, and enchantment creatures (I'll get to the second and third below). Because green is bad at flying, it has numerous tools to deal with fliers (reach being another one of its big answers).

Have or grant deathtouch

Like black, green has access to the deathtouch keyword. Unlike black, green is much less likely to grant it at instant speed to its creatures.

Force a creature(s) to block

Green might be limited to having to answer the opponent's creatures with its own creatures, but that doesn't mean green doesn't have a few ways to do it. Another way to make creatures fight is to force it to happen in combat. Green has a bunch of different types of effects in this category. It can force a target creature to block, it can force a creature of the opponent's choice to block, or it can force all creatures to block.

Destroy an artifact and/or enchantment

As far as destruction goes, where green shines is in what R&D calls the Naturalize effect—that is, destroying an artifact or enchantment. White is primary at enchantment destruction and red is primary at artifact destruction, but green is primary in the effect that does either. Note that, back in the day, this used to be white's domain. Also, as I pointed out above, this allows green to kill artifact creatures and enchantment creatures.

Destroy a land

Green is secondary in land destruction along with black. It doesn't get as much land destruction as red, but it shows up from time to time.

Destroy a noncreature permanent

There are some who argue green is primary in land destruction because it's the best color at this ability, which is flexible enough that it sees more play. This ability also allows green the ability to destroy Planeswalkers (something it, interestingly, doesn't get to do straight up).

Watching the World Burn

Whew! That's all (well most, I'm sure I forgot a thing or two) of the "destruction" abilities in each of the colors. Make sure to check out From the Vault: Annihilation to see some iconic destruction cards from throughout Magic's history.

I'm curious how you felt about today's article, as it was a little more textbook and a little less normal-article. Would you like to see more articles of this type in the future? Let me know either through my email or through any of my social media (Twitter, Tumblr, Google+, and Instagram).

Join me next week for my annual State of Design article.

Until then, may you find your answers to your opponent's threats when you need to.


"Drive to Work #146—Restraint"

In my first podcast today, I talk about one of the most important design lessons I've learned over the years—the power of restraint.

"Drive to Work #147—Unhinged, Part 1"

Today's second podcast is the first in a five-part series all about the design of Unhinged. Trying something a little different, I go through the design of each of the 140 cards in the set.


So You Want to Work at Wizards?

Whenever I post job openings, people always respond very positively. It's good for us, as it helps us find Magic players with appropriate skills, and it's good for you, as it helps you find jobs inside Wizards of the Coast you're skilled at. As long we all continue to benefit like that, I'll continue to post job openings.

Today, we're looking at a job on the Magic Online business team. The requirements are:

  • 3+ years of direct experience in digital/online Product Management and/or Product Marketing
  • Previous experience with a leading digital game/entertainment/service-oriented company strongly preferred
  • Understanding of online customer engagement services required – strong understanding of the Magic: The Gathering player communities a huge plus
  • B.A./B.S. in Business, Marketing, Statistics, Economics equivalent degree or work experience

And asks for the following knowledge, skills, and abilities:

  • Practical knowledge of Magic: The Gathering card sets
  • Practical knowledge of digital product/service/game marketing
  • Practical knowledge of digital product/service/game operational and monetization models
  • Experience incorporating insightful consumer understanding and analytical data into product/project/service planning and management
  • Experience managing product/service lifecycles from initiation through launch
  • Experience directly leading and influencing cross-functional product/service development and operations teams in a matrixed/diverse organization
  • Expertise driving actionable plans aligned to strategic vision and goals
  • Capable of prioritizing and handling multiple projects simultaneously, under tight time constraints and within budget parameters
  • Excellent communication and presentation skills
  • Highly creative, resourceful, and visionary
  • Mastery of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook required
  • Extensive knowledge of Magic: The Gathering required

If you think that sounds like you, see the full job listing here.

There are also a number of other Magic-related jobs posted online, so take a look and see if any of the other openings sound like they’d fit you.

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