We Will Survive

Posted in Making Magic on September 29, 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 Abzan Week! This week, we'll be talking about the White-Black-Green wedge. For this and the following four clan theme weeks (which will be happening over a number of months), I thought I'd take yet another look at the colors and how they interact with one another. You can go to my color pie page, which has my articles on single-color philosophy, two different sets of articles on two-color pairs, and my cycle of articles from the shard theme weeks. In addition, there are a few other articles where I talk color pie.

In the past, I've examined the colors from many different vantage points, even doing a series where I interviewed each one. For the wedge theme weeks, I was interested in exploring how the colors relate to one another, so for each theme week, I'm going to get the relevant three colors in a room together and interview them as a group. My goal with this series is to ask a few questions and then get out of the way as the colors talk among themselves.

I hope this sounds like fun, so let's get started:

Hello. I would like to start by having each of you introduce yourselves. Let's go in the order that you all appear in the mana costs on Abzan cards.

Hello, I'm White. I'm the center of the Abzan wedge. I'm all about achieving peace through structure.

I'm Black. I'm the color paired up with its two enemies in this wedge, so you know that's a lot of fun. I'm all about achieving power through opportunity.

I'm Green. I'm all about achieving acceptance through wisdom. Don't worry, few people understand what that means. I'll explain it today.

Why don't we begin by talking a little bit about the aspect that this wedge portrays. How do each of you feel about endurance?

You can call it endurance. I call it survival. What's the number one goal for any individual? Don't let yourself get killed.

I think we're supposed to go in order.

According to whom? He said to introduce yourself in order. I did. He never said anything about the rest of the interview. In fact, if you read his introduction he said he was going to "get out of the way as the colors talk among themselves." That's what we're doing.

This entire interview would be much more orderly if we followed a set structure.

I don't care if it's orderly. In fact, if me talking "out of turn" makes you uncomfortable, I consider that an upside.

There's no reason that we can't be civil. We are all working together as a wedge after all.

I'm in the wedge for my reasons, not yours. I want to survive. I team up with you two because you're the best two other colors at doing that. Nothing more.

Blossoming Sands | Art by Sam Burley

I'll take that as a compliment. Thank you.

That's not a compliment. I mean...it is technically, but I didn't mean it as one. Look, this wedge is all about surviving through the early and midgame to dominate in the endgame. That's a strategy I can get behind.

You and I have had our differences, but at least you understand the importance of long term planning. Red drives me nuts.

You also seem to understand the importance of sacrifice. You have this stupid tendency to lean toward self-sacrifice, but you do get that, sometimes, to win the long game, you have to give things up during the short game.

It's all connected. The tiny seed and the mighty oak are just two ends of the same spectrum.

I never have any idea what you're saying.

There is no short game and long game. There is just one continuous game that constantly evolves.

You talking isn't helping to make you any more understandable.

I think what Green is trying to say is that part of enduring is understanding at every level what your ultimate goal is. Soldiers lay down their lives because they understand what it does for the army.

We oddly agree here except for the part where you let the soldiers know they're going to die. Things go much more smoothly when those who need to be sacrificed aren't made aware of the fact. It cuts way down on them deviating from the plan.

Abzan Battle Priest | Art by Chris Rahn

That's because you never bother to share with those who work for you what the greater plan is. Perhaps if you could get them invested in what you're up to, then they might work together as a team. But wait, that's right, you don't care about them. They're just pawns.

Stop acting all high and mighty. You use pawns too. You just spend a lot of time and energy making them think the sacrifice was their idea. To give credit where credit is due, that's impressive. I have trouble getting my pawns to march to their own death, so props for that.

I like to think of it a little differently. With growth comes strength. If you can allow time to let things grow, they will grow stronger.

That which doesn't kill you makes you stronger?

That which survives is stronger for the experience.

Tomato, tomahto.

I think the common ground for the three of us is that we each, in our own way, understand the need to endure. There is a cost that comes from prioritizing the future and the three of us are willing to pay those costs, some obviously a bit more distastefully than others.

This again? You're all about the cycle of life and death. I don't get why using death isn't part of the "natural order." A cheetah attacks and kills a gazelle for a meal and that's "natural." A person kills another person in order to steal food to not starve and that's "unnatural." You're just being inconsistent.

If you cannot see the difference between hunting and cold-blooded murder, there's not much I can say to sway you. Death is a natural process. My issue is when you use it as a weapon to warp nature.

Why don't we talk a little about what mechanical resources you three have that helps you endure?

Well, the three of us tend to have the highest combined toughness. Black and I because we have more cards with a high toughness-to-power ratio and Green because it just has larger creatures that naturally have a high toughness.

Dazzling Ramparts | Art by Jung Park

White and I are the two colors that have vigilance, which is a defensive creature keyword mechanic. Black and I both have regeneration, which can also be defensive, although Black often uses it more offensively.

Green, White, and I are the three colors most likely to bring things back from the graveyard, both to the hand and onto the battlefield.

We're also the three colors most likely to gain life. Green and I even manage to do it without hurting anyone.

White and I both have good creature removal. Green has fight effects, I guess, but other than that, it kind of sucks at it.

My answer is: I block with the larger creature.

The one I just killed with my creature removal?

The other similarity is that we each have a style of play that allows us to gum up the board, preventing the opponent from killing us. How we each do it, though, is different. I'm about being proactive and playing cards that cut the opponent off from having viable win strategies. I set rules and create defenses that can make it very hard to defeat me.

I take a more direct approach: I kill every threat I can. Those that I can't kill on the battlefield, I try to remove before they even get cast. The key is to focus all my energies on removing threats and waiting to go for the kill until I've addressed them all.

My strategy is to grow my mana faster than my opponents, speeding up the threats I can cast. Growing at a rate quicker than my opponents allows me to slowly overwhelm them.

So is it odd being in a wedge where one of you is the enemy of the other two?

It's not as if the shards didn't have a little of this. Black and I were in Esper together, and Black and Green were both in Jund. The only difference was that each of us had one shard where we didn't have to deal with either of our enemies. That just isn't true in the wedges.

I've come to a place where I've realized that we are ultimately defined by those around us, so part of what makes us who we are as colors comes from the fact that our enemies exist. I'm not fond of Black but, at least in the larger picture, I understand why Black exists.

Now I'll give you the real answer. Yes, it sucks. Especially for me. I've have no allies in this wedge. Zero. Do you have any idea how painful it is to have to listen to these two talk to each other. "Isn't the group wonderful? Isn't it just so fantastic that we constantly make poor choices prioritizing the weak over the strong?"

Prioritizing the group is putting strength over weakness. We are stronger than the sum of our parts.

You coddle the weak. How is that a sign of strength?

The group is more powerful than the individual. Of course you're never going to understand that because it requires actual selflessness, of which you're incapable.

Having a group does not require equality. I have a group. They all work for me. And in the case that someone needs to make a sacrifice, I have the power to choose who it is.

Duneblast | Art by Ryan Alexander Lee

Black doesn't understand the importance of symbiosis. The idea that there is strength in working with others.

Give me a break. You don't believe in survival of the fittest? Nature is all about survival of the fittest. I love how you like to talk about the web of life and just gloss over the whole structure of the animal kingdom. If one creature is capable of eating another creature, it eats it. There's no equality. There's just lunch.

And all you can see is the predator/prey dynamic. There are just as many examples of animals who live together in harmony. There are even those who interact positively with another, fulfilling a needed role.

So what exactly makes this relationship work in Abzan?

When we put aside our personal squabbles, our power sets actually complement each other very well. I provide the proactive defense, Black provides the active defense, and Green provides the growth to speed along our mana development.

The other wedges are more focused on creating threats. We take the attitude of "The best offense is a good defense." If we can protect ourselves while our opponents deplete their threats, we can then exploit that vulnerability.

Sandsteppe Citadel | Art by Sam Burley

Also, we have the resources of growth on our side. While we take a defensive posture in the early- and midgame, it allows us the opportunity to make giant threats in the late game. Usually, I have to use my resources to defend, but since White and Black have the tools to play defense, I can focus on getting us late-game threats quicker than our opponent can.

Essentially, our goal is making our enemies tire themselves out in their attempt to kill us. Once they're tired, they're easy picking.

I think the key to our strategy is the willingness to deemphasize threats in exchange for answers.

To quote a famous former Pro Player named Dave Price, "There are wrong answers, but there are no wrong threats."

Was he Mardu?

There are plenty of wrong threats. It happens to me all the time. I have a kill spell in my hand, my opponent is playing a hexproof creature or a regenerator or something with protection from black. In fact, that's one of the basic strategies we use. We don't make a lot of threats because we don't want to enable our opponents' answers. You don't know true joy until you see the panic in opponents' eyes because none of their cards matter for the board state.

Black is being Black's typical self, but there is a ring of truth to what was said. The Abzan strategy is very simple: We hunker down and prepare for anything our opponents throw at us. When they've depleted their resources, then—and only then—do we step up and win the game. The strength of nature is in its ability to constantly endure.

Here's how I like to think of it: If you never lose, your opponent cannot win. All the other clans are focusing on how to win, while we focus on how to not lose. The key is dedicating all of your resources toward that defense.

When we started, you each talked about your end goal and your means to achieve it. Can we talk a little about that?
Okay. My goal is power through opportunity. Here's what that means: I believe in merit. I believe that every individual should be given the opportunity to succeed. Those who are able to make use of that opportunity will thrive, while those who cannot will suffer. There's nothing fairer than people succeeding or failing based on their own merits.

You kill people. Your people. Routinely. How exactly is that giving people opportunity?

You're not seeing the big picture. Anyone who wants to work for me is able to. I turn no one away. Those who are useful rise in my organization. Those who aren't useful get used in other ways. You motivate your people your way, I'll do it mine.

Everything is seen through the lens of what they can do for you.

No, each individual is responsible for looking out for itself. Part of doing that is understanding who is in power. If you are able to take that power, you should. If you are not, you need to respect it. My system is very simple.

Except for the little people.

The meek? Why, exactly, am I supposed to be rewarding weakness? I understand your way is all about rewarding existence, but I have a little higher bar. You want something out of life? Step up. Earn it. Giving away free handouts does nothing to encourage self-improvement. "Do or die" is a much better motivator than "do whatever you want and be rewarded anyway."

Do you understand that there are enough resources in the world such that everyone can live comfortably? Everyone can be fed and healthy and safe. To do this, though, people need to stop taking more than they need. Your way encourages a select few to thrive at the cost of the welfare of everyone else.

And your way punishes those who have taken the initiative to make something better of their lives. You punish merit. You punish achievement. You punish motivation. Why should any individual strive to make things better if there aren't any rewards for doing so?

There are rewards. They're just rewards for society as a whole and not for the individual.

So I should work hard so others can benefit?

Yes!

Yes?! The fact that you answer "yes" to that is mindboggling. Unfortunately predictable, but mindboggling nonetheless. Green? I know you believe in survival of the fittest. That's what I'm talking about. Help me out here.

I do believe in survival of the fittest but you are warping what it means. A lion will kill a gazelle to eat it, but it only kills what it and its pride needs. It doesn't kill every gazelle it sees because it can. In fact, if the lion killed every gazelle, guess what would happen? Soon, there wouldn't be any gazelle for the lion to eat. Survival of the fittest is about doing what is needed to survive, not warping the entire system for selfish means.

Rakshasa's Secret | Art by Magali Villeneuve

But the lion gets to be king of the jungle because it can be. It earns that right.

No, the lion is the king of the jungle because it was born into that role. No gazelle, no matter how much initiative it has or how much merit it demonstrates, is going to usurp the lion. The gazelle's hope is always to avoid being eaten by the lion, it is never to eat the lion. That is where your way fails. It assumes that, if given the opportunity, that the gazelle could fill any other role than what it was born into.

Blue has this one right. We are not locked into roles. We have the ability to shape who we are.

All you have is the ability of self-delusion—to believe that you are not part of an already established ecosystem.

I want to let White have a turn describing its philosophy. Green, we'll get to you next.

My ultimate goal is peace and I achieve it through structure. Here's what that means: I believe that we can live in a world where everyone is able to have what they need. No one should ever be hungry or hurt or scared. We have the means such that everyone can live together in peace. Here's the problem: there are people like Black who look out for themselves at the cost of others, which prevents the utopia I am talking about from being possible.

Utopia? You don't often hear fascism being called utopia.

Everyone could live in peace. We have the resources. All that is stopping us is us. That's why structure is important. People need a moral compass, a set of ethics that spell out what is right and what is wrong. People are easily led astray, so a morality—a clear set of ethical codes—is crucial. Also, because people can be weak, we need a strict set of laws. Rules that explain what is and is not acceptable. Black is correct that people need motivations. The power of the group, and togetherness and love, will provide the positive motivations. Punishment through the law will provide the negative motivations. Do X or Y and there is a negative consequence.

Herald of Anafenza | Art by Aaron Miller

And how much freedom does one have to give up?

Freedom? Now you sound like Red.

Your imaginary utopia sounds wonderful...until you understand the cost it requires. People don't get to make decisions in your world.

Yes, they do. As a group.

Fine. Individuals don't get to make decisions. If what you want is not what the majority wants, you're screwed.

Maybe if what you want is bad for the group, it's not a good thing to want.

Who knows if it's bad for the group? Maybe it's something the group hasn't thought about. Maybe it's something that matters to the individual in a way that it's never going to matter to the group. We, as a society, thrive because each individual has the ability to move in the direction he or she motivated. Maybe that one individual's idea will lead to something that later would benefit the whole group. But in your world, we'll never know, because the group won't allow it because the group doesn't understand it.

Maybe I would be more sympathetic to your belief in an individual's rights if I didn't know it was a means to motivate selfishness.

Selfishness is not a bad thing. It's okay to prioritize your own wants and desires. No one else is. The reason I think people need to look out for themselves is because they're the ones with the most incentive to do it. In my system, everyone has someone looking out for them: them.

And forget about everyone else?

No, you're allowed to care about and help others. Just not at the sake of yourself. You shouldn't be forced to do something to your own detriment for the sake of others. You want to opt in and choose to do that? Fine. I believe it's idiotic, but I believe people have the right to do stupid things. My point is you shouldn't force that choice on anyone.

Green, your turn.
Thank you. My ultimate goal is acceptance and my means to do that is harmony. All the other colors believe that in order to make a better world, we have to change it. My belief is that the world we have is already what we need. Instead of trying to change the world, we need to accept it for what it is. Trying to change the world is futile, so why don't we learn to accept what we have?

Changing the world is futile? You keep reminding me that I'm usurping the natural order. If it's so hard to change things, why would it matter what I do?

Would you allow me to finish explaining my philosophy before jumping in?

I see a pattern here. Whenever I do what I want, somehow it doesn't match your view of how things are supposed to be and I'm disruptive.

You are, in fact, literally being disruptive right now.

Fine. Go on, explain your exciting world view.

The world already has a set order and structure. Instead of trying to change it, I advocate understanding it. Harmony is the act of becoming one with something so you can understand it, not on an intellectual level, but on a spiritual one. To understand the earth, become one with the earth.

Seek the Horizon | Art by Min Yum

Would you just let me know when I'm allowed to jump in and mock you? Take your time. I'm working up some good stuff here when you're ready.

Of course you belittle how I feel. You never take any time to understand anyone's beliefs but your own.

I'll be on my best behavior. Let me ask you this: If individuals can do things to affect nature, why isn't that just part of nature itself? I mean, we're all creations of the earth. How are my actions any difference than a bear's?

The bear doesn't try to usurp the natural order. The bear has its role, which it embraces.

But what if the bear didn't? What if the bear went crazy and started killing everything in sight? Isn't that still natural?

What is your point?

My point is that you take so much care to point out what is natural and what's not natural. What if everything is natural? What if the world is whatever we make it? If I chop down a tree, then the world has one less tree.

And that one less tree has consequences. That's your problem; you don't care about consequences. You have an attitude that you can do whatever you want and ignore whatever the fallout is. People like you are why we have pollution.

And why we have crime.

You seem to think that a person doesn't have the responsibility for the outcome of his or her actions. The world is our most prized possession and it is our responsibility to take care of it. Part of acceptance is understanding what role we play, and then playing it.

We've talked a lot about the conflict everyone has with Black. White and Green, do you have any conflicts?
I don't think Green and I have a conflict as much as we have slightly different world views. We both share our distaste for selfishness and the impact it has on the world. I think I focus a little more on the impact on society, whereas Green is a little more focused on the environment. We both focus on the needs of the group over those of the individual, but what those needs are is different. We both believe that there are ultimate truths, but what those truths are is not exactly the same. I believe in a sense of morality while Green believes in a larger natural connection. A web of life, if you will. Green, did I leave anything out?

I think our biggest conflict is probably best represented by the conflict of our other allies. My other ally is Red, while White's other ally is Blue. I think, fundamentally, I see the bond of all living things as being something unspoken, something instinctual in nature. We are who we are because of what is inside us. It's not something we can consciously verbalize. I believe White leans toward a belief that betterment comes through a spelled-out thought process. That what ties people together is something they can all understand and agree on. So we want similar things, but the means to get there is very different.

We're almost out of time, so I'll ask one last question. You are all working together as Abzan. Why don't each of you give one last pitch for why players should play your clan? Why don't we go in the same order as the introductions?
Learning threats is valuable. Learning answers is invaluable.

An enemy is at its weakest when it has tried to kill you and failed.

It is the simple blade of grass and not the mighty oak tree that best survives the storm.

Thank you three for joining us today. This was quite enlightening.

Siege Rhino | Art by Volkan Baga

I hope you all found this discussion interesting. As always, I would love to hear your feedback through my email or any of my social media (Twitter, Tumblr, Google+, Instagram).

Join me next week, when I explore a design concept I've never written about before.

Until then, may today's column create some discussion of your own.


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