The Past and Future of White

Posted in NEWS on February 7, 2003

A lot of the columns for White Week have looked back at white’s history, a proud one to be sure. However I want to look forward. I want to answer all the lamentations about the long-lost glory days and hopefully reassure you all that white will be back on top again at some point in the future. I’m going to give you my take on the historical events and decisions that got white to where it is today, but rest assured that I’m only doing that because it will set up the real point of the article, which is where white is going in the future.

Magic will always be cyclical and some color will always be the worst of the five at any given point in time. Right now, in Standard constructed, that color is almost certainly white, but that in and of itself isn’t a bad thing. It was only a couple of years ago that Kai Budde was winning the Pro Tour with a Rebel deck and all the red mages were howling in pain about the vindictive attitude that R&D seemed to have toward anyone who wanted to play with mountains. Before Torment, it was black mages complaining. For years players claimed “R&D hates green” until Odyssey finally proved them wrong. And if you listen closely you can finally hear the blue players starting to grumble and mumble, sweat beading on their foreheads as they look at the meager pickings available to them so far in the Onslaught block.

R&D believes that change is inherently a good thing. Even if we thought we were capable of having all five colors in perfect balance at all times, we wouldn’t do it. In reality, we aim for balance but we always miss high with some colors and low with others and things stay in a constant state of flux, which is what we think is best for the game anyway.

Swords to Plowshares

Some Old Favorites

That brings us to white… and the first card we should talk about is Swords to Plowshares. While it’s kind of fun to imagine a farm somewhere being tilled by millions and millions of Erhnam Djinns, it never made sense that white was the best color at creature removal. Creature removal is supposed to be black’s thing, not white’s. In fact, red is supposed to be the second-best color at killing creatures, especially weenies. That’s not to say that white can never have a creature removal spell again – it can and will – but it should not get one that is as flexible and efficient as “Plow.” Black should be the color with the super efficient, super flexible creature removal (and we’ve been pushing this aspect of black with cards like Terminate, Innocent Blood, Chainer's Edict, and Smother). Our current idea is that white should get stuff more like Arrest or Exile, but we’re constantly reevaluating and if we conclude that our #3 creature-removal color should get better stuff than that, then we’ll give white better stuff than that.

Another card people always point out as a reason why white isn’t as good any more is Armageddon. I agree that rotating out Armageddon had a huge impact on the Magic, but that’s exactly why we did it. We felt that the threat of Armageddon was preventing players from building non-blue decks that needed to have a lot of land in play. If you couldn’t counter a ‘Geddon, then you just couldn’t play a competitive deck that relied on expensive spells. So we took ‘Geddon out of Seventh Edition, hoping this would lead to the dawn of a new day where the coast was clear for fatty decks, non-blue control decks, and maybe even some funky combo decks that no one had even thought of before.

Our plan was foiled (no pun intended) by those annoying blue mages. Blue decks of all shapes and sizes exclaimed, “I can tap out and no one can blow up all my lands?! Well then I’m invincible!” We didn’t realize quite how strong this effect was or we would have started lowering the power level of blue cards once we knew we were going to take out Armageddon. In addition, the Invasion block’s multi-color theme is inherently friendly to slow decks (especially blue decks) because the aggro-weenie strategies that are the natural enemy of blue decks don’t want to run more than one color, and thus can’t take advantage of powerful gold cards.

Armageddon

Anyway, we figured all this out around the time we were developing Apocalypse and we started trying to nerf blue around then. Going into development of the Odyssey block we were definitely trying to lower blue’s power level, but we got kind of unlucky. Almost all the cards from the Odyssey block that turned out better than we thought they were going to be were blue cards. Psychatog, Upheaval, Circular Logic, and Wonder are all cards we would tweak into less powerful forms if we had it to do over again. In fact, the only non-blue card from the Odyssey block that I can think of off the top of my head that I would turn down the power of is Wild Mongrel.

So in my mind, we still haven’t finished running the no-Armageddon experiment. Our plan is to lower blue down to an appropriate power-level for an Armageddon-less environment and then see if all the cool decks that we were hoping for will finally come out of the woodwork. If it turns out that the only way to keep blue in check is to print an efficient mana-denial card, then we will (but I don’t think that’s actually necessary). If it turns out that there are none of these hypothetical fatty decks or non-blue control decks then maybe things are just more interesting when Armageddon is around (though I do think we’re starting to see this category of decks come out to play: Mirari's Wake decks, Astral Slide decks, and Beast decks all rely on pretty slow and/or expensive cards and might never get their chance to shine if the threat of losing all their land was constantly hanging over their heads). Meanwhile, even if things go exactly the way we’re hoping and new deck types emerge, we still believe in the value of shaking things up, so after they all get their chance to shine, we might then bring back Armageddon anyway.

I guess the real lesson here is that Armageddon has not been permanently taken away from white. The card Armageddon is too powerful to have as a constant part of the game, but my current opinion is that it’s not too powerful to have around sometimes. And the mechanic of “destroy all lands” has not been taken away from white.

In fact, we think of white as (in part) the mass destruction color. One of white’s big themes is balance. The card Balance is way too powerful to ever print again, but the flavor and the mechanic are very white. White, with its twisted sense of fairness, believes that evening things out is ok. As long as we destroy all the creatures, that’s fair. The fact that you didn’t have any creatures and your opponent had four when you summoned down the Wrath of God isn’t white’s fault, right? Similarly, Armageddon, Akroma's Vengeance, and Balancing Act are very white mechanics.

White is a big believer in rules. In addition to cards (like those in the previous paragraph) that follow the obvious rule “treat everyone the same,” we’re going to expand this theme by giving white cards that set rules for everyone to follow. Meddling Mage would be a good example of this – no one can play the chosen spell. Winter Orb would be another example of this – we believe the W’Orb itself is too efficient a mana-control card for us to reprint, but if we wanted to bring back Rising Waters we would do it as a white card, not a blue one.

Land Tax

One card from white’s glory days that I don’t have a lot to say about is Land Tax. This one is pretty straight-forward – the mechanic is still very much white’s forte even though Tax itself is too powerful. We plan to keep printing variants like Tithe and Weathered Wayfarer. In fact, we’re expanding white’s “taxing” flavor to include mana taxing like that seen on Windborn Muse.

The last card I wanted to talk about is Savannah Lions. White is supposed to be the game’s best weenie color and we put White Knight into Legions because we know we have to back up that claim by making sure white gets weenies that are good enough. We thought the weenies that white got in the Odyssey block were a bit better than they turned out to be. Fair enough, we started pushing a bit more with Onslaught. Whipcorder has made a bit of an impression, as have True Believer and Weathered Wayfarer. If those guys plus White Knight aren’t enough then we will definitely take a long hard look at our costing curves and make sure that white weenie does get another day in the sun. Giving any color a little beater that is more efficient than White Knight is not something to be done lightly. Weenies are the bedrock that set the speed and tempo for the entire game so we have to be careful not to mess things up and force everyone to play super-cheap cards in all their decks.

I will say that I always thought Jackal Pup was a more powerful creature than Savannah Lions. The cheap direct damage that is always available in red has such tremendous synergy with a weenie creature rush strategy that getting two power for just one mana in red is more powerful than getting the same deal in white. Even considering the Pup’s drawback, I think it’s more powerful than the Lion. In other words, if one color was to get a 2-power creature for 1 mana again, white would be the color to get it.

Exalted Angel

The New Direction

In addition to getting the best weenies in the game, white also now gets the best fliers. In retrospect, I wish we had found some way to make Wonder a white card, but in Onslaught we found a way to give life to this flavor: Exalted Angel. She’s pretty good, I hear. She won’t be the last good white flier, either.

Of course, white is still going to be the game’s best color as playing defense. We will continue to print life gain cards in white, along with combat tricks and various other ways for white mages to defend themselves. One flavor of white that we plan to expand is “Don’t mess with me or my boys.” White doesn’t believe in striking first, but sometimes the best defense is to lash out and hit the other guy in the head. Kor Chant was a great example of this flavor and you should look for us to do more things along this line in the future – white should not only be able to defend itself, but also punish the opponent for messing with it in the first place.

So there you have it – a (partial) vision of white’s future: small but efficient creatures that work together to form a powerful swarm, game-changing enchantments that set the rules of the game, powerful mass-destruction cards with which to “balance” the game, the best fliers, the best life gaining, the best enchantment removal, the third-best creature removal, the third-best artifact removal, defense, protection, combat tricks, and don’t mess with white or white’s boys. We’re both exploring new territory and also strengthening existing areas and we’ll make sure that white does indeed make a comeback.


Last Week’s poll:

Do tap abilities feel right on Slivers?
Yes 6233 69.1%
No 2790 30.9%
Total 9023 100.0%

This is a subject we were genuinely split on inside R&D and these results are interesting to me for two different reasons. On the one hand, I’m glad we made the decision that the majority of you prefer. On the other hand, I’m glad this wasn’t completely lopsided because it means we were arguing over a legitimate issue that you guys also have some disagreement on.


Randy may be reached at latestdevelopments@wizards.com.

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