Revenge of the Two-Color Weenies

Posted in NEWS on September 21, 2007

By Devin Low

Hello! I'm happy to see that Doran, the Siege Tower, the card I previewed last week, received such a warm welcome and such positive reactions. The Siege Tower told me to tell you he's happy too. The card I'm previewing today was also made during development, this time to give the Lorwyn tribes a powerful foundation for aggression and consistency. I'll show how two-color weenie decks of the past desperately wanted this foundation and would have killed to get it. I'll show this week's preview card, give some tips for how to put it into decks, talk about developing it, and then hit some cool final side effects.

As Mark Rosewater explained this past Monday, each of the eight Lorwyn tribes ranges across multiple colors. Here are those color combinations again:

Kithkin WG
Merfolk UW
Goblins BR
Elementals RWUBG
Elves GB
Faeries UB
Giants RW
Treefolk GWB

As you can already tell from just the names of these tribes, many of them are packed with aggressive weenie creatures that like to swarm out quickly and attack. Going into two or more colors gives each tribe access to abilities it has never had before, including Goblins with Fear, Elf decks with black creature kill, and Merfolk with built-in lifegain, token generation and protection abilities. But two-color weenie aggro decks have always historically faced a big problem: With one-drops and two-drops in two colors that you absolutely need to play on turn one and turn two, how can you stop your mana from turning traitor and serving up "Swamp, Swamp, G Elf, G Elf, 1G Elf, 1G Green Spell, and 1B Elf"? And opening hands like this aren't just a ghost story used to scare kids who don't eat their color pie. Two-color weenie creature decks that want to play creatures on turns one and two have often struggled in the past for exactly this reason.

The Oppression of Two-Color Weenie Decks

Tarnished Citadel

Here's an example: One of the most feared two-color weenie decks of all time is Blue-Green Madness, which is extremely powerful in Block Constructed, Standard, Extended, and even Legacy. With Basking Rootwalla, Wild Mongrel, Werebear, and Aquamoeba, plus sometimes Nimble Mongoose and/or Careful Study, there are tons of aggressive spells in both colors that you need to play on turns one and two. In Odyssey Block Constructed, what are the options for mana-fixing that provide both colors on turn one? Well to start with there's Tarnished Citadel, that Odyssey City of Brass variant that deals 3 damage to you every time you tap it for colored mana. Not very appealing. And after Tarnished Citadel there's... well... hmm... well, actually there's nothing. Besides Tarnished Citadel, there's literally no other mana-fixing in the block that can guarantee playing both colors of your spells on turn two, let alone turn one, unless you want to sacrifice your lands to do it. All you can do is play a bunch of Forests and Islands and hope to get lucky enough to draw some of both every game. And as you probably know from playing two-color draft decks with no mana-fixing, hoping to get lucky on your land draws doesn't always get your spells played. Ken Ho won the Odyssey Block Constructed Pro Tour with Blue-Green Madness, partially due to his seeing mana-fixing as so valuable that he went ahead and played a Tarnished Citadel, despite the 3-life-per-tap penalty.

If you expand your Blue-Green Madness deck to Odyssey-Onslaught-Seventh Edition Standard in order to find better mana-fixing, you can now damage yourself with Tarnished Citadel or City of Brass... and again, that's all you get. Odyssey has the Darkwater Catacombs cycle and Onslaught has the Flooded Strand cycle, but neither of those cycles, nor any other lands in the seven expansions of that Standard environment, can give you both green and blue mana on turn one. Flooded Strand can make white or blue mana, but there is no green-blue equivalent. Blue-Green Madness players sometimes called their decks "One Forest Two Islands" for good luck, because their biggest challenge was randomly drawing the basic lands to play Basking Rootwalla, Wild Mongrel, and Counterspell.

Looking back at the other blocks besides Ravnica, it doesn't get much prettier for a two-color weenie creature deck hoping to cast creatures and attack on turns one, two, and three:

  • Invasion has only the "comes into play tapped" Coastal Tower lands, which obviously don’t help you get colored mana on turn one. (Apocalypse also has enemy-color painlands, which are great for aggro decks.)
  • Mirrodin’s only multi-land is the unreliable five-color Glimmervoid. Its color-fixers are the Talisman of Dominance cycle of two-mana artifacts, none of which help you get colored mana on turns one or two.
  • Champions of Kamigawa features the Pinecrest Ridge "doesn't untap next turn" cycle. They definitely don’t help you play a couple of little beaters and attack.
  • Ravnica Block’s dual lands are the exception to the trend, providing great mana for aggro decks, though at the cost of 2 life per land.
  • Coldsnap has "comes into play tapped" snow dual lands that don't make mana on turn one.
  • Time Spiral has the (effectively) "comes into play tapped" Terramorphic Expanse, the two-mana Prismatic Lens, and five "storage lands" that don't make colored mana on turn one. Future Sight adds five good lands, but Graven Cairns, River of Tears and Nimbus Maze all fail to make both colors of mana on turn 1. Horizon Canopy and Grove of the Burnwillows are quite good in aggro decks, but they make you pay life or give life to your opponent—not always what a two-color weenie deck is looking for.

Dreadship Reef

Many of these lands are quite good in a lot of decks, but since they don't produce both colors of mana on turn one, they're not good in two-color aggressive weenie decks: Instead, they're good in slower multicolor control decks. Those slower control decks are happy to play Prismatic Lens or Mirrodin's Talismans. They can use Darkwater Catacombs, giving up the ability to make both colors of mana on turn one in exchange for guaranteeing both colors on turn two. They love slowly accumulating counters on a Dreadship Reef to suspend a giant Aeon Chronicler. And they can get away with playing a comes-into-play-tapped land like Terramorphic Expanse or Coastal Tower without nearly as much loss as a two-color weenie creature deck. For a weenie creature deck, playing creatures early is the whole game plan. You're willing to pass up the more expensive, high-power spells that other decks play in exchange for getting a speed and tempo advantage over your opponents. And that means you need to be able to play both colors of your spells on turn one, preferably without losing any life to do it.

Why should slow control decks get good mana-fixing in so many blocks, and aggro decks get good mana-fixing in so few? Why couldn't creature decks get the upper hand in mana-fixing for once? The Lorwyn developers were sick of the long trend of unfair anti-weenie-deck color-fixing discrimination. Why couldn't creature decks get the upper hand in mana-fixing for once? In a block about creatures and tribes, and in particular about eight multicolor tribes, many of them packed with powerful aggressive creatures for one and two mana in both colors, the Lorwyn development team saw this issue as extremely important to making the tribes powerful, and we were determined to put it right.

How could we encourage people to play two-color weenie creature decks, when the mana-fixing has been so hostile to those strategies for so many blocks? Step one was to make sure the rewards in each color were very attractive for each tribe, so you would want to play all the colors. Step two was deploying the right mana-fixing, so that you can. In particular, what two-color weenie creature tribes like Lorwyn's black-green Elves really want is a land that:

  1. Doesn't slow them down by coming into play tapped
  2. Provides both colors right away
  3. Never runs out of charges or dries up
  4. Doesn't cause a lot of pain

Unfortunately, no land in history since Alpha's original Bayou does all of that. Sad. Fortunately, a card appears in Lorwyn that does.

Click here.

This is the land that two-enemy-color weenie creature tribes have been dreaming of for years. For black-green decks with Elves, it comes into play untapped, it provides both colors right away, it never dries up, and it never causes you a single point of damage. In black-green Elf tribal decks, it will always come into play untapped and is literally as good as the original Legacy-legal Bayou... except that opponents' Mire Boas can't landwalk on your Gilt-Leaf Palace. Go ahead and put in some non-Elves like Slaughter Pact, Tarmogoyf, Doran, the Siege Tower, or old classics like Pernicious Deed, and Gilt-Leaf Palace still works just fine, coming into play untapped from your other elves and helping play the non-Elf spells as well.

Llanowar Elves and Boreal DruidAfter mana-fixing all your turbo-Elf decks and your "Elves with round-eared guest stars" decks, Gilt-Leaf Palace still has more to do. Say you add Gilt-Leaf Palace to a post-Ravnica Standard black-green deck that uses just 8 Elves: Llanowar Elves and Boreal Druid as your only one-cost creatures, curving into non-Elf green and black cards at the two and three slots. If you draw Gilt-Leaf Palace in your opening hand, you'll be in one of two situations:

If you have an Elf: Play the Palace untapped, play the Elf, and you're golden.

If you don't have an Elf: Play the Palace tapped. Playing it tapped doesn't set you back at all this game, because you don't have any one-drops in your opening hand anyway. How do you know that you don't have any one-drops in your hand? Because if you did, you could just reveal that one-drop Elf to play the Palace untapped! So you win either way, and that's with just 8 Elves.

As a hard-to-find enemy color land (the only black- and green-producing land in Standard besides Llanowar Wastes), you can even play Gilt-Leaf Palace in slower black-green decks with 0-7 elves. How many Elves do you need to play to put it into play untapped enough of the time for your deck? It depends on your mana curve, and it's really up to you. It always makes B or G, and the more Elves you play, the more frequently it comes into play untapped.

Polishing the Leaves

While developing these lands, one of the big questions was: How many lands should there be, and which colors? At various points, we were discussing whether to do a cycle of allied lands, a cycle of enemy lands, or the "race lands" proposal. In the end, it was very important to us to cure the mana consistency problems of the two-color weenie decks of the past. In conjunction with the Tenth Edition painlands, these "Race Lands" are a very effective, fun way to do it, and the Lorwyn development team wanted to reward people every way we could for playing cards from the eight Lorwyn tribes. Oops, did I just say "race lands," plural? Okay, the cat's out of the bag: There are more than one of these, each naming a different creature type. But there aren't eight of them either: the number is somewhere in between. What made us pick the real number of race lands, and which colors and races did we pick? The clues are all there if you think about them, though the answer is not easy.

The Lorwyn designers had also toyed with the idea of having dual lands that counted as creatures of the appropriate type. For example, if a playtest card was called "Elf Town," and another card counted the number of Elves you had in play, wouldn't it be cool if it counted Elf Town too? Lorwyn Developers Matt Place and Mike Turian reacted instantly: "No," they said. "It wouldn't be cool at all. It would actually be pretty awful." Why? You probably won't be surprised to hear that as the big set of a tribal block, Lorwyn has a lot of seriously powerful "race matters" effects that deeply care how many Elves you have in play. And getting a little +1 on Elf counting here and a little +2 on Elf counting there would force us to weaken some of our best race-matters effects. We decided to leave our best race-matters effects intact at their aggressive costs, and stop the lands from counting as having creature types.

Great Furnace with a red XEven worse, if we made the lands count as creature types, some of the benefits we had planted in the set to benefit Elves and Elf decks would suddenly be somewhat accessible to black control decks that didn't include any Elf creatures at all. That would be super lame. As the last straw, if you're wondering what could be the harm of putting the block's relevant subtypes onto a ton of no-mana-cost lands, I've got three words for you: Mirrodin artifact lands. Let's just say we've learned our lesson from that little debacle. The Lorwyn lands have no subtypes.

Possible Side Effects May Include...

As a side effect, I love that these race lands help aggro creature decks more than they help removal-heavy control decks. It's such a contrast to so many of the control-oriented multilands of the past. And it's a good example of the many ways Lorwyn moves to put the emphasis of Magic on creatures fighting each other, and backed up by spells, instead of just endless playing of Compulsive Research and Remand.

The race lands also keep asking you the question "You put Gilt-Leaf Palace into your black-green deck because it has eleven elves. But wouldn't this land be even better if you included some more elves? Maybe you should go and think about replacing some of those Scryb Rangers with a few more Elves..." and Lorwyn certainly has a lot of attractive Elf options. These race lands also really reward you for putting noncreature Elf cards into your deck to untap Gilt-Leaf Palace, which helps those cards get into more decks, as well as providing greater depth and diversity for deckbuilding.

Wait, did I just say "noncreature Elf card"? Hmm, I don't think I was supposed to mention that until next week.

Next Week: Wait, seriously, what do I mean by "noncreature Elf card"?

Last Week's Poll

How many years have you been playing Magic?
0-1 604 3.9%
1-2 1134 7.3%
3-4 2090 13.5%
5-6 2132 13.8%
7-8 1980 12.8%
9-10 1997 12.9%
11-12 2569 16.6%
13-14 2227 14.4%
Over 14 717 4.6%
Total 15450 100.0%

It's a pretty even distribution once you get to three years and above. The overall numbers are more years in the game than I would have thought. Welcome veterans!

If a friend wanted to buy something to learn Magic for the first time, what would you recommend?
Tenth Edition preconstructed decks 3701 31.6%
Tenth Edition Starter Game 2868 24.5%
Expert-level set preconstructed decks 1726 14.8%
Free downloadable interactive tutorial at 1170 10.0%
Tenth Edition Fat Pack 630 5.4%
None of the above 629 5.4%
Magic Online cards 309 2.6%
Tenth Edition booster packs 182 1.6%
Expert-level set Fat Pack 174 1.5%
Another Magic product 161 1.4%
Expert-level set booster packs 146 1.2%
Total 11696 100.0%

I'm happy to see that the top four methods are my favorite four methods to teach people as well, in the same order I prefer them. Anecdotally, I've heard a lot of experienced players tell their new-to-Magic friends, "[Mirrodin] boosters are the best thing to buy." I'm glad that most people voted for an easier-to-understand card pool for their friends' first games.