The Colors of Magic

Posted in Serious Fun on July 8, 2008

By Kelly Digges

Kelly Digges has had many roles at Wizards over the years, including creative text writer, R&D editor, website copyeditor, lead website editor, Serious Fun column author, and design/development team member on multiple sets.

What color do you play?"

Maybe you remember asking and being asked that question in the distant past; maybe it's everyday conversation even now. I certainly have fond memories of answering it by hauling out my "green deck," which at one point contained every green card I owned and half that many Forests.

As my collection grew, I started building two- and three-color decks built around specific themes. Eventually I started playing Limited, where predetermined color preferences are generally a recipe for frustration. My enjoyment of Magic was no longer confined to a single color or color pair, and that question ceased to apply.

There's another question, though, one I still discuss on a regular basis with friends and co-workers, one that I think retains a lot of relevance no matter how you like to play:

"What color are you?"

One of the things I find fascinating about Magic is that the five colors represent not only slices of the game's mechanics and flavor, but also actual philosophies—five very different ways of looking at the world. It's pretty rare that one color will sum up someone's attitude; more commonly, the answer to this question is a color pair, or sometimes a color trio.

The colors that best describe someone may not be the colors they prefer to play; in fact, they often aren't. My friend Dave is blue-white to the core (seriously, I took a sample), but he frequently smashes me with little red creatures and burn spells, and neither of his two Elder Dragon Highlander decks have any blue or white in them.

For me, though, the color pair that best describes my personality and philosophy is also the color pair that I most enjoy playing, and the one that best matches my style of play, and that's why I was so excited when I found out I'd be previewing this card.

Murkfiend Liege

Yes, My Liege

Rules Stuff: Murkfiend Liege

All your green and/or blue creatures untap during each other player's untap step. You have no choice about what untaps. Those creatures untap at the same time as the active player's permanents.

During each other player's untap step, effects that would otherwise cause your green and/or blue creatures to stay tapped don't apply because they only apply during *your* untap step.

Multiple Murkfiend Lieges are redundant when it comes to the untap effect. You can't untap your permanents more than once in a single untap step.

With a good sturdy body for the cost, two independent power pumps (meaning that, as with the other Shadowmoor and Eventide Lieges, creatures that are both colors get +2/+2), and free untaps for all your green and/or blue creatures, this is one Horror I'd absolutely love to open at the Prerelease.

And yet, and yet, and yet... I can't shake the feeling that playing Murkfiend Liege in a two-player game is doing it a grave disservice. Remember, that's each player's untap step you get to piggy-back, and that just screams—or, uh, burbles, or whatever noise a Horror makes—multiplayer.

Some new cards make me want to build whole new decks to make the most of them. Leaf-Crowned Elder was like that for me. I love Treefolk and playing things for free—heck, I even love upkeep triggers, if I'm being perfectly honest—and I knew Leaf-Crowned Elder wouldn't get to do its thing in any of the decks I had on hand. So naturally, I built a new one.

Other times, though, I see a new card that just happens to slot perfectly into a deck I've already got on hand. And naturally, what with green-blue being my favorite color pair and all, I have a green-blue deck that I update as new sets come out.

The primary form of multiplayer available here at Wizards, at least this month, is Elder Dragon Highlander, so I built an EDH deck around a legendary creature who just never seemed to hum in sixty-card decks: Momir Vig, Simic Visionary. As soon as I rustled up a real live Murkfiend Liege (with big thanks to Customer Service hero Matt Tabak), I slammed it in and took it for a test drive.

Momir Vig, Simic Visionary

Download Arena Decklist

Elder Dragon Highlander

In Brief: EDH is a casual multiplayer format that lets you build a deck around a legendary creature, who serves as your "general." It's almost always played with multiplayer free-for-all rules, and it's very popular among the Magic judge community, where it originated.

Rules Rundown: Choose a legendary creature as the general for your deck. At the beginning of the game, your general is removed from the game, and you can play it from there for its mana cost. Whenever it would go to the the graveyard, you can remove it from the game instead; each time you play it from outside the game, it costs more.

None of the cards in your deck can have mana symbols anywhere on them of a color that doesn’t appear in your general’s mana cost. You also can't generate any mana that isn't of those colors for any reason—you get colorless instead.

EDH decks must be exactly 100 cards, and no two cards except for basic lands can have the same name, using the Vintage card pool and a short banned list.

Players start at 40 life. In addition to the normal victory conditions, a player loses the game if he or she takes 21 or more points of combat damage from a single general.

For complete rules and the banned list, click here.

Pros: The combination of hundred-card singleton and the general rules makes for an interesting blend of randomness and consistency. Even better, the tight deck-building restrictions help groups with deeper card pools narrow their choices and build fun decks, which makes it the perfect casual format for groups that may have left "true" casual behind. And in a pinch, you can shuffle your general in and use an EDH deck as a normal Vintage-legal casual deck, which makes them handy to have around.

Cons: EDH shares the power-level problems of all deep-pool casual formats, with the wrinkle that the added consistency of the general rules can easily be exploited if someone in your group is so inclined. It may not be a good choice if the players in your group vary widely in skill level, knowledge of older cards, and/or collection size, although this can be mitigated by sharing decks and playing a little more slowly than usual.

Regardless of what kind of casual you play, that deck probably looks a little weird to you. If you're not accustomed to the deep card pool of casual Vintage (which EDH uses), there are probably some golden oldies in there with which you're not familiar. If you are used to casual Vintage, though—or even EDH in particular—you probably see some staples noticeably missing and some card choices that are downright odd. Murkfiend Liege, but no Seedborn Muse? Body Double, Vesuvan Doppelganger, and Vesuvan Shapeshifter, but no Clone? Magus of the Future, but no Future Sight? Diligent Farmhand, but no Muscle Burst?! (Okay, I'm kidding on that last one.)

So what's up with this deck?

Firstly, there's my card pool. I stopped playing for a while shortly before Invasion block (what a bad idea!), so I don't have all the juicy green-blue gold cards from Apocalypse to fall back on. I loved Dissension, but this deck doesn't really care about the +1/+1 counter theme (represented in this build only by Plaxcaster Frogling); I'll save that for the Experiment Kraj deck I'm working on. And there are plenty of cards I don't have and haven't gotten around to getting, like Seedborn Muse, Experiment Kraj, and Darksteel Colossus.

Second, and more importantly, this isn't just some random green-blue deck—it's a Momir Vig, Simic Visionary deck! The thing I like most about EDH is that picking a general not only restricts the massive available card pool in terms of color, it also lends a theme and a focus. I've seen people who seem to use their generals mainly just to get them access to certain colors, and go for games in a row without actually playing them. That's their style, I guess, but I'd much rather actually build a deck around the general I pick.

Because Momir Vig, Simic Visionary cares so much about creatures, I used creatures for all my utility—mana-fixing, tutoring, card draw, Regrowth effects, and of course Maguses—over other types of cards that would do the same thing. He also cares about the top of my library coming and going, so I included plenty of cards that do the same. This makes Leaf-Crowned Elder hilarious, especially once Trinket Mage fetches a Runed Stalactite for it to wear.

In theory, Murkfiend Liege should fit right in here. My deck is mostly creatures, and it'll pump all of them at least once. On top of that, it would let my big guys attack and still hang back to block—always nice—and if I was lucky, I might get to live the dream with Arcanis the Omnipotent or Nullmage Shepherd. And while hundred-card singleton isn't generally the best format to show off a particular card, I was hopeful that with some help from Vig, I'd be able to play the Liege pretty consistently and get it back if it died.

After getting permission from the powers that be, I took my newly murkified Momir Vig, Simic Visionary deck, gathered some friends, and shuffled (and shuffled and shuffled and shuffled) up to play a few games.

Enter the Dragon

At the table with me were Laura Casperson and her beloved Reaper King / Changeling Lord deck (the EDH version of an equally beloved sixty-card casual deck); Alexis Janson with Sliver Queen (but not Slivers; this perplexed me); Lee Sharpe, with Alexis's Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker deck; Matt Tabak, piloting a Dave Guskin–designed Norin the Wary deck (!); and Dave himself running his other deck, an entirely colorless concoction led by Karn, Silver Golem. You have to give Dave props in the deck-building department!

The second of our two games is the one that sticks out in my mind. I had a tough time, because Lee played Pandemonium really early, which meant that I couldn't safely stick Momir Vig, Simic Visionary (blast you, Norin!). We all joked about the Despotic Scepter in Matt's borrowed deck ("But I don't own any of these cards!"), and I endured good-natured ribbing about Diligent Farmhand.

My attempt to destroy Pandemonium with Nullmage Shepherd in response to Lee revealing Hamletback Goliath from Spinerock Knoll led Alexis to make some tokens before Pandemonium bit the big one, using the damage to kill Dave's Su-Chi so he could activate Mindslaver targeting Lee. Then on Lee's next turn, Dave had Lee attack me for 28, then play... Knollspine Dragon! Lee drew 28 cards, and on his end step, he obediently pitched all but 7 of them into his graveyard, leaving him a hand of 6 lonely Mountains... and Anger. Laura put Shield of the Oversoul on Reaper King and blew up some permanents, Momir Vig, Simic Visionary among them, only to have her indestructible monster fall to Duplicant. Oh well—at least she could still play him again for .

The game eventually ended, at least for me, when I was at a very shaky 2 life and Alexis played Warp World. I had 14 permanents in play when the Warp World went off, so I obediently flipped over the top 14 cards of my deck, revealing enough lands to get by on, a perfectly respectable suite of creatures, and, as my 14th and final card... Cloudthresher. D'oh!

I left at that point, although I heard later that the endgame involved two Pandemoniums and a Grip of Chaos (and a lot of dice-rolling). Gee, sorry I missed it! The games were tons of fun, though, and I'll happily sit down with those same people to play multiplayer another time.

There was one tiny problem, of course, which was painfully evident as I gazed longingly at Murkfiend Liege sitting in the removed-from-the-game zone, sent there by a timely Duplicant.

...Maybe testing out my preview card in a six-player hundred-card singleton format was a silly idea after all.

I did get to do some pretty cool stuff; in Game 1, I got Nullmage Shepherd + Murkfiend Liege going briefly, and narrowly missed out on Arcanis. I also used the Liege to "just" untap my biggest creatures—an 8/8 Simic Sky Swallower and a 5/5 Assault Zeppelid—after attacking to deal 13 in the air each turn and still hold the fort. If that's all I ever did with a Murkfiend Liege, I'd be a-okay. Untapping during other peoples' turns makes me strangely giddy.

Now that the deck has Murkfiend Liege in it, though, there are things I can do to make it shine, if that's the path I choose to take. Alternately, I could use it as the kick I need to get that Experiment Kraj deck together, because I think it's a more natural fit there. Either way, I'm impressed at how much the card did even in a deck that I didn't spend any time tailoring to it, and I'm really looking forward to seeing what it can do if I cater to it.

I could play more multicolored creatures; I didn't realize until I typed up the deck list how few of them there are in the deck. After Eventide comes out, I'll happily throw in more green-blue hybrids, and it'd be worth doing a Gatherer search for all the green-blue gold cards to catch the ones I might not think of.

Experiment Kraj
Tradewind Rider

The untapping ability interests me a lot more, though. Experiment Kraj, of course, would be a great fit, as would Prodigal Sorcerer, Imperious Perfect, maybe even Cytoplast Manipulator. I briefly considered Tradewind Rider but dismissed it as too overpowering, especially in a deck whose general is a tutor. As it turned out, at this table it would have been fine, and I certainly would have had fun bouncing everything. Now to hunt down a Tradewind Rider....

Fly Casual

River's GraspOn a tangentially related note, I couldn't help but notice during our EDH games that Laura had a problem. It definitely wasn't a problem with the people at the table, with whom she gets along swimmingly. It wasn't really even a problem with her deck, which does very close to exactly what she wants it to do.

Laura's problem, basically, was that her expectation for what a game of Magic can and should look like was pretty far removed from the expectations of the rest of the table. Putting Shield of the Oversoul on Reaper King? Completely awesome. That’s a move Laura’s probably been waiting to pull off, one that in the games she’s used to—say, Winston draft with me and her little brother—would easily get a high five and a "good game!" At this table, it did draw happy laughter at how cool it was, and then a Duplicant ate it, and the game moved on to the next crazy play. Man, how jaded are we?

You could call it a power-level problem, but it goes way beyond that. Laura didn't know all the cards around the table. We gave her a heads-up when there was something she needed to be aware of, but reading all those cards and worrying about their interactions would have been boring, slow, and frustrating, especially if she felt like she was slowing everyone else down. So she mostly didn't bother, and I can't blame her. She just made sure that her deck did its thing (at least until someone wiped the board again), and occasionally blew something up with Reaper King. She wasn't nearly as involved in the game as the rest of us, and eventually she stopped paying attention and worked on her knitting. The game, she reported later, had ceased to be fun.

So I'm curious: How does your multiplayer and/or casual group deal with that sort of thing? Do you rely on everyone either reaching the same level of comfort or leaving? That's all well and good if you're all serious about improving your game, but what about people who play socially, just for fun? Do you make allowances for different collection sizes? Different levels of skill and experience? How do you do that without keeping the more experienced players from having a good time the way they want to?

I know these aren’t new questions, but I don’t have much experience with them. Shoot me an email or post in the forums, and let me know how you've seen this handled in the past and whether it worked.

In the meantime, don’t forget, the Eventide Prerelease is this weekend. Have fun!

The Eventide street release and Launch Parties kick off on July 25, but you don’t have to wait. Get your first chance to play with Eventide cards at the Prerelease on July 12 and 13!

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