Magic is a game with an inherent amount of randomness. The idea is randomness allows for each game of Magic to be different from the last. I've heard a number of words over the years for the benefits of chance. A word cloud produces terms like fair, variance, unique, interesting game play, and fun. Despite all of these benefits, Magic players spend the majority of their energy combating randomness. The majority of players don't like the game of chance. What players really want is consistency.
Random: the most hated word in Magic. Red has been tormented by the term for years. Well, decades. Rarely, does a card like Gamble see competitive play. Balduvian Horde once saw competitive play back when Serra Angel was considered good. I find it sad, really. I like Balduvian Horde, but I also really like my Serra Angels so… Cursed Scroll is a pseudo red card to still see an iota of play. Can we really consider random a drawback when the opponent is picking a random card out of a hand of one? A few random cards have moved up from the minors to occasionally bat in the major leagues. Burning Inquiry, Goblin Lore, Ignite Memories, Magus of the Scroll, and Stormbind. Devastating Dreams is the one powerhouse still around in the Legacy format destroying people dreams in Aggro Loam.
The real kick in the junk is the majority of random cards could have been good without the randomness. Others would just be playable. It makes me sad to see a card like Minotaur Explorer go unused. I would have loved, loved the card. Instead, I get kicked in the junk with the random. Excluding cards like Gamble where the word is relevant to balance the power level of the card, let's just say we removed the word random from every card. I doubt prices on Balduvian Horde or Minotaur Explorer would go through the roof. Stormbind might actually see some play, maybe.
It gets worse when the shoe is on the other foot. Random is extremely powerful in reverse. Hymn to Tourach and Hypnotic Specter have been making people cry for years. Even though Hypnotic Specter is not the powerhouse it used to be, it still has merit. Jund occasionally ran the 2/2 flier back in the Shards of Alara block. It is probably one of the few critters back from the day to still see play in multiple formats. I suppose it doesn't hurt Hypnotic Specter is a fan favorite. Mind Twist even got the banned for years in every format it was legal in. It is still banned in Legacy.
If you are on the receiving end of randomness, it sucks whether it is Balduvian Horde or Mind Twist. Yes, I know there are a select few who enjoy flipping coins or chaos. I also know people who enjoy getting kicked in the junk.
Searching for the Win
The ban hammer loves to nail tutors. Shall I bore you with the long list of tutors that have gotten banned? Oh, let’s just do it for fun.
Demonic Tutor, Survival of the Fittest, Vampiric Tutor, Demonic Consultation, Goblin Recruiter, Hermit Druid, Mystical Tutor, Oath of Druids, Sensei's Divining Top along with sac lands and fan favorite Tinker.
Legacy seems to have a habit of getting cards banned. Tutors are still around and being abused to full effect. Trinket Mage and Imperial Recruiter are the only reasons for the viability of the Painter's Servant deck. The price tag is prohibitive and only a few elitist can afford the deck. It is the one time I am grateful for the obscene price tag of competitive play. If it were cheaper to play, I bet more people would be playing the monstrosity and something would be banned. The format has the additional fortune of Imperial Recruiter is impossible to find. Look around. Even at two hundred dollars a pop, the availability is scarce. I'm not picking on Painter or the people that play it. Admittedly, I do laugh when people suggest playing expensive decks like Painter/Grindstone or others. Hey everyone, I think everybody should be driving a Lamborghini. It’s really the best car to drive. Seriously? Anyway, the real reason is the fact the deck would not be viable without tutors. Tutors make the deck consistent.
Painter isn't the only guilty party. Stiflenought has Trinket Mage, Goblins has Goblin Matron, Entomb in Reanimator, and Bant with Natural Order. Even Lim-Dul's Vault and Enlightened Tutor are seeing increased amounts of play recently. Well, recent for Legacy anyway. With tutors being so omnipotent, I have always been amazed at the lack of Worldly Tutor in the format. I suppose the card had been dwarfed by the former Survival of the Fittest. I have a hard time believing the card isn't good. Grabbing an Emrakul, the Aeons Torn for Show and Tell the following turn just feels bonkers to me. For some time now, I have been testing the card in a Legacy build along with an additional tutor in the form of Living Wish. Want something new to play in Legacy? Try Envy.
Like everyone and their dog, I have been trying to break Dark Depths. It didn't appear viable until I fell in love again with Living Wish. With a Vampire Hexmage and Dark Depths in the sideboard, either part of the combo can be completed with Living Wish. Only have Vampire Hexmage and Living Wish in hand: go grab Dark Depths out of the sideboard or vice versa. Expedition Map adds to the tutor package, but it isn't a pauper’s choice. Crop Rotation was too much of a liability with Force of Will being ubiquitous in the format. Crop Rotation also constrains the mana base while Expedition Map can drop down on Wasteland mana. More importantly, it can drop down on mana. Doing so still allows a person to hit a turn two Marit Lage. Tutors and Eternal Witness allows a player to do it over and over again. Envy plays a lot like Valakut in being resilient against counters or removal.
The rest is self explanatory except for Zombie Trailblazer. Yes, it is an odd piece of tech. The card actually does three things. Not often, Zombie Trailblazer helps Marit Lage connect when a player is hiding behind a flyer such as thopter tokens or whatever. By default due to Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth or if opponent has a swamp of their own, Zombie Trailblazer makes Marit Lage unblockable. It can be handy. The other benefit is shutting down an opponent's Wasteland. Hi, you have a swamp now. In a pinch, Zombie Trailblazer can color screw a land light opponent.
I use Legacy decks a lot in my examples. The problem is the format makes for great hyperbole. This doesn't mean the same examples can't be found in other formats. Stoneforge Mystic is public enemy number one at the moment. Card advantage or not, that little white devil makes decks incredibly consistent. Players don't even have to run the full four of Sword of Feast and Famine. We have Primeval Titan to tutor up Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle or additional Mountains as necessary. Ranger of Eos made its debut for a time in various archetypes from various Boros style of decks or Soul Sisters. Quest for the Holy Relic is scary when it works. Fauna Shaman and Vengevine are still friends.
As powerful as tutors are in a format, it isn't the only way to build a game winning deck. Simply being redundant is a viable solution. The White Weenie strategy relies heavily on having multiple sets of cheap, efficient creatures. Traditional Burn decks rely on redundancy to a certain degree. Legacy deploys the same strategy in decks like Zoo with multiple one drops and Merfolk running twenty lords. This shouldn't be a surprise since the holy mantra of deck construction is sets of four. People aren't supposed to run three or two of anything. Running less than four makes a deck less consistent.
Denied Again and Again
One idea I have been arguing lately is why blue and black will always be successful colors at tournaments. My soapbox is that the colors are more consistent than other colors. Counterspells are powerful. No doubt about it. The deal is Mana Leak counters Day of Judgment just as easily as Primeval Titan. It is universal in its effectiveness. One thing I have learned the hard way is I can metagame too much for tournaments. I expect this deck X, but never get paired with deck X. I tune my deck for Y, but nobody is playing the deck for that particular tournament. Blue doesn't have that problem to such a degree. Mana Leak works against everything. Even in a pinch, a person can counter a Vengevine.
Black has the same luxury to some extent with discard and removal. Black has the best removal and it works against almost anything at instant speed. Go for the Throat works against 99% of creatures in any format. I'm not arguing if destroying Primeval Titan with Go for the Throat is a viable strategy. What I am pressing is cards like Go for the Throat is viable against a variety of decks at any given time. Against White, I can kill Baneslayer Angel. Red, I can take out a Goblin Guide. It doesn't matter what sits down across from me. My blue and black cards will always be good against them. In short, I guess I am saying blue and black will always have better match-up percentages.
Blue has another advantage with its ability to draw cards. Again, I am not going to talk about the merits of card advantage. With every single card drawn, a deck becomes more consistent. A player drawing more cards allows him/her to find that Grave Titan a turn sooner than the opponent. Half of Magic comes down to which player draws what first. It doesn't matter if my opponent has Grave Titans. If my opponent can't find them, he/she loses. The other bonus from drawing cards is hitting land drops. I can't recall the number of times I have watched online coverage and everybody cringes when somebody misses a third or fourth turn drop. Sometimes, it is like giving the opponent of Time Walk. It is something I have increasing become more conscious about over the years. In the late game, people packing blue have more lands in play and it heavily influences the outcome of the game. While I am sitting on four land, the opponent playing blue has a crucial six or seven lands. I kept missing land drops and my opponent hit one every turn. It is a big deal especially when six or seven mana spells are so game changing as in cards like Cruel Ultimatum.
In Vintage, Ancestral Recall, Thirst for Knowledge, Fact or Fiction, Gifts Ungiven, Brainstorm and even Ponder have all been restricted. Both Ponder and Brainstorm are probably the most note worthy in my argument. Those two cards make decks incredibly consistent. Granted, the two cards were restricted for additional reasons. This leads right into Preordain. Anything in the current Standard format is running blue has four Preordain in the main. Is it because of its power level? Card drawing? No. It is because of its ability to make decks more consistent. Necropotence and Yawgmoth's Bargain got hammered for many reasons, but giving combo decks consistent ways to find their pieces was important in their bannings or restrictions. People playing the Illusions of Grandeur and Donate weren't playing Necropotence purely for cards. They wanted to find the combo and Necropotence did a very good job of making it happen.
A Short Stop from I Don't Care and Who the Hell is on First
Even though I am a flagbearer for change, I am also big on consistency. I don't show that side of me all too often. Mostly, it is because more people resist change than consistency. After reading Mark's article about legends (praetors), logical or not, I am starting to feel like Magic has been through a lot of changes over the last couple of years. It is exhausting. The Extended format changed, new bannings, unbannings, and etc. I feel like I am reaching that burned out stage. Again, I am all for change, but it needs to be practical and positive.
Extended is a format that has really disenfranchised me. One of the main problems is I don't feel like I can trust the format. Let's say I go out and drop a pretty dime on cards for the format that nobody plays. Suddenly, the format changes and the cards I bought are useless. Thanks WOTC. No store sanctions the format. Even Star City Games won't run tournaments. I already have to keep up with Commander, Magic Tactics, Archenemy, Planechase, Magic Online, Vintage, Legacy, Standard, Pauper, Prismatic, Sealed, Draft, Two-Headed Giant, and Team formats. More accurately, I feel overburdened with Magic. There are too many irons in the fire. It really makes me ask the following question. Do we even need Extended? What is the point of Extended? If it is to expand the pool of cards players can play with, I think we already have enough formats for that particular purpose. My vote is either to get rid of the appendix of a format or to keep it consistent with a card pool of Invasion and onward.
Consistency prevents confusion and it is never a good idea to confuse a customer. Nobody likes being confused. It is the reason I love the changes to a base set be released every year. Every year, I will know what is being released and when. I like the consistency. I do. So much so, I wish the tournament scene would have a small ounce of order. I never know what I need to play in what qualifier season. What I really want is for something theoretically like the following. Qualifiers in January are Legacy. Qualifiers in February will always be Standard. March Qualifiers will always be draft. Rinse and repeat. All stores will be required to have constructed tournaments the first Friday of every month at FNM. No matter where I go, Internet connection or not, I know what is going on. These are just a few random ideas. All I am asking for I guess is a little more structure.
Back to the Future
Whoops, I didn't talk about the legendary issue. If I had my way and a pen in hand, I would change the legend and planeswalker rule so each player could have one of each. Only one. There would be no I play a Jace Beleren and your goes to the graveyard along with mine. It doesn't make sense flavor wise. Even before the last change, I thought the original legend rule was, well, dumb. The new rules for planewalkers and legends aren't much better. Try explaining the rule to somebody brand spanking new. When my wife plays, the legend rule annoys her like no other. Stupid was her words of choice.
The flavor purists will argue because they are in fact legendary. In a game with dragons, angels, planeswalker sparks, alternative universes and time machines, I don't buy that argument. Marty McFly and Doc Brown didn't suddenly combust into flames in Back to the Future II because there were two of them. It reminds me of watching movies with my mom. Bless her heart, but she is the worst person in world to watch anything science fictional with. Star Wars. Yes, Star Wars. We are watching a movie in which people with Jedi powers can lift entire starships with their minds. At some point, a Jedi jumps really high or something. My mom will comment how the jump is impossible for a human. Seriously? These warriors of the force can move entire starcrafts, but jumping really high is just too much?
I view the planeswalker rule the same way. Why can't we both have one Jace Beleren on the battlefield? The game of Magic won't suddenly burst into flames because two are on the battlefield. I only get one. You only get one. If you try playing a Jace, the Mind Sculptor with Jace Beleren in play, both of your Jaces go to the graveyard. Not mine. The best thing I like about my proposal is people get to play with their cards. When people get to play with their cards, people are happy. It seems like happy game play 101. In the end, I just think people are over thinking this whole thing.
The whole idea for this article came about after reading about how variance makes this game fun. Fun? Variance? I found it humorous. Magic players spend the majority of their time and energy trying to fight randomness and variance. What is the most popular format? Constructed: a format were players can build decks with the least amount of variance. This entire process has me wondering about WOTC’s policy on tutors. They want fun. They want variance, but they sure print an awful lot of tutors in a variety of forms.