Parasitology can be a very interesting field of study for people with a strong constitution. Thoughts of small life forms invading a person’s body which syphon off a person’s vital juices can make even the most burly of men squirm. The majority of these life-sucking pests do not provide any benefit to the host. At the individual level, it would appear the world would be a better place if they were completely annihilated. The benefits of parasites can’t be seen at individual level until you view it from a larger picture at the ecological level. A typical eco model entails the basic biology course predator-prey model. In the simplified food chain, there is a predator such as a wolf and a prey consisting of the helpless little baby rabbit. Easter bunnies are easy victims of the wolf unless they are the Monty Python kind. When the prey reaches a high population density, the predator population explodes due the ample food source. This is followed a crash in the rabbit population which results in a large drop in the wolf numbers from the scarcity of prey numbers.
The extreme up and down swings of the predator-prey populations can be detrimental to the ecosystem. At the down swing of the crash, it leaves the species involved susceptible to long term rebound. If a disease or natural disaster surfaces itself during these times, the populations will stay small until the hampering stimulus is removed in time. When parasites are involved in the model, the up and down swings are much milder due to the effects of the parasites. If the wolf population begins to overcome the rabbit population, the wolves become highly infected with the parasite in question. The infected population is hindered and it allows the rabbit population to revitalize. The same holds true for the prey. Rapidly rising amounts of rabbits leads to high infectivity. The diseased rabbits are much easier for the predators to catch. The parasites have a more dramatic influence on the larger population.
Biology has been central to my education. As any Magic player does, I have often drawn correlations with my field of study to the card game. Cards and mechanics are constantly evolving. The biomes of standard, extended, vintage, and legacy are in constant flux. Well, maybe not the eternal formats. When I think of parasites in Magic cards, I think of cards like the Great Sable Stag, Volcanic Fallout, and hosers. I believe such cards are vital to the health of the Magic format. The presence of such cards keeps the Magic format healthy in respect to the bigger picture. If we could somehow reverse time, the Lowryn format would have been much different if the Great Sable Stag were in Shadowmoor. I believe Fairies may have continued to have significant numbers at tournaments, but not to the extreme levels it reached. Contemplating the matter, if small numbers of Fairies in the theoretical metagame, it could eventually result in players opting for other cards to replace the Great Sable Stag such as Kitchen Finks. With low levels of the parasite in the metagame, it may be fathomable for Fairies to resurge in numbers.
As such, I like to think of the metagame as an ecosystem. At its most vibrant and healthiest, the game represents a rainforest with a pleuthura of deck choices for any given tournament. In the worst of times, the desert is filled Psychatog decks or something that beats Psychatog. I remember those Odyssey days. It wasn’t fun. It was boring. I recently attended the Starcitygames 5K in Minneapolis. It was fun. Not once did I face the same deck. I did face Tokens twice, but at least one was Kithkin and the other, G/W Tokens. Yeah, I wish my day had a better ending than my 4-4-1 standing, but I still had a very enjoyable time. More is always better when it comes to deck variety.
Over the last few years, I believe Wizards has taken great care of the Magic ecosystem. Compared to certain segments of the past, the recent Standard scene has flourished under their direction. Besides this facet, I do believe a gap exists. A crucial part of the game is having answers. Path to Exile and Wrath of God are excellent choices against creatures. Disenchants, Naturalizes, Shattering Spree, and Ray of Revelation keep enchantments and artifacts in check. Johnny combo stays home with Discard and Counterspells. Tormod's Crypt, Relic of Progenitus, and Leyline of the Void prevent graveyard shenanigans.
The unchecked predator that most concerns me are abilities. Negating Stifle, Trickbind, and Voidslime, there is little a player can do against abilities. When you think about it, the majority of cards have some kind of ability. We rarely see a vanilla cooking its way through the metagame these days; looking at you Woolly Thoctar. Before getting too far into the subject, I am not saying there is a lack of answers to particular cards. A plentiful supply of removal exists in these times to take care of a Wolf-Skull Shaman and others. What I am talking about is abilities in general. They have been breeding like rabbits without something to control the populace.
Stifle does a great job at taking down troublesome abilities, namely storm. However, Stifle is a one shot effect. The game needs something repeatable and with a little more ammunition. Stifle on a stick so to speak. Something you can repeatedly bash those decks gorging on abilities with into a bloody pulp. In the current environment, such a card could see some heavy metal action. Here is a short Standard list of possible game Stifle on a Stick could gun down.
Ajani Goldmane, Ajani Vengeant, Anathemancer, Archon of Justice, Augury Adept, Battlegrace Angel, Bitterblossom, Bituminous Blast, Bloodbraid Elf, Broodmate Dragon, Burrenton Forge-Tender, Captured Sunlight, Chameleon Colossus, Chandra Nalaar, Cloudgoat Ranger, Cloudthresher, Countryside Crusher, Dauntless Escort, Demigod of Revenge, Deny Reality, Deus of Calamity, Dragon Broodmother, Elspeth, Knight-Errant, Elvish Visionary, Enigma Sphinx, Enlisted Wurm, Ethersworn Shieldmage, Figure of Destiny, Flamekin Harbinger, Fulminator Mage, Garruk Wildspeaker, Glen Elendra Archmage, Hellspark Elemental, Horde of Notions, Imperious Perfect, Incandescent Soulstoke, Jace Beleren, Jenara, Asura of War, Kathari Remnant, Kitchen Finks, Knight of the Reliquary, Knight of the White Orchid, Leaf-Crowned Elder, Liliana Vess, Maelstrom Archangel, Marsh Flitter, Master Transmuter, Merrow Reejerey, Militia's Pride, Mirror Entity, Mistbind Clique, Mulldrifter, Murderous Redcap, Nettle Sentinel, Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker, Noble Hierarch, Oblivion Ring, Oona, Queen of the Fae, Puppeteer Clique, Putrid Leech, Qasali Pridemage, Ranger of Eos, Realm Razer, Reveillark, Sarkhan Vol, Scepter of Fugue, Sedraxis Alchemist, Shriekmaw, Siege-Gang Commander, Silvergill Adept, Sower of Temptation, Spellstutter Sprite, Spinerock Knoll, Stillmoon Cavalier, Sygg, River Guide, Taurean Mauler, Terramorphic Expanse, Tezzeret the Seeker, Tidehollow Sculler, Treefolk Harbinger, Twilight Shepherd, Vendilion Clique, Vexing Shusher, Wake Thrasher, Wall of Reverence, Windbrisk Heights, Wolf-Skull Shaman, and Wort, Boggart Auntie.
Route of Transmission
The origination of Counterspells for abilities started with Stifle with the eventual Trickbind and Voidslime. As a spell, I think it is appropriate for Blue to be the secondary color of this mechanic. What I would really love to see is the ability in Red and somewhat Green. The color pie already gives some credence for red having this weapon. Red is about trickery and has gotten cards such as Swerve, Goblin Flectomancer, Reroute, Shunt, Sideswipe, Torchling and Wild Ricochet. Flavorwise, I feel it would make Blue more of an antagonist to Red. Blue counters spells. Red gets to counter abilities. Besides, it would a nice change of pace for Red. The color lacks depth. Searching the gatherer, out of 2072 red cards, 768 of them have damage somewhere in their text box. It reminds me of Bubba from Forest Gump. Damage and potatoes, damage salad, damage stew, damage with rice...
Many hate Counterspells. I am within the camp of counter magic being essential for the health of the game. Counterspells are the peacekeepers of the game. Their presence ensures the format doesn’t become degenerative. Then again, the format can be degenerate if Blue is too strong. In the days of Magic Online Beta testing, I spent a chunk of my adult life playing multiplayer. I can recall many a game where combos ran amuck. To prevent the charades, I opted to play two-colored decks with one color always being Blue. I packed a few Counterspells and friends to ensure the games stayed at least fair. In small doses, counter magic is doable in multiplayer.
With Blue being the dominant keeper of the peace, it restricts the colors design space. Giving Red the ability to hate out abilities would allow Blue to expand. This is why I wouldn’t mind taking Stifle abilities away from Blue. Sure, it would be losing a mechanic, but it could gain a lot from it. On the same note, it would be beneficial for the game to have another checks and balances. Another presence to ensure nothing gets too crazy. This area of design for Red can have other benefits by allowing the color to have some control aspect. If a player failed to play a spell with an ability during his/her turn, you can smack them with a burn spell. For the Red mage in me, it would be nice to have at least some way to combat Story Circle and kin, Circle of Protection: Red.
Many years ago, an Agriculture branch of the government decided to introduce an inconspicuous bug to the U.S. When released, the Asian Beetle was meant to be an environmentally friendly way to control the aphid population. The arthropod is almost identical in appearance to the ladybug. At first, the experiment was a success. Aphid populations dropped considerably. In the last few years, the Asian Beetle population has exploded. During the winter months, they move indoors of any home. Hundreds creep inside. Worst of it all, they stink if squashed, vacuumed, or exterminated. The government now admits to the blatant failure. The error was the result that none of our predators are insufficiently capable of attacking the bugs. Possibly hearsay, but I was informed the problem is because none of the North American Spiders have strong or long enough fangs to kill them. The swarm is slowly coming under control with nature solving the problem as our predators slowly grow in numbers and adapt.
With Alara Reborn, we got cascade. It is a very polarizing mechanic. Some people love it and others really dislike it. Of course this reminds me of storm. Both mechanics may be deemed broken in their own respects. I agree with this sentiment only slightly. As with the Asian Beetles, the mechanics are super annoying because of the lack of cards to deal with them. Suspend in Time Spiral never went completely bonkers due to Riftsweeper and Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir. The only straightforward answer for Cascade at the moment is Double Negative, in colors not exactly rocking the metagame. Ethersworn Canonist does a descent job with its pal Gaddock Teeg who will leave us here in three months. So, we have a couple of ways to deal with cascade, but nothing at common. Storm was even worse. If you hated storm, you needed Stifle or Rule of Law and had to play Blue or White. To put it bluntly, if more answers existed, I surmise we would see less angst against the mechanics if we had (blank).
Just like the Asian Beetles, abilities shouldn’t be driven into extinction. They are beneficial. It is simply a matter of balance. If we did push abilities into extinction, then we would just have vanilla magic cards. I don’t think anybody wants that to happen. Pesticide of choice over the years has been the Counterspells. DDT was great too...until it started killing things it shouldn’t. Releasing large amounts of counter magic can be damaging to the game. It destroys a lot of viable decks from ever making the tournament scene. On the same note, if we don’t have high levels of counter magic, R&D has to be careful with what they print.
Scientist have developed more environmentally and effective pesticides over the years. Besides DDT being banned in the United States, we have a large variety pesticidal agents at our disposal today. We no longer have to spray with broad-spectrum insecticide. These pesticides can be used to target a particular pest instead of killing everything with more than four legs. Maybe someday R&D will learn to go Green.