Learning from Lennie Small
If you haven’t read Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, Lennie Small is amazingly big and strong man, incredibly strong. However, Lennie isn’t very smart to put it lightly. Luckily for Lennie, he has a friend named George Milton. There is nothing special about George physically or athletically. The good thing about George is that he is very witty and smart. Due to these abilities, George is capable of finding the duo work during the Depression.
Relating this to Magic, Green is the Lennie Small of the color pie. Green isn’t very smart; it’s simply a brute. What makes green dumb is the fact that it interacts with opponent on very few levels and offers minimal options which leads to very few choices to be made by the person piloting the deck. Green also lacks fear.
When I say interact, I am talking about anything a player can do that affects a permanent, spell, graveyard, combat, or cards in hand; pretty much anything dealing with the opponent and his/her cards. Levels are phases, turns, and permanents specifically. Take Recoil, it can interact with the opponent’s hand, any permanent in play, and can be played during any turn for any particular phase. Recoil has a high level of opportunities interact with the opponent. Now take Unsummon, it can interact the same as Recoil by being an instant. However, it can only return creatures to the owner’s hand and doesn’t interact with the opponent’s hand. Keep in mind that I am not arguing about the power level of these cards. I don’t care if Counterspell is better than Cancel. What I care about is that Counterspell and Cancel can interact with the opponent in the same way. They can be played during any turn or phase. They both have the same level of interaction.
When I am talking about options, I am talking about cards and being able to make a decision during a particular play. Example: you have one Plains in play and your opponent taps out to play a Tarmogoyf. You have a Mana Tithe and Swords to Plowshares in hand. Each of these cards gives you two options and presents you with a single choice. Do you let Tarm Tarm resolve and smack it like a $$#@@ with your Swords to Plowshares or do you play Mana Tithe to counter their $50 dollar card with your 10 cent card? You could also do nothing.
Before we move back to green, let’s look at a Standard Deck that has plagued us for a better part of a year; Faeries. As you examine the list, think about the countless ways it can interact with the opponent and its numerous options.
|Masashi Oiso’s 2008 World Championship Faerie Deck ListMagic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards|
2 Faerie Conclave
4 Secluded Glen
4 Sunken Ruins
3 Underground River
4 Mistbind Clique
4 Scion of Oona
2 Sower of Temptation
4 Spellsputer Sprite
4 Agony Warp
3 Broken Ambitions
4 Cryptic Command
3 Jace Beleren
1 Jace Beleren
2 Puppeteer Clique
2 Sower of Temptation
The Fairies player has any number of ways of interacting with you from tapping your lands, stealing creatures, killing creatures, ripping cards out of your hand, reanimating creatures in your graveyard, countering your spells, bouncing your permanents, and it also smacks you across the head during combat.
Now let’s return to that big Lennie Small of a color green. What does green do? It plays big dumb creatures. If you are playing a mono green deck, you might as well say to your opponent, “Hey, I am playing green. I’m sure you are more than happy to hear that. So…go ahead and do anything you want during your turn. Oh no, don’t worry, play whatever you want and do anything you want because there is absolutely nothing I can do to stop you.” Seriously, how often is looking at your hand at all beneficial during your opponent’s turn? You might as well fold up your hand and set it down on the table until it is your turn. To be fair, there is the rare chance of playing a Naturalize on…I don’t know, maybe an Oblivion Ring?
Now, this may sound like I am picking on Lennie. I’m not. What we need to understand is that Lennie will always be Lennie. We can’t change that. In order to get the most out of green, it needs a George Milton. In Magic, George is any of the other colors. Once green is combined with another section of the color pie, green can become a real and formidable threat. If we look at some of the classic tournament staples that include green, we get Fires, Threshold, the Rock, Glare, and Heezy Street. Once you hook up green with George, it becomes a powerhouse.
Fear (not the ability)
Magic is a better game when there is a certain amount of fear. Some of the best times are the stories of rushing to kill ones opponent before they could top deck another burn spell. These are the great moments of the game and all of these have a certain amount of fear to them. Fear is also healthy for the game. For the longest time, I could not open a Wrath of God in a booster pack for the life of me. It still amazes me. I went many, many years without a Wrath of God because I figured I would eventually get one due to probability. The unfortunate consequence to this is that all my Magic buddies knew it. If I were playing white, my friends would simply slap down their creatures as fast as they could. The only concern was a Swords to Plowshares. Eventually, I succumbed to trading for my Wogs. The first time I hit my playgroup with a Wog was priceless. In one fell swoop, I cleared countless creatures off the board. The best thing about the whole scenario was it changed the play style of my group. A single Wog instilled a keen sense of fear. Their creatures were no longer immune to global sweeping effects. Nowadays, when I start throwing down Plains onto the table, my playgroup still has that sense of fear in them that I could have a Wog in my deck.
Green instills very little fear. Sure, creatures like Troll Ascetic, Ravenous Baloth, or Tarmogoyf will make opponents groan, but dropping a Forest into play does not have the same effect as an opponent plopping down an Island. Dropping an Island leads to Counterspells, Swamps lead to Dark Ritual, Dark Ritual, Hymn to Tourach, Hypnotic Specter, Mountains brings forth the Goblin Lackey or Lightning Bolts, Plains threatens you with StP or Wrath of God. The scariest scenarios for green are a turn one Llanowar Elves or Birds of Paradise. Even those aren’t very scary. All a Forest says to me is that I will have to do is some creature management this game.
George and Lenny Become Friends
Sometime during the beginning of Shards of Alara, I was determined to try piloting Elves during Standard. Unwittingly, I took out all the Nameless Inversions because I felt they couldn’t compete against all the Dora, the Explorer and Demigod of Revenge running around. I also took out Eyeblight’s Ending because it was too cost prohibitive and slow. I replaced them with more creatures to go down the beat down route. Removing them from the deck was a big mistake.
Red-white Kithkin were becoming a dominant threat. I practiced heavily against that archetype. I noticed I was losing about every Game 3 of the Match. As I played more, I realized my opponent’s were not just beating me because of sideboarding; they were beating me because my opponent’s intuition eventually told him/her that I didn’t have any point removal. Instead of slow rolling their deck or baiting my spot removal with less important creatures, they simply steamrolled over my deck by switching to a more aggressive play style. After this experience, I returned all of my point removal into the deck. After doing this, the Red-White Kithkin matchup went much more smoothly and I even enjoyed playing my deck more. More importantly, I increased my interactions with my opponent by putting George back in. Without George, my deck became a simpleton of a Lennie. We also decreased the amount of fear from my opponent. Fear in this case is good. It causes my opponent to play incorrectly giving me an advantage.
Now, let’s take what we learned here. For example, we are building a green-black deck. We first need to decide what our George is going to be. With black we have the options of discard with cards like Duress or point removal in cards like Terror. We should not be putting in a bunch of stuff like Black Knight (Unless it fits our theme). It’s a great card, but its not George. Black Knight also doesn’t give us any more interaction with the opponent. This doesn’t mean we can’t put in creatures. If we are looking at creatures, we should be looking at cards like Royal Assassin or Nekrataal. These creatures give us our Georges.
Creating Better Green Cards
I think Bennie Smith was on to something in his article: You Like the Juice? – A Bigger Slice of Pie for Green. His article is one of the reasons I am writing this piece. Bennie mentioned giving tapping abilities to green. The real question; why would tapping be a great ability for green? Tapping would allow green to interact more intricately with your opponent than it does now.
Another way to help green overcome its addiction to combat step is to change how green cards are made. Instead of saying, “how can we make a green card”, the question should be “how can we make a green card interact with his/her opponent” or “how can we make a green card that prevents the opponent from interacting with you”. Just because I am putting an emphasis on interaction with an opponent, noninteractive mechanics like shroud are also important and powerful. Troll Ascetic is a powerful card by making it difficult for the opponent to interact effectively with it. Keep in mind, if you pair Troll Ascetic with George, cards like Loxodon Warhammer or Armadillo Cloak is what makes Lennie really awesome.
Some of the more powerful cards or decks are ones that prevent your opponent from interacting with you. Cards such as Stasis, Winter Orb, Orim’s Chant, Chalice of the Void, Trinisphere, Solitary Confinement, Contamination, and Blood Moon are difficult to deal with at times. Therefore, green doesn’t necessarily need to go down the path of trying to interact with the opponent. For all you amateur card developers, you can make green cards to make it difficult to interact with green. Grizzly Bears with Thorn of Amethyst like qualities comes to mind. As a little note, Green has had some limited success with cards like Xantid Swarm.
A little Off Topic, this is one of the reasons life gain is such a horrible mechanic (if you can call it a mechanic). Life gain, unless linked with a creature or something, has no interaction with the opponent. All it does is extend the amount of interactions your opponent must go through before dispatching you. I just mentioning life gain because it’s a green part of the color pie.
For the sake of this argument and we are not worried about the power level of said card, what would happen if they made this card.
Call of the Piper
Look at target opponent’s hand and choose a creature card.
Put the chosen creature into play under your control.
If this greenish card existed, would you be at least of a little afraid of turn one Forest? I know I would. Turn one: Forest, Call of the Piper, thanks for the Dark Confidant or Akroma, Angel of Wrath. Besides being ridiculously powerful, Call of the Piper also gives green a choice and another way of interacting with the opponent. Do I play Call of the Piper or should I get my Llanowar Elves into play first? This is just an example of how to make a green George card that I think would benefit Mono Green.
Call of the Piper may be pushing the lines of what green does within the color pie. One thing I have learned throughout my years of playing Magic, if argued and presented correctly, anybody can justify anything. Planar Chaos is a great example; Green Ball Lightning in the form of Groundbreaker. I have been reading articles at MagictheGathering.com since its inception and a great deal of the time the authors spend a lot of energy justifying the cards they print. One of the bigger controversies I can remember was Disenchant moving into green in the form of Naturalize. It seemed awkward at first, but as time passed, it feels more natural.
I know just about every Magic player is an amateur card developer at heart. With that being said, what do you as the audience think are some areas Green can venture into? Is Call of the Piper a step in the right direction, can tapping be intergrated in Green, or is this just a slap in the face to the historcial and flavorful nature of Magic?