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Green is Too Good


Several years ago I wrote an article about how Green used to be the joke color in the earliest Magic formats. Then they changed it and made it so over the top it's amazing we've had as few cards banned in Standard over the last few years as we have. Said article was lost in the 2019 content purge of infamy, but that's pretty irrelevant because WotC hasn't curbed the effect whatsoever, so I may as well keep banging on about it.

Questing Beast

This card was pretty panned, but as far as I could tell it was for having ability overload. While that is a surface issue, the underlying problem is that some of its abilities touch new ideas that should by all rights be in a color that hasn't been hogging the overwhelming amount of Magic's design space for a decade.

First, a quick review for the newcomers.

What is the Color Pie and Why Does it Matter?

The color pie is the idea that Magic should keep different aspects of the gameplay within the different colors as both a balance mechanism and an opportunity for players to express themselves and the strategies they prefer or identify with. In practical terms, it's not really necessary for a color to be represented in a given format all that much - especially in older formats from when design was more primitive - but the idea is that it doesn't make any sense for a given color (or set of colors) to be consistently better than the others because you're just marginalizing a certain style of player for no real reason. The color pie is such a fundamental element of how Magic is constructed as a game that it's easy to forget how profoundly important it is to the underpinnings of the game's every creative concept.

Now with all that said...

The Bad News

It's 2020 and the color pie is in the toilet. Let's talk about the biggest criminal in this awful scandal.

The Green is Always Greener

Let's do a quick review of Green's color pie evolution through the ages: from its humble beginnings to the obnoxious sure bet it is today.

Primitive Green

It's hard to judge Limited Edition Alpha and its ilk as the game was all kinds of different back then. The standouts that made it to modernity carry some of the principles that were kept, but the color pie in Alpha was quite all over the place. Three different colors had three-mana or less land destruction spells, for example. It didn't get better with Arabian Nights and friends, either, as those sets are unrecognizable by today's design standards.

Alpha printing of Llanowar Elves.Alpha printing of Ice Storm.Arabian Nights printing of Desert Twister.

The seeds of Green that grew mostly innocuously from this mess of a design era are small mana creatures, creatures whose size was above the other colors except in (literally) rare exceptions, and a few other keyword favoritisms in trample and landwalk.

A few cards that had a big impact on later Green influence should be noted here:

Arabian Nights printing of Ehrnam Djinn.Alpha printing of Regrowth.

The reason I'm noting these is that they all exhibit a huge aspect of modern Green tendencies, though they were mostly isolated effects, rather than cards that were part of a bigger trend.

But long story short, the early days don't really count for much because it was pretty fast and loose with any kind of good color pie structure.

The Middle Ages

Green's incredible amounts of early Magic suckage first began to be alleviated around the time of Survival of the Fittest. A short time after that we found ourselves with Gaea's Cradle and Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary for crying out loud, so yeah, we could run with that. Nevertheless, everything was out of control during that time, as design had taken experiments so far they blew up the laboratory, and Green was just among the witnesses.

The latter part of this period of gross Green growth had cards like these, ones carrying very "Green" ideas into future years:

Nemesis printing of Blastoderm.Mirage printing of Wall of Roots.Odyssey printing of Call of the Herd.
Onslaught printing of Ravenous Baloth.Mirage printing of Worldly Tutor.Judgment printing of Elephant Guide.

For some reason the scattershot weirdness of early color pie stuff was cleaned up quite a bit in the other colors, but Green just got to keep all the goofy stuff it always did minus straight up killing creatures and card draw. Honestly, that was fine, because killing creatures and card draw were better than doing everything else anyway for most of this era. So, oh well.

The Heel Turn Begins

Green once again became the laughing stock when Mirrodin basically included playable (re: broken six ways to Sunday) cards for only the other four colors and the circus they had with artifacts while Green sat out in the cold in a car that wouldn't start. They put Regrowth on a creature in that block, and it was really good, though.

After this is when the push started and never stopped. Someone let Harmonize through the door and it has been one big mess ever since. And no, Sylvan Library doesn't count because it predates Homelands, which in design terms, means it isn't even Magic. It's barely even a card game.

Legends printing of Sylvan Library.Planar Chaos printing of Harmonize.

Again, you can see the strange exceptions made for Green to this day: A bunch of the other Planar Chaos swaps were kind of one and done. Green just got to keep all the stuff it borrowed because I have no idea.

Green Today

In the current color pie, Green really only gets one thing, but sadly, the thing is everything.

Ramp me, daddy.

Grow from the Ashes
Elvish Mystic
Rosethorn Acolyte

Resolve infinite life plus one.

Centaur Nurturer
Grazing Gladehart

Try to spot the really subtle graveyard combo. Are you watching?

Den Protector
Deathmist Raptor

And yet we hate the graveyard because circle of life metaphors can really excuse anything.

Ground Seal
Scavenging Ooze
Deathgorge Scavenger

Every creature that isn't literally Yavimaya Elder is unplayable and embarrassing.

Jadelight Ranger
Ripjaw Raptor
Pelakka Wurm

Broken tokens smokin'.

Saproling Migration
Sprout Swarm
Thundering Spineback

I got flashed.

Nightpack Ambusher
Yeva, Nature's Herald

Like anyone could possibly care that you can't be countered in 2020. I mean, really.

Thrun, the Last Troll
Prowling Serpopard
Great Sable Stag

So without even getting too deeply into the color pie claims we've already made in earlier sections, you can plainly see from the above that not only does Green feature a huge variety of the available Magic design space, it also has multitudes of it on the same damn cards.

Questing Beast

Giving an ability to creatures that allows them to "Thorn Elemental" planeswalkers is overdue. Why on earth did Green get this? You're telling me White couldn't use that ability? For crying out loud!

Formats, Color Pie Culpability, and You

The various popular Magic formats are typically defined by some sort of identity with colors based on their omnipresence, to varying extents. Vintage is a very "Blue" format due to the top end of the color consisting of the most efficient cards ever, Legacy is skewed by Brainstorm historically, and so on. It really depends on the era and the format, but there is some tendency for certain decks to force uneven distributions of color representation for pockets of time unless the format is largely settled out the way Vintage or Legacy is.

When thinking about Commander years ago it was clear that the rules of the format (higher life total, importance of fast mana) favored Green and Blue heavily. I now wonder if the price we've paid for overall "more fun" Magic sets is a tendency to design cards with a little too much of Commander's spirit in mind. After all, how the hell else do you explain a card like Oko getting through development? My word!

Older Magic formats contain cards that had designers and developers that didn't know better. Today it's less reasonable for Green to be so wide. Let's move on already.

Whisperwood Elemental
Destructor Dragon
Craterhoof Behemoth

I'm a Green mage. It's my favorite color in the game. Birds of Paradise was my first Magic card.

When I say it's time to donate a little pie to the others, it means things are real.

I'll check in on all the other colors next week. I'll probably focus most on White, which is horrible at the moment.


The Rascal

The Indestructible Danny West

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