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Love/Hate: Colorless Mana


One thing I enjoy about some sports writers is just how black and white their worldview can be. When they write an article about which players you should have in your fantasy football lineup, it's usually titled something like "Love/Hate: Week 14." In those articles, there's no middle ground. You don't run into players who are "pretty good," or "acceptable." No, in the world of love/hate, a player is either amazing or horrible; there is nothing in between. While these articles tend to be slightly (or very) hyperbolic, they are interesting and sometimes add a lot to a discussion because the writer doesn't have the "Meh, he's alright" option to fall back on. They need to figure out why they love a player, or figure out why they hate the player, with no other options available. 

Inspired by these articles, I figured I'd try one of my own except, instead of judging football players, we are going to be talking Magic. Today I present you some reasons why I love/hate colorless mana, which was officially spoiled during the World Magic Cup this weekend. 

Love: The Mana Symbol

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Let's start with an easy one: the new colorless mana symbol. I know there is some technical, geometric name for the shape, but I'm going to call it a diamond because I'm not up on my geometry. Anyway, it reminds me of a shape from the game Perfection that my grandmother had when I was a little kid. Perfection is the game where you have to put all the shapes into their cut-outs on the board, but soon after the board itself pops up and sends everything flying all over the place. That game has been around for a long time, and incorporating that shape into Magic ensures that it will be around for a long time as well. Slam dunk!

Hate: Needless Complexity

Magic is already a complex game. Trying to teach Magic to a new player is a daunting task, and it gets a bit harder now that there is a sixth color (which is actually the absence of color, which is confusing in and of itself) in the mix. If you don't believe me, just check out the MTGGoldfish Facebook page from right after the official announcement

Now, remember, these are comments in response to an article whose one and only purpose was to explain what colorless mana is and how it works. So, even after an official announcement from Wizards and an article trying to explain colorless mana, only about half of Magic players (who commented) really understood the concept. And these are current Magic players who already have a basic understanding of how the game works. Trying to explain how there are two different types of colorless mana, but one is called generic and one is called colorless, that colorless spells are not generic, except some spells are both colorless and generic is going to be a nightmare, especially when we are trying to teach new players the game. Why not just add several different shades of each color? Just think of how much design space would open up. Instead of plain old blue, we can have Azure, Bondi, Iris, and Zaffre? The potential is limitless! 

Love: It Opens More Design Space

Considering that colorless mana is more of a cost than generic mana, since colored mana cannot be spent to pay colorless, the existence of colorless mana means that Wizards can print more powerful colorless cards. In fact, this shift is already happening. Mirrorpool could not be printed if its activated abilities cost generic mana. It would simply be too powerful. However, the additional cost of having to pay for its abilities with only colorless mana allows the very cool card to see print because it actually has a very real cost. If you don't put a bunch of colorless sources in your deck, you probably won't be able to activate it with any regularity. 

Even beyond Mirrorpool, there are tons of possibilities. Would Sol Ring be broken if you needed to pay one colorless to cast it, instead of one generic? I don't know, but it would be far less broken than it is now; having an untapped colorless land on turn one would require Legacy and Modern players to completely rework their manabases. Or how about an equipment that's a functional reprint of Umezawa's Jitte, except it costs colorless to cast and equip? There are tons of exciting possibilities thanks to the existence of colorless mana.

The problem with artifacts (and generic mana) is that every deck can cast an artifact. As a result, artifact creatures need to be printed so they are safe for mono-Blue decks, mono-Red decks, five-color control decks, and everything in between. As a result, most end up being watered down. If you look at colorless creatures that are "pushed," they almost always have some sort of string attached which makes them viable in only one deck (e.g. Archbond Ravager, Lodestone Golem, Metalworker, and Etched Champion). Colorless mana gives Wizards the flexibility to print many more "pushed" creature cards without worrying about how they play with every color combination. Costing CC is likely enough to keep a colorless creature out of most three-color decks, and upping the C count to three makes it a hard sell for most mono-color decks as well. 

There are tons of really powerful generic cards from across Magic's history that are simply too good to be printed in modern Magic. The existence of colorless mana might allow some version of these cards to see print, along with tons of new, never-seen-before designs. 

Hate: Wizard's Backdoored their Way into the Sixth Color

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Make no mistake about it, Colorless is the sixth color of Magic. Unlike some other people I've talked to, I'm willing to give colorless a chance. While there are many things I don't like about the change, there are a whole bunch of things I do like, which is why I'm writing this love/hate article. My problem is that Wizards backdoored their way into one of the biggest changes the game has ever seen. Adding a sixth color, after nearly 25 years of Magic, is huge. Such a change deserves a proper introduction.

Ideally, Magic Origins, which is a reboot set in some sense, would have been the place to introduce the sixth color. I am willing to let it slide because of the flip walkers, which already take up a lot of the complexity, and the fact that Magic Origins is technically a core set. What I'm not willing to let slide is the lack of an introduction to colorless mana in the big fall set, Battle for Zendikar

If Wizards is going to make the biggest change to Magic in years, if not in its entire history, it deserves to be the focus of a large set. Instead, we get some weird leaks with grainy photos followed by an official announcement during the World Magic Cup. There isn't even an article on the mothership explaining it yet (currently Sunday night)! If Wizards is going to add a sixth color, they need to go big, hype it like crazy, and explain why it's a great thing for Magic. Instead they tried to do the opposite and slip the biggest change in years by the community and hope no one noticed. 

Hate, Hate, Hate: The Design of Battle for Zendikar Block

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Seriously Wizards, does the same block really need multi-color colorless creatures and non-generic colorless creatures? Isn't this almost the same mechanic? Both Brood Butcher and Kozilek, the Great Distortion are colorless cards that have very specific (non-generic) mana costs. Why doesn't Brood Butcher simply cost colorless mana? It's simple and it solves the problem of trying to make a huge change in a small winter set. It's all so obvious. 

Instead, I have to explain to people that while you need to pay both Black and Green mana for Brood Butcher, it's still a colorless card. Now, three months later I need to explain that, while you can use any mana you want to cast an Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, you need to pay two colorless to cast Kozilek, the Great Distortion. They are both colorless cards, but one needs colorless mana, while the other can be cast with generic mana. I'm fine with the game being complex. I want the game to be complex, but Battle for Zendikar block adds layers and layers of complexity that do nothing in 99% of matches. Why? Do we really want to pay such a high price in complexity for "flavor" alone? 

Love: Colorless Cards are Playable in Commander

This one is a bit of a surprise, since most people I talked to figured the new colorless cards would only be playable in colorless commander decks, but it was confirmed by Trick Jarret on Twitter that you can play colorless cards (including those with the diamond mana symbol) in any Commander deck. This means pretty much every Commander deck will want to play Mirrorpool. Colorless sources are pretty common in the format, and the effect it has is insane compared to its opportunity cost. It doesn't even feel overpriced. Cloning a creature typically costs at least three-mana on a Blue spell and copying a spell costs at least two-mana on a Red spell. While you are paying a bit more, it isn't absurdly overpriced, and it is potentially overpowered when you consider it's only taking up a land slot. 

Having colorless cards restricted to only colorless decks in Commander would severally limit the potential of any casual cards printed with a colorless mana cost. There just aren't very many colorless decks around. As such, allowing these cards to be playable in Commander is a great choice. It gives the Commander community something to be excited about, and makes some of these cards relevant to the finance community as well. 

Infinite Hate: I Have to Think About the Difference Between "Generic" and "Colorless"

I should have recorded a video of me writing this article. You would not believe how many times I've written colorless when I should have written generic and generic when I should have written colorless. Seriously, I've just about worn out my backspace key. And to make matters worse, I'm still not sure I'm getting it right. I expect comments to this article will just be one long string of, "You should have said 'generic,' not 'colorless' in paragraph 5, sentence 2." (Editor's Note: I think Seth did a commendable job) 

Damn it Wizards, I already have a hard time saying Hussar right, which leads to me being lectured on how Hussars are apparently a real thing in England and that I really need to brush up on my medieval European history. By the way, what a quaint military you Brits have, who trembles with fear when the Queen says "send in the Hussars!"? I already get mocked for saying Sierra Angel, instead of Serra Angel. Now the difference between generic and colorless is just something else for me to mess up in articles and videos, not because I don't understand the concept, but because I'm trying to play and narrate a game of Magic. I'm spending my limited brain power on trying to win, not on making sure I don't say, "I cast Knowledge Pool for six colorless." 

Love: Some Random Dude on The Source Called it in 2007

Hate: The Erratas

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As someone on Reddit pointed out, 312 cards will need an errata in response to this change, and not all of them will be elegant. For instance, you can tap Basalt Monolith to add CCC, but untapping Basalt Monolith will costs (3). Even worse, would you like to take a guess at what set will have the most erratas? Battle for Zendikar, of course! Nearly 10% of all the cards that will need an errata due to the change to colorless mana over the entire 25 year history of Magic are from Battle for Zendikar. Seriously, not making this change in Battle for Zendikar is adding layer upon layer of needless complexity to Standard. Choosing to wait until Oath of the Gatewatch to make this change could keep new players away from the game over the next 18 months because the format will be extra confusing. 

Hate: The Short Term Implications of Colorless Mana

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The next 18 months of Standard is going to be rough. New players are not going to understand why Shrine of the Forsaken Gods taps for (2) and Wastes taps for C; you're supposed to disregard the written text and understand that (2) really means CC in the case of Shrine of the Forsaken Gods. Instead of teaching people five colors of mana, we now need to teach them six. Someone, somewhere will die with a Kozilek, the Great Distortion in hand because he or she didn't realize Kozilek's Channeler actually adds colorless mana. Players will complain, and complain, and complain. Some will threaten to quit the game and sell their cards. A few might actually follow through. But mostly, players are just going to scratch their heads and ask, "What is going on? Why is colorless mana necessary and why was it implemented the way it was?"

Apart from getting some cool new cards, the short term implications of colorless mana are all negative. Wizards has decided that these short term problems are worth the long-term gain, which should be exciting for players. While Wizards isn't great at many things, one thing they are very, very, very good at is making Magic cards. While I question things about Magic Online or changes to coverage, one area where I'm willing to give Wizards the benefit of the doubt is making Magic itself. Their track record is amazingly strong. 

Love: The Long Term Implications of Colorless Mana

Anyone who is selling their Magic cards and calling colorless mana the death of Magic is being silly. Over the long term, this change isn't really that big of a deal. In many ways, it will be a good thing. Looking back three or five years from now, I expect most players will like colorless mana. The complexity issue will be diminished as time goes on as new players will be from the "colorless mana" era of Magic

Remember, Magic has survived multiple major rules changes. It survived the printing of double-faced cards, the invention of the banned and restricted list, several changes in card frames, planeswalkers, foils, Mythics, lands in boosters, 60 card decks, and a bunch of others things that "killed Magic." In fact, there are so many of these things that Maro wrote an article titled Twenty Things That Were Going to Kill Magic a couple years ago. My guess is that colorless cards are #21 (actually #23, behind flip-walkers and $1000 Standard decks). The point is that Magic has "some thing that kills it" every year or two, yet Magic never dies. 

I'm excited for what new (and potentially old) designs colorless mana will allow to see print. I'm excited to play with more powerful cards that would never have been printed (or functionally reprinted) if colorless mana wasn't a thing. Yes, the growing pains of complexity and some questionable decision making on how to introduce colorless mana are confusing now, but just give it some time. We'll be on to the next crisis and be talking about the next "thing that's going to kill Magic." Freaking out about change is sort of what we, as the Magic community, do. And that's fine. Change is scary, but change is also good. While there are plenty of things I love, and hate, about colorless mana, Magic will be just fine. 

Conclusion

Anyway, that's all for today. What do you think about the change to colorless mana? What do you love about it? What do you hate? As always, leave your thoughts, ideas, opinions, and suggestions in the comments. You can reach me on Twitter (or Magic Online) @SaffronOlive. 

P.S. Bonus Hate: Magic Online and Two-Headed Giant

Crush of Tentacles itself is a fine card. While it will mostly likely end up being a bulk, or just above bulk Mythic, being able to bounce everything and leave behind an 8/8 is fairly epic. It works really well with the awaken mechanic from Battle for Zendikar. As such, my hate has nothing to do with the card itself. Instead, I'll leave you with some hate for Magic Online. Here's what I imagine happened....

Three Years Ago:

Wizards: "Hey, Magic Online team, Oath of the Gatewatch is going to focus on team play and Two-Headed Giant, make sure the program is up to snuff when it releases." 

Magic Online team: "Yeah, yeah, no problem." 

Six Months Ago: 

Wizards: "So Oath of the Gatewatch is releasing in a few months, is Magic Online ready to handle the influx of Two-Headed Giant players brought about by the cool new card designs for team play?"

Magic Online team: (oh shit...) "Umm, let me check and get back to you, but I'm sure we've go it covered." 

Magic Online: "Bwhahahaha. Yeah, right..." 

Three Months Ago: 

Lee Sharpe: "I've got some big announcements this week for the Magic Online Community!"

Magic Online Community: (oh shit...)

Lee Sharpe: "We are getting rid of a bunch of formats no one plays. In fact, these formats make up less than 1% of the gameplay on Magic Online..."

Magic Online Community: "What are the formats?"

Lee Sharpe: "Prismatic, Standard Pauper, Kaleidoscope...*cough*two headed giant*cough*. 

Magic Online Community: "What was that last one again, we couldn't quite hear you?" 

Lee Sharpe: "Please leave any feedback on my Twitter." Drops mic. 

One Month Ago: 

Wizards: "Hey Magic Online Team, you never got back to me about Two-Headed Giant, are we good to go for the Oath release?" 

Magic Online Team: "Two-Headed Giant? What's that?"

Moral of the Story: From the outside it looks a lot like Wizards wanted to make a set focused on team play. Magic Online couldn't get their act together, so instead of saying, "Hey, sorry everyone" they tried to delete the format from the program itself and hope no one would notice. And they did so under the guise of "no one plays these formats anyway," which is probably technically true, but also very likely to change with a Two-Headed Giant set seeing print! Instead of making sure Magic Online worked with Two-Headed Giant, they admitted failure, got rid of the format altogether, and hoped on one would make the connection between the two. Only on Magic Online ...

 

 


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