Pattern Recognition #29 - Leviathans

Features Opinion Pattern Recognition


18 May 2017


Hello everyone! I'm berryjon, and welcome back to Pattern Recognition,'s regular series of articles as written by an Old Fogey like myself. I know how awesome Magic is, and while I've seen a lot of it, today's subject is going to be one of those head scratchers that could only have originated back when we still used letters to identify sets, rather than numbers.

Today, I am going to talk about one of the great mistakes in the Colour Pie of Magic. While a full accounting of the Pie is a series of articles for another day or month, this subject covers a very small section of it. And while calling it a mistake might be something of a misnomer, it has become one of those 'awkward truths' of the game that I get the feeling that Wizards has tried to step back from, but can't really disengage with.

If I were to ask you what the largest creatures in Magic were, or rather what colours they are, what would your response most likely be? And let's set the minimum bar at ... 10 Power and 10 Toughness.

(Jeopardy Music)

I'm willing to bet that most of you pegged the Eldrazi, Artifact and Green as the top three, in no particular order. And, well, you would be ... mostly right.

There are actually about 30 creatures in the game as of the time of this writing that have a default power and toughness that are 10 or greater. Breaking it down, we have no creatures, 5 (plus one, which I will talk about in a moment), 1 (with another exception), 1 , 5 , 1 and Progenitus. The two exceptions I just noted are Ludevic's Test Subject  Flip, which is a dual-faced card that can flip over into the more powerful version, and Elbrus, the Binding Blade  Flip that is an Artifact that can also flip over into a Black creature that goes for the 10/10 threshold.

Oh, and the Marit Lage creature token that is generated when Dark Depths gets triggered.

So, how many of you thought that when all was accounted for, that would wind up edging out for the top coloured spot?

:sigh: Alright, would all the other Old Fogeys and Smart Asses who read the title of the article please put their hands down? You're ruining my moment! ;)

For starters, let's look at the base criteria I set for myself. Why did I pick 10/10 or higher as where I wanted to look?

Well, because that is the power and toughness of the most iconic example of what I want to talk about today, whose name graces the title of this article. It is Leviathan itself. I mean, take a look at that ugly mug! Isn't it terrifying?

Also, printed in Time Spiral - take a drink!

Leviathan holds the title as the first truly 'huge' creature, first appearing in The Dark and Fourth Edition. Before that though, the title of 'largest' went to the 9/9 Colossus of Sardia and the 8/8 Force of Nature.

So, what makes 'huge' ... well ... 'huge'? what made Leviathan so special?

There are a couple reasons for that, I think. Now, this was nearly two decades ago, and I was very young back then, so my memory may be a little faulty.

The first was that it was unexpected. Blue, getting such a huge creature? Well, before this was printed, you had cards like Island Fish Jasconius, or even Marjhan. They were big creatures, yes, but not 'huge'. And certainly not what Green could put out. And even when they did, just look at some of those drawbacks! Both of these creatures have Islandhome, and....

Oh. Right. Islandhome.

That was a predominately Blue "mechanic" - and I fully mean those air quotes there - that served to limit the viability of certain creatures. Creatures with Landhome could not attack unless the defending player controlled a land of that type, and if their owner controlled no lands of that type, then the creature had to be sacrificed.

It was a dumb idea, and Wizards has dropped it. Good riddance.

Anyway, back to the actual subject at hand. They both have Islandhome and you were required to sacrifice something to actually be able to use it, be it in attacking with Leviathan's last ability, or merely untapping.

This was unprecedented, especially in Blue. The idea of an Upkeep cost was nothing special - Force of Nature for example, or sacrifice to do something - everything Black ever. But the idea that you had to take out your own lands? An irreplaceable resource? (This before the days of Crucible of Worlds.) You just didn't do that!

Yet Wizards did. They were exploring new space, and realized that there needed to be some massive drawbacks for all this.

So, why did Wizards go this route? Why did they create theses massive creatures, hand them to the colour least likely to use them?

First is probably the most important one. You see, back in the halcyon days of Magic, the colour pie was different. And Blue's gimmick wasn't the modern descriptors of Intellect, Omniscience and Inaction. No, Blue's gimmick, it's method of interacting with the board state was to, with the exception of card drawing and counterspells, was that they did what other people could do - just not as good.

Red got Mana Flare, so Blue gets High Tide.

Red got Lightning Bolt, Blue gets Psionic Blast

Green gets Grizzly Bears, Blue got Coral Merfolk.

White got Swords to Plowshares? Blue gets Unsummon!

Black got Kjeldoran Dead, so Blue responds with Drowned.
Alright, so that last one isn't the best example. But still, it's there.

Do you see the pattern yet?

Blue wasn't that bad for being second place in nearly everything. And that second place meant that they got Leviathan. Because in the calculus of the game, it's not that good.

There were better creatures. More efficient creatures. Better things to do with that mana. Anything that didn't blow up your lands to do anything!

This was second best. Maybe even third best. Maybe even worst, depending on how Wizards was thinking at the time.

The other reason is one of flavour. I alluded to it when I talked about Islandhome, but Blue is associate with the water, not just the Islands.

And what lives in the water?


The Leviathans of the Deep.

These great and mythological creatures that inhabited the deep. Stories told since before writing of what lay in the deep. Why wouldn't they enter into Magic? Especially when they were drawing from the real world for inspiration?

So Blue, the colour of water, got the creatures of water.

But because they had to be balanced, they were given huge drawbacks. Which makes them nearly unplayable. But not impossible to do so. You just have to know that when they hit the table, it's time for Death or Glory, and there is no further middle ground.

Blue will always get the Leviathans in the game, and Green will always need to watch out for second best when it comes to who has the beefiest creature in the game. There is nothing Wizards will do to stop this. It's too much a part of the game, in an iconic way.

You know, I've still got some word count to pad before I can let myself wrap this particular article up, so I want to bring forth one particular sub-type that is relevant to the discussions about the great creatures. And it's a nifty combination of the two leading colours

No, I'm not talking about Simic Sky Swallower.

I want to talk briefly about Kiora, the Crashing Wave and Kiora, Master of the Depths. This Planeswalker from Zendikar represents, in her two Ultimate abilities, the combination of Green and Blue when it comes to making creatures. Namely, they are big, and they keep coming for one version - or they keep fighting on the other.

Kiora goes big. It's in her character, if you read the stories on Wizard's website. She is a believer in the power of the depths, and the might that lay down there. So it's only natural that she bring them to light.

And this is a viable Blue/Green strategy. Green supplies the mana curve and boosts to the already large creatures, while Blue provides the early control, and more options for end-game fatties.

I tried to build a deck on that theme for this week, but it didn't work out. I may retroactively add one in in the future, or perhaps one of you guys, my loyal legion of fans, could provide?

And we have a provider!

I'll see you all next week, when I discuss one of the more problematic mechanics in the game, one that has been redefined a couple of times before being replaced as an evergreen keyword by something better, but not as neat.

Until then, I'm selling out! Or is that tapping out? Basic donors get a preview copy of the final article, while advanced donors get that as well as the opportunity to join me in a podcast version of the series where I talk and you respond.

This article is a follow-up to Pattern Recognition #28 - In Response, Spin Top The next article in this series is Pattern Recognition #30 - Regeneration

SaberTech says... #1

Back when WotC announced that the 2014 Commander decks were going to be mono-colored, I wondered how they were going to keep Blue, the most powerful color in commander, from clearly being the best deck. Once I saw the deck list, I had WotC's answer:

"Make the blue deck play like a green deck."

They really tapped into Blue's association with fat fliers and deep-sea monstrosities for that deck, focusing on Teferi, Temporal Archmage's untap ability and a bunch of artifact-based mana ramp to fill the board with muscle. I guess they didn't entirely skimp out on the fun blue spells though, since both Cyclonic Rift and Rite of Replication made appearances to further support the game plan of "Fill your board and hit your enemies in the face."

May 18, 2017 5:43 p.m.

Grantley91 says... #2

How about this one?

May 18, 2017 6:02 p.m.

Winterblast says... #3

Grantley91 you are missing Choke make the Leviathans work you already have green in the deck, so I'd focus on bringing Stormtide Leviathan and Choke into play. Disables ALL lands and only islandwalk creatures (probably only your leviathan) can attack ;)

May 19, 2017 4:53 a.m.

GobboE says... #4

Love leviathans! There is just something about their unwieldliness, their almost too difficult to play that just appeals: you have to construct your deck around it. Before the days of Seedborn Muse , the only way to untap those monstrosities (without ruining your entire board state) was with good old Norrit, a black creature with a blue ability, and Twiddle of course :) . Yes, a black / blue Leviathan , Norritdeck with high tides, dark rituals and a few Lodestone Baubles to boot. Those were the days :)

May 19, 2017 7:16 a.m.

GobboE says... #5

That is Norritt of course , sorry for the double post

May 19, 2017 7:17 a.m.

TheRedGoat says... #6

Personally I feel that given the nature of the creature type involved a commander deck should be used to exemplify a "big creatures" deck.

But to actually try and build such a deck? I'll have to get back to you on that.

Also I'm curious what mechanic you're talking about that sounds a lot like how we have menace now and that whole "x power creatures can't block me" thing.

May 19, 2017 12:08 p.m.

berryjon says... #7

I have to say though - it's Jokulmorder that is my fave Leviathan. Something about being called "World Killer" appeals to me.

What are your guys favorites?

May 19, 2017 4:26 p.m.

SaberTech says... #8


While not a particularly original option, I'd have to say that my favorite is Inkwell Leviathan. Watching my blue-loving friends' expressions when I reanimate Inkwell Leviathan on turn 2 always brings a small bit of joy to my heart.

I'm not sure Inkwell Leviathan really counts as a Leviathan in spirit though. It's a huge body with strong abilities for zero downside beyond costing 9 mana to cast.

May 19, 2017 9:03 p.m.

berryjon says... #9

SaberTech: It's downside is that it only has 7 power, making it a three-turn killer, rather than the two-turn kill from something more powerful.

May 19, 2017 9:29 p.m.

SaberTech says... #10

Heh, not sure if I can call being a 3-turn killer that much of a downside. Only 2 (possibly 3) out of all printed Leviathans can kill in only two swings. Besides, I appreciate that White isn't able to pay just 1 mana to convince my 9-mana monster to pack in the good life to take up farming.

May 19, 2017 9:58 p.m.

Inkwell Leviathan is pretty cool, but i think i'll have to go with Stormtide Leviathan. It still bugs me how i pulled two of these from coreset boosters and traded them away because they weren't shrouded and this way wouldn't be perfect for my old Polymorph deck. Heck, i want these cards back.

By the way, did anyone notice that The Gitrog Monster kind of made Jokulmorder playable?

May 20, 2017 12:33 a.m.

berryjon says... #12

seshiro_of_the_orochi: Crucible of Worlds made many of the Leviathan's playable. Combined with some of Green's "Play an extra land each turn" effects, and there is a remarkable level of synergy in 's ability to put out the big guys.

May 20, 2017 1:02 a.m.

Sounds like a beast of a deck i'll never play because money but would love to play because of awesomeness.

May 21, 2017 2:30 a.m.

Grantley91 says... #14

The one I made could be cheaper if it weren't for the Breeding Pools and Hierarchs.

May 21, 2017 10:25 a.m.

Barjack521 says... #15

not one shout out to Polar Kraken? that's sad

July 26, 2017 4:40 p.m.

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