Pattern Recognition #54A - Keyword Soup, Part 1

Features Opinion Pattern Recognition


4 January 2018


Hello everyone! My name is berryjon, and I am's resident Old Fogey and part time Smart Ass. I write this series, Pattern Recognition, as a means to entertain, educate and something else that starts with an E.

So, hello again, and welcome to January! I have worked hard over the holidays, and I totally flaked on building up a backlog of articles for you all to enjoy. And not because this one got out of hand, and I had to work it down a bit.

Today's subject comes to us from a comment made by Myr_Mythic, who asked of me:

I think it would be cool to look at the staples of each colors creatures.

So, yeah, that's a pretty broad request there, my friend. But one that I can think I can handle, just so long as you let me refine the nature of the (implied) question and comment you would have of me.

So, creatures have abilities, and this is what makes them different from other creatures, aside from the inevitable changes in casting cost and power and toughness. And not dependent on gimmicks like Infinity Elemental. But, what sort of creatures get what sort of abilities? How are they divided among the colours? I mean, with well, over 6000 creatures in the game right now, that's a lot of text and information to parse through, even with a month to work on this.

Instead, I will focus on one specific branch of creature design.

Namely, the Evergreen Keywords.

Definition time! Evergreen is a concept in Magic design that states that there are some things so basic to the game, so general, that they can and will show up in every set. They don't require additional design space to incorporate, and can be built off of simply because in playing the game, you know these things already. Thinks like tapping a land to add mana to your pool, or when you can cast an instant. That sort of thing.

The next step from there is the concept of the Deciduous. These are the abilities and concepts that are not part of the basic structure of the game, but are easy enough to incorporate that when or if they get involved in the set, there will be little disruption to how the set works. Examples of these include Vehicles, Split/Flip cards, and ... Huh, it appears that Coloured Artifacts are included here, despite showing up in the game all of ... yeah, more often than I initially recall.

Moving on!

Now, while this may seem like a huge section of the game to work with, you must understand that it really is. Bigger even.

So I'm going to pare that down to a very small sliver of Evergreen words, and just look at the distribution and commonality of these keywords on creatures, and try to divine some sort of pattern from them.

Of note, this research is playing into one of my larger, long term projects for this series, so I may refer back to here several times in the future.

Let's get to it then. For the purposes of this article, I am going to look at the following keyworded abilities:

Deathtouch, Defender, Double Strike, First Strike, Flash, Flying, Haste, Hexproof, Indestructible, Lifelink, Menace, Prowess, Reach, Trample and Vigilance.

Now, you may be pausing in your reading to scroll down to the bottom to write a reply of "But, berryjon, what about (insert mechanic here)?" Well, the short answer to that is that in order to avoid too much bloat on the article, I chose to limit myself to just the current group of 15 creature-based Evergreen keywords. Things like Scry don't get included as they aren't creature based, while Intimidate or Protection are no longer a part of that group.

Starting alphabetically, Deathtouch is a keyword that, like many others didn't start as one. Starting out as a Green ability, as found on Thicket Basilisk, there are currently 127 creatures in the game with this ability natively, or can grant/gain it for a cost.

White has three examples, but Mardu Hateblade requires an activation cost of mana, Odric, Lunarch Marshal simply passes the existing keyword around, and Rules Lawyer is Un-set, and thus should not be counted. Blue's pair of contributions - Drunau Corpse Trawler and Vectis Silencers both are in the same camp as the Mardu Hateblade.

Black, however, has 62 creatures.

Red's Toxic Iguanar requires synergism with to work.

Green has 31 creatures with Deathtouch.

Multi-coloured creatures all have black or green in their casting cost.

Of the two artifacts, Narnam Cobra uses Green as its activation ability, while Wurmcoil Engine is a hilarious combination of Green and Black in terms of abilities.

So, what can I draw from this? Well, this ability is Black and Green, with all other examples being reliant upon one or the other to contribute the ability. And while its started as green, it has since migrated to black.

Why? Well, for the longest time, Black didn't have any real creature-based keywords that were mostly theirs. They had a minority in Flying, had First Strike when doing mirror cards of White's creatures, and regenerate wasn't exactly the most reliable of mechanics. Deathtouch on the other hand, fit in with the colour flavourfully, if you look as Black as being the colour of dealing death, rather than Green's "I kill you harder" aspect to it. As I will point out later, Green doesn't really need Deathtouch. They have Trample. Which when you get down it it, is better with Green's tendency toward bigger creatures.

Defender! Oh man, 227 creatures. 52 mono-, 47 mono-, 23 , 30 , 31 , 11 multi-coloured, and 33 .

Now, discounting the inexorable connection between Walls and Defender (did you know that it used to be that the creature type of "Wall" had Defender by default, such that the ability wasn't even listed on the card?), Whive and Blue get the majority of them, while everyone else has about the same numbers.

It should be as no surprise then that these are also the two colours that gain from slowing down the game. Defender is a keyword, one of a very few, that actually reduces the cost of the creature, allowing them to be played more quickly, and for less resources than equivalent creatures that can actually attack.

The other colours get Defenders, though when you look at when they were published, you see that Red and Black tend toward having them in older cards - Wall of Bone or Cinder Wall. This is because Black and Red have moved toward more aggressive creatures over the years, and Defenders don't really have synergy with that. Unless we're talking about something like Dragon Egg, which is a two-part card.

Green's defenders are a bit of both sides. They have the old-school walls, like Wall of Ice, but they also incorporate the idea of the Plant creature type instead of just walls and the more modern idea that there should be more to a creature. Sylvan Caryatid is yet another in a long line of mana accelerators, while Tree of Redemption has a very good ability that will keep you in the game.

Defender is a global keyword, one that does not belong to any one colour, and acts as a stopper to early aggression by providing cheap creatures that can take the hits and stay standing. That and get it the most only reinforces their play style. Black Walls get back up, Red walls are more designed to kill whatever runs into them at the expense of themselves, and Green finds utility in them. There is no one way to look at them, and there is no one way they will go in the future.

Double Strike... 70? Really? I could have sworn there was more than that, but I guess that this ability really is just a subset of First Strike, so I think the numbers just get inflated in my head. Let's see here...

24 , 3 , 3 , 21 , 3 , 13 Multi, and 2 .

Yeah, this is completely and utterly dominated by and . Of the 13 multi-coloured cards, 7 of them are that pair of colours. For Blue, Jodah's Avenger is an update to Urza's Avenger, with all the implication of being a Planar Chaos card. And Shu Yuan, the Silent Tempest hands out Double Strike when activating his ability. Black has two creatures that get the ability if there is a creature in the Graveyard with them, and the last one - Crypt Champion - only sticks around if you paid as part of the casting, meaning that the card is really a multi-coloured Double Strike card! On Green's end, two of them are copy-abilities that depend on another creature having Double Strike, and Veteran Cathar uses White in the activation cost to gain the ability.

As for First Strike ... Holy crap, 364 creatures! And White starts off with 132 of them! Blue gets a paltry 9, Black 37, Red gets a round 100, Green 14, 51 Multi-coloured, and 21 colourless.

These two abilities share the same demographics. White at the head, Red coming in a close second, Black working at third with Blue and Green not really caring. Even the multi-coloured cards are once again dominated by .

First and Double Strike exist to make combat more difficult for the defending player. They turn otherwise even trades into one-sided defeats at the least, and can result in double damage (or damage triggers!) in the worst case. White and red getting these abilities is actually quite natural to me as they are both about creatures getting in the first attack, either through dint of superior skill, or through superior aggression.

And creatures that survive are more likely to attack again!

You know, I really need to do a full article about First and Double Strike at some point.

Flash, or the ability to play the creature at instant speed, has 148 instances in the game so far. opens up with 29, should surprise no one with 46. gets 4 instances, has 7, gets 26, 31 multi-coloured, and five .

Alright, who here is surprised that Green is third?

Well, yeah, it's only natural that Blue comes in first. They are the colour of responding, which means that Blue's creatures will be more likely to come down into play in response to an action of the opponent, either by dropping out a surprise blocker (I was in a 2HG Sealed game back in Origins, and I was able to turn the tide of a game by casting Nivix Barrier to prevent a Graveblade Marauder from going for the kill on an otherwise empty board. The Touch of Moonglove my partner had sealed the deal), or by sabotaging the actions of your opponents. Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir is rather infamous for this.

White is unsurprising, as they too tend to be slightly reactive. Though they tend more towards the 'Surprise Blocker' style of Flashing creatures, rather than the more massive tricks that Blue gets into.

Green though... yeah, is something else.

And by that, I mean I'm looking at the list of those creatures, and there's nothing there. I mean, I was hoping for something a bit more commonality in what they did with Flash, like more "Enters the Battlefield" effects, but it seems like the Flash is there just for the sake of it being there, a sort of tertiary side effect of green going deep into the animal kingdom and channelling their inner Ambush Predators.

The more I think about it though, and you guys don't get to see the few minutes I took to get here, the more it seems to me that Green's Flash, much like their uncovered "Cannot be Countered" ability, is a direct response to Blue, and their reactive play style. Essentially, being able to react to a momentary lapse in Blue's control to get something onto the battlefield.

Or maybe not. There's only 16 creatures in mono-green that can't be countered, though I suppose having Carnage Tyrant and Terra Stomper be so recent in my mind made me think there was more here than I was expecting.

Black and Red, there seems to be no real rhyme or reason for their creatures with Flash. Only a couple take advantage of the effect, and the rest just seem tacked on, or as synergy with Blue or Green.

Out of curiosity, I looked for cards with Flash that also had Haste or Protection, and the results, while limited in number, do show off a greater number of "spontaneous creature that can't be killed" more than "spontaneous creature that can attack, SUPRISE!".

Hrm, this is getting long. I suppose I'll just have to make this a multi-part article. Join me next week when I look over ... Flying, Haste, Hexproof, Indestructible and maybe Lifelink. Then the time after that for Menace, Prowess, Reach, Trample and Vigilance.

Until then, please consider donating to my Pattern Recognition Patreon. Yeah, I have a job, but more income is always better. I still have plans to do a audio Pattern Recognition at some point, or perhaps a Twitch stream, and you can bribe your way to the front of the line to have your questions, comments and observations answered!

This article is a follow-up to Pattern Recognition #53 - Resurrection The next article in this series is Pattern Recognition #54B - Keyword Salad

Myr_Mythic says... #1

As usual, a fantastic article. Thank you for writing this column.

January 4, 2018 5:02 a.m.

berryjon says... #2

Dude! At least wait for it to get officially published before replying! ;)

January 4, 2018 8:15 a.m.

Myr_Mythic says... #3

It's my own fault for spotting the link while re-reading #53.

January 4, 2018 9 a.m.

Guftders says... #4

Great article as always! Just to point out, Rules Lawyer does not have deathtouch, it's just referenced in the reminder text, so really there's just two white cards with deathtouch regardless of how you look at it

January 6, 2018 6:37 p.m.

berryjon says... #5

Why does Gatherer include Reminder Text in its search engine?

Yeah, I know. It shows up a bit during my research. I shrug and move on.

January 6, 2018 7:25 p.m.

vic_kevlar says... #6

Great article! Does it strike you as odd that, right before the release / return to Dominaria, they've decided to make Regenerate no longer evergreen?

January 7, 2018 12:12 p.m.

berryjon says... #7

Regenerate stopped being a thing in the lead up to Kaladesh, which was last year. A good 18 months between that announcement and Dominaria indicates to me that there is no correlation or causation.

January 7, 2018 12:57 p.m.

vic_kevlar says... #8

you know... I should have realized that Adanto Vanguard would have been a regenerator, had it still been a thing. Cheers!

January 8, 2018 11:07 a.m.

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