Pattern Recognition #322 - One French Creature

Features Opinion Pattern Recognition


2 May 2024


Hello Everyone! My name is berryjon, and I welcome you all to Pattern Recognition, TappedOut.Net's longest running article series. Also the only one. I am a well deserved Old Fogey having started the game back in 1996. My experience in both Magic and Gaming is quite extensive, and I use this series to try and bring some of that to you. I dabble in deck construction, mechanics design, Magic's story and characters, as well as more abstract concepts. Or whatever happens to catch my fancy that week. Please, feel free to talk about each week's subject in the comments section at the bottom of the page, from corrections to suggested improvements or your own anecdotes. I won't bite. :) Now, on with the show!

And welcome back!

Today's article is going to be a bit of mental meandering one, so I hope you'll bear with me. You see, I was hitting the ever-faithful "Random" command over on Gatherer until I came upon Raging Goblin (actually it's Portal Second Age version, but that doesn't really matter in the long run). Now, I looked at it, and I've dealt with Haste in the past, and Goblins are just a subject I don't want to touch in general ... but there was something about this card that got my interest.

I finally realized what it is after some time that drew me to this card this time.

With cards like Monastery Swiftspear out there, I was wondering what the state of the game is and was where the state of French Vanilla creatures are concerned. That would be far too much to go over, so instead I decided to narrow my criteria to just French vanilla creatures that have a Mana Value of .

That lead me to a quick search, and I came up with a list of nearly 100 cards that meet this criteria. Which is pretty good. But then again, sure, this is what I want, but still, why?"

Well, let me back up here. There are about 350 Vanilla cards in the game. That is, creatures that have no abilities, just a cost, a type and a power and toughness. I've covered them before. So I looked at them and came to a very sad conclusion.

Wizards isn't printing Vanilla creatures any more. At least not in Standard sets. The last ones I can agree is properly Vanilla are from Strixhaven, which is about three years ago at the time of this writing. Yes, I know that Yargle and Multani, but that's a Legendary meme, and while I respect it, the intent behind it wasn't to be a a traditionally Vanilla creature. It was an upside, really!

And yes, Wilds of Eldraine has five creatures that could be considered Vanilla, but they are attached to Adventures. Yes, as a creature on the battlefield, they would be considered Vanilla, but I feel that, much like Yargle, the mechanics are there, but the intent is not. They still have an ability, but it's an adventure off to the side, rather than something that affects the board state beyond the body on the battlefield.

And in their place, well, something has to go, right? Well, the current design standard, the New World Order still holds sway, and that means that you have to limit what sort of things you can put on common cards. And becuase of Limited, you will often find very cheap creatures in each colour that now have to - and I emphasize the quotes here - "Do Something". And the easiest 'Do Something' in the game is to give a creature a Keyword relevant to the colour identity of the creature its attached to.

And so this is where French Vanilla comes in. A creature that only has keyworded abilities, both evergreen, deciduous and set-based. No fancy words other than those. These creatures are still being printed into recent sets! Ankle Biter keeps the long and proud tradition of a 1/1 Creature that costs and has Deathtouch. Well, them and . Bolrac-Clan Basher from Murders is a very over-the top, but still French Vanilla creature as Double Strike and Trample are evergreen Keywords, and Disguise is a keyworded set mechanic. We had a reprint of Slitherhead in Ravnica Remastered. And so on and so forth.

French Vanilla is the new Vanilla, and it's here to stay until something changes behind the scenes at Wizards of the Coast.

So where does that leave me? Well, I'm looking over this list of French Vanilla Creatures with an MV of 1, and some trends pop out at me. The first, and perhaps the most interesting is that these are almost always Common. Yes, there are a couple exceptions, like Swooping Lookout or Pteramander at uncommon, but the vast majority are Commons. No Rares, surprisingly enough. Although there are about a hundred French Vanilla Rares, including my personal peeve, Zetalpa, Primal Dawn, but nothing at an MV of 1.

But this just plays back into my point about Limited. All these cheap French Vanilla cards are.... pretty much draft chaff outside of a few outliers like Monastery Swiftspear, Glistener Elf, Boros Recruit (Yes!), Sacred Cat (Cat Too Strong!) or Slippery Bogle. We're seeing these creatures because of a reported trend in players about 'feel bad' because of a lack of abilities on a creature. I don't buy that because BIG NUMBERS for CHEAP (See also: How to Play ) can be a reward in of itself. In fact, MaRo himself has pointed out that Vanilla Creatures just aren't as necessary as they were. So French Vanilla had to step in to take their place.

Another thing I see about these creatures is that because of their relevant in the limited format, and their low-to-the-ground requirements to play and learn, these creatures also represent a very easy way to help teach the game and what makes each colour different than the others in practical terms. gets Deathtouch to help emphasize creature combat. gets Haste for their speed. gets Flying or First Strike depending on the context. Or they get Vigilance and gets Flying. And can get Lifelink. Or something. Blue and Black both have a lot of overlap with White and Green here, so it can go a variety of ways.

And from there, you can build up from that basic creature into the Uncommon Signpost creatures. For those who are unfamiliar with the term, a 'Signpost Uncommon' is a card designed for Draft or Limited to help anchor two-color decks. Outlaws of Thunder Junction has Form a Posse and Ertha Jo, Frontier Mentor which emphasizes the hiring of Mercenaries and the creature-based effects you can do with it in . If you go up and down those colours in this set, you will see this theme, and from there you can build a deck around these cards. It works!

I wonder how well Ertha works in Brawl.... But that's for later.

But back to my point. These cheap French vanilla creatures also serve as excellent reprint fodder. Cards like Raging Goblin can and do see printings again and again not because they are good in any meaningful manner. But because they are consistent in what they do and how they do it. New players can purchase packs in various sets and see similar themes across them thanks to these easily available creatures, which in turn reinforces that such-and-such a colour does this-and-that and they can build up from there how they want to take their future deck building.

1MV French Vanilla cards started this process, and here I find myself with a little more appreciation for how they actually do serve a purpose that regular vanilla creatures can't. I certainly would still love to see vanilla creatures - heck, vanilla that uses the Future Sight frame like Blind Phantasm as a full-art thing would work for me.

But cheap creatures with simple effects, even if most non-pauper players will gloss over them still have a place in the game. It's just up to us to see them.

Now I have to put my money where my mouth is and review my own Set design. Don't worry, I haven't forgotten about it!

Thank you all for reading. I'll see you next week with something else. What? I'm not sure yet. But I'm always willing to lend an ear to suggestions and requests.

Until then, please consider donating to my Pattern Recognition Patreon. Yeah, I have a job (now), but more income is always better, and I can use it to buy cards! 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 #321 - Batches and Batching The next article in this series is Pattern Recognition #323 - Tokens For Ever!

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