My cognitive dissonance around multicolor cards

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Posted on Feb. 28, 2023, 1:45 a.m. by legendofa

I believe that (effect in color A) + (effect in color B) should equal (combination of effects in multicolor AB). For example, deathtouch is a green-primary ability. First strike is a red- and white-primary ability. Therefore, a red-green or green-white creature with deathtouch and first strike is reasonable. This position is somewhat supported by a Great Designer Search test question, whose answer stated in part that a black-green creature with flying and vigilance is reasonable. The answer proved controversial, but was repeatedly and vigorously defended as officially correct. This position is also supported by cards such as Needlethorn Drake, Adult Gold Dragon, Kunoros, Hound of Athreos, and many, many others.


There are no red-green or green-white (and no other color) creatures with deathtouch and first strike. Nor is there a (legal) black-green creature with vigilance and flying. The empirical evidence is completely missing. Also, the more complete GDS answer specifically states that a green-black creature with flying and vigilance (and no other abilities) is a better creative choice than a white-blue creature with flying and vigilance (and no other abilities). Before that question had been asked, answered, criticized, and defended, Tempest Drake was a card. Afterward, Warrant / Warden became a card. So not only is the empirical evidence missing in these cases, it seems to point in exactly the opposite direction as official philosophy, and my opinion that A + B should equal AB.

Instead, in practice, it seems that A + B is actually less than AB. There are ability combinations that do not exist in certain color pairs, even if each individual part of the ability combination is fairly represented by separate colors.

I see two resolutions. The first is that my belief, and the official position, is incorrect, and that a red-green "deathstriker" or a black-green vigilant flyer shouldn't exist. The second is that these ability combinations are feasible, and they simply haven't been printed yet for some reason.

What's the best way out of this? Which resolution is better, or is there a third option I'm not seeing?


Question #28

wallisface says... #2

So something going into this, before I give my viewpoint, is that some old cards make bad examples of what’s allowed and what isn’t. Designs that were acceptable 5 years ago might now be considered bends/breaks in design philosophy. I’m not suggesting the OP has done this at all - i’m just trying to pre-empt people using old cards to justify misguided opinions.


As far as my actual view on colour parings. I like to view it as each pairing having its own identity being a culmination of its parts. In that vein, it adapts the things both colours are good at, while also barring itself from things either colour isn’t allowed to do.

Wotc wants to ensure that not only each colour feels unique, but that also each colour-pairing feels unique. In this vein, colour pairings can’t just have everything their individual colours have mashed-together, or these pairing would all feel to “samey”. They have to adapt parts of the colours weaknesses, and restrict themselves in what they are capable of, in order for the 10 pairings to have distinct identities.

In the case of a red-green (or green-white) first-strike deathtouch creature, red & white are super-anti Deathtouch, and green is super-anti First Strike. A creature with both of these abilities doesn’t feel very red-green (or green-white) at all… its too many bends to put on one card. Additionally, you don’t want to have these ability-combinations crop up on too many colour pairings, or you lose pairing-identity, and this combo is already seen in the likes of Green-Black, and then super-rarely in BW and BR (its worth noting this ability combo is super rare, so perhaps a bad example… though even having deathtouch in colour pairs is a rare enough occurrence to see that only a few pairings get proper access to it).

February 28, 2023 5:13 a.m.

Daveslab2022 says... #3

In addition to the comments I made in the other thread, I’ll point out the fact that just smashing two mechanics of two colors together is not good game design. It’s boring and not particularly intuitive.

Also, is fundamentally different than + . You can see this in some of your examples.

February 28, 2023 10:20 a.m.

legendofa says... #4

wallisface Green is super-anti-flying, but cards with flying and a green ability keep being printed. Why is red first strike + green deathtouch a bend? As far as deathstrike goes, first strike is tertiary in black and a non-ability in green, and this only appears on Glissa, the Traitor and Glissa Sunslayer.

Daveslab2022 Would you consider cards like Recoil, Lightning Helix, the guild charms like Selesnya Charm, or Putrefy bad design, boring, or unintuitive? I understand that + =/= . I'm wondering why that's the case.

I completely understand that there's an active effort to prevent color pairs from feeling too samey, and in interest of completion, I feel obligated to say that Voracious Cobra exists. But I still have some questions.

Is there an absolute prohibition on red-green deathstrike? If so, what distinguishes red-green deathstrike from black-green flying/vigilance?

Is there simply too much overlap between 's dedicated removal and deathstrike?

With Ambush Viper, Ice-Fang Coatl, Winged Coatl, and Fleetfeather Cockatrice, is instant-speed creature spot removal more acceptable in than in ?

What makes Golgari Death Swarm a better creative choice than Warrant / Warden, and why did that get printed if it's an inferior choice?

Is there any potential for a card like Warp World or The Great Aurora to be made in ? Why or why not?

February 28, 2023 3:30 p.m.

Daveslab2022 says... #5

No, because every single one those cards fit into the archetype of that guild.

You’re asking a lot of card design questions that nobody here can actually answer. We don’t design the game. All we can offer is our very very limited opinion. Unless somebody who has worked in the R&D Department at WOTC can weigh in on this thread, nobody can provide a valid answer. Because nobody knows what WOTC has or hasn’t tried, or what their reasoning is for certain things.

You also mentioned Golgari Death Swarm, which is a card that’s legal in exactly 0 formats. It’s technically not even a real card.

February 28, 2023 4 p.m.

legendofa says... #6

Daveslab2022 I mentioned Golgari Death Swarm because it was created as a deliberate reference to the Great Designer Search question. And, being a fake card, it's less legitimate than the real card Warrant / Warden, which the GDS presented as being a worse creative choice. So, we're left with the confusing position of a card that was described as an objectively better creative choice being less legitimate than one described as an objectively worse choice.

Is there a good way to ask the designers directly? I know Mark Rosewater is willing to answer questions on his blog, but I don't have a Tumblr account and I'm not interested in creating one.

Again, I'm not trying to be confrontational, or angry. I'm just very curious why the designers are making certain choices, and don't know the best way to get answers.

February 28, 2023 4:15 p.m.

wallisface says... #7

legendofa just my 2-cents on the questions directed my way:

  • flying isn’t common in green, but it does happen. Imo its a thing green doesn’t do instead of something green can’t do - and that’s a bug distinction to make when trying to grok Wotc’s 2-colour identities.

  • as far as first-strike deathtouch in Green-Red: Greens ability to first-strike has already been granted by BG. And reds ability to deathtouch is already granted by BR. The point is to not make every 2 colour pairing be able to do everything - because they all pretty-much could if they just represented A+B.

February 28, 2023 4:58 p.m.

legendofa says... #8

Green's fliers are almost universally either pre-Modern or part of cycles (usually Dragon, one Kirin). Take out Tarkir, which gave flying to everything, and Planar Chaos, which isn't a precedent for anything, and the only green fliers left are Earthquake Dragon (I consider this a bend), Remnant of the Rising Star  Flip (callback to a cycle), Spelling Bee (Un-set), and Gilded Goose (thematic callback to Birds of Paradise). While there are a very small handful of independent green fliers, it's still very much out of green's wheelhouse. But you're right, it will happen on occasion.

February 28, 2023 8:07 p.m.

plakjekaas says... #9

I feel like the dissonance also stems a bit from bottom-up vs. top-down design.

Scrolling through cards with Deathtouch in green, there's almost always a reason the creature pictured, needs to have deathtouch to describe how it would behave, and most of the time that reason is poison. So you design a venomous snake, it makes sense that it's green and needs to have deathtouch to kill whatever it bites.

I suppose that makes deathtouch a green ability, but that's somehow not the same as starting a creature with deathtouch, and then later in the process making it green, because green can have deathtouch.

Deathtouch as an ability is powerful enough that it grinds most combat to a halt, that gets worse if you add first strike in the mix. There's balance to consider too, on top of the color pie. The only creatures that have both as innate keywords, are both Glissas and Master of Cruelties. So it's a very rare occurrence in general.

From my point of view, even though the color pie should be able to allow it, that doesn't mean it's a good thing to exist in the game. I'm glad they have been careful with "Deathstrike" as a keyword combination, because I like combat as a wincon.

Although if we ever get a MtG version of a creature that's both very fast and poisonous/venomous in real life, for which it makes sense to be both red and green, I wouldn't be surprised if it would be printed in the future.

Though I'm still convinced that ways to explain deathtouch in MtG, are philosophically not tied to passion and impulse, which are the core Red virtues, which is why red should be an inhibitor for deathtouch more than green is an enabler for it.

March 1, 2023 10:53 a.m.

legendofa says... #10

I've said in the past that I thought color pairs (and color trios) had identities as distinct as individual colors, and I remember getting pushback from that statement. In this thread, I'm taking the opinion that color pairs should be the same as individual colors put together, and everyone is (very reasonably and professionally) pointing out how that stance is flawed. At this point, I'm not going to say anybody's wrong, I'm just going to acknowledge the two sides.

Again, is there a way to get in touch with Mark Rosewater and ask questions directly without creating a Tumblr account, or would that be obnoxious or overstepping? As Daveslab2022 pointed out, nobody here is a WotC designer, and I'm thinking myself in circles here.

March 1, 2023 2:06 p.m.

wallisface says... #11

Your best bet is using Blogatog, and so making that tumblr account. Also keep in mind he answers dozens of question a day, when time permits, so his answer will usually only be a very short sentence-worth - so you’ll want the question itself to be clear, short, and direct.

March 1, 2023 2:17 p.m.

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