Sunday, September 2, 2018

The third sin: Power Creep

"You may live to see Man-Made horror's beyond your comprehension"
--Attributed to Nikola Tesla

For those of you not in the know, currently there is a 1/2 for W with flying, and a 2/3 for 2 with no drawback that has a pump effect and replaces itself, currently in standard. Neither are considered playable.

Power Creep, by definition, is when cards are deliberately made better then previous cards, and this, also by definition, is something of a loaded statement. It's been said that creatures have caught up with spells, and that spells have been weaker to balance it out. It's true in a way, Modern Magic would never have the cards such as Balance, Time Walk, or Ancestral Recall (this one can be debated, I know).

So what is the definition of Power Creep? Well the MTG Wikia describes it as:

“Power creep is a phenomenon present in any collectible game that uses both old elements and new ones. The idea behind it is that the company has to sell their new products, but everything new they create has to compete with previously existing pieces. To compensate for this, new cards (or miniatures or whatever else may be used) end up becoming superior to other cards to the point of becoming strictly superior."

Now Power Creep has had a long history of being a controversial statement, the first truly noticeable example of this was none other then Muscle Sliver.

The second amendment right here


Yeah this thing is strictly better

You see, Muscle Sliver, even in a vacuum is better then Grizzly Bears, though Grizzly Bears is suppose to be the base line, which at the time was the rules of design. Simply put, even if you run just 4 Muscle Slivers in your green aggro deck, there is a chance you will have two 3/3, where as the bears will always be two 2/2's. In the following years, the cards that came out, were subtle in being better to outright being extreme. Serra's Zealot is better then Tundra Wolves because of it's creature type (soldier). Basically they've been attempting to constantly push the bench mark of creatures (or at this point were) at the cost of every other card type.

"I'm fully aware of the consequence of power-creep within a game system, and it is something that we constantly talk about in R&D. I'm not sure how to take your comment that Magic is continually creeping—yes, the power level of the game as a whole goes up every time a card is printed, simply because we can't unprint anything, but I do think we've done a good job of keeping sets and blocks within an acceptable band of power over the years, while at the same time making sure each new set and block offer cards that are appealing to play with. For instance, the power of cheap creatures is not higher now than it was in the Mirage-Tempest era, the power of mana acceleration is certainly way weaker than it was in the days of Alpha or Urza's block, card drawing is off-peak, as are combo cards, and today's “hard counters” look weak when compared to even those from the Mercadian Masques and Invasion era. That said, some things are at their all-time high right now, including life gaining cards and mid-range (4-6 mana) creatures. Rorix, Arc-Slogger, Meloku, Ghost Council, Loxodon Hierarch, and Kokusho are all relatively recent cards that are more or less the cream of the crop of their category historically. In making all of these delicious fatties, we here in R&D have called into question the basic costing curve of green, the so-called “creature color.” We want to redraw the line in a place where we think it makes sense going forward, and 2GG 4/4 with an ability falls on that line. If red can get a card like Lowland Giant (at least theoretically), then green should get something better for the same cost. It's not creep for creep's sake, and it was done with a keen eye towards the future. Green should have the most efficient mid-range creatures."--Aaron Forsythe, 2006

"No, the rise in the power of creatures over the last eighteen years have been part of an ongoing effort to make creatures not suck."--Mark 'I wish instants were sorceries" Rosewater, January 27th, 2012

Since then, power creep had been obvious, and while it certainly ebbs and flows, there are several points worth mentioning.

Urza Block: Often called the most powerful block of all time. It's hard to imagine now, but almost every card in Urza's Saga was better then what came before it. I remember a friend of mine spending 10.00 on a mono-green echo deck, and managed to steam roll our little impromptu tournament with it. Literally the number of game changing cards this expansion had can't be under stated, and in all colors to. This would only become even more noticeable a decade later w/ the proliferation of EDH (which will be another sin btw).

Mirrodin Block: Though I intended on referencing Onslaught's tribal mechanic with this, it's nothing compared to Mirrodin block. Affinity combined w/ the new card face made this one of the worse selling blocks of all time, and even in the "Energy ban" of last year, this still historically has the most banned cards of any standard/type 2 format. It's a shame, because the real victim of this was Kamigawa, which not only had it's power reigned in considerably, but suffered from poor sales unrelated to it as an expansion.

This expansion had Crucible (which admittedly was a contest designed card), Affinity as a mechanic, Archbound Ravanger, Sword of Fire and Ice/Light and Shadow, equipments in general, plus the card that nearly killed type 1, Trinisphere.

Now there is a proper way to do power creep, and an improper. Personally I always felt the block system released cards too fast, to consistently. If we went back to core sets w. expansions releasing 'when they are done'. My favorite example of this is 'Ancestral Recall' vs 'Brainstorm' vs 'Impulse'. Brainstorm vs Ancestral Recall is one of the oldest arguments in the game. Sure Ancestral Recall is more versatile, forcing an opponent to draw three has worked for Mill decks in the past, but it can also be redirected by the Ice Age card of the same name. The three cards are also stuck in the hand, making them susceptible to Mind Twist. On the other side of the coin, Brainstorm allows you to save two cards, protecting them from everything outside of mill. Later in the games life, this argument became even more so, with the invention of the mechanic 'Miracle' but that's not relevant at this time.
On paper Lightning Bolt is better then incinerate, until you need to take out that Troll. The examples go on, and on.

Today, most of the power creep has been shifted to the two major card types, Planeswalkers, and creatures. For those of you now in the know, Planeswalkers are a card type that WotC introduced in 2007 with Lorwyn block, spear headed by the head of story at the time, Brady Dummermouth.This has earned them the name 'Brady Walkers', however, after Dummermouth's firing, this name has someone fallen to the way side. While no other regards can be stated in lou of Planeswalkers, since nothing before them can be compared to, creatures have gotten absurdly more powerful with each passing  block.

Here is a small flow chart of the two power white 1 drop, from 93 to the present.

As you see, it starts w/ limited print rare Savannah Lions. An effective 2/1 vanilla that manages to be a decent beater, at the cost of it have literally no ability. It was, for many years, actually considered too powerful to be printed, and whether this is true or not, could be debated (I personally feel it wasn't, even in 94). Savannah Lions was finally printed in 2003 in 8th, and 8 year stretch between it's last printing in 4th edition. While in this time, Tethered Griffin was printed, it had a major drawback of needing control of an enchantment, and didn't see much play.

Around the same time, Isamaru was printed. Mark Rosewater once said it was 'legendary, for balance reasons', and being a 2/2 for 1, in white, was pretty good, even if you could only have 1 in play at a time (Remember, in 03, the legend rule operated on there could only be one, so only one in play on any side).

In M10 (2009), we got a strictly better Lions in the form of Elite Vanguard. While it might seem minor to the untrained eye, Elite Vanguard actually is strictly better to the type, which is two very relevant creature types, Humans, and Soldiers. There is literally no reason not to run this over Lions and almost no reason to run this over Isamaru. However, it was far from stopping there.

In 2013, we got Theros, which contained Soldier of the Pantheon. It had a charm effect and protection from Multicolored spells and permanents. Now strictly better then EV.

At this point, a 2/1 for 1 would almost be the standard, we got war falcon, which had flying but you needed a soldier or knight for it to attack, Mardu Woe-Rea[er which offers only ups, and has tribal synergy on top of that, then finally, we got Kytheon.

Yes that right their is the current culmination of power creep. A 2/1 soldier, who can become Indestructible, and then, if conditions are met, can easily transform into a Planeswalker. He still didn't see much play, despite these things.

Savannah Lions has very much been outclassed. 

I did intend to write about other examples, on how more the 4/4 for 5 angel,  how much better 'bears' have gotten, dragons, and so forth have become. However, this here paints a good picture. 

Now it's a format with a 2/3 for 1 with a minor build around mechanic doesn't even get a second glance, because it isn't needed. 

I predict that if this trend continues, which it will, soon the Eldrazi titans will be shrugged and said passively 'yeah sure, he was good back in the 2000's, but he have this here now, and he's just all around better'. 

Yeah a frightening though.

I hope to see you next time, where the fourth sin will be Mythic rares, and it's snow balling effect on rarity.

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