Sunday, 5 May 2019
Snappy, Bob or Goyf?
The statement "every creature is a Baneslayer or a Mulldrifter" is one I have heard a bunch. I believe it was pioneers by Patrick Chapin who does have an exceptional understanding of the game at a deep level. It is a mildly useful way of looking at things but it is rather off the mark in reality. Certainly Baneslayer dorks and Mulldrifter dorks are at the two opposite ends of the dork spectrum (in style) but the statement skips out all the relevant steps in the middle. I think there are more like four distinct types of dork for this kind of analysis. I would also say that most dorks are made up of elements of more that one category in a lot of cases. Even in Chapin's original dorks choices the lifelink of the Baneslayer makes it a bit of a Mulldrifter and the two evasive power of the Mulldrifter makes it a bit of a Baneslayer. I guess Chapin only ever evokes his Mulldrifters! Wall of Blossoms/Omens are about as close to a pure Mulldrifter as you can get what with them offering almost no chance of beating down. Even those walls are still primarily played for their body rather than the effect. There are plenty of 2 mana cantrip cards so you play the walls when you also want a bit of a wall.
So what are these in between stages a creature can be? Obviously my title eludes to this. I think Tarmogoyf is the best current example of a pure beater. All it does is bring stats and all it does with those is attack and block. There is no card advantage or anything else, you just get a body. I have chosen Snapcaster Mage as the Mulldrifter. It has an immediate one off value effect like a spell and leaves you with one of the lowest relevance bodies possible. A 2/1 will still trade with things, threaten planeswalker or provide a clock on an empty board so even that has some Baneslayer/Goyf elements to it, and indeed is why Snapcaster is so much better than a card like Regrowth. There are no true "Mulldrifters" as it were as they are just spells without any power and toughness stats.
The middle stages are the Dark Confidents (or Bobs) of the game. They do not guarantee the value they offer as the EtB or on cast trigger creatures do but they do offer value and usually more so than they offer a significant attacking threat. Dark Confidant is a great example because it would likely be better as an enchantment for the same cost with no ability to attack or block. These kinds of cards are higher risk and higher reward. If your Bob is killed on sight you are probably worse off than before and unlikely to be better off. This compares poorly to a Snapcaster Mage or Elvish Visionary which you rarely care about getting killed off. On the flip side, the longer the Confidant is in play the more value it is able to generate.
There is then yet another group I have not even tried to represent with an example that lies between Snapcasters and Confidants. These are your "deathrattle" or otherwise delayed value cards. You could consider a Flesh Carver or Thing in the Ice to be such things. You get no added value from them staying in play a long time nor any value when you play them. The extra value comes when they leave play or fulfill some kind of condition. I believe Chapin would roll all these types of card along with all the Dark Confidant style of cards into the Mulldrifter camp but I find doing that to be less useful in my deck building and card analysis. As we have already established, all dorks have some Tarmogoyf attributes to them with the infrequent exceptions of cards like Norrin the Wary. Now, almost all good creatures these days also have some Mulldrifter elements to them. The number of pure beaters I have in cube is tiny once you move past the one mana slot. Most of the good threats also do other things for you that provide some form of extra value. By breaking down the simple version of Baneslayer or Mulldrifter into more parts you get a more useful understanding of what your creauture is about.
So why is this relevant? What do we gain from categorizing cards? Really just understanding, it is a great learning and evaluating tool. You should only use it to better understand cards, being too hard and fast about classifications can lead you astray and victim to poor assumptions. Categories are meaningless arbitrary things. If we are blindly following them they are useless, if we use them as the tools they are then they can be helpful. Really these classifications are just a middle man between how you understand a card and the card itself. Magic is complicated and it can be hard to unwrap a creature and see where it fits in. If you look at a creature in the terms of Snappy, Bob and Goyf it all starts to become a bit clearer. Even when a card is multiple things you can work out which bits correspond to which types of creature and how powerful those components are. That in turn lets you know the primary role of a card. This informs you on where you can use the card effectively and what sort of things it will be able to bring to a list.
This is all helpful when you are building decks and have a good number of options before you. It is when just considering things like mana curve and card power level within your pool isn't going to create the best deck. Thinking of creatures in this Snappy, Bob or Goyf way will help you to find the most suitable cards for what your deck is trying to do and what your deck needs without playing off theme cards. It can often mean playing a slightly weaker card over a slightly more powerful one. It does however require a decent knowledge of the rest of the game! It is very much a scaling tool that gets better the more depth your total understanding of the game has. Knowing how much risk you want to be exposed to, how much tempo you can afford to shave off, all these kinds of questions are super complicated and require much experience of the game, the format, the cards and so forth. This is why it is proving difficult to precisely explain the purpose of having these categories. Just consider them a bit and you will find it gradually proving more and more helpful but also more natural and intuitive.