Polymorph's color pie - Blue, Green, even Red?

15 posts / 0 new
Last post
Looking at MaRo's blog, some of the most common questions he's been receiving lately have dealt with polymorph effects and how they fit into the color pie.

Polymorph have been with Magic since Mirage. While the cards vary in execution and effect, they all have the same flavor of turning a creature into a different creature. The original card is a favorite of Johnny players for its ability to transform your own creatures, but it also had the utility of possibly transforming an opponent's. In the very next set, Visions, Natural Order provided a sort of Polymorph effect for Green, only instead of being random, it was a very powerful tutoring effect (Also, unlike Polymorph, it could not be used offensively). Ovinomancer added another kind of Polymorph in the set; instead of having the drawback of being random, Ovinomancer could destroy creatures and replace them with 0/1s with just a tap, effectively making him a Blue assassin. 

Since then, we've seen more kinds of Polymorph effects. There were even some for permanents that were not creatures. Tinker was the most insanely broken, using Natural Order's implementation on artifacts, but there was also Trash for Treasure and Shape Anew. Random polymorph effects appeared again in Red of all places with Warp World and Chaos Warp, although Mass Polymorph is a return to form in Blue. Instant, temporary Polymorphs like Turn to Frog and Snakeform became an option. Lignify and Utopia Vow were Green removal that had the flavor of transformation. Pongify was a throwback to Ovinomancer and was printed in the deliberately color sifted Planar Chaos; however, unlike Ovinomancer, it replaced the creatures it killed with a (Somewhat) respectable 3/3. The effect then showed up in Green with Beast Within in the also deliberately color sifted New Phyrexia, before showing up in Blue again in a "normal" set with the near-functional reprint Rapid Hybridization in Gatecrash

I bring up this whole history because recently, there has been a lot of argumentation on the color pie of Polymorph effects. Chaos Warp, Beast Within, and Rapid Hybridization have drawn ire for not fitting their respective colors from some players, while others say that those sorts of effects make perfect sense. I'll try to examine each.

Chaos Warp
Pros: Red loves randomness and change. Random Polymorph effects are the perfect example of that; in goes a bunny, out comes a brontothere!
Cons: Chaos Warp hits enchantments and creatures, something R&D is a bit cagey about Red getting removal to. MaRo has commented that one of Chaos Warp's biggest problems is that it does not always provide the opponent with a permanent... Which is actually an argument that it should be more Polymorph-like, in that it always transforms the something into something else instead of just shuffling it into the library. Funny, huh.

Beast Within
Pros: Green is the creature color. Turning noncreature stuff into creatures is incredibly Green because Green likes creatures better. Turning creatures into different creatures is a bit more weird, but if anyone should get the ability to interact with creatures that much, why not Green? It has been transforming creatures ever since Giant Growth.
Cons: Beast Within destroys creatures. There is no way of getting around this. In formats like Commander where the 3/3 is minimal, it provides Green with an ability that it normally should not get. Also, the flavor of transformation doesn't exactly fit well with Green's naturalistic outlook.

Rapid Hybridization
Pros: Blue is the color where Polymorph has appeared the most, because the flavor of Blue forcing unnatural changes on the natural world is pretty delicious. 
Cons: Rapid Hybridization destroys creatures. There is no way of getting around this. In formats like Commander where the here the 3/3 is minimal, it provides Blue with an ability that it normally should not get (I know that's what I said for Beast Within; that was intentional). 

There are arguments for different Polymorph effects in each color.

Blue: As said before, the flavor of Polymorph often fits Blue because Blue likes to manipulate nature. Blue often gets effects that transform various aspects of a creature such as power and toughness (Water Servant) or creature type (Artificial Evolution.). Blue has gotten the most polymorph effects, setting the most precedent.
Red: I would argue the original Polymorph is actually more Red than Blue; Blue doesn't like randomness nearly as much as Red, and the entire point of Polymorph is that you don't know what you're going to get. It's not "I'm a scientist learning more about the universe," it's "Who cares what happens? Let's do it!" The spell can easily backfire, something Red, the most short-sighted of colors, has no problem with. However, non-random Polymorph effects don't fit in Red much at all, since it has nowhere near as much transformation as Blue.
Green: Polymorph effects fit Green because Green also likes transforming stuff; pump spells often change a creature's power and toughness and change the creature's size in the art, for example. Green also likes interacting with creatures a lot more than the two other colors. Green has had the second most polymorph effects.

I'm just curious to see how the people on this forum feel about the effects, how they should be distributed, and if their mechanical implementation can break the color pie (By giving Green or Blue creature removal, or Red enchantment removal).
Blue polymorph effects make a lot of sense because of blue's desire to improve upon things through experimentation and modification. However, blue is the color of thoughtfulness, so its Polymorph effects should not be random.

Polymorph effects also make some sense in red because red magic is chaotic, ever-changing, never settling. Red polymorph effects are not the calculated modification of blue, but rather a warping of form. The nature of red creatures, like the nature of red magic, is fluid and constantly shifting. Flowstone creatures I think exemplify this element of red best. However, red shouldn't get as many cards that just spontaneously turn one thing into another. Red shouldn't get something just because it's chaotic. That's too similar to the old mindset that blue could get any ability by studying it. Red's polymorph effects should alter the nature of a creature without changing the creature itself. Switching power and toughness is one way to do this.

Green polymorph effects could be made to work if the flavor of them changed. Rather than green transforming one creature into another, play up green's ties to nature. Green destroys creatures by summoning a bigger, badder creature to eat it for breakfast.

Hunger of the Pack
Sorcery
Destroy target creature an opponent controls. That creature's controller puts X 2/2 green Wolf creature tokens onto the battlefield, where X is that creature's toughness.
Rules Advisor
Don't forget Mercy Killing, Afterlife and Crib Swap.
I don't like Polymorph effects in blue; I feel that being the color of "shapeshifting" is the same sort of copout that being the "tricky" color is, or black being the color that "will do anything to win". Almost anything that changes a creature in any significant way can be flavored as "shapeshifting"--that doesn't mean it belongs in blue.

Polymorph specifically should not be in blue. A spell that's flavored as changing a creature into a random other creature--no control, no forethought--is just not blue. A version of Polymorph that hit only your own creatures? Arguable. But one that hits your opponent's stuff, no.

(Incidentally, the problem with Chaos Warp isn't just that it sometimes failed to produce anything--it's also that even if it does "hit" something, a good third of the time it's something that's almost never any kind of threat: a land.)

Come join me at No Goblins Allowed


Because frankly, being here depresses me these days.

Tinker and similar should not be considered as part of this discussion.
They are not polymorph effects, they are tutors.

Its possible to make Polymorph and similar effects work as tutors by building very specific decks, but they do not have the same functionality.

I don't think its a violation of flavor for green to get effects like Mercy Killing. MaRo has reasoned that it feels off because green doesn't kill, which is a crock. Wild animals kill each other for sustenance. I don't know what else to say in that respect.

Being able to aim something like Feed the Pack feels perfectly fine to me. Some critters eat another critter, and stay behind because they're greatful you fed them.        

I don't think its a violation of flavor for green to get effects like Mercy Killing. MaRo has reasoned that it feels off because green doesn't kill, which is a crock. Wild animals kill each other for sustenance. I don't know what else to say in that respect.


In order to push the flavor of "green kills creatures with creatures", you can't just use a spell to get rid of a problem. This is why fight is okay, because it directly involves your creatures. That said, Mercy Killing on your own guy seems like another concept entirely.
Mark Rosewater's response to a question on Polymorph. He thinks it can fit in Red, obviously fits in Blue, and does not fit in Green. 

Don't forget Mercy Killing, Afterlife and Crib Swap.

Oooh, good point. It actually makes sense for this sort of "kill their creature and give them a creature" thing to be an effect in White, but I'm rather wary of expanding White's color pie. Also, other people have already set up a thread about White removal, so I don't want to go stepping on their toes. 

Blue polymorph effects make a lot of sense because of blue's desire to improve upon things through experimentation and modification. However, blue is the color of thoughtfulness, so its Polymorph effects should not be random.

Polymorph effects also make some sense in red because red magic is chaotic, ever-changing, never settling. Red polymorph effects are not the calculated modification of blue, but rather a warping of form. The nature of red creatures, like the nature of red magic, is fluid and constantly shifting. Flowstone creatures I think exemplify this element of red best. However, red shouldn't get as many cards that just spontaneously turn one thing into another. Red shouldn't get something just because it's chaotic. That's too similar to the old mindset that blue could get any ability by studying it. Red's polymorph effects should alter the nature of a creature without changing the creature itself. Switching power and toughness is one way to do this.

If neither Blue nor Red should get it, which color should get Polymorph? Should it be a gold card?

Green polymorph effects could be made to work if the flavor of them changed. Rather than green transforming one creature into another, play up green's ties to nature. Green destroys creatures by summoning a bigger, badder creature to eat it for breakfast.

Hunger of the Pack
Sorcery
Destroy target creature an opponent controls. That creature's controller puts X 2/2 green Wolf creature tokens onto the battlefield, where X is that creature's toughness.

This card is interesting because, unlike other offensive Polymorph cards, it usually gives the controller more power and toughness worth of creatures. That sort of thing might be very green, since Green doesn't like "unfair creatures" (Those that have evasion or non-combat utility) but has no problem with "fair creatures" that it can engage in combat. 
I don't like Polymorph effects in blue; I feel that being the color of "shapeshifting" is the same sort of copout that being the "tricky" color is, or black being the color that "will do anything to win". Almost anything that changes a creature in any significant way can be flavored as "shapeshifting"--that doesn't mean it belongs in blue.

Polymorph specifically should not be in blue. A spell that's flavored as changing a creature into a random other creature--no control, no forethought--is just not blue. A version of Polymorph that hit only your own creatures? Arguable. But one that hits your opponent's stuff, no.

Yeah, it is a bit weird that Polymorph is mostly kept in Blue because of the transformation flavor. 
(Incidentally, the problem with Chaos Warp isn't just that it sometimes failed to produce anything--it's also that even if it does "hit" something, a good third of the time it's something that's almost never any kind of threat: a land.)


So a fixed version of Chaos Warp would reveal cards from the top (Like Polymorph) until a nonland permanent card is revealed.

Tinker and similar should not be considered as part of this discussion.They are not polymorph effects, they are tutors. Its possible to make Polymorph and similar effects work as tutors by building very specific decks, but they do not have the same functionality.

I kept Tinker and Natural Order as part of the discussion because they're still "transformation" effects that turn your thing into another thing (Just with a lot less randomness). A lot of MaRo's arguments for keeping polymorph effects in Blue have to do with the transformation flavor.
I don't think its a violation of flavor for green to get effects like Mercy Killing. MaRo has reasoned that it feels off because green doesn't kill, which is a crock. Wild animals kill each other for sustenance. I don't know what else to say in that respect.

Being able to aim something like Feed the Pack feels perfectly fine to me. Some critters eat another critter, and stay behind because they're greatful you fed them. 

I think the problem here is that while Green could have it justified in flavor, it's a bit like Blue getting Psionic Blast because it's mind magic; in a strict mechanical color pie sense, requiring creatures to kill creatures is one of Green's limits (Speaking of which, killing creatures already in play is supposed to be one of Blue's limits...). I do agree the flavor is completely sound.


I remember Alexis Janson saying in a card-by-card breakdown of Shadowmoor that she pushed Mercy Killing because green was her favorite color, but she hated its crippling lack of removal, and she was interested in seeing what sort of things green could do that make sense in green mechanically and flavorfully.

"a wild animal ate your dude" always made sense to me, especially because, you know, it happens in real life every day.

I can understand why they'd want to make do with fight, but I don't think they're doing themselves any favors by completely closing the door to the effect.

The key as I see it is to make sure it scales properly.

Beast Within on a small annoying creature; fair trade.
Beast Within on an Eldrazi; not so fair.    
I'm of the opinion that Polymorph effects are every color accept :B:- and that's because :B: is the color of power, and seeks to outright obliterate as opposed to something as cute or impromptu as changing the shape a creature or in :G:'s case, any permanent.

I feel that Polymorph, Mass Polymorph and Shape Anew feel very because they care about the structure of each player's deck composition- but I feel the native home of modifying permanents is :G:, and is something that should be further explored inside of :G: especially.

:R: and :W: on the otherhand, feel like they are more into transmogrification as a means to denature and disarm, sometimes recklessly so.
IMAGE(http://i998.photobucket.com/albums/af108/acatan/sigwynzermancopy.png) Signature by IMAGE(http://www.poke-amph.com/heartgoldsoulsilver/sprites/258.png)
What color should Æthering be? That is, the ability to put a creature onto the battlefield from your hand or library. Such as Eureka, Polymorph, Dramatic Entrance, Through the Breach, etc. I always felt that fit well, but I never really considered the color philosophies behind the mechanic. At this moment, I don't have a strong reason for putting it anywhere, save that green gets big creatures and gets to bring them out fast.
What color should Æthering be? That is, the ability to put a creature onto the battlefield from your hand or library. Such as Eureka, Polymorph, Dramatic Entrance, Through the Breach, etc. I always felt that fit well, but I never really considered the color philosophies behind the mechanic. At this moment, I don't have a strong reason for putting it anywhere, save that green gets big creatures and gets to bring them out fast.


Red's Æthers tend to put the creature into play hasted but kill it and the end of the turn which suits red's philosophy of ignoring long term advantage for short term gain.  As you note, green likes to put big creatures into play quicker then other colors.  Black is not a great fit but I could also see it getting such effects if they involved hurting yourself by discarding a bunch of cards from hand, losing a lot of life, sacrificing all other creatures or similar.  White is the weenie colour so putting one big creature into play doesn't really fit, though something that lets you put a bunch of cheap creatures into play might work.  I'm not sure that blue really works that well for Æther effects as it's not really a permanent focused color.  You can justify it by saying that blue likes to cheat, but that's the sort of logic that lets blue get have every ability.
Blue does have mechanics that give free stuff (Omnipotence, Rooftop Storm, Dream Halls), so Aethering kinda fits since it also subverts the mana cost of something.
It's Omniscience. Omnipotence would be a better name, and is the name for a Vintage combo using it.

TBH, it seems to me every color might be best with some sort of card draw, removal, and evasion, and if not, there had better be a good reason why not.
139359831 wrote:
Clever deduction Watson! Maybe you can explain why Supergirl is trying to kill me.
---- Autocard is your friend. Lightning Bolt = Lightning Bolt
raz and I have been discussing it, and I like his assertion that putting a creature from your hand/library onto the battlefield belongs to all colors in some capacity. That's basically what a planeswalker is doing when they summon a creature.

As for Polymorph, I think there's an overall misconception about "randomness". Randomness exists in every color. Red just happens to embrace the chaos more than most. Blue is surely the color that tries to overcome it the most, but its scientific nature still makes it prone to experimentation. Blue's goal is to implement, predict, and deal with that experimentation properly, but that shouldn't suggest that its success rate is 100%. Polymorph makes a lot of sense to me in blue. When cast on your own creature, its with the knowledge of how you've constructed your deck, and that creates certain expectations. When used on an opponent, it is also with those expectations, albeit the success rate is lower.

It's easy to confuse philosophy with flavor, a pitfall I'm attempting to avoid with this explanation. I think this idea can fit blue at the core of what it's trying to accomplish. Blue embraces relativity just as much as quantum mechanics. ;) 
What Rush said.

Basically, no one actually plays Polymorph fairly.
It's all part of the gameplan to have only polymorph targets and non-creature ways to make sac targets.