Duelist of the Mind | Outlaws of Thunder Junction | Art by Darren Tan
30, Apr, 24

MTG Designer Explains Surprising Thunder Junction Color Pie Break

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The color pie is the bedrock of Magic design, and also a source of much contention, among both players and designers. The eagle-eyed among you may have noticed a major shift in recent sets, though: the addition of Vigilance to blue MTG creatures. This is a subtle but important change, and it has big implications for future sets.

For those who weren’t vigilant enough to catch the mechanic sneaking onto blue creatures, Principal Designer Gavin Verhey was there to point it out. In the latest episode of Good Morning Magic, he discussed why Vigilance is now on blue creatures. He also discussed how it came to be, and the design process that led to what, just a few years ago, would’ve been considered a major color pie break.

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It Ain’t Easy Being Blue

Verhey began with a look back at Vigilance as a mechanic, and the way in which combat mechanics in general have been distributed across the colors in Magic history. Blue, as the color most associated with spellcasting, has typically fared worse on the creature front than its peers. Both the stats of its creatures and their combat utility has always been sub-par to leave room for its absurd instants and sorceries.

Despite these facts, blue has actually had creatures with Vigilance before. Both Bay Falcon in Mirage and Zephyr Falcon in Legends packed the mechanic. They were undeniably outliers in the grand scheme of things, however. Vigilance wasn’t seen on a blue card again until Planar Chaos: the mischievous middle child of Time Spiral block.

This was a set all about breaking the color pie. White got counterspells, green got lifegain, and, yes, blue got Vigilance. On four separate cards, in fact, including Synchronous Sliver and Auramancer’s Guise. Some of the shifts Planar Chaos made were eventually incorporated into normal sets, such as green creatures with Haste. The majority, though, including Vigilance in blue, were abandoned. For many on the design team, Planar Chaos, in retrospect, was “A tremendous mistake,” according to Verhey. While long-time fans who understood its deep well of references, this likely comes as a surprise. When you consider how confusing it would be for new players, however, this position becomes more understandable.

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The Quest For A Blue Combat Mechanic

So, Vigilance was off the table for blue then, at least for a while. Come 2011, however, the tides began to shift. Blue’s lack of combat abilities was becoming more and more noticeable with each passing set. This was particularly the case for Limited, where grindy creature combat is king. Looting had been used as a go-to ability on blue commons for a while, but it proved too powerful in Limited, and so something new had to take its place.

In the following years, both Flash and Hexproof were introduced, and both played nicely in blue. They weren’t exactly what Magic’s designers were looking for, however, since they’re abilities of a fundamentally different kind to other combat abilities like Flying or Trample. A solution arrived in 2014 with the arrival of Khans of Tarkir and the Prowess ability.

This was a keyword that buffed a creature by +1/+1 for a turn each time its owner cast a noncreature spell. It fit perfectly in blue, the color of slinging instants and sorceries, and had the combat applications the team had been looking for. Prowess became a go-to for blue for the next five years, until, in the aftermath of War of the Spark, the team made the decision to relegate it from an Evergreen mechanic to a deciduous one.

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Ever Vigilant

Blue-Vigilance-MTG-Duelist-of-the-Mind

This decision wasn’t taken lightly. According to Verhey, Prowess “Was the only evergreen keyword that was an on-board mystery.” Unlike something like Flying or Trample, Prowess could do a range of things in different situations. In addition, “The fact that Prowess cares about noncreatures really didn’t line up well with some sets,” in Verhey’s words. This meant it was less universally applicable than a combat ability really should be. As a result it was set to the side.

This left a hole in blue’s combat toolkit. It was through this hole that Vigilance came to take its place on blue cards in MTG. Starting in Dominaria United with Haunting Figment, blue creatures started to get the Vigilance ability. This was ultimately a decision made by Magic’s Council of Colors, a group of designers in charge of managing the color pie. It made sense mechanically since blue was always a color that had access to untap effects. Beyond that, it just felt right for the color.

Since then, Vigilance has appeared regularly on blue cards in new MTG sets, with Thunder Junction’s Duelist of the Mind being a great example. Where once there were only 6 blue cards with Vigilance, now there are 32. There are no signs of this slowing down, either. In fact, as Verhey notes, “(Vigilance) just feels appropriate; it doesn’t feel like a color pie violation at all.” We can expect to see a lot more blue Vigilance going forward, then. While this will mostly matter for Limited formats, as Duelist proves, the mechanic can do plenty of work in Constructed, too.

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