I talk often about removal and how weaker common removal makes for better Limited. Honestly, I believe it’s one of the greatest decisions in contemporary Magic design. Today, I’d like to briefly discuss combat tricks, which also get better when removal is weaker. In particular, I’d like to discuss a recent development: white is getting better one-mana combat tricks.


White has been getting combat tricks since Alpha’s powerful, but very circumstantial Righteousness. Generally, these took a very particular form: “target creature gets +1/+1 until end of turn. Something small and beneficial also happens.” These were never exciting and never particularly good. Mortal’s Ardor granted lifelink, Seize the Initative first strike, Stand Firm scry 2, and Veteran’s Reflexes the most unexciting ability of all, untapping. Swift Justice, Hundred-Talon Strike, and Defiant Strike were comparable spells, except they instead gave a creature +1/+0. Blessed Beath, Emerge Unscathed, Gods Willing, and Stave Off provided protection from a color, while Iron Will andGreat Defender just buffed toughness. Other than the thoroughly limited Piety Charm, that was it for one mana white combat tricks.

That’s how it was for all of Magic. For a single mana, white could provide a tiny boost to power and/or toughness, with a small additional effect, or it could provide protection with a small additional effect. These effects ranged from fine to awful, but were never very exciting.

Then, spells like Coat with Venom and Enshrouding Mist were printed: Coat with Venom provides a boost larger than +1/+1 (the second point of toughness proving to be very relevant when creatures are close in size) and a very relevant ability, while Enshrouding Mist combines nearly guaranteed protection with +1/+1 and a potential third ability. Combat tricks were getting more complicated and providing more bang for their buck. In addition, removal spells were weaker, so combat tricks had become safer to use and became pseudo-removal spells that allowed you to win combat on the cheap. From this wondrous soup, a new pattern has been born:


Since the two block paradigm began, white has upgraded its template for combat tricks to “target creature gets +2/+2 until end of turn. Something small and beneficial (but better than what was usually seen before) also happens.” There have been three large sets since Battle for Zendikar, and all of them have featured one such combat trick.

Battle for Zendikar gave us Lithomancer`s Focus, a card which not only helped sell the Eldrazi as a major set theme, it also hammered home both Nahiri and Ugin’s relevance to the plot.

Strength of Arms played less into its set’s major themes, but its minor bonus is quite strong and it features a glimpse of the story of Thalia, a popular returning character.

Built to Last tells you exactly what Kaladesh (and Kaladeshi white) is about: artifacts. It doesn’t tell a story, but it provides a solid and flexible effect.

None of these tricks are particularly splashy or powerful, but they’re dramatically more powerful than everything that came before. Their template is an easy canvas for future sets to iterate upon—I’ll be shocked if Amonkhet doesn’t have a combat trick which gives +2/+2 and something set-related, like a morbid-esque ability or powering up if it’s targeting a spirit or zombie (if mummies see some love in white).


Single white combat tricks may not be the most splashy cards, but they’re not only a small piece to the puzzle of not only making a single Magic set, they’re a tool to be used in the long-term health of Magic. Magic thrives not only because it’s constantly exploring completely new design space, but because it’s reusing, remixing, and retreading things which already work. We’re at a point where combat tricks (particularly non-green combat tricks) are allowed to be a little bit stronger, either by combining offensive and defensive capabilities, by providing bigger bonuses, or both. This opens a host of new design space, just as we saw in the various Shock with upsides (or tradeoffs).*

* – Seal of FireFirebolt, Electrostatic Bolt, Dead // Gone, Tarfire, Magma SprayBurst Lightning, Forked BoltGalvanic Blast, Pillar of Flame, Mugging, Wild Slash, Fiery Impulse, Galvanic Bombardment. Yes, there are a lot. It’s rich design space!

I’m delighted when small changes to cards create new templates, as seen in white’s new suite of tricks. I love when comparable tricks play both similarly and differently, such as Grotesque Mutation and Rush of Vitality. I love that combat tricks are becoming increasingly powerful, such as the Modern powerhouse, Temur Battle Rage. I even love the clunky combat tricks that just play weirdly, like Swell of Growth (it was supposed to provide an additional buff to landfall creatures, but the rarity of that being useful, due to the low power of landfall creatures, often relegated it to a horrible ramp spell).

In summary, I love this new vein of design space. I expect it’ll be around for a while longer. After all, it’s built to last.

And, as always, thanks for reading.

—Zachary Barash


Zachary Barash is a New York City-based game designer. He’s played Magic since 1994, he loves Limited and drafts every available format (including several that aren’t entirely meant to be drafted). He quite enjoys Revolutionary Rebuff, since that card demonstrates just how insanely good Mana Leak and Miscalculate are.

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