During the preview season of Throne of Eldraine, a screenshot of a discord conversation circulated around which showed the five legendary noble creatures from Throne of Eldraine and pointed out how disappointing the white card, Linden, the Steadfast Queen, was in the comparison to the rest of the cycle.
This observation was then immediately followed by the message: “That’s how cycles work, Josh.”
I laughed at this when I saw this, partly because “Josh” is right up there with “Karen” and “Tim” as hilarious short names to end exasperated sentences with, but mostly because it rang true with the generally agreed upon idea that white is Magic: the Gathering’s weakest color. There are a number of reasons for why this opinion has formed and held true for many players throughout the game’s history, and the roots of it reach all the way back to one of Magic’s original cycles, The “Three for One” cycle.
For the unaware, this is a cycle of cards from Alpha which is made of cards that do Three of something for One color of mana. This includes Ancestral Recall (one of the most powerful cards ever printed), Dark Ritual (a staple in Legacy and Vintage Storm decks), Lightning Bolt (you know, Red’s most Iconic card), Giant Growth (which has seen continuous print in sets as recent as War of the Spark), and of course White’s card: Healing Grace, a piece of cardboard so trash-bad and forgettable that you didn’t realize that Healing Grace is actually not the card from the cycle, it’s actually the somehow worse card: Healing Salve.
Now it may be hyperbolic to say that White is Magic’s worst color, but this screenshot got me thinking: just how has white fared in the rest of the cycles of Eldraine? Does white get hosed universally, or only somewhat bamboozled? With this question burning in my mind, I began to look.
I decided to only take mono-colored cycles into account, as it would be difficult to argue which was the “Most White Card” out of Dance of the Manse and Faeburrow Elder in Eldraine’s “Dual-Ally-Coloured Rares” cycle. I also decided to focus solely on 100% confirmed cycles. For example, in this set there are a number of colored artifacts, the majority of them being equipment like Giant’s Skewer. Each color has at least one of these artifacts, but red has two: Brimstone Trebuchet and Crystal Slipper. Blue’s artifact, Witching Well, is also not an equipment and so it’s not 100% clear as to which of red’s two artifacts are supposed to be part of this cycle. As such, I have not included these cards into the running. I also set out determined on being as brutal as possible. Even if I think every card is great or sucks, I will be determining at least which is the worst of the lot.
With all the caveats out of the way, and the pinch of salt that is your understanding that I haven’t played Standard constructed since Khans of Tarkir added to your reading of this article, let’s jump in with the cycle that kicked this whole thought process off.
In the right deck, of course Linden, the Steadfast Queen would shine, but in a vacuum and compared to her peers, her design lacks excitement. A 3/3 for three that gains you some life just doesn’t have that “Build Around Me” spark that Ayara and Yorvo have. She’s not as powerful as Gadwick’s Blue Sun Zenith + pseudo Mind Over Matter on legs or Torbran’s diet version of Gratuitous Violence. I agree with Josh, white really did get shafted. One cycle down.
Next I had the legendary artifact cycle, with white’s offering being The Circle of Loyalty. In my eyes, The Great Henge and Embercleave are the best cards in this cycle by a country mile, offering card advantage and wins out of nowhere, but The Circle is certainly not the worst card here. It has an immediate effect when you play it and it provides a very legitimate threat to your opponent in the form of at least one new 3/3 knight each turn. The Magic Mirror can also get very out of hand, but does take a while to get going, and The Cauldron of Eternity could well be busted if built around correctly, but it’s a relatively clunky reanimation engine and runs the risk of ruining your game-plan if misplayed. So we have one cycle where white sucks, and one where it’s middle of the road.
The Castle cycle is a bit of a difficult one to gauge as they’re all pretty great. Ardenvale, Vantress, and Lochthwain all present ways of eking out value in a stalled game through tokens, card selection, and card draw respectively. Although, if I had to pick a winner, Vantress’ ability to help find the answer to any given board state just about beats the other two castles out. Embereth is a phenomenal utility land for red decks looking to go wide with creatures, and Garenbrig effectively taps for two green mana when you activate its ability. However, being brutal, I would say that the fact that Garenbrig presents the most limited utility out of all five castles, and the fact that you can’t activate a second Garenbrig with the mana from the first certainly harms its ability to go off. It’s not a bad card, but it’s probably the worst card within the context of this cycle.
Most of the uncommon legendary knights of Eldraine give off varying degrees of that “Build Around Me” vibe, with Syr Konrad, the Grim and Syr Carah, the Bold being the most striking examples. Syr Faren’s design is a lot less complicated but still powerful and presents an opportunity to build around. Syr Alin and Syr Elenora are pretty clearly at the bottom of the pack in this cycle, but as boring as Syr Alin’s ability is, at least it doesn’t turn him into a 0/4 late in the game. Here, white just scrapes by as only the second worst card in this cycle.
Next there are the ETB lands which include the incredibly powerful Mystic Sanctuary and probably some other cards too, maybe. Here there is a pretty clear loser and it is white’s Idyllic Grange. Each of the other lands have effects that range from amazing to decent, but only Idyllic Grange has an ability that has a realistic chance to fizzle if you’re on the back-foot of a game. When compared with Dwarven Mine, which creates a creature that can both apply pressure and act as an emergency blocker, Idyllic Grange’s solitary +1/+1 counter just doesn’t hold up.
During my first blush with this set, there were some cycles that I completely missed. One of these is the cycle of rare adventure cards, of which there is exactly one in each color. Murderous Rider is the clear winner of this cycle, presenting two different kinds of game stabilisation in the form of a removal spell and a decent lifelinking creature. Bonecrusher Giant is probably the next best card for similar reasons and Fae of Wishes’ sideboard searching ability was a major player in Field of Dead decks, and still presents brewing potential for future standard and pioneer decks, as does Lovestruck Beast. Then we have Giant Killer, who is not a bad card, in fact it’s probably one of the clearest pack-one-pick-ones in limited. However this card suffers from falling short in power level and lacking any real brewing potential. Another worst card for White.
Yet another of these potentially missed cycles is that of the same-color-hate cards. While the cycle was a lot clearer in sets like Theros, where the cycle was entirely made up of instants and sorceries like Dark Betrayal and Glare of Heresy, there is indeed a cycle here. Mystical Dispute, Specter’s Shriek, and Redcap Melee stand out as the most immediately powerful of this cycle – they are all incredibly efficient disruption and removal spells. However, Oakhame Adversary is a good card in its own right. It’s an Ohran Viper, on a slightly bigger body, with better deathtouch for one more mana, AND has the potential of a manacost reduction which would turn it into one of the most brutal early two-drops of almost any game. The white card in this cycle is Archon of Absolution and it’s… like… kind of weird? It’s the only uncommon white card in the set with an own-color-hate effect in the form of its protection from white so it does complete the cycle. But while the other cards here get a cost reduction or avoid a negative effect when used against their own colors, Archon of Absolution is just kind of a good card whether you’re playing against mono-white or Gruul aggro. As such, while it’s certainly the least interesting of the cycle, it’s very difficult to determine how good it is in comparison it these other hate cards. I’d say it’s certainly weaker than Mystical Dispute, which is an arguably strictly better Gainsay, but the comparatively inconsistent design of this card makes it incredibly difficult to judge it against its peers.
Finally we have the three adamant cycles: one cycle of common Paladins, one cycle of common spells and one cycle of uncommon spells.
Starting with the adamant paladins: simple knights for four or five mana that get bigger if you spend at least three of a specific colour to cast them. Ardenvale Paladin is a bigger Pillarfield Ox which grows even bigger with its adamant trigger, but it really doesn’t compare to the evasion offered by Vantress Paladin, Lochthwain Paladin, and Garenbrig Paladin. In fact, the only thing stopping white from having yet another worst card in the cycle is with just how whack Embereth Paladin is.
Moving onto the most easily ranked of these cycles, the common adamant spells, of which White is yet again the clear loser. Of the other four cards you have two removal spells in the form of Red and Green’s Searing Barrage and Outmuscle, and two draw spells with Blue and Black’s Unexplained Vision and Foreboding Fruit. White, on the other hand, gets Silverflame Ritual, a card that is only good in a very specific board state and, even in its adamant state, does significantly less than any of the other cards.
Finally there are the adamant uncommon cards. Here White gets very close to having the best card in the cycle, but Red’s Slaying Fire just beats it out. Token generation at instant speed can be phenomenal, acting as everything from removal to a tempo switch up, and the minimum of gaining two life is also pretty neat, but it just can’t beat uncommon Char with an arguably smaller downside. Turn into a Pumpkin is a fine removal spell in limited that also draws you a card and, while cards like Once and Future are really hard to rank just because they vary so much from game to game, it’s pretty safe to say it just pales in comparison to Cauldron’s Gift, a strictly better Rise from the Grave that also fills your yard.
So, now that we’ve gone through all of the cycles of Throne of Eldraine, (at least I hope we have – I only realized I’d forgotten about all of the adamant cards the night before I submitted this article) how did white fare? Well, at least in my opinion, there were four cycles in which white performed the worst (Nobles, ETB Lands, Rare Adventures, and Common Adamant Spells), three cycles in which white performed pretty poorly (Uncommon Knights, Hate Cards, and Adamant Paladins), three cycles in which White performed pretty well (Legendary Artifacts, Castles, and Uncommon Adamant Spells), and none where White actually got the best card. As for which color ended up performing the best? Well, it’s a bit of a toss-up between Red, which had the best card in the most cycles, and Black which was the only color to not have the worst card in any cycle, with Magic Mirror narrowly beating Cauldron of Eternity in the race to the bottom.
Further research is required as to how accurate this idea that cycles disfavor White cards, and while it’s not entirely accurate to say that White always gets the short end of the cycle, I think it’s safe to say that this set certainly didn’t do the color any favors in that perception.