If you have played the game of Magic long enough, you’ve seen the game go through many, many changes. Most of them have been for the better, although sometimes it takes the Old Fogeys some kicking and screaming to come around to them. The stack, the layer system, planeswalkers – these things have all worked to make a better, more enticing game. And the numbers bear that out, sales-wise. More people are playing now than ever.
Sometimes though, just because an idea is old doesn’t mean it’s bad.
It’s a trap that happens to a lot of designers. After all, innovation drives sales. Why get the new model with the same features if the older one works fine? You have to be current and adaptable or you risk losing your customers. Magic is no different. That said, there is truth in looking at the foundations of your product to see what got you to your current point. With this game, one such feature is the idea of color hosers.
Color hosers don’t simply exist to be a jerk. Hosers are a means of punishing mono-colored decks for being mono-colored. As we are currently in the throes of excitement of the multi-colored block that is Return to Ravnica, one could make the argument that it could be an opportune time for their return. Alas, this is unlikely for a variety of reasons. The belief is that most players just don’t get excited about these cards. Given the circumstances, recent history would tend to back that up.
So, why don’t people use them? It really comes down to three factors:
#1. They are very situational
This goes for both casual and competitive play. If you’re gleefully sitting on a Karma but no one in your game is currently playing Black, you now essentially have a useless card. For organized play, this is a big no-no. In formats where you are fretting over every little slot (which you do), you are not going to use precious main deck or sideboard slots in the off-chance you play someone with those colors. (Unless the current format you’re playing in has heavily tilted that way.)
With casual players it’s equally evident. Most don’t want to deal with sitting on a color hoser either if it does them absolutely no good in duels. Those who tend to play casual group games will see more use out of them, but even then it’s not incredibly common at most gaming tables. As for sideboarding…well…I have a secret to tell you…
The vast majority of casual players do not sideboard.
They may carry an assortment of cards they are experimenting with or are looking to replace/upgrade, but the concept of tuning your deck depending on the people and deck(s) you’re facing is not a practice many casual players follow.
Hosers therefore see a limited scope of play. Now, this is done by design. Magic designers want hosers to be powerful, but they don’t want them to be auto-win cards. To counterbalance this, they do two things. One is that they guarantee that the cards have a very niche function – and they do that function really well. The second is our the next point.
#2 They aren’t very common [anymore]
Color hosers have been around since the game’s inception. When Richard Garfield created the core set almost 20 years ago, part of his philosophy on balance included the idea of really crippling a color’s enemy. After all, colors had their sworn adversaries, and they should have weapons to coincide with that. Thus the first dozen or so were made. The idea was expanded upon all the way from Legends to Fallen Empires to the Ice Age block (which included Homelands at the time) to Mirage block, culminating in the hoser zenith that was Tempest block. It was at that point that a change occurred, and color hosers starting with Urza block and Mercadian Masques (which still arguably have some decent ones) started the decline in color hoser potency. WotC had admitted that for reasons somewhat evident, they probably had taken hosers too far.
That’s not to say that they aren’t still around. The Shadowmoor mini block had a small resurgence in hoser percentages, for example. Generally though these days hosers seem to only ever be seen in drafts or limited to core sets. Compared to the height of their influence, even the cards that conform to today’s color pie philosophy are simply in a different league.
Take for example the color hoser cards that have appeared in the M2010-M2012 sets.
The first row is effectively useless outside drafts, showing us a weak spot removal spell, a weak counterspell, an (essentially) vanilla creature, and a weak direct damage spell, respectively. The second row shows the rest, with marginally better effects. The last time a color hoser saw serious Constructed play was Story Circle – and it wasn’t reprinted beyond 10th Edition because at the time it was deemed too powerful for the tournament scene at the time.
By contrast, let’s take a look at just some of the more potent hosers of the past:
None of the modern day “mini hosers” in the Magic 20xx sets even come close to the weakest one depicted above. And there’s a reason for that.
#3 Hosers aren’t necessarily fun
Imagine you are sitting around playing a game of Magic with friends, and for you at least, things are going along smoothly. Why shouldn’t it? You have an army of soldier tokens and a few nice enchantments out that are giving you clear board advantage. Your mono-White deck is doing exactly what it is supposed to, and it would appear that your opponents are stymied. Things certainly look good right now for edging out a win.
Then someone throws this at you:
Congratulations. You have just been on receiving end of a color hoser.
Simply put, being affected by a powerful hoser sucks. It can change the entire tempo of a game, and in some cases grinding it to an ugly halt. A well-timed one could even be a game-ending play, regardless of the previous circumstances. Magic has tons of globally detrimental cards: mass destruction, lockdown, punishers, taxers, and so forth. However, hosers particularly sting if the only person affected in a 5-player game is you. It’s one thing if everyone is pained equally, but if you’re the only one at the table playing an artifact deck when Uncle Shatterstorm gets cast, it will quickly take the wind out of your sails. If the best you can hope for is to just get back to the status quo before being finished off, then your part in the game is already over.
So why advocate for their return?
It would be good to reiterate if it isn’t clear to this point: this is not a plead for a return to the brutality of Tempest-era hoser cards. Most Magic players who remember those days can agree that the game is better off without that level of color hate. That said, they are woefully inadequate in today’s game. Even the nicknames “mini” or “soft” hosers of recent core sets – terms that R&D themselves use – are acknowledging that they aren’t true to form of their predecessors. They are weak, so of course no one uses them. But, in a bewildering paradox of logic, the powers that be claim they don’t print more worthwhile hosers because no one uses the terrible ones they have made. It’s a cyclical argument the developers have been using for a number of years now. Roundabout reasoning alone doesn’t stop them from making “bad” (unused) cards in general, and that is also true here. The other main reason seems to be to keeping Standard as happy as possible.
Yet, there are a number of reasons this would be an opportune time to see color hosers return, including:
- Nostalgia for older players.
- Producing “fixed” hosers under modern color philosophies and for a new audience. Have Rosewater & Co. show us how they’d do it nowadays.
- Casual and supplementary products such as Commander and Planechase. Some hosers can (and do) find effective usage in EDH decks.
- Providing an in-game avenue for advocating multicolored Constructed decks.
These quirky-yet-scary cards have fallen into disrepair, occasionally referenced by older players speaking of old “Hack Decks” and by WotC correspondences saying that “they haven’t forgotten about them”, and they “will consider them if they are a good fit”. Wizards has gone from toning these cards down to just not utilizing them. That is unfortunate, and unnecessary. There is plenty of room to find a happy medium, especially in a world where we haven’t seen Circles of Protection since 2005.
And if you as a player are unaware what a CoP is, that fact alone would be enough reason for them to re-evaluate this languished card type.
What are some of your particular favorite color hosers? You can discuss this article over on our forums!