What Is Fair and Unfair?

Hill Giant Wall of Ice

Fair magic, the game that you had explained to you when you first stumbled onto a booster pack what seems like eons ago, more or less does not exist in Legacy, right? The days of Hill Giants crashing into Walls of Ice may be past you at this point, though occasionally you will run into something between the card drawing Demons and Ancient Tombs that looks like a good ol’ fashioned beat down.

For those unacquainted with the term “fair” when it comes to Magic, it’s used to describe whether a card is designed to progress the game on a linear or nonlinear axis. I mean less about whether a deck itself is linear (eg. Burn, Affinity are very much linear decks that are quite fair and unfair, respectively) and more so in what way a card interacts with a game of Magic. More on that in a moment.

The issue with the terminology is that as soon as you start telling people what’s fair and unfair, they can get their view clouded by sentimental attachment to cards.

Ancient Tomb is fair, I’m only using it to casts dudes, right?

– Disgruntled Minor

Well my good man, no it is not.

Tarmogoyf Grafdigger's Cage

To see what I mean by this, take Tarmogoyf and Grafdigger’s Cage. On one side, we have a Green dude with a power and toughness clearly intended to crash into other creatures and more or less play the game on the aforementioned linear axis. Now take Grafdigger’s Cage. This is a one mana artifact that in a vacuum does literally nothing. A Grafdigger’s Cage will never kill your opponent, but unlike Tarmogoyf it does fundamentally change the rules of the game. Causing players to be locked out of decisions is a marker for what I would consider an unfair card.

The other markers for unfair cards include:

  • Altering the mana costs on other cards (eg. Sphere of Resistance, Helm of Awakening).
  • Generating mana outside of the regular dynamic of X lands = X mana available (eg. Dark Ritual, City of Traitors, Rain of Filth, Grim Monolith).
  • Interacting with cards outside of either the battlefield or cards in players hands (eg. Surgical Extraction, Slaughter Games, Entomb, tutors in general).
  • Not being played for the mana cost on the top right of the card (eg. Force of Will, Unmask, Delve in general).
  • Combo enablers (eg. Show and Tell, Reanimate).
  • Poorly designed cards that make my eye twitch. (eg. Cavern of Souls, any card with Dredge, any card with Storm, most cards with Phyrexian mana)

One red herring that seems to stifle discussion on the subject is power level. There are powerful fair interactions in the game – take our boy Craterhoof Behemoth. He’s a big guy, he normally ends the game when he enters the battlefield. You end up with Elvish Mystics that have been on the protein shakes and anabolic after the enter the battlefield trigger.

Craterhoof Behemoth

Come on man, he just turned his 1/1’s into 7/7’s, no way that is fair!

– General Public

Craterhoof Costs eight mana and sees play in Legacy. That means he is doing something to justify his converted mana cost. Take a look at a standard Elves deck list.

Card Classification
2 Bayou Fair
1 Birchlore Rangers Fair
2 Craterhoof Behemoth Fair
4 Deathrite Shaman Unfair
2 Dryad Arbor Fair
4 Elvish Visionary Fair
2 Forest Fair
1 Fyndhorn Elves Fair
4 Gaea’s Cradle Unfair
4 Glimpse of Nature Unfair
4 Green Sun’s Zenith Unfair
4 Heritage Druid Fair
1 Misty Rainforest Fair
4 Natural Order Unfair
4 Nettle Sentinel Fair
4 Quirion Ranger Fair
1 Reclamation Sage Fair
4 Verdant Catacombs Fair
4 Windswept Heath Fair
4 Wirewood Symbiote Fair

Four of the five unfair cards in the deck are enablers that allow Craterhoof to either be cheated in, cast off fewer lands or allow the Elves deck to amass enough resources that it will have no issues having him stuck in their hand.

As such, there are multiple instances where unfair interactions can arise from combinations of otherwise fair cards. Another example are the soft locks of both CounterTop and ThopterSword. Both lack an independently unfair card; I can’t see someone playing a Sword of the Meek to beef up their Baleful Strix or Counterbalance to play roulette with your opponent’s spells.

This raises the questions;

Where’s the fair?
Where did all the fair go?
When are you going to get the fair?
Who is the fairest of them all?

In order to answer these questions I have compiled a list of commonly played cards in Legacy and branded each of those cards within the two categories.

Some curious cases I have run into in this endeavour are whether or not a creature is considered fair when an otherwise unfair card is stapled onto it. For example, Knight of the Reliquary is Crop Rotation with a hell of a lot more text. There was also the curious case of cantrips, as well as whether or not having spells stapled onto lands constitutes as ‘fair” magic.

Deathrite Shaman was also a doozy.

So without further adieu I present some decks in Legacy ordered by fairness.

Position Deck Name Fairness (%)
1 Burn 86.66%
2 Jund 80.00%
3 4c Control 78.33%
4 UR Delver 76.67%
5 RUG Delver 73.33%
6 Esper DeathBlade 71.67%
7 BUG Delver 71.67%
8 Elves 66.67%
9 Merfolk 66.67%
10 Grixis Delver 65.00%
11 4c Loam 65.00%
12 Eldrazi 56.67%
13 Death and Taxes 51.67%
14 Goblins 51.67%
15 Storm 50.00%
16 G/B Depths 48.33%
17 Sneak and Show 43.33%
18 Infect 43.33%
19 BR Reanimator 40.00%

This spreadsheet I’ve made reads Cockatrice deck outputs, so feel free to chuck your own deck list in there and see if you are playing some fair magic.

The link to the spreadsheet is here.

Unsurprisingly we have Reanimator being the least fair deck from the sample, with Burn, outside of the punishing Eidolon of the Great Revel and Fireblast, being completely fair main deck.

(If you see a card on the list that you think is misclassified, feel free to message me and we can discuss it. Input and constructive criticism is always appreciated. I have also realised I didn’t set it up to be able to handle more of four-of a card in a deck. This includes basics, so you High Tide or Burn players may have to add your basics to the equation manually.)

By Rob Gascard

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