I love tribal mechanics in magic. Generally I love any mechanic in magic that rewards you for having a specific kind of card. And what I love about magic is how the game provides distinct mechanical flavors to different tribes, further rewarding players who enjoy playing particular archetypes.
For example, with some deviations, everyone knows Elves and Merfolk focus on stacking lords, Vampires focus on draining life, and goblins focus on just having as many creatures out as possible. There are tribes that, by definition, are always tribal, like Allies and Slivers. There’s also tribes that aren’t necessarily synergistic with one another but are always on creatures with specific abilities, like Spellshapers and Volvers.
And then there’s weird tribes like Atog and Rebel that have long faded into magic’s past, absorbed into other tribes with similar mechanics, but darn it wouldn’t it be cool to have them back?
Often, tribes will overlap on mechanics, typically because they serve similar roles and are found among similar colors. And for me, no blending of mechanics has bugged me quite as much as the one between Shamans, Wizards, and Druids.
I love Shamans, and I love Wizards, and Druids are pretty sweet as well. One of my earliest EDH decks was a Shaman tribal deck, which I stuck Surrak Dragonclaw at the helm of so I could play all the new Temur goodness from Khans of Tarkir in the deck along with older shamans like Rage Forger and Sachi. When Dominaria was announced I set out to do the same with a Wizard deck helmed by Adeliz, and I currently run a Brawl deck with her.
In both cases, I researched interactions that work with each tribe, and frequently ran up against cases where an effect that would be great in one tribe was stapled to a creature from the other. Probably the biggest offenders would be Young Pyromancer and Guttersnipe.
I mean, just think about the value of playing just any old spell and getting an elemental, 2 damage, and a +1/+1 boost on Young Pyro and Guttersnipe AND any other wizards that happen to be out at the time. It makes me giddy. This is the kind of synergy and fun effects that made me fall in love with this game. But no, unless I happen to have Conspiracy or Arcane Adaptation in play, that sort of thing can’t happen.
Druids further complicate the issue, especially since they are a relatively small tribe with almost no tribal support. Why is Gyre Sage a Druid and not a Shaman? Why is Fathom Mage a Wizard and not a Shaman? What exactly is the difference between each of the tribes?
It took a lot of thought to figure out how I would find an answer. At my job, I do a lot of work in excel to analyze and compare large chunks of data, so I figured why not try to compare data between cards?
I innocently set out on what I did not realize would be a frustrating, hair tearing task.
I started first with shamans. Taking data from mtg vault, I copied over all the text information for every shaman card and sorted it into categories – name, color, mana cost, power, toughness, types other than shaman, and the actual text minus any flavor text.
I gathered this information from the same source so that the formatting of the oracle text would be consistent across all cards. This ensured I wouldn’t have to, for example, account for all the ways “dies” or “generate a token” or “add a +1/+1 counter” have been formatted on cards over the years.
Then, taking the information I had off a sample of cards, I created aspects to analyze this card data I had, essentially breaking down all shaman cards into their base effects.
It turns out that creatures in magic sure do a lot of things, and there’s a lot of ways they can do those things.
I determined first whether the creatures had triggered, activated, or static abilities, then how those abilities were activated or triggered (or, in the case of static abilities, whether or not those abilities were conditional). Then I made several columns for what those abilities actually did.
All in all, I had roughly 75 ability aspects by the end of it, with all sorts of different equations in each column to analyze the oracle text in column B.
To say it was frustrating would be an understatement, and it’s honestly something I’m glad I did because now I can put “advanced excel experience” on my resume and feel like it’s less of an exaggeration. This whole experience has rekindled my interest in programming in general, which had been snuffed out years ago in college when I went through a horrible C++ class where the teacher had us use pencil and paper to write programs on tests from memory and the only thing I learned was that my handwriting and memory were terrible.
But anyway, once I perfected this with the shamans, I did the same with the wizards and the druids. There are roughly 500 shamans and almost 900 wizards in magic, but thankfully only about 130 druids. After checking on the data and deleting the Unset entries, I set about actually comparing.
Shamans are primarily found in red, followed by green, and further followed by black. Wizards are highly primarily found in blue, followed by white and red. And finally, druids are overwhelmingly found in green, followed by white and red.
Of the three tribes, wizards are the most likely to be found in more than one color, which isn’t surprising given their history. The most common two color combination was RG for Shamans, UW for Wizards, and WG for Druids.
Types (Other Than Tested)
Not surprisingly, human dominates nearly every list as the number one type other than the tested type on creatures. However, Druids do not have humans dominating as #1, that spot is instead taken by Elves.
Excluding humans, however, Shamans are most likely to have Goblins as a secondary type, and Wizards are most likely to have Merfolk as a secondary type.
The third most likely typing is Elf for Shamans, Vedalken for Wizards, and Insect for Druids.
CMC, Power, and Toughness
The average CMC, Power, and Toughness of all three creature types is incredibly close, with only a few points of difference.
Wizards are on average the most expensive type coming in at 3.20 CMC, while Druids are the cheapest coming in at 3.04.
Shamans hit the hardest at a 2.09 Power average, while Druids are the weakest at a 1.66 Power average.
Finally, Shamans tough it out best with a 2.19 Toughness average compared to the Druid’s weak 1.95 Toughness average.
Now for the real meat of what I wanted to compare – the Abilities of each creature type. It took a lot to really take in all the data and consolidate it into something that could be easily compared, but I think I managed.
In terms of Trigger abilities, all three classes are most likely to have ETB (Enter the Battlefield) abilities, which shouldn’t be surprising as ETBs are likely the most common creature ability. Interestingly, Shamans are also tied for Special Trigger abilities, a general category I made for any mention of “whenever x happens” in the oracle text.
In terms of other abilities, Druids are most likely to have Trigger (Special) abilities, followed by Attack abilities, or abilities triggered on attack.
After ETB and Trigger (Special), Shamans are most likely to have Upkeep, followed by Spell Cast (Owner) abilities, which means the trigger occurred as a result of the creature’s owner casting a spell.
Finally, Wizards are most likely to have Trigger (Special) abilities, followed by Spell Cast (Owner).
As an interesting note, from the data studied, absolutely no druids have any abilities relating to combat damage, death triggers, end step triggers, or upkeep triggers.
Druids overwhelmingly dominate in terms of activate abilities, followed by Wizards, then Shamans. Both Druids and Wizards are most likely to tap in order to activate an ability, while Shamans are most likely to require a mana payment to activate an ability.
For another interesting note, all three tribes are close in terms of likelihood to require some form of sacrifice to activate abilities.
Again overwhelmingly, Druids dominate in adding mana to one’s mana pool, followed by Shamans. Shamans are most likely to deal damage, and Wizards are most likely to draw cards.
The second most common effect in Druids is token creation. For Shamans, the second most common effect is serving as a Lord for a tribe other than Shamans. And finally, the second most common effect for Wizards is adding keywords or effects to other creatures.
Of interesting to note, while the likelihood of effects is fairly evenly spread out between Shamans and Wizards, Druids absolutely spike for adding mana, indicating that they are a common type for mana dorks.
I created a section for what each tribe interacts with the most in terms of card types and subtypes.
Both Druids and Shamans are most likely to act as tribal support for a tribe other than Druid or Shaman in some way, while Wizards interact most with Creatures.
Both Druids and Shamans interact with Creatures secondarily, while Wizards then switch into interacting with non-Wizard tribes.
Finally, Druids are third most likely to interact with Artifacts (likely destroying them) and both Shamans and Wizards are third most likely to have Graveyard interactions.
What Does This Mean?
To summarize all of this, the research indicates a few things:
Druids are highly specialized as mana dorks, with few other effects throughout magic’s history. In comparison, Shamans and Wizards are more jack of all trades, though they do gravitate towards certain effects.
Shamans are best at interacting with other tribes. If you’re playing tribal, it’s likely there’s a shaman that supports that tribe. This is probably why I loved the tribe initially.
Finally, wizards are ETB masters, which certainly explains why the recent Wizard commander supported copying Wizard ETBs.
It’s also interesting to see where the tribes overlap, and how generally it corresponds to where their color identities overlap.
Wizards and Shamans overlap in Red and Blue the most and both tribes are close in terms of ETB and Remove/Add Keyword effects.
Druids and Shamans overlap frequently in Green and are close in terms of Regrow and Artifact/Enchantment interactions (again, likely in destroying artifacts and enchantments).
Wizards and Druids are the most different but do overlap in White and are close in Gaining Life and Self Sacrifice effects.
As of today, there are four examples of creatures that directly overlap these tribes. Druid/Shamans have two entries with Mul Daya Channelers and Exuberant Firestoker. Druid/Wizards have Sunseed Nurturer, and Wizard/Shamans have Bloodline Shaman (errata). Notably, the Druid/Shaman and Druid/Wizard examples were both from Alara, and both feature Naya’s pre-Ferocious “reward controlling big creatures” mechanic.
This foray pretty much proved what was already somewhat known. I still do think that Young Pyromancer and Guttersnipe are just two of many examples where the lines between these three classes are blurred. However, I’m happy to have been able to lay it out on various axis to “objectively” compare these classes.
I also can’t help but have more questions in terms of class differences. What makes the difference between a Warrior, Soldier, Knight, and Berserker? Do Archers have any tribal identity? I’d be interested to see if WOTC continues their experiment with the “historic” identifier in the future by including other identifiers such as “magic user” or “fighter” to group all of these similar classes together. Until then I’m going to take a deep breath and deal with this headache with a newfound appreciation for lab workers.