Superior Numbers - Why is Harmonize So Good?
Let's talk about one of the most unassuming cards in green's EDH arsenal: Harmonize.
What exactly do I want to discuss regarding Harmonize? It's not like it's a complex card with a lot of ephemeral rules interactions or esoteric game uses. It's a simple, clean card that costs four mana to draw three cards. Nothing complicated there. I don't even want to talk about how it's good. It's in 19,700 decks on EDHREC, and is the 21st most commonly played green card. People clearly already know it's good.
What I want to talk about is why Harmonize is good. As a comparison, Concentrate, the original card that birthed Harmonize as a color-shifted offspring back in the Time Spiral block, is in a mere 1,498 decks. That's a very significant difference. I think understanding the context that makes Harmonize a good card but which leaves Concentrate by the wayside gives us a peek into the gears, springs, and clockwork that make any one card better than other similar cards in this format.
I currently have six green decks: Edric, Spymaster of Trest, Glissa, the Traitor, Kresh the Bloodbraided, Mina and Denn, Wildborn, Reki, the History of Kamigawa, and Sigarda, Host of Herons. Additionally, my son has an Arahbo, Roar of the World deck I built for him, making a total of seven total green commander decks in my house. Of those, all but two play Harmonize, and both that aren't have specific thematic reasons for not running it (Glissa, for example, I've decided is only allowed to use artifacts to draw cards).
There are also currently four blue decks in my arsenal: Edric, Spymaster of Trest, Isperia, Supreme Judge, Talrand, Sky Summoner, and Vela, the Night-Clad, as well as an Alela, Artful Provocateur deck I built for my wife. None of those five are running Concentrate, and at no point while brewing those blue decks was Concentrate in the original 130+ card rough drafts. As a matter of fact, I'm positive I've never once in my life typed the word Concentrate into any field on any deckbuilder website.
Why, though? Why does one see so much play and the other sees next to none, when the only difference between the two is the color? Well, the color is the only thing that matters, and here's why.
1. There are more draw options in blue than in green
There are currently 838 blue cards in Magic that contain the words "draw" and "card" in their rules text box, and 320 of the same for green. That means there are 38% as many draw options in green. Blue has the edge in card quality, too, with there being 75 blue scry cards compared to 16 in green.
Now, some of those draw spells are of course unplayable and terrible. So what about the cards that actually find their way to decks? Let's look at the lists of the most popular cards of each color to see how many are draw spells:
|Top 5||2 total cards: Rhystic Study, Brainstorm||-|
|Top 10||4 total cards: Ponder, Fact or Fiction (plus the above)||-|
|Top 20||11 total cards: Preordain, Windfall, Mystic Remora, Treasure Cruise, Mulldrifter, Blue Sun's Zenith, Dig Through Time (plus the above)||2 cards: Sylvan Library, Zendikar Resurgent|
Only 2 of the top 20 most frequently played green cards are draw spells, vs. 11 for blue. It doesn't get better the deeper you go, either. Just 8 of the top 100 most frequently played green cards can draw you some cards, compared to the 28 that do it for blue.
Blue also has more tutors and more graveyard recursion in their top 100 cards than green. Yes, green is famous for Eternal Witness, but blue has a lot of spell recursion, too, like Archaeomancer and even Diluvian Primordial. In every way, blue has more popular cards that put cards into your hand, either from your library or your graveyard, than green. Simply put, there's a lot more competition when it comes to being a good draw spell for Concentrate than there is for Harmonize in green. Harmonize is good because there aren't better options.
2. There are no caveats on Harmonize
With the exception of Harmonize and Sylvan Library, what does every draw spell in the top 50 most popular green cards have in common? Their card draw is always tied to creatures in some way. Generally this takes the form of measuring a creature's power, the amount of creatures you control, or it's a trigger from a creature entering the battlefield or being cast.
Draw diversity is a good thing because it makes your lines harder to shut down. If your only options are Greed, Necropotence, and Underworld Connections, you can find yourself without any draw after someone casts Back to Nature. Similarly, a board wipe will leave that Return of the Wildspeaker and Soul's Majesty dead in your hand until you get another creature in play.
Harmonize gets around that. It just draws you three cards for four mana every time. That's not flashy or explosive, but it is consistent. Sometimes you just need a card that gets the job done no matter the situation. A lot of draw options in blue fit that bill, which renders Concentrate significantly less of a standout in blue than Harmonize is in green, where you, as a brewer, are surrounded by a field of creature-centric draw effects.
3. Green cares less about drawing as a sorcery
When you think of green in EDH, ramp is one of the first things that come to mind. When you think of blue, one of the first things is countermagic. Ramp is rarely ran at instant timing, and countermagic is by definition always an instant.
This means Harmonize's status as a sorcery is less of a detriment to a color where most spells are cast on your own turn. Meanwhile, Concentrate's status as a sorcery is actually quite a detriment in blue, where you often want to leave mana free to have the option to counter a threatening enemy spell. If you don't use that Counterspell or Arcane Denial in your hand, you still have the option to cast that Fact or Fiction, so having both in hand is an ideal situation for blue. If Concentrate is your draw spell, you're forced to choose between drawing cards and leaving mana free for countermagic.
It's not just countermagic that makes blue value instant-speed draw, either. Let's use EDHREC to take a look at the most popular removal spells in each color:
Even blue's most popular removal spells want to operate as an instant. That's not to say green or other colors don't want to do the same; just ask Josh Lee Kwai and consult the price of Vedalken Orrery. However, instant speed is way less relevant to how green works as a color than it is to how blue does. The stats bear this out when you just look at overall spells, too: only 9 of the top 50 green cards are instants, vs. 34 of the top 50 in blue. And of that top 50 in blue, 4 of the top 5 and 8 of the top 10 are instants. Being a sorcery is a downside in blue in a way that it is not a downside in green.
So what's the lesson here? That a green draw spell for four mana is better than a blue one? Well, kind of, but it's more about applying these somewhat obvious observations to other cards. Despite being new and easy to find in random Draft chaff, Deep Freeze is in just 672 decks on EDHREC and Kasmina's Transmutation is in just 696, compared to the 3,028 for the much more difficult-to-find Lignify from Lorwyn.
That's not an ideal comparison, of course, as Lignify has been around longer to accrue higher numbers over time. But even just looking at Throne of Eldraine shows us a difference between the transformational enchantments Frogify and Kenrith's Transformation. The green version is already in 25% more decks. Again, the comparison is not direct; Kenrith's Transformation draws a card, while Frogify does not. But we do ourselves a disservice if we assume that's the only reason for the difference in popularity. Like Harmonize and Concentrate, the context surrounding these removal spells is different. There's more competition for creature removal spells in blue than in green, and blue is less interested in those removal spells at sorcery speed.
Sometimes the 'why' is just as interesting and enlightening as the 'how' when it comes to card evaluation. The lessons from Harmonize vs. Concentrate are useful to apply to many other cards when making cuts and additions, and help reveal a lot about the strengths of their respective colors and how to play them most optimally.
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