Hornet Sting - G (1)
Let me tell you that, in all honesty, I love cards like this. This is not a direct damage spell or an off-color card or almost any other small-frame idea that you may be thinking. Hornet Sting is an attempt to teach new players the differences between colors.
One of the things that Magic stresses is the color pie: the division of different abilities between the five colors of Magic (white, blue, black, red, and green). If there is some ability you can think up, whether is currently exists in one of Magic’s tens of thousands of cards or an ability that you created from scratch yourself, it’s safe to say it fits SOMEWHERE in the color pie. Creature removal? That’s most likely black, and if not then white. Protection in the form of not being able to be targeted? Probably going to sit somewhere between green and blue. Direct damage? More often than not it’s going to be red. When you first learn to play the game, this may or may not be obvious to you, but it is something you pick up on over time.
Hornet Sting, however, a direct damage spell, is green. Why does this spell exist outside of red? The different kinds of spells aren’t limited to a single color. That single color that spells are related to most often (or those groups of colors, in some instances) are the most efficient at doing that kind of spell. One more notable example is colorless artifacts. Colorless artifacts are known for doing a myriad of different things: direct damage, creature removal, permanent removal, graveyard retrieval, creature buffing, creature weakening, and many other things (I could go on and on). However, none of those things are what colorless artifacts specialize in. Colorless artifacts are the jacks of all trades when it comes to Magic: they can do plenty of different things, but they’re not the most efficient when it comes to doing such things. Maybe it costs more to have the same effect done. Maybe it costs the same to have a lesser effect on the game. Sometimes even a combination of both.
For example, Bladed Pinions gives whatever creature it’s attached to flying and first strike for four mana (two to cast and two to equip). Angelic Destiny does the same for the same price as well as gives whatever creature it enchants +4/+4 and makes it an Angel for the same amount of mana, opening it up to many more possibilities, while Asha’s Favor grants a creature flying, first strike, and vigilance… for one less mana. The cycle of Myr from both trips to Mirrodin that produces mana cost two mana to play; Llanowar Elves, Avacyn’s Pilgrim, Noble Hierarch, Boreal Druid, and Birds of Paradise all add various colors of mana to your mana pool, and only cost one mana to play. In each of these cases, the artifact card provides a great effect or ability, but isn’t as great when you look at some of the spells or permanents that specialize in producing that same type of effect.
That same principle of colorless artifacts not being as efficient as colors spells is the same principle that applies to a given color doing things that other given colors do. Hornet Sting is one of the best examples of this. For one green mana, Hornet Sting lets you deal 1 point of damage to a target, whether creature or player. Cool. Shock, an unkicked Burst Lightning, and Assault (of Assault//Battery) each let you do 2 damage for one red mana. The popular Lightning Bolt and the rarely-known Chain Lightning allow for 3 points. The point is not to make red seem like a better option than green. The point is to show that how red gets rid of creatures or players is different from how green would get rid of them. Green prefers to fight. “Send your biggest creature to block my biggest creature or someone’s going to get hurt. BAD.” Red prefers direct damage. “Here’s a Lightning Bolt. Catch.” Red is the best when it comes to direct damage, but it’s not the only color to use it: both green and black have their moments (Consume Spirit and Sorin’s Thirst are a few notable and flavorful uses of color bleed for direct damage in black).
This whole idea is what makes the color pie what it is, and what makes Magic: the Gathering the game that it is. It’s what separates the game from other games like Pokémon, where any creature can do almost anything possible in the world, or Yugi-Oh, where there are different elements that unite all the different characters but no unifying traits about them that bring them together.
I stand 100% behind card designs like Hornet Sting, probably more in core sets than in the expansions. These are easy ways for new players to learn the differences between the colors of the color pie, which in turn helps them learn how to strategize later.