Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Sky is Not Falling; or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Suck It Up


So, as you may or may not know, the next core set is just over the horizon. This time is a little different, for the first time since M10, we're getting a bunch of new rules. Some big, some small. And as usual, people on Magic social media have gone completely bonkers. You'd think it was a sign of the apocalypse or something.

1. Cats and dogs will marry.
2. Rivers will run with blood.
3. You can't legend rule creatures with clones.

I've been playing the game since Shards of Alara, been a flavor nut for almost as long, an amateur card designer for about half that time, and a judge for 3 months. I've seen Magic from a lot of different perspectives, and I can safely say the sky is not falling. At least not from this.

I figured I'd go over all the changes, what they really mean, and why this won't be the death of Magic. Partly because I love you, and partly because I should actually use this stupid blog.


The way the legend rule currently works is that there can only be one legendary permanent (creature, artifact, enchantment or land) with the same name on the battlefield at any given time. The idea being that it's a sort of space time thing. There's lots of bears and goblins and demons and what not to summon across the multiverse, but there is only one Thalia. Trying to make more than one creates a paradox, and both are eliminated. Or maybe your opponent used the same spell as you to dismiss her. Whatever. There is no exact flavor, and it doesn't really matter.
There can only be one.

The way it will work is largely the same, except for individual players. Each player may have a Thalia, but any one player can't have two Thalias. Legends are getting a bit of a boost though, the way it will work is that if at any time you have two legendary permanents with the same name, you get to pick one to keep, and the other goes to your graveyard as a state based effect.


Well, I just told you why. An important think to note is that the legendary status was never exactly an upside or a downside, it depended on what side of the table it was on. If you played a legend, and your opponent legend ruled it, sucks for you. If your opponent played a legend and you legend ruled it, sucks for them. This new change doesn't make legends (in and of themselves) better or worse. Just different.

True it makes some legends much better (harder to kill hexproof legends, you can do dumb things like copying Zegana with a Progenitor Mimic, legendary lands and mana rocks like Gaea's Cradle and Mox Opal can be used like rituals) and some worse (can't loop Sharuum in EDH as easily), but as a whole legends just play too differently now for this to be considered better or worse.

I've heard some people complain about the flavor failure of this, and well, yeah, its a little bit worse, but interpreting Magic gameplay as a literal narrative is deeply flawed.
This is a game where Nicol Bolas can pick up Nicol Bolas and beat you to death with him.
There are far more egregious flavor fails in the game than this one. Seriously folks; it's a game about Magic. If you can't figure out how this might work, you're not trying hard enough.


The way Planeswalkers currently work is very much like the legend rule, but with names subtypes (the name on their type line) instead of their name. The new walker rule will work very similar to the new legend rule, but again with walker subtypes instead of legend names.


Again a lot of the above. When Jace, He Who Devours the Dreams of the Innocent was in standard, many blue players would play Jace Beleren as a way to pre-emptively legend rule their opponents Mind-Sculptors. You get a free draw out of it, and they have to waste a whole turn clearing the board of Jaces before they can play their own. This scenario can and does happen in any format with a significant Planeswalker presence in top tier decks. The new rule prevents that from happening. Again, this is not better or worse, but different.
Wizards has said that since walkers have been printed, they've been hesitant to print Faith's Fetters style removal because of how powerfully it hoses walkers. If an opponent fetters one of your walkers, they've effectively destroyed it and the next one you play. With the new rule, fetters isn't a 2 for 1 against walkers. Which makes walkers stronger but also means that Wizards will be more inclined to print this style removal in the future.
I love playing with walkers, but playing against them, especially without a way to meaningfully interact with them, is miserable. Anything that enables better removal for them is a win in my book.

The flavor is about as weird for this as it was for legends. So the way it was before it was assumed that when you summoned a Planeswalker, they were fulfilling an agreement or debt or similar to you, and when your opponent legend ruled yours away that they were calling in a similar debt. Now, it's not so clear. I've heard some folks suggest that now a Planeswalker is merely playing both sides of the field. An interesting idea, but way more devious than I would come to expect from some of the characters, and it does nothing to answer how Sarkhan could simultaneously be sane and insane, or Ajani angry and mellow, or Garruk cursed and not. Alas, we'll have to learn to deal with it.


How deckbuilding worked before in constructed formats was thus; your main deck had to have a minimum of cards (usually sixty) and your sideboard had to have either 0 or 15 cards, nothing in between and any sideboarding you did in between games had to be done 1:1. Which is to say, for every card added, you had to take one out.
Your deck is the same, but now your sideboard can contain up to 15 cards. Additionally, you don't have to take any cards out when you sideboard to put more in. Should you so desire, you may put all 15 cards of your sideboard into your deck. I would not particularly recommend this, however.


Are you seriously going to ask me this? This doesn't affect deckbuilding in any real way. What it does do is prevent really unfortunate game losses that should have not happened. Imagine this scenario; you're playing a competitive game of Magic at a high enough level of rules enforcement that you can be penalized for mistakes. After your first game you do some sideboarding. Now, sometime before the round ends it is discovered that you only have fourteen cards in your sideboard. Under the old rules, you would receive a game loss. Under the new rules, nothing happens. Seems good to me. More games being determined through deck choice and play skill over semantic corner case rules lawyer crap like this is good for the game.


This is a bit weird. You know what a keyword is right? It's usually a single word on a Magic card that implies a larger block of rules text. Key words are used by Magic designers to establish and reinforce themes of a card or set and to save space on cards which allows for more variance in design. For example, what you look at when you see the text box for Storm Crow is "flying" but what is actually there is "this creature can only be blocked by creatures with flying or reach". One of those sounds a lot more elegant than the other yeah? That's what keywords are great!
Indestructible is a piece of technology that was first introduced in Darksteel. It showed up on a bunch of cards and those cards could not be destroyed. Now here's the problem; Indestructible is not a keyword. Never was. R&D was using an English word to denote that cards were the definition of that word; ie, they could survive destruction effects. This was rather confusing as it was used like a keyword. It had design space, colors it showed up in more than others, a balance it had to maintain across effects and rarities, but it was never an ability, rules wise.
This lack of abilityness created a bunch of really weird cornercase scenarios that were probably never intended but just kind of happened because of how the rules worked.
For example, did you know that if you used Turn to Frog on a Falkenrath Aristocrat that had eaten someone that turn, the Aristocrat would remain indestructible? Indestructibility was not an ability to be taken away, just a quality of the card.
Did you know that if you cast Boros Charm that creatures that enter the battlefield after you cast Boros Charm will be indestructible hat turn?
That's some weird crap. Now that Indestructible is a keyword, those scenarios will work more akin to how logic would dictate them working instead of the weirdness that they are now.


Because it's not. Now people who aren't certified Magic judges can figure out how indestructible interacts with stuff, and we get to save a bunch of space on cards by changing "Darksteel Colossus is indestructible" to "Indestructible". Neat.


"Unblockable" as a line of rules text is being changed to "can't be blocked". Why, you might ask? Mostly to keep it in line with the current templating to the blajillion variants of unblockable already in print.


Because nothing has changed. At all. Your favorite Tormented Soul works exactly as it did before.


Of all the weird rules crap I've talked about today, this is the weirdest. Did you know that when you have multiple effects that let you play a land you're supposed to specify which land drop you're using? For example, let's say you have an Oracle of Mul Daya in play right now you have two land drop options. You have your natural land drop (let's call it LandDropA) and the Oracle's land drop (LandDropB). You decide to play a land using LandDropB. Then you cast Cloudshift targetting your own Oracle. The Oracle comes back in, and the game recognizes it as a separate game object. You now have LandDropC. That's some weird crap.
The way land drops will work going forward is that instead of asking how many land drop effects you  have going on is to simply count the number of land drops you have available.
By default you will have 1 land drop. If you have an Oracle in play you will have 1+1=2 land drops available.
If you Cloudshift your Oracle you will still have 1+1=2 land drops available.
Make sense to me.


Because it's such a cornercase thing that will almost never be relevant. That being said, this rules change is kind of interesting because its the only one we're getting that actually makes a few cards worse. I know that Cloudshifting Oracles to get 7 land drops in a turn was never a top tier strategy, but I'm sure there's some people out there who did do that sort of thing, and I would like to offer my condolences to you for losing a strategy you loved. Sucks man. ):

Well there you have it, all of the new rules changes. I hope I have helped convince you that Magic will somehow manage to weather this storm.
I'd love to hear what you think about the new rules changes.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Big Tent Juggler

Disclaimer: This article contains custom card designs. If you are a Wizards of the Coast employee you have my full permission to use any designs or ideas within this article without my explicit written consent or prior knowledge, or without giving me any sort of credit. I love this game and I want to help it in any way I can

My most recent story, A Day at the Circus, was actually inspired by those returning mechanics contests I was hosting last month. I thought of a card, then I thought of a story.
You've already seen the story, now here's the card: