Yawgmoth's Whimsy #280 - Relax, We've Done This Before
Wizards has announced some rule changes which will go into effect with M10 this summer. Things are changing. Change happens. Some of the changes will impact how the game is played. It’s not the end of the world. It isn’t the end of strategic play. Some cards will be better some worse but overall things will be fine. Seriously – I’ve been through a lot of rules changes and this one is comparatively pretty insignificant.
The rules of Magic are pretty good right now. They get tweaked occasionally when new cards come out but they are pretty much constant. For example when Conflux was released the comp. rules were updated and roughly two dozen paragraphs were significantly changed. Another two dozen paragraphs had typos corrected or phrases like “updated through the Shards of Alara set” changed to “updated through the Conflux set.” That is out of several thousand paragraphs in the comp. rules and most of the changes are pretty insignificant.
The M10 changes will be slightly more significant but nowhere near as earth-shaking as past changes. There was a time when people played for ante when there was only one format when you could have 20 Black Lotuses in your deck and you could only mulligan hands with zero or seven lands. There was a time when forgetting to list a card on your decklist resulted in a DQ. There was a time when the best way to determine how two cards interacted was to check out D’Angelo’s website and see if there was Bethmo ruling on it. There was a time when I could play an interrupt while your instant was stacked but not vice versa. Etc.
Thankfully we no longer live in those times. The rules etc. have been fixed.
I have now been playing during a half dozen major changes and a ton of minor changes. A couple things have universally been true.
1) The changes have not killed Magic.
2) The changes have made some cards better and others worse but the game as a whole has improved.
3) Players have screamed yelled and expressed outrage every time – and almost all of it has been pointless uninformed drivel.
I mean even when the changes have been huge they have proven in the end to be worthwhile. What we had before was not all that good. Really. Here’s an excerpt from an Urza’s block FAQ:
P.5 - Phase 1: Untap
+ P.5.1 - During the middle of this phase you must untap all your tapped permanents (those which are not prevented from untapping) as a mandatory phase ability (see Rule A.5). [Fifth Edition Page 52] This phase ability is played in a Series (see Rule T.9) much like a begin/end of phase ability rather than as an instant like a normal phase ability. [bethmo 01/11/99]
The game used to be different. Some cards were better some worse. There was a time when you could not Flash out a creature unless you paid the full cost. For that matter under the early rules you could not respond to a pump spell by killing the creature at all. You could also prevent damage by tapping a blocker – tapped blockers dealt no damage.
All of these things changed. Magic continued.
I don’t even see this as that big a deal – certainly not as big a change as the mulligan rule or the changes to end of round procedures. You know – the part where the judge says ”Magic Players that is time in the round. Active player finish your turn and begin your five additional turns. If you have questions call a judge.” I remember judging events where the result was decided by life totals or first change in life totals. I even remember untimed rounds.
I really don’t see this as a big deal. I will have to do a lot more education at the M10 prereleases I judge but that’s about all. I’ll also have to learn – and unlearn - some more tricks and sequences but that’s also okay. After talking and thinking about this for almost a week and reading what other authors have said I really have no problems with this.
I spend a fair amount of time playing Magic in Madison’s more casual games store where the crowd is much closer to the kitchen table than the tournament scene. I get a lot of rules questions. The players generally understand the rules and play by them. I’m not saying that the players have read the rules (the comp. rules are 150+ pages long and close to 85k words. Only fanatical judges (and other obsessive/compulsive types) read the whole thing but they have a general understanding of how the game is played and how the basic rules work.
Generally these players have no problem playing Magic and no problem asking about how things work. They also have no problem – most of the time – when told that things don’t quite work like they thought. What does cause problems / upset / the fun being sucked out of the game are rules gotchas - things that work in non-intuitive and sometimes inconsistent ways. This is especially true when very similar situations work in very different ways. It’s better when there are consistent reasons or explanations and a problem when the answer is “that’s just the way the rules are.”
For example I always love explaining why you can float mana during your upkeep phase and float it through your draw but not into your first main phase. Sure the rule says that you can float mana past the end of steps but not phases but that’s just a rule. There is no consistency or logic. It’s like saying that it is okay for someone named Fred to do “x” but not someone named Tom. I’ll talk more about the mana burn / mana float rules later but for now my point is that internal consistency is good. As a judge I strongly applaud the changes that eliminate arbitrary inconsistencies.
As a judge I am tired of explaining to new players that things really do work in the strange and non-obvious way – just like their opponent says – and that they really do lose. I’m not talking about things like “yes that’s how trample works” – I’m talking about the that works here and here but not there sort of rules. The inconsistent ones.
Lifelink is No Longer Triggered
Lifelink is a perfect example. I have had to explain to a significant number of players at various tournaments up to and including a GP that Lifelink is a triggered ability. Therefore even though they would gain enough life off Lifelink to be above zero they die with the trigger still on the stack. Sure the Comp. Rules clearly state that Lifelink is a triggered ability (for now) and we judges know that anything that begins with “When...” is a triggered ability but that is not inherently obvious. The concept of “when damage is dealt I gain some life” does not really imply that the damage happens now and the life gain happens later. Yes we rules gurus see that but it would be better now that it operates as a simple English reading would imply.
The new wording of Lifelink (damage dealt by this creature also causes you to gain that much life) makes it a Static not Triggered ability so it happens simultaneously with damage. This is more intuitive and fairly clear. It should result in fewer players being confused disappointed or ticked off about a rules gotcha. All of that is good.
The new wording does mean that Lifelink no longer stacks. Now additional instances of Lifelink are redundant – but that is consistent with other abilities. Second copies of most abilities are redundant: having two instances of flying does not make you fly higher; neither do two instances of Vigilance make the creature any more untapped.
Yes that does mean that having two Behemoth Sledges on your 6/6 flier (and yes I once had that) is now just totally stupid instead of totally and completely stupid.
We have new words for various things.
Some of the new words will have zero impact on playing the game. They have some flavor impacts and that may help sell the game. If so great. For long time players – it’s a big whatever. At one time Lifelink was Spiritlink and Vigilance was “does not tap when attacking.” What’s in a name? (Actually a lot. A recent study ground up rose petals then put them in two paper bags one labeled “grass clippings” and one labeled “roses.” People consistently said the “rose petals” bag smelled sweeter.)
Overall though “battlefield” and “exile” will have no great effect on the game. It will just be a bit of a pain to get used to.
“Casting” spells instead of “playing” them however will have an effect. It will be a huge improvement. The current rules use play in a dozen different ways and few beginning players understand the nuances. It is even worse teaching a new player the game. Here’s an example.
New Player: What does this card – Cancel – do?
Me: When an opponent plays a spell you can play that and stop the spell.
NP: He’s playing a land. I’ll stop that.
Me: No he is putting the land into play. It’s a special action and you cannot Cancel that. Cancel just works on spells.
NP: Now he’s tapping that guy to kill my guy. I’ll Cancel that!
Me: No – he’s playing an activated ability of the creature. You can only Cancel something that he plays from his hand by paying mana and all.
NP: Okay he paid mana and played a card from his hand. Now can I Cancel that?
Me: No – he’s cycling the card. It’s another activated ability. He just pays mana to discard it and draw another card.
NP: Okay now he’s paying mana taking the card from his hand and putting it into play. Why can’t I Cancel that?
Me: See his Master Transmuter?
Well you get the idea. Under the current rules you play spells lands activated abilities the game – play means tons of different things all with slightly but significantly different rules in different situations. Having different terms will help immensely. Once M10 arrives we will “Play” lands “Cast” spells and “Activate” abilities.
Sure we can explain that you can only play a land during your main phases – technically that is using the special action to put a land into play – but you can play the cycling ability of a Barren Moor any time you could play an instant because that is an activated ability. That’s explainable – but it is far easier to say you can play the land only during your main phases but you can activate the ability like any other activated ability – any time you could cast an instant.
I can’t say I’m completely overwhelmed by all the names chosen but that wasn’t my call. I wouldn’t choose some of the names friends have given their kids either. Of course I named my dogs Judge Bailiff and Perpetrator. Maybe it’s a good thing it wasn’t my call. [Perpetrator! Excellent work. – Craig]
The change: in the past the player going first resolved all his mulligans then the player drawing first resolved all of his. Under the new system both players shuffle present cut draw hands then the player playing first states whether he will mulligan this hand then his opponent announces. Mulligans are then resolved and if both players mulliganed their seven the process repeats. Once someone elects to keep he is done mulliganing.
Yes this does have some impact on the game. As the player playing second I won’t know whether how many times my opponent will mulligan before I make my decision – just whether he will mulligan or keep. That is still an advantage – just less of one.
As a judge I love this change. I hate seeing a player sitting waiting while his opponent mulligans three times then mulligans himself a couple times. That often means that with shuffling and cutting and everything actual play might not start until 10 minutes into the round. Those matches are also more likely to go to time which delays the entire tournament. This simple change may well end a tournament ten minutes earlier. That’s great mainly because it represents ten minutes in which a hundred or more players were just standing around waiting. More play is a good thing. More waiting sucks.
As a player I will admit that I have sometimes peeked at my hand pondered a bit let a pained expression show for a moment then waited to see what my opponent would do. I’ve even said “if you mulligan to five I might be able to keep this.” Of course I do that when I have trash like Tri-land Tri-land Mountain Terminate Blightning Bloodbraid Elf Bituminous Blast so that does not mean much. The one thing I have never done is left my hand sitting on the table while my opponent mulligans. I have always wanted that first peek so I can watch my opponent and ponder my cards at the same time.
This is a bigger change and it will have some strategic impacts but I like it overall. First of all mana burn is kind of a silly concept. The mage decides to cast a spell but draws too much power and fries himself? Sure – that’s like the fumble rules in some game systems. I remember one system where in one hour of the battle at Thermopylae 15 of the 300 Spartans would decapitate themselves and another 60 would chop off their own arms and legs. I hated fumble rules. I chopped firewood for years while growing up and I never cut my head off even once.
More importantly the mana burn rules just seem silly to new players. Even worse is that mana can float sometimes but not others. Emptying mana pools at the end of any phase is just simpler to explain and for new players to grasp.
Mana burn was a consideration – and controlling mana burn was a skill good players learned. However it is a pretty simple skill – you just have to remember use the mana before you take the damage.
The rules change will make some cards better. The fact that you can no longer float mana from upkeep into draw makes Mana Short and Mistbind Clique better. The fact that you won’t burn from a Mana Drain and nothing to use its mana on makes that card even better. Stuff like Spectral Searchlight becomes worse. So what? Every rules change makes some cards better and some worse. That is certainly true of rules changes of all kinds and new sets and set rotations. We will adjust.
Damage No Longer Using the Stack
And here is the biggie: combat damage will no longer use the stack. Instead you will assign damage and the damage will resolve. The old technique of stacking damage then doing something useful with your creature – well you can’t do that any more. You will have to choose whether to deal damage or do something else.
It is like having a creature equipped with Umezawa’s Jitte taking lethal damage in combat. If you sacrifice the creature before damage resolves you don’t get the Jitte counters. If you let it take damage you don’t get the land or whatever. As a judge I saw players misunderstand and misplay this all the time.
The new rules require more thought than the old ones because you have to make choices. With Sakura-Tribe Elder you have to choose whether the damage or the land is more important. With Ravenous Baloth you get either damage or life. With Dauntless Escort – well you get the idea.
The new method of assigning damage to multiple blockers will also require more thought – at least as much thought as is now required. The new system allows you more opportunities to mess up and more opportunities to blow out an opponent with the right trick. Patrick Chapin wrote a long piece giving examples. I won’t try to duplicate it; I’ll just say that I agree with his assessment. This is not dumbing down combat. If anything it may give players with better reads and better imaginations more opportunities to bluff their opponents or lure them into mistakes.
PS: The stack is not going away. It’s still there. Combat damage just no longer uses it.
Looking for the White Lightning
Right after Sixth Edition came out a few players realized what the change in end of turn procedure meant. For one thing it meant that if you cast Waylay during an opponent’s end step you got to keep the three 2/2 dudes through your attack phase. This meant that the three mana spell could attack for 6 the next turn. That was exceptional for the time and the trick was called White Lightning – after Ball Lightning. Eventually Waylay got errata to prevent that play.
I was thinking about White Lightning when I read the article so I was amused to see that Ball Lightning is coming back in M10.
More importantly I have not yet seen anything like the Waylay effect so far. Combat will be a bit different but nothing looks broken. I am looking forward to the M10 GPs and Gencon more this year though. I expect a lot more judge calls. That should keep me busy. I’m also expecting that if there is a White Lightning it will be seen at those M10 GPs.
Overall and over time I think the changes will be all good. Those of us that can master the changes faster will have some easy pickings for a while. Which is as it should be.
“one million words” on MTGO