The Kitchen Table #291 - M10 Rules Changes and You
Hello mes amis! Welcome back to my column dedicated to the realm of the casual. As most of you have heard by now Wizards of the Coast has instituted a large number of rules and terminology changes as of M10. These changes were supposedly made with the casual fan in mind. As one of the few columnists with a dedicated casual column this seemed like the perfect chance to chime in on recent changes and give you my thoughts.
For prelude I played through the 6th Edition changes. A lot of people were pissed off but the game didn’t end. Even if you hate every single change WoTC has coming the game will still be awesome to play and it will not end.
Want to know something about the 6th Edition changes? Most of them were necessary. The damage prevention PHASE (or step I don’t recall the language) was a clunky bit of rules and it deserved to go but the changes watered down some cards like Simulacrum. It gave and it took away. Mogg Fanatic made out while Well of Knowledge was weakened.
These changes are not nearly the scope of the 6th Edition ones.
Are you familiar with the Meyers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator? It is a way of classifying people’s personality types based on four characteristics. One was is by how people respond to things and people are either Ts for Thinker or Fs for Feeler. Half of all people are Ts of various strengths and half are Fs. Of course Ts have feelings and Fs are capable of logic but this represents what people are most comfortable with.
For example if you have two friends that are fighting do you feel the need to be a peacemaker? If so that is a characteristic of Fs. If not that tends to lean towards T.
When you are hit with something new and unexpected is your reaction to logically analyze and then make a conclusion or do you just give your first visceral reaction? Do you say "That makes sense" or do you say "I like that?"
Would you prefer to be known as warm hearted or cool headed? Do you believe justice or compassion should be the guiding principle in your life? Etc.
With 50% of people in the world as Fs you are going to have a large number of Fs among Magic players. There are famous male Fs from fiction. Captain Kirk was an F. Ash Ketchum is an F. When you see the protagonist whine or complain when they are initially exposed to something new or an obstacle then they have a tendency to be Fs.
Why is all of this important? Because you are seeing two different types of responses to the M10 announcements. One is visceral and emotional. I hate it. I love it. I feel about it. This sucks. This rules. This is the worst thing ever. You have killed Magic. I am going to quit playing. Etc. These are F responses.
The other response will be more logical. These players analyze the changes find good and bad and then come to a conclusion as to the value of the changes. Overall these are good. Overall I think these weaken the game a bit. Despite several changes that needed to be done there are some questions. These are T responses.
Fs are not idiots they just feel before they think. They respond before they conclude. Their views and opinions are just as valid as Ts like you and me but they just happen to reach them initially like we do. Then after their first reaction whether logical or emotional people move to the other. Perhaps someone is hot for a half hour but then they cool down and look at it rationally. Perhaps someone’s initial reaction is logical but they begin to simmer as they keep reading.
I am a T and a very very strong one but I value Fs and what they bring to things. Fs value people. Ts value values.
Let me give you a great example of the T/F reactions from a previous change WoTC made with regards to Magic. Remember when they decided to change the border and appearance of the cards? There decision did not change the game in one way it simply changed the appearance of the cards. Those that said "I might like it or dislike it because of some factual reasons but it’s not changing the game so it’s not a major decision" were likely Ts. Those who caused a major fuss over a change that didn’t even alter the game were likely Fs.
Today I am going to be looking at these changes from T eyes and use my knowledge of the casual world to reflect my views. I will also talk about some things I think WoTC missed in their attempts to clean up language and the rules.
For those in a box here are the proposed changes by WoTC for M10 and onward.
Okay here we go:
Change the First: Simultaneous Mulligans
Honestly if you had asked me a few weeks ago what changes I would make to the game to make it better I would not have thought of this but I really endorse it. People are playing this way at the kitchen table anyway. It speeds up tournaments. I don’t see any negatives here.
Five Color will have to ask some questions. Our mulligans allow one player to ride the mulligan of another. Making them simultaneous doesn’t work with that. I’m also wondering how Big Deck Mulligan mechanic will work online when players have a chance to ride another’s mulligan.
Therefore there are some corner mechanics to work out and I’ll be interested to see if they keep these the old way or move to the modern mulligan rule.
Either way this is a good change and one easily worth doing. Easily.
Change the Second: Terminology
2a. The Battlefield
I like this. It does make the in play stuff more flavorful and it eliminates one of the two major verbiage issues in Magic "comes into play" versus "play." Cleaning that up is a really good thing. It’s just a name change nothing major and it does not impact the game in any way. However it cleans up the language and helps to alleviate confusion so I am totally in.
2b. Cast Play Activate
Restoring the cast language of the original game is fine by me. I like the flavor it brings back. Most people still use the term anyway casually. I already spoke about the use of Play and Activate makes total sense too.
These changes to the terminology are done with care and understanding. They make total sense.
Again I am totally in line with this one as well. It is just a verbiage change and it adds flavor to the game. If you didn’t like the change of card borders because it de-fantasy-ed the game you should love changing the name of these zones to Exile and Battlefield.
However let’s errata the Wishes to do what they always did. It’s silly not to restore their printed functionality since that has been what the modern push at WoTC has been doing restoring printed functionality for a couple of years now.
2d. Beginning of the End Step
This is just taking an existing term and clarifying it for players. No real issue here but I would have preferred them to have come up with a better and cleaner way to say this.
2e. Umm… What?
Seriously that’s it for the terminology changes? Seriously? In my opinion the biggest terminology issue was counter. Counter target spell and put a counter on a creature. They didn’t change one or the other? I mean if you are massively changing some terms anyway to prevent clarification why not change that one too? That was a missed opportunity.
Change the Third: Mana Pools and Mana Burn
3a. Mana Pools Emptying
This is also a change I am comfortable with. Bringing phases and steps into the same alignment is simple enough and makes sense. Besides what was a step and what was a phase was arbitrary. You end this corner of the rules with this change. This is nicely done.
3b. Mana Burn Eliminated
Nope sorry I don’t buy it. I listened to the arguments. I read it through several times. This is a bad change. Mana Burn helped to keep some cards in check it acted to teach players mana management and it was a tool for card development (see Braid of Fire for example).
Eliminating mana burn just appears after analysis to be poorly thought out. Now I can buy all of the above changes no question. I am a T and they make sense for me but this does not.
There needs to be a clear statement that clever use of the rules is different than abusing a corner arbitrary rule. The Step versus Phase thing mentioned above allowed people to float mana from their upkeep into their draw step. That was an arbitrary delineation and it allowed people to float mana in some cases but not others. However people using mana burn to change their life total is using a rule cleverly. It is not a bad thing but WotC seems to imply differently.
Mana Burn works. You can build cards around it that no longer would be made (Citadel of Pain Piracy). Its usefulness at curbing major mana makers like Scorched Ruins Tolarian Academy Gaea’s Cradle and Mana Drain is gone making the cards much much better. Will we see WoTC make cards in the future that make a lot of mana knowing that they no longer have the same internal restriction? Scorched Ruins wasn’t overpowered but now it might be.
They said that the existence of this rule impacted design space negatively. If they are previewing cards from M10 during the whole article why not show me that is the case? Give me a preview or two of how you will be using the change to make new cards. That would really have enhanced their argument. As it is the only evidence I have to go on is what I have before me and that includes cards already printed.
Here is a principle I have for changing the rules of Magic.
Abe’s Magic Rules Changes Principle: Never make a change that invalidates player’s decks unless it is severely needed.
Some of these changes might make a small deck here or there invalidated but this one changes whole deck types and archetypes. It makes cards like Su-Chi different. Citadel of Pain decks are gone. We have to reevaluate whose cards decks and play. In fact some changes go outside of mere mana. Take for example Wake Thrasher. Now you can tap all of your lands in order to get maximum untappage without any loss of life. Take a look at Piracy. Now your opponent can tap their lands first and not worry about the mana burn that would come later.
This is not a change I support; not at all. Okay next up!
Change the Fourth: Token Ownership
Remember my principle from above? This rules change affects a few decks but not too many. It closes up some holes so I like that.
There’s good to it and bad to it. It does knock out some decks. The whole Warp World deck just died before it could really sing.
Still I get where they are going with this and I agree that the change is on solid footing. I think the positives outweigh the negatives.
Change the Fifth: Combat Damage No Longer Uses the Stack
Wow. This is the major change. Combat damage on the stack was introduced during the 6th Edition changes as the replacement for the very clunky Damage Prevention Step (or Phase or whatever) that occurred whenever damage was dealt to anything.
To be fair Damage on the Stack has led to one major abuse that some claim does not make sense. Put damage on the stack then sacrifice this creature to do something while it is… doing something.
Here is the argument. Imagine Mogg Fanatic in a fight. He is punching and his punch is in mid air when suddenly he disappears and blows up another creature for a damage yet his punch still lands. That does not make sense right?
But imagine it this way. What if Mogg Fanatic threw a rock at someone and the rock is in mid flight when it blows itself up and the rock still lands. That DOES make sense.
And that is how Magic works like it or not. If Prodigal Sorcerer taps for damage while that tap is on the stack you cannot stop the damage by killing the Sorcerer. The Spear is in the air. You can only stop it by affecting the target of the thrown spear or by affecting the spear itself.
Combat damage mechanically worked the same as an ability. Both went on the stack and both could have the source affected by something and still have the ability resolve. It made sense. It might not have been automatically intuitive but it was explainable with the Spear analogy. Combat damage worked the same as other creature abilities and that made sense too. It was using an existing game mechanic to figure out combat damage and that required new players to only know one rule.
Now they have to know two rules. They have to know the stack and all of the nuances thereof and now they have to know the new stuff too.
I reread the new rules through several times. This is a clunky new set of rules! This is not easy. In fact I think it will take longer.
Who wants to order the creatures blocking your creature? Who has time to figure that out and then do it over and over again? Especially in multiplayer the added time to line up creatures in order that they will be taking damage is not insignificant.
There are other reasons to dislike this. It removes choices in combat and that is not a good thing. This is a game at the end of the day about playing creatures and attacking and winning with them. Sure decks do others things and that’s fun but the basic framework is turning creatures sideways. You don’t want to make your foundation less strategic in a strategic game; that does not follow.
Let me give you an example.
We have been swinging at each other with our 3/3s as your Mass cannot block and trade with my Tiger since you have to block with two or more creatures on the Tiger.
You draw a Staunch Defenders and play them. You go up to 5 life. You do not attack with the Mass because you need two creatures to block my Tiger and you do not want to go back to 2 against my burn and creatures deck.
I need to kill the Staunch Defenders because if you start bouncing and replaying them I am never going to kill you. I attack with my Tiger and force you to block fearing a burn spell or Giant Growth style card.
You block with both creatures.
Pre-6th Edition Rules: I assign two damage to the Defenders and one to the Mass triggering a Damage Prevention Step/Phase.
Old Rules: I put damage on the stack. I assign two damage to the Defenders and one to the Mass. Change for instants and abilities before damage is assigned.
New Rules: I have to choose my creature priority. I choose the Defenders and the Mass. When damage is assigned I have to assign lethal damage or as much as I can to the first creature so the Defenders takes 3.
I cast Pyroclasm. Under the Old Rules and Pre-6th Rules I kill both creatures. Under the New Rules I only kill the Defenders.
Note that the change from Pre-6th to 6th edition rules might have changed a lot but the game stayed the same in regards to combat damage. I could still assign two to the Defenders and one to the Mass under both sets of rules. But now I can’t. That is a bad change for the game because it removes choices and strategy from the most important element of this strategic game.
This is the worst change in M10 by far by far by far. In summation here are my issues with it:
1) The old rules used an existing rule the stack to deal with combat damage requiring no new rules to be learned. This brings a new set of rules to play that have to be learned. It increases the complexity of the game it does not decrease it which was the stated goal of these changes.
2) The new rules are not any more intuitive than the old ones. Lining up creatures in a row isn’t any more realistic than the Mogg Fanatic Punches issue some had under the old rules. The new rules are clunky.
3) The new rules add a significant step to the game which takes time.
4) The new rules remove choices and strategy from one of the fundamental elements of the game.
Change the Sixth: Deathtouch
I don’t have any problems with this change. It makes sense under the new rules. Since Deathtouch is becoming a static ability how about this?
Deal 1 damage to target creature
Can we make this card now? I think so and I like that.
Change the Seventh: Lifelink
I don’t mind this either. Again it makes sense. No problems with this change.
There you are then. I think both of the biggest changes here went too far but I support the other changes whether cosmetic clarification or ending some corners of the rules to simplify things a bit.
I still wonder what happened to "counter" and why it wasn’t fixed. You could simply have changed Counter Target Spell to Uncast Target Spell or Parry Target Spell or Contravene Target Spell or something. That way you end the double use of the word counter which would clear up a lot.
Although I think there are more changes that are good than bad I think the badness of the two changes wrongly made outweighs the value of the good changes made. Let’s be honest changing token ownership or the name of the in play zone is not going to have nearly as much of an impact as getting rid of mana burn and changing the way combat damage is dealt.
My casual playgroup has our own forums. Every single player has posted their dislike for these two rules changes. Now some of my fellow players differ with me on liking some of the others things. They dislike various terms and changes. I like them. However every casual player in our group which runs the gamut from very casual to much less so from really good to really undeveloped every single one has voiced their concern over the same two changes I have.
I’m not an expert and I don’t claim to be. I haven’t done months of play testing and focus groups and the like. WotC has. They have their research done no question. However I am in the demographic that these changes are supposed to help and so is every player in my group. Most of us haven’t gone to tournaments outside of the occasional FNM or Prerelease in the past year. In fact most of us haven’t gone to any tournaments in the past year. We have various skill levels and investments and start dates from Ravnica to The Dark; from 37 to 17; from very good to not that good; from vast collections to small ones; and from Ts to Fs. None of them like these two changes. We are the target demographic. That makes me worried.
I’m sure there are casual players out there who like one or both of these changes. In any giant group of players there are going to be ones whose opinions vary. I am not dismissing those who disagree with me I am simply stating that every casual player I know in real life away from the heady online atmosphere has voiced their concern fear disgust and flat out negative evaluations of these two changes in particular.
Look I think WoTC has been doing a fine job with Magic. I was on board with Mythics. Planeswalkers were a great idea. I loved Planar Chaos and what it brought to Magic. I have regularly defended their ideas and more. However these two changes just fall outside of the logical and rational evaluation I make of changes. These look like unfortunate changes period. We’ll see but I am very hesitant.
I hope to see you next week!