Thursday, 28 August 2014

Lazy Writing Ad Hominem

Suppose someone makes something you don't like, or a person you don't like makes something you don't have strong feelings about. Naturally you would go to an internet forum and say that you don't like it, right?

Well if so then I applaud you. Let's all share our opinions. Let's say what we like and don't like.

But let's stop and be a little bit careful. Did you really say that you didn't like that thing, or did you say that thing was a bad thing? Sometimes it's hard to tell the difference. Some parts of our brains that we don't consciously monitor spend a lot of time using a mix of tricks to ensure that our rational thoughts about a subject align with our emotional reaction to it.

People distrust the medical establishment so they selectively look at evidence and only see the stuff that says they shouldn't vaccinate their children. People are scared of what the world would be if their god didn't exist so they think the argument from design sounds right. People want to push just one more button so they tell themselves that of course it's okay.

So people go to internet forums and they don't say, "I didn't like it." They say, "That sucked." Okay, that's actually fine. No one could mistake "That sucked" for anything but an expression of personal opinion. Vulgarity and insults basically have the same effect. We know that if someone just lays into the author of an article with a stream of cuss words that would make FDR blush then they are simply saying, "I didn't like this" using strong language.

But what about when someone says, "That band doesn't know how to play their instruments."

Well if someone says something like that on this particular day then what happens is I take to my blog to have a fit about it.

If someone thinks a song sounds terrible, does that mean the band can't play or the singer can't sing? Let's hop over to the John Cage channel and leave a "he doesn't know how to play the piano" comment on the 4:33 video. You have absolutely no clue whether someone knows how to play guitar by listening to them play guitar in a song. You have not idea if they know how to sing by listening to them sing. They could be the greatest guitar player the Earth has known and just doing something that you don't like the sound of. It could sound like that because that's exactly how they wanted it to sound.

But let's get to the proverbial straw that set off this episode.

If you are watching a movie and a character kicks a dog for no apparent reason, you know that character is a bad person right? Of course you do, hurting animals is a bad thing to do. Is that "lazy writing"? Because they made you dislike a character by having the character do something you dislike?

"But the character doesn't have a proper motivation for kicking that dog!" You have absolutely no idea what that character's motivation is. What you really mean is, "I have no imagination and need to be able to mind meld with every character or I can't understand what is going on." Maybe, "I an incapable of empathy."

"The character is one-dimensional!" You are one-dimensional in 99% of your life. When you bought your coffee and donut this morning, did you reveal your deep motivations to the cashier? Of course not, you have none, you are meaningless.

It's not that things can't be bad. But that phrase, "lazy writing" - that's just an ad hominem. It looks like it is a comment on the writing, but it's an insult to the person who wrote it. Just like the guitar, you have no idea if they were lazy. You can't know whether they were phoning it in or whether they were doing something clever you don't like or whether they were trying their best, just like you are trying your best to think of a way to justify your dislike for what they did with anything other than your own worthless opinion.

And by saying that you are also poisoning the entire discussion with fake rationality. If you are smart enough to convince other people with your rational arguments then you have to be aware that you are smart enough to fool yourself as well. Smart people can convince themselves of very stupid things by making arguments that they know would convince others.

Also, try to bear in mind that if you've generally found success winning rational arguments, it probably just means you are a jerk who is emotionally exhausting to talk to. At best it means you are the smartest person you tend to spend time around, which in turn would means you've selected the people you spend time around by looking for people who aren't as smart as you because that makes you feel smart. If you never lose at chess it is extremely unlikely you are Magnus Carlsen.

So I guess what I'm saying is "Up yours, everybody." I borrow a metaphor from Nietzsche, my cup is so full of rage it is overflowing and you are welcome to stand nearby and soak it up.

Please, let's all get some practice in actually liking and disliking things. With our feelings.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Return to Path of Exile

I decided to play some more Path of Exile to check out the most recent expansion. Because I haven't played in quite a while I'm not really sure what was added now and what was added some time ago. I know I've read about some of it on Ziggyny's Game Emporium but I can't remember when.

The list of features I wasn't yet familiar with is huge. There are quest givers that show up randomly in fighting areas of the game to give you side missions. There are special randomly appearing side dungeons that end with chests that contain "corrupted" gems that have very powerful effects but can only be used once for every so many kills. There is crafting and some kind of home bases that I haven't even got to yet but that is apparently tied to those random quest givers. Cabinets of various kinds which are special chests that summon waves of monsters to defend themselves. The new softcore league is one where getting long kill streaks triggers special effects. There are plenty of new skills. Some boss fights have been redesigned in ways I approve of.

Basically it seems that they keep adding new, cool stuff to the game. I never did get around to giving them any money, but I think I should probably do that since I like their game and want to support them. I could buy more stash tabs with it but I think I'll probably just go with cosmetic effects because who needs a stash.

While I was playing, I kept thinking, "This is what the designers of Diablo 3 should be doing." But at some point I stopped myself. I should stop looking at a game like Path of Exile and thinking that Diablo 3 should mimic it and instead just admit what I already know: that Diablo 3 just sucks and it isn't going to get better.

It's kind of incredible. Blizzard has a big team and a lot of development money, but the game just went totally wrong. It's just way too simple. They basically took almost all meaningful choice out of the game. There's nothing to optimize through choice, only things to optimize through finding more optimal items. The game areas are just too simple and predictable. It's fun for a while but has no real staying power, and if it weren't for the brand name I would have played it a lot less than I did.

Path of Exile's advancement system is a combination of Materia and the Sphere Grid. They are constantly adding new interesting things that happen when you play. There is a fantastic amount of room to customize and maximize your gear. That's what makes games like this fun. I'm sure I'll be excited by Diablo 4, and I'll probably even buy the next expansion for Diablo 3, assuming there is one.

But I don't even have a level 70 crusader and I probably never will, and it's hard for me to imagine a more harsh thing I could say about a Diablo game.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Farewell Thomas the Tank Engine, and beware; for I am Nyarlathotep, the Crawling Chaos!

Nyarlathotep in one of his thousand forms
Thomas the Tank Engine stories are moralizing. They tell us about listening to what we are told and avoiding arrogance. Almost every story features an engine failing to listen to the Fat Controller - later Sir Topham Hatt - and thinking they know best. Eventually this creates a problem and they are told sternly that they have created "confusion and delay." When they remedy the problem they are told they are a "really useful engine."

Recently I read a blog post by horror author David Nickle on the racism of Lovecraft. H.P. Lovecraft - a hugely influential writer for horror, science fiction and fantasy - was extremely racist. He was, perhaps, an extreme example of racism even in his own time. Nickle tells of panels he has sat on where he tried to raise the issue of Lovecraft's racism. It fell flat each time.

Now I don't personally worry very much about Lovecraft's racism. He was definitely, definitely racist. Sometimes his racism oozes into his work and it really leaps off the page at you. But he's been dead for a while now. I can't exactly sit him down and have a talk with him about his attitudes, and reading his public domain works at The H.P. Lovecraft Archive isn't supporting his attitudes in any way.

What Nickle does, though, is tries to pin Lovecraft's racism to his work:
I'd make the case that Lovecraft's fiction--and Lovecraftian horror--depends on the xenophobia that was endemic to Lovecraft's work to the point that without it, many of his stories lose their unique and uniquely profound effect.
He illustrates this point by describing how subsequent writers who modeled their work after Lovecraft tried to fill the gap left by the lack of xenophobia:
Charles Stross has good fun with Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos in his Laundry books, without appearing to draw on anxiety much deeper than a solid recollection of a bad time working I.T.  Where Stross blends espionage adventure with the Mythos, Laird Barron blends noirish elements with pseudo-Mythos tropes to explore themes that are nearer to Jim Thompson's brand of nihilism than Lovecraft's. Thomas Ligotti cheerily swaps out xenophobia for all-out misanthropy.
I couldn't disagree with Nickle more. I think that Lovecraft's racism is a side-note. I think his stories would work just as well without it. The fear that Lovecraft taps into isn't the fear of the unknown, it is the fear of meaninglessness. Cthulhu isn't terrifying because he is unknowable, unknowability is just a reminder that there are things in the universe much more important than we are that we can't understand and to which we don't matter. Lovecraft's horror is the horror of the Total Perspective Vortex. It is the idea that knowing how truly insignificant you are would drive you insane.

The Reverend Wilbert Awdry, who wrote the stories on which Thomas the Tank Engine was based, tapped into this fact to produce stories that are compelling to children. The ultimate goal of Thomas and his friends is to be really useful engines. There are some stories where they imply that engines wish to be useful for fear of being scrapped but that never comes to be so I take it to be a kind of fantasy - like a child worrying that his parents won't love him if he doesn't meet certain conditions.

From my own experience, my toddler is most engaged when she is being helpful. Whether its baking, putting together furniture, or any other task that produces a tangible result, I always look for ways to include her and allow her to make a contribution. While she won't put away her toys, go to bed or come to dinner when asked, she'll jump and run if we ask her to fetch us a diaper or a blanket for her baby sister. When we tell her she's been very helpful she beams.

She's a little young to start wondering if maybe the muffins and the chair and even her sister and herself don't matter. I also wouldn't be surprised if worrying about meaninglessness is a somewhat gendered activity - H.P. Lovecraft fans seem to be mostly male and philosophy is the malest of field of academia.  But I'm sure most people regardless of gender, at some point in their lives, experience at least one moment of existential horror or one crisis of faith where they wonder what the point of their lives is.

I have read that Lovecraft really believed that we were ultimately insignificant in the universe. He thought that the march of science would bring us to that realization and when it did we would, for the most part, lose our collective minds. I think he failed to understand the march of history and that the paradoxes of one generation become the clichés of the next. Existential horror is still a thing, but what is capable of triggering it in us changes drastically over time.

Something that Thomas the Tank Engine doesn't teach is that one day you will no longer be able to get a sense of meaning from other people and you will have to find one for yourself. Thomas and his friends have Sir Topham Hatt to tell them what to do and to validate them when they do it. Reverend Awdry fades and Lovecraft enters when Sir Hatt says, "Thomas, you are a really useful engine," and Thomas thinks, "But am I? What was really accomplished by delivering that coal?"

That, not xenophobia, is the basis of Lovecraft. Azathoth is a metaphor for a universe that doesn't care about you. I'm firmly convinced that all of my favourite Lovecraft stories could be edited to remove the racist elements without damaging their central point. So I think that Nickle is just plain wrong about Lovecraft. He was a racist when he was alive, but now he is nothing, and I think the racism baked into his work is just an embarrassment, not a linchpin.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Sandcastle Builder - Glass Ceilings Again

Somehow it turns out that playing well actually helps in Sandcastle Builder. I mean, botting helps a lot too, but I was pretty amazed that I had Logicat before I got to the long pix. I knew the different phases of the game so I didn't have to do things I did the first time like spend a day figuring out that I was now progressing exclusively through Blast Furnace.

I'm still a ways from infinite sand but I am definitely in the part of the game where I regard the amount of sand I have as an order of magnitude rather than as an ordinary number. I'm generally looking to "lose" a the Monty Haul Problem because multiplying my castled by one and a half is basically nothing and losing them all hardly matters.

As any Sandcastle Builder player knows, part of reaching the ten-to-the-thirty-plus castles phase of the game is breaking the glass ceiling.

If you are unfamiliar, glass ceilings are boosts that multiply the return of your tools by 33 per glass ceiling you have. For example, glass ceiling 0 affects buckets, so if you have it your buckets produce 33 times as much. Glass ceiling 1 affects bots, so if you have both ceiling 0 and ceiling 1 both your buckets and bots produce 1089 times as much. There is a ceiling for each tool, so having all the ceilings up the rivers - ten in all - multiplies all of those tools production by 1.5×1015 which really is quite a lot.

But purchasing the glass ceilings is complicated. You can always buy glass ceiling 0 once it is unlocked by earning logic levels. You can buy any other glass ceiling if you have the glass ceiling immediately before it but no others before it. For instance, you can buy glass ceiling 3 if you have glass ceiling 2 but not ceilings 0 or 1. Of course to meet that condition you have to lock glass ceilings you already have. You can lock a glass ceiling under the same condition you can buy it - if you have ceiling immediately before it but no others before it.

How does this work in practice? To get ceiling 1 you have to buy 0. To get ceiling 2 you need to lock 0. To get ceiling 3 you'll need to lock 1 but to do that you have to buy 0 so you buy it and then lock 1 and then lock 0. Now you want ceiling 4 so you buy 0, buy 1, lock 0, lock 2, buy 0, lock 1, lock 0 leaving you with just 3 so you can buy 4. Then to get 5 you buy 0, buy 1, lock 0, buy 2, buy 0, lock 1, lock 0, lock 3, buy 0, buy 1, lock 0, lock 2, buy 0, lock 1, lock 0, buy 5.

It was 1 click to buy 0, 1 click to buy 1, 2 clicks to buy 2, 4 clicks to buy 3, 8 clicks to buy 4 and 16 clicks to buy 5. Yes, when you have just purchased ceiling 8 you are looking at 256 more clicks to buy ceiling 9 after which you have just 8 and 9 so you have to buy 0, buy 1, lock 0, buy 2, buy 0, lock 1, lock 0, buy 3, buy 0, buy 1, lock 0, lock 2, buy 0, lock 1, lock 0, buy 4, buy 0, buy 1, lock 0, buy 2, buy 0, lock 1, lock 0, lock 3, buy 0, buy 1, lock 0, lock 2, buy 0, lock 1, lock 0, buy 5, buy 0, buy 1, lock 0, buy 2, buy 0, lock 1, lock 0, buy 3, buy 0, buy 1, lock 0, lock 2, buy 0 , lock 1, lock 0, lock 4, buy 0, buy 1, lock 0, buy 2, buy 0, lock 1, lock 0, lock 3, buy 0, buy 1, lock 0, lock 2, buy 0, lock 1, lock 0, buy 6, buy 0, buy 1, lock 0, buy 2, buy 0, lock 1, lock 0, buy 3, buy 0, buy 1, lock 0, lock 2, buy 0, lock 1, lock 0, buy 4, buy 0, buy 1, lock 0, buy 2, buy 0, lock 1, lock 0, lock 3, buy 0, buy 1, lock 0, lock 2, buy 0, lock 1, lock 0, lock 5, buy 0, buy 1, lock 0, buy 2, buy 0, lock 1, lock 0, buy 3, buy 0, buy 1, lock 0, lock 2, buy 0 , lock 1, lock 0, lock 4, buy 0, buy 1, lock 0, buy 2, buy 0, lock 1, lock 0, lock 3, buy 0, buy 1, lock 0, lock 2, buy 0, lock 1, lock 0, buy 7, buy 0, buy 1, lock 0, buy 2, buy 0, lock 1, lock 0, buy 3, buy 0, buy 1, lock 0, lock 2, buy 0, lock 1, lock 0, buy 4, buy 0, buy 1, lock 0, buy 2, buy 0, lock 1, lock 0, lock 3, buy 0, buy 1, lock 0, lock 2, buy 0, lock 1, lock 0, buy 5, buy 0, buy 1, lock 0, buy 2, buy 0, lock 1, lock 0, buy 3, buy 0, buy 1. That's just another 170 clicks for a total of 682 clicks if you don't make any mistakes.

I made a few mistakes.

A wooden Towers of Hanoi set with 8 disks.
Image by Ævar Arnfjörð Bjarmason CC-licenced
Those with a mathematical bent will notice this problem is extremely similar to the Towers of Hanoi - imagine locked ceilings are in the starting tower, unlocked ceilings are the tower you want to get them to and the store is middle tower but because of some minor differences it takes fewer moves. The similarity to Towers of Hanoi, though, actually means the game is super simple - especially because the set-up prevents the wrong moves. All you have to do is keep making legal moves without ever taking back a move and you win.

Look at the sequence above, with no ceilings the only think you can do is buy 0, then the only thing you can do is buy 1, then the only thing you can do is lock 0, etc. There are never any choices to make, you just have to remember which direction you are headed in. Over the long course of the process that's not quite as easy as it sounds, especially if you are distracted by a baby, but it's certainly not hard to succeed and obviously you'll realize you headed in the wrong direction soon enough.

When you have glass ceilings 0 through 9 you get an achievement that makes it so in the future glass ceilings are unlocked by the DoRD so you don't need to do this again when you Molpy Down. I had to do it a second time because I was starting an entirely new game.

If this sounds like the worst game ever then you are just a very different person than me. I thought this was going to be awful and tedious to do a second time but instead I found it really engaging. There is a very good reason I named this my second favourite game of 2013.

So now that I have broken the glass ceiling and hit the long pix I was able to upgrade Factory Automation to 11. Now I just need to bust open a bunch of crates to get the glass blocks to start blackprint work.

If you don't know what any of that means, you have to admit, it sounds awesome!

Friday, 22 August 2014

Infant Hiatus, Game Update, Ugly World Events

I'm going to try to start posting again. I've actually had a lot to say over the last couple of weeks but extremely little time to say it in. And infant plus a toddler means that you don't do a lot of things.

So here's an update on everything.

Final Fantasy Dimensions
Having no time to do anything means that I mostly only play games while I am on transit, and that means that I am playing iOS games. But thankfully for me, I discovered that in 2010 Square released Final Fantasy Dimensions, which is basically a SNES era Final Fantasy game.

When I say it is "basically" a SNES era Final Fantasy game I mean when you play this you will feel exactly like you are playing IV, V or VI. The graphics are the same, the look and feel of the game is the same, the plotline is just what you would expect - with a couple of unique twists. It uses a Job system and has a unique feature of giving you two different parties, each with access to its own special jobs.

The game is free to download but only includes a short prologue which is presumably there just so that fans of SNES Final Fantasy games can see that this is the real deal before buying. You can then buy four chapters one at a time or buy them all for $16.99. Now $16.99 is a price that got a lot of people in the mobile world angry. They are used to getting games for free and then sinking far more than $16.99 into them one microtransaction at a time. But if I'd known what I was getting, I would have dropped $59.99 on this game in a heartbeat. That's about what FFVI cost and I didn't have money in those days.

Not that this game is as loveable as FFVI, but I don't know if any game is. It's up there, though. I played for 51 hours and then, as I tend to do, decided to start again to try a different party configuration. I expect to play it a few more times after that. This is the real deal, and $16.99 was a bargain.

Particle Clicker - Cookie Clicker - Sandcastle Builder
Browser games are another thing you can play with no time, both because they do a lot of the playing themselves and because they can easily be managed with one hand while a baby is in the other. I didn't have my Cookie Clicker or Sandcastle Builder saves so I started those fresh. I also started the new Particle Clicker.

Particle Clicker is not great, but it's fun for a day. Basically it's more like a proto-type of a game than a game and you run out of things to do really quickly, descending into a phase of the game where it will take literally days to buy a tiny incremental increase. Cookie Clicker was surprisingly fun to play, and with the seasons I got a couple of days out of it before it mostly also went to a steady state.

Sandcastle Builder is something else entirely. I know it will be literally months before I get back to where I was and there will be a lot of work between now and then. What I'm having a lot of fun doing, though, is flagrantly cheating botting. I'm not just adding numbers with code, but I'm writing functions that play the game for me as if I was at the screen. As the game gets more complicated this will get harder and harder to do well.

I'm also back to coding my own browser game like others I have never finished. Will this time be different? Probably not, Steve.

Terrible Things in the World
In America a woman was arrested for negligence after allowing her nine-year-old to play in the park while she went to work. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences tweeted an image that couldn't have been better calculated to cause suicide contagion. Militarized police are terrorizing a town in Missouri, having murders one of its citizens last week. Perhaps more incredibly, someone on the internet told me that if I was right about the irresponsibility of American gun owners then there would be a lot more gun violence in America - apparently not realizing that there already is a lot more gun violence in America.

The Mind is Luminous
Did you know the mind is luminous? Also, phenomena are empty. Give that some thought.

Next week will hopefully be an interesting week, with status updates on a 90s era Final Fantasy game, Sandcastle Builder bot code, and commentary on the rotten world we live in.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Suicide Contagion

According to the internet, Robin Williams killed himself. It would be better to say his death was an apparent suicide, since figuring these things out takes time, but the suicide narrative has already taken off and if some paramedics had a gut reaction it was suicide there's a very good chance it was. With a high profile suicide, the fear of suicide contagion is raised.

Suicide contagion is real - when people are exposed to suicide they are more likely to kill themselves. Today I saw a paper by the CDC on some of the known factors that affect suicide contagion and how it can be minimized.

In summary:
  • Don't provide simple explanations - don't suggest there was one event that led to the suicide
  • Don't report on the suicide repetitively over long periods of time
  • Don't sensationalize the story or glorify the people involved
  • Don't report detailed a "how-to" or detailed steps
  • Don't suggest that suicide accomplished a certain end for that person
  • Don't focus entirely on the suicide completer's positive characteristics
The paper is hopeful, suggesting that media will do its best to minimize suicide contagion if the media is educated. Basically, reporters don't actually want other people to kill themselves. Though it would shock me if there wasn't someone out there thinking about how they can get even more legs out of the story by covering copy-cat suicides, I'm sure the majority of people aren't psychopaths so the CDC is probably right.

I think that last point is really difficult for people. In English culture we don't speak ill of the dead. When someone dies we are supposed to say how bright they were, how funny they were, how everyone loved them. Once or twice I've seen someone quoted as saying, about a victim of violent crime, "he had his problems but he didn't deserve to die like that," but those are extremely rare. Mostly those who have died were apparently the happiest, friendliest, most helpful people anyone knew.

But is recognizing that someone was terribly unhappy over most of their lives speaking ill of them? I feel like one of the greatest contributors to suicide contagion is the stigma of mental illness. There are too many people walking around who would be killing themselves if they could only penetrate the taboo of doing so. A high profile story of a suicide, repeated over and over, helps them to do that. Sympathizing with a person who killed themselves and thinking, "Their problems are like mine," helps them do that. Seeing that people look back on a suicide completer with love and admiration rather than with anger and frustration helps them do that.

If we need to tell ourselves lies about people who have killed themselves and make them look happier than they were, then we are telling people who are thinking of killing themselves to keep up their lies as well. I hope that coverage of Robin Williams' death is full of reminders that he spent his whole career abusing drugs and going through depressive episodes. If it helps with suicide contagion in the short run, that's a good thing. I hope in the long run we can more widely live with the knowledge that people around us are often in pain. Maybe we can be a bit nicer to one another.

Friday, 8 August 2014

Takklemaggot Clarification

I consulted some rules experts on Takklemaggot. Here's Eli Shiffrin from Cranial Insertion:
Thanks for writing in. Abilities can be linked to abilities that granted the former ability to an object, and I suspect that logic is what's being brought in here - but I'm also positive that Takklemaggot is a weird old card and would not be used as precedent for anything whatsoever in modern development technology. :)
I tried to further clarify is this related to rule 607.1a - you'll recall it says that "An ability printed on an object within another ability that grants that ability to that object is still considered to be “printed on” that object for these purposes." - and he told me:
It was intended for Animate Dead: It has an ability printed on it that grants Animate Dead an enchant ability that is linked to that ability that returned the creature that it's allowed to enchant. It's a real headache to parse, yes. :) It'd still be a tenuous connection to Takklemaggot, but justifiable.
So I thought, that's fine but it's not quite exactly what the rules say. A tenuous connection isn't a literal reading. So I wrote into Wizards for customer support and got the following:
My best reading of the rules and gathered sources is that 607.1 governs. If one ability "causes...players to be affected and the other directly refers to [that] player[]," then "these two abilities are linked." In Takklemaggot's case, a player has to make a choice, then the upkeep trigger refers to that player. 
Given that Takklemaggot is one of the top five or so longest Oracle texts (behind Dance of the Dead and Garruk Relentless/Garruk the Veil-Cursed but ahead of Illusionary mask), it might be that text on Takklemaggot normally spelling out how those abilities are linked was shortened for reading clarity over 607 clarity.
Well that doesn't sound right to me at all. That quotation from 607.1 seems to leave out a key bit, you know, "printed on the card." Also, I don't understand why an Oracle text would be abbreviated. My proposed wording is much longer and more complicated, but it's a database of cards, they can put whatever they want in there.

If you've read my review of Mishra's War Machine then you know I have a great deal of self-confidence when it comes to my ability to interpret the rules better than the rules team because of mistakes they made in 1994. And, after all, if I didn't think I had something to contribute to the rules then why would I be reviewing Oracle reviews?

So I remain unsatisfied with the official explanation. I appreciate the attempt to make the wording work as it is, but I just don't think it does. My rating stands at one star.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Oracle Review - Creature Types - Arabian Nights

A long time ago I posted a review of the updates to creature types for Limited Edition. I did my research into creature types for several additional sets but never got around to posting my reviews. Now that I have a new baby and I don't feel like writing anything, I figured I'd dredge them up and post them as if I was getting something done. Enjoy, if that's what you do with this sort of thing.

Artifact Creatures
There were two artifact creatures in Arabian Nights: Brass Man and Dancing Scimitar. Brass Man is appropriately a Construct while Dancing Scimitar is a Spirit. I find this latter choice somewhat perplexing. The scimitar's low power and high toughness suggests that you have to actually smash the sword to bits to deal with it, which makes bringing it back with a Forked-Branch Garami feel odd. Then again, stopping the scimitar in it's tracks with Urgent Exorcism feels about right and would probably be allowed in flavour draft regardless of the actual type. Why this card was given a highly interactive creature type I don't know, but I'm happy to give it two stars as a reasonable-enough choice.

A Human Now
In this category we have the lone Desert Nomad. Previously Nomads of unspecified race, we now find out that they were humans all along. No real surprise, and two stars.

Proto Legends
In Arabian Nights we have a wide variety of named individuals but the set preceded the invention of Legends. As such, these cards all had creature types that were simply their names. They haven't been made legendary in retrospect, but they have been given creature types.

Aladdin and Ali Baba both became Human Rogues, which seems suitable enough. El-Hajjaj is apparently a Human Wizard, which he might as well be, since I know nothing about El-Hajjaj or why he has pre-lifelink lifelink. These guys get two stars.

The other proto legends - Abu Ja'far, Ali from Cairo, King Suleiman and Sinbad - are all just Humans with no additional type. You may recall from my creature type review of limited edition that making a creature just some guy doesn't really appeal to me. With both Serf and Citizen as available creature types, surely most people must be some kind of person. King Suleiman seems particularly odd in not having a creature type. He's a king, you'd think that would be worth mentioning. Ali from Cairo looks like an upper-crust sort of guy so he might be an Advisor like Cartel Aristocrat. The worst offender, though, has to be Sindbad. Is there really no creature type in magic that is for great adventurers? I feel at the very least he should be a Rogue. All of these get one star from me.

Unsupported Types
As usual, there are is a long list of unsupported creature types that have been updated to something new.

Merchant Ship is now a Human. Much like Pirate Ship, this card is a boat, not a person. Why not Construct for these? Guardian Beast is now a Beast instead of a Guardian which is problematic because the "Guardian" type is actually a creature type with interactions. Old Man of the Sea loses Marid and becomes a Djinn, which makes me mad just because I really like Marids. All of these get one star.

Giant Tortoise is now a Turtle. Tortoises and turtles are different things, but I suppose it's okay if Magic wants to treat them interchangeably. Presumably any effect that cares if you are a turtle mostly cares about the presence or absence of a shell. Cuombajj Witches are Human Wizards which I'm okay with even though that picture doesn't look human to me. Erg Raiders can't be raiders so they are Human Warriors. They dropped Jackal so Hurr Jackal is a Hound. All Ghouls have become Zombies so Khabal Ghoul goes that way. Nafs Asp changes from an Asp to a more generic Snake. Rukh Egg stops being an Egg and becomes a Bird as is their style these days. Singing Tree is a plant - presumably not a treefolk because it doesn't walk around. Sorceress Queen is a Human Wizard though and while I love the word "sorcerer" I can understand how keeping it in the game as distinct from Wizard doesn't make sense. Dandan, like Merchant Ship should be a Construct - oh wait, Dandan isn't two boats? Two stars for all of these predictable but well done updates.

Not quite last we have two creature type updates that I feel were very well done. First of all, Bird Maiden is now a Human Bird. This is a change from "Bird Maiden" so all they really did was specify that a Maiden is a Human. I'm particularly fond of this update just because of how straightforward it is. This highlights how much better the contemporary creature type system is. Secondly, there is Flying Men. I know I said I don't like cards that are just "Humans" but here I make an exception and love it. These really are just some dudes. They just happen to be in the air. Three stars that is!

Island Fish Jasconius
Here is a creature that is very special to me. For a brief time you could fetch this guy out with Bad River, or at least it sure seemed like you could when the rules were trickling out in the pre-internet era. I absolutely believe that they should have left the type Island on this card and added reminder text that says: (If Island Fish Jasconius is not a land then its "Island" subtype does not apply). I don't think that can matter right now, but if there is ever a way to turn a creature into a land then that Island type should be sitting there waiting for it to happen. Even though this is a flight of fancy on my part and not a defect with the card at all, I still have to give this one star, if only for the personal pain it causes me.

Monday, 4 August 2014

Oracle Review - Glyph of Delusion and Takklemaggot

That is a lot of card text, and the oracle just makes things worse. One of these cards is just a soap box for me, the other is a wording nightmare.


Glyph of Delusion
When I reviewed Life Matrix I suggested a modification of the rules that would allow counters to easily add text to cards. Glyph of Delusion is an ideal candidate, but let's look at the actual Oracle text:
Put X glyph counters on target creature that target Wall blocked this turn, where X is the power of that blocked creature. The creature gains "This creature doesn't untap during your untap step if it has a glyph counter on it" and "At the beginning of your upkeep, remove a glyph counter from this creature."
This card actually highlights a problem with the rule I proposed. I said that counters with text should add that text to the card, but looking at this card and at other cards that would be affected by this rule, I realize that part of the rule should be that multiple counters of the same name with the same text do not cumulatively apply the text. I had proposed the following:
121.1.d A counter with rules text adds that rules text to the permanent or card that it is on.
But instead it should say:
121.1.d A permanent with one or more counters with a particular piece of rules text has that piece of rules text.
That way we could make Glyph of Delusion say:
Put X glyph counters with "This creature does not untap during your untap step." and "At the beginning of your upkeep, remove a glyph counter from this creature." on target creature that target Wall blocked this turn, where X is the power of that blocked creature.
With my improved 121.1.d this wording would work great. The creature would only have one copy of each ability, so you wouldn't be removing all the counters in the first upkeep as you could with that text and my original iteration of 121.1.d.

But my proposed rule and wording functionally changes the card. As the card is now, if you cast a second Glyph of Delusion targeting the same creature, two counters would come off every turn because it would have the ability that removed the counter twice. I'm not sure if this is more true to the original wording or not. It feels like my wording is probably better.

I think once again the question is what you think should happen if you Fate Transfer the counters to another creature. I know what the rules say, but think back to when this card was printed. If Fate Transfer were in the same set, how would those early Magic players have thought they were supposed to interpret those cards? I think the answer is clear, that moving the counters should, if possible, move the effect. My proposed rule makes that work easily.

As it is, I'm going to go ahead and give Glyph of Delusion...

But they should definitely adopt my change to the rules


Takklemaggot
So close but not quite. This card has quite a mouthful of an Oracle wording.
Enchant creature 
At the beginning of the upkeep of enchanted creature's controller, put a -0/-1 counter on that creature.
When enchanted creature dies, that creature's controller chooses a creature that Takklemaggot could enchant. If he or she does, return Takklemaggot to the battlefield under your control attached to that creature. If he or she doesn't, return Takklemaggot to the battlefield under your control as a non-Aura enchantment. It loses "enchant creature" and gains "At the beginning of that player's upkeep, Takklemaggot deals 1 damage to him or her."
This wording basically captures the original card but I think it has a real flaw in it. Let's go through the process that happens when that last ability triggers. The creature dies and the ability triggers. Immediately thereafter Takklemaggot is probably put into its owner's graveyard by state-based effects. When the ability resolves Takklemaggot uses last known information to determine the controller of the now dead creature it was enchanting.

That player chooses a creature that Takklemaggot can legally enchant. But if there aren't any then the controller of Takklemaggot at the time the ability triggered puts it onto the battlefield under his or her control and makes some modifications to it.

They then control Takklemaggot, a non-aura enchantment with the following text:
At the beginning of the upkeep of enchanted creature's controller, put a -0/-1 counter on that creature.
When enchanted creature dies, that creature's controller chooses a creature that Takklemaggot could enchant. If he or she does, return Takklemaggot to the battlefield under your control attached to that creature. If he or she doesn't, return Takklemaggot to the battlefield under your control as a non-Aura enchantment. It loses "enchant creature" and gains "At the beginning of that player's upkeep, Takklemaggot deals 1 damage to him or her."
At the beginning of that player's upkeep, Takklemaggot deals 1 damage to him or her.

Can you tell me what that permanent does? Obviously the first two abilities refer to the "enchanted creature" and there is none, so neither of them will do anything. So let's look at that last ability. Who is "that player"?

This appears to want to be a linked ability. The ability printed on Takklemaggot is supposed to be linked, but linked to what? The ability that created it was on a Takklemaggot that time has forgotten - the Takklemaggot that the Takklemaggot card was the last time it was in play. Linked abilities have to be printed on the same card. There is an exception to this, Rule 607.1a states that:
An ability printed on an object within another ability that grants that ability to that object is still considered to be “printed on” that object for these purposes.
Uh... what? I think this is just telling you abilities can still be linked if they are granted by some other source, but I'll honestly admit that sentence doesn't parse for me.

At any rate, I don't see how an ability can be linked to an ability that is on another permanent that existed at a different time. It certainly doesn't match any of the kinds of linked abilities listed in 607.2a through 607.2j. There is nothing on this enchantment that tells you who to do the damage to. I think Takklemaggot remembers the ability that put it into play, but I don't see how the phrase, "At the beginning of that player's upkeep, Takklemaggot deals 1 damage to him or her." can possibly call it to mind.

Instead, I believe Takklemaggot should add the text:
At the beginning of the upkeep of the player who failed to choose a creature for Takklemaggot to enchant when Takklemaggot was put into play, Takklemaggot deals 1 damage to him or her.
If Takklemaggot cannot remember that player. Instead the last sentence of Takklemaggot's text might be replaced by:
As Takklemaggot enters the battlefield choose that player. Takklemaggot gains "At the beginning of the chosen player's upkeep, Takklemaggot deals 1 damage to him or her."
I'm not really sure this would work. It looks to me like because the "choosing" ability is not printed on Takklemaggot it wouldn't be linked to the damage ability. So if we wanted it to be really air tight, we'd replace Takklemaggot's third ability with the following:
When enchanted creature dies, that creature's controller chooses a creature that Takklemaggot could enchant. If he or she does, return Takklemaggot to the battlefield under your control attached to that creature. If he or she doesn't, Takklemaggot gains "As Takklemaggot enters the battlefield, choose a player" and "At the beginning of the chosen player's upkeep, Takklemaggot deals 1 damage to him or her." Then return Takklemaggot to the battlefield as a non-Aura enchantment except it keeps "As Takklemaggot enters the battlefield, choose a plyer" and "At the beginning of the chosen player's upkeep, Takklemaggot deals 1 damage to him or her." If you would choose a player as Takklemaggot enters the battlefield in this way, you must choose the enchanted creature's controller. If you cannot choose enchanted creature's controller, instead do not choose a player.
I don't see any way around that wording working perfectly. I hope everything I am doing there is clear. I'm creating a linked ability so that Takklemaggot will remember which player it is damaging. The choose-a-player part has to be on Takklemaggot before it enters the battlefield since it is an "as it enters" trigger, as does the other ability so that they will be linked. I need to state that Takklemaggot doesn't forget it has those abilities when it enters the battlefield. Then I restrict the choice to choosing the one correct player. That last line is there so that if the player in question has left the game by the time the ability resolves, you don't get to ignore the part where you only get to choose them as a result of not being able to choose them.

As it stands, I can't promise you that Takklemaggot doesn't work. I can't find the rule that say it does, though. I feel like I'm forced to give it...