Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Oracle Review - Reflecting Mirror and Season of the Witch

Two last cards from the Dark. The Dark had fewer bad, difficult or interesting wordings than I thought it would. This owes, presumably, to it being one of Magic's smallest sets. Still, I found 50% more cards in Homelands than in the Dark in my first-glance reading. Maybe the dark isn't quite as strange as I thought. Maybe it's just a coincidence that the rules have evolved in a way that make a card like Dance of Many easy to word and understand.


Reflecting Mirror
Very badly costed artifacts were everywhere in the old days of magic. Basically reflecting mirror requires you to sit with all your mana untapped while you opponent plays spells that don't target you, then when you finally have to react they get to target you. But even bad cards need good Oracle wordings.

Variable Colorless
, Tap: Change the target of target spell with a single target if that target is you. The new target must be a player. X is twice the converted mana cost of that spell.
This wording is way off the original and there are no reprintings where things got changed. First of all, the original wording doesn't say to change the target of a spell if it targets you, it said to change the target of a spell that targets you. You can't use Reflecting Mirror on your opponent's
Nicol Bolas
for no effect, let alone using Reflecting Mirror on your opponent's
Lightning Bolt
that is targeting one of your creatures only to then have that lightning bolt's target changed to you before Reflecting Mirror's
ability resolves
.

Second, the original wording does not specify the spell has to have a single target, it only says the spell has to target you. I understand the desire to put this in: if you leave it out, the mirror doesn't work at all the way most people would assume.

Suppose we take that clause out and you attempt to Reflecting Mirror an entwined Barbed Lightning. What do you think would happen? The correct answer is that you would be unable to change either target of the spell:
114.6a If an effect allows a player to “change the target(s)” of a spell or ability, each target can be changed only to another legal target. If a target can’t be changed to another legal target, the original target is unchanged, even if the original target is itself illegal by then. If all the targets aren’t changed to other legal targets, none of them are changed.
Using that same rule, what would happen if someone case
Blessed Alliance
to gain 4 life and make you sacrifice an attacking creature? Well, if it were a multiplayer game, you could change the target opponent to another opponent of the caster, and also change the target of the life gain to you, since reflecting mirror allows you to assign new targets to be players. Suddenly you are playing with Attracting Mirror.

But the current wording has problems too. What if someone hits you with a
Kolaghan's Command
to make you discard a card and take 2 damage? It has two targets so you can't reflect it, even though both targets are you.
114.8a An object that looks for a “[spell or ability] with a single target” checks the number of times any objects, players, or zones became the target of that spell or ability when it was put on the stack, not the number of its targets that are currently legal. If the same object, player, or zone became a target more than once, each of those instances is counted separately.
I know why the single target wording is there in the Oracle text. I was around when the mirror was printed, and what it meant to change the target of a spell was not as clearly defined then as it is today. They had to make ruling to try to make sense of weird situations. The simplest thing was to say that Reflecting Mirror didn't work unless the spell had only a single target.

If you read the original wording on
Deflection
, two sets later, you'll see that it even specifies that the new target must be legal since that wasn't implicit.

But I regard this as an "we don't know what else to say" ruling, not a as a real errata. I'd prefer the Oracle wording of Reflecting Mirror go back to the original wording, and possibly the original intent. Back in The Dark we were still in the days when most Magic players were playing based on flavour judgments rather any actual rules, so what do we expect the mirror to do?

I think with the imprecision of the original wording we have two options. One is restricting it to spells that only target you - which is very different than spells that only have a single target, if that target is you. The other is allowing it to change only targets that are you.

One wording would be:
X, Tap: Change the target of target spell that targets only you. The new target must be a player. X is twice the converted mana cost of that spell.
The other is really, really akward. Magic basically lacks a vocabulary to talk about the targets of a spell. But still, I think this restriction is plain enough to read in the English language:
X, Tap: For each time target spell that targets you targets you, change that target of that spell. The new target must be a player. X is twice the converted mana cost of the spell.
Both have the problem of allowing you to use Reflecting Mirror to split a spell with multiple player targets to two different players. and it's not Reflecting Beam Splitter. I like the former a little better, the idea being that the mirror should reflect the entire spell, but it might not reflect the entire spell anyway, so I'm happy to go with the latter to make it more compatible with a fix to make sure you reflect the spell in just one direction.

All in all, I think this is the probably the best way to word it:
X, Tap: Choose another player. For each time target spell that targets you targets you, change that target to the chosen player. X is twice the converted mana cost of the spell.
I'd definitely want to workshop this with other Oracle experts, though. This is the first time I've acknowledged in an Oracle Review that I might not simply know best about everything. It will also be the last.

As for the current wording:


Season of the Witch

This card caused some consternation in it's day. What does it mean to say that a creature "could have attacked?" Let's see how the Oracle resolves this:
At the beginning of your upkeep, sacrifice Season of the Witch unless you pay 2 life. 
At the beginning of the end step, destroy all untapped creatures that didn't attack this turn, except for creatures that couldn't attack.
Oh. Um... how unexpected? Let's see what the rules say about things that "could have happened"... nothing there. Are there a bunch of rulings explaining it? There are two:
At the beginning of every end step, regardless of whose turn it is, the second ability triggers. When it resolves every creature that could have been declared as an attacker during that turn’s Declare Attackers Step but wasn’t will be destroyed. 
A creature won’t be destroyed if it was unable to attack that turn, even if you had a way to enable it to attack. For example, a creature that had summoning sickness wouldn’t be destroyed even if you had a way to give it haste.
So what does it mean to say a creature could have attacked? It means it could have been declared as an attacker during that turn's Declare Attackers Step. You know that that means.

You know.

You know

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Oracle Review - Gaea's Touch and Mana Vortex

Sometimes I try to group cards thematically, but there are a few things working against me in the Dark. First, it doesn't have that many cards. Second, it doesn't have very many themes other than just being weird. Last time I found two cards that remove things from graveyards. This time, well, check this out:



Gaea's Touch
I think I really underestimated this card when it came out. The idea of spending two mana on your second turn so that you could have access to six, possibly even seven, on your third turn probably didn't strike me as game breaking the way it does now.
0: You may put a basic Forest card from your hand onto the battlefield. Activate this ability only any time you could cast a sorcery and only once each turn.
Sacrifice Gaea's Touch: Add GG to your mana pool.
I disagree with the interpretation of the original wording. In current wording, "you may put ... [a] land in play" would be "you may put a land onto the battlefield" and putting a land on the battlefield is not the same as playing a land.

However, putting a land into play and playing a land weren't quite so clearly delineated the The Dark. And I think there are two very good reasons to think Gaea's touch should allow you to play lands rather than put them into play.

The part I skipped with ellipses in my quotation of the original wording was "an additional". You can't put "an additional" land in play unless it is in addition to something. The only thing it could possibly be in addition to would be your land play for the turn.

Secondly, unlike the play land vs put land into play distinction, the format for an activate ability was quite well defined by The Dark. Our friend Eater of the Dead has the familiar "0:" to indicate an activated ability that can be used without spending anything. If Gaea's Touch was meant to have a zero-cost activated ability, it could have had one with the templating of it's time.

So I'm convinced the better wording would be that Gaea's Touch allows you to play an additional land each turn.

There is a problem with that, though. There just isn't a way to give someone an extra land drop that has to be used for a specific kind of land. It would have been pretty easy prior to July 2014, but with currently land drop rules, it can't quite be done, at least not neatly.

Rule 305.2a says:
To determine whether a player can play a land, compare the number of lands the player can play this turn with the number of lands he or she has already played this turn (including lands played as special actions and lands played during the resolution of spells and abilities). If the number of lands the player can play is greater, the play is legal.
There's no point in that process where you check to see if the suite of lands you have played this turn is legal or not.

This isn't trivial to solve. If you simply keep wording similar to the original: "You may play an additional land on each of your turns, but this land must be a basic forest" you run into the problem that you never actually check to see whether the land you are playing is the one from Gaea's Touch or not. You have a lands_played value and a max_lands_per_turn value and you compare one to the other, you don't assign each land drop to each thing that allows an additional land drop. I have an intuitive sense of how that ought to be read, but I can't back that up technically.

So what can we do within existing wording? One question is how we know how many forests we have to play. Do we count the number of Gaea's Touches we have in play right now? We could do that by saying that we need to play forests equal to the number of permanents named Gaea's Touch we control, but I am loathe to start counting permanents with a given name when the original card didn't say to do anything of the sort. Imagine your Starfield of Nyx is turned on animating your three Gaea's Touches and your opponent targets one with a Dance of the Skywise. It has no abilities, but it's still a Gaea's Touch so you'd only be able to play basic forests.

And how do we put the restriction on anyway? Should we do a replacement effect for playing a land that checks against the number of forests already played? Or just word it as a restriction on playing the land?

So with the current rules, I think this the best wording that can be mustered:
To determine you whether you can play a land, you may ignore up to one additional basic forest when determining the number so lands you have already played this turn, and count the number of basic forests ignored. The play is legal if either the number of lands you can play is greater than this modified number of lands you have played, or if the land you are playing is a basic forest and the number of basic forests you may ignore is greater than the number of basic forests you have played.
The solution is not to find a replacement ability or a restriction on land plays. It is to rewrite rule 305.2a on the card.

Gaea's Touch could have a number of different wordings that I'd consider flawed but passable. A wording involving an activated ability is not one of those:

Too harsh? For an activated ability where there should be
a continuous one? I think this is just about right.
Mana Vortex
Just think of it, if you have a Gaea's Touch then you can play two lands a turn while your opponent can only play one. They'll break even or gradually run out of lands, but you can keep building your lands up. That's what they call a combo.
When you cast Mana Vortex, counter it unless you sacrifice a land.
At the beginning of each player's upkeep, that player sacrifices a land.
When there are no lands on the battlefield, sacrifice Mana Vortex.
I don't have much to say about this wording. It's basically the original wording given a formalized reading. What I will say, though, is that if you cast Mana Vortex and choose not to sacrifice a land, you get a 1/1 merfolk from your Lullmage Mentor. Unlike a certain creature from last week.


Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Oracle Review - Eater of the Dead and Frankenstein's Monster

By popular demand, Oracle reviews have returned.

I'm moving on to The Dark. Presumably as I get into later and later sets, there will be fewer and fewer cards to review, but I've done cursory scans up to Mirage so far, and the notable Oracle texts are still flowing.

Today, I'm featuring two cards that remove creatures from graveyards.


Eater of the Dead
Eater of the Dead has an odd bit of text in the Oracle wording that goes back to a bit of Magic history I've tread over before:
0: If Eater of the Dead is tapped, exile target creature card from a graveyard and untap Eater of the Dead.
"If Eater of the Dead is tapped" is a phrase that appears to come out of nowhere. Let's remember Serra Angel and Maze of Ith, though. You can find my recounting of it in my review of Mishra's War Machine.

When Eater of the Dead was printed, the rules team could rely on "you can't untap things that are untapped" as a shortcut to avoid spelling certain things out, much in the way that they have relied on spells with no targets being countered for most of Magic's history. Really, they never intended Eater of the Dead to be able to hit the table and immediately devour all creatures in both graveyards.

But they never intended a lot of things. I don't think they ever intended people to tap Basalt Monolith to get the mana to untap itself. I don't think they ever intended for people to use Galvanic Key on Time Vault. At some point they had elaborate power-level errata to remove these kinds of abuses, but it's been a long time now since power-level errata was stripped from cards, and they've settled on a "who cares, it's vintage" approach instead.

Eater of the Dead existed during the transition from the vague trying-to-untap-something-that's-untapped-nullifies-the-entire-effect rules and the much more sensible trying-to-untap-something-that's-untapped-just-doesn't-do-anything rules. As a result, it was issued official errata clarifying that you can only use it to remove cards from the graveyard if it is actually tapped.

Might I suggest replacing this with a "who cares, literally no one will ever play with this card" approach?

At 4B for a 3/4 no one could possibly argue that Eater of the Dead is problematic if it can remove an number of creatures from graveyards. At 4B playable only in Vintage and Legacy, I don't even think anyone could argue it would be problematic if we interpreted the original wording as a "choose" instead of a "target" and allowed the Eater to untap any time for free. Is someone really going to make an Eater of the Dead / Fire Whip deck in a format where someone can draw a Kozilek's Inquisition and still die on their second turn?

Eater of the Dead ought to say this:
0: Exile target creature card from a graveyard. Untap Eater of the Dead.
I give the present wording:

I'm more disappointed than I should be.


Frankenstein's Monster
There's a lot to be embarrassed about with this card. Three kinds of counters, out-of-lore literary reference, a lot of text for virtually no playability. The Oracle text doesn't rank high on that list, but it's not exactly perfect either:
As Frankenstein's Monster enters the battlefield, exile X creature cards from your graveyard. If you can't, put Frankenstein's Monster into its owner's graveyard instead of onto the battlefield. For each creature card exiled this way, Frankenstein's Monster enters the battlefield with a +2/+0, +1/+1, or +0/+2 counter on it.
Replace remove-from-the-game with exile, use counters to keep track of permanent stat changes, and you have a nearly unchanged wording, which is kind of impressive, but it's only nearly unchanged, because the original wording had problems.

When you bring the card into play, you do a thing, but if you don't do it, you counter the card. You can't counter a creature that is already in play, though. By the time it checks whether to counter the spell, the spell can't be countered.

Clearly there are two ways to fix this problem. The first is to sacrifice the monster instead of countering it if the creatures can't be removed. The second is to have the creature be removed as it enters the battlefield instead of when it entered the battlefield. I think it's kind of an open question which makes more sense. I do side with the approach taken by the rules team's choice as the monster was never intended to be in play as a 0/1, vulnerable to Gut Shots and such before taking on its larger size. I'd accept either decision, however.

What I'm not thrilled with is that being countered was replaced with being put in the graveyard. According to rule 701.5:
701.5. Counter
701.5a To counter a spell or ability means to cancel it, removing it from the stack. It doesn’t resolve and none of its effects occur. A countered spell is put into its owner’s graveyard.
So what's the difference, you may ask. Countering a spell means putting it in your graveyard, that's just what happens to insufficiently fed Frankie. The only difference I can come up with is having Baral or a Lullmage Mentor in play. If you cast a Frankenstein's Monster with X higher than the number of creatures in your graveyard, then it would be the ability of the Frankenstein's Monster that countered itself, that would be an ability you controlled, and so you could use it to loot or to create a merfolk token.

A Frankenstein's Monster/Lullmage Mentor deck is probably several orders of magnitude less likely to see play than an Eater of the Dead/Firewhip deck, so you may wonder why I'd make a big deal of this. The answer is that I'm not actually making a big deal of this. Still, I feel the Oracle is in error, so I'm only able to give the wording:
I almost want to give two stars just to contrast with
Eater of the Dead which is considerably worse than this

Friday, 28 April 2017

C. S. Lewis and the "soul" of freedom

Freedom of speech is a high ideal that I've complained about before because it's stupid and good for nothing.

Recently a person who makes a living saying horrible things about other people chose not to deliver a speech at the University of Berkeley because they weren't going to get paid to do so and it's thrown a lot of people into Freedom of Speech despair. We're talking about a well-to-do person who could, at a moment's notice: get hundreds of thousands of views on youtube, organize a TV appearance on a major network, or fill a venue of their choice with listeners. They weren't coming to Berkeley to finally have their voice heard, they were coming to promote their most recently published book - the latest of a at least a dozen. This is not a person whose freedom to espouse their ideas is in jeopardy.

But it's the principle of the thing, you see.

Here's a great passage from C.S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters in which senior devil Screwtape gives advice to his nephew, Wormwood, on how to tempt humans from "the enemy":
It is, no doubt, impossible to prevent his praying for his mother, but we have means of rendering the prayers innocuous. Make sure that they are always very "spiritual", that he is always concerned with the state of her soul and never with her rheumatism. Two advantages follow. In the first place, his attention will be kept on what he regards as her sins, by which, with a little guidance from you, he can be induced to mean any of her actions which are inconvenient or irritating to himself. Thus you can keep rubbing the wounds of the day a little sorer even while he is on his knees; the operation is not at all difficult and you will find it very entertaining. In the second place, since his ideas about her soul will be very crude and often erroneous, he will, in some degree, be praying for an imaginary person, and it will be your task to make that imaginary person daily less and less like the real mother—the sharp-tongued old lady at the breakfast table. In time, you may get the cleavage so wide that no thought or feeling from his prayers for the imagined mother will ever flow over into his treatment of the real one. I have had patients of my own so well in hand that they could be turned at a moment's notice from impassioned prayer for a wife's or son's "soul" to beating or insulting the real wife or son without a qualm.
There is a lot of prayer for the soul of Freedom of Speech going on, but very little care for actual freedom of speech.

Defending your actual right to free speech if it is threatened means spending time and resources in courts - time and resources that most people do not have. Getting the sort of national attention to the suppression of your speech requires already having a platform, already being famous.

If we, as a society, have a positive duty to protect the rights of famous people to say odious things, where are we in protecting the rights of marginalized people to express themselves? You spend your day defending the right of a privileged asshole to advocate racism at length, and meanwhile transgender people still get beaten to unconsciousness for a single use of a pronoun. Might as well fight hunger by delivering 10 tons of steak to Bill Gates.

Trickle-down human rights. Voodoo liberties.

Talking about Freedom of Speech on the internet because an asshole isn't getting paid to incite hatred and violence against identifiable minorities isn't defending a high ideal. It's using "Freedom of Speech" as a racist dog whistle. Increasingly, I think that's what all the term is now.

Monday, 24 April 2017

Unintended Consequences

"Unintended" and "consequences" are two words in the English language that we understand pretty well on their own. Further, modifying the noun "consequences" with the adjective "unintended" is pretty simple to understand. But when you see the words "unintended consequences" together, you aren't looking at a noun you understand modified in an understandable way by an adjective you understand. You are looking at technical jargon, and it doesn't mean what you think it means.

Today, Don Pittis wrote a piece for the CBC on the unintended consequences of meddling in the housing market. It spells out various things that could happen if you try to reduce housing prices with government intervention. Everything from popping the bubble to creating a rental shortage. I might stop to point out that popping the bubble is actually the intended effect of the policy, and a rental shortage is something we already have, but as I said, neither "unintended" nor "consequences" mean what you think they mean here.

"Unintended consequences" means, "I'll apply confirmation bias to pretend that any bad outcomes were things I predicted." "Unintended consequences" means, "I've generalized from the fact that government sometimes intervention causes problems to the position that not only does it always cause problems but that the problems are always worse than the problem it was trying to solve." "Unintended consequences" means "at some point in the future, something will go badly, and when it does, we will use our position as experts to retaliate against you for this move by saying it is your fault."

That last one is made explicit in the article, where the Ontario government is essentially threatened that they will lose elections if they intervene in housing markets. Which is a little like predicting Halloween will be on October 31 if they intervene in housing markets, true in classical logic but extremely misleading in English.

The only prediction worth anything on the list is the point that targeting housing prices in Toronto may simply spread the problem to another part of the country, like police cleaning up a notorious drug-buying corner to find that the next block over is the new notorious drug-buying corner. Of course this doesn't argue against intervening, it simply argues against pin-point intervention and for consistent widespread intervention.

If economists used the term "unintended consequences" to mean results that we didn't mean to happen, they might notice that the current problem in the housing market is an unintended consequence of the kinds of markets they advocate for. I don't think it was the intention of any economist advocate of markets that houses big cities would have houses that no one can afford to live in, that literally sit empty because their purchasers don't care if they are put to and use. That's a tremendous inefficiency from any perspective. But it's also an outcome of a system were money takes precedence over things that are actually of use to people - where our metric of well-being has become more important than actual well-being.

But this isn't just a screed against economics. Every time I hear someone talk about this problem I see they've failed to grasp the essential underpinnings of it. The point of capitalism is that people with more money are supposed to have things better than people with less money. People talk about how a family in Toronto can't afford a detached home anymore but they have no idea how much they think that home should cost or how much money that working family should make. People talk about how people should have housing "choices" but they haven't thought through what that means. The market is going to provide you with a choice of this $1.5M home or that $1.5M home, not a choice of whether you have $1.5M to spend.

I like the idea of a vacant home tax because it's an expression of society's interest in land being put to use. I really dislike the idea of a foreign buyers tax because it's an expression of society's idea that it's the non-white people who are to blame.

But if we think it is absurd that a person can decide to sit on homes, leaving them totally unused, as an investment the same way a person might sit on gold or famous works of art, then what we really ought to do is be seizing properties. Not without notice, and not without them being empty for a substantial time, but a vacant home tax is society saying, "You can do that as long as we get a cut," when we should have a law that says, "You can't do that." The "unintended consequence" of this would be a sudden collapse in the value of investment properties, and the "unintended consequence" of that would be that in the future people wouldn't think it was a good idea to invest their money in empty homes. The only way to prevent the spread of the contagion is to make the current investors take a bath.

I've got nothing against Don Pittis who I think does fine work. But I was actually being quite generous when I called "unintended consequences" jargon. Jargon is a term for language that means something specific or technical when used in a particular field or setting. This isn't jargon, it's a coded phrase. Depending on whose saying it, it is either a religious mantra or a veiled threat. It doesn't really mean anything, it is an example of performative language, trying to achieve the outcome of increasing the standing of the speaker.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Sex in the Witness Box, but Only if Necessary

An Ontario couple has just set an incredible new legal precedent: You can adopt a child and co-parent the children with their birth mother even if you aren't having sex. Crazy I know.

I think this is probably the kind of breakdown of traditional marriage that opponents of gay marriage were worried about. Once marriage is no longer about a man and a woman, what's next, will parenting children cease to be about having relations with a co-parent? Or, in the event that it isn't about doing the nasty with a co-parent, will it cease to be about one partner begrudging the lack of nookie, choosing to bump uglies with someone else and being discovered, all leading to an epic battle that traumatizes the children and leaves them with only one parent?

That's the proper, non-society-threatening way to raise children. Having two moms is an abomination, and having two moms that don't even fadoodle... what is the world coming to?

I read about all this on the CBC this morning, and you can too. If you aren't that interested in personal details about the co-moms and the child, you can skip it since basically that's what the story is about. The child has some very severe disabilities stemming from a knot in their umbilical cord that deprived them of nutrients and oxygen before birth. No matter how irrelevant I feel the disabilities of the child should be, I'm pretty sure they were important to getting the decision these women got - the judge probably saw the importance of the kid having two parents - and may have had a role in this situation coming up in the first place. Future similar cases will be made easier by this empathy-generating circumstance though, so I'll call this a case of bad facts making good law.

I'm glad this happened. It was, I think, predictable, given the current state of the law, but predictable doesn't mean it was easy. If the court had not accepted their application, their only recourse would have been a charter challenge, and that is time consuming and costly. It's easy for me to sit at a distance and say that this ruling made sense, but it is pretty hard to be the one going through it when recognition of your relationship with your child is on the line, despite both parents knowing the law themselves.

The troubling part of the law is the word "conjugal". You have to be in a conjugal relationship with someone to co-adopt a child with them. The google-search dictionary definition of conjugal is "relating to marriage or the relationship of a married couple," but colloquially I'm pretty sure it's more like, "relating to joining paunches or the relationship of people who are playing at rantum-scantum." Legally I guess there is some case law on the matter, but basically you have to ask yourself - if you moved to live together and you are raising a child together, I'd say that is related to the relationship of a married couple, though it isn't one. That somehow adding some night physics to the relationship would suddenly make it sufficiently like a marriage to count seems pretty weird.

If it were me I'd have been very tempted to take the, "What evidence do you require?" route, where you simply ask the court what evidence is needed to demonstrate that you are willing to fulfill their absurd requirement. Appealing to the courts graces, as these women did, is a much better idea than being openly contemptuous to the law, though. And frankly, the answer to the question is "a sworn statement" not "nug-a-nug in the witness box" so it's not really that defiant or even funny.

People who are married can surely confirm that horizontal refreshment isn't really the defining factor. Dancing the Paphian jig sometimes falls out of marriage and yet the marriage continues. Yet somehow the fact that two partners have - at some point in the past - arrived at the end of a sentimental journey together remains a requirement for the relationship that isn't at all about that to be considered conjugal.

This ruling doesn't change the law, the court simply made the ruling in the best interests of the child. What I think it does do is open things up for people to argue that a relationship can be conjugal without any houghmagandy involved. This matches literally everyone's common sense about what marriage is. Two people who live together, sleep in the same bed, raise children together, visit one another extended families on holidays and share finances are an awful lot more like a married couple than flatmates who occasionally have benefits when they are drunk.

So hooray. Hooray for the now-official mom of her now-official son. Hooray for a boy whose future is considerably less vulnerable and uncertain if something unfortunate befalls his birth parent. Hooray, if applicable, for any new grandparents involved who previously probably had to use multi-sentence phrases to explain the relationship they had to the kid. And hooray for the continued degradation of traditional marriage, and its replacement with an actually useful social construct which may or may not include fucking.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Our Tribalism is better than Their Tribalism

The CBC had a opinion column today that was definitely an opinion: The internet has fostered a new kind of tribalism, and it's destroying the way we interact.

It's short but I don't know if it's worth the read. You've probably encountered this view before - our facebook only shows us people we agree with. Never mind that everyone I know who frequents facebook faces views they disagree with all the time.

Back in the pre-internet days, I suppose people used to debate with people with differing views all the time. It was like the Athenian forum, with philosophers in every park espousing their ideas and the most rigourous arguments ideas winning the day. Or perhaps it was all compassion, with everyone lending a sympathetic ear the trouble events affect the lives of the server at Tim Hortons instead of just ordering their coffee and walking out. I was alive in the 1980s, I don't remember any of that.

I remember people being pretty shitty to one another. I remember homophobia being completely normal. I remember the backlash against "political correctness run amok" - of course in the 1980s being politically incorrect was more routine sexual assault than it was misplaced words.

Yeah, let's get back to the good old days.

The internet hasn't created some new kind of tribalism. It's democratized the old kind of tribalism. Pre-internet we lived in a world where it was very easy for heterosexual people of the area's predominant race and religion to persecute people who deviated from their culture. And they did that, big time. Now if you are the only gay teenager in your small town, or the only furry in your medium-sized town, or the only person trying to make working origami Turing machine in your country, you can find people online who share your situation and make your own tribe. You can talk shit about dominant culture with people who understand your situation.

So when people lament this new tribalism, they are actually lamenting that the freaks and geeks can form their own cliques and harkening to a time when cliques were for pretty, rich white girls only. That guy who you stuffed in a locker in highschool has friends - guys like that aren't supposed to have friends. It's a threat to social hierarchy and privilege being labeled a social scourge.

Yes, we seem to be more divided than ever, but blaming the internet is a little rich. Our contemporary age of political division is an intentional political strategy of a major political movement. Our zeitgeist that says there is no such thing a society and we are all in it for ourselves - that is creating division.

Plus, I seem to recall that countries had civil wars long before there was an internet, we seem to do a fine job of dividing ourselves without it.

If you are really concerned that we are sheltering ourselves, stop being upset that black trans women with disabilities can organize safe spaces for themselves and start listening to what they are saying. Then, when you have heard and understood a point of view that isn't limited to your friendsphere, be thankful that they were able to find that space to talk about their issues without having to listen to your "diverse" opinions.

Monday, 23 January 2017

608.2b (4) - Intuitiveness and Design Space

In part three of my many part series about 9% of the words of the second sub-part of the second sub-part of rule 608, I confirmed that in 14 out of 977 cards beginning with A we might find ourselves wishing for the words "if you do" in the even that spells with no targets were not longer countered.

That's not a whole lot of "if you do"'s. I'm not even suggesting they be added, since I don't think there is a great reason to add that text in any of the cases. There are plenty of cards that are difficult to understand if one of their targets goes missing. If both targets are present and targetable when Retribution resolves, the opponent chooses which is sacrificed and which gets a -1/-1 counter. But if one target is missing, the remaining one must be sacrificed. It can be regarded as purely an accident that it works this way and not the other way.

But what I looked at today is the number of cards that Gatherer lists a ruling that reminds players about spells being countered if they have no targets. I looked at the most recent set, Aether Revolt, with it's 197 cards. The rule is mentioned in the rulings for 11 of the cards. That's not a lot, but it's a lot more than 14 out of 977.

These rulings even include the galling:
If an artifact becomes an illegal target for Release the Gremlins, it won’t change the number of tokens created. However, if every target artifact becomes an illegal target, Release the Gremlins is countered and no tokens are created.
This is pretty seriously unintuitive. If the gremlins are only willing to show up if there are artifacts to munch on, then why would reducing the number of artifacts by half not reduce the gremlins? But if the gremlins are showing up anyway and destroying as many artifacts as they can get their hands on, why wouldn't they still arrive if all the artifacts went missing. This is similar to the Ashes to Ashes issue, but on a much larger scale.

It's very hard for me to think this rule doesn't result in a lot of mistakes, a lot of "What?"s and a lot of "Why?"s at lower level play. Baral's Expertise let's you cast a free spell if there are no creatures to return, but only if there were also no creatures you wanted to return at the time of casting.

This isn't a problem with old cards from the Dark and Legends, this is a problem for new players today. I've seen top-level players make mistakes surrounding this rule  and more times than that I've seen players utilize this rule and have professional colour commentary staff become momentarily confused.

And then we have cards that appear to have been worded specifically to avoid being countered for lack of target. One could easily argue a flavour reason for Dark Salvation targeting a player - it represents Liliana helping the gatewatch fight Emrakul, so it's appealing that it can summon zombies on behalf of another. I have to suspect, though, that part of the reason why the card targets a player is that it will still create the zombies if your opponent sacrifices their creature in response.

If it didn't target the player the flavour of it would be hugely strange. Obviously the zombie summoning part it prior to the creature killing part. This is obvious not just because it comes first in the text, but because the zombies you summon specifically effect the outcome for the creature. Dark Salvation has a clear ordering:

1. Summon zombies
2. Send zombies to rip someone apart

If there is no one to rip to pieces, presumably that wouldn't become an issue until after you'd finished the zombie summoning bit. The card even targets "up to one" creature - you can do the summon zombies part without even sending them off to attack anyone. The idea that the necromancy is dependent on what is done with the zombies post-animation is completely out of flavour for the card. The fact that you can't raise zombies with Dark Salvation if your opponent has Donated a Runed Halo to you but you can still raise them with From Under the Floorboards is odd, but probably the lesser of two wrongs.

Which gets me to the big problem countering spells whose targets have gone missing. It restricts design space but doesn't appear to open up any design space. In my review of targeting cards I couldn't find a single card that would behave in an unintuitive way without that rule that couldn't be fixed with a few words in the text box. I found quite a few cards that behaved in uninituitive ways because the rule exists and there just isn't a way to fix it.

Going back to Adverse Conditions. Suppose the design team really meant for you to get the Eldrazi token regardless of whether the creatures were still there to tap, what could they have written on the card? Other than the words, "This spell cannot be countered by rule 608.2b" there really isn't anything. No matter what you wrote on the card, it wouldn't happen until the spell resolved and the spell would never resolved. They could have made creating Eldrazi scions a trigger on casting the spell instead of part of the spell's resolution, but that would have been incredibly awkward unless they did it to every spell that created those tokens, and it would actually change the way the card worked in games. What does that leave us, targeting the player as well like Dark Salvation does?

We can approximate the effect of creating the token if the spell has no targets left, but we can't actually do it.

I will continue my hunt for a card that has an effect that is genuinely enabled by the countering clause of 608.2b, but I don't think I'll find any. In the meantime, I expect to find plenty more cards that are limited by it.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

608.2b (3) - Missing Ifs and Awkwardness

This is part three of my discussion of a single sentence from the middle of rule 608.2b from the Magic: the Gathering comprehensive rules. If this is your first time visiting my blog, I imagine you are on the very edge of your seat.

As discussed previously, the fact that spells are countered if they had target when cast but have no remaining legal targets when they resolve is something that many cards have been designed around, and so removing it creates some odd results. I mentioned the "Missing If" but didn't go into detail.

Basically, there are a bunch of cards that ought to say, "if you do" on them or "an equal amount" or some other language to indicate that a second effect is dependent on a first one. They don't because rule 608.2b usually fills in, saying that if you don't do the first part, you won't end up doing the second part anyway.

This is a big of that old school design where generally if you got to an instruction you couldn't follow you stopped rather than ignoring it and carrying on. That's why the rules team ruled you couldn't Maze of Ith a Serra Angel. You can't untap something that's untapped, so when you hit that you return an error.

But missing a target is just one of many ways a spell can fail to have any effect. I've brought up Absorb in each post - if the spell isn't countered you still gain the life from it. If it had the words, "if you do" then you wouldn't. Absorb Vis does not make a player with a Platinum Emperion lose life, but despite the obvious flavour that you are stealing the life, you still gain four instead of gaining nothing, if it read, "Target player loses 4 life and you gain that much life" then you wouldn't.

If you want to tie the end of a spell to the beginning, you have to do so explicitly. There's really no telling what crazy card is going to come out in the future. Artifact Mutation shouldn't give you tokens if the artifact is indestructible. Aether Mutation shouldn't give you tokens if the creature has "This cannot be returned to your hand."

If the words "if you do" were going to show up on every single card then at some point a rule to avoid them would be justified. In my review of cards starting with A, though, I only found 14 cards with a missing if out of 377 cards that had the word "target" in their text. That's a subset of 954 cards starting with A. It's not going to be an epidemic of ifs showing up on cards.

Beyond those I couldn't find a single card that created a real problem. For a moment I think Arachnus Spinner was problematic, but the since you are able to choose not to find when you search, the only change is that you would have the option to put an Arachnus Web in your graveyard if the target became illegal.

There were a few cards that I found quite arguable. Should Arlinn, Embraced by Moonlight flip back into Arlinn Kord if the bite misses? Or did she need that to sate her bloodlust? Should Athreos, God of Passage, refuse to give you the creature back if your opponent blocks the deal making, or has the offer already been made and they are basically choosing not to pay? Should you still have to flip for Amulet of Quoz?

None of these breaks the rules or creates a big problem though, especially not player targeting effects which are a harder to dodge.

Sunday, 15 January 2017

608.2b (2) - Clear Cut Cases

As mentioned in my first post on 608.2b, many cards have been worded in a way that assumes they will be countered if they have no legal target. Afterlife destroys a creature and gives them a spirit. The clear implication from the name, the art and the effect, is that the spirit should not be there if the creature doesn't actually die. Because Afterlife prevents regeneration, at the time it was printed the only way to stop the creature from dying would have been to make it an illegal target, that would stop the destruction and the rising of the spirit. But if you cast it on a Darksteel Colossus, somehow a spirit emerges from the horrific hulk while it keeps on chugging along.

I'll talk a little bit more about these cards, which I'm going to call "Missing If" cards in a future post. What I want to talk about now, is cases where it is plainly obvious that things just aren't right when applying 608.2b.

As a side note, you might notice that my examples of cards seem to start with A. That's because I started with the A's.

First, a couple of cards where something clearly goes wrong with the flavour because of 608.2b:

Arbalest Elite has a clear flavour: they've got an arbalest. An arbalest is a huge crossbow that is very slow to reload. So you can fire the arbalest for big damage to an attacker or blocker - a well established "archer" effect - but the elite doesn't untap the next upkeep because they have to reload. In flavour terms, if you fire the arbalest at a creature that then gets selected for inspection, say, the bolt from the arbalest would miss. Strangely, missing allows the elite to reload considerably faster.

Ashes to Ashes falls into another category of cards that works in a very odd way. It has two targets and causes you to lose five life on resolution. If you reduce two creatures to ash, the spell extracts five life from you. If you instead reduce only one creature to ash, because on target went missing, the spell still extracts five life from you. But if you reduce no creatures to ash the you are fine. If paying five life were part of the cost of playing the spell, this would have the more intuitive result of the spell demanding five life regardless.

There are two mechanics in particular that make stand out to me as having bizarre interactions with this rule: Entwine and Fuse.

If I cast Abuna's Chant, I can choose to simply gain 5 life. There are no targets and the spell resolves just fine. Alternatively I can cast it to prevent the next 5 damage that would be dealt to target. Obviously if the target isn't there then the damage is prevented, but that would happen whether we had rule 608.2b anyway.

If you entwine, however, then the life gain is dependent upon the target existing upon resolution. The reverse is not true. If your opponent has a Forsaken Wastes, you can still prevent the damage despite the fact that the lifegain part is prevented. Abuna's chant is even stranger, if the damage prevention is prevented from happening by a Flaring Pain then the the lifegain still happens. Sure, that's because of the weird way damage prevention works, but the point is that entwining didn't link the effects in any general sense, only in the specific now-you-might-not-gain-life-for-no-reason sense. If we look more broadly at entwine spells, we see ones with no target and ones where both halves target meaning that there is no link between the two halves. But when one half targets, the other half becomes mysterious counterable.

Fuse is, unsurprisingly the same. Entering becomes contingent on Breaking when the spells are fused without the reverse being true, and neither Armed nor Dangerous depends on the other when fused.

Another mechanic that seem clearly out of flavour when countered from my perspective was putting eldrazi spawn or scions into play. Abstruse Interference doesn't give any hint that somehow interfering with the spell allowed you to summon an eldrazi scion - you get the scion whether they pay or not. Adverse Conditions is a really bizarre example. You didn't have to select any targets in the first place, so obviously the spell can summon a the token regardless of the targets. But if you selected a target the scion might not show up. If you selected two targets then you are back into the issue we had with Ashes to Ashes - missing half the targets doesn't affect the magnitude of the other effect, but missing all targets causes it to fail completely.

I think there are several other mechanics that are improved by this change too, but they are at least a little bit arguable. In that category I'd include spells that have Bolster, Scry or life gain tacked onto the end; cantrips; spells with buyback or rebound and the couple of spells that suspend themselves as part of their effect.

Going through the A's, overall, I found that of the spells that would actually be affected by removing the counter-on-no-target rule, about 55% seem like their flavour would be improved. Next time I write about this, I'll talk about the misses.

Thursday, 12 January 2017

608.2b (1)

A long time ago I wrote reviews of Oracle card text. I got most of the way through Legends, leaving probably just a few sets left to review, since after a point they get pretty uninteresting.

I was looking back over it and I found one case where I suggested adding a rule to the comprehensive rules about counters with game text. It's a pretty good idea, really. But in that post, I mentioned some rules that I might one day do a review of. One of those rules was 608.2b.
If the spell or ability specifies targets, it checks whether the targets are still legal. A target that’s no longer in the zone it was in when it was targeted is illegal. Other changes to the game state may cause a target to no longer be legal; for example, its characteristics may have changed or an effect may have changed the text of the spell. If the source of an ability has left the zone it was in, its last known information is used during this process. The spell or ability is countered if all its targets, for every instance of the word “target,” are now illegal. If the spell or ability is not countered, it will resolve normally. Illegal targets, if any, won’t be affected by parts of a resolving spell’s effect for which they’re illegal. Other parts of the effect for which those targets are not illegal may still affect them. If the spell or ability creates any continuous effects that affect game rules (see rule 613.10), those effects don’t apply to illegal targets. If part of the effect requires information about an illegal target, it fails to determine any such information. Any part of the effect that requires that information won’t happen.
That's a pretty big rule, most of it is important. But there is one phrase in there that probably ought to be stripped. "The spell or ability is countered if all its targets, for every instance of the word 'target,' are now illegal."

That rule ought to go. But explaining why is going to take a while.

First of all, let's talk about why that is a rule at all. That rule goes back a very long time. It's been a rule as long as I can remember. In fact, I think the idea of countering a spell with no legal targets predates all of that other text about what an illegal target is. If I cast Terror on your Air Elemental and you cast Death Lace on it in response, why was it that your Air Elemental didn't die anyway? It was because Terror had no legal target and so it was countered.

The idea that a spell wouldn't affect a target that was illegal was unneccessary in Unlimited Edition. There was only one way to cast a spell with more than one legal target, have one of the targets become illegal, and then have the question of whether you should resolve the spell against that target anyway. If you cast Fireball on a creature with Protection from a colour and than had your Fireball laced with the appropriate colour. But whether or not your resolved the Fireball against that creature was irrelevant, Protection would prevent all the damage.

Basically I'm not sure what the original rules thought about a terror modified by an made-up spell that adds a second target to a spell with one target. If one of it's two targets became black, would the terror "bury" it anyway? Maybe I'll track down Tom Wylie and ask him what he thinks.

Whether my memory of these things is accurate or not - and I'll admit I wasn't around until Revised Edition - it seems to me that countering spells with no legal targets is the solution to a problem that doesn't exist anymore.

In the meantime some cards have been worded to take advantage of this rule. Absorb says to counter target spell and gain 3 life. If the spell isn't there, you can't absorb it, so you don't get your three life. Assassin's Strike says a creature is destroyed and it's controller discards a card. If the creature isn't there, the controller doesn't have to discard.

But those both already have weird interactions with the rules. If you Absorb a Supreme Verdict the "absorption" part obviously fails because Supreme Verdict goes off anyway, but you get your three life. If you Assassin's Strike a Stuffy Doll you accomplish nothing as far as the doll is concerned, but your opponent still has to discard.

Effects can fail for a large number of reasons, but failing because of a lack of target is the only one that causes a cascade of failure to other parts of the spell.

I think this rule is unintuitive and hard to grasp for newer players, limits rather than increases design space, and loses on flavour, and it's time to get rid of it.

Monday, 9 January 2017

Quick Note to Everyone

Until recently I would have told you I was male. I have presented myself as male my whole life and I have never had anyone misgender me as female when they could see me. I am very male-bodied.

Four women have asked me for advice on feminine hygiene products (cups and reusable pads). That is, they thought, "I need advice on this product to catch menstrual blood, I'm going to ask that man I know." For clarity, I have not studied the subject and have no credentials.

Three women have told me about a time when they were sexually assaulted.

When men don't seem to get the prevalence of sexual assault - the number of women who have been sexually assaulted and how it has affected their lives - I want to say to them, "How many women have asked you for advice about feminine hygiene products?"

Because while I know my experience can't be at all representative, I still can't help but feeling: If the answer is zero, what makes you think a woman has ever been comfortable enough around you that she would tell you her story?