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?