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
, 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