- For the complete detailed changes, read this more recent article!
As we set out to create the forthcoming Magic 2010 core set—which is a completely new approach to the core set ideal, as announced earlier this year—we opened up everything about how we make Magic cards to scrutiny in an attempt to make that set, and the game as a whole, more accessible.
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Every Magic set we release—perhaps each individual card—adds complexity to the game. New terms are introduced, new bits of lingo, new names to memorize, new potential gameplay scenarios that hadn’t existed before. This “complexity creep” is all but impossible to stop; it is the nature of a game with ever-expanding content. Just because we can’t stop the constant addition, however, doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t take occasional long hard looks at everything and try to find ways to strip complexity out of the system. As we can’t “unprint” cards, the best way to accomplish that goal is through updating the rules—clearing out and cleaning up overly confusing bits.
Magic‘s rules haven’t gone under any radical changes in a decade; the last big shift was attached to the release of the Classic Sixth Edition core set in 1999. With all the re-imagining we put into Magic 2010, we took time to reexamine the rules as well. While the changes we arrived at don’t approach the scope of the Sixth Edition rules changes, we did find room for improvement in a few fundamental areas.
The Sixth Edition changes were meant to bring order to a disordered system. Our goal this time was much more subtle—to change the most unintuitive parts of game play such that players’ first instincts were more often correct. Because Magic is a game most often played without access to a rulebook, players without contact with our fine network of judges often have to make decisions regarding how they think the game operates on the fly, and we want them to get things right more often than they get them wrong.
To figure out exactly where the problems were, we got into the mind of the casual player—not the player knee-deep in regular sanctioned play or Magic Online, but rather the one who plays our game at home, at school, or at the small local shop. We drew upon our own experiences and those of our co-workers. We ran focus tests. We went out in the field and played against such players—players who love, love, love Magic but don’t have the need or desire to devote themselves to learning all the ins and outs of the rules.
So why is it important to make sure these players’ intuition is most often correct? Aren’t they content playing with their own messy version of the rules? They are—up to a point, and that point is when they leave their circles and joins the larger, more rules-compliant crowd. Maybe it happens at Friday Night Magic, or a Prerelease, or a convention. Maybe new players enter the group. However it happens, we want to make sure those players don’t find out they’ve been doing it all wrong, find out the game doesn’t make as much sense as they thought, find out that they don’t like the way the rules really work.
All of the following changes—there are seven of note, some with multiple relevant pieces—have been tested rigorously here in R&D and by other Magic players of all varieties here at the company in many play formats, ranging from Sealed Deck to Standard to Elder Dragon Highlander to the forthcoming Planechase format. The biggest surprise was how often we played our games without noticing anything different. The new rules came up in every game, but in most situations, they were covered by the same shortcuts people currently use during any given game of Magic. In situations where we did zoom in past the shortcuts and encounter the changes, all involved parties generally agreed that the new way felt natural.
We don’t do this flippantly; we don’t do it often. We want nothing but continued success and growth for the game that we all love playing, and sometimes that means making changes. Some of the games you play will end differently because of the new rules. Some of your cards will become slightly more or less powerful. In the end, the game will be just as deep and skill-based as before, and it will be more intuitive and understandable going forward.
These rules changes go into effect on July 11, 2009 (the first day of Magic 2010 Prerelease events) and are scheduled to take effect on Magic Online on July 29.
Rules manager Mark Gottlieb will be assisting me in outlining the seven changes and how they affect game play. His sections have a blue background.
1) Simultaneous Mulligans
The Reality: Outside of tournament play, most players do not obey the by-the-book protocol for handling mulligans in which one player resolves all of his or her mulligans before the next player resolves any of his. Instead, players mulligan more or less at the same time.
The Fix: Mulligans will now officially be handled simultaneously. This will significantly cut down on time spent shuffling before each tournament game.
2) Terminology Changes
While Magic is full of flavorful and resonant terms (graveyard, library, spell, sorcery, combat, etc.), some of our terminology is generic, vague, and/or misleading. We are making four distinct terminology changes, both in printed card sets going forward and in Oracle, to make the game both clearer and more evocative.
The Reality: Some players are confused by the subtle difference between “play” and “put into play.” The name “in-play zone” breaks the metaphor the rest of the game tries to establish.
The Fix: The in-play zone is renamed the “battlefield,” which brings it in line with other flavorful zone names like “graveyard” and “library.” Permanents now “enter the battlefield” or are “put onto the battlefield” as opposed to “come into play” or “put into play.”
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2B) Cast, Play, and Activate
The Reality: Again, some players are confused by the subtle difference between “play” and “put into play.” The term “cast” was retired from game rules at the time of Classic Sixth Edition for reasons I no longer believe are relevant—to streamline the rules and condense the number of terms down at the cost of flavor. Most players today who played pre-Sixth (and some who didn’t!) still use the term “cast.” It makes sense for spells to be “cast” as opposed to “played.”
The Fix: “Cast” is being reinstated as the verb used when referring to the act of playing spells or types of spells. “Play” is being kept as the verb associated with lands (and with cards of unspecified types). Activated abilities are also no longer “played” but rather “activated.”
The Reality: “Removed from the game” is increasingly a misnomer as we design more cards that use the removed-from-the-game zone as a temporary holding cell for cards that are very much still in the game. Like the “in-play zone,” the name “removed-from-the-game zone” does a poor job of maintaining the game’s fantasy metaphor.
The Fix: The phrase “remove from the game” is being changed to “exile,” which is shorter, more flavorful, and not at all misleading about actually being in the game. The zone is now called the “exile zone” and cards in it will be referred to as “exiled cards.”
2D) Beginning of the End Step
The Reality: The subtle but important difference between the phrases “at end of turn” and “until end of turn” in our card templates is a constant source of confusion for players. “At end of turn” really means “at the beginning of the end-of-turn step,” which is not the actual end of the turn. In fact, it is often strategically correct to take certain actions during the end-of-turn step after “at end of turn” triggers are processed, which many players have trouble wrapping their heads around. Compounding this is the fact that “until end of turn” effects, like that of Giant Growth, last until the actual end of the turn.
The Fix: This one didn’t involve the creation of any new terminology. Instead, it involves a minor rules update (changing the name of the “end-of-turn step” to the “end step”) and a change in how we are templating cards. We will now refer to the time when such triggers happen as what it actually is: “at the beginning of the end step.” Hopefully this will more clearly convey the existence of a window in the turn after these triggers occur during which more spells and abilities can be used. “Until end of turn” will still be used for effects with durations such as Giant Growth.
3) Mana Pools and Mana Burn
3A) Mana Pools Emptying
The Reality: Many players can’t clearly distinguish between phases and steps. The fact that mana remains in pools from step to step but not phase to phase is arbitrary. The concept of floating mana from step to step is hard to understand. Mana pools, in general, should be empty most of the time that players pass priority for ease of keeping track of the game state.
The Fix: Mana pools now empty at the end of each step and phase, which means mana can no longer be floated from the upkeep to the draw step, nor from the declare attackers step to the declare blockers step of combat.
3B) Mana Burn Eliminated
The Reality: Many players aren’t aware of the existence of mana burn as a game concept. Discovering it exists, especially via an opponent manipulating his own life total for gain, can be jarring. Its existence impacts game play in a negligible way, whereas its existence impacts card design space somewhat significantly.
The Fix: Mana burn is eliminated as a game concept. Mana left unspent at the end of steps or phases will simply vanish, with no accompanying loss of life.
4) Token Ownership
The Reality: The current “token ownership” rule is poorly understood, mainly because it doesn’t make a ton of sense. Currently, the owner of a token is “the controller of the effect that put it into play.” That means I own the tokens put into play under your control due to my Hunted Dragon or Forbidden Orchard, which allows me to do unintuitive tricks with cards like Brand or Warp World. Few people are aware of this rule, and assume that the owner of the tokens is the player under whose control they entered the battlefield.
The Fix: We are matching most players’ expectation by changing the rule such that the owner of a token is, in fact, the player under whose control it entered the battlefield.
5) Combat Damage No Longer Uses the Stack
The Reality: The intricate system via which combat is currently handled creates many unintuitive gameplay moments. For starters, “the stack” is a difficult concept, even after all these years, so it is no wonder that many players go about combat without invoking it at all. Second, creatures disappearing after damage has been put on the stack leads to a ton of confusion and disbelief: How is that Mogg Fanatic killing two creatures? How did that creature kill mine but make your Nantuko Husk big enough to survive? How can you Unsummon your creature and have it still deal damage? While many of us may be used to the way things are now, it makes no sense in terms of a game metaphor and only a bit more sense as a rule.
The Fix: As soon as damage is assigned in the combat damage step, it is dealt. There is no time to cast spells and activate abilities in between; the last time to do so prior to damage being dealt is during the declare blockers step.
This was a particularly tricky change to implement, as it had the potential to create bad experiences in situations where double blocking occurs and the defending player has access to a damage prevention ability (or anything similar). If damage was prevented to one creature, the attacker would just kill the other, which is unintuitive. Players expect to be able to use their healing spells to save creatures that are actually going to die. To solve problems like these, during the declare blockers step, if a creature is blocked by multiple creatures, the attacker immediately announces an order in which that attacking creature will be assigning damage to the blockers. When it comes time to actually deal the damage, lethal damage must be assigned to the first blocker before any can be assigned to the second, and so on. Now, in complex combat situations there will be some foreknowledge of which creatures are in the most danger before damage is dealt.
This is not as sweeping as it sounds. In the majority of cases, creatures attack, creatures block, and combat looks the same way it did before—minus the chance for counterintuitive tricks after “damage on.” The majority of the explanation below covers multiple blocks.
The Reality: There are two problems with deathtouch. One, the fact that it is a triggered ability leads to instances where a single creature needs to regenerate twice from a single source with deathtouch, which is unnecessarily hard to intuit. Second, the deathtouch ability as currently worded doesn’t work well under the new combat rules. If a creature with deathtouch, like Kederekt Creeper, is double-blocked by two 3/3s, the new rules wouldn’t allow the division of damage between the blockers, which kind of defeats the point of the card and fails to live up to expectations of how deathtouch should function.
The Fix: First, deathtouch is becoming a static ability. Creatures dealt damage by a source with deathtouch will be destroyed as a state-based effect at the same time lethal damage would kill them. As a side effect, multiple instances of deathtouch will no longer be cumulative. Second, deathtouch allows a double-blocked creature to ignore the new damage assignment rules and split its damage among any number of creatures it’s in combat with however its controller wants to.
The Reality: The fact that lifelink is a triggered ability leads to situations where the controller of a blocker with lifelink dies from combat damage before lifelink can grant that player enough life to stay alive. Many players get this interaction wrong; the subtle difference in timing is unfortunate.
The Fix: Lifelink, like deathtouch, is turning into a static ability. If a source with lifelink deals damage, its controller gains that much life as that damage is being dealt. This brings the timing much closer to spells like Consume Spirit and Lightning Helix. As a side effect, multiple instances of lifelink are no longer cumulative.
Can I Learn More?
I understand this is a lot to digest. These rules won’t be going live for another month, so there’s plenty of time to process and discuss the changes.
Expect more content on this very site over the next few weeks about the changes, both from our regular columnists and in our new judge column. Gurus are available on our forums to answer rules questions, and you may also contact our Game Support department if you need further answers.
I realize that some of these decisions will cause concern for our loyal and enfranchised players. History alone indicates that will be the case; there was a great deal of negativity from some quarters in response to the Sixth Edition changes ten years ago. Players decried that the end was nigh and the game would never recover. But most of us calmed down and learned the changes, and now they’re second nature to us. I anticipate this batch of changes to go no differently. I am prepared to defend all of these decisions and can say with a straight face, a clear conscience, and months of firsthand experience that Magic will be improved as a result of them.
I hope you’ll agree, and here’s to not doing this again for another decade.
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