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Custom Card Game Design

Times, They Are a-Changin’

So, the Magic community got some big news last night in the form of upcoming rules changes for Magic 2014.  This wasn’t entirely unexpected – rules changes like this happen before a big core set, most recently in the form of adding Hexproof and (my personal favorite) saying that creatures who leave the battlefield for the graveyard ‘died’ back in 2012.  2014’s rules changes are a bit bigger, and a bit more controversial, and I wanted to take a few minutes and talk today about what this means for design.

The changes that are coming include –

  • An Overhaul to the Legend Rule and ‘Planeswalker Uniqueness Rule’.
  • Indestructibility becomes a keyword
  • Unblockability no longer a pseudo-keyword
  • Changes to how land plays work
  • Changes to sideboard rules (this doesn’t really affect design, so I won’t be talking about this.)

This card is now completely possible.

I block your Emrakul with my Emrakul

The first, and arguably biggest (and definitely most controversial) change is the overhaul to the Legend Rule and ‘Planeswalker Uniqueness Rule’.  When these rules take effect, the uniqueness of Legendary Creatures and Planeswalkers only matters on your side of the battlefield – meaning both you and any opponent can each have a copy of the same legendary permanent or planeswalker on the battlefield at the same time with no detriment to each other.  Additionally, whenever a legendary permanent or planeswalker enters the battlefield and conflicts with another that you control, you choose which to send to the graveyard and which to keep out instead of them both blowing up.

The sky is falling!  Or so, that’s the conclusion that you might come to if reading the MTGS forums.  Gamers are notoriously against change, and huge negative rants on fansites are no unexpected when anything new is announced (I call this the World of Warcraft effect), and this time is no exception.

Truth told, there are some good points against this change.  The biggest is  flavor problem, especially with planeswalkers – if planeswalkers represent other powerful beings who have allied themselves to the player (as opposed to creatures who, even if legendary, are summoned under the control of the player), then how are there two of them simultaneously on the battlefield?  Also a concern is the fact that you can no longer utilize the legend rule as a deterrent, especially hurting blue who typically utilizes clone variants as a defense.

On the flip side are some pretty big pros, though.  Then Legendary supertype is no longer a potential drawback (This rule change almost certainly points to Theros being a Legendary block), different versions of the same planeswalker are now viable for play, and most of all, this change brings more interactivity to the game.

So what does this mean for design?  Well, for starters, they’ll be more apt to print powerful pacifism effects and powerful clone variants.  They’ll also be able to consider printing Legendary lands as one of the biggest things going against Legendary lands was how ‘un-fun’ land destruction is.  I also think it’s likely that they’ll be able to print more direct answers to legendary creatures and planeswalkers (Dreadbore might be my favorite design from RtR).

An enchantment from my set, ‘Annihilation’, updated with the 2014 changes

To be (a keyword) or not to be

As of Magic 2014, Indestructibility is now keyworded.  This doesn’t really change too much, really, and is mostly a quality of life change.  However, since it is now an ability and not simply a characteristic, it can be affected by cards like Humility and the like.

On the other side unblockability, which will now be worded as ‘CARDNAME can’t be blocked’ rather than ‘is unblockable’.  This really has no big effect on the game or design – it just helps to further clarify that unblockability is a characteristic and not a keyword, a mistake many casual players still make.

Now less confusing for tournament play

Land Plays – WTF?

This is the most confusing change to casual folks.  Before, you would technically need to announce which land play you were using if you had additional land plays granted to you.   Now, you have a ‘pool’ of land plays per turn that defaults to one and is augmented from there.

This is primarily a quality of life change – truth be told, most casual groups and most FNMs run like this anyway.  What it means for design, though, is that I think they will be more open to adding cards that augment your number of land plays without having to worry about the technicalities of tournament play that could arise from them.

Looking Forward

So what does this all mean?  Well, for starters, it means we’re probably looking at a Legends Matter block this fall when Theros comes out.  It makes sense – people were already speculating that’s what it would be when it was announced, given the flavor (Greek Heroes are perfect for this), and Magic tends to make these rules changes for a reason (simplifying gameplay could be reason enough, but I think that there’s a precedent for doing things like this prior to a set that benefits from the rules change the most)

For myself, it means that I’ll be going back through Caeia, Eldrazi Unleashed, and Annihilation and updating them with the current wording for indestructibility and unblockability.  I’ll also take that opportunity to do another revision pass on the block (which, while released, is not and will likely never be ‘finished’).  Also I’ll start considering the effects of these changes on Crucible. Given that the project is a cube, by nature a singleton environment, it’s not likely that the Legend Rule will come into play often, but my clone variants can probably do with some changes.

Overall I like the rules changes.  It’ll be hard to get used to, but I think it’ll work well.

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One response to “Times, They Are a-Changin’

  1. antaresmtg May 24, 2013 at 8:36 am

    I like most of the changes. The new indestructible wording is a bit awkward, I think they should have renamed it to “indestructibility” at least.

    The legendary change is probably the most controversial. I didn’t like the old implementation, but I can’t blame anyone who disagrees.

    The new additional land rule is so much better.

    Now the only thing left to do either change protection or replace it with a new keyword that doesn’t suck :P.

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