This article is officially a rant, but a calm, structured rant that should have nostalgic value for veteran players and interesting old-school trivia for the newer ones. The chronological breadth of this close, nit-picky article spans from Arabian Nights to Onslaught, so I think there is something for everybody in this one. I warn you that this is an article about technicality, but it all leads up to a very important gripe I have with Onslaught.
First I want to begin with an anecdote that might seem irrelevant but I believe should put the reader in the proper mindset.
One night I was, as is my habit, perusing Crystal Keep’s M:TG rulings section simply for my own edification and, out of curiosity, I read the rules for creature tokens. This one struck me as odd at first:
K.25.Ruling.2 - Token creatures are not considered to have expansion symbols. [D'Angelo 1998/02/03]
While I felt this was obvious, I wondered why this would ever be relevant. With the policy of any printing of any card being legal in a format where the card has been reprinted, (i.e. I can play with an Alliances “Pillage” in a Type 2 tournament because “Pillage” was reprinted in Seventh Edition), I assumed that WOTC operated under the assumption that expansion symbols don’t matter. So why was this ruling ever necessary?
A Level 1 Judge whom I know personally happened to be online at the time and so I brought it up with him. He reminded me of the card “City in a Bottle” from Arabian Nights [There's also Apocalpyse Chime from the Homelands exapnsion - Spidey ] which, if you don’t already know, reads as such:
City in a Bottle
Artifact – 2
Whenever a card from the Arabian Nights expansion other than ~this~ is in play, destroy that card. It can't be regenerated. Players can't play cards from the Arabian Nights expansion.
Okay, so there is a card that refers to expansion symbol, but without giving it much thought I asked what cards from Arabian Nights make creature tokens. I promptly kicked myself for forgetting “Rukh Egg” and, secondarily, “Bottle of Suleiman”. (An amusing side note: I also considered that if there were such a thing as an Arabian-Nights-Only tournament format it might be funny to drop a “Rukh Egg” or two and then play “City in a Bottle” and watch how my opponent’s dealt with it). Okay, so I understood how K.25.Ruling.2 could be relevant even if it was an antiquated scenario, (but, hey, when it comes to M:TG rules clarity, no situation, no matter how out-of-left-field is too irrelevant, am I right?)
I began looking at the rulings on “City in a Bottle” because such an unusual card can’t help but make one curious. I noticed that it really did only affect the expansion symbol. In other words, a Judgment “Erhnam Djinn” is not destroyed by City in a Bottle. To further add to the weirdness, a Chronicles “Erhnam Djinn” is destroyed because, even though it was printed in Chronicles, all Chronicles cards kept the expansion symbols of the sets they were originally printed in and thus, the Arabian Nights symbol is present on the card. While all of this is largely irrelevant, even to vintage players, we might all agree that there is something a bit hypocritical in WOTC making a card and a ruling that gave specific printings of certain cards more playability than others, (In other words, a Judgment “Erhnam Djinn” is slightly stronger and more playable than an Arabian Nights copy because of “City in a Bottle”). It would seem that “City in a Bottle” should affect the reprints of Arabian Nights cards as well. I asked my friend about this and he reminded me that, though by accident, good old “Mountain” was printed in Arabian Nights, but no other basic lands were. While this is kinda funny and makes for an interesting collectible, this mistake has made “City in a Bottle” forever awkward because if it would destroy all cards that were ever printed in Arabian Nights, (“Mountain” included), and prevent any more of them from being played it would be an entirely too strong sideboard against red, (“Conversion”, “Chill”, and “Circle of Protection: Red” are bad enough, thank you). Ultimately, the wacky rulings on “City in a Bottle” are justified.
Of course, Arabian Nights, though a fabulous set, is the product of a younger, less refined WOTC so the “City in a Bottle” mess can really only be seen as a good learning experience for the game’s designers. In all fairness, WOTC has done a great job in refining the game’s rules and mechanics, especially since Urza’s cycle. The game now gets extensive play-testing and R&D and I believe that, with perhaps a few exceptions, the game has been nothing but balanced since Mercadian Masques.
Unfortunately, I think they may have made a large mistake in Onslaught. The problem I have uncovered may seem minor, even City-in-a-bottle-minor, but I have written here on many small issues that I think WOTC and/or the DCI need to consider, if they aren’t already. While these issues won’t effect most sanctioned play, (as “City in a Bottle” doesn’t), I think that some ruling needs to get passed down for clarification on the problems I have uncovered, even if the ruling is simply to just live with the problems that have been created. I am basing my arguments on what I see on Crystal Keep. As far as I can tell, this is the most official rulings collection in the world for Magic: The Gathering outside of whatever is actually written in the Bible at WOTC. Perhaps all I have uncovered is a very minor discrepancy between what WOTC knows and what they tell Crystal Keep, but I have a feeling that maybe I am the first person to openly address this issue. Anyway, sorry if this has been entirely too much introduction, I will finally get to the meat of the issue:
The problem is that “Fear” is now a mechanic, (or, more technically, an ability).
Like most people who bother to have an opinion on this minor development, I thought it was a great idea at first. That oh-so-familiar evasion ability has been printed so many times that the clarification seemed only natural. I for one support any endeavor to simplify the language of the game because in the end it means more room for text on cards and, consequently, more complex and interesting cards. I believe that this is probably WOTC’s justification for the creation of this ability, and I applaud their effort. I noticed on Crystal Keep that all cards printed before Onslaught that had the old evasion text were errataed to have this newly christened fear ability instead. This means that, for example, if and when “Razortooth Rats” gets reprinted in Eighth Edition it will simply read “Fear”. The problem is that WOTC has destroyed a card interaction by doing this and I really don’t think that they meant or wanted to.
You see, I began to consider text-changing cards, especially those that change instances of color words. I specifically noticed this when I built a deck that wanted to abuse “Guiltfeeder”. Under Post-Onslaught errata, this creature now has fear. Thing is, I was using “Alter Reality” to change its text so that it couldn’t be blocked except by red and/or artifact creatures, or blue and/or artifact creatures or whatever color my opponent’s weren’t playing. Well, as far as I can tell from the rules listed on Crystal Keep, I can’t do that anymore because the simplification of “fear” into an ability removes any instances of color words from the card.
Like I said, most people probably don’t care about this, even if the “Alter Reality”/”Guiltfeeder” combo does make their head turn a little. I have a feeling it never came up in WOTC’s play-testing either. I checked the listed rules for Fear and they do not address this issue. Still, I think it needs a ruling: Can text-changers affect Fear? Even if the answer is “No, the card interaction has been officially destroyed, HA HA HA!” I still believe rulemonger dorks like myself deserve at least that much of response.
This isn’t the only problem, however. There are also no rulings on parenthetical explanations. In this case I am thinking of the explanatory text for fear that is printed on all of the Onslaught cards. In this text, the color word “black” does exist and as of right now there are no rules that suggest text-changers can’t change it to something else. This might suggest that yes, text-changers can affect Fear because if it didn’t then that might mean that I could “Alter Reality” my Onslaught “Severed Legion” but not my, (hypothetical), Ninth Edition “Severed Legion”, and why would WOTC do something that would make one printing of a card more potent than another?
Let me remind you of “City in a Bottle.”
WOTC isn’t perfect; it seems to me they have just goofed. So now we need another ruling: Can text-changers affect parenthetical explanations on cards, and if so, can they affect cards that have the ability and not the explanation?
There are two rulings on Crystal Keep about text-changers that almost answer these questions, but unfortunately they conflict with each other. This is the first one:
E.13.2 - An ability added to a permanent through the use of quoted text does not actually add that quoted text to the card. It adds the ability described by the text. [WotC Rules Team 2001/06/07] This rule means that you cannot alter the text on the affected card using Sleight of Mind and similar cards.
This ruling is referring to things like enchant creatures that give enchanted creature an ability within quotations, like the way “Quicksilver Dagger” gives enchanted creature “Tap: Commence in Tomfoolery.” In other words, if I enchanted my “White Knight” with “Black Scarab” and then alter the knight to replace all instances of black with green, the abilities provided by the black scarab still reference black, not green. Based on this you would think that if text-changers can’t get quoted text, they can’t get parenthetical explanatory text either. But then there is also this rule:
E.13.3 - A card with a zero mana cost may specify that it has a color in its card text. This text is considered explanatory and is not an ability. The text is subject to text changing effects such as Sleight of Mind. [CompRules 1999/11/01]
As far as I know, this rule applies only to the zero-cost Kobolds as they are the only zero-cost cards I can think of that are colored. This rule might not seem as strong or relevant as the last one but it is important to note that this rule sets precedent for text-changers affecting text which is merely explanatory.
So, I have made my case and I think that WOTC needs to address these issues and answer these questions and do it carefully because we don’t need another “City in a Bottle” and we don’t need another card interaction destroyed for no good reason.
If I may be so bold, I think I may have a simple solution: rework the writing of the Fear ability. I imagine this could be done in somewhat the same fashion as the protection ability; include the colors and types of things that can block it. For example, “Fear: black, artifacts” would essentially give us the classic evasion ability while the long-forgotten card “Seeker” could be errataed to read “Enchanted creature has Fear: white, artifacts.” Also, “Elven Riders” could now read, “Fear: Flying, Walls.” I suggest this writing not only to keep card interactions the same but also to open the door for writing simple but interesting evasion abilities. “Fear: Red” would mean that the creature can’t be blocked except by red creatures while “Fear: Zombies, Beasts” would mean that the creature can’t be blocked except by Zombies and/or Beasts, both of which could make for interesting cards.
Anyway, this concludes my argument and I thank all of those who ever take the time to read this.