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Retro-Rant: Where Have All the Interrupts Gone?
By Andrew Emmott
Retro-Rant: Where have all the interrupts gone?

6th Edition Rules removed Interrupts from the game, turning them all into instants, and in some cases, ruining their play value, (Interdict anyone?). The issue was hugely controversial, turned off many, many old-schoolers and, really, changed the game forever. But it’s pretty old news, eh? Why am I bringing it up now? That was years ago, right? The dust has settled? Clearly we’ve moved on.

Well, like usual, I’m just gonna have to ask you to stick with me.

Before I dive deeper, I would like to acknowledge that I might not be getting all the specifics right, and, though a rules-monger, I’m no level-3 judge, so if you know better than me, feel free to correct my mistakes. That said, here goes.

Let’s take a stroll down memory lane and ask ourselves WHY they killed off interrupts. Well, there are a number of reasons, but in the end, it was all in the name of a simpler, more logical stack. Before 6th Edition, spells and effects had speeds, and you could only respond to things with something as fast or faster. This certainly wasn’t a bad system, but they ran into problems because a fundamental factor of the game has always been that putting mana in your mana pool cannot be responded to, countered, etc.

I do agree that this mechanic is necessary to the game; things would just get too chaotic if I could Wheel and Deal or Funeral Charm or Cephalid Broker or whatever in response to you tapping your lands for a particular spell in your hand that might not be there when I’m done. It would undermine the thematic premises of the game.

But, like I said, it did present some problems in forming stack rules. Under the old “speed” system, protecting players from manipulation while they added mana to their pool was simple. You simply said that adding mana to your pool was the fastest thing on the face of the planet. This was all well and good for lands, (Because lands are the only cards in the game that aren’t spells, and can thus be understood to behave differently), but what of other mana producing permenants? What of mana producing spells, (Dark Ritual)? Yes, these were all caveated to make them work right, but that’s precisely the point: They needed to be caveated, they wouldn’t have worked right all by themselves.

And if you only know one thing about WOTC, know this: They HATE caveating things.

The fewer words they can explain a card in, the better. And you know what, I agree with this philosophy. Simpleness is elegance, and it allows more room on a card for creativity.

The problem was, see, was that they printed Hesitation, (Well, okay, it’s not like just ONE card tore everything down, but stop trying to ruin my flair for the dramatic). Hesitation created a rules nightmare that might have been an impetus for the massive 6th Edition Rules changes. The real problem started when they decided to try and simplify things by making Dark Ritual, and Dark Ritual-Esque cards a “mana source”, not an interrupt. Well really, this is all well and good and makes perfect sense to me, but there is a grave implication in allowing non-land cards to produce mana: You can’t just give lands their own set of rules anymore. Mana is to be got from SPELLS as well, and so now everything has to follow a consistent set of rules, and that is much harder to do.

If you’re still with me, you might be saying, “So what? This is boring! I hate you!”

So let’s examine the old Hesitation rules nightmare. This is how the printed card reads.

Hesitation – 1U
Enchantment
If any spell is played, counter that spell and sacrifice Hesitation.

Problem is, Hesitation’s ability is a triggered ability, which works at instant speed, at best interrupt speed, but certainly not mana source speed. If you play something like Dark Ritual, the Hesitation has to trigger, but the Dark Ritual is too fast for hesitation, and resolves before Hesitation’s ability can, then the Hesistation ability “fizzles” due it’s target not being on the stack, (or “batch” to avoid an anachronism). This runs counter to two common interpretations of the rules. 1) It goes against the typical, “Last-In-First-Out” logic of the stack/batch. Plus, how is a slower effect put on the stack/batch in response to a faster one? 2) Hesitation doesn’t target, at least not with that wording, and so thus has trouble “fizzling”, but if it don’t “fizzle”, then why isn’t the Dark Ritual countered?

Of course, these are rhetorical questions. It’s all been cleared up by now, I was just trying to get you to understand how convoluted the old “speed” system was.

Though old-schoolers won’t agree, the newer stack rules are much more logical and consistent, (for the most part anyway, though new cans of worms are being opened up as we speak … *cough* … Stifle … *cough*).

With a big giant rules overhaul, we can forgive WOTC for eliminating interrupts, right? Because the whole speed system is flawed, huh?

Wrong.

I’m watering down what the comprehensive rules say, but this is how some things were reworked so that they mostly work the same.

1) Mana entering your mana pool, (As well as your action of playing lands from your hand), does not use the stack and/or pass priority to your opponent. If priority isn’t passed, your opponents can’t respond. There, simple. (Well there are some small glitches here too, but I’m not dwelling on them here). Also mana abilities can’t be countered and blah blah blah. Okay, fair enough. Players are safe to fill their mana pools, and no reference to speeds has been made.

2) The difference between an instant and a sorcery is neglible. Well, I mean, it’s NOT neglible, but in terms of the game rules it is. Once upon a time sorceries were so slow that you could only play them on your turn, and instants were all speedy like. Now, instants are, technically, no faster than sorceries. Instants are no faster than creatures and enchantments either. No, what it is is that instants are the only spells types exempt from a rule that says sorceries and creatures and such can only be played during their owner’s main phase, and only when the stack is empty.
Really, this is quite elegant.
So elegant that I wonder why they didn’t just make another game rule that said: “Non-interrupt spells cannot be played while an interrupt is on the stack.”

Yes, yes, there would have to be some tweaking for that to work right, (What of abilities that can be played as interrupts? Does their presence prevent instants from being played too?), but the point is, there really was no semantical reason to do away with interrupts. They could have been incorporated into 6th Edition rules easily.

But, maybe WOTC had other reasons, huh? Maybe they just wanted gameplay simplified a bit, y’know. Fair enough really. If that’s what they really want, fine.

But now I’ve arrived aemi-triumphantly at my point:

If they didn’t like interrupts so much, why on earth did they print Morph?

Ah, and so now it becomes clear why I’m writing this now; because Morph, on a practical level, works at the speed of interrupt.

No seriously.

“Morph does not use the stack.”

Jeezit!!! You can’t just SAY something like that. Not after carefully building up 6th Edition rules as much as they have. They took what was a mostly triumphant reworking of the game rules, and threw it all away.

Well, too be fair, Morph was probably not created to imitate interrupts. In fact, it was definitely not created to imitate interrupts. It was created to imitate Yu-Gi-Oh mostly, (At least, so I am thinking), and to allow creatures to “masquerade” and surprise your opponent, which was a good idea that unfortunately only turned into a rehash of echo and coming into play effects.

Really, the issue here is that Morph rules stand in defiance of all WOTCs work the last few years.

*mutters* “…doesn’t use the stack. Why I oughta!” *shakes fist*

I know the argument is antiquated, even negligible. But seriously…..

Read More Articles by Andrew Emmott!

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