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The Orgg's Treatese on: Walls
By Jensen Bohren
Recently two of the more infamous creature types in Magic were announced to be under refurbishment. The creature type of "Legend" has been morphed into the supertype "Legendary," removing all occurances of "Legend" in a creature's type, as well as removing the rule surrounding the creature type. The rule also changed to a slightly less luck-based rule; however, this is not an article on the Legends resyncment.

This is an article on what may be the worst choice for a keyword mechanic, or at the very least the worst execution of a keyworded mechanic.

I have seen this writing on the creature type of wall coming a long time-- ever since Apocalypse contained the Flagbearers and their unique ability which, while the ability could have been built into the creature type a'la "Wall" or "Legend," it was set aside as an ability on the cards themself. Why was this? To prevent odd confusion from changing the creature type with Unnatural Selection, a fellow Apocalypse card. This current change echos the Flagbearer decision and syncs the whole concept of 'Creature Types' up; creature types by themself are now just flavor, and other cards and/or abilities may use those flavorful types as markers to produce an effect. However, the problem of 'Wall' was 'solved' by an oddly named keyword: "Defender." While the impression has been given that there is time to change the actual keyword if outcry is large enough, as Aaron Forsythe said explicitly that no cards in Champions of Kamigawa have the ability, no solicitation for changes were requested.

What, specifically, is the ability 'Defender?' It simply means the creature cannot attack, much like the creatures that cannot block, however, due to the existence of Rolling Stones, Wizards of the Coast believes that "~THIS~ can't attack" is too subtle to put onto the cards in place of the current reminder text. It seems that a 'pet' card from Wizards of the Coast named after a legendary misogonistic rock band has bent all walls into a shape that makes its text box short, succinct, and, honestly, quite strange to behold. Rolling Stones now reads "All Walls Lose Defender." I assume from this that Animate Wall now says "Enchanted Wall Loses Defender," or possiby "Enchanted Creature Loses Defender" if the plan is to have future non-wall creatures that cannot attack. The quirk to this seems to be the ingrained trick that so many people remember of changing the creature type of a wall to something else, a trick that Wizards of the Coast seemed to think beneficial at one point by printing Mistform Wall-- A wall whose ability in a non-tribe based block would have read '1: Mistform Wall may attack this turn as though it were not a wall.' Now, with the 'Defender' disability keyworded, changing the creature type no longer will allow a former Wall to attack.

This in itself is a crying shame. Magic is about creativity, and each change in the rules of the game should preserve this mechanical creativity as much as possible. On the Wizards of the Coast forums, this concern has been voiced by many, including me. The solution eventually suggested was eloquent and had many possibilities. Instead of the keyword representing the Wall disadvantage saying 'This cannot attack,' have the keyword refer to the creature type of the creature it is printed on. Thus, 'Defender' would say as its reminder text "(This creature can't attack as long as its creature type is Wall)," allowing the newly stripped away tricks that once accompanied the whole mystique sorrounding Walls.

The keyword itself, 'Defender,' also leaves something to be desired. While it makes some sense from one standpoint, it doesn't seem to fit into Magic very well. I won't quail about how all 'abilities' should be positive; I'm one of the few who belive that landhome is still a good idea for limiting large creatures and giving potential interesting cards. However, 'Defender' brings to mind a black sky full of little zooming spaceships, a spaceship in the center of the screen, mountains at the bottom of the screen... and a panel of a dozen buttons in a seemingly random arrangement, and a near-impossible challange. The second strike is that "Defender" also brings to mind in newer players who didn't 'grow up' on Magic and who cut their teeth on other collectable card games an ability that allows a creature to essentially block. For those few who do try and make the transition, seeing a wall will cause great confusion, causing them to belive that ONLY those creatures can block. This is the first big strike in my mind, as Walls are most common in the basic set, the set that beginners first see. The third reason the keyword in itself does not seem appropriate for Magic is that there are cards using the word 'Defender' in their card title, According to Magic Online which omits several of the Portal sets and Unglued in its database, there are eight cards using 'Defender' in their title; one is a Legends instant, and the rest are creatures. This strike is fairly hefty as well. The third possibility is one that brings to mind a large fear of Wizards of the Coast: too many keywords. This is probably the least strike against the name itself, as Wizards of the Coast has already decided to keyword the ability... but where does keywording stop? Should '~THIS~ can't block' be keyworded? What about Juggernaught and company's "Must attack each turn if able?" "Return this card to its owner's hand?"

All this comes to mind for one change. Let us ask why this happened; I can think of two reasons: One, to streamline the rules for creature types. Two, to make two craprares easier to read. While I agree with the first reason, the execution is not the best. For the second, why does an ability that requires at most(at this current time) six words need a keyword (i.e. "Wall of Pine Needles can't attack.")? Usually, the ability is only replacing four words (i.e. "Fog Bank can't attack"), the same amount of words that the whole spelled out ability of "Defender (This creature can't attack)" uses.

The choice of what we, the Magic community, should push for is upon us: Should we ask for the nonkeyworded ability of "~THIS~ can't attack," or should we push for a renaming of "Defender" and the modification of the ability itself? The pros of having a simple non-keyword ability is avoidance of appending a seemingly unnessessary keyword into the rules and hundreds of cards preceeding it. The pros of adopting a keyword ability with the rules of "This creature cannot attack as long as its creature type is Wall" or a similarly worded rule preserves 70% of how Magic has used its walls for many years now, an interraction that many of us players like the concept of, and would appriciate if it was kept. Personally, I belive the latter is the correct approach, and all of us should think of a list of alternative words to 'Defender' to send to Wizards of the Coast, and ask them to make the ability based on the creature type of "wall," much like the triggered ability on the Apocalypse Flagbearers.

Read More Articles by Jensen Bohren!

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