Magic Changes are Tolerable, but WotC is Clueless

11 Jun

“Oh, yes! Magic! I used to play that. But then Sixth Edition came out and it screwed up everything.”

As someone who’s been a part of the original trading card game for six years, who joined right after the release of Mirrodin, I’ve lost count as to how many times I’ve heard this phrase from older players. They’d usually pat me on the head, tell me how cute I am, give me a lollipop, and then walk away humming a familiar song from the Billboard charts… And then they’d interrupt said humming as they shouted back to me and my friends, “Enjoy the money trap! Stop by and say hi sometime after you’ve sworn off cardboard crack for good!”

And as someone who shrugs off the opinions of those older players and doesn’t know what they’re talking about, I’d usually just shake my head and enjoy the free sucker. Mmm, grape. ^_^

But just like all those who unleashed the greatest nerd rage the multiverse has ever known when D&D 4th Edition was released, I failed to foresee that Wizards of the Coast would one day scorn me, and I would soon know the pain of those older MTG players who curse the name of the Stack and all things associated with it.

Well… Okay, that’s not entirely true. Mostly I’ll just know the pain of those players who actually stayed in the game, but were left out in the cold because their friends quit and they no longer had anything to do on Friday nights. Or if they did, their merry band’s numbers had been reduced significantly. :<

At any rate, it turns out the rumor-mongers at Salvation weren’t kidding. For the first time since the aforementioned Classic Sixth Edition, Magic is about to get a gigantic rules overhaul.

First of all, they’re brining in new pieces of terminology to make the game more flavorful. Spells are no longer played, they are cast. The “in-play” zone? That’s now the battlefield. The “removed from game” zone? That’s now the exile zone, and you can’t bring back cards that are exiled using Burning Wish or Cunning Wish or Insert Wish Here anymore. Sure, these name changes look silly at first glance, but upon further review and contemplation, I’ve decided I can live with them. After all, Magic players have been calling the deck “the library” and the discard pile “the graveyard” for years. But if Mark Rosewater or anyone else from Wizards R&D ever tries to pretend that such terminology changes are for anything other than competition with Yu-Gi-Oh!, I’ll be right there wearing a striped shirt, blowing a whistle, throwing a little yellow flag, and calling a 15-yard penalty on them for bullsh***ing. (More on Wizards’ recent practice of trying to make their games look and feel more like other games later.)

Second, there’s no more mana burn, and mana pools empty at the end of each step as well as the end of each phase. Despite the fact that getting rid of mana burn actually deals a blow to the game from a flavor standpoint, I applaud this move. In the 1% of games that the mana burn rule needed to be evoked, it was either the unfortunate result of mana overflow thanks to cards like Heartbeat of Spring or Gauntlet of Power, or it was allowing rules lawyers and overly compulsive netdeckers to abuse older cards that rewarded you for having a low life total. The latter practice was so common that when Wizards printed Mindslaver, an artifact card which let you control an opponent’s actions for a turn, they included a special rule for it in its reminder text: “[That player] doesn’t lose life because of mana burn.” Even for a card that’s expensive to play (oops, I mean “cast” >.>) and still a bit pricey to activate, Wizards isn’t gonna let anyone have a win with it that easily.

Third, they’ve changed the wording of the creature abilities known as Deathtouch and Lifelink so that their effects are non-cumulative. They are now static abilities, not triggered abilities. Before this change, creatures with deathtouch had a special distinction: If you threw a regenerating blocker with toughness less than an attacking deathtouchy creature’s power under the bus, you’d actually have to regenerate that blocker twice. (Once for lethal damage, and once for the deathtouch trigger.) Also, the once cumulative nature of lifelink meant that a single creature could have “double lifelink” or “triple lifelink,” a situation which has become increasingly common as tournament-level Bant and White Weenie decks have been piling on the life gain. But with this tweak, that gravy train has come to a screeching halt. Sorry, Rhox War Monk. <.< Looks like the only Exalted bonus you’ll be getting from your friend Battlegrace Angel from now on is the standard +1/+1. (And that’s still an 8-point life swing, so really, what’s there to complain about?)

But the biggest sweeping change, and the one that will likely cause my friends to quit, is the new way combat damage works. -.-

Part A: Combat damage no longer operates under the rules of that abominable false god, the Stack. That change may seem minor to outsiders, but at this player’s kitchen table, the phrase, “I stack damage, then return my dying creature to my hand,” or, “I stack damage, then use my dying creature’s ability,” is heard very often. When it came to creatures with sacrifice abilities especially, Spikes and Johnnys drooled at the prospect of “2-for-1s,” situations where you could have your cake and eat it, too. With Mogg Fanatic, you could kill a small attacking creature, then sacrifice it to kill another small creature, whether it was attacking or not. With Sakura-Tribe Elder (a card I admire for obvious reasons related to its art ^_~), you could kill a small attacking creature and go get a free basic land from your deck.

But not under Magic 2010 rules. Now you have to pick one or the other. And now those same Spikes and Johnnys are seething. “You removed strategy elements from the game to make it easier on new players! You Yu-Gi-Oh-copying bastards!” But Magic insider Randy Buehler begs to differ: “Damage-on-the-stack-sac-my-guy is so easy and obvious that we might actually be up strategy thanks to the creation of more judgment calls.” This may be coming from the same guy who pretended that Coldsnap was a “lost” set from the Ice Age Block and not something totally new that Wizards pulled out of its ass to get the nostalgia crowd’s attention for the impending release of Time Spiral, but Buehler brings up a good point. The dissenters’ “loss of strategy” argument falls apart when you consider that giving the defending player a choice between block-and-kill and block-and-sacrifice rather than letting them do both actually makes such combat situations more “thinky,” despite being easier on new players. The negative reaction to this is the result of nothing more than a fear of change (or angsting at the fact that Morphling, one of the most feared creatures of all time, now sucks >_>).

Part B: Whenever multiple blockers are declared on the same attacking creature, the attacking player must now assign the attacking creature’s damage in a specific order. The attacking creature must deal enough damage to kill one creature, then the next creature, then the next creature. So no more “splitting damage” however you want (unless your creature has deathtouch), leaving each blocker just vulnerable enough for a postcombat-main-phase Pyroclasm. Unlike the first change to combat, which I can live with, this one I flat out don’t like. >.< Now if you wanna pull that board-wiping trick I just mentioned, you have to play the Pyroclasm before combat, then hope your opponent gang-blocks. Which, of course, won’t happen. “Gee, my opponent just played a Pyroclasm and is now swinging in with a weaker creature than all of mine. I think he/she wants my big creatures dead. >_> I better block with just one creature/block with something else/not block at all/play this kill spell in my hand.” Unlike Part A, this is a big blow to strategy rather than a boon. Some players don’t see the postcombat burn spell coming; Other players feign having a postcombat burn spell and bluff their opponent into not blocking.

There are a couple other rules changes that Aaron Forsythe and Mark Gottlieb talk about in June 10th’s Daily MTG featured article, but since they’re minor, I’m not going to bring them up. My ultimate point is this: For all the opinions I have made here – opinions that are mostly tolerant of Wizards’ decision to make so many sweeping changes to Magic – I cannot shake the feeling that Hasbro and Wizards of the Coast are out of touch with reality. -.- They had a loyal fanbase going for them. New card frames? We got over that. “Legend” and “Wall” ceasing to be creature types? We got over that. Planeswalker cards? We got over that. These are all things that streamlined the game and contributed to making it more fun. But by the order of Gleemax and in the name of Flavor, Wizards has decided to take the release of Magic 2010 as an opportunity to fix something that, for the most part, wasn’t broke.

Magic players, answer me some of the following questions: Were any of you confused about the difference between “playing a spell” and having a creature be “in play?” I wasn’t. Did any of you even notice that there was a time stamp difference between “until end of turn” and “at end of turn?” I didn’t. Did any of you care that a creature was swinging at you with “double lifelink?” I usually kill the tharrax with a Path to Exile or a Terror.

I’m beginning to lose faith in Wizards’ ability to gauge what their customer base likes. If they still had that ability, they wouldn’t have made the new edition of D&D more combat-oriented and WoW-like. If they still had that ability, they would have just kept the name of the next Magic core set “Eleventh Edition” rather than channeling Madden NFL games for XBox and naming it after the coming year. If they still had that ability, they wouldn’t have echoed Yu-Gi-Oh! and created a new “rarer than rare” rarity for giant creatures and spells.

If they still had that ability, I wouldn’t be dreading the future of my Friday nights. :<

Note to Wizards: You are not the Wii. Your games are not designed to appeal to anyone other than the extremely nerdy side of the 18-25 demographic, and any attempts you have made to change that are failing. Trust your existing fanbase. Let them bring you money. And let them do the recruiting of new players rather than trying to recruit them yourselves.

Note to Hasbro: If you are so worried that sales of Wizards’ products are lagging behind those of video games, then maybe you shouldn’t have purchased the company in the first place. And need I remind you that you also produce Monopoly, the best-selling board game in the world? Quit worrying about sales and stop trying to force Magic and D&D to become something they’re not. ):<



Posted by on June 11, 2009 in Gaming


2 responses to “Magic Changes are Tolerable, but WotC is Clueless

  1. m10

    August 13, 2009 at 4:04 pm

    I kind of like the direction they went with Magic 2010 but from what I’ve heard about WOTC completely mutilating D&D 4e to appeal to a broader audience they are failing with that game.

    World of Warcraft did the same thing, fear over getting market share kills awesome games.

    • Azalea Cloud

      August 16, 2009 at 12:34 pm

      I’m not totally against what they did with M10 or D&D 4E either, but what I don’t want to see is every game copying each other constantly and becoming homogenous. I think Wizards needs to work on finding more design space within the boundaries of their own games rather than worrying so much about their competition stealing their market share. They have to remember that their target audience is capable of liking more than one game.

      Mind you, my judgment of WotC’s ability to feel the pulse of their audience might have been too hasty. -.- As I (tongue-in-cheekly) pointed out in my latest post, they are aware of the exploding popularity of the Elder Dragon Highlander format and are taking advantage of it with Planechase. I know it doesn’t seem like it in my article, but in reality, I consider that a good thing. ^^


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