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Tolarian Academy – Some Intimidating News

Hey folks, and welcome to a new edition of “Tolarian Academy,” where the drinks are always cold and the Prerelease lasts all night. Seriously, Superstars is actually having a midnight Prerelease. I won’t be there, most likely, since I need to sleep before the main event on Saturday, but if you’re like I was when I played more, you should go. I will be giving a rules seminar beforehand, though, so swing through for FNM and then hang out to hear me make awful puns about the rules. If you are prereleasing with us this weekend, make sure you preregister! And, of course, if you have rules questions, send them on to [email protected]

If you know me, you know I’ve been yammering on about the M10 comprehensive rules update ever since the changes were announced. Why? Well, because I’ve been excited about what they might contain. I love this kind of stuff; that’s why I judge. The M10 changes were designed to make the game more intuitive, and of course, that’s always nice for players. That way, it’s easier for people to understand my rulings, and of course, that judges make more consistently correct rulings because things work like we think they “should.”

M10 Rules

Earlier this week, Mark Gottlieb’s sweeping summary of the M10 rules changes went up on the Wizards website; you can read said article here. Mr. Gottlieb discusses the changes in the abstract; I’d like to provide some further explanations as well as examples to help you folks better understand these wacky changes to the game we love so much.

The changes to mana (emptying at end of all steps, no mana burn) have resulted in one fairly important adjustment to the way we treat our mana and communicate with our opponents. Section 106 (the whole document has been reorganized, so don’t try to refer to the current version) now has a bit that states that, whenever you spend mana or pass priority, you have to announce what mana is remaining in your mana pool if there is still mana there. Most players do so already; cube players, for example, have said things like “I’ll tap Simic Growth Chamber to cast Rancor, floating a blue” many a time. However, storm combo players are going to have to get used to being very explicit about what they’ve got left instead of only volunteering the information when asked.

The other large change is to the “layers,” which are the rules that define how continuous effects interact with one another. Previously, there were six layers, and the sixth was split up into five sublayers. Throw all that knowledge out the window and begin again, because here are our new layers, shamelessly quoted from Mr. Gottlieb’s article with examples added:

Layer 1: Copy effects are applied. (Example: Clone’s ability)
Layer 2: Control-changing effects are applied. (Example: Sower of Temptation’s ability)
Layer 3: Text-changing effects are applied. (Example: Mind Bend)
Layer 4: Type-changing effects are applied. This includes effects that change an object’s card type, subtype, and/or supertype. (Example: March of the Machines)
Layer 5: Color-changing effects are applied. (Example: Painter’s Servant)
Layer 6: Ability-adding and ability-removing effects are applied. (Example: Snakeform)
Layer 7: Power- and/or toughness-changing effects are applied. (Hang on a second! We’ll get to these soon!)

So essentially, the old Layer 5 (the catch-all layer) was split up into the new layers 5 and 6. Things haven’t changed order-wise outside of that, and things still apply in timestamp order within layers, so really, these layers aren’t a whole lot different aside from eliminating a couple of weird dependencies. Layer 7, just like the old Layer 6, is split up into five sublayers. However, this is where the actual changes are: the power/toughness layer is substantially different. Let’s take a look!

Layer 7a: Effects from characteristic-defining abilities are applied. (Examples: the definition of the *s on Tarmogoyf, Maro, Molimo, etc.)
Layer 7b: Effects that set power and/or toughness to a specific number or value are applied. (Examples: Godhead of Awe, Humility, Snakeform, etc.)
Layer 7c: Effects that modify power and/or toughness (but don’t set power and/or toughness to a specific number or value) are applied. (Examples: Giant Growth, Glorious Anthem, Goblin King, etc.)
Layer 7d: Power and/or toughness changes from counters are applied. (+1/+1, -1/-1, and other crazy kinds.)
Layer 7e: Effects that switch a creature’s power and toughness are applied. (Examples: Phantasmal Fiend  uh, and more recently, Crag Puca, I guess.)

So, 7a and 7e are the same as the old 6a and 6e, but things in the middle have changed and moved around a lot. What does this mean for you, you ask? Well, not a lot of interactions change, but the big difference is that there is no longer a “catch-all layer,” and all abilities that set power and toughness apply before the ones that change power and toughness. For example, let’s say that I cast Giant Growth on my Hill Giant, making it a 6/6, and then I play Godhead of Awe, which makes everything but itself a 1/1. Under the old system, they would both apply in 6b, meaning they would be applied in timestamp order, and my Hill Giant would end up as a 1/1. Under the new system, Godhead’s ability applies in 7b, and Giant Growth applies in 7c, which makes my Hill Giant a 4/4.

Why did this change? Because the new way makes more sense. You might say “But it makes sense for Hill Giant to be 1/1!” You are probably saying this because you’re used to the old layers system. Think back to when you were taught that Hill Giant would be a 1/1 in that scenario. Did it make sense? Not unless it was really, really well explained. (By me, for example! Ho ho! Look at that arrogance. I still got it.) This system is much simpler for new players. I’m not saying layers are simple for players, but at least they are much, much simpler.

Next, I know a lot of people are wondering how trample interacts with deathtouch now. The question is, does deathtouch make 1 damage “lethal” for a creature and allow you to trample over for more? The answer is that no, deathtouch doesn’t change the definition of “lethal,” it just changes how you’re allowed to assign damage to creatures. You still have to deal lethal damage to each creature before you trample over, not just 1 to each one.

If you’ve been following the M10 spoiler, you may have noticed a serious lack of cards with the fear keyword. No cards in M10 have fear printed on them. Why is this? Well, like I’ve been saying for a long time (back me up on this, friends,) fear is a restrictive and terrible keyword that closes off interesting areas of card design. It makes cards like Amrou Seekers look really ugly. In order to keep Magic from being uglier than it needs to be, a new keyword called “intimidate” is being introduced. While it doesn’t appear in M10, it will appear in future expansions (and probably core sets) and will be an “evergreen” keyword, meaning it could show up anywhere, like flying or trample. Here’s the definition of our new keyword:

702.11b A creature with intimidate can’t be blocked except by artifact creatures and/or creatures
that share a color with it. (See rule 509, “Declare Blockers Step.”)

So, you can see how this can cleanly replace fear and keep the flavor of fear while making it easier to print cards outside of black with this kind of evasion ability. I feel like it’s an appropriate keyword for black and red, with perhaps some secondary bleed into white. I can’t see a downside to this change.

Last, a change that only affects a small number of cards has now gone into effect, much for the better. You may remember the bad old days when Waylay allowed you to make knights at the end of your opponent’s turn and then attack with them on your turn. (“White Lightning.”) This was fixed later by adding a keyword called “substance” to the knights that went away at end of turn and giving the knights an ability that caused them to be sacrificed when they lost substance. Other such cards were errataed to have substance. The problem with this solution is that newer players didn’t know what it was. If you look up “substance” in the Comprehensive Rules, you’ll find that it says something to the effect of “Substance is a keyword that does nothing.” What? Then why does it exist? This is what everyone says when I try to explain substance. Now, abilities that want a permanent to last until the end of a turn but don’t want cheaty Waylay tricks to happen have a new wording; they happen “at the beginning of the next cleanup step.” Even this is a misnomer- before those abilities occur, the active player discards down to seven, damage is removed, and “until end of turn” effects end, but it’s much better than substance.

These new rules changes are fantastic, in my mind. They’re intuitive without reducing the complexity of the game, at least, not too much. A few things about this sweeping overhaul to the rules irk me a little bit, to be honest with you. Here’s the thing about my frustration with the rules changes: while I, personally, am frustrated, I don’t think the changes are wrong. I think they’re right. It’s important in situations like these to be able to separate what you want and what is best for you personally from what is best for the health of the game. It’s difficult, but it’s something I think people can handle.

What we Lost

So what irks me? What about the rules changes don’t I like? Well, we’re losing a couple of cool tricks. First, creatures with first strike that had 0 or less power during first strike damage assignment will no longer assign regular damage if their power is bumped up to 1 or more before regular damage assignment. Why? Because that’s nonintuitive and totally ridiculous. It’s the kind of thing that comes up once in a thousand games and, when it does, is only something that one in two hundred players really knows how to do. Not only that, but when you do it, it kind of feels like cheating. How do I know? Well, I’ve done it. It was some stupid thing involving Birds of Paradise and Valor. I don’t really remember, but after I did it, I felt really, really dirty. Plus, I had to spend ten minutes walking my unconvinced opponent through the comprehensive rules, (a casual game, obviously) and even then, he spent the rest of the game going “That’s stupid. That’s really stupid.” Whoever he was, (I’ve forgotten, sorry, buddy) he was right.

What else do we lose? Well, imprint is now an ability word instead of a keyword. So, remember all those imprint shenanigans I was talking about last week with Vesuvan Shapeshifter and Duplicant? That doesn’t work anymore. There’s also no way to get an Isochron Scepter with Time Stretch on it anymore. (Mirror Golem, Vesuvan Shapeshifter, Isochron Scepter, March of the Machines. Love it until Saturday, folks.)

Mr. Gottlieb also points out that you can’t produce RRR by playing a Coal Stoker that is also a land anymore. (Make Coal Stoker a Saproling, have Life and Limb, and then play Vesuva copying Coal Stoker. Boom, three red. Enjoy until Saturday.) Who really cares about these kinds of changes? Primarily me, because it makes it harder to write “Punts to Puzzles,” but I’ll get over it. As I said earlier, these changes don’t affect the game except for people like me, and they make things simpler for new players around the world, so there’s really nothing wrong with them. If making life better for new players means it’s less fun to be a rules pundit, so be it. Plus, loopholes will pop up eventually, and when I find them, it’ll be a fun day for everyone.

You can go over the changes here yourself, if you’re interested. I always think the Comprehensive Rules are a good read. I am also insane. Remember, my 2-week contest for the best rules and policy questions is still on, so send those questions in to [email protected] for a chance to win $5 in store credit! Also, keep an eye on my Youtube channel for an online version of the rules seminar I’ll be giving on Friday night before our midnight prerelease. If you can’t be there in person, you can always listen to me jabber at you over the internet. Join me next time, as I teach you how to memorize the new layers by baking a delicious chocolate cake! Oh, delightful!

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