First off, thanks to everyone who’s been sending in email. I’m really happy you guys like the website and my column. This week I’d like to discuss a few of the most interesting issues that have been brought up in those emails.
I’m always glad to hear what Magic players think about the game. In fact, the reason Sengir Vampire wound up in Torment is that I was reading various message boards (mostly MTGnews) around the time Seventh Edition was leaking out to the public and I was watching people’s reactions. I read along as word got out that Serra Angel was coming back, and then news of Shivan Dragon and Mahamoti Djinn hit the boards. The most common response I saw was “Cool! Are they bringing back Sengir Vampire too?” Well, I knew that we had not put Sengir into 7th (mostly because we thought the timing issues around the +1/+1 counters were a bit more complicated than we really wanted for the base set) but I was really struck by the groundswell of support for everybody’s favorite vampire. I brought it up at a Magic R&D meeting and pointed out that we could repeat Sengir Vampire in an expert level set. We had just decided that Torment was going to be “The Black Set” so it was a perfect fit.
Right now in R&D we’re finishing up work on this fall’s stand-alone (originally codenamed "Manny," now officially named Onslaught). The first expansion -- codenamed "Moe" -- has just finished design and is about to start development, and the second expansion (currently called "Jack") is in the early stages of design. We can’t react all that quickly to comments we read on the ‘Net, but who knows which remarks we read today will change the cards that come out next year. Then there’s the stuff we read ten months ago that changed the cards in Judgment, but I guess I can’t tell those stories yet...
BUTCHERING CARD TEXT
Without a doubt, the most common email I’ve gotten reads something like, “Faceless Butcher says on the card that you can’t target a Faceless Butcher -- why does your infinite combo work?” Well, when a Magic card references its own card name in its rules text, it refers only to itself. You can still target any other copies of it that are in play. We had to add that line to prevent the Faceless Butcher from being a one-card infinite loop. (With no other creatures in play, the Butcher would be forced to strangle himself, but then he comes back into play, but then... you get it.) We talked seriously about allowing it to target only non-black creatures because we were afraid the wording we did use would confuse players. Judging by all the emails I got, maybe that would have been better; but I just kept thinking about how much fun it is to butcher somebody else’s Butcher (or any other Nightmare Horror), and I wanted you guys to have that fun too. I guess we’ll find out whether or not it was worth it tomorrow at the prerelease. I’ll be attending the one in Seattle (along with MagicTheGathering.com editor Aaron Forsythe) to see how much you guys like the set.
Extraneous text makes everyone sad.
A close second in the replies I got to my Slithery Sky article was “Why didn’t you just add a line to Slithery Stalker that says it can’t target itself (like you did on Faceless Butcher)?” To answer that question, you’ve got to think about what the card would look like outside the context of that article. Since the Stalker is neither green nor white it obviously can’t target itself, so why is that random text on there?! Most players who saw the card would probably be confused by that seemingly unnecessary piece of text. Even worse, some players would assume that without that line, the Stalker would be able to target itself and they’d concoct some bizarre set of timing rules in their heads which allows for such possibilities, and those bad assumptions would probably cause them to play any number of other cards incorrectly. In general, we try to put as few words on the cards as we can get away with so that they’ll be as easy to understand as possible. Sure, if you know about the combo with Shifting Sky then that line makes sense, but we never seriously considered adding text to Slithery Stalker that would only make sense after you’ve heard about (or thought up) that combo.
A similar issue came up with madness, by the way. There are a number of fairly subtle timing rules issues involved in playing them (as you can tell if you read Paul Barclay’s feature article). We had a lot of conversations about how specific we wanted the reminder text to be. The longest debate was about when you could play the ability. Should we add “the next time you have priority” or even “play only when you can play an instant” just so no one thinks that the madness ability will trigger and resolve during the resolution of another spell? In the end we decided that any attempt we made to clarify the weird corner cases (that only rules experts even understand) would just confuse a bigger portion of the audience. So we went with pretty short and simple reminder text and made sure that the official rules made sure the mechanic works the way it looks like it works to anyone who just goes by the reminder text.
After my first piece, lots of people sent me lots of cool Transcendence combos. I think the best one is probably Transcendence + Forsaken Wastes. With both of those enchantments in play, you’re pretty much immortal. Forsaken Wastes means you’ll never gain any life so you’re in no danger of going above 20 and Transcendence means it doesn’t matter how negative you go, you’ll stay alive. Better still, your opponent is eventually going to die to the Forsaken Wastes! You can’t play this combo in Standard tournaments (since Forsaken Wastes isn’t legal) and I don’t think it’s good enough to take over Extended since a lone Disenchant will ruin your day, but only time will tell how much of an impact this combo actually has.
The best Standard-legal combo I heard was Transcendence + Martyrs' Tomb + Disenchant. Basically, you keep activating the Martyrs’ Tomb over and over again and each time you do it you’ll gain 4 life from Transcendence. Paying two life to gain four life seems like a pretty good deal, right? Of course, Transcendence says you die at 20, so what you want to do is pile a huge number of activations on the stack (you’ll have to let some resolve in between so you gain enough life to pay into the Tomb -- you aren’t allowed to pay life that you don’t have) and then Disenchant the Transcendence. With Transcendence gone, it’s OK to let your life total skyrocket up as high as you like! Since it’s a three-card combo I think it’s hard enough to do this reliably that you won’t see it winning any Pro Tours, but that won’t make it any less fun when you do pull it off.
There's something broken here somewhere...
ONE FINAL THOUGHT
Hats off to Farid Meraghni for winning Pro Tour - San Diego! Like everyone else watching the Pro Tour, I at first thought he was just some random kid who got lucky. However, the more I watched him play and the more I heard about him the more I came to realize that he’s the real deal. Meraghni only started playing a bit over a year ago, but in 2001 he set the DCI record for most sanctioned matches in a year with over one thousand two hundred. That’s almost four matches PER DAY! And those are just the sanctioned ones. Basically, Meraghni has been almost living at the game center in downtown Paris, where he learned his craft well and earned his big payday. I think we’re going to be watching him play on Sunday at the Pro Tour for a long time to come.
Randy may be reached at email@example.com.