- For the complete detailed changes, read this more recent article!
As we set out to create the forthcoming Magic 2010 core set—which is a completely new approach to the core set ideal, as announced earlier this year—we opened up everything about how we make Magic cards to scrutiny in an attempt to make that set, and the game as a whole, more accessible.
Every Magic set we release—perhaps each individual card—adds complexity to the game. New terms are introduced, new bits of lingo, new names to memorize, new potential gameplay scenarios that hadn't existed before. This "complexity creep" is all but impossible to stop; it is the nature of a game with ever-expanding content. Just because we can't stop the constant addition, however, doesn't mean that we shouldn't take occasional long hard looks at everything and try to find ways to strip complexity out of the system. As we can't "unprint" cards, the best way to accomplish that goal is through updating the rules—clearing out and cleaning up overly confusing bits.
Magic's rules haven't gone under any radical changes in a decade; the last big shift was attached to the release of the Classic Sixth Edition core set in 1999. With all the re-imagining we put into Magic 2010, we took time to reexamine the rules as well. While the changes we arrived at don't approach the scope of the Sixth Edition rules changes, we did find room for improvement in a few fundamental areas.
The Sixth Edition changes were meant to bring order to a disordered system. Our goal this time was much more subtle—to change the most unintuitive parts of game play such that players' first instincts were more often correct. Because Magic is a game most often played without access to a rulebook, players without contact with our fine network of judges often have to make decisions regarding how they think the game operates on the fly, and we want them to get things right more often than they get them wrong.
To figure out exactly where the problems were, we got into the mind of the casual player—not the player knee-deep in regular sanctioned play or Magic Online, but rather the one who plays our game at home, at school, or at the small local shop. We drew upon our own experiences and those of our co-workers. We ran focus tests. We went out in the field and played against such players—players who love, love, love Magic but don't have the need or desire to devote themselves to learning all the ins and outs of the rules.
So why is it important to make sure these players' intuition is most often correct? Aren't they content playing with their own messy version of the rules? They are—up to a point, and that point is when they leave their circles and joins the larger, more rules-compliant crowd. Maybe it happens at Friday Night Magic, or a Prerelease, or a convention. Maybe new players enter the group. However it happens, we want to make sure those players don't find out they've been doing it all wrong, find out the game doesn't make as much sense as they thought, find out that they don't like the way the rules really work.
All of the following changes—there are seven of note, some with multiple relevant pieces—have been tested rigorously here in R&D and by other Magic players of all varieties here at the company in many play formats, ranging from Sealed Deck to Standard to Elder Dragon Highlander to the forthcoming Planechase format. The biggest surprise was how often we played our games without noticing anything different. The new rules came up in every game, but in most situations, they were covered by the same shortcuts people currently use during any given game of Magic. In situations where we did zoom in past the shortcuts and encounter the changes, all involved parties generally agreed that the new way felt natural.
We don't do this flippantly; we don't do it often. We want nothing but continued success and growth for the game that we all love playing, and sometimes that means making changes. Some of the games you play will end differently because of the new rules. Some of your cards will become slightly more or less powerful. In the end, the game will be just as deep and skill-based as before, and it will be more intuitive and understandable going forward.
These rules changes go into effect on July 11, 2009 (the first day of Magic 2010 Prerelease events) and are scheduled to take effect on Magic Online on July 29.
Rules manager Mark Gottlieb will be assisting me in outlining the seven changes and how they affect game play. His sections have a blue background.
1) Simultaneous Mulligans
The Reality: Outside of tournament play, most players do not obey the by-the-book protocol for handling mulligans in which one player resolves all of his or her mulligans before the next player resolves any of his. Instead, players mulligan more or less at the same time.
The Fix: Mulligans will now officially be handled simultaneously. This will significantly cut down on time spent shuffling before each tournament game.
The Details: The procedure will work like this. Starting with the player who will take the first turn of the game and proceeding in turn order around the table, each player announces whether he or she will take a mulligan or not. Then everyone who said they would take a mulligan does so at the same time. (If no one's taking a mulligan, the game proceeds onward.)
If any players took a mulligan, then just those players repeat the process to see if any of them will take a second mulligan: First they announce yes or no, then all the yeses shuffle and redraw at the same time. This continues among the mulliganers until everyone's satisfied with their starting hands.
Once you decide you're not taking a mulligan, your starting hand is locked in. You can't jump back into the mulligan process later.
2) Terminology Changes
While Magic is full of flavorful and resonant terms (graveyard, library, spell, sorcery, combat, etc.), some of our terminology is generic, vague, and/or misleading. We are making four distinct terminology changes, both in printed card sets going forward and in Oracle, to make the game both clearer and more evocative.
The Reality: Some players are confused by the subtle difference between "play" and "put into play." The name "in-play zone" breaks the metaphor the rest of the game tries to establish.
The Fix: The in-play zone is renamed the "battlefield," which brings it in line with other flavorful zone names like "graveyard" and "library." Permanents now "enter the battlefield" or are "put onto the battlefield" as opposed to "come into play" or "put into play."
The Details: As you may expect, this will require errata on roughly thirty-eight bazillion cards. (Over two thousand, at least.) A lot of cards say "in play," "to play," or "into play" on them! However, this is a straight-up terminology swap. No cards have functionality changes as a result of this.
One thing to keep in mind is that, as Aaron stated, "When this creature enters the battlefield" is the equivalent of "When this creature comes into play." This kind of ability triggers when the creature it's on hits the table, not when it enters combat.
2B) Cast, Play, and Activate
The Reality: Again, some players are confused by the subtle difference between "play" and "put into play." The term "cast" was retired from game rules at the time of Classic Sixth Edition for reasons I no longer believe are relevant—to streamline the rules and condense the number of terms down at the cost of flavor. Most players today who played pre-Sixth (and some who didn't!) still use the term "cast." It makes sense for spells to be "cast" as opposed to "played."
The Fix: "Cast" is being reinstated as the verb used when referring to the act of playing spells or types of spells. "Play" is being kept as the verb associated with lands (and with cards of unspecified types). Activated abilities are also no longer "played" but rather "activated."
The Details: This change will also require a lot of errata, but there won't be any functional changes. We're only changing the words.
The distinction between playing a card from your hand and putting a card into play from your hand was subtle to the point of unintelligibility. We want people other than Level 3 judges to be able to understand the game. Here's what the wordings of these cards will become:
Elvish Piper: G, T: You may put a creature card from your hand onto the battlefield.
Phage's first ability: When Phage the Untouchable enters the battlefield, if you didn't cast it from your hand, you lose the game.
Much better. In the new world, you'll play lands, cast spells, activate abilities, and play cards that might be lands or spells (as with Mind's Desire).
The Reality: "Removed from the game" is increasingly a misnomer as we design more cards that use the removed-from-the-game zone as a temporary holding cell for cards that are very much still in the game. Like the "in-play zone," the name "removed-from-the-game zone" does a poor job of maintaining the game's fantasy metaphor.
The Fix: The phrase "remove from the game" is being changed to "exile," which is shorter, more flavorful, and not at all misleading about actually being in the game. The zone is now called the "exile zone" and cards in it will be referred to as "exiled cards."
The Details: This is, for the most part, another cut-and-paste terminology change. Every card that removes something from the game, from Jester's Cap to Astral Slide to Identity Crisis, will be getting errata to use the word "exile" instead. But none of these cards are functionally changing.
However, the acknowledgment that this zone is, in fact, fully within the game does bring about functional changes to the six Wishes, Ring of Ma'rûf, and the Research half of Research // Development. These cards let you get cards from "outside the game," which has been ruled to include your card collection (in casual games), your sideboard (in tournament games), and the removed-from-the-game zone. That's no longer the case. Exiled cards are not outside the game (and you could argue that they never really were), so these cards will no longer be able to access cards in that zone. Their primary functionality—getting cards from your collection or sideboard—remains unchanged, of course.
2D) Beginning of the End Step
The Reality: The subtle but important difference between the phrases "at end of turn" and "until end of turn" in our card templates is a constant source of confusion for players. "At end of turn" really means "at the beginning of the end-of-turn step," which is not the actual end of the turn. In fact, it is often strategically correct to take certain actions during the end-of-turn step after "at end of turn" triggers are processed, which many players have trouble wrapping their heads around. Compounding this is the fact that "until end of turn" effects, like that of Giant Growth, last until the actual end of the turn.
The Fix: This one didn't involve the creation of any new terminology. Instead, it involves a minor rules update (changing the name of the "end-of-turn step" to the "end step") and a change in how we are templating cards. We will now refer to the time when such triggers happen as what it actually is: "at the beginning of the end step." Hopefully this will more clearly convey the existence of a window in the turn after these triggers occur during which more spells and abilities can be used. "Until end of turn" will still be used for effects with durations such as Giant Growth.
The Details: Indeed. This way, "at the beginning of the end step" triggers will more closely match "at the beginning of upkeep" triggers. Once again, no cards are functionally changing. We're just issuing errata, and changing card wordings going forward, so they more clearly convey what their functionality actually is.
There's a further change that escaped our notice before the Magic 2010 set was printed, but it'll be implemented on new cards starting with the Zendikar set. Where this issue gets really confusing is when a spell or ability that resolves during the end step has an "at end of turn" delayed triggered ability appended to it. Rakdos Guildmage's second ability is a perfect example. Here's what it says currently:
Rakdos Guildmage's second ability: 3R: Put a 2/1 red Goblin creature token with haste into play. Remove it from the game at end of turn.
It boggles the mind that if you activate this ability during the end step, after "at end of turn" triggers have already triggered, that you'd get to keep the token through nearly the entire next turn. This was called the "end-of-turn loophole," and it wasn't a problem for power reasons—it was a problem because it was ridiculously unintuitive. I think that confusion is alleviated not only by using the new template, but by adding the word "next" within it, like so:
Rakdos Guildmage's second ability: 3R: Put a 2/1 red Goblin creature token with haste into play. Remove it from the game at the beginning of the next end step.
That makes so much more sense it makes my toes curl. But that covers just one of the changes to this ability's wording. When it's fully updated, it'll really look like this:
Rakdos Guildmage's second ability: 3R: Put a 2/1 red Goblin creature token with haste onto the battlefield. Exile it at the beginning of the next end step.
Now that's an ability!
3) Mana Pools and Mana Burn
3A) Mana Pools Emptying
The Reality: Many players can't clearly distinguish between phases and steps. The fact that mana remains in pools from step to step but not phase to phase is arbitrary. The concept of floating mana from step to step is hard to understand. Mana pools, in general, should be empty most of the time that players pass priority for ease of keeping track of the game state.
The Fix: Mana pools now empty at the end of each step and phase, which means mana can no longer be floated from the upkeep to the draw step, nor from the declare attackers step to the declare blockers step of combat.
The Details: This is mostly a change on the rules side. Currently, rule 300.3 of the Comprehensive Rules says "When a phase ends (but not a step), any unused mana left in a player's mana pool is lost." That'll change to "When a step or phase ends, any unused mana left in a player's mana pool is lost." A few cards, such as Upwelling and Sakura-Tribe Springcaller, will get minor errata to their "mana doesn't empty from mana pools" abilities just to specify that the mana doesn't empty when steps end either. Other cards affected by this change, such as Radha, Heir to Keld and Braid of Fire, will not receive errata.
3B) Mana Burn Eliminated
The Reality: Many players aren't aware of the existence of mana burn as a game concept. Discovering it exists, especially via an opponent manipulating his own life total for gain, can be jarring. Its existence impacts game play in a negligible way, whereas its existence impacts card design space somewhat significantly.
The Fix: Mana burn is eliminated as a game concept. Mana left unspent at the end of steps or phases will simply vanish, with no accompanying loss of life.
The Details: It turns out that eliminating mana burn from the game is surprisingly easy. I delete three sentences from rule 300.3, strike the glossary entry, and modify a few other rules that mention mana burn, and it's gone. Six cards will get errata to delete their references to mana burn, since "This mana doesn't cause mana burn" text will be pretty redundant all of a sudden.
What happens during a game? Let's say Heartbeat of Spring is in play, and you add four mana to your mana pool, but you spend only three of it. At the end of the current step or phase, the extra mana vanishes. That's it. No penalty; it's just gone.
By my reckoning, the elimination of mana burn will functionally impact about 40 cards, some for the better and some for the worse, some directly and some indirectly, because no cards are getting errata as a result of this rules change. That's right: We're not maintaining current functionality for these cards; the whole point of getting rid of the mana burn rule is to get rid of the mana burn rule.
Some examples of cards that will work differently:
- Cathodion, Tolarian Academy, and Mana Drain are better, since there's now no drawback to adding unspendable mana to your mana pool.
- Spectral Searchlight and Valleymaker are worse, since you can't use them to cause your opponent to mana burn.
- Spur Grappler and Well of Discovery are better, since you can basically tap all of your lands for free now.
- Citadel of Pain is worse, since your opponent can basically tap all of his or her lands for free now.
- Hidetsugu's Second Rite is better, since your opponent can't dodge a life total of 10 by mana burning down to 9.
- Magus of the Mirror, Convalescent Care, and Pulse of the Forge are worse, since you can't intentionally (and easily) mana burn yourself down to a low life total.
In 99.9% of Magic games, of course, you'll never even notice mana burn is gone.
4) Token Ownership
The Reality: The current "token ownership" rule is poorly understood, mainly because it doesn't make a ton of sense. Currently, the owner of a token is "the controller of the effect that put it into play." That means I own the tokens put into play under your control due to my Hunted Dragon or Forbidden Orchard, which allows me to do unintuitive tricks with cards like Brand or Warp World. Few people are aware of this rule, and assume that the owner of the tokens is the player under whose control they entered the battlefield.
The Fix: We are matching most players' expectation by changing the rule such that the owner of a token is, in fact, the player under whose control it entered the battlefield.
The Details: The rules change is as Aaron described it. As for the ramifications, there are three kinds of situations when this rule comes up:
- When someone is trying to exploit it. (Sorry, Warp Worlders.)
- When a naturally occurring game situation makes it matter who owns a token. This is pretty darn unusual. For example, my Hunted Lammasu creates a token under your control, I Repeal the token, and one of us controls Azorius Æthermage. Whose hand did that token return to? Under the old rule, mine; under the new rule, yours. But without that Æthermage on the battlefield, it doesn't actually matter.
- In a multiplayer game. My Hunted Lammasu creates a token under your control, then I lose the game. Under the old rule, I take my token with me when I leave the game. Under the new rule, it stays right where it is.
5) Combat Damage No Longer Uses the Stack
The Reality: The intricate system via which combat is currently handled creates many unintuitive gameplay moments. For starters, "the stack" is a difficult concept, even after all these years, so it is no wonder that many players go about combat without invoking it at all. Second, creatures disappearing after damage has been put on the stack leads to a ton of confusion and disbelief: How is that Mogg Fanatic killing two creatures? How did that creature kill mine but make your Nantuko Husk big enough to survive? How can you Unsummon your creature and have it still deal damage? While many of us may be used to the way things are now, it makes no sense in terms of a game metaphor and only a bit more sense as a rule.
The Fix: As soon as damage is assigned in the combat damage step, it is dealt. There is no time to cast spells and activate abilities in between; the last time to do so prior to damage being dealt is during the declare blockers step.
This was a particularly tricky change to implement, as it had the potential to create bad experiences in situations where double blocking occurs and the defending player has access to a damage prevention ability (or anything similar). If damage was prevented to one creature, the attacker would just kill the other, which is unintuitive. Players expect to be able to use their healing spells to save creatures that are actually going to die. To solve problems like these, during the declare blockers step, if a creature is blocked by multiple creatures, the attacker immediately announces an order in which that attacking creature will be assigning damage to the blockers. When it comes time to actually deal the damage, lethal damage must be assigned to the first blocker before any can be assigned to the second, and so on. Now, in complex combat situations there will be some foreknowledge of which creatures are in the most danger before damage is dealt.
This is not as sweeping as it sounds. In the majority of cases, creatures attack, creatures block, and combat looks the same way it did before—minus the chance for counterintuitive tricks after "damage on." The majority of the explanation below covers multiple blocks.
The Details: This changes what happens during the declare blockers step and what happens during the combat damage step.
- Beginning of combat step
- Declare attackers step
- Declare blockers step
- Combat damage step
- End of combat step
The first thing that happens during the declare blockers step is that the defending player (big surprise!) declares blockers. This works the same as before, with an addition. If multiple creatures block the same attacker, the attacking player orders those blockers to show which is first in line for that attacker's damage, which is second, and so on. This is all part of the "declare blockers" action. Once that's done, players can cast spells and activate abilities.
The first thing that happens during the combat damage step is that combat damage is assigned. If an attacker is blocked by multiple creatures, the attacking player can divide its combat damage among them. The player starts by assigning damage to the first blocking creature in line. If that creature is assigned lethal damage, further damage may be assigned to that creature and/or the next one in line. If lethal damage is assigned to the second one, the attacking player can move on to the third, and so on. This works very similarly to trample.
So ... what is "lethal damage"? For the purposes of damage assignment, "lethal damage" is the amount of damage necessary for a creature to be destroyed, ignoring all abilities and damage prevention effects. In other words, it's that creature's toughness minus any damage that's already been dealt to it or that is simultaneously being assigned to it. It doesn't matter whether that creature has protection, is indestructible, will prevent the next 8 damage that would be dealt to it, etc.
Even though you announce your damage assignments sequentially, the assignment process is treated as though it's simultaneous. It's like declaring attackers or blockers: A player announces what he or she will do, then the whole shebang is checked to see if it's legal. If it's not, it's all wiped out, the game backs up, and the player starts again. Once everyone has announced legal damage assignment schemes, the damage is immediately (and simultaneously) dealt. Then state-based effects are checked, so creatures that have actually been dealt lethal damage are destroyed. Finally, players can cast spells and activate abilities.
If you want to activate regeneration abilities, cast damage prevention spells, pump your creature's toughness, or do any other kinds of combat tricks, you now need to do so during the declare blockers step. At that time, combat is deterministic enough to give you a good idea of what's coming. You'll be able to tell whether you need to regenerate your blocker, for example.
The declare blockers step is also the time you need to determine whether you want to Unsummon a creature, sacrifice Mogg Fanatic, sacrifice a creature to pump up Nantuko Husk, or the like. An important aspect of the new combat damage system is that only creatures that are still on the battlefield—and still in combat—get to deal combat damage. A creature can no longer start to swing its fist to punch, vanish from the battlefield, and then have that punch land.
This new system has a number of corner cases associated with it. I'll touch on a few here.
- If a creature has the ability to block multiple attackers, and does so, it uses the same order-and-assign system for dividing its damage among those attackers. In this case, the defending player orders the attacking creatures.
- If multiple creatures are blocking an attacker and one of them leaves combat, the relative order of the other creatures doesn't change.
- If one or more creatures is blocking an attacker and a new creature enters the battlefield blocking that attacker (I'm thinking of Flash Foliage), the attacking player inserts the new creature into the existing order wherever he or she wants. It can be first, last, or somewhere in between. The relative order of the other creatures doesn't change.
Let's look at an example. I attack Aaron with a 10/10 Skyshroud Behemoth.
During the declare blockers step, I cast Terror to destroy Wall of Swords, Aaron casts Shelter to give Angel of Mercy protection from green, Aaron activates Ghost Warden's ability to give Suntail Hawk +1/+1, and Aaron casts Bandage to prevent the next 1 damage that would be dealt to Suntail Hawk.
During the combat damage step, I start by assigning the Behemoth's damage to Angel of Mercy. I can assign anywhere from 3 to 10. Since all the damage will be prevented, I choose to assign the minimum, which is just 3. Next is Standing Troops. Since it's already been damaged, just 2 more is lethal, so that seems like a good number. Then comes Suntail Hawk. I need to assign just 2 damage, but I might as well assign 3 so it'll be destroyed. Finally comes Savannah Lions. I have 2 damage left to assign. The Behemoth doesn't have trample, so I can't assign any of its damage to Aaron—it's all got to be assigned to the creatures blocking it. I assign 2 damage to the Lions, even though that's more than enough to destroy it. The blockers that are still in combat assign a total of 8 damage to the Behemoth, then all damage is dealt. Standing Troops, Suntail Hawk, and Savannah Lions are destroyed.
That may have seemed really complicated. But let's look at that again. After I Terror the Wall, the Behemoth is being blocked by four creatures. The Behemoth has 10 power. It takes only 9 power to assign enough damage to kill all the blockers, even though the one with protection won't die. So I do.
We know this will take some getting used to. Not only is it the biggest single change to the rules, but it actively makes cards such as Mogg Fanatic worse. (Or, if you prefer, it returns Mogg Fanatic to its original functionality. Combat damage didn't use the stack when Tempest was released.)
We've been playing with this change for months, and we've found that the first part of the change (having combat damage not use the stack) is a positive move for the game as a whole, and the second part of the change (doing different things with double blocking) comes up amazingly infrequently. That's the more complex part of the change, but it matters only when there's a double block, someone has a combat trick, and the situation falls somewhere between "kill all blockers" and "kill just one blocker."
The Reality: There are two problems with deathtouch. One, the fact that it is a triggered ability leads to instances where a single creature needs to regenerate twice from a single source with deathtouch, which is unnecessarily hard to intuit. Second, the deathtouch ability as currently worded doesn't work well under the new combat rules. If a creature with deathtouch, like Kederekt Creeper, is double-blocked by two 3/3s, the new rules wouldn't allow the division of damage between the blockers, which kind of defeats the point of the card and fails to live up to expectations of how deathtouch should function.
The Fix: First, deathtouch is becoming a static ability. Creatures dealt damage by a source with deathtouch will be destroyed as a state-based effect at the same time lethal damage would kill them. As a side effect, multiple instances of deathtouch will no longer be cumulative. Second, deathtouch allows a double-blocked creature to ignore the new damage assignment rules and split its damage among any number of creatures it's in combat with however its controller wants to.
The Details: I'm going to start on a tangent. The game continually checks for certain messy game conditions, and then immediately deals with them to clean up the game state. For example, if an Aura is on the battlefield but not attached to anything (because the enchanted creature went away), the Aura is put into its owner's graveyard. If more than one legendary permanent with the same name is on the battlefield, they're all put into their owners' graveyards. If a player has 0 or less life, that player loses the game. There are more, and these results are called "state-based effects." I like to think of the game constantly checking for, and scrubbing out, these messy conditions as the Magic equivalent of the fleet of automatic cleaning robots that silently sweeps through my subterranean lair every few seconds or so.
The next edition of the Comprehensive Rulebook will contain a new state-based effect, which I'll paraphrase here: "A creature that's been dealt damage by a source with deathtouch since the last time state-based effects were checked is destroyed." As Aaron stated, this is the same process that the game uses to destroy a creature that's been dealt lethal damage. The two events will now look exactly the same.
There are two ramifications to this. First, if you want to regenerate your creature (or bounce it, or sacrifice it, or whatever), you better do so before it's dealt damage by a source with deathtouch. The grace period that used to exist while the deathtouch triggered ability was waiting to resolve is gone. Once that damage has been dealt, state-based effects will wipe out that creature immediately. Again, this is the same thing that happens if your creature is dealt lethal damage.
Second, if your creature is dealt lethal damage by a source with deathtouch (for example, if Drudge Skeletons is blocking Moonglove Winnower), a single regeneration shield is enough to keep it alive. Two state-based effects are trying to kill the Skeletons (one that deals with lethal damage and one that deals with damage from a source with deathtouch). Since all state-based effects are processed simultaneously, one regeneration effect will cover them both.
The new rules care whether a damage source has deathtouch, which leads to notable changes in certain scenarios. Let's say a creature has both deathtouch and a damage ability, like a Prodigal Pyromancer equipped with Quietus Spike. If the ability is activated targeting a creature, but the Pyromancer leaves the battlefield before it resolves, then the game determines the characteristics of the damage source by checking its last existence on the battlefield. If the Spike was still equipping the Pyromancer at the time the Pyromancer left, then the source has deathtouch (just like the source is red, and the source is a creature). The creature that's dealt damage is destroyed. (Wither already works like this in similar situations.) Under the old deathtouch rules, this wouldn't have happened because deathtouch wouldn't be around to trigger.
Moving on to combat .... If a creature with deathtouch is blocked by multiple creatures, the declare blockers step works the same way. The attacking player still orders the blocking creatures to show which is first in line for damage, which is second, and so on. The ordering is irrelevant to the creature with deathtouch, but it's still done because the creature might lose deathtouch before combat damage is assigned.
When it comes time to assign combat damage, a player can divide damage from a creature with deathtouch as he or she chooses among any of the creatures blocking or blocked by it. (If that seems familiar, that's how all creatures operated under the old system.) You can ignore the ordering.
Let's look at an example. I attack Aaron with Moonglove Winnower, and he blocks with Horned Turtle, Wizened Snitches, and Drudge Skeletons. I order them like that. Now, during the declare blockers step, Aaron has to decide whether or not to activate Drudge Skeletons's regeneration ability. He doesn't know whether I'll assign damage to them, but he knows that I could. Let's say he doesn't. When the combat damage step starts, I can divide Moonglove Winnower's damage however I want among the blockers. Let's say I have the Winnower assign 1 damage to the Snitches and 1 damage to the Skeletons. As soon as combat damage is dealt, Wizened Snitches, Drudge Skeletons, and Moonglove Winnower are all put into the graveyard at the same time.
One last thing. Now that "deathtouch" no longer means "When [this permanent] deals damage to a creature, destroy that creature," Cruel Deceiver and Venomous Fangs will be getting errata to revert to their printed functionalities. The rest of the deathtouch cards were actually printed with the word deathtouch on them, so they'll change over to the new functionality.
The Reality: The fact that lifelink is a triggered ability leads to situations where the controller of a blocker with lifelink dies from combat damage before lifelink can grant that player enough life to stay alive. Many players get this interaction wrong; the subtle difference in timing is unfortunate.
The Fix: Lifelink, like deathtouch, is turning into a static ability. If a source with lifelink deals damage, its controller gains that much life as that damage is being dealt. This brings the timing much closer to spells like Consume Spirit and Lightning Helix. As a side effect, multiple instances of lifelink are no longer cumulative.
The Details: As with deathtouch, this will incur functionality changes in some cards and errata (actually, un-errata) in others. If a card was printed with the word "lifelink" on it, its functionality will change to the new lifelink. However, a bunch of cards were printed with the ability "Whenever [this permanent] deals damage, you gain that much life" on them and got errata to say "lifelink" a couple of years ago because the two abilities were equivalent. Now that they're not, those cards will be reverted to their original wordings. They'll work as printed ... but they won't have lifelink. Only one card—Loxodon Warhammer—has been printed both ways. Since its most recent printing says "lifelink," it will stick with that and have the new functionality.
In my time as Rules Manager, I've added a few sections to the Comprehensive Rules that I was surprised didn't previously exist. For example, I've added a section called "Life" and one called "Drawing a Card." These sections collect relevant rules that were previously scattered throughout the rulebook, as well as including new rules on the subject. For the Magic 2010 rulebook update, I'll be creating a section on "Damage."
Damage is processed in two steps. There's no timing separation between these steps; one immediately follows the other. They're separated just so prevention and replacement effects can be processed correctly.
Step 1: Damage is dealt. Prevention and replacement effects that care about damage apply here.
Step 2: Damage that's been dealt has its results. Replacement effects that care about those results (like life loss or counters, for example) apply here.
What are the results of damage? The list, updated through Magic 2010, is as follows:
- Damage dealt to a player causes that player to lose that much life.
- Damage dealt to a planeswalker causes that many loyalty counters to be removed from that planeswalker.
- Damage dealt to a creature by a source with wither causes that many -1/-1 counters to be put on that creature.
- Damage dealt to a creature by a source without wither causes that much damage to remain on that creature.
- Damage dealt to anything by a source with lifelink causes that source's controller to gain that much life, in addition to whatever other results the damage has.
The fourth point is odd, since it doesn't seem to do anything. And, in some sense, it doesn't. It just marks the creature with an invisible tag indicating how much damage it's been dealt. The game keeps checking these tags. If at any time the total amount of damage indicated by these tags meets or exceeds that creature's toughness, the game (not the source of the damage!) destroys it as a state-based effect. If the creature regenerates, those tags are removed. As the turn ends, those tags are also removed.
The fifth point is what's changing about lifelink. Now the life gain is part of the damage event. Let's say you're at 1 life, and you're attacked by a pair of 2/2 creatures. You block one of them with a 3/3 creature with lifelink, but you don't block the other one. As a result of the damage, you'll lose 2 life and you'll gain 3 life at the exact same time (assuming none of the creatures have first strike). You'll wind up at 2 life.
Just like deathtouch, the fact that the new rules care whether a damage source has lifelink leads to notable changes in certain scenarios. Let's run the same example. Say a creature has both lifelink and a damage ability, like a Prodigal Pyromancer equipped with Loxodon Warhammer. If the ability is activated targeting me, but the Pyromancer leaves the battlefield before it resolves, then the game determines the characteristics of the damage source by checking its last existence on the battlefield. If the Warhammer was still equipping the Pyromancer at the time the Pyromancer left, then the source has lifelink (just like the source is red, and the source is a creature). The damage causes me to lose 1 life and the Pyromancer's controller to gain 1 life. (Wither already works like this in similar situations.) Under the old lifelink rules, this wouldn't have happened because lifelink wouldn't be around to trigger.
The changes listed in this article aren't the only rules changes that are taking place, but they're the most relevant ones to modern Magic play. The rest include things like an update to banding to bring it into compliance with the new combat damage rules, a radical streamlining of the phasing rules that I've been working on, and various maintenance fixes deep behind the scenes. More information will be made available about all these changes as we near the rulebook's release date.
Can I Learn More?
I understand this is a lot to digest. These rules won't be going live for another month, so there's plenty of time to process and discuss the changes.
Expect more content on this very site over the next few weeks about the changes, both from our regular columnists and in our new judge column. Gurus are available on our forums to answer rules questions, and you may also contact our Game Support department if you need further answers.
I realize that some of these decisions will cause concern for our loyal and enfranchised players. History alone indicates that will be the case; there was a great deal of negativity from some quarters in response to the Sixth Edition changes ten years ago. Players decried that the end was nigh and the game would never recover. But most of us calmed down and learned the changes, and now they're second nature to us. I anticipate this batch of changes to go no differently. I am prepared to defend all of these decisions and can say with a straight face, a clear conscience, and months of firsthand experience that Magic will be improved as a result of them.
I hope you'll agree, and here's to not doing this again for another decade.