Monday, May 9, 2011

CCDD 050911—Piker Elite VS The Legend Rule

If you haven't already, start by reading Mark Rosewater's article today: The Issue Is Legen—Wait for It—Dary. Within, he discusses certain flaws tarnishing the rules for legendary permanents, not because the current rules are bad, but because there is room for improvement. It is this attitude of "fixing what ain't broke" that has sustained Magic as the best game in the world even after so many years. We cannot be content with "pretty good" or "good enough" but must always strive to be as close to perfection as possible. No one ever mastered anything by becoming the best and then stopping there.

Like Wizards R&D itself, most of Magic's more proactive fans enjoy solving puzzles and problems like this, so there's been a lot of discussion even in just the half-day since the article went live. I'll be throwing my hat into the ring today as well, but you may also want to check out the forums of Mark's article and Ian's thoughts here and Chris' thoughts here.

The solution that seems to have the most potential to me is: "When a legendary permanent enters the battlefield, each other permanent with that name is put into the graveyard." This is basically a complete reversal of the original rule and, arguably, an upgrade to the current rule. Let's go through each of the issues with the current rule and see where this proposal stands.

1 - All Downside: The current legend rule is all downside. If you're the first to play your legend, it's vulnerable to being killed by a second copy. If you're the second, yes, you've killed your opponent's copy, but you didn't actually get to play your own. (Presumably you would have just run removal in that slot if that was all you wanted to accomplish). The proposed legend rule works the same way for the first player, but becomes all-upside for the second. You get to kill your opponent's legend and you get your own copy. Together, the mechanic is no longer all-downside.

2 - Dead Draws: With the exception of getting out from under a Pacifism or Mind Control, the proposed rule is no better (or worse) at diminishing the "dead draw" effect of drawing a second copy of your own legend. The cycle of legends in Future Sight with Grandeur were an attempt to get around this problem. I have no idea how successful R&D considers that experiment, but they were interesting and fairly exciting cards that don't feel like something that needs to be repeated, at least not on every future legend.

3 - No fun, interaction or variance: Currently the second legend played kills both, slowing down the tempo of the game, hindering both players' game plans, and making nothing happen instead of something. The proposed rule would keep the latest copy in play, keeping the tempo of the game on pace (but dramatically shifting the beneficiary), hindering only one player's game plan and keeping things happening. This is a swingy effect, much like all the mythics Wizards has printed recently, but it remains vulnerable to a swing-back when the original caster plays another copy. This is variance and interaction. Whether it's fun or not, we can't know without trying, but where variance and interaction meet, fun tends to follow.

4 - Legends as answers: The proposed solution doesn't help with this problem. In fact, it may even exacerbate it since these cards now make even better answers. That said, I'm really not sure how often a player includes a legend in his deck just to answer other copies of it. That is, if they wouldn't be happy to play it against a deck with no opposing copies, it won't make the main deck and I haven't seen a lot of sideboard legends.

I feel pretty comfortable saying that the current rule is a step up over the original and that the proposed rule is a step up over the current. That's very arguable, of course, and I'd love to hear your reasons for or against it. All that aside, this rule has kept very much in line with the previous two in terms of general concept and execution. You will note that such was not one of the requirements Mark laid out for the future rule. It has the benefit of being easier to learn for experienced players, but it is entirely possible that there is a completely different rule that doesn't work remotely like any of these that is simpler, more fun and/or at least as thematic.

Cool Card Design of the Day

5/9/2011 - Whether someone finds the sideways-awesome solution, or Wizards goes with this solution or another similar one, it won't be for a good long while. That brings me to an actual card design, the ostensible reason you are here today:

Every problem in every game can be solved by a rules change, but very very few should. The ideal solution is to create a new entity (card, weapon, character, superpower, etc) within the game that works by the same rules as everything else but solves or alleviates the problem just by existing. The popular deck-building game Dominion has very few rules because most of the things you can need to happen are caused by cards in the game. If you need something to happen more or less, add the appropriate card or remove the offending card. That's elegance.

I'm not so in love with this design that I'd suggest replacing all future legends with this template, but this is an in-game solution (like Grandeur) that helps alleviate the problems of legends without changing any rules. I like the flavor that you've got a bunch of skilled pikemen who are good enough at their job but one will end up standing out over the rest and making a name for himself. Kind of like Figure of Destiny and all the levelers. Or the flip cards from Kamigawa. Hmm, maybe it should be a flip card. I admit that I find the trigger of just being first pretty boring, but we have to make sure only one can trigger this way at a time or we've defeated the whole purpose. Perhaps "Whenever [interesting trigger], if there are no legendary cards named CARDNAME, it becomes legendary [and gets better]." Multiple can trigger, but only one can resolve successfully.


  1. I think the suggestion of having legends kill others of the same name but survive wouldn't actually work out all that well in practice. Think about the case of Jitte - people ran them in decks that otherwise might not, because it served as both a colorless Shatter for opposing Jittes that had to be stopped, and a card with some value when the opponent did not have Jittes. With the rules change you propose, suddenly you get both effects at once. Unless Shatter suddenly becomes a cantrip, playing more copies of Jitte is now the most efficient way to deal with Jitte.

    Making a card the best answer to itself is very dangerous territory, because you risk making the mirror match the best answer to a particular deck.

  2. "That said, I'm really not sure how often a player includes a legend in his deck just to answer other copies of it."

    It's pretty handy in mirror matches, especially with creatures that are either hard to remove (Keira), or punish the opponent when they leave play (like Keiga). There was also a stretch while Time Spiral was in constructed where most of the Mystical Teachings decks were only playing 1 Teferi, and playing 2 was a huge advantage (though the legend-rule destruction was only an incidental bonus).

    Also, a couple weeks ago, I was toying with Thrun as a sideboard card in Valakut. There were a lot of Thrun + Swords decks popping up in my area, and the best answer was this card:
    Thrun Killer - mythic
    ~ can't be countered.
    Destroy all Thruns.
    ~ probably does other stuff too.

  3. One idea I had was that Legends would have protection from other cards with their own name. It's kind of clunky, but it's sort of like you can get the legend to fight for both sides, but you can't have each legend fight itself. Of course it has a lot of problems, such as Legends whose abilities circumvent protection, such as Mageta the Lion.

    The other idea I had, which isn't much of an improvement to the current version, would be for legends to not go to the graveyard from the legend rule, but rather get shuffled back into their owner's deck.

  4. No rules should ever be tailored to the existence of broken cards like Umezawa's Jitte. The better solution is not to print such cards in the first place.

    That said, I agree very much that this is dangerous territory and that making a card the best answer to itself is rocky terrain. Slippery slope is another related turn of phrase.

    Seriously though, we know that there can't be an easy solution or R&D would have found it already. I guarantee they've already discussed this possibility and found the same problems with it. That's not a reason to give up though, because only more ideas and discussion can lead us where we need to be.

    A quick fix to the proposed legend rule being too good is to let the controller of the killed legend draw a card. That starts to feel fiddly and inelegant though as well as raising questions about playing your own second copy just to cycle into a card. Actually, that sounds more useful than being stuck with it in hand. Hmm.

  5. Piker Elite is awesome design. In a legends-based set, it would be a valuable mechanic for allowing legends at common without the problem of them cancelling each other all the time in Limited. In fact, I want to use that mechanic for my legends based set.

  6. My solution would be to remove the Neutralizing effect and make it a replacement effect that draws the player a card. The new rule would look like this:

    704.5k If you cast or play a legendary permanent with the same name as another legendary permanent on the battlefield, you exile it instead and draw a card. This is called the “legend rule.” If only one of those permanents is legendary, the rule doesn’t apply.

    How does this affect the four problems Maro outlined?

    Problem #1 – It’s an All-Downside Mechanic
    It’s always going to be a little of a downside since you can only have one in play at a time (outside of tricky ways to make copies from activated or triggered abilities like Izzet Transreliquent or Voltrath’s Shapeshifter) but drawing a new card is an upside to make up for this.

    Problem #2 – It Creates Dead Draws
    No longer will you have drawn a blank card. You still retain the ability to save it as a back up if the first copy is destroyed, but now you can also trade it a legendary permanent for a new card. Players would feel better about playing 4 copies in a deck. You still have to pay the card’s mana cost and any other costs it has, and it would be better if that was free, but previous Legendary permanents were not designed with this in mind and would be broken if they were free. (Yes, Legendary lands would be free, but playing them means using up your land drop for the turn which mitigates this.)

    Problem #3 – It leads to Unfun Game Play
    Legends no longer neutralize each other so they would spend as much time on the battlefield as any other type of permanent and their variance would be like that of any other card in the deck.

    Problem #4 – It Encourages People to Play Them as Answers
    They don’t neutralize each other, so there’s no incentive for other players to play them as Silver Bullets. If another player plays a copy they would just draw a card instead.


    I chose to have the replacement effect exile the newer copies to avoid graveyard shenanigans like Crucible of Worlds/Karakas or Crowded Cemetery /Braids card draw combos. If that is an unnecessary caution, it could be changed to put the card directly into the graveyard which would look like “…you put the newer legendary permanent into the graveyard and draw a card instead.”

    I’m happy that this change would stop effects like two Kokushos causing a 10 life Drain Life or an Elish Norn -4/-4 effect for occurring for the split second as both are in play. When these sorts of things happen under the existing legend rule it is a break in how the rule is supposed to work, an unwanted side effect for designers to worry about. In order to get effects like this under my rule, players would have to build decks with copying activated abilities, and in Kokusho’s case the copies would each need to be destroyed separately to trigger effects.