Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A Wording for Diminish Effects

Diminish is one of my favorite common cards in M11. I don't actually play it a lot because of the riskiness, but the flavor of shrinking your opponent's creature into a small creature at the right moment to squash it is delicious and evocative.

Fairy tales and legends are full of Witches that will turn you into a mouse and eat you, or heroes that defeat a genie by tricking it into making itself small. Transforming things is one of the things spellcasters tend to do. It provides a nice contrast to other combat tricks that give +X/+X or -X/-X. I also like cards like Wings of Velis Veil because they are evocative.

Unfortunately, it seems to be a hugely unpopular card as it contradicts how many people expect it to work. They expect it to turn a Giant Growth-ed Grizzly Bear into a 1/1, and have a stressful experience when they discover mid-combat that it doesn't work that way. They expect the last resolved effect to overwrite the result.

Many people who do understand how it works still think it would be more natural to work the other way.

I don't mind either way as long as it's clear. The following wording could at least prevent confusion:

"Target creature's base power and toughness becomes 1/1 until end of turn. (Other modifiers still apply.)"

Another way is to make it match player's expectations without changing the current layering rules, by changing the rules text of the card.

"Target creature becomes 1/1 until end of turn. Other 'until end of turn' effects modifying its power and toughness wear off."

The latter one is kind of long, especially on a common card like Diminish, but since it will be perceived as a single action with a single purpose (kind of like Rampant Growth or Coercion) at least it wouldn't be confusing. (Although it would still add to the average text length of the set)

Some better terminology for "until end of turn effects" might be devised, but the idea is to forcibly shut off the previous spells' effects as part of this spell's effect.


  1. The latter doesn't account for bonuses and penalities from persistent effects like Equipment or enchantments.

    I think the actual rules text is perfectly fine, but just needs reminder text. "Target creature becomes 1/1 until end of turn. (Effects that modify its power and toughness still apply.)" That keeps the simple and concise text while hopefully also helping to solve the problem of nonintuitive layer interactions.

    As for a Diminish effect that actually overwrites something like Giant Growth? "Target creature gets -X/-Y until end of turn, where X is its power minus one and Y is its toughness minus one." The Y variable is very rarely used, but this is a case where it might be worth it to end up with a "becomes 1/1" effect that works exactly the way you'd expect it to.

  2. I think players expect enchantment and equipment bonuses to persist beyond the shrinking process, so I left them unaffected. It becomes a small guy, but it's still wielding a big sword. If a magical halo or mutation has been cast and its still there in sight on the table, it should still be continuously emitting its effect.

    But I'd need to take a survey or something to find out if that's what the majority thinks. It's possible that the majority doesn't think like that.

    I think the Bloodlust wording looks complex, not because it uses Y, which I think is ok, but because it requires you subtract something from the amount that you subtract. They sometimes joke that Fireball is like algebra, but this one really is algebraic.

    This kind of thing is simple because we understand the intent or the "meaning" of the formula, but for some players who don't know what to expect from a Diminish effect, it will look like very uninviting code.

    But I mostly didn't want to include the Bloodlust wording because it becomes more awkward for the mind to parse with effects like Wings of Velis Veil. "Target creature gets -X/-Y until end of turn, where X is its power minus four and Y is its toughness minus four." If you cast it on a 1/1 creature, you need to understand about subtracting negative numbers.

  3. "Target creature becomes 1/1 until end of turn. (Effects that modify its power and toughness still apply.)" :
    I think you hit the nail on the head with this one. It's concise and clear.

    WotC needs to find out whether the player dissatisfaction is due to losing combat from a combat misunderstanding, or if it's from a feeling "why can't I overwrite giant growth." If it's the former, it could really be a simple problem to solve.

  4. @Chah: Confusion about ongoing effects like that does still happen. When the effect says the creature becomes 1/1, the most intuitive interpretation is that it becomes 1/1 regardless of any other bonuses it may have, ongoing or temporary.

    The problem is one of the game's rules not working as they would be expected, which can be frustrating not just from ruining someone's plan but just from being plain confusing, making the game seem unappealing. When someone asks why it doesn't work the way it seems it should, having to learn even some of the basics of the layering rules can be very daunting. Even though it doesn't explain why, reminder text will at least help keep it from coming up as often as a question or misunderstanding.

    With Wings of Velis Vel, I don't think that's something that would need -X/-Y terminology, it can work as-is with reminder text. Shrinking something to 1/1 matters when being used as a combat trick, as mentioned, but when making something bigger it's not nearly so important to remove those static bonuses and penalties.

  5. I've got a different perspective to offer. Before M10, the rules worked the other way - cards like Wings of Velis Vel really did overwrite pump effects. On two separate occasions, I had it come up in a late-round match in a PTQ (one Time Spiral sealed, one Lorwyn Sealed), and on both occasions it was played wrong (i.e. it was believed to work the way it actually works now).

    The first time, I played Tromp the Domains, and my opponent and I both assumed that his Vhati il-Dal could only lower one of my guys down to 4 power. It made a critical difference to the game, as it forced him to chump block with some guys he needed.

    The second time, a year later, I attacked with Oakgnarl Warrior and boosted it with Fist of Force after blockers. My opponent called over a judge, who informed him that his Wings of Velis Vel would still make my guy a 6/6, which was apparently what my opponent had expected. (I'm not proud - although by that point I knew better, neither one had asked me my opinion, so I stayed silent rather than appeal to try to get the head judge to rule in my opponent's favor.)

    The current method may not be intuitive for everyone, but my own experience suggests that it is more intuitive than the old rules, even for judges.

  6. Once you understand that setting P/T to a specific number is always going to be the "base" on which other effects are layered, it's easy to figure out. But getting to that point is the tricky part.

  7. "Target creature becomes 1/1 until end of turn. (Effects that modify its power and toughness still apply.)"

    I agree that this template would help a lot, but I still don't think it's worth the hassle. It's kind of like "Q" - it's something I really, really like, but the vast majority of players don't understand how it works, and hate it as a result.

    At the very least, I'd rather see P/T setting only on rare cards (like Omnibian). And it'd also help if it was restricted to sorcery speed.