Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Shroud Vs Hexproof: Downsides

Shroud Vs Hexproof: Downsides
Today I continue the debate between shroud and hexproof. For context, here's part one.

The only reason we're having this discussion is because they key-worded hexproof. It existed alongside shroud on Sacred Wolf in Magic 2011 non-italic text, but when they key-worded it in 2012 that's where we got the issue we discussed last time. Why keyword it? Why promote it over shroud? Because it's an all-upside version of shroud.

R&D has consciously been cutting back on downside mechanics because a significant segment of their audience doesn't enjoy them.(1) That's not to say they don't do them at all—because there's also a significant segment of their audience that loves them—but they're much less common both in frequency and rarity, and rightly so. Mostly.

Shroud is exactly the kind of downside mechanic they shouldn’t be getting rid of.

(Apologies if you've read this already in a comment on Robby's prescient post on the subject three months ago on MTGColorPie; I have embellished it considerably though.)

All-downside mechanics are a problem because some players evaluate cards as if the cost were invisible. The fact that the downside makes it cheaper doesn’t factor (presumably they're assuming they'll get there eventually and aren't worried about speed). When you ignore mana costs, Vampire Lacerator looks far worse than Walking Corpse. And if you look at total mana costs, Cradle Guard looks like a bad Stampeding Rhino.

Shroud, however, is not all-downside. It's only part upside and part downside. It’s symmetrical. On its face, it is as good for you as your opponent and as bad for you as your opponent. Like Wrath of God. Like Balance and Earthquake. These are all very good cards that appeal to [most of] the same players who hate all-downside mechanics (well, maybe not Balance) because they can see the value in casting them and know that it doesn’t punish them any more than their opponent. It’s obviously not hard to get value out of symmetrical effects and that’s where shroud becomes attractive.

Not being able to boost your own guy is a small price to pay for a threat (or answer) that can’t be killed by a Doom Blade or Swords to Plowshares. Does shroud appeal to all players? No. Is hexproof strictly better and all-upside, yes it is. Do all mechanics need to appeal to everyone? No sir. Hexproof has its place, but so does shroud.

As some have argued (and I agree), there are a lot of shroud cards that could never have been printed as-is with hexproof. Sphinx of Jwar Isle comes to mind. By the same token, hexproof has enabled cards that would have been worthless with shroud. Gladecover Scout is my favorite example. The elephant in the room is, of course, Invisible Stalker which many have maligned as the enemy of interactivity in Innistrad.

If you've played a sealed or draft game against an Invisible Stalker with a Silver-Inlaid Dagger or, heaven forbid, a Butcher's Cleaver attached (it's not hard to do), then you know what they're talking about. Your only hope is to cast Rolling Temblor (before they give it Spectral Flight) or Tribute to Hunger (before they play a second body). This wouldn't be a problem if Stalker had shroud instead of hexproof, but it also wouldn't be a very good or exciting card. Okay, they probably would've made it a 2/2 for UUU or 2UU and that would've been fine.

While Invisible Stalker is a bit of a mistake, hexproof itself isn't. At least not necessarily. You don't hear people crying foul over Lumberknot or even Angelic Overseer because those are threats that can be answered. Lumberknot can be blocked all day (even if it is chump-blocking) and is trumped by the lowly Typhoid Rats. Angelic Overseer is your standard scary mythic with a five-power flying body for five mana. It can become unanswerable when you control another human, but humans are easy to kill. You know, as long they're not Invisible Stalker.

So hexproof is a lot harder to balance than shroud, but it doesn't have to be broken. For some of us, it's nice to have keywords for as many 'standard' abilities as possible and hexproof is better than troll-shroud.*

I wasn't planning on this being more than two parts, but there's more to talk about regarding interactivity, the difference keywording made to hexproof and another interesting alternative (that fills in the blank implied by that asterisk).


  1. I like the line of reasoning so far and agree with both existing but not in the same limited environment.

    Also the invisible man is answerable in that if you can deal with all equipment attached to it, then it is no better than a goblin fireslinger with shroud. Granted that's not easy to do (answer every artifact that comes into play), but it's certainly possible.

    It would be much more answerable if the next set includes an inverse Turn to Slag that destroys target equipment and the creature it is attached to.

  2. The problem isn't that equipment and auras on Hexproof creatures are unanswerable. The problem is that there aren't enough artifacts and enchantments to make maindeck Naturalizes viable, which means that few decks have answers built in. The solution? Make more playable auras. Let green and white actually profit from the enchantmentdestruction slice of the color pie.

  3. It is pretty ironic that the enchantment colors didn't get any of the great common auras in Innistrad.

  4. I still haven't seen the problem of "I can't use my Giant Growth on my shrouded guy to save him in combat" addressed in the article. That's my main reason for supporting the shift away from shroud. I don't want my protective abilities to prevent me from doing awesome stuff. It's more interesting in some ways for the protection to be symmetrical, but I think that's less important than just enabling more fun.

    Excellent point, Havelock, about making enchantment/artifact destruction more main-deckable. The issue of pumped-up hexproof monsters is reduced significantly if you're actually running ways to solve the pump rather than the body.

  5. Looking over it again, you do address my main concern somewhat, Jay, but only in a passing comment, dismissing the "feelbad" aspect of shroud as being unimportant or worth it in the long run. I still disagree, of course. I think that double-edged effects like that should be on individual cards and designs, rather than being evergreen tools. They have their place, but I don't want that to be one of the basic building blocks of creature design.

  6. I'm not really sure what else there is to say about not being able to Giant Growth your own guy. I covered the symmetry of shroud in this article and the danger of confusing shroud for hexproof in the last one. This is what makes shroud not all-upside / not hexproof.

    You're right that it prevents you from doing awesome stuff like making it huge, but that's the trade-off players have gladly taken with their Giant Solifuges and Simic Sky Swallowers for ages. And that's why hexproof is a thing. So players can have un-Terror-able creatures they can build upon.

  7. It's not my intention to dismiss the feelbad aspect of shroud. It's very real and very relevant. I'm a huge fan of Troll Ascetic and personally very glad to see that ability spreading. I just don't think that argument alone warrants obliviating shroud entirely.

  8. The argument for junking shroud is that this town ain't big enough for the both of them. You've got two keyword mechanics which function identically most of the time. One has to die.

    Two mechanics enter, one mechanic leaves!

  9. I could see an argument for un-keywording shroud (and even issuing errata to that effect).

    There is a pretty clear argument for having both effects in existence but I think an equally strong case for having only one of them keyworded.

    What if, to reflect this, we use hexproof on a few cards in M13 (down from the current number) and include shroud on at least one card - but WITHOUT the keyword.

    The best way I can think to do this is to bring back a reprint that formerly had shroud on it - preferably something that has been in a core set, recently. So, how about:

    Mist Leopard 3G
    Creature — Cat (3/2)

    Mist Leopard can't be the target of spells or abilities.

    Or we could even bring back a card where the upside of symmetry is more likely to get used (because you might actually place this on an opponent's unblockable creature to stop it from getting equipped):

    Robe of Mirrors U
    Enchantment — Aura

    Enchant creature (Target a creature as you cast this. This card enters the battlefield attached to that creature.)

    Enchanted creature can't be the target of spells or abilities.