Thursday, November 3, 2011

Shroud Vs Hexproof: Interactivity

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

What draws a player to play a game rather than read a book or even watch a movie with friends? Both of those media can be fun and challenging, but they're not interactive. The ability to make choices and see the results of those choices is primary in drawing players into single player games and the effect is multiplied in duels and group games because now you're not just interacting with the game environment, but with other players which can be deeply satisfying.

MagicCardsWithGooglyEyes.tumblr.comMost elements of a Magic game are interactive. You can cast a Serra Angel, and I can Mana Leak it. You can attack with your Goblin Piker, and I can block with my Goblin Arsonist. You can cast Slaughter Cry and I can cast Fog. Or Doom Blade. Some of the best cards (in terms of their value in helping you to win games) reduce interactivity by generating a threat that your opponent can't answer as easily. White Knight is immune to Doom Blade, Serra Angel can't be blocked by Goblin Arsonist and Manor Gargoyle is unimpressed with your 10/10 Timbermaw Larva.

They are more of a challenge to deal with and that's a double-edged sword just like all challenges. If you are able to overcome it, perhaps by Cruel Edicting that Knight, Plummeting that Angel or casting Revoke Existence on that Gargoyle, then you'll feel good about yourself and the game will experience an emotional change that keeps players interested. If you aren't able to deal with it, you'll free frustrated. Either you had the tool to deal with it but couldn't find it, or you did and didn't realize it or wasted it on something else or your deck was legitimately without an answer. Some of these are more your fault or less, but none of them are fun.

Hexproof and shroud both reduce interactivity, shutting out every single spell that could hurt the recipient. Hexproof is not less interactive than shroud; in fact the opposite is true. Shroud prevents all non-combat interaction but hexproof only shuts off your opponents' interaction. When you equip your Gladecover Scout, enchant your Sacred Wolf or pump your Aven Fleetwing, your opponent can still Disenchant or Negate to interact with your creature indirectly.

I don't believe it's happened yet, but there could be cards that affect another spell's target, getting around hexproof's shield:
"Return a card targeted by target spell or ability to its owner’s hand."
"The owner of a card targeted by target spell or ability sacrifices it."
"Untap a creature targeted by target spell or ability. It gains haste and you gain control of it until end of turn."

The danger of threats you can't answer with your removal spells is compounded non-interaction. Invisible Stalker is the poster boy here because he has the best possible form of evasion, unblockability. When you can't target something, there are only a couple ways to deal with it and they are creature combat and global destruction (or pre-emptive discard/milling). Take away the primary method and you're left with a challenge most players won't be able to overcome. The fact that Innistrad has only one common, one uncommon and one mythic rare that can do the trick once a Stalker is on the field is a problem. Since the stalking player can counter Tribute to Hunger and Lilliana of the Veil by simply having another creature—something they probably wanted to do anyhow and Rolling Temblor by playing the best common aura in the same color compounds this particular issue further.

If Angelic Overseer's abilities weren't contingent on the survival of one of Magic's most vulnerable tribes, it would be an unacceptable problem as well. Either flying or indestructible alone would make it too much and both would be a joke. Thankfully, humans are squishy.

The point here is that one interaction-preventing ability is pretty safe but the combination of multiple such is quite dangerous. To bring this back to the debate at hand, the funny thing is that neither keyword really has the edge on the other in this regard. While hexproof offers greater interactivity, it simultaneously makes possible more devastating threats which will end the game faster, reducing the likelihood you will ever get to solve your opponent's challenge.

The difference keywording makes
Apologies for not naming the wise person that pointed this out, but twitter is terrible for finding unlabeled tweets even just 24 hours old: Shroud and what is now hexproof co-existed in Magic 2011 without problem (at least not a problem we experienced players noticed), yet the act of keywording hexproof made them mutually exclusive abilities. That makes some sense, considering how the mindspace issue we discussed in part one is exaggerated by keywords but it also opens up another solution to the face-off.

Maybe these could co-exist if they used the same word. Protection can be used in a number of seemingly disparate ways because it is a compound or variable keyword. Protection from characteristic can identify any card or source that has that characteristic. It's usually a color, but sometimes it's a card type like in Spirit Mantle and Petrified Wood-Kin or something stranger like Mistmeadow Skulk or Progenitus. That versatility allows you to do a lot of things with one keyword. (Protection from spells or abilities, by the way, is the same as shroud, it just isn't as succinct or flavorful.)

Duncan (and a few others, IIRC) suggested this solution for shroud and hexproof. Click to check these functional reprints of three Magic 2011 cards at full size: Sacred Wolf, Gaea's Revenge and Autumn's Veil.

Okay, that last one has a slight functional difference but it's so much cleaner, I think the card is even improved by this change. The astute among you will also have noticed that "shrouded from x" doesn't enjoy the same consistency as protection from characteristic, because we haven't defined x as precisely. On Sacred Wolf, "opponents" is not a characteristic. If that were a requirement we could use the more cumbersome "shrouded from spells and abilities your opponents control" which is arguably worse than simply writing out "Sacred Wolf can't be the target of spells and abilities your opponents control," thought it's not an argument I would agree with.

Fortunately, that's not necessary. Keywords have variations that allow this kind of thing. Cycling is not the same as landcycling and we can use that same tech here. As far as the rules are concerned, we would have "Shroud," "Shrouded from characteristic," and "Shrouded from player." The beauty of that solution is even though these are technically different, they don't feel or seem different and they don't fight for mindspace. Shroud means "can't be targeted" and sometimes it's more specific.

Is that the best answer to the question "which should be used going forward: hexproof or shroud?" Normally this is where I'd hem and haw and say I provided the evidence either way and leave it to you to decide. This time, I'm taking a stand. I didn't know how well the integrated keyword solution would work until I tried it out and I must say I'm impressed. We get every variation of functionality that sticking to just one (or even both) of hexproof and shroud prohibits yet we stick to one mechanical concept for players to learn. I say "shrouded from x" is the way to go moving forward. Specifically, I would leave shroud as primarily blue and shrouded from x as primarily green.


  1. I agree. Duncan's suggestion of "Hexproof" (in green) and "Spellproof" (in blue) seems like the flipside to this which also has definite potential (if one loves Hexproof, so to speak.) A solution in this vein seems to be the right course, either way.

  2. "Protection from spells or abilities, by the way, is the same as shroud, it just isn't as succinct or flavorful."
    Pyroclasm would like a word with you.

  3. Overall I thinking combining them is good, except I'd prefer things HAVE "Shroud from" rather than ARE "Shrouded from".

    On the other hand, I'm not completely convinced that both need to be keyworded though.

    What I am convinced of is that if we go with Hexproof for M13, we should have at least one creature that effectively has shroud just without the keyword, as suggested on the previous post:

    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.

  4. Jade is right of course, they're not identical, just close enough.

    Trevor, why would we use "Shroud[ed] from" but not "Shroud?"

    Unkeywording shroud is a valid suggestion, but it's not compatible with the integrated/variable keyword solution.

  5. One of the interesting things "Shrouded from" does is that it offers designers an option for color hosers beyond protection.

    While it hasn't been as much of a problem lately, I think that most of your articles in this series could describe the difficulties of Protection in design. Protection is a single keyword that gives a creature both Hexproof and Evasion against a given deck! Talk about noninteraction.

    If you used "Shrouded from" you've effectively divided protection into two separate abilities: Landwalk and Shroud. You still have lots of design space for color hosers, but there's less of those times a White Knight on turn two is just unbeatable for a black deck.

    As stated above, it's not a perfect replacement. Pyroclasm etc. But that's still better than forcing narrow answers like Unstable Footing to exist just to give a color a fighting chance.

    But mostly, I'm just not a fan of Protection.

  6. Duncan, I mostly agree; that's similar to a proposal from Reinventing Alpha. If we could start over, I'd have Protection only prevent targeting and damage. Let landwalk and Intimidate carry the evasion.

    Anyway, I don't like the awkwardness of the proposed wordings, nor the rules issues (spells with Shroud?!), nor making Shrouded from X into a strictly worse Protection from X. If Shrouded from spells and effects controlled by opponents is the best variant, let's just use that one. And call it "Hexproof".

  7. Funny you should mention that, I was thinking about how Protection from X could be:
    Unblockable by X
    Untargetable by X
    Unenchantable by X
    Indestructible by X
    Note that's an upgrade since it would protect Black Knight from Wrath of God, matching most player's expectations. As you point out, Protection is often too good (Aaron might describe it as "too flavorful") and perhaps only its component parts should be printed.

  8. Oh, and that came about when I was wondering if 'untargetable [by]' isn't a better than name 'shroud[ed from]'. It has less flavor but that literalness is pretty common among core keywords (see first strike) and tends to lend itself even better for specific flavor on different cards. Some cards have first strike because they have reach weapons, some have it because of combat expertise and some have it for other reasons, but that flavor wouldn't be so flexible if "first strike" was "combat training" or "long weapon."

  9. There's also "Prevent all damage that would be dealt to ~ by X". (See also: the desired effect from White and Black Knights attacking each other.) I don't know how best to shorten that, as "Undamageable by X" is pretty much a mouthful.

    If there was a good way to parse Indestructible by X, I would heavily support it. As is, with how "Indestructible" stands apart from normal abilities, I feel like there's some other wording required (but I have no idea what it would be).

  10. I got it! It's so simple: PROOF!

    [characteristic]-proof means This can't be the target of [characteristic] spells or abilities from [characteristic] sources.

    Concrete examples:
    Blue-proof (This can't be the target of blue spells or abilities from blue sources).
    Creature-proof (This can't be the target of abilities from creatures).
    Instant-proof (This can't be the target of instant spells).

    Hexproof remains to describe the special case where this keyword doesn't fit (and opponent-proof sounds dumb) while Spellproof replaces Shroud.

  11. Okay, the problem with X-proof is that you can only use a word for X, not a phrase, limiting both flexibility and clarity.

    Consider instead Invisibility from [characteristic]:

    Enchanted creature has Invisibility from spells.

    Sacred Wolf has Invisibility from spells and abilities your opponent's control.

    Target creature gains Invisibility from blue and/or black spells until EOT.

  12. I like the "Invisibility from spells" or "Invisibility from blue spells" when comparing your last two posts here. I don't know the context of what you're doing here, but saying "Blue-proof" is bad because it'll get confusing as to what you have "proof" from (In this case, being targeted by blue spells or abilities of blue sources). Protection made sure to make this not confusing (Well, it tried valiantly) by saying "Protection from blue" meant damage, enchant, equip, block, AND target.

    "hex" was pretty good since that implies something thrown at it, like a spell (in most cases) or an ability.

    Two cents inputted!