Sunday, December 11, 2011

Regenerate Target Mechanic

Regenerate Target Mechanic
Regenerate is one of the evergreen abilities that's been around since Alpha. It's a bit "too flavorful" as Aaron Forsythe might say and suffers from old, unintuitive templating. Even so, a lot of players love it, myself included, because it hits its note well enough and that note needs hitting. Can we re-invent it into something more streamlined and intuitive?

Let's go directly to the most simple implementation of the mechanic, the one that would likely be used if this were created today: "If CARDNAME would be destroyed, you may pay COST. If you do, it’s not destroyed and all damage is removed from it." That's a lot shorter than the current reminder text on Cudgel Troll and it does the bare minimum to meet our goal.

The biggest difference is in the form: Rather than an activated ability that you must play before damage is dealt and before Doom Blade resolves, we've got a replacement ability that happens at the exact moment Krosan Troll would actually die. I really feel this is important because I've never seen regeneration explained to a new player without clarification being needed: "Wait, so it's too late to regenerate this now, even though it just died?"

Next, we've also excised the two flavor riders. Normally, the act of regeneration* taps your creature (if it wasn't already tapped) and removes it from combat (if it was in combat). You already know the parts in parenthesis, but those are points of confusion to new players. Both of these make great flavor-sense. These extra clauses illustrate how the creature needs time to regenerate and can't keep fighting uninterrupted. They are good flavor, but are they worth building into the ability?
* By "the act of regeneration" I mean, of course, when your regeneration shield is consumed, not when you create it originally via the activated ability. Gonna miss that distinction?

You might ask if the last phrase is also necessary: "...and all damage is removed from it." It is. Without that phrase, regenerating your troll from combat damage or burn will do nothing. (Or, more accurately, it will prevent the original game effect of sending a creature to the graveyard for having damage on it equal to or greater than its toughness, but as soon as state-based effects are checked again, uh immediately, the same rule will do it again.)

I had once tried a more clever wording: "...if you do, remove all damage from it instead" where the instead replaces the act of being destroyed, and while that does work, it's not clear to a lot players that it can survive a Doom Blade. I also originally used the new game term "when CARDNAME dies..." to simplify things, but a creature dies when you sacrifice it and we don't want players to be able to regenerate a sacrificed permanent, defeating the cost of sacrifice.

If we can agree that this is the best base ability, the next question is whether to keyword it or what. We have a few options: We can give it a new keyword, we can replace the old one, or we can leave it unkeyworded. It's not my preference for an evergreen ability, but choosing not to keyword the ability is relatively safe and clean. What I hate about this choice is that where players have had an infallible handle with which to reference the ability before, they'd now have to use 'regenerate' informally and then often have to clarify if they mean the old, 'real' regenerate or the new, unlabeled one.

The trouble with giving it a new keyword—which I think it deserves if it will be evergreened in place of regenerate—is that there aren't many synonyms for 'regenerate' and none of them have the same impact. We could do the cheap thing and use another form of the word like 'regeneration'. That's not terrible, but we're just begging for confusion with 'regenerate'.

It turns out that we can't replace the definition of regenerate. It works for permanents (though it is functionally different and mostly an upgrade), but because regenerate was an action keyword it doesn't work at all for spells. You can't just replace the reminder text on Asceticism and Regenerate because both of those have targets. You'd have to do something clunky like "Target creature gains Regenerate 0 until EOT or until you use it, whichever comes first." UGH.

I suppose you could create an alternate form, Regenerate Once (The first time CARDNAME would be destroyed...). Part of me hates that because it feels like a hack, and part of me loves it because it's actually pretty elegant and opens up some interesting designs. The second half of me is foolish. It's a trap: The designs it opens up are permanents with regenerate once and those are riddled with memory issues. So forget that.

We've got one more chance to make keywording work. We can have two forms: regenerate with no cost which is the old keyword action and regenerate [cost] which is the new keyword 'trigger'. Asceticism, Regenerate and Cudgel Troll wouldn't change at all, but new cards would all use the new form, like Krosan Troll. This does mean players would sometimes be asked to know both versions and distinguish between them when playing with both old and new sets. We could use 'regeneration' to distinguish the new form, so they at least don't use the exact same word …aaand now we've come full circle back to option #1. Only this time I'm not so sure it's wrong.

One more bonus to using regeneration is that cards like Incinerate that refer to the original ability will also refer to the new ability, which seems pretty important for continuity.

Regardless of how we label it, the new version is an overdue improvement for a beloved ability and I thank those who asked for it and helped develop it. (I can't find the old tweets, but I know @troacctid was the genesis of the discussion.)
For those of you bemoaning the loss of the flavor riders, remember that we can still make specific cards that tap and/or are removed from combat, to feature that flavor.
The fact that not all regenerators are tied to those extra clauses, opens up new possibilities too, without excessive clutter.


  1. Kiblar024 raises an interesting example. Knight of the Holy Nimbus has "If Knight of the Holy Nimbus would be destroyed, regenerate it."

    That's a replacement ability, that replaces being destroyed with being regenerated, which means that you get a regeneration shield. If it would be destroyed a second time in a turn, I have to assume you could use either the written replacement ability or the regeneration shield to keep it alive. That's confusing.

    Rulings from Gatherer:
    The second ability essentially means that Knight of the Holy Nimbus always has a regeneration shield. It retains that shield even if it's used.
    After the third ability resolves, regeneration shields don't work on Knight of the Holy Nimbus for the remainder of the turn. This includes its own automatic shield as well as shields from other sources.

  2. Using this template, we could write Krosan Troll's ability as "If Krosan Troll would be destroyed, you may pay G. If you do, regenerate it." We still need the regenerate reminder text and have all the flavor riders, but we avoid making a new keyword variation. The rules behind how it really works are pretty bizarre and ugly, but at a high-level it makes enough sense. Hmm. What do you all think?

  3. The biggest knock against this mechanic is that I'm not sure it even works within the rules. Currently, there's no card in Magic that instructs you to pay mana in the middle of a replacement effect. "Regeneration" would allow a player to activate mana abilities during times when they normally couldn't - like during the state-based action of killing creatures that have received lethal combat damage. Are players going to understand that "Regeneration" can't be countered by Stifle? How to handle multiple "Regeneration" creatures controlled by different players when someone plays a Day of Judgment?

    You'd also lose stack tricks like playing a burn spell in response to paying the mana to put on a regeneration shield, though I won't begrudge that. I agree that removing the tapped and removed-from-combat clauses makes sense (see: totem armor, which was a lot easier to understand than "Regeneration" because it was mandatory, didn't cost any mana, and for the most part, had to be "put on" at sorcery speed).

    @ Knight: I think you're overcomplicating things a bit here - notice there's no "instead" in KOTHN's ability? It's just a shorter way of writing out "If KOTHN would be destroyed, instead it's not destroyed, tap it, and remove it from combat." It doesn't get an additional "regeneration shield" on top of that.


  4. I don't _know_ that we can add a mana payment to a replacement ability, but I don't see why not apart from the utter lack of precedence (which is rarely coincidental).

    Looks like you're right, Jenesis. 701.11b defines regenerating a permanent via a static ability differently than when it happens via a spell or activated ability. That discrepancy complicates the rules, but simplifies the game. Good to know.

    701.11. Regenerate
    701.11a If the effect of a resolving spell or ability regenerates a permanent, it creates a replacement effect that protects the permanent the next time it would be destroyed this turn. In this case, “Regenerate [permanent]” means “The next time [permanent] would be destroyed this turn, instead remove all damage marked on it and tap it. If it’s an attacking or blocking creature, remove it from combat.”
    701.11b If the effect of a static ability regenerates a permanent, it replaces destruction with an alternate effect each time that permanent would be destroyed. In this case, “Regenerate [permanent]” means “Instead remove all damage marked on [permanent] and tap it. If it’s an attacking or blocking creature, remove it from combat.”
    701.11c Neither activating an ability that creates a regeneration shield nor casting a spell that creates a regeneration shield is the same as regenerating a permanent. Effects that say that a permanent can’t be regenerated don’t prevent such abilities from being activated or such spells from being cast; rather, they prevent regeneration shields from having any effect.

  5. I actually believe that tapping is important: it means that removal spells are not complete blanks against a regenerating creature, and can hold it off for one turn. My vote is simply to get rid of the "remove it from combat" rule. (This was my GDS2 rule change essay.)

  6. I like the timing of the new regeneration.

    I think "Regenerating" could also be a replacement name for the mechanic.

    The major problem I have with regenerate as an evergreen keyword is how out of place it looks because it has a variable in it. First strike, vigilance, flying, haste, reach, hexproof, et al, none of these have any variables attached to them. They do what they do the same way every time. I think this is a defining factor to an evergreen keyword. (The exception would be equip, but that appears only on equipment which has no other keywords so it doesn't stand out.)

    So, for me, a regeneration replacement should probably drop its variable cost.

    So I would suggest, "Regenerating (If this creature would be destroyed, you may pay [one mana of each of its colors]. If you do...)"

    The variable cost is there but what the cost is is built into the keyword, so that when you write out the card with no reminder text, regenerating fits seemlessly into the rest.

  7. @HV: Removing the regenerated creature from combat prevents some weird quirks, like having the creature require multiple regeneration shields, which could arise from interactions with double strike, or trample + deathtouch.

  8. Also, I like R&D's recent approach, which is to admit that regen's an ugly baby, and to keep it out of public as much as possible.

  9. True, but I view that as more of a feature than a bug. It makes sense for a double-striking creature to kill a Manor Skeleton twice. I think the deathtouch situation doesn't actually require two regeneration shields: it gets assigned some amount of damage, which is automatically lethal, and then regenerates, removing all that damage. Am I missing something?

  10. But the first point of damage is lethal; so if the deathtouch creature has trample, the rest of the damage goes through.

    So this is kind of a hypothetical, but if the regen shield removes all lethal damage but didn't remove from combat, by the current rules the regen guy would take another 1 damage and need another shield, then take another 1 damage and need another shield and so on until all the damage from the deathtouch/trample guy was assigned.

    So this might not be a bad thing if you're a clever player (since if you have enough mana, your Manor Skeleton can soak all the damage from a Carnage Wurm), but it's a little strange.

    You could paper over it by changing the damage assignment rules (which I still find bizarre without the stack), but this gets back to my problem with regenerate in the first place. On the surface, Regenerate seems like a straightforward enough ability, but beneath the surface it's a barrel of rabid, poo-flinging monkeys.

  11. I personally think indestructibility is a much cleaner version of regeneration. Sure the name isn't as flavorful, but an activated version of it does what, as a new player, I expected regeneration to do.

  12. Indestructible is a fine work around, except that is doesn't fit within the typical grammatical structure of magic: ~ is indestructible this turn vs ~ gains flying until end of turn.

    It'd power up the ability, but it seems cleaner.

    {1}{B}: Return ~ from your graveyard to the battlefield tapped if it was put there this turn.

    Would also be cleaner. Having it happen after the fact would save the most common problem I've seen with regenerate (unintuitive timing), without needing all that text. I personally think it's more flavorful, too.

  13. Daniel, I'm afraid that's incorrect. State-based actions are not checked in between points of damage. Damage all happens at once.

  14. "{1}{B}: Return ~ from your graveyard to the battlefield tapped if it was put there this turn."
    has the same problem as "whenever ~ dies:"
    You can use it to regenerate from a sacrifice. That's fine on one card here and there (Reassembling Skeleton), but not on an evergreen keyword. It also means you can't put auras on it with any added confidence. I do like that ability as a one-shot or maybe a vertical cycle, though.

  15. @HV: I don't see the connection? It just means you have to put all of your shields up before damage.

  16. Okay, I do see what you're saying.

  17. New tech:

    {G}: Krosan Troll gains indestructible until EOT.
    (Which still has the wrong timing, but is so simple.)

    When Krosan Troll dies, if it wasn't sacrificed, you may pay {G}. If you do, return it to the battlefield tapped.
    (This does everything regenerate did, but cleaner. It triggers ETB+death effects, which is both good and bad. It's vulnerable to Cremate, which is neat.)