Blog Fanatic: The Legends Rule

Hey R&D! Ben has a hot new tip about how to change Magic for the better. It involves…..the Legends Rule!

Worzel felt the telltale prickling at the back of her neck; her domain was being challenged! It’s someone old, she thought. Someone I know…Thornil! It had been a long time since he had challenged her. Quickly, she called her vassals into action. She would need much more mana for this duel, much indeed.”

–From the Alpha Rulebook

From the get go, Magic has been intended as a game that works as both an exercise in strategy and as a voyage into a fantastical land where two wizards duel for supremacy. Many cards in the game are designed around flavor, called top down design – the designers think up a cool concept or idea, and the card mechanics are designed around the flavor.

Q: Can my opponent do something that doesn’t make sense, such as casting both Holy Strength and Unholy Strength on his Air Elemental?

A: Yes, these effects are magical, after all.

–Also from the Alpha Rulebook

What a prehistoric example of Ask the Judge! Could you imagine Sheldon getting a question like this today? Actually, I’m sure he does get questions like this -“How can you Terror a Wall? How can you cast Jump on Giant Oyster? How can River Boa be enchanted by Extra Arms? It makes no sense!” It shows how mindful Richard Garfield was of the flavor of the game from Magic’s inception.

After reading the updated rules carefully, you’ll note that Summon Legend cards are no longer Restricted. Yes, you may now construct a sanctioned tournament deck with four General Jarkeld cards therein! However, the rule pertaining to only one individual Summon Legend card title in play at any one time is still effective (so there can be only one General Jarkeld card in play at a time). Originally, these cards were restricted not because of their power, but to enhance the atmosphere of the game environment when Legends was widely available. That limited expansion is, as you know, now out of print, and Summon Legend cards are not seen as frequently in tournaments, and we agreed that restriction was no longer necessary.

-Marc”Sparky” Schmalz (I did not make that name up), rules team announcement October 1995.

When legends (the creature type) were originally introduced, they were all considered restricted cards. I remember playing my Red/Black/Blue deck back in the day, and wishing I could run multiple copies of Sol’Kanar the Swamp King and Gwendlyn Di Corci. The rules of the game, inspired by the flavor of the game, were that you could only have one Sol’Kanar in your deck! Thankfully this rule was changed the next year, and you can safely play four copies of Sol’Kanar in your modern decks, which will ensure you get disqualified from your next block constructed tournament.

There has been one snag with the Legends rule in recent years, and one that could use some addressing. I’m about to propose a simple change, but one that makes a lot of sense and would aid R&D in their quest to make truly inspired cards which test the skill of all players of Magic. But first, a little story.

“Ben looked around the murky mire. He had been trudging through the swamps for days, and had finally arrived at Castle Hoefling. Would the lord of the manor, Darth Junior, be there to accept his challenge. ‘Surely he will challenge me’ Ben thought to himself, rapping a giant brass knocker against the solid oak doors.

Ben stood there in silence, until muffled footsteps could be heard behind the castle doors. With a slow creak, they opened. There, in his StarCityGames.com polo shirt, stood the dark lord himself.

‘BLEIIIII-WEISS!’, he bellowed, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes, ‘it’s 3am. You better have a damn good reason for waking me up this time of the morning.’

‘Oh, but I do Pete – I’m here to challenge you to a duel!’

With that, Ben snapped his fingers. From the sky swooped the Ascendant Evincar himself, Crovax.

‘Crovax and I will beat you down, and I will own your business, your woman, and your dad’

Pete seemed unimpressed. ‘First of all, Crystal would kick your ass. Second of all, my dad would kick your ass. Third of all, I’m going to kick your ass!’ Pete jumped into position, and clapped. Out of the darkness of his house came Crovax the Cursed.

‘Wait a second,’ said Crovax to Crovax. ‘If you’re me and I’m me, how can we both be here at the same time? Is this some trick?’

‘Hold on a second,’ Ben cut in, taking a rulebook out of his back pocket. He quickly flipped through it. ‘Nope, according to Wizards code G12.9b, as long as you two don’t have the same name, then we’re all good for this rumble.’

‘But we’re both Crovax!’ the twin Crovaxes bellowed in agony. Ben seemed unmoved, and contemplated how to solve this situation, as Pete took advantage and called forth Ertai, the Corrupted!

‘Ah ha Bleiweiss! Who has the upper hand now?’ Ben shrugged, and pulled out his cell phone.”Hey Ertai, we got an emergency here. Can you come on down? 5623 Williamson Road? Yeah thanks. Yeah, I know it’s 3 am. Yeah, I know. I know. Yeah. Look, I’ll get you the money next Tuesday. Just get down here, ok?’

And in a flash, Ertai, the Corrupted appeared – and promptly dropped dead.

‘Oops, wrong number. Sorry about that!’ Ben blushed, and quickly hit speed dial. ‘Hey Ertai. Yeah, sorry about that. Yeah, I didn’t mean to kill future mutated you. Yeah look, can you get down here? Please? I promise not to let you die immediately. Seriously.’

A few minutes later, Ertai, Wizard Adept showed up at Pete’s porch. By then, Pete had summoned both Kamahl, Fist of Krosa and Kamahl, Pit Fighter to his side. ‘Ah Ha, Bleiweiss! The Kamahl advantage is mine!’

‘Well then, I’ll just get Jeska and Phage here,’ Ben countered, summoning the femme fatales. ‘Wait, isn’t Phage Jeska a few years later?’ ‘I think so, but they don’t have the same name so I can have them here.’ Just then, Ertai the Corrupted showed up again, and promptly fell dead of a heart attack a second time. ‘DAMMIT!’ yelled both Ertai the Corrupted and Ertai, Wizard Adept. ‘That’s twice we’ve died tonight.’

As Ben and Ertai and Jeska and Phage and Crovax were getting ready to square off against Pete and Ertai and Kamahl and Kamahl and Crovax, Crystal came out of the house, obviously pissed. ‘Look, you guys talk about Magic all day at work. You guys talk about Magic when we go out to dinner. You talk about Magic on road trips. If you’re going to ****ing wake me the **** up at ****ing 3am in the ****ing morning and talk about mother****ing Magic, I’m divorcing you (pointing to Pete) and making him (pointing to Ben) be your new roommate!’

‘Oh no!’ yelled Pete. ‘Don’t make me live with Ben. I’ll be good dear. I’m sorry!’

And with that the door closed and the duel was over.

‘Hey Crovax, do you think you could help me lug these Ertais off Pete’s lawn?’

True events from an undetermined date.

Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating just a wee bit. My point is well taken though – it’s pretty odd that you can have a copy of two different Kamahls in play at the same time, but that you can’t have two copies of the same Kamahl in play. By the same token, creature type summon Legend has a meaning in Magic just like summon Wall – the creature type has rules associations that transcend just being a creature type. Creature – Goblin and Creature – Human Wizard don’t have any rules aside from being of a creature type. Creature – Wall means that creature can’t attack, and Creature – Legend means that there can only be one copy of that creature in play at any time. Now that multiple versions of different Legends exist, this rule seems antiquated.

And easily fixed.

The fix is simply in complexity, but has long reaching and positive implications for the game – change the Legends rule so that each player can have one copy of any given Legend in play at any given time. This will benefit the game on multiple levels:

Flavor: As above, it’s already strange that you can have two different Kamahls in play at the same time. You could explain this by saying that each player can reach into the time stream and summon different iterations of these legends from different periods of their lives. Why not just let each player summon their own Kamahl, Fist of Krosa? If Kamahl, Fist of Krosa and Kamahl, Pit Fighter can exist side by side, why shouldn’t each player be able to have a Kamahl, Fist of Krosa?

Rules: But why should you stop at only allowing one copy of each named Legend in play if you’re going to say each player can have their own Kamahl, FOK in play? Because Summon – Legend should still mean something. Just as the rule arbitrarily says now that there can only be one, the rules can just as easily say that there can only be one…on each side.

Design: R&D, this paragraph is for you. Legends are supposed to be the most powerful creatures in the game of Magic. They represent historic figures, heroes, villains, and artifacts of extreme power. Unfortunately, many legends have to be toned down in power, because of their very uniqueness – it is a very real concern that games not come down to who can get their legend into play first, if only one person can play any given legend. One of the biggest problems with Lin Sivvi wasn’t that Lin Sivvi was too good – it was that in a metagame centered around rebels, it was unfair to have games decided on who could get their Lin Sivvi into play first.

This creates a design environment where legends must be intentionally weakened. If one were too good, then games would come down to the Lin Sivvi scenario above. This is completely counterintuitive to the flavor of legends – to represent the best of the best in the Magic multiverse! Mirri isn’t just a cat Warrior. Crovax isn’t just another Vampire. Glissa isn’t a Llanowar Elf, and Bosh isn’t quite like any other golem. These guys are good, but they aren’t really awe inspiring.

By changing the Legends rule to allow one copy of each legend in play on each side, you free up a ton of design space to make legendary creatures more powerful than they have been in the past. This would reflect well on their flavor, and would also make legends much more skill testing than they are now. The question then does not become”who can get their legend into play first” but”how many copies of this card do I play when I effectively could be caught with multiple dead copies in my hand once I get the first into play?” This would make for more deck building choices, higher levels of skill in play, and less frustration to newer/casual players, who inevitably put a second copy of their opponent’s legend into play, only to learn that theirs has to be buried.

Give it a thought, okay?