So we played Magic with M10 rules last night. I was reminded of the first and only time I played Yu-Gi-Oh.
I was only shanghaied into playing Yu-Gi-Oh because I was staying with a friend in Europe, and her twelve-year-old son knew I “played Magic for a living.” So he was really, really excited to show me how to play Yu-Gi-Oh. And I, in turn, was curious to see how the game worked.
I wish I could say I was surprised to find that I didn’t like it much. The creature stats seemed ludicrously ridiculous by being multiples of a thousand, the rules seemed sloppy â€” but most important, the game play seemed far too swingy and dependent on bombs.
So when I was done, I decided that Yu-Gi-Oh was a bad game filled with poor rules. But you know what I did not do?
Strangely, I did not create an account on all the Yu-Gi-Oh card sites and post my impressions of the game. I did not go find the local Yu-Gi-Oh players in Brighton to tell them precisely where I thought their game was flawed. I didn’t even really tell the kid who was showing me how bad I thought his game was, because he was really into it and why be a jerk by stomping on his fun?
So whenever people say, “Well, where are all these mythical people who left because they didn’t understand the game?”, I think of my own experience. Fact is, if someone doesn’t like a game, they don’t make grandiose posts explaining why they didn’t like it. Unless there’s something about the game that sparks outrage (a game called Reich: The Hitlering might get some reactions regardless of content), 99% of the people who find a game not fun don’t give you an exit interview.
This is true of life in general. If people don’t like Coke because it tastes funny to them, they don’t write long screeds to Coke detailing the offputting taste; they just don’t buy it. If someone finds our Magic Spoiler Generator too hard to use because they don’t understand it, I can assure you that they don’t send us an email â€”Â they just go somewhere else. Heck, I have a game shop that I don’t play Magic at as often as I’d like to because it’s a dusty, cluttered wreck of a store â€”Â but have I said to the owner, “You know, I’d play here more if it looked less like my grandparents’ attic”? No.
I probably should say something â€”Â but then I think what would have happened had I posted “Here’s why Yu-Gi-Oh Didn’t Appeal To Me” in the most popular YGO forums. Do you think all the Yu-Gi-Oh fans would have said, “Oh, yes, those are very valid concerns” and given me a cup of consoling tea? No, they would have dogpiled on me, telling me no their game is not broken, it’s very elegant, and the kid I was playing with is clearly an idiot, and I’m clearly an idiot for not understanding how beautiful their game is.
People don’t complain because they have the time to argue. They don’t care enough. So whenever someone says, “Well, Iâ€˜ve never heard anyone complain,” the answer is “You wouldn’t.” If someone’s put off by Magic’s confusing rules, then they’re not going to be where you can hear them.
That said, the number of players who leave thanks to the rules? They are a mystery. As a ratio of “people who’ve tried Magic” to “people who kept playing Magic routinely,” we can assume that it’s not one to one (indicating a conversion rate of 100%), and we can assume it’s not zero, but everything else? It’s an unknown number….
I assume that Wizards does polls and interviews players, trying to figure out what that conversion percentage is. Based on the way they’ve shown us they analyze which cards are popular in the set, I assume there are board meetings held with statistics and user satisfaction ratings â€” and they have reason to believe that that mythical conversion percentage is far lower than they’d like it. And they think the rules changes will help improve this.
(I’m also reasonably sure that Wizards knows that the greatest thing that will encourage someone else to play Magic is another enthusiastic and patient player. I’m also sure that Wizards knows that their ability to control who plays their game to the point where only suave, kind, and popular people are their ambassadors is next to nil.)
So that all begs the question: How was it, playing with M10 rules? Wizards could, and certainly has, been wrong in the past; for all of the outcry, I have yet to see an article that actually details the experience of what happens when rubber meets the road.
It could actually suck.
So here are my impressions. Last night was chaos multiplayer, attack anyone; we played four games that took about four hours. We had as few as three players and as many as six. The decks were Vintage-legal and spanned the usual spectrum of multiplayer, from things like Paul’s “Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale and twenty-seven Wraths” deck (which lost) to Goat’s Black Control Deck to my Green Stompy deck to Peter’s Zombie deck to Jerry’s W/B lifegain deck.
All the victories came from the combat phase; there were no combo-outs. We attacked a lot.
Let’s break my impressions down by category:
Lifelink Not Stacking: Much Missed.
As a multiplayer group, we looooove lifegain. And boy, I’ll tell you, I had a Chameleon Colossus with an Armadillo Cloak on it in a deck with a Loxodon Warhammer lurking somewhere within… And it was a disappointment, knowing that my Warhammer would no longer get me double the lifetotals.
A lot of our local decks seemed unduly nerfed by this rules change. That said, they were decks that were also ridiculously swingy â€” the Colossus deck, for example, would often pull out thirty-point lifeswings. It may not be a bad thing to loss that kinda craziness.
I’m not gonna lie: it was less fun playing without this rule. I can understand why it went, but man. I loved it.
As for the secondary, and more important, bit about lifelink â€” the fact that you don’t die if you have a critter that would deal lifelink at the moment you take fatal damage â€” it did prove relevant, sorta. When Erin was about to attack me with an army of large, stompy green creatures, I kept my 9/9 Armadillo Cloaked Colossus on defense, knowing I could make it 18/18 and survive whatever attack she brought. However, since she didn’t attack me, I can’t say how it would have worked.
I won that game because she couldn’t kill me that turn, and Peter killed her the next turn. So in that sense, it worked out fine for me, anyway. I’m not sure how I feel about that.
Deathtouch: Not Used.
People were surprisingly agreeable when it came to taking the new and revised Deathtouch for a spin, bringing decks with such questionable hits as Moonglove Winnower, Pestilent Kathari, and Moonglove Changeling.
But while we all agreed that the new Deathtouch rules were completely awful, what we discovered was that we never used them.
Whenever the Moonglove Changeling attacked, people did what you’re supposed to do: they took the two damage. Why the heck would they block something that would kill whatever it damaged? And if they had to block, they did it the sane way â€”Â with one creature. The number of gang-blocks on deathtouched creatures, which was the only time the new rule would come into effect, was nil.
There was the additional change of “one regeneration shield prevents both lethal damage and deathtouch,” but that never came into play, either. So at the end of the evening, we all agreed that Deathtouch really hadn’t been changed all that much; in theory you’d play it differently, but in practice the number of times you’re gangblocking a deathtouch creature is pretty dang low.
Mana Burn: Totally Frickin’ Broken.
My daughter Erin has not played the game in four years, so I gave her an Elf deck. You know the kind: Priest of Titania, Rofellos, and Wirewood Lodge to create tons of mana, Sylvan Messenger and Wirewood Herald to refill the hand, and big creatures (Wren’s Run Packmaster, Kamahl, Fist of Krosa) to dump mana into.
Before, this deck required at least a modicum of skill to play. You’d get a gazillion mana, but if you didn’t spend it efficiently you’d burn to death. Now, with the loss of mana burn, Erin could tap horribly all evening and not have to worry about a damn thing. She could put eight into her pool for the Packmaster and not take two, and she could not worry about having to tap the Priestess for six to cast her Caller of the Claw.
Likewise, some decks became a lot simpler: anything with a Ravnica bounceland became an automatic “Why not?” Cabal Coffers? Who cares how much you produce? Mana management became far simpler than we’d have believed, and frankly I did feel that losing mana burn sucked a large amount of the strategy involved in managing resources.
That was the big surprise of the evening: I thought I’d miss mana burn a little. As it was, I missed it a lot. Olivier Ruel fears that everyone will now pay too much mana on purpose when playing spells, just because they can, so you’ll always have to ask “How much mana is in your pool?” or be caught off-guard by a Counterspell or trick you weren’t expecting.
Before I played, I wasn’t sure about that. Now, I think it’s a real possibility.
Token Ownership: What?
Nobody had a deck that abused this. I think the token ownership is an edge case where everyone can agree that it was a good change. Next.
Exile and Battlefield: Not Used.
As expected, we reverted to our old terms instinctively, even though there were two new players there. We’re bad teachers, sure, but years of habit (and cards that use the old terminology) have left us automatically saying, “That gets RFG’d.”
Damage On The Stack: Missed, But With A Bonus.
We all wound up playing decks that were, in one form another, affected severely by the change. I had a terrible “fetch all my lands” Green deck that relied on Yavimaya Elder and Sakura-Tribe Elder for defense; that no longer worked. Peter brought a zombie deck filled with Nantuko Husks and Carrion Feeders, which got totally nerfed. And because everyone was playing old decks, they were all rife with stack tricks.
Yet as it turned out, in practice what that meant is that yes, I had to make much greater choices when I attacked or blocked with a Yavimaya Elder. I could no longer count on getting a free card out of it (assuming I had the two mana open to sacrifice it), so when I blocked I had more decisions to make.
The interesting thing was that for a lot of effects that took place with damage on the stack, the strategic options weren’t interesting. Okay, you attack me with any guy of reasonable size, the automatic play is that I’m going to block with my Yavimaya Elder, stack the damage, and then sacrifice it. It doesn’t matter how big the creature is; whether it’s a 5/4 or a 3/2, why not get a free two damage in? Likewise, you never have to think about Mogg Fanatic: the proper play is “sacrifice it when lethal damage goes on the stack.” The only question becomes, “To who?”
What became very clear is that a lot of the stack tricks we’re missing aren’t tricks per se, but rather stops that lesser players can forget if they’re not careful. There’s really nothing all that tricksy about stacking the Nantuko Husk damage and then sacrificing something trivial to it in mid-step so it survives; if you know fatal damage is on the way, you do it. A lot of stack “tricks” are like choosing to gain the life from an Angel’s Feather; in all but the strangest board positions, when the opportunity arises, the correct decision is to always take the option.
Now, there are stack tricks like last week’s Seshiro example, where it does get strategically interesting, but none of those arose last night â€”Â and we were looking for examples. Which suggests they may be rarer than advertised. Or we had a statistically-anomalous session. It could go either way.
Regardless, the net result was largely that I had to make more decisions in the process of attacking and blocking with those guys, deciding which effect I wanted more. That actually took more of my brainpower than I’d have liked. And it also made me less aggressive; whereas before I’d be all like, “Okay, Yavimaya Elder serves, dare ya to block, I don’t care, I’ll get three cards,” these days I had to recognize whether I wanted the dead guy or the extra card. Now, it mattered whether a 3/2 or a 5/4 was the incoming monster. Now, it mattered whether I attacked.
(Poor Peter, with his zombie deck that relied on sacrificing everything, was overloaded with choices. And particularly when it came to blocking trample guys with creatures that could sacrifice for an effect, you really had to figure out what you wanted.)
In some ways, this new system actually kept my attention more. I’ll have to play with it more, but the results certainly surprised me. In all honestly, I suspect that Limited will suffer a lot more from this change than Constructed… But as noted, most of us were playing decks with established tricks that relied on the combat damage stacking, and we had to alter our play. It wasn’t that it didn’t come up, it was that we adjusted.
Note that I’m not saying it was better. I’ll need more time with that before I can say. I am saying that it wasn’t quite as dumb as I thought it might be.
A Brief Digression Before The Last Point: Damage On The Stack
I should make a note here that I didn’t give in last week’s article: Some folks have claimed that “combat damage uses the stack, just like everything else,” and that for consistency’s sake everything should use the stack.
A grand goal. I can’t disagree with the idea of making things consistent. However, I’ve had this conversation at least four times in the past year, a couple of times at Prereleases (though not with these specific cards, obviously):
Me: “I Lightning Bolt your guy.”
Me: “Okay, that’s three damage, put it into the graveyard.”
Me: “That doesn’t work that way. When damage is dealt by spells, you don’t get a window to react to the damage. There’s no place between resolution and damage that you can do anything.”
So I dig where you’re coming from, guys â€” but the fact is that as it currently stands in Magic, there are two kinds of damage: the kind that comes from creatures, which you can respond to, and the kind that comes from spells, which you can’t. Having those two can, and does, confuse people.
After two games, my daughter Erin turned to me and said, “So what are the changes?”
The reason she said this is because in four long games, though we were hoping to see it, not one person gang-blocked. You’d think this would be common in multiplayer, but as it turns out like any Constructed format, it doesn’t actually come up that often. There were tons of attacks, with tons of creatures, but those creatures either blocked individually or went straight to the face.
There was one tense instance when someone thought about putting all their guys in front of a Stampeding Wildebeests, but then decided to just take the damage. We all groaned.
So Erin was left wondering what the difference was. She hadn’t played in years, and couldn’t see what had changed. She never understood damage on the stack, and the gang-blocking thing just wasn’t happening.
Honestly, I don’t know how often we gang-block at our table. I remember it coming up enough that it seemed like we did it all the time, but last night was either an exception â€” or, as I suspect, when we do gang-block, it’s a tense enough moment that we remember it more vividly than we do the rest of the plays. It’s a very exciting moment when we place all our fliers in front of that Blood Tyrant and hope that our tricks will outclass theirs, so that to us is the highlight of the game.
My suspicion is, as such, that the gang-blocking thing is more of a Limited mechanic… And even then, it doesn’t happen as much as we’d think. Because it’s so easy to get wrecked in a gang-block, we pay more attention to them, but how often do they actually occur? Well, in at least sixty combat phases last night, not once.
I could be wrong. I’ll keep playing, and keep watching to see. I know we’ll have it eventually â€” hopefully next week when Erin is still here, and we’ll see how she reacts to it.
For now, though, the gang-block is AWOL. I wish I could tell you how it went, but it might just be that it’s not as prominent as I (and many others) believed.