The Riki Rules – Failure to Launch

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Tuesday, September 30th – Okay, I tried it. Now can I say that I really hate it? Of course, I’m talking about the new Prerelease structure. You might suggest that I was predisposed to hate it, so obviously I self-fulfilled my prophecy and had a terrible time, but that doesn’t explain the fact that the literal everyone I talked to this past weekend was bummed for various reasons.

Okay, I tried it. Now can I say that I really hate it?

Of course, I’m talking about the new Prerelease structure. You might suggest that I was predisposed to hate it, so obviously I self-fulfilled my prophecy and had a terrible time, but that doesn’t explain the fact that the literal everyone I talked to this past weekend was bummed for various reasons. The rundown:

I Head Judged a “big” Prerelease, which took place at Great Escape Games in Sacramento, and was run by Conan Blackwell, Northern California’s PTO. While other PTOs took it to the mattresses against the store Prereleases, Conan chose a different and possibly unique route, cooperating with the stores by bringing in his unlimited product and experienced judges to their events.

Things worked out well in San Jose, where Conan’s Prerelease run at Superstars’s new store gathered over 100 players. In Sacramento, we had… less. Our total was 52 players. Around the greater metropolitan region, Adventures in Comics and Games in Carmichael had 30, A-1 Comics had 36, and my own home base of Drom’s Comics in Davis had 24.

That last one was a particularly bitter pill. Drom’s only received one kit for 24 players based on their “past attendance figures,” which was somewhat of a misnomer due to them being in business for only a few short months over the summer. The problem is that Davis is an idyllic college town that dies over the summer. With the new school quarter in full swing, there’s already been a noticeable uptick in new players at FNM.

The result? Not only did Drom’s max out its kit, they had eight players on a standby list, and turned away several more. Beyond that it’s entirely possible that several more players decided not to even bother trying, either staying home or heading out to a different location like Great Escape. Maxing out a kit is by no means a bad thing; it’s certainly better than not maxing it out. But turning players away has got to be one of the worst things that a business can do. I hope all those players come back for the Launch Party this week.

Oh, speaking of the Launch Party, do you know about the shard mana rule? At your Launch Party Sealed events, you must choose one of the five shards and use cards only from your shard’s colors. This is not a joke. It is real, and it’s been incredibly under-publicized for being such an important change.

I first heard a rumor about this maybe two months ago. Then nothing. I honestly thought it was just a silly rumor that someone had made up because of the storyline about the shards being isolated from each other. I didn’t think that Wizards had the huevos to implement such a change. I was wrong.

Time passed, cards got spoiled, and I forgot about the crazy rumor until last week when a little discussion heated up on the judge mailing list regarding the shard mana restriction. I thought it was a joke, but the poster seemed serious, so I did some research Hot For Words style.

I recalled that Tim Willoughby (whose name is amazingly in my spell check dictionary) had written a Prerelease primer on MTG.com, or MTGdaily.com, or whatever it is now when you get past the floating planets. Unfortunately, his article was a Prerelease primer and had no information on the Launch Parties. I did scour the article to make sure that the shard mana rule applied only to the Launch Party and not to the Prerelease. At the bottom of Tim’s article, there were links to information pages for both the Prereleases and the Launch Parties. Certainly that would have some information on this shard mana rule.

Certainly not. This is, after all, Wizards of the Coast, a name that is becoming increasingly synonymous with insufficient communication and a lack of good information. The first page for the Launch Parties has zero relevant information. Only when you click on the “Worldwide Fact Sheet” (under the misleading heading “Locations”) do you finally come across the all-important information. Of course, as seems to be the theme with the new MTG.com, you must scroll down to find the good stuff.

So there, one page down scroll later, after clicking through a maze of links is the “Launch Party Theme Tournament Deck Construction Rules” which I will reprint here in full:

“Choose one of the five Shards and build a 40-card minimum deck only using cards that share the same colors of the Shard chosen (Bant GWU, Esper BUW, Grixis RBU, Jund BRG, or Naya RGW).
Cards in your deck may only have mana symbols in the cost of the card that match the Shard’s three colors. A deck may not generate mana outside its Shard’s colors. Any card which would generate mana of a color that doesn’t match the chosen Shard generates colorless mana instead. Colorless cards that don’t have any colored mana symbols are legal to play.”

For those of you familiar with EDH, this is a familiar type of rule. Let’s go over a few of the specifics that may confuse people. First, you are not restricted to a particular shard, only its colors. Take a Green card like Wild Nacatl. It is obviously a Naya card and is best in that three color combination. However, you are allowed to play it in a Bant or Jund deck. In fact, you can even play a Mountain in your Bant deck or a Plains in your Jund deck to pump up your Nacatl.


The rule specifies “mana symbols in the cost of the card” and nothing else. Hence, mana symbols in abilities are allowed outside of your shards three colors. However, remember that that off-color basic will only generate colorless mana. You can play a Battlemage with an off-color ability, and even have the basic land to match the ability (to power up aforementioned Nacatls and such), but you won’t actually be able to use the ability due to the colorless mana rule.

This is an interesting rule to put into place. At the Prerelease, most decks seemed to be running four or five colors pretty easily, with the common and uncommon mana fixers being so readily available. That led to a lot of boring, mono-thematic battles. Forcing the shard restriction will make players think much more carefully about deck construction decisions, and may lead to some hitherto unknown strategy coming to light.

My main issue with the shard mana rule is its bad publicity. Only a few people I’ve talked to have known about it, and those few have been judges privy to the discussion that happened on the list. There was an announcement made on the Judge List that interim Judge Manager John Carter would be giving us more information on the Launch Parties and specifically on the shard mana rule this week. That’s great for judges, but what about the players, and tournament organizers, and the store owners who will be running the Launches? I mean, I’m sure they’re sending out some information package with the release foils, but will that be enough? And that still doesn’t help players who may feel ambushed by the rule come Friday.

Speaking of release foils, by this time you may or may not know that the Prerelease foil is the same as the regular release foil, Ajani Vengeant. What you may not be aware of is that it is the exact same foil, right down to the date stamp of October 3, 2008. The Prereleases took place on September 27th and 28th. Really? They couldn’t bother to do a second run of cards with the correct date stamped on it? Thanks for taking the extra time and effort to make the new Prerelease such a special event. Sigh.

We’ll see what happens this weekend with this new shard mana experiment. Hopefully players and organizers will be well-informed, and we won’t hear too many stories about game losses being handed down for this nonsense. In the meantime, I’ve got some updates and Prerelease-fueled notes on a few cards and interactions.

The first thing I looked for when the FAQ came out was unearth. The full text for unearth:

“Return this card from your graveyard to play. It gains haste. Remove it from the game at end of turn. If it would leave play, remove it from the game instead of putting it anywhere else. Play this ability only any time you could play a sorcery.”

This is a far cry from the ad hoc reminder text we looked at last week on Corpse Connoisseur. Notably, it mirrors the rules text for flashback in that it has the all-important “instead of putting it anywhere else” clause. Thus, we don’t have to worry about the implications of replacing a remove from game effect with a remove from game effect, and whether a Momentary Blink would track the creature through such a existential journey.

The FAQ further clarifies this issue:

“If a creature returned to play with unearth would leave play for any reason, it’s removed from the game instead – unless the spell or ability that’s causing the creature to leave play is actually trying to remove it from the game! In that case, it succeeds at removing it from the game. If it later returns the creature card to play (as Oblivion Ring or Flickerwisp might, for example), the creature will return to play as a new object with no relation to its previous existence. The unearth effect will no longer apply to it.”

I particularly like the stylish exclamation point in the middle. There aren’t enough exclamation points in the rules, Kaboom! aside.

Last week in the forums, RoninX took some exception to my speculation about the RFG replacing RFG situation. Normally when people moan about the complexity of the rules, I tend to ignore it, but RoninX is Robin Russell, a fellow writer and a pretty smart cat.

Apparently, Robin has been trying to teach his wife how to play and ran into the problem of explaining how Remand and Delay interact with flashback (basically Delay works, Remand doesn’t, although you still draw a card). His main concern is that the removed from game zone has become a veritable playground for effects, and cards that go there aren’t removed from the game so much as taking a short vacation. Robin seems to want the RFG zone to be like the absolutely RFG, no way it’s coming back zone from Unhinged.

I can see his point that newer players might be confused by the inaccurate name of the zone, especially when you do shenanigans like Momentary Blink an unearth creature and “cheat” the RFG zone out of its victim. However, Magic is a complex game and not everything makes intuitive sense.

Take, for example, the creatures that trigger at the end of turn if you have a creature with power 5 or greater, like Drumhunter. Several players at the Prerelease were confused about the interaction between this ability and temporary Giant Growth pump effects. Can you stack them so that you get to use the ability before the pump wears off?

Such questions are pretty commonplace at Prereleases, and we occasionally get them at PTQs on up as well, and it’s another case of a rather poorly named term in Magic from an intuitive standpoint. Drumhunter’s ability triggers “at the end of turn,” which means the beginning of the end of turn step, the first step in the end phase. “Until end of turn” pump effects last until the cleanup step, which is the second step in the end phase, after the somewhat inaccurately named end of turn step.

If you understand this relationship between the steps, it’s plain to see that pump effects last long enough to keep their bonus to trigger Drumhunter type abilities. The follow up question then arises of whether you can pump something at the end of turn in response to the ability triggering.

This doesn’t work because of what’s called the “intervening if” clause in the ability, the “if you control a creature with power 5 or greater.” This condition checks both when the ability would trigger and when the ability resolves. If the condition isn’t true when the ability would trigger, it doesn’t trigger at all, and if the condition isn’t true when the ability resolves, the ability does nothing.

As a result of this clause, you cannot pump a creature during the end of turn step to get the ability. You need to pump during your second main phase or sooner. It also means that if you can remove all of your opponent’s 5 power creatures or shrink them in response to the ability, they won’t draw a card.

Exalted is a funny mechanic. For one, it’s absolutely drop-dead stupid in Two-Headed Giant, and I don’t mean stupid in the “totally awesome” sense. Fact 1: Your team can only attack with one creature in order for exalted to trigger. It isn’t one per player on the team. Fact 2: Exalted will only trigger for your singleton attacker, not you teammates. This makes it a double-edged blade of awfulness. Not that the mechanic is unplayable in 2HG. I did see it working for a couple of teams, as one head would have an exalted attack deck, and the other head played turtle with blockers and spells.

In duels, exalted is just fine and early reports are that it is a very strong Limited mechanic that you can build around. Of course, it helps if you know how it works. Another common question this past weekend was whether exalted “stacks.” Yes it does, in the sense that if you have multiple creatures with exalted and you attack with one creature, each exalted ability will trigger and pump up your attacker.

Until next time, this is Riki Hayashi telling you to call a judge.

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