The Riki Rules – What the FAQ

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Tuesday, September 23rd – I now dread spoiler season. It comes around three (or four) times per year, and all the people rejoice in the journey of discovery, joy, and confusion. What does a judge look for in spoilers? As of Eventide, I am looking out for the next Snakeform, the card that will lead to the most questions at the Prerelease and thereafter.

I now dread spoiler season. It comes around three (or four) times per year, and all the people rejoice in the journey of discovery, joy, and confusion. I used to be just like you. Spoilers used to be fun. I would scour the colors to get a feel for each one’s strengths and weaknesses in Limited, particularly the combat tricks. Knowing what your opponent can do with their open mana is of the utmost importance early in the season. (It’s important late in the season too, but by then you should have a good grasp of what’s out there already.) Constructed mavens will hunt for the next big thing, hoping to snap up $3 Tarmogoyfs. What does a judge look for in spoilers? As of Eventide, I am looking out for the next Snakeform, the card that will lead to the most questions at the Prerelease and thereafter.

For some reason I missed Snakeform on the Eventide spoiler. Or maybe I saw it and it didn’t quite register how awful it would be for me. To avoid that problem, I’ve been looking over the spoiler almost exclusively with my judge hat on (a sombrero). Things were a lot easier back in the day when they released the FAQ beforehand. Now the FAQ doesn’t come out until much too late, and we get a lame “rules primer” that doesn’t help very much at all. So here’s a few of the more esoteric cards that might twist your brain.

Creature — Ooze
Whenever you play a spell, Manaplasm gets +X/+X until end of turn, where X is that spell’s converted mana cost.

Here is the annual mis-spoiled card. Remember when Giant Solifuge was a 4/3 and Wreak Havoc cost 1RG? First rumored to cost 1G, people were going Coco Puffs over this guy. Now he’s drawing comparisons to Hungry Spriggan, and anyone who pre-ordered a set of Manaplasms is SOL.

Even with the increased mana cost, Manaplasm still has a unique, potentially abusable ability. Patrick Chapin mentioned Fury of the Horde, which is a sexy 16 points of damage… or not. Take a closer look at Fury. It’s a sorcery so you have to play it precombat to get the pump effect from Manaplasm. However, if you play it precombat, you miss out on the untapping effect of Fury and cannot take advantage of the additional combat phase.

Chapin was on the right track, but he seems to have missed a crucial turnoff. Pitch spells are the way to go because you can play them without paying their mana cost while still getting the benefit of an artificially inflated mana cost. What Chapin seems to have missed out is the power of X, namely: “While the spell or ability is on the stack, the {X} in its mana cost equals the amount announced as part of playing the spell or ability. If a card in any other zone has {X} in its mana cost, the amount is treated as 0.”

That means that a Blazing Shoal in your hand has a converted mana cost of 2, but if you pitch a Myojin of Infinite Rage to play one, you get X=10 for a total converted mana cost of 12. That’s +10/+0 from the spell and an additional +12/+12 from Manaplasm’s ability. Those cards take me back to a deck played by Tsuyoshi Fujita that could sneak attack out large creatures with Through the Breach. You could also combine it with various Ritual effects, which when played in succession can also pump up Manaplasm. The CMC rule of X isn’t a particularly difficult one. I would say that most tournament caliber players are aware of it. But being a judge, I’ve been intimate with that rule for some time, so it was the first thing I thought of when I saw Manaplasm.

Hindering Light
Counter target spell that targets you or a permanent you control.
Draw a card.

With just under two thirds of the set spoiled, this looks like it is going to be the Snakeform of the set. Luckily, the situations where this card could cause confusion are not as frequent as with Snakeform (basically whenever Snakeform was played). The issue with Hindering Light is an oldie but a goodie, most frequently associated with Teferi’s Response and Confound.

Let’s say Player A plays Terror targeting Player B’s Mistbind Clique. I could have chosen cards from Alara for this example, especially given that I am talking about Hindering Light in the context of the Limited trick, but frankly, pulling more unfamiliar card names from the spoiler would just confuse matters, so I’ve chosen some more iconic cards for this example.

A’s Terror on B’s Mistbind Clique. B responds with Hindering Light targeting Terror. Player A responds with a second Terror on the Clique. With no other effects, the batch… err stack resolves. Terror destroys the Mistbind (returning a Bitterblossom to play, not that it matters). Next comes Hindering Light. Before it resolves, it has to check for the legality of its target (target spell that targets you or a permanent you control) and has the following conversation with Terror:

Hindering Light: Hello, sir. Are you a spell?
Terror: Aye, matey. I be a spell. I be a Black spell from the darkest depths.
HL: Um… sure. Why are you talking like that?
T: Probably because that sea dog Riki wrote this on “talk like a pirate day.”
HL: Okay then. Next question. Do you target my controller, the esteemed Player B?
T: No, I don’t. He ain’t a creature, and I can only target creatures. Savvy?
HL: Very good. Then perhaps you are targeting a creature that my controller controls, a creature of some sort.
T: Well…
HL: Yes? Out with it.
T: I used to.
HL: Come again?
T: When I first got played, I was definitely targeting that there Mistbind Clique. But now it seems to be gone, so I’m not targeting anything. Arr.

Because the second Terror nuked the Mistbind Clique, the first Terror no longer targets “a permanent you control.” That makes it an illegal target for Hindering Light, as it no longer matches the targeting restriction. Hindering Light is countered upon resolution and Player B does not carry out any portion of its effect, including drawing a card. Shortly after that, Terror itself will be countered for having no legal target.

Things can get tricky if you make Terror’s target illegal through means other than removing it, say through protection or shroud. Let’s rewind to the original scenario. Terror, Hindering Light, Terror. Now in response to the second Terror, Player B plays Scion of Oona, giving Mistbind Clique shroud. Resolving the stack now, Terror #2 is countered due to its target being illegal. Hindering Light, however, is not. Despite the fact that Terror #1 is also due to be countered upon resolution thanks to the shroud, that check doesn’t happen until right before the spell is set to resolve. In the meanwhile, Terror does still target the Mistbind Clique, and hence is a legal target for Hindering Light. It’s a bit of a Terminator-esque time paradox.

Corpse Connoisseur
Creature — Zombie Wizard
When Corpse Connoisseur comes into play, you may search your library for a creature card and put that card into your graveyard. If you do, shuffle your library.
Unearth 3B (3B: Return this card from your graveyard to play. It gains haste. Remove it from the game at end of turn or if it would leave play. Unearth only as a sorcery.)

The entire unearth mechanic may be problem 1b for Prereleases. Largely it depends on whether there is a Momentary Blink type effect in the format. Players have been lamenting the fact that unearth’s replacement effect prevents infinite Entombing with the use of the sacrifice outlet. This is because it removes the card from the game “if it would leave play” which applies to going to graveyard, bounced back to your hand, or banished back into your library.

But what about the removed from game zone? If you Momentary Blink Corpse Connoisseur, the replacement effect applies and removes it from the game instead of removing it from the game. This seems to be a situation similar to Spelljack or Delay versus a flashbacked spell. When you flashback a spell, there is a similar clause that always removes the card if it tries to go anywhere other than the RFG zone. The wording for flashback is very subtly different than unearth: “If the flashback cost was paid, remove this card from the game instead of putting it anywhere else any time it would leave the stack.” Thus, it doesn’t replace the act of removing from the game with removing from the game. [Huh? — Craig.]

I’ve spent the last fifteen minutes looking through the CR trying to find out what happens if a replacement effect tries to replace an event with the same exact event, and whether it would mean that Blinking an unearth creature would result in Blink “losing track” of the creature because it changed zones due to the different RFG effect. Currently I believe that it works the same for unearth as flashback. Blinking it will return it to play. But I’d like to see the official Comp Rules entry for unearth to be 100% sure. It’s always a bit sketchy to try to understand new mechanics based on reminder text because that doesn’t always give the complete picture due to space restrictions. Check back in the forums in a few days, as I’m sure some true rules guru types will point us in the right direction.

Skill Borrower
Artifact Creature — Vedalken Wizard
Play with the top card of your library revealed.
As long as the top card of your library is an artifact or creature card, Skill Borrower has all abilities of that card.

This is the true judge-tester of the set, but thankfully they had the sense to make it a rare. If Magic cards were movies or TV shows, Volrath’s Shapeshifter would be “Twin Peaks,” the progenitor to current mindblowers like “Lost.” Once upon a time, someone asked what would happen if you played Backslide targeting a Volrath’s Shapeshifter that was copying a creature with morph. Could you turn it face up by paying the morph cost of the creature it was copying? And what would happen if you discarded a creature with a different morph cost, or worse yet, a creature that did not have a morph cost. All of known reality collapsed in on itself that day.

Skill Borrower is the new Volrath’s Shapeshifter. If the over/under on the number of rules that will have to be rewritten because of this card is two, I’ll take the over. Last week I got my very first Skill Borrower question via IM: What happens if Skill Borrower copies an equipment?

That one is actually easy enough: nothing. Equipment can only attach itself to a creature if it has the subtype equipment and is not a creature itself (rule 212.2i). We dealt with this issue way back when with March of the Machines. Next!

Even dodging the equipment problem, Skill Borrower is going to be a nightmare, as it always is when you let cards gain abilities that don’t belong to them. The Experiment Kraj/ Mycosynth Lattice/ Planeswalker scenario is one such funky interaction whereby Kraj can play any of the Planeswalker’s abilities infinite times (to play the two abilities that cost loyalty, you have to play the first ability infinite times to build up some loyalty counters. The depths of Skill Borrower’s rules conundrums are as of right now unknown to me, but you can bet I’ll be looking up all the old rulings on things like Kraj, Quicksilver Elemental, and Volrath’s Shapeshifter to make sure I know what I’m doing with regards to this card.

That’s only four cards out of 158 spoiled as of this writing. Most other writers gush about a dozen cards at a time in these spoiler-based articles. That just shows you how different the mindset is between a player and a judge. I’ve spent most of the afternoon digging through the CR and various other rules documents instead of constructing decklists and imagining two-card combos. Like I said, looking at spoilers used to be fun. Now it feels more like work.

The Prerelease

Wow. If I thought the new Prerelease format was bad before, now I’m convinced that it is a truly epic fail. I’ve been working closely with my local store for the past two months now, judging FNM and building a thriving EDH community. Unfortunately, I won’t be judging their new Prerelease because I’ll be at the big (semi-big) PTO-run Prerelease in Sacramento. For me, there wasn’t much of a choice. Simply put, Sacramento needs me more. We’re expecting 100-150 players, and my skills are better served there than judging a small tournament of 24, especially because we will probably have a smaller staff to player ratio than usual thanks to the powers that be lowering the product compensation provided to TOs for judges.

24? Did I really say 24? Yes, that’s the maximum cap for Drom’s and for most of these new small store Prereleases. WotC is only sending “kits” out with 24 players worth of product depending on a store’s past levels of attendance. This is problematic for several reasons.

First, the Prerelease always draws a few more people than your typical tournament. We get 10-20 for FNM at Drom’s and had over 30 for the Eventide Launch Party. Based on how big Prereleases have drawn in the past compared to PTQs and the like, I think it’s safe to say that Prereleases bring out an extra demographic of players that you can’t readily account for based on attendance at other store events.

The second reason this kit idea doesn’t work is because it doesn’t allow the stores to grow a customer base. If Drom’s gets more than 24 people for Shards, which is very likely based on Eventide, they will have to turn them away. That’s an awful thing for a business to have to do and yet one that is mandated by the Mothership. It also means that the store will have a hard time getting enough players together to merit a bump up to two kits (48 players). Not only are they forced to turn away anyone over 24, but those players who are turned away may not want to come back for other events, like Launch Parties or FNMs for fear of the same happening, which makes it very hard for the store to prove that they can take on a second kit. It’s just an ugly mess.

On top of that, I’m wondering if they will get 24 running at event on the same day as the big PTO event, and several other smalls across the greater Sacramento area. There’s a lot of overlap in customer bases there, and it seems likely that many players will be drawn to the big one to replicate the old Prerelease experience, and also to avoid the possibility of being turned away by their local store. Thus, if you have plans to go a local, I would recommend checking in and/or preregistering. I was even talking to Jenkins, one of the owners of the store, about the possibility of running a “midnight Prerelease” to avoid the overlap. It may be too late to implement this for this week, but depending on what happens this Saturday, it may become a necessity in the future. Plus, that way, I could actually participate at my local event.

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