Gavin Verhey used today’s episode of Good Morning Magic to go over what makes certain mechanics a keyword and what goes into making a new keyword for an existing mechanic. He also offered his opinions on possible future keywords and his thoughts on keywords that don’t really work as well as they sound.
Keyword is a name used for a mechanic that can be used in any set. Alpha introduced some timeless keywords like trample, flying, and first strike, but also gave us things like banding, regeneration, and different types of landwalk that died off over the years.
While making mechanics evergreen can be useful for things like mill and scry, not everything is used frequently enough to warrant making them keywords. Featured mechanics like magecraft and flashback allows sets to feel different and have identifiable mechanics special to their settings.
Some of the reasons why something can be turned into a keyword include:
- Frequency of use
- Text length
- Offering colors more tools
Using mill X instead of “target player put the top X cards of their library into their graveyard” shaves off a bunch of words, allowing the textbox to be filled with other abilities or just to make reading the text easier. This is doubly true for something that is used on multiple cards per set, like mill often was. Keywords are great for experienced players, but every extra keyword serves as something else a new player has to memorize when learning how to play. Keyword mechanics almost serve as promises that knowing it will be important for later when it returns.
Verhey spent most of the video breaking down potential keywords and highlighting what would or would not work with them.
- Blink isn’t likely to be used as a keyword due to the fact that many cards that exile permanents and return them to the battlefield have other restrictions like when they return, who they return to, and how they return to the battlefield
- “Activate only as a sorcery” doesn’t really have colloquial keyword, but could possibly become one, due to the amount of room it would save on cards and how the restriction of activating as a sorcery is often better for gameplay.
- “Threaten” or the gaining control of a creature until end of turn ability is used about once per set, but it rarely shows up more than that and is almost always in red, so making it a keyword wouldn’t really lead to it being used more.
- “Freeze” or tapping and keeping it from untapping, shows up at common and uncommon, so writing it out isn’t an issue. However, due to the fact the some of these cards don’t allow the cards to untap, while some keep it tapped for one turn makes it tough to give it a clean keyword.
- Enters the battlefield could be something like “arrive” and would be handy to save space on cards as it shows up frequently. As “enters the battlefield” already has some jargon involved, it wouldn’t be the biggest stretch to keyword it to a single word.
- Looting and rummaging would require two new keywords, and each wouldn’t be used all the time because not everything is exactly draw one and discard one or discard one and draw one.
- Stuff like burn or drain for dealing damage or having a player lose life and you gain life would be tough to standardize and wouldn’t work flavor-wise on many cards. While it’d be cool for red cards to burn instead of deal damage, when a white card deals damage, burning doesn’t quite work the same way.
- “Bounce” could be a possible keyword for the phrasing of returning something to its owner’s hand, because every black-bordered card that returns something is always to its owner’s hand.
Verhey wraps the video recapping how everything said in the video applies to surveil not being used on Consider — a topic he already dedicated an entire video to at the start of Innistrad: Midnight Hunt preview season.