It’s that time again! Each time a Prerelease rolls around, we implement updates to the Comprehensive Rules and the Oracle card database.

July 2008 Update Bulletin

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The letter I!t's that time again! Each time a Prerelease rolls around, we implement updates to the Comprehensive Rules and the Oracle card database.

These updates happen only when a new set is released, so corrections or improvements that have come to our attention over the past few months are being implemented now. In addition, some rules changes are necessary to make the new cards work.

 What is Oracle?  

Magic is a game made up of over 9,000 interchangeable pieces—the cards. Over the years, we've felt the need to update the wordings of older cards, whether because we've introduced a new keyword, or a card was printed with a mistake, or we have a clearer wording for what a card does, etc. Rather than sneak into your room at night and change your cards with a magic marker, we keep a database of the "modern wordings" (what the cards would say if we printed them today) of every tournament-legal card ever printed. These wordings are considered the official wordings of the cards, and accurately reflect their functions.

You can access a card's Oracle wording by looking it up in Gatherer.

Changes to the Oracle card database will go into effect on Friday, July 11.

Changes to the Comprehensive Rules will take effect shortly thereafter, though any changes that are necessary for Eventide cards to work will be in effect during the Prerelease. Bear in mind, however, that the new version of the Comp. Rules has not yet been finalized, so the listed amendments are subject to change.

This time around, a whopping 140 cards got tweaks, edits, and fixes in Oracle . . . but most of them are pretty minor. The two highest profile cards to feel the touch of the Rules Manager are Necropotence (which is getting a functional change to its discard ability) and Uba Mask (which is being reverted to its printed wording). I had previously tried giving Uba Mask, Void Maw, and Shared Fate errata to deal with their "this card doesn't work under the rules" problem. The results were suboptimal, so I changed tactics and decided to try to change the rules instead.

If you browse through the explanations listed with each card, you'll find that I contradict myself. Sometimes (as on Forbidden Lore) I think it's fine when a card's Oracle wording has it grant an ability to some other card, even though that's not what the printed card did. Other times (as on Farrel's Mantle), I think that's awful and take great pains to undo it! Sometimes (as on Magus of the Unseen) I think we're obligated to stay true to the most recently printed version of the card, and that Fifth Edition is as fine a set as any other. Other times (as on Elkin Bottle), I think Fifth Edition was lunacy and we're free to ignore it! I know I'm inconsistent. Dealing with Oracle is an art, not a science; it's all judgment calls and balancing interests. We have half a dozen different policies guiding our hands. They're not consistent with one another, and different ones take precedence at different times.

 What are the Comprehensive Rules?  

Magic is complicated. No, really. When you have over 9,000 interchangeable game pieces, you get some freaky interactions. The Comprehensive Rules cover everything the game has ever come up with, from basic game play structure, to every keyword ever, to entire pages dedicated to single bizarre cards (hello, Mindslaver!) The Comprehensive Rules are, well, comprehensive... but they're also obtuse, unfriendly, and looooong. They're not intended to be a player resource—they're a judge resource, a rules guru resource, and a place to store definitive answers. In fact, I honestly recommend never reading them. For a much friendlier rulebook that is intended to be a player resource, check out the Rules Page and download the Basic Rulebook (2MB PDF), now with an appendix on planeswalker rules. It doesn't have sections about phasing or subgames... but you'll never miss them.

I'd like to quote adeyke, who posted this explanation in the message boards for the last Update Bulletin:

The different standards are contradictory. They're trying to reach an ideal Oracle text for each card, but the factors are pulling them in opposite directions. They want to keep it close to the printed wording, but oftentimes, what's printed on the card simply doesn't work. They want to update it to a modern template, but some cards have quirks that simply can't be written cleanly (e.g. Raging River). They want cards to work the same way they did when they were first printed, but they also want them to interact correctly with cards that didn't exist at that time. If all their goals pointed in the same direction, it'd be easy. Since they don't, getting the right Oracle text is a matter of prioritizing and compromising.

I can't say it any better than that, so I won't. I'll be checking this Update Bulletin's message board too, so feel free to post any suggestions you have there.

Oracle changes
Comprehensive Rules changes

Mark

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