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April 2010 Update Bulletin

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The letter W!elcome, one and all, to the Mark Gottlieb Cavalcade of Minutiae and Pedanticness! Step right in to the Ruleseteria, put on your thinking cap and your straightjacket (mine is bedazzled), and fasten your safety harness by following the 39-step (and 17-substep!) Safety Harness Fastening Manual. You must be this Melviny to enter and, as always, no Vorthoses allowed. (Psst! Vorthos! I saw a minotaur eating a cheeseburger three articles over. Go check that wrongness out!)

It's that time of spring: The marigolds, daffodils, and Eldrazi are rising, so with a Prerelease right around the corner (I'll be at Seattle's this weekend), let's update Oracle and the Comprehensive Rulebook! The biggest functional card change this time out involves the Planar Collapse cycle from Urza's Legacy. (Since Urza's Legacy and Urza's Destiny are coming down the Magic Online pike over the next few months or so, they got the most attention this month.) In a reversion to their printed wordings, you no longer need to sacrifice them to get their effects, which probably opens up some sort of degenerate Second Chance combo with recurring bounce effects. Hooray?

The biggest rules change this time out involves the Two-Headed Giant multiplayer variant. Sometimes cards need to check what a player's life total is. The old rules that covered this said that each player's share of the team's life total was considered to be half that life total, rounded up. This mostly sorta worked, and it mostly sorta made sense. Your part of the life total was half that life total, right? But it also did some weird, weird things. If your team had 11 life, the game considered your life total to be 6, and your teammate's life total to also be 6. Weird. If an effect caused you to double your life total, your team's life total would go from 11 to 17. Weird. I could go on, but we're changing that rule, so why dwell on the past?

We briefly considered a new rule in which the primary player's share of the life total was half the team's life total, rounded up, and the secondary player's share of the life total was half the team's life total, rounded down. On its surface, that makes a lot more sense. Now a team with 11 life has one player whose life total is considered to be 6 and another whose life total is considered to be 5. Hey, that actually adds up to 11! Sounds like progress! Oddly, this rule turns out to be much less intuitive in just about every other way. Take the Rise of the Eldrazi card Near-Death Experience, for example. It says that you win the game at the beginning of your upkeep if your life total is exactly 1. Under this system, if the primary player controls Near-Death Experience, that team wins the game if its life total is 1 or 2 ... and if the secondary player controls Near-Death Experience, that team wins the game if its life total is 2 or 3. But, of course, not 1. 3? Where'd the 3 come from?

Instead, the system is changing to the simplest system possible. If something needs to know an individual player's life total, it uses the team's life total instead. Some examples of what this means:

  • If your team has 11 life and you cast Beacon of Immortality, you'll gain 11 life and your team will wind up at 22 life.
  • If you control Near-Death Experience, you'll win the game during your upkeep if your team has exactly 1 life.
  • If your team has 17 life and you want to activate Lurking Evil's activated ability, you'll have to pay 9 life to do so (not 5 life, which is what you pay under the current system), leaving your team at 8.

Some rules about life totals aren't changing. OK, one of the rules about life totals isn't changing. Specifically, gaining and losing life still applies to each player individually, and the result is applied to the team life total. For example, if your team has 24 life and you gain 6 life, your team winds up at 30 life (as you'd expect). Your Well of Lost Dreams triggers, but your teammate's Well does not.

As for the rest of the rules ....

If something sets one player's life total to a specific number (like Magister Sphinx does), that player gains or loses the necessary amount of life to wind up at the new total, and the team's life total is adjusted accordingly. So if your team has 18 life and you're targeted by Magister Sphinx's ability, you'll lose 8 life and your team will wind up at 10 life.

If something would set the life total of each player on a team to a specific number (like Sway of the Stars would, or Biorhythm would), a team that's being affected picks one of its players and only that player is affected. Sway of the Stars works as you'd expect (your team winds up at 7). Biorhythm ... well, that doesn't work in Two-Headed Giant as it is (which is one of the motivating factors behind the system change), so it's no big surprise that it's still screwy under the new system. At least that's the only card in existence that tries to set the life total of each member of the same team to a different number.

If something would cause you to exchange life totals with your teammate, nothing happens. Additionally, Reverse the Sands gets its own special rule: It can't affect more than one player on each team. And finally, if an effect says that a player can't gain life, no player on that team can gain life.

Now, I know what the doomsayers out there are probably yelling at their screens: "You idiot! This makes a bunch of cards way more powerful in Two-Headed Giant! How dare you!" And I know what the pessimists are probably shrieking: "You numbskull! This makes a bunch of cards way less powerful in Two-Headed Giant! What gives you the right?" To which I reply: Yup. Some cards' power level changed. By my count, 82 cards care about your life total. Some are now better. Some are now worse. I'm not going to go card-by-card (why take away your fun?), but let's look at the categories of cards that are affected.

Cards that set one player's life total to a specific number (9)
Example: Form of the Dragon
Analysis: Holy cow is this much easier to grok under the new system. Some of these get more powerful, and some get less powerful, depending on who they affect and what they set the life total to.

Cards that set multiple players' life totals to specific numbers (5)
Example: Rise of the Eldrazi's Repay in Kind
Analysis: Rebirth and Sway of the Stars get much less powerful but much more intuitive. Arbiter of Knollridge and Repay in Kind are pretty much the same, but without the rounding errors. Biorhythm goes kablooey. Sorry, Biorhythm, you're just going to have to take one for the team, so to speak.

Cards that exchange two players' life totals (5)
Example: Magus of the Mirror
Analysis: These get more powerful. Again, they're massively simpler to comprehend. Before, if one team was at 33 and another was at 19 when Magus of the Mirror was used, the teams would each wind up at 26. (Also, these effects would always end up in a tie or in life totals that differed by just 1.) Under the new system, the life totals will end up being 19 and 33!

Cards that redistribute any number of players' life totals (1)
Example: Reverse the Sands
Analysis: Gets its own rule, and winds up like an exchange card above.

Cards that double a player's life total (2)
Example: Beacon of Immortality
Analysis: Fittingly, they're twice as powerful.

Cards that halve one player's life total (15)
Example: Blood Tribute, Lurking Evil
Analysis: Most of these cards get less powerful, since they affect their controllers. A few, however, get a good deal more powerful, since they affect an opponent. Of note is Heartless Hidetsugu, which just gets stupid in this format. Its ability flat-out kills any team with an even life total regardless of what it is (if a team has 34 life, for example, Hidetsugu deals 17 damage to each member of that team), and leaves each team with an odd life total at 1.

Random cards that check life total and get more powerful (11, by my count)
Example: Felidar Sovereign (it's easier to have 40 or more life)
Analysis: As always, these cards become much easier to process and understand within a game, since there's no calculation (halving and rounding) to deal with. The ones that leap in power level are Divinity of Pride (it's "turned on" if you have 25 or more life, so it's reasonably likely to enter the battlefield that way early in the game), and Rune-Tail, Kitsune Ascendant (which checks if you're at 30).

Random cards that check life total and get less powerful (16, by my count)
Example: Convalescent Care, Bloodghast
Analysis: Stop me if you've heard this, but these are easier to process and understand within a game. Some, like Convalescent Care, are weaker because it's harder (and more dangerous) to be at 5 life or less. Some, like Bloodghast, are weaker because it's harder to get the opposing team down to 10 life.

Cards that compare life totals between opponents (10, including 2 that appear on other lists)
Example: Pulse of the Forge
Analysis: Eliminating the rounding is huge for these; under the old system, if one team has 14 life and the other team has 13 life, all players are considered to have a life total of 7. These cards work a lot more sensibly now. Their power levels don't appreciably change.

Cards that compare life totals and may look at teammates (5)
Example: Wild Dogs
Analysis: Some of these go wiggy. Loxodon Peacekeeper and Psychic Transfer can work themselves out. Wild Dogs and Ghazbán Ogre, on the other hand, will never change control because two players on the same team will always be tied for highest life total. These are just a Green Mana 2/1 and a Green Mana 2/2, respectively, in this format. Similarly, Celestial Convergence will always end the game in a draw if it goes off.

Worship-like cards that say " Damage that would reduce your life total to less than 1 reduces it to 1 instead." (5)
Example: Um, Worship
Analysis: These are fine. They already worked under the old system the way they'll work under the new system; it just makes more sense now.

So there you go. In our opinion, the overall gains inherent in the new system strongly outweigh the few cards that go sideways. As for the cards that will now be evaluated differently in Two-Headed Giant than they are in other formats ... well, that's actually one of the fun things about having different formats! And in case you're wondering why we're implementing this change now rather than waiting for Magic 2011, there are two Rise of the Eldrazi cards that would've behaved less-than-sensibly under the old system (Near-Death Experience and Repay in Kind), so we had the impetus to go ahead and put the new system into place.

The Oracle updates go live later this week. The new Comprehensive Rulebook will be up sometime around May 1. Note that changes to the Comprehensive Rules may wind up a bit different than what's posted here because it'll go through Editing and a review process before it's finalized. The next full-scale update to Oracle and to the Comprehensive Rulebook will be when Magic 2011 comes out, but there'll be a special Archenemy update before then. That update will be limited to adding the new Archenemy cards to Oracle, and adding the new Archenemy rules to the rulebook.

Enjoy!
Mark

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