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July 2009 Update Bulletin

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 What is Oracle?  

Magic is a game made up of over 10,000 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.

The letter H!i there! I've had a busy month.

The Prerelease for the game-changing core set known as Magic 2010 will be in a couple of days, so my handlers over here have let me out of my padded cell to drop some knowledge on y'all. And believe me, I'm lugging around a truckload of knowledge.

As you may have read, we're implementing some foundation-altering changes to the rules and to the card wordings as a whole. We've changed rules, and terms, that have been around since the dawn of the game ... and things that have just been around for ten years ... and things that have just been around for a couple.

We don't make these kinds of overhauls frequently, and we don't do it lightly. But it's been a decade since the Sixth Edition rules changes, and it was time to take a critical eye to the game from top to bottom. I personally see these changes as a reassuring move. I've spent the past six weeks changing over 4,000 card records in Oracle and rebuilding the Comprehensive Rules from its component parts. These aren't short-term moves—these are moves that make sense only if we're positioning ourselves for another decade (or two, or three ....) of making awesome Magic, and making Magic awesome.

The vast, vast majority of the Oracle changes were terminology changes. I'm very excited about how the cards will read going forward, but (with a few exceptions), they'll all work the same way they always did.

The even bigger changes are to the Comprehensive Rules. This gigantic document (over 150 pages!) got its last huge overhaul ten years ago. Since then, all changes have been patches. Rules have been deleted, modified, or added (and crammed in where they'd best fit), but there's been reluctance to make big changes, especially since that'd mean renumbering (and re-cross-referencing) a whole lot of stuff.

 What are the Comprehensive Rules?  
Magic is complicated. No, really. When you have over 10,000 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.

Well, now is the time for change. The document has been completely reorganized. Sections have been moved, merged, deleted, broken out into multiple sections, and/or written from scratch. Everything is renumbered. A lot of things have been streamlined, given some room to breathe, and put into a more intuitive order. The glossary has been imploded—it used to be a repository for redundant information as well as a few secret rules that existed nowhere else; now it's a list of one-line definitions and cross-references. It's a different document.

Of course, the bulk of the content is the same; it's just placed differently. But a number of rules have changed as well, and these are discussed deeper into this article. In addition, there will be a new Basic Rulebook up soon. It's mostly the same as the previous edition, but we've taken the opportunity to make some upgrades there as well.

One last note before we get to the content. When rules change, cards functionally change as a result. Some get better (like Braid of Fire), and some get worse (like Mogg Fanatic). We made the decision this time not to errata any cards to preserve their functionality; they're just going to roll with the punches. This has led us to reexamine our errata policies. In the past, we've issued errata to certain cards so they work as they originally did under an old rules system (rather than working as written under a new rules system), or so they work as intended (rather than working as printed). In some cases, we're confident the change is correct (Armor of Thorns, for example, should not be sacrificed "at end of turn"). In other cases, we think the policy is worth reevaluating. Nothing radical has changed this time out, but over the next few months, we'll be taking another look at the gray areas.

But that's an issue for the future; let's get back to the present. Changes to the Oracle card database will go into effect on Friday, July 10.

Changes to the Comprehensive Rules will also go into effect on Friday, July 10, but the new rulebook is being posted today so you can get an early look. The new Basic Rulebook is also being posted today.

The next Oracle and Comprehensive Rules update would normally occur on September 25 (the day before the Zendikar Prerelease), but there will be an intervening update on September 3 (the day before the Planechase release).

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