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.
In this section, I normally talk about tweaks to individual rules, or a rule that's been added somewhere within the rulebook, or the like. I can't do that today, because everything has changed. To give you an idea, the old rulebook had section 404, "Triggered Abilities," and section 412, "Handling Triggered Abilities." That content has been merged into the new rulebook's section 603, "Handling Triggered Abilities," but some of that information now appears in section 112, "Abilities." In addition to the reorganization, a ton of stuff has been rewritten for clarity. Plus, rules that were previously hidden within the glossary (like what a "pile" is, or what the list of supertypes are) have been moved into the main rules.
So, rather than describe what rulebook bits have changed, I'm going to present the basic new rulebook structure, then jump right into what terms and rules have changed. Note that more rules have changed than just the ones listed in the June 10 article that Aaron and I wrote.
Overall Comprehensive Rulebook structure:
Section 1: Game Concepts
Section 2: Parts of a Card
Section 3: Card Types
Section 4: Zones
Section 5: Turn Structure
Section 6: Spells, Abilities, and Effects
Section 7: Additional Rules
Section 8: Multiplayer Rules
Now for some new terminology:
Battlefield — The new name of the in-play zone.
Exile — The new name of the removed-from-the-game zone. Also, to exile something is to move it to this zone.
Cast — To put a spell on the stack and pay its costs so it will eventually resolve.
Activate — To put an activated ability on the stack and pay its costs so it will eventually resolve.
Ending phase — The new name for the end phase.
End step — The new name for the end of turn step.
Damage assignment order — The order, announced during the declare blockers step, that an attacking creature will assign its combat damage among the multiple creatures blocking it, or that a blocking creature will assign its combat damage among the multiple creatures it's blocking.
State-based actions — This is the new name for state-based effects. (They're not really effects.)
Turn-based actions — This is the new name for game actions (such as drawing a card at the start of your draw step).
Spell abilities — The instructions you follow when an instant or sorcery spell is resolving. For example, "Lightning Bolt deals 3 damage to target creature or player" is a spell ability.
Marked — Past rules said that damage dealt to a creature is "on" that creature. This could be more descriptive, more active, and more named after me. So now that damage is "marked on" that creature. Marked damage clears when a creature regenerates and during the cleanup step; the lethal damage rule checks the total damage marked on a creature.
And now notes on rules that have changed.
This is an addition to the APNAP (Active Player, Next Active Player) order rule. If something is being processed using APNAP order, and a player who's already been handled is given a new choice to make, that player makes that choice next. (APNAP order is restarted for the outstanding choices.)
This is the new mulligan rule. Mulligans are now taken in rounds, essentially. In turn order, everyone announces whether or not they're going to take a mulligan, then everyone who said "yes" does so at the same time. Then the people who took mulligans repeat the process. If you've got a Serum Powder in your hand, you use it at the time you would say "yes" or "no," then you say "yes" or "no" once you've got your new hand.
The section on losing the game now states that a game loss may be awarded by a judge at a tournament. The rule added to cover Blood Tyrant already referred to this; now it's placed where it belongs."
This rule states that effects may cause the game to end in a draw. Rules already existed for cards like Coalition Victory and Phage the Untouchable, but not Celestial Convergence or Divine Intervention.
This is a new section about mana. The most notable item is what's not here: mana burn. Each player's mana pool is now cleared at the end of each step and each phase (as opposed to just the end of each phase), but this no longer causes life loss. Additionally, each time a player passes priority or spends mana, if any mana remains in that player's mana pool, he or she must announce what mana is still there.
This rule about X has been clarified. The upshot is that if you cast Bond of Agony without paying its mana cost (as a result of cascade, for example), X must be 0.
This rule about tokens specifies that a token's owner is the player under whose control it enters the battlefield.
This is a new section about damage. For years, damage was a pretty simple concept: It was dealt to players or creatures, and it always did the same thing to a player or to a creature. But then we introduced planeswalkers. And wither. And now lifelink has changed so that the life gain is an additional result of damage. The two most important bits here are rule 118.3, which covers the different results damage may have, and rule 118.4, which details how damage is processed now. That process goes like this:
1) Damage is dealt, as modified by replacement and prevention effects that interact with damage. Abilities that trigger when damage is dealt trigger now and wait to be put on the stack.
2) Damage that's been dealt is transformed into its results, as modified by replacement effects that interact with those results (such as life loss or counters).
3) The damage event occurs.
So let's say a 2/2 with lifelink is attacking a player and isn't blocked, the attacking player also controls Boon Reflection, and the defending player activates Samite Healer's ability targeting him- or herself. The process looks like this:
[2 damage is dealt to defending player]
Samite Healer's prevention effect is applied.[1 damage is dealt to defending player]
The damage is transformed into its results.[Defending player loses 1 life, attacking player gains 1 life]
Boon Reflection's replacement effect is applied.[Defending player loses 1 life, attacking player gains 2 life]
The damage event occurs. All results are simultaneous.
This rule was added to the section about *'s within the Power/Toughness section. Previously this section acknowledged only characteristic-defining abilities (like Maro has). This new rule acknowledges certain kinds of replacement abilities that set power and toughness (like Aquamorph Entity has).
This rule states that a card is outside the game if it isn't in any of the game's zones. Previously, a card in the removed-from-the-game zone was outside the game too, but that's no longer the case for cards in this zone (now called the exile zone).
This is the section for the declare blockers step. It details the procedure by which players announce the damage assignment orders for their creatures that have been blocked by multiple creatures, or are blocking multiple creatures.
This is the section for the combat damage step. Most importantly, combat damage no longer uses the stack. It isn't an object, and it doesn't resolve—it's simply dealt, all at once, after it's all been assigned. This section also describes how to assign combat damage within a damage assignment order. (A shorthand way to think about this is that each creature basically has "trample for creatures.")
This rule, which covers first strike and double strike, previously had a loophole that would've allowed a 0-power creature with first strike to deal its combat damage in the second combat damage step if its power were increased (by Giant Growth, for example) after combat damage was assigned and dealt in the first combat damage step. That's no longer the case.
This rule within the section on the cleanup step allows for the possibility of abilities that trigger "at the beginning of the next cleanup step." See "Substance" below, and in the "Sweeping Card Changes" section, for more information.
This is an addendum to the general "linked abilities" rule. It's basically there to cover Animate Dead and its ilk. Animate Dead's primary ability grants it an ability, and those two abilities are linked.
This rule, about when and how resolving spells and abilities can determine information from the game, got some clarifications to better handle illegal targets and damage that's divided—but not divided by a player's choice.
This rule is being added to specify that once a spell or ability starts to legally resolve, it will resolve fully even if it leaves the stack during that time.
This rule is about effects with durations worded "for as long as ...". The important change is that these durations used to just be worded "as long as ...", which made them easy to confuse with "as long as" effects from static abilities.
This rule describes the layers in which continuous effects are applied. They have changed; the old layer 5 (which was a catchall layer) has been broken out into two different layers.
Layer 1: Copy effects are applied.
Layer 2: Control-changing effects are applied.
Layer 3: Text-changing effects are applied.
Layer 4: Type-changing effects are applied. This includes effects that change an object's card type, subtype, and/or supertype.
Layer 5: Color-changing effects are applied.
Layer 6: Ability-adding and ability-removing effects are applied.
Layer 7: Power- and/or toughness-changing effects are applied
Now color-changing effects happen before effects that add or remove abilities. This changes some Snakeform interactions, for example. It also changes how Painter's Servant interacts with effects that cause it to lose all abilities.
This rule describes the sublayers in which power- and toughness-changing effects are applied. They have also changed.
Layer 7a: Effects from characteristic-defining abilities are applied.
Layer 7b: Effects that set power and/or toughness to a specific number or value are applied.
Layer 7c: Effects that modify power and/or toughness (but don't set power and/or toughness to a specific number or value) are applied.
Layer 7d: Power and/or toughness changes from counters are applied.
Layer 7e: Effects that switch a creature's power and toughness are applied.
For example, this changes how the effect of Sorceress Queen's ability interacts with Giant Growth, for example. Under the old system, it mattered which order they resolved. Now, the effect of Sorceress Queen's ability is always applied first.
The rule about self-replacement effects is clearer about how they're different than other replacement effects; it specifies that they're not continuous effects.
This rule was added to govern how prevention effects interact with unpreventable damage.
This general section wound up being the home for a few topics that used to live in the glossary, but nowhere else. Now rules can be found here that cover piles, indestructible permanents, unblockable creatures, what an event is, and how modal spells and abilities work,.
A number of new keyword actions were added to this section: activate, cast, discard, exchange, exile, play, reveal, and search.
This is the keyword abilities section (formerly section 502). It's been completely reorganized. All the "evergreen keywords" (keywords that appear in every set) have been moved to the front and alphabetized; they're rules 702.2 through 702.18. Then all other keywords are listed in chronological order based on the set they first appeared in. If multiple keywords premiered in the same set, they're listed in alphabetical order.
This is deathtouch, which is now a static ability. A player assigning combat damage from a creature with deathtouch can divide that damage as he or she chooses among any number of creatures blocking or blocked by it, which is an exception to the new combat damage rules. Also, a creature that's been dealt damage by a source with deathtouch since the last time state-based actions were checked is destroyed as a state-based action.
This is intimidate, an evergreen keyword that doesn't quite exist yet. A creature with intimidate can't be blocked except by artifact creatures and/or creatures that share a color with it. It's coming soon, so rather than renumber everything in a few months, it was added in early. (It essentially takes the place of fear, which will remain in place but won't appear on new cards.)
This is lifelink, which is now a static ability. Damage dealt by a source with lifelink causes that source's controller, or its owner if it has no controller, to gain that much life (in addition to any other results that damage causes).
This is banding and "bands with other." The notable thing about banding is that it has not changed, even though the combat damage rules changed around it. During the combat damage step, if a creature is blocking a creature with banding, the active player (rather than the defending player) chooses how the blocking creature's damage is assigned. That player can divide that creature's combat damage as he or she chooses among any number of creatures it's blocking, which is an exception to the new combat damage rules. The same procedure applies for attacking creatures with banding.
The notable thing about "bands with other" is that we've thrown out the little rules card that came in Legends boosters and revised the ability to work in a vastly more intuitive manner, simply based on its wording. Now a Wolf with "bands with other Wolves" can form an attacking band with any number of other Wolves. During the combat damage step, if a creature is blocking both a Wolf with "bands with other Wolves" and another Wolf, the active player (rather than the defending player) chooses how the blocking creature's damage is assigned, using the same rules as banding. The same goes while attacking.
This is phasing, which has radically changed. Under the old rules, phasing caused a permanent to change zones—it moved from the battlefield to the phased-out zone, then back. But then the rest of the phasing rules backtracked, explaining why not to treat this as a zone change: It didn't cause zone-change triggers to trigger, the permanent didn't lose Auras or counters, face-down creatures stayed face-down while phased out, the permanent remembered whether it was tapped or untapped, creatures that phased in were treated as though they had haste, and so on. I never thought the zone-change model was accurate. My model for a phased-out permanent was simply to put my hand over it during a game, not to move it elsewhere. The game continued on around it, but it had become invisible. Thus the new functionality:
Except for rules and effects that specifically mention phased-out permanents, a phased-out permanent is treated as though it does not exist. It can't affect or be affected by anything else in the game.
On the whole, this works pretty much the same. Permanents still phase in and out when they always did. Auras and Equipment attached to a permanent that phases out also phases out indirectly. Counters stay. Zone-change triggers don't trigger. Phased-out tokens cease to exist. It's just a cleaner, more accurate representation of the ability.
There are some functional changes, though. Effects that check a phased-in permanent's history won't treat the phasing event as having caused the permanent to leave or enter the battlefield or its controller's control. This means a creature that phases in won't have summoning sickness, which is correct. But it also means that if a creature with echo phases in, you won't have to pay echo just because it phased in. (The regular echo condition still applies, though.) I also think this is correct, but it's different than it's worked before.
Another change is that if a continuous effect with a limited duration affects a permanent that phases out, the effect won't automatically end. The effect will just expire as normal (for example, if it lasts "until end of turn," it'll probably expire while the permanent is phased out). If a "for as long as" effect tracks something about that permanent (like "for as long as Callous Oppressor remains tapped"), it'll end when the permanent phases out because it'll lose track of it so it can't verify that its condition remains true. But other continuous effects will happily continue, blithely unaware that the permanent they're hovering over has ceased to exist for a while. The same is true for delayed triggered abilities (though, of course, if they trigger while the permanent they want to affect is phased out, they won't do anything).
Finally, damage marked on a permanent isn't automatically cleared when that permanent phases out. It'll most likely clear at the normal time during the cleanup step before the permanent phases back in, though.
What's missing: Imprint
Imprint is no longer a keyword ability. It never really was; "the imprinted card" always just meant "the removed card." Imprint was used on Mirrodin cards because "removed from the game" was long and clunky, and these cards were begging for a cool, succinct word to crystallize their functionality. But now we have "exile" for that job. The imprint cards have been reworded in Oracle so that "imprint" is an ability word (like hellbent). There are some corner-case functional changes as a result; see the "Sweeping Card Changes" section for more information.
What's missing: Substance
Substance no longer exists. It was invented to handle a handful of cards that really wanted to work the way they did under pre-Sixth Edition rules. Now that's being done with an "at the beginning of the next cleanup step" trigger. See the "Sweeping Card Changes" section for more information.
This is the rule about when state-based actions are checked. It's been reworded to clarify that if the conditions for a state-based action exists, but that state-based action can't be performed (for example, if an indestructible creature has lethal damage marked on it), that state-based action isn't checked again even though the conditions for it still exist.
This is in the midst of the list of state-based actions. They've been reorganized, grouping similar ones together, and progressing from the big ones (players losing) through putting permanents into the graveyard, down to removing counters. Anyway, this is the new one that handles deathtouch: "If a creature has been dealt damage by a source with deathtouch since the last time state-based actions were checked, that creature is destroyed. Regeneration can replace this event." Note that this checks whether damage was dealt, not whether damage was marked on the creature. That means it'll work if a creature was dealt damage by a source with wither and deathtouch.
706.2 & 706.2a
Now we're in the copy section. There's always been a weird discrepancy in the copy rules. A copy of an object acquired all of that object's characteristics, which includes rules text and abilities. But rules text generates abilities. So did the copy have two sets of abilities: The set that it copied directly, and the set generated by the rules text it copied? Of course not, but the rules implied that you could come to that conclusion. These rules now state that a copy of an object acquires the copiable values derived from that object's text (as modified by other copy effects, certain replacement effects, and face-downness), and that the text generates its characteristics.
This is the rule that explains what happens if a face-up permanent is turned face down. It was moved here from the morph section, because it should apply to Ixidron's ability. That has resulted in part of Ixidron's ability becoming reminder text.
This section, entitled "Shortcuts," is an overhaul of the (very fuzzy) section known as "Handling 'Infinite' Loops." Don't worry, it's still pretty fuzzy, but it should be more sensible now.
This is the rule about Two-Headed Giant mulligans; it got the same change in principle as the two-player game did.
806.7e & 806.7f
Rules about damage assignment order and combat damage in Two-Headed Giant games.
This rule was created to regulate what happens if both teammates in a Two-Headed Giant game get the option to pay life at the same time.
This rule in the Emperor section gives more details about how to set up a game with more than two teams and/or more than three players on each team.