July 2010 Update Bulletin

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The letter H!i everyone! Sorry I'm a bit late with this update, but sometimes real life intrudes on you and there's nothing you can do about it. See, a couple of months ago, I was working on a plan. Heck, that's just me being modest again. I was working on a masterpiece of transcendant supervillainy. Without getting bogged down in the details, it involved an underwater drill into the earth's crust, some comically malfunctioning robots, crazy contraptions with ludicrous names, the most inept henchmen you've ever seen in your life, more crude oil than you can imagine, and the threat of widespread ecological catastrophe ... unless the leaders of the free world paid my exorbitant ransom, of course. Because no one's evil and/or stupid enough to actually go through with a plan like that. It just doesn't make sense. But then not only did BP beat me to the punch, they did it for free! At least ask for a ransom, idiots. Nice supervillainy.

So, of course, I quickly switched gears and decided to write, direct, animate, and voice a completely original, highly imaginative 3D cartoon movie about a lovable supervillain who adopts three little girls. Trust me, it's genius. I've been devoting so many hours to it, though, that until I finished it yesterday, I hadn't had time to update Oracle, revise the Comp Rules, go out to the movies, read Entertainment Weekly, watch any TV advertising, or become aware of any tie-in marketing campaigns. In the past 24 hours, I was able to catch up on the first two of those things, but not the other four. I have some meetings with distributors tomorrow, and I'm pretty sure at least one of us is going to be very surprised! Wish me luck!

But before I take Hollywood by storm, let's update some Magic!

So Touchy

The main Magic 2011 rules change was ... a minor tweak to deathtouch? That's it? No sweeping terminology changes that required giving errata to a thousand cards? Well, it'll have to do.

M10 saw a functional change to deathtouch as well, but parts of the new rule weren't very intuitive, so we revisited it and altered it again. Deathtouch has two parts to it:

1) One part works while you're assigning combat damage. This is part got the bigger change, though the change isn't relevant in very many scenarios. Deathtouch now works differently if an attacking creature has both deathtouch and trample (note: no such creature has ever been printed, though you can certainly construct one using Auras, Equipment, or other effects), or if a creature with deathtouch blocks or is blocked by multiple creatures.

If a creature with deathtouch blocks or becomes blocked, you announce a damage assignment order like normal. Then, as you assign the damage from the creature with deathtouch, you must adhere to that order—but any amount of damage from the creature with deathtouch is considered lethal damage for damage-assignment purposes. So, for example, say a 3/3 creature with deathtouch is blocked by a 2/2, a 4/4, a 7/7, and a 9/9. You could announce the damage assignment order as the 9/9, then the 7/7, then the 4/4, then the 2/2. Then you could assign 1 damage to the 9/9 and—since that's considered lethal—move on to assign 1 damage to the 7/7, and—since that's considered lethal too—assign 1 damage to the 4/4. (You can't hit the 2/2 in this scenario.)

Similarly, say you control a 4/4 creature has deathtouch and trample. You attack your opponent and your creature is blocked by a 3/3. If your creature had just deathtouch, you'd have to assign all its damage to the blocking creature. If your creature had just trample, you'd have to assign 3 damage to the blocking creature and could assign only 1 to the defending player. But since it has both deathtouch and trample, you could assign 1 damage to the blocking creature and—since that's considered lethal—assign the remaining 3 damage to the defending player.

2) The other part of deathtouch is what actually kills things. This is largely unchanged, though there is a slight adjustment that was made too late to get into the M11 FAQ. See, "lethal damage" doesn't actually kill anything. That's just a cute terminology shorthand. No, the rules kill things. There's a state-based action (a rule that's checked at every opportunity) that says that if a creature has toughness greater than 0, and it's been dealt damage by a source with deathtouch since the last time state-based actions were checked, it's destroyed.

Note that this part works on any damage from anything with deathtouch, not just on combat damage from a creature with deathtouch. The source with deathtouch doesn't even have to be on the battlefield!

There are wonky behind-the-scenes reasons why damage from a source with deathtouch can't just be lethal damage. I get that question a lot. The short answer is that lethal damage doesn't work like that. (OK, that's the short and unhelpful answer.) There actually is no rule that says "a creature that's been dealt lethal damage is destroyed." Because then you'd have to ask when, exactly, it was dealt lethal damage. Maybe it wasn't dealt that damage all at once. To get really tricky, imagine a 3/3 creature that's been dealt 2 damage ... and later in the turn, it gets -1/-1. Now it's a 2/2 creature with 2 damage marked on it, so it's destroyed—but it was never dealt lethal damage! So we have a more complex rule, and I'm totally fine with that. The important thing is that the end result is what you expect it to be.

The late change to this rule is that it now works only on creatures with toughness greater than 0. If a creature is dealt damage by a source with deathtouch, and that creature winds up with 0 or less toughness (perhaps because the source with deathtouch also has wither), the 0-toughness rule will put it directly into the graveyard. It's best to avoid the overlap between the deathtouch rule (which allows regeneration) and the 0-toughness rule (which doesn't), especially with things like Debt of Loyalty floating around.


Emblematic for the People

The other major rules change being enacted here involves emblems.

If you're wondering what an emblem is, you are correct: Until now, there's no such thing as emblems. Furthermore, there are no cards that create emblems ... or at least, there won't be any such cards until the Oracle update goes live this Friday. At that point, there will be one—and only one—card that can create an emblem: Elspeth, Knight-Errant.

The next Duel Decks product we're releasing is a knock-down drag-out between Elspeth and Tezzeret, so this gave us the opportunity to reexamine Elspeth's "ultimate" ability. In its first printing, it said "[-8]: For the rest of the game, artifacts, creatures, enchantments, and lands you control are indestructible." This affects any artifacts, creatures, enchantments, and lands you happen to control at any point for the rest of the game, and only while you control them. If you play a land later, it's indestructible. If your opponent gains control of one of your creatures, it stops being indestructible.

This is, as we are all well aware, awesome. But it's also very limited. This ability works the way it does because the buff it's granting happens to be indestructibility, and indestructibility is weird. It isn't an ability that's granted to those permanents. It's not a keyword. It doesn't change anything's characteristics. It's just a true thing that affects the game rules. (I believe this would be a little easier to understand if it said "artifacts, creatures, enchantments, and lands you control can't be destroyed," because then it doesn't look like a keyword, but the word "indestructible" is too cool not to use.)

Anyway, Elspeth works fine. But what if we wanted to do the same kind of ability that granted flying? Or +2/+2? Or shroud? These are things that affect the characteristics of permanents, so they'd affect only what you controlled at the time the ability resolved. Permanents that came in later would be unaffected. Permanents that were affected that your opponents gained control of would retain the bonus. It'd work very differently even though it was worded just like Elspeth. Huh.

What Elspeth really wants to do is create a pseudo-enchantment with a static ability that works for the rest of the game. So ... an immutable enchantment. One that can't be destroyed, or stolen. Something like a Vanguard card that you get in the middle of the game rather than at the beginning. An object with an effect that hovers over the rest of the game. We can do this. We can invent emblems.

New Elspeth, Knight-Errant wording
[+1]: Put a 1/1 white Soldier creature token onto the battlefield.
[+1]: Target creature gets +3/+3 and gains flying until end of turn.
[-8]: You get an emblem with "Artifacts, creatures, enchantments, and lands you control are indestructible."

An emblem is a new kind of object, different from a card or a token. It's basically a marker with an ability on it. In fact, the ability is the only characteristic it has. Emblems have no color, name, card type, or anything else—just that ability. They live in the command zone, which is the same place that Archenemy schemes, Planechase planes, Vanguard cards, and EDH generals hang out. They're not permanents, and absolutely nothing can touch them or get rid of them, simply because no cards say that they can.

This change is being implemented now because this is the last Comprehensive Rules update before Elspeth vs. Tezzeret comes out. It doesn't really functionally change Elspeth at all, so she might as well start doing her new thing right away. Does this mean there will be more emblem-creating planeswalkers in the future? Wait and see ....

Developing News

You may have thought emblems were odd, but I've saved the most unexpected news for last. This is the end of the Rules Managerial road for me, at least for a while. We're doing some internal juggling in R&D, and I'm about to begin a six-month stint as a developer. (Don't worry, that still means I get to thwart Mark Rosewater.) Oddly, my official job title is Developer, and has been for years, but I never actually get to do any development in the traditional sense. Well, until now. The inestimable Matt Tabak will be taking over for me as Rules Manager. I'm a bit concerned that he's not evil enough, but I've got just the Evilomatron (patent pending) for that ....

The Oracle updates go live on Friday, July 16. The new Comprehensive Rulebook will be up shortly after that. Note that changes to the Comprehensive Rules may wind up a bit different than what's posted here because the document needs to be run through Editing and a review process before it's finalized.


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