September 2008 Update Bulletin

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The letter T!he Shards of Alara Prerelease is just a few days away (exciting!), which means that it's time for my semibiannual maintenance on the Oracle card database and the Comprehensive Rules.

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.

Changes to the Oracle card database will go into effect on Friday, September 26.

Changes to the Comprehensive Rules will take effect shortly thereafter, though any changes that are necessary for Shards of Alara 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.

 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 biggest news this time around is the errata to Time Vault, which will bring it back to its original functionality (or as close as we can get while still working within the rules). In fact, its new wording is so wonky that it's actually getting a new rule to allow it to work! You can find it by clicking on the "Functional Oracle Changes" link below.

The "Nonfunctional Oracle Changes" link brings you to a list of cards whose wordings are changing, but whose functionality is not. Why do we bother futzing around with the Oracle wordings of cards that work fine the way they are? In a few cases, we're fixing errors that have crept into Oracle. But mostly, it's to keep things consistent and eradicate obsolete wordings.

You see, Oracle isn't just a reference for you. It's an important tool for us as well. Each time a new card set is ready to be printed, it undergoes a process called "templating." During this process, the templating team determines the proper wording for each card in the set. We rely heavily on precedents: previously printed cards that do something similar to what a new card does. If we didn't pay attention to this, cards that work the same would say different things, and that'd just be confusing. But if cards that work the same also read the same, that streamlines the game a great deal.

 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.

This time around, we discovered a group of 32 cards that all have a similar trigger condition. Twenty-nine of them say the same thing . . . and three of them (Frozen Solid, Stuffy Doll, and War Elemental) say something slightly different. Those three are being changed in Oracle to match the rest, and now a nonstandard template has been eliminated from Oracle. The next time a card with that trigger condition is designed, there will be no doubt as to what it should say.

Many of the suggestions that led to this round of Oracle and Comp. Rules changes were suggested by Alexander Deyke (whose Oracle Fu knows no bounds), Jacob Eakle, and the posters from the last update's message boards. As always, I'll be checking this update's message boards in advance of the next update, so feel free to post any suggestions or comments there.

Functional Oracle Changes
Nonfunctional Oracle Changes
Comprehensive Rules Changes

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