Friday, 19 July 2013

Oracle Review - Camouflage and Illusionary Mask

Oops, this was supposed to go up yesterday but apparently I didn't actually publish it. My apologies to the precisely zero people who were eagerly anticipating Thursday's Oracle review.

Two cards from the original Magic set had effects which caused creatures to be face down: Camouflage and Illusionary Mask. These cards have always been oddities, but with the introduction of the Morph ability in Onslaught block, being a face down magic card in play took on a specific meaning in the rules. This meant that Camouflage and Illusionary Mask both had to be changed - but how?

Illusionary Mask
Oh Illusionary Mask, what a sad day. The Oracle says:
{X}: You may choose a creature card in your hand whose mana cost could be paid by some amount of, or all of, the mana you spent on {X}. If you do, you may cast that card face down as a 2/2 creature spell without paying its mana cost. If the creature that spell becomes as it resolves has not been turned face up and would assign or deal damage, be dealt damage, or become tapped, instead it's turned face up and assigns or deals damage, is dealt damage, or becomes tapped. Activate this ability only any time you could cast a sorcery.
The problem Illusionary Mask encountered is that face down magic cards in play mean a specific thing according to the rules: they are 2/2 creatures. The original text of Illusionary Mask seems to suggest something different: that the creature is actually still itself, but your opponent doesn't know what it is.

If I play Uncle Istvan with the mask and my opponent plays an Infect, that would give the face down uncle -2/-2, which, under the current Illusionary Mask rules, would mean it would be a 0/0 and go to the graveyard. The original card doesn't say anything of that kind. A reading of the card itself would suggest I would simply tell my opponent that the creature was still in play. But what if my opponent target's Uncle Istvan with their Ghitu Fire Eater? I should reveal Uncle Istvan if he is dealt damage, but Uncle Istvan prevents all damage from creatures, so he shouldn't be dealt damage at all, meaning I shouldn't reveal him. The current text is clear, I reveal him as part of a replacement effect and then his ability will be there to prevent the damage and he will take none. But does that match the intent of the card?

My answer is no. It also shouldn't be the case that Illusionary Mask cannot be used to hide the identity of a double-faced card or that a player can reveal a masked creature with Break Open. I realize that face-down cards have a specific game definition, but as we will soon see in Camouflage, the key in a good wording is to avoid using face-down cards. The idea of the card being face down was an early implementation of another idea - the idea that your opponent doesn't get to know what the card is. Instead of putting the creature into play face down, Illusionary Mask should say that you do not reveal the creature spell or the creature it becomes to your opponent. Sure, you may put it face down physically so they don't see it, but you could also put it in an opaque sleeve, or put a cloth over it. Add text that says if the creature moves from the battlefield to any other zone, if the creature card moves from the stack to any zone other than the battlefield, or if the game ends, you must reveal the card to all other players, just like with a face down card.

Enter the battlefield effects would still trigger, you'd still be responsible for maintaining the rules - if your opponent cast a Terror targeting the Uncle Istvan then you'd have to say, "Sorry, that's not a legal target for Terror." In a tournament you could always call a judge if something was fishy, and your opponent has to show you their cards at the end of the game so you can see if they cheated. This wording creates a terrible mess for players who are actually playing the game, but doesn't break any rules or create any unresolvable situations. Besides, making a confusing mess of things is exactly what Illusionary Mask is supposed to do.

Maybe my suggestion is naïve, but I just think that retroactively turning creatures hidden with the mask into 2/2's because the card happens to say "face down" isn't right. As a result, I give Illusionary mask's Oracle wording...


Now here is a wording done right.  The Oracle says:
Cast Camouflage only during your declare attackers step. 
This turn, instead of declaring blockers, each defending player chooses any number of creatures he or she controls and divides them into a number of piles equal to the number of attacking creatures for whom that player is the defending player. Creatures he or she controls that can block additional creatures may likewise be put into additional piles. Assign each pile to a different one of those attacking creatures at random. Each creature in a pile that can block the creature that pile is assigned to does so. (Piles can be empty.)
Wow, a complete change to the original wording. But this time, instead of looking at what the words said, "Place [attacking creatures] face down," the oracle wording is responsive to the intended effect of the card: your opponent doesn't know what they are blocking.

If you follow the process on the card, the result is that your opponent knows which creatures are attacking - because they saw them before they were turned face down - and they are allowed to decide how their blockers will go together, but they don't know which of the blockers will block which attacker. Not knowing which is which and assigning at random accomplish the same thing. This wording also sidesteps the question of how to turn a token face down or otherwise disguise it so that your opponent can't tell a token from a non-token.

Camouflage ran into a problem much like the one Illusionary Mask had, but it has a very clever solution. This oracle wording and whoever came up with the idea for it both deserve...

Way to go!

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