Thursday, 8 August 2013

Oracle Review - Chaos Orb and Mana Vault

Obviously these cards are being reviewed together because a Mana Vault enables you to use your Chaos Orb on your first turn.

Chaos Orb
Chaos Orb is the stupidest Magic card ever printed. In my review of Lich I said that it must have been fun to make up cards when there were no rules at all, and this card is the most non-rules card ever printed. Turning Magic into a game of dexterity would later be done in Un-sets as a joke. Since Magic is not a game of dexterity, Chaos Orb is rightly banned in every format, but that doesn't excuse it's heinous Oracle text.
{1}, {T}: If Chaos Orb is on the battlefield, flip Chaos Orb onto the battlefield from a height of at least one foot. If Chaos Orb turns over completely at least once during the flip, destroy all nontoken permanents it touches. Then destroy Chaos Orb.
What does that even mean? Let's check the comprehensive rules to see what flipping a card onto the battlefield means. Okay... checking... nope, nothing.

I'd be in favour of reading the wording as part of the English language - after all, the rules don't define the word "a" or "the" either and yet they appears on many cards - except that the rules do tell us exactly what it means to flip a permanent. It means we change the status of that permanent from unflipped to flipped.

"Onto the battlefield" appears to be a set of instructions we can't follow since it is already on the battlefield. The rules are silent on what it means for a card to "touch a permanent" so in this case we might actually use English words, but since the rules don't tell us what it means to turn over at least once while we are changing the orb's status from unflipped to flipped, the effect of destroying other permanents should never happen.

If you think I am being unfair, take a quick look at rule 705 and its subrules. The rules tell you what it means to flip a coin, so they had better tell you what it means to flip a card.

The Oracle wording of Chaos Orb is a jumble of nonsense. Either the comprehensive rules have to include a section on what it means to flip a card onto the battlefield; Chaos Orb has to be reprinted with a silver border and retroactively made an un-card; or the Oracle wording should say something like this:
{1}, {T}: Physically lift the physical thing that is Chaos Orb from whatever surface you are playing this game of Magic on to a height of at least 30.48cm.  Drop or throw that thing from that height or higher. If between the time you release that thing and the time is comes to rest on the surface or on cards other objects that rest on that surface that thing turns such that the side of it that was furthest from the surface becomes the side nearest to the surface and then again becomes the side further from the surface at least once then whatever physical things that are permanents on the battlefield that the thing is in physical contact with when it comes to rest are destroyed. Destroy Chaos Orb.
So my Chaos Orb triggers morbid because it was
a 2/2 creature when it died, right?
Finally, there are all kinds of nonsense rulings on Chaos Orb, from the fact that it has to be on the battlefield to work to the fact that sleeves count as cards for its purpose. But for some reason they put one of those rulings right into the Oracle text. Since the physical card that is Chaos Orb is the thing that is being flipped, what difference does it make which zone the game state thinks Chaos Orb is in? Zones are mathematical sets, not physical locations. That added text is manufactured from whole cloth.

It is hard to express my fury with Chaos Orb in language suitable for my blog, but even harder to express my fury for it's wording.

Chaos Orb's wording gets an emphatic...

Mana Vault
Mana Vault doesn't look very complicated to word, but there is a very particular reason I want to review it that we'll get to soon.
Mana Vault doesn't untap during your untap step. 
At the beginning of your upkeep, you may pay {4}. If you do, untap Mana Vault. 
At the beginning of your draw step, if Mana Vault is tapped, it deals 1 damage to you. 
{T}: Add {3} to your mana pool.
We don't trigger things at the end of phases and steps anymore so they changed the end of upkeep to the beginning of draw. I can't say I'm a huge fan of this change, but I can live with it. In case you are wondering, because triggers don't go on the stack until someone would get priority, triggering at the end of a phase is exactly the same as triggering at the beginning of the next phase. That is, unless you skip that next phase. If the trigger was at the end of the upkeep then if you skipped your draw step then it would go on the stack at the beginning of the main phase. The change in wording prevents this, and this is relevant considering there are actually cards that make you skip your draw step.

A decent third turn - except in any
format where it is legal.
But that is a pretty minor complaint about a templating change that will rarely affect a game. So why even review this wording when it is such a straightforward conversion of the original card? Sure, there is some room to interpret "To untap it you must spend 4 mana" as an activated rather than a triggered ability, or even to try to shoehorn it into the untap step, but I don't think what they did is controversial.

Let's look at the fifth edition printing of Mana Vault:

Look at that. It's a travesty. If you pay the four mana to untap mana vault then it doesn't untap until the end of your upkeep. Plus you can pay it as many times as you like.

If you'll recall, back when I reviewed Gaea's Liege was a little upset that they had used the more contemporary wording that removed the counters marking changed forests. I grudgingly accepted it, though, knowing that more contemporary printings take precedence. But if that's true, why does the more contemporary wording of mana vault not take precedence here, with confusing timing rules and all?

I don't know how to feel about this. Clearly this wording is far better than what it would be if they used the fifth edition version as their base. But at the same time, if this wording is acceptable then shouldn't I be angry about the liege?

What to do?  A good rating for doing things right or a bad rating for doing things incorrectly?

In the end, I have to side with all that is right and just in the world, and give what would otherwise be a one star wording...
Stick it to the fifth edition wording!

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