Thursday, 15 August 2013

Oracle Reviews - Raging River and Simulacrum

Here's a couple of odd cards that do things that cards shouldn't quite do.


Raging River
Like Lich, this is clearly an example of "Top Down" design. Except, instead of something thinking, "Oh, wouldn't it be cool if you could turn yourself into a Lich," someone thought, "Oh, wouldn't it be cool if there was a river on the battlefield."

Sure, that's cool.
Whenever one or more creatures you control attack, each defending player divides all creatures without flying he or she controls into a "left" pile and a "right" pile. Then, for each attacking creature you control, choose "left" or "right." That creature can't be blocked this combat except by creatures with flying and creatures in a pile with the chosen label.
That's really nice. It's nice how cleanly the old wording can be translated into a new one when it was so odd a thing to do. Just because it's so clean doesn't mean it isn't weird, though.

Under the current wording, the entire issue of being in piles and having labels of left and right does not extend at all past the end of the trigger. If you put Defender X on the Right and Defender Y on the left and I put Attackers A and B on the left then Raging River generates a continuous effect that says, "Attackers A and B cannot be blocked except by creatures with flying or by Defender Y," not one that says, "A and B are left and X is right and Y is left and only things on the left can block things on the lef."  If you Cloudshift Defender Y after the trigger resolves, it will not be able to block because the continuous effect will not recognize it as the same creature. If you flash in a blocker without flying, it will not be able to block anything, even if there are attackers on both sides of the river.

Also, interestingly, this is a case where the introduction of the Reach keyword changed the functionality of those cards. A card that "may block as though it had flying" could block creatures on either side of the river, but a creature with Reach cannot. Of course bizarre and confusing situations like this are a good reason they brought Reach into the picture in the first place.

But beyond the cleverness and cleanliness of the wording, were there interesting decisions to be made when this wording was crafted?  I would say there were two.

One was considering what happens when there are two Raging Rivers in play. If we imagine that Raging River is supposed to represent a river running down the middle of the battlefield then the Oracle text does something quite a-spatial when there are two.

Suppose I attack with A, B and C and you have X and Y to block. For the first trigger you put X right and Y left; I put all three creatures right. Now there is a continuous effect that says that my creatures can't be blocked except by X. The next river triggers and you put X right and Y left again. This time I put all my creatures left and generate a continuous effect that says that they can't be blocked except by Y. The result is that my creatures can't be blocked. In fact, if you have fewer than four defenders you cannot block any of my attackers no matter what choices you make. If you have four then the best you can do is let me choose a single one of your creatures that can block.

But it's more complicated than that. Suppose I've enlarged A and you really want to protect X. That means that even if you have X, Y, Z and W then you have to make sure X is with on common partner in both splits or I will be able to force it to block the enlarged creature. But if you do that then you give me the option of not letting you block any of my creatures at all, which may be a problem if your life isn't high.

In situations without forced blocking restrictions other than the river, you can simplify the process by dividing defenders into a number of piles equal to two to the power of the number of rivers and then having attackers assigned to each box. This isn't so much Raging Rivers as Raging N-1 Dimensional Spaces in you N Dimensional attacking field where N = number of rivers plus one.

How does this compare with the original wording? Who knows! Honestly, I have no idea what the intent was for how this card should work when you had two or what any rules clarifications may have said at the time. It would seem that if we really wanted to represent a river in the battlefield then having two of them would mean that each creature be assigned to the left, centre or middle. And if that was how it was supposed to work then the Oracle text could say:
Whenever one or more creatures you control attack, if no other card named Raging River has already triggered this combat, each defending player divides all creatures without flying he or she controls into a number of piles equal to the number of Raging Rivers you control plus one. Then, for each attacking creature you choose one of those piles. That creature can't be blocked this combat except by creatures with flying and creatures the chosen pile.
But I'm not saying that's how it should be worded, just that it could be worded that way to better simulate the flavour of the card. That's not really what the card says and as we all know, flavour gets trumped by rules text all the time.

The second interesting question in wording this card was the issue of whether it should create an effect that says the attacker can't be blocked except by creatures that were put in the appropriate pile or whether the defender can't block except creature in the appropriate pile. They chose the wording that looks more like the wording on the original card, but because that wording was quite colloquial, it could be understood either way. Each has their own strange consequences. As noted above, a defender that is flashed in after the trigger doesn't get to block anything if the effect applies to the attacker, but also an attacker that enters after the river trigger can be blocked by any defender. Attaching the continuous effect the the defenders instead reverses this problem. A defender that get flashed in that can block more than one attacker could end up blocking creatures on both sides of the river while an attacker that joins after the trigger can't be blocked at all.

Since there is no clear winner there sticking with the one that looks more like the original is a fine choice. All in all, this wording does a fine job of implementing a very ugly effect while navigating some awkward decisions. I give it...


Simulacrum
After all that, I better keep this short. The Oracle says:
You gain life equal to the damage dealt to you this turn. Simulacrum deals damage to target creature you control equal to the damage dealt to you this turn.
I don't like that, and there is a very simple reason: Infect. Until there was infect having you gain life equal to the damage dealt to you this turn was pretty much retroactively preventing it. It really isn't anymore.

This is very different than effects that trigger off of damage. If an effect triggers off of damage being done to me then that effect goes on the stack and resolves and I don't expect Simulacrum to rewind that as it may have done anything. However, the idea of retroactively preventing damage if that damage was done in the form of poison counters, should mean that poison counters get removed from me.

The last ruling on Simulacrum is from 2008, which makes me suspect that this wording predates Infect. Unfortunately Simulacrum falls into a rules hole much the same way as False Orders did. The current rules do not have the capacity to implement this effect. As a result, my proposed reword would include a new section of the comprehensive rules that defines what it means to retroactively redirect damage.
614.9.1 One card (Simulacrum) causes damage to be redirected retroactively. This means that all results of that damage taken within the specified period of time - loss of life, poison counters, etc. - are undone and instead results are applied to the new recipient of the damage as if the same sources had damaged it. This does not retroactively change anything from the intervening time such as abilities that triggered from the damage or abilities that checked life totals. This is not dealing damage and does not trigger any abilities that trigger from dealing damage.
That's probably a little sloppy. It would need another section stating that explained whether or not the damage could be prevented when it is retroactive reassigned, and probably some examples. I'm good with card wordings, but I've never attempted to write sections of the comprehensive rules before. The wording of Simulacrum would then simply be, "Retroactively redirect all damage dealt to you this turn to target creature you control."

Once again, I can't forgive a bad wording just because a good wording is currently impossible.  It is well within the power of the rules team to adjust the comprehensive rules. I am forced to give Simulacrum's Oracle text...

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