Thursday, 26 September 2013

Oracle Review - Cyclone, Desert

Here are a couple of cards that aren't really that hard to word, but I'm going to go on and on about one of them anyway:

Yeah, I'm going to do desert first. Desert is a weird land, but not terribly complex rules-wise. Basically there are two decisions that go into the Oracle text of Desert.
Tap: Add 1 to your mana pool.
Tap: Desert deals 1 damage to target attacking creature. Activate this ability only during the end of combat step.
First of all, the original has a single tap ability that has an "or" in it. Would that be any different than separating it into two different tap abilities? The answer is no, but presumably it would confuse a lot of people and make people think it was different. Mana abilities are abilities that generate mana, but those that have targets are excluded. Does an ability that has a target if you choose one mode but not the other have a target if you choose the mode with no target? Of course it doesn't. If it did then it would be countered on resolution for having no legal targets. So it would still have an ability that could be played as a mana ability but it would also be usable as a non-mana ability. Since it's all the same, why bother with that mess?

Second, when people used to play desert back in the day, at least some portion of them assumed that the damage ability was used before creatures dealt damage in combat, but that the damage wasn't done until later. That is, they assumed the ability was:
Tap: At the beginning of the next end of combat step this turn, Desert deals 1 damage to target attacking creature.
To be honest, I have a mild preference for this, but that's really just because that's how my friends played it back then. The wording they chose is equally consistent with what it actually says on the original card and is a lot simpler. I give Desert...
Sure, it's fine, but it's not a wonder to behold.
Here is a card that is a bit prescient. Let's take a quick look.
At the beginning of your upkeep, put a wind counter on Cyclone, then sacrifice Cyclone unless you pay {G} for each wind counter on it. If you pay, Cyclone deals damage equal to the number of wind counters on it to each creature and each player.
Alright, now lets take a look at the comprehensive rules on Cumulative Upkeep.  Rule 702.23a says:
"Cumulative upkeep [cost]" means "At the beginning of your upkeep, if this permanent is on the battlefield, put an age counter on this permanent. Then you may pay [cost] for each age counter on it. If you don't, sacrifice it."
So, why doesn't Cyclone have Cumulative Upkeep? Well, first of all, there is the difference between "sacrifice ~this~ unless you pay [cost] for each <blah> counter" and "you may pay [cost] for each <blah> counter.  If you don't, sacrifice it." Oh wait, there is no difference between those things.

Admittedly, Cyclone is unlikely to
acquire 13 or more counters
Okay, then, what about the fact that it has wind counters instead of age counters. That could make a difference if we were to give Cyclone another cumulative upkeep. But the original card talks about putting chips on it. It was printed well before they started naming counters anything.

There is also the fact that if you do pay, something happens. But there are lots of cumulative upkeep cards that do something when you pay or don't pay the upkeep. The difference, however, is that those cards all have a triggered ability. Balduvian Fallen has the ability:
Whenever Balduvian Fallen's cumulative upkeep is paid, it gets +1/+0 until end of turn for each {B} or {R} spent this way.
But that is a triggered ability, which means it uses the stack after the cumulative upkeep. Cyclone, according to the original wording, does not have a trigger based on whether or not you pay the upkeep. That means that if your opponent had some kind of damage prevention ability, for example, they would have to choose whether or not to use that before they knew whether or not you were going to pay.

Still, on some level this wording offends me. It bothers me that Cyclone doesn't have Cumulative Upkeep.

This isn't really fair to the wording of the card. They didn't go and retroactively give creatures lifelink when they were printed with triggered abilities, and it doesn't make sense to make a triggered ability out of what once wasn't. But they could have done something. They could have given it some kind of insane wording using a replacement ability that replaces not sacrificing Cyclone due to not paying the cumulative upkeep with doing damage. They could have done anything they wanted.  Instead they left cumulative upkeep aside and didn't give Cyclone its due. At the same time I can't really give it a bad rating out of spite, the Oracle text is basically just right.

It's only fair.
This is the saddest of all of my Oracle reviews. As the blog post is ending, this is a good time to take a moment for yourself if you need it.

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