Thursday, 17 October 2013

Oracle Review - Tawnos's Coffin and Basalt Monolith

A pair of artifacts which have been updated to meet the current rules. Neither have been done right.

Tawnos's Coffin
It's fair to say that instead of Tawnos's Coffin I could be reviewing Oubliette. My commentary applies equally to both.
You may choose not to untap Tawnos's Coffin during your untap step. 
3, Tap: Exile target creature and all Auras attached to it. Note the number and kind of counters that were on that creature. When Tawnos's Coffin leaves the battlefield or becomes untapped, return that exiled card to the battlefield under its owner's control tapped with the noted number and kind of counters on it. If you do, return the other exiled cards to the battlefield under their owner's control attached to that permanent.
Here is what Tawnos's Coffin should say:
You may choose not to untap Tawnos's Coffin during your untap step. 
3, Tap: Target creature phases out.  That creature cannot phase in as long as Tawnos's Coffin remains tapped.  When Tawnos's Coffin leaves the battlefield or becomes untapped, that creature phases in tapped.
I'm here to argue that Phasing the creature out is closer to the original wording of the card than exiling it and bringing it back. So let's go through the actual card.

The coffin did not say that it removed a creature from play, it said that the target creature was considered out of play. It did not say to note the number of counters on the creature and then put that many counters on when it returned, it said to leave the counters on. It did say to return the creature to play at the end, though I would argue that this was just the easiest way they could think of to say the effect ended.

What do these differences mean?

If a creature has a "When this leaves the battlefield" trigger, does the original wording of Tawnos's Coffin suggest it would trigger? To me the answer is no. The creature does not leave the battlefield, it is merely treated as though it is no longer there. Score one for phasing.

If a creature has a Paralyzation counter from a Dread Wight and it targetted with the coffin, when it comes back into play we know it should have the counter, but should it still be unable to untap? Should it still have the ability "4: Remove a paralyzation counter from this creature"? The original coffin says that you leave the counters on, so I would say we should expect it is still affected by the wight. The Oracle text says that the creature would get the counter but that the counter would have no effect. Score two for phasing.

Regarding entering the battlefield at the end of the effect. Was the intent of the original wording, for example, that a Clone would get to copy a new creature when it came out of the coffin? Is that how your play group would have understood it in 1994? To me, this is another point for phasing.

What about if you had Magical Hacked your Shanodin Dryad to Islandwalk, would the Tawnos undo that? The original card mentions only enchantments and counters, not changed words on the card. But then it also mentions only some of the ways the creature is out of play. It says the creature can't attack or defend, that it can't be targeted. It does not say that it won't be counted as a creature in play if Congregate is cast. The list description of what it means to be out of play on the card is meant to trigger our intuition. If counters remain on it and enchantments remain on it, then we would have suspected that alterations to the wording were meant to stay as well. A fourth point for phasing.

But wait, if it phases out that means that equipment and, sigh, fortifications on it phase out too.  The original coffin said nothing about that. Surely I can't advocate phasing out equipment when the card says nothing about that, can I?

Tawnos's Coffin was printed in 1994. Phasing was introduced in Mirage in 1996. Equipment was introduced in Mirrodin in 2003. That is seven years during which the coffin could have been phasing creatures out before equipment, let alone fortifications, ever came on the scene. Taniwha didn't start phasing out fortifications attached to your lands until 2007. If we can make the case that the coffin phases creatures out, then it has as much right to evolve with the phasing mechanic cards that actually have the word "phasing" printed on them.

The thing is that either way the wording of the coffin isn't right. It is trying to do something that the rules don't explain. That thing, however, is so similar to phasing that I would advocate having it be phasing rather than adding an additional section to the rules explaining what it means to treat a permanents as though it isn't in play - a section that would basically be a repeat of the rules for phasing, without the bit that things phase in during your untap step. But adding another section to the rules would be my second choice. Exiling and returning to play is too much of a departure from the printed coffin when better alternatives exist. Oubliette is a lot like Oblivion Ring in concept, but "when this deals damage you gain that much life" is a pretty similar concept to lifelink and they haven't gone and changed all those cards. In the end I score phasing 5 and exiling 0. I think there is room for argument on my points but it even being as charitable as I can I still get 3 to 2. That still gives phasing a lead by one point, and speaking of "one"...

A poor wording

Basalt Monolith
This wording looks simple enough, so it may be hard for you to figure out what I'm going to laud or deride:
Basalt Monolith doesn't untap during your untap step. 
Tap: Add 3 to your mana pool. 
3: Untap Basalt Monolith.
But take a look at all printings of the card and tell me what is wrong:

Do you see an activated ability to untap the monolith on any of these?

Okay, wait a minute, we update old wordings all the time. Scavenging Ghoul didn't have an activated ability on it's original printing either, but the rules team saw that it was really an activated ability to they reworded in that way in Fourth Edition. Surely they would do the same with the monolith.

Maybe they would have, but they never did. We saw with Mana Vault that when they reworded its untap ability to an activated ability they eventually went back and undid that. Of course Mana Vault's ability was clearly an upkeep trigger, not an activation. But the Monolith says you can untap it at any time. That sounds like an activated ability.

Except that's what Nafs Asp says as well. It's an ability that says someone can do something at some time.

One problem with old cards is that they didn't have the same kind of line breaks as we do today. But this is a formatting issue, not an issue of meaning. The old formatting was ambiguous, which is precisely the opposite of being certain. We can't say that Tawnos's Coffin wasn't supposed to gain the ability to untap until you use its ability the first time, we have to use our heads and think about how to read the card.

It seems like I'm arguing that the monolith should have an activated ability to untap it. After all, you are reading the original card and using your head and concluding that it has three abilities, just like the Oracle wording says.  I haven't convinced you.

So let's take another look at the original card.

Yes, Basalt Monolith is a Mono Artifact. There were four kinds of artifacts back in limited edition and through to antiquities. There were mono artifacts, poly artifacts, continuous artifacts and artifact creatures. What did all this mean? An artifact creature meant the same thing it means today. A continuous artifact and a poly artifact can basically just be read as "Artifact" with no changes to their wording. But mono artifacts have to be read differently. A mono artifact was one that you had to tap to use. That's why Mox Emerald doesn't say that you tap it to add one green mana to your mana pool. It's why Nevinyrral's Disk didn't say to tap it in limited edition but got a tap symbol in revised.

Strangely, Basalt Monolith does say that you tap it to use it, but it's not like the formatting crew were on the ball back then, as we've already discussed. It also says you can pay three to untap it. But if that were an activated ability then you would have to tap the monolith to use it. The monolith is a mono artifact.

So we know that in limited that was not an activated ability. While Revised brought in the tap symbol and did away with mono artifacts, it did not add untapping as an activated ability, despite the fact that we know that using the same formatting only a month later the Mana Batteries were printed in Legends with multiple activated abilities on the same card. There is nothing about revised monolith to suggest that there was a change from the limited edition that could not have had an activated ability to untap.

That means the untap ability of Basalt Monolith should be a special action and hence should not use the stack. Reasonable people might disagree as to whether the action could only be used once each time the monolith was tapped or whether it could be used any number of times after the monolith has been tapped once, but if your monolith comes into play tapped then you definitely shouldn't be able to untap it. Then again, since you haven't activated it, maybe it should untap during your untap step as well. You could try to make that point.

As a result of all of this, I am forced to give Basalt Monolith...

I mean, come on, I am being outrageous here

1 comment:

  1. Changing the wording on Coffin would make it a lot less valuable, so in the spirit of the Reserve List, they should not change it.
    I don't see your point at all on Basalt. You say, "But if that were an activated ability then you would have to tap the monolith to use it" but I don't see how that follows. You can tap tapped things and untap untapped things, why would you have to tap it first to be able to use the "can be untapped at ANY time for 3 mana"?