Thursday, 7 November 2013

Oracle Review - Firestorm Phoenix and North Star

Where did those words come from... where did those words go?



Firestorm Phoenix
A very strange thing happened to Firestorm Phoenix between Legends and the present.
Flying 
If Firestorm Phoenix would die, return Firestorm Phoenix to its owner's hand instead. Until that player's next turn, that player plays with that card revealed in his or her hand and can't play it.
I'm guessing by the date of the rulings that this change was made in 2004. Perhaps they were concerned about the fact that without revealing the phoenix there is no way to know if you are following the rules.

Well of course there isn't. Remember Jandor's Ring? The rulings say directly that there is no way to demonstrate you are actually doing what the card says you have to do. That's kind of a problem with a few old cards. It's a problem that we just have to live with.

Forcing you to reveal the phoenix has real consequences. If you cast a Brainstorm then your opponent would know whether or not you put that phoenix back on top of your library. Nothing in the original text suggests they should have access to that kind of information.

What's good for Jandor's Ring is good for Firestorm Phoenix. And let's not forget Sylvan Library - a card that has precisely the same problem but that people actually play with. Functionally changing a card just so that other players in the game can know whether or not you are playing by the rules seems like a reasonable thing to do in a way, but it's either something you do or something you don't. Doing it on a few cards and not on others is a mess.

Firestorm Phoenix's ad hoc wording gets...



North Star
The Oracle wording is pretty similar to the original wording here, but there is a line that is noticeably absent.
4, Tap: For one spell this turn, you may spend mana as though it were mana of any color to pay that spell's mana cost. (Additional costs are still paid normally.)
North Star originally said that its ability was played as an interrupt. Things that were played as interrupts turned into things that were played as instants in sixth edition. Since the line "Play this ability whenever you could play an instant" would be a bit redundant on the activated ability of an artifact, it is understandable that it was left out.

At the same time, I'm not entirely comfortable with the situation. There were some major changes in the world of fast effects between fourth, fifth and sixth edition and I feel that North Star got lost in the mix. In fourth edition and before there were instants and interrupts. In fifth edition there were instants, interrupts and mana sources. In sixth edition there were only instants as far as spells go, and that category of mana sources became mana abilities.
North Star is Sad

I don't think anyone can reasonably argue that the modern rules aren't better than the previous ones. That category of interrupt just wasn't doing any work in the rules. Counterspells being instants works just as well, and there is no reason to have a category of ability that is faster than an instant but slower than tapping a land for mana.

Except there is a point in having such a category, and North Star is it. The point of it being an interrupt was that when I wanted to cast a heinously expensive Lightning Bolt I could do so. Tap my lands, tap North Star, cast spell. How different is this than putting the effect on the stack and waiting for it to resolve? Surely it isn't very different, but it is different.

Of course counters as instants is different too. North Star's special status went out with sixth edition rules and I don't think there is anything to salvage. It just feels sort of like it deserves to be an honorary mana ability to me. As if it should say something like:
Whenever you would add mana to your mana pool, if North Star is untapped, you may instead add that mana to your mana pool, pay 4 and tap North Star.  If you do then for one spell this turn you may pay mana as if it were mana of any color to pay that spell's cost.
But that's just notalgia for weird cards. The situations where such a weird wording would matter are extremely few, and this card is too terrible to even think of playing anyway. As a result, I'm giving North Star's Oracle wording...

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