Sunday, 22 June 2014

Oracle Review - Johan and Land Equilibrium

Here are a pair of cards that have oracle wordings that seem to address ruling that were made about how they work rather than the wordings on the cards. The rulings, unfortunately, are lost to time.


Johan
Johan is not exactly one of the most powerful cards from Legends, but the legends in Legends were often a little less than impressive.

But while Johan isn't extremely powerful, he is deceptively confusing. I doubt very many people playing Magic when Legends was in the stores had trouble understanding what Johan was supposed to do, but as the rules became more and more formal, Johan became more and more problematic. Here's Oracle wording:
At the beginning of combat on your turn, you may have Johan gain "Johan can't attack" until end of combat. If you do, attacking doesn't cause creatures you control to tap this combat if Johan is untapped.
This wording is necessary because there was a little bit of trouble concerning when exactly Johan did or didn't attack. If I have Johan and a Hill Giant in play, what if I decide to attack with the Hill Giant before I decide to attack with Johan? Wouldn't the Hill Giant be untapped, and then I could go ahead and attack with Johan?

The rules team came up with one solution to this problem, but I it has an odd consequence. Johan went from a guy who could allow your creatures to attack without tapping to a guy who could duck "must attack" abilities. There is no indication on the card itself that he can choose not to attack when he would otherwise have to.

At some point they had to clarify when you decide whether you are using Johan and they decided that you make that decision at the beginning of combat. This was incorporated into an oracle wording but it was never printed on a card, and it is hardly the only way to make it work.

Here is an alternative that perfectly mimics Johan's original wording and intent:
Whenever you would tap a creature to attack, if Johan is untapped, you may instead choose not to tap that creature and note that the Johan allowed that creature to attack without tapping this turn.
Whenever you would attack with Johan, instead attack with Johan and tap all creatures that Johan allowed to attack without tapping this turn. 
You can do that. This seems to be a case of a lack of creativity, coupled with forgetfulness.

Not very good.

Land Equilibrium
Unlike Johan, I'm fairly sure this card actually did cause a lot of confusion. Before looking at the Oracle wording, let's take a look at the original wording again:
If your opponent controls as least as much land as you do, he or she must sacrifice a land for each land he or she puts into play.
Some obvious questions come up. Consider each of the following scenarios and see how you think this effect would work:

  1. You have a Land Equilibrium in play and no lands. Your opponent plays a Forest. Can they tap the Forest for mana before having to sacrifice it?
  2. You have three Land Equilibria in play and three lands.  Your opponent also has three lands, but they play a fourth. Do they have to sacrifice one land or three?
  3. You have a Land Equilibrium in play and three lands. Your opponent has four lands. They play a Lotus Vale. As part of the replacement effect of playing Lotus Vale they sacrifice two lands so they only have two left, fewer than you. Do they have to sacrifice a land to Land Equilibrium?
  4. Is the use of "much" instead of "many" at all conscionable there? I mean, the rules might have been loose at the time, but were the concepts of countable and uncountable nouns equally loose?

Let's look at how these questions shook out in the Oracle wording.
If an opponent who controls at least as many lands as you do would put a land onto the battlefield, that player instead puts that land onto the battlefield then sacrifices a land.
How does this wording answer each of the scenarios?
  1. No they can't. The replacement happens all at once with no opportunity to tap the land for mana unless another replacement effect replaces sacrificing the forest and asks them to pay mana.
  2. They sacrifice three lands for an extremely weird reason. They attempt to put a land into play which is replaced by putting a land into play and then sacrificing a land. Because they put the land into play before they sacrifice it, that instance of putting a land into play is itself replaced by the second Land Equilibrium. Then that instance of putting a land into play is replaced. So the final effect becomes "Put that land onto the battlefield then sacrifice a land then sacrifice a land then sacrifice a land."
  3. They get to choose which replacement effect they apply first, so presumably they will choose to do the Lotus Vale effect which, which causes them to sacrifice the two lands before Lotus Vale enters the battlefield. Because Lotus Vale has them sacrifice the lands before they put the Vale into play, by the time they put their land into play they have only two lands - fewer than you - so that event does not trigger Land Equilibrium.
  4. No, this was unforgivable.
Does that fit your intuition? Can't tap lands for mana before sacrificing them, have to pay every Land Equilibrium even if the first one dropped you land count to match theirs, but you can avoid triggering Land Equilibrium with a Lotus Vale.

If all of that sounds good to you, then this is a three star wording. For me, the problematic bit is the second one. I think the original intent of the card, as clarified by rulings in Duelist magazine, is that they unable to tap the land for mana before sacrificing a land, so I can accept that it was meant to be a replacement rather than a trigger, even though there is no way to know that from the original wording.

But the idea that you can go ahead of sacrifice lands to land equilibrium when you already have fewer lands than your opponent seems really weird.  Fixing this would actually be really easy:
If an opponent who controls at least as many lands as you do would put a land onto the battlefield, that player instead puts that land onto the battlefield then sacrifices a land if they control more lands than you.
It sounds redundant, but actually the "ifs" in triggered abilities are redundant in the same way most of the time, it's just that the redundancy is built into the rules instead of printed on the card.

Maybe they are being true to the card and maybe they aren't, but it feels like that's buried in an unrecoverable past. Personally I feel their wording has an odd consequence, but I don't have proof that it is a mistake. This wording gets a very awkward...
Sometimes a rating cannot be so simple

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