Thursday, 12 January 2017

608.2b (1)

A long time ago I wrote reviews of Oracle card text. I got most of the way through Legends, leaving probably just a few sets left to review, since after a point they get pretty uninteresting.

I was looking back over it and I found one case where I suggested adding a rule to the comprehensive rules about counters with game text. It's a pretty good idea, really. But in that post, I mentioned some rules that I might one day do a review of. One of those rules was 608.2b.
If the spell or ability specifies targets, it checks whether the targets are still legal. A target that’s no longer in the zone it was in when it was targeted is illegal. Other changes to the game state may cause a target to no longer be legal; for example, its characteristics may have changed or an effect may have changed the text of the spell. If the source of an ability has left the zone it was in, its last known information is used during this process. The spell or ability is countered if all its targets, for every instance of the word “target,” are now illegal. If the spell or ability is not countered, it will resolve normally. Illegal targets, if any, won’t be affected by parts of a resolving spell’s effect for which they’re illegal. Other parts of the effect for which those targets are not illegal may still affect them. If the spell or ability creates any continuous effects that affect game rules (see rule 613.10), those effects don’t apply to illegal targets. If part of the effect requires information about an illegal target, it fails to determine any such information. Any part of the effect that requires that information won’t happen.
That's a pretty big rule, most of it is important. But there is one phrase in there that probably ought to be stripped. "The spell or ability is countered if all its targets, for every instance of the word 'target,' are now illegal."

That rule ought to go. But explaining why is going to take a while.

First of all, let's talk about why that is a rule at all. That rule goes back a very long time. It's been a rule as long as I can remember. In fact, I think the idea of countering a spell with no legal targets predates all of that other text about what an illegal target is. If I cast Terror on your Air Elemental and you cast Death Lace on it in response, why was it that your Air Elemental didn't die anyway? It was because Terror had no legal target and so it was countered.

The idea that a spell wouldn't affect a target that was illegal was unneccessary in Unlimited Edition. There was only one way to cast a spell with more than one legal target, have one of the targets become illegal, and then have the question of whether you should resolve the spell against that target anyway. If you cast Fireball on a creature with Protection from a colour and than had your Fireball laced with the appropriate colour. But whether or not your resolved the Fireball against that creature was irrelevant, Protection would prevent all the damage.

Basically I'm not sure what the original rules thought about a terror modified by an made-up spell that adds a second target to a spell with one target. If one of it's two targets became black, would the terror "bury" it anyway? Maybe I'll track down Tom Wylie and ask him what he thinks.

Whether my memory of these things is accurate or not - and I'll admit I wasn't around until Revised Edition - it seems to me that countering spells with no legal targets is the solution to a problem that doesn't exist anymore.

In the meantime some cards have been worded to take advantage of this rule. Absorb says to counter target spell and gain 3 life. If the spell isn't there, you can't absorb it, so you don't get your three life. Assassin's Strike says a creature is destroyed and it's controller discards a card. If the creature isn't there, the controller doesn't have to discard.

But those both already have weird interactions with the rules. If you Absorb a Supreme Verdict the "absorption" part obviously fails because Supreme Verdict goes off anyway, but you get your three life. If you Assassin's Strike a Stuffy Doll you accomplish nothing as far as the doll is concerned, but your opponent still has to discard.

Effects can fail for a large number of reasons, but failing because of a lack of target is the only one that causes a cascade of failure to other parts of the spell.

I think this rule is unintuitive and hard to grasp for newer players, limits rather than increases design space, and loses on flavour, and it's time to get rid of it.

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