Thursday, 11 May 2017

Oracle Review - Gaea's Touch and Mana Vortex

Sometimes I try to group cards thematically, but there are a few things working against me in the Dark. First, it doesn't have that many cards. Second, it doesn't have very many themes other than just being weird. Last time I found two cards that remove things from graveyards. This time, well, check this out:

Gaea's Touch
I think I really underestimated this card when it came out. The idea of spending two mana on your second turn so that you could have access to six, possibly even seven, on your third turn probably didn't strike me as game breaking the way it does now.
0: You may put a basic Forest card from your hand onto the battlefield. Activate this ability only any time you could cast a sorcery and only once each turn.
Sacrifice Gaea's Touch: Add GG to your mana pool.
I disagree with the interpretation of the original wording. In current wording, "you may put ... [a] land in play" would be "you may put a land onto the battlefield" and putting a land on the battlefield is not the same as playing a land.

However, putting a land into play and playing a land weren't quite so clearly delineated the The Dark. And I think there are two very good reasons to think Gaea's touch should allow you to play lands rather than put them into play.

The part I skipped with ellipses in my quotation of the original wording was "an additional". You can't put "an additional" land in play unless it is in addition to something. The only thing it could possibly be in addition to would be your land play for the turn.

Secondly, unlike the play land vs put land into play distinction, the format for an activate ability was quite well defined by The Dark. Our friend Eater of the Dead has the familiar "0:" to indicate an activated ability that can be used without spending anything. If Gaea's Touch was meant to have a zero-cost activated ability, it could have had one with the templating of it's time.

So I'm convinced the better wording would be that Gaea's Touch allows you to play an additional land each turn.

There is a problem with that, though. There just isn't a way to give someone an extra land drop that has to be used for a specific kind of land. It would have been pretty easy prior to July 2014, but with currently land drop rules, it can't quite be done, at least not neatly.

Rule 305.2a says:
To determine whether a player can play a land, compare the number of lands the player can play this turn with the number of lands he or she has already played this turn (including lands played as special actions and lands played during the resolution of spells and abilities). If the number of lands the player can play is greater, the play is legal.
There's no point in that process where you check to see if the suite of lands you have played this turn is legal or not.

This isn't trivial to solve. If you simply keep wording similar to the original: "You may play an additional land on each of your turns, but this land must be a basic forest" you run into the problem that you never actually check to see whether the land you are playing is the one from Gaea's Touch or not. You have a lands_played value and a max_lands_per_turn value and you compare one to the other, you don't assign each land drop to each thing that allows an additional land drop. I have an intuitive sense of how that ought to be read, but I can't back that up technically.

So what can we do within existing wording? One question is how we know how many forests we have to play. Do we count the number of Gaea's Touches we have in play right now? We could do that by saying that we need to play forests equal to the number of permanents named Gaea's Touch we control, but I am loathe to start counting permanents with a given name when the original card didn't say to do anything of the sort. Imagine your Starfield of Nyx is turned on animating your three Gaea's Touches and your opponent targets one with a Dance of the Skywise. It has no abilities, but it's still a Gaea's Touch so you'd only be able to play basic forests.

And how do we put the restriction on anyway? Should we do a replacement effect for playing a land that checks against the number of forests already played? Or just word it as a restriction on playing the land?

So with the current rules, I think this the best wording that can be mustered:
To determine you whether you can play a land, you may ignore up to one additional basic forest when determining the number so lands you have already played this turn, and count the number of basic forests ignored. The play is legal if either the number of lands you can play is greater than this modified number of lands you have played, or if the land you are playing is a basic forest and the number of basic forests you may ignore is greater than the number of basic forests you have played.
The solution is not to find a replacement ability or a restriction on land plays. It is to rewrite rule 305.2a on the card.

Gaea's Touch could have a number of different wordings that I'd consider flawed but passable. A wording involving an activated ability is not one of those:

Too harsh? For an activated ability where there should be
a continuous one? I think this is just about right.
Mana Vortex
Just think of it, if you have a Gaea's Touch then you can play two lands a turn while your opponent can only play one. They'll break even or gradually run out of lands, but you can keep building your lands up. That's what they call a combo.
When you cast Mana Vortex, counter it unless you sacrifice a land.
At the beginning of each player's upkeep, that player sacrifices a land.
When there are no lands on the battlefield, sacrifice Mana Vortex.
I don't have much to say about this wording. It's basically the original wording given a formalized reading. What I will say, though, is that if you cast Mana Vortex and choose not to sacrifice a land, you get a 1/1 merfolk from your Lullmage Mentor. Unlike a certain creature from last week.

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