Thursday, 19 April 2018

Oracle Review - Hand of Justice and Tourach's Gate

I was just about to start complaining about how
Arcum's Weathervane
doesn't put counters on lands, and I realized that Fallen Empires was also a Magic set. It's time to do a conjoined review of two very different cards:

Hand of Justice and Tourach's Gate
Here's the Oracle wording for these two cards.
Tap, Tap three untapped white creatures you control: Destroy target creature.
Enchant land you control
Sacrifice a Thrull: Put three time counters on Tourach's Gate.
At the beginning of your upkeep, remove a time counter from Tourach's Gate. If there are no time counters on Tourach's Gate, sacrifice it.
Tap enchanted land: Attacking creatures you control get +2/-1 until end of turn. Activate this ability only if enchanted land is untapped.
There's obviously only one thing that links these two cards - they both tap something that isn't them as part of an activation cost. And there's something that links them to maybe hundreds of others cards - they do so with an unnecessary clause about the thing being untapped to begin with.

Every single card that requests that you tap another permanent to pay an activation cost either specifies that the permanent in question must be untapped, or specifies that you cannot play the ability unless the permanent is untapped. This goes right up to a 2018 set where
Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca
says, "Tap another untapped merfolk you control:" as the activation cost of the ability.

Why specify an untapped zombie or an untapped white creature? Why say that the ability can't be played unless the land is untapped?

Once again, I think we have to go back and think about
Maze of Ith
Serra Angel
. After accepting that tapping an tapped creature means doing nothing and untapping and untapped creature means doing nothing, Wizards ran into a problem with the card
Tradewind Rider
. The rider said that you had to tap two other creatures to activate it. Players pointed out that if you are instructed to tap a creature and you can't, you do nothing, so if you tapped Tradewind Rider with two other tapped creatures, the cost would be "Tap, do nothing:" and then you get the effect.


The entire argument was silly on it's face but it passed muster at the time with the rules team who issued errata. Since then, the rules have been clarified in a way that obviously obviates the need for extraneous "untapped" on our cards, but they just keep putting it on.

By the same logic that required "untapped", if you had a
Platinum Emperion
and a
Yawgmoth's Bargain
you could draw as many cards as you like. You can't pay 1 life because your life total can't change, if something told you to lose 1 life you'd do nothing, therefore you have to do nothing to draw.

In fact, the precise same argument would justify activating an ability with a tap symbol in its cost while the permanent with that ability is already tapped. Let's check out the definition of the tap symbol from the comprehensive rules:
Tap Symbol
The tap symbol {T} in an activation cost means “Tap this permanent.” See rule 107.5.
Yeah, it just means to tap the permanent. It doesn't mean "Tap this untapped permanent". Then how do we know we can't activate that ability when the permanent is already tapped?
117.3. A player can’t pay a cost unless he or she has the necessary resources to pay it fully. For example, a player with only 1 life can’t pay a cost of 2 life, and a permanent that’s already tapped can’t be tapped to pay a cost. See rule 202, “Mana Cost and Color,” and rule 602, “Activating Activated Abilities.”
Even though it's just an example, it's written there explicitly in the rules. Hand of Justice doesn't need to specify that the creatures are untapped because you can't pay a cost if you can't do whatever thing the cost tells you to do.

A permanent that is tapped can't be tapped and a permanent than is untapped can't be untapped. When an effect tells you to do something and you can't, you shrug and move on to the next thing the effect says to do. When a cost tells you to do something and you can't, you can't pay the cost.

These are the rules of magic that I intuited in 1995, these are the rules of magic that are written in the current comprehensive rules. If we want reminder text to say that the permanent you tapped to pay the cost had to be untapped then put it in, even though that would be the equivalent of putting in "(If you can't pay 3 life you can't activate this ability)" on Tavern Swindler.

Hand of Justice, Tourach's Gate, and a lot of other cards that have been printed as recently as this year all get:

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