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Why I Hate Abilitiesby Tony Lozzi
I wanted to write an article for TeamWingman for several reasons, least of all being that I havenít written a Magic article in a long time, and even that is solid impetus. For a while, however, Iíve been at a loss as to what exactly to write about Ė I hate Standard as it is, I havenít built a decent original deck in a long time, and despite liking it, there isnít much to say about Limited in my opinion. So, for about the last week or so, Iíve been kind of mulling it over and today Ė just a few minutes ago actually Ė I received my inspiration:
I hate abilities, keyword or otherwise. From banding to chroma (er, chroma apparently, since itís not actually a keyword, itís an ability, which can vary, and is like saying ďletís write Ďkiwií on all this fruit since they are all essentially fruit) I hate most of them, if not all, with varying degrees of intensity. I can recall being about twelve years old and thinking ďoh wow, all of these new abilities Iím seeing are cool!Ē and of course at that time Iíd seen perhaps one or two creatures with first strike, some with trample or flying, etc. The most impressive ability, both in presentation and in functionality (to me and my friends at the time) was rampage. The idea of a Teekaís Dragon with flying and trample and rampage:4 was beyond rational thought. Nowadays, however, while it is evocative of the naivety of youth, that card makes me want to stand between a bear and her cubs.
Ask yourself this question: If my flying, ridiculous, trampling dragon attacks, what are the odds my opponent is going to want to block it multiple times, seeing as how it gets +4/+4 each time past the first? Chances are you said about a million to one. Now ask yourself what are the odds that even IF you had an opponent who wanted to block that giant, winged tank, they would still have a flyer in play, if at all? The likelihood of that are one in about negative pumpkin. Itís just very stupid, but thatís the tip of the iceberg. Letís delve deeper (not a pun).
Future Sight brought with it the wonderful mechanic of chroma (though it wasnít named yet) and also everyoneís favorite card, Tarmogoyf. Chroma is a pretty lame ability Ė aside from Light from Within, Iím not sure youíll EVER see most of these cards getting played in tournaments. Tarmogoyf, however, gets played in every format, often times being the only reason green is splashed as a color in a deck. It is this simple fact that annoys me the most. To date, there are nine cards, if I counted right, that utilize the chroma ability. There are only eight that utilize some manner of Lhurgoyf ability. Thatís one less card for a mechanic that has been around since Ice Age, and yet doesnít apparently warrant some kind of stupid reminder text that the ability is part of a cycle (more or less). So, while Iím not petitioning that ĎGoyf be an ability-ability, I am miffed that chroma actually is.
Enough about that, though. Iím not truly mad at chroma. The desire to write this article came from another ability, that is, without a doubt, the ability I hate and loathe more than any other, and itís almost entirely due to a single card, but weíll get to that. In fact, I think Iíll let it top off a short top-five of my most hated abilities.
#5 Ė Banding. Holy Mother of Captain Crunch. The idea of banding is somewhat based in a place where combat functions are tweaked to the point of reality snapping and hitting you in the head like a rubber band. Basically, creatures with banding, while attacking, choose how the creatures that block them deal damage. This is a great idea, especially since you can really maximize your damage while in a lot of cases avoiding any of your creaturesí untimely fates. That part is fine by me, but there is more. Blocking creatures also apparently benefit from banding, in much the same way Ė you choose how damage from the attackers is assigned to your band. So banding is a way to trivialize the combat damage step while also complicating the hell out of it. Hooray. But, we canít stop yet, because the most absurd, Dali-esque part of banding is to come Ė blocking. Creatures with banding form a band, and while the band doesnít cover Whitesnake songs, youíll find it sucks just as bad as if it did, and here is why:
ďIf an attacking creature becomes blocked by a creature, each other creature in the same band as the attacking creature becomes blocked by that same blocking creature.Ē Ė from the Magic Comprehensive Rules, 502.10h
That may make sense to you, until you realize that, as exampled by the Comp Rules, if you attack with a landwalking creature and a flyer (or an otherwise blockable creature) and I block the one that I can block, the other, unblockable creature is also stopped. Make me want to pee hot maple syrup. Bah, enough about that.
Examples of crappy banding cards Ė
#4 Ė Phasing. Ugh. In the same way I shudder to think what it would be like to have the entirety of the Keldon Prison Football Team corner me in a jailhouse shower, I quake in focused rage at phasing. Sure, it was a neat, flavorful ability for Mirage, and true, they havenít printed any cards with it in a long, long time, but think about this Ė Carlos Mencia has never had a full-length movie dedicated to his ďcomedyĒ, but does that make it any better an idea?
In any case, I digress. The reason I hate phasing is pretty simple Ė it makes no sense. Sure, you can technically break down how it works, and what happens when a permanent phases, but there are so many exceptions to a phasing permanentÖFor instance, when a creature phases, it ďremembersĒ itís counters, damage, etc, whereas normally permanents ďforgetĒ game-state when they come back, triggering comes-into-play effects, shrugging off damage and counters, and enchantments. Phasing cards donít do that, and one awesome example of this is in enchantments, which donít phase out with the permanent, but at the same time. This is referred to as ďindirect phasingĒ and the best part is if you were to somehow get rid of the enchanted permanent with phasing (Pull From Eternity, for instance) then the enchantment is gone, somewhere between this world and the Chthonian sideboard for all time. There is, however, a bit of room for inference here, because the Comp Rules suggest that the card isnít removed from the game, but just ďphased outĒ which is its own thing, which means itís not in the game at all. Not morphed down, not removed from the game, not suspended, nothing. Itís simply not there.
In summation, phasing is balls, and right now you might be thinking ďbut Tony, you didnít tell us why you hate phasing,Ē to which I would say to you, ďhavenít I?Ē
Examples of crappy phasing cards Ė
#3 Ė Forecast. For those of you who didnít get to play in Dissension, kudos. The set was fine, whatever, but Forecast is just such a goofy ability. It is, at all times, one of two things Ė either itís a foreshadowing of you corn-holing your opponent (this is rare) or itís you paying mana to give your opponent some information about the cards in your hand in exchange for a nominal (at best) effect.
For example, to recreate this experience, next time youíre playing cards with your friends, during your upkeep show them things like Bitterblossom or Cryptic Command and then wipe the floor with them. Conversely, do things like pay 3 mana and reveal Demigod of Revenge to them, pretend you changed a creature in playís color to Blue until the end of the turn, then give your opponent three dollars and let them kick you in the gut. I donít even want to discuss this anymore. Blech.
Examples of crappy cards with forecast Ė
#2 Ė Affinity. This is a conversation someone taped and emailed to me. Iíve listened to it and transcribed it as best I can, going off of the voices I could clearly understand.
STEPHEN MENENDIAN: I hate Standard Magic. Vintage is the only playable format.
MARK ROSEWATER: You might be right, S.M. What should we do about it?
S.M: I think you should punish Standard players. Make a new stupid ability that just makes everything suck forever.
M.R: Bands with Other?
S.M: More sinister. Something powerful, yet easily accessible.
M.R: Hmmm. Iím not quite sure Iím evil enough for such a thing. What do you think, DARTH VADER?
D.V: (raspily) I think you should make an ability that decreases the cost of already more or less efficient creatures, and make lands that, when coupled with the cards with this ability, basically tap for 2 mana with no drawback.
S.M: Can we do that, but also kill a baby seal every time someone places with the deck at a tournament?
M.R: I donít see why not. Brilliant R&D session all around guys. Letís go get some ice cream.
And thatís how it happened. Which leaves me one more ability, one I hate so much it makes me just rage when I see people using it at tournaments, not that itís their fault.
#1 Ė Split Second. Iíll let you say things like ďOh man, itís not that bad. Extirpate is a great card! I really like Sudden Death/Spoiling.Ē
Split-Second, or as I would call it were it a robot, Back-Handed Non-Interactivity Quotient 19, is just terrible. If youíve played far back enough to remember interrupts, then you can recall times when you could be just playing cards and someone stopped your instant long enough to tell you they donít care, and all the fruit smoothies in the world arenít going to help you. Split-Second is a lot like that, only even worse because it crosses all colors, and is actually only really powerful in black. I conjure the idea for Split-Second came from people whining about counterspells, and reactionary protection effects, but honestly, there are ways to circumvent those via play skill and appropriate timing.
To be honest, the worst card in my opinion is Extirpate. For one black mana, you silver-bullet your opponentís deck, hand, and graveyard. Congratulations Wizards Ė an uncounterable mess-of-a-card that is either a one mana Hymn to Tourach, or Jesterís Cap, or some freakish Island of Doctor Moreau hybrid that does bothish. In all honesty, the entirety of Time Spiral block did things that made playing cool graveyard recursion decks both desirable and wholly difficult to the extreme at the same time. By introducing cards like Bridge from Below and Dread Return, you had some awesome deck ideas floating around, but then by reprinting Withered Wretch, Tormodís Crypt, and then printing Extirpate, it made those decks just unplayable. Now of course, Iím biased from our local metagame, which is the same as basing my opinion on water on traveling to Mexico and drinking from a stream, but itís all I have to go off of for FNM and basic Standard play in general (traveling to tournaments usually means playing Extended, Block or Limited).
I see in Wizards a predilection towards making cards so hideously over-powered that only a small group of people will truly like them. I liken this to someone who makes viruses simply because there are people out there who hate freedom and living. Iím not trying to vilify Wizards of the Coast of course, but letís be frank Ė each set comes out with several new abilities. Every so often, they are really cool abilities, like Retrace or Dredge, things that improve the functionality of your deck or create new archetypes, and thatís cool. Iím particularly fond of abilities like Cycling, because they themselves arenít broken, or even really breakable. They simply make your deck more fluid and adaptable, and help with dead-draws. Of course it stands to reason that Retrace is one of my favorites, too. But with the advent of more and more broken interactions, abilities, and timing, I think itís safe to assume that weíll soon see things like built-in Twincast for no extra cost, or Double Flying or something.
In any case, I could go into more detail about how much I hate Split-Second and especially Extirpate, but the fact that all this crap is rotating out in just less than three weeks is enough to soothe my angry mind. If you have any questions about why Iím right in thinking these abilities are horrible, feel free to leave me some feedback in the forums and Iíll give you the business as soon as I can.
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