As of M14’s release, a number of the rules you are familiar with are going to change. In an announcement on the mothership on Thursday, May 23, 2013, rules manager Matt Tabak revealed that for the second time since the dawn of the game, the "legend rule" would be adjusted, along with a variety of other shifts to make the game more appealing to all.
The Legend Rule
In the original incarnation of the game, the legend rule stated that once a player had a specific legend in play, no other copy of that card could ever be in play until the first one died. This was fine at the beginning, when legends were of the Hunding Gjornersen variety. Then came Lin Sivvi, Defiant Hero. During Masques block, Rebels was so far and away the best deck that the mirror match was more prevalent than any other match—and the entire matchup came down to who won the die roll and could get Lin Sivvi online first. Once a player had a Lin, the other player was locked out, and could no longer play (or fetch up) their own. This was a big problem, and a catalyst for the first change of the legend rule, along with the release of Champions of Kamigawa—a “legendary matters” block.
When Champions was released, we were moved to the existing legend rule, reminiscent of the movie Timecop. If two legendary permanents with the same name are in play at the same time, they both die (with no chance for redemption or response). Of course, this opens another window to oddity, as Clones became some of the best ways to deal with opposing legendary creatures, and cards like Karakas became Wastelands in the mirror. Players were adding off-color lands to their Reanimator decks, just to preempt their opponent from Karakas-ing their legendary fatties.
This week’s change is a further step away from that original rule, and states that whenever you play a legendary permanent and ALREADY CONTROL one with the same name, one of them (of your choice) dies. And the window for weird opens further.
There are a few legendary permanents that add mana, and possibly a ton of mana, to your mana pool.
Serra’s Sanctum, Gaea’s Cradle, and Mox Opal can generate more mana than they cost. Under the previous iteration of the rules, if you cast a Mox Opal with one already in play, they both die and you don’t have time to tap either for mana. Now, you can tap the first, play the second (sacrificing the first) and tap the second. You get to use Mox #1 (or #2, depending on how you look at it) as a Lotus Petal. With the Saga lands, you can now tap a Cradle for 4, play the second Cradle as your land for the turn, sacrifice the first, and tap the second Cradle for another 4. This has very real implications for Legacy Elves, and could expand the use of Cradle into other decks, as well.
Dark Depths plus Thespian’s Stage is a combo, where it previously wasn’t. You use Thespian’s Stage to copy the Dark Depths, and sacrifice the Depths. The stage triggers, and you sacrifice it, getting a 20/20. It didn’t work before because you had to sacrifice both before the trigger could happen, but now since you keep the Stage, you get the Avatar.
Despite the fact that Clone is no longer a Flametongue Kavu, all clones are still pretty good. The ones that were previously amazing, like Phantasmal Image and Phyrexian Metamorph, are still excellent but in a different way. For example, while a Phantasmal Image can no longer kill an opposing Thrun, the Last Troll, it is still a two-mana version of either your best creature, or your opponent’s best creature—and that’s saying quite a bit. Metamorph can still copy any creature or artifact at a bargain, and now it can copy your opponent’s Umezawa’s Jitte and actually be used, as well!
The once great and powerful Karakas is much better, because the stock of any given legendary creature has also gone up. As the power level of the legendary creatures increases, the power of Karakas does, as well. At the same time, it no longer functions as a Wasteland, which does reduce the value in the mirror, but it also makes Karakas a free white source with very little drawback. The same is true for the Kamigawa legendary lands, which previously saw some play in Modern—but now have even more appeal as an opponent with the same land can’t deny your resources as an incidental advantage.
Certain difficult to kill legends are now much more difficult to kill: Thrun, the Last Troll and Geist of Saint Traft are the two most commonly thought of, but Sigarda, Host of Herons and Uril, the Miststalker, along with a few others with hexproof or shroud, are now incredibly difficult to handle outside Wrath effects. Answering a legend by keeping it in play but unused, by Arrest effects or Pacifisms was a good deal before, when it would cost the opponent two cards to indirectly answer your one. Now, it’s a 1-for-1 trade, as the opponent can play another copy of the legend (or Clone it), and sacrifice the copy under Arrest. This is a big complaint I’ve seen from players, but I don’t expect we’ll really need to worry about it very much. Cards like Pacifism only see Constructed play once in a blue moon, and if your opponent has two copies of a given bomb legend in their Limited deck—well, unlucky for you.
In Legacy Show and Tell mirrors, it would appear that Show and Tell is even more risky than before—where you once had a chance of getting 2-for-1’d, now you have a chance of being blown out by an opposing Emrakul, and killed on the spot. Of course, it was correct to lean heavily on Sneak Attack in the mirror prior to this change, so now you’re just leaning even harder on the Sneak.
There are also some odd interactions when it comes to steal effects like Threaten (or more realistically, the Olivia Voldaren mirror), but again, I don’t believe that a nuanced scenario like Threatening a legend while you have the same legend in play will be that common.
The fact that you can no longer kill a Geist with your own Geist (or a Clone, or an Evil Twin) is quite damning for the Standard format, and I’d expect a significant uptick on the number of Geists being played in the near future. In fact, I’d expect a significant uptick on the number of legends seeing play in general, as the drawbacks have largely been removed, while the advantages have all remained.
The Planeswalker Rule
We haven’t had a change to the rules concerning planeswalkers since their addition to the game—but it has been six years since the introduction of the card type in Lorwyn, and it’s likely we have enough data at this point to know if we can do planeswalkers better.
As with almost all things regarding plansewalkers, Jace, the Mind Sculptor spoiled the fun for everyone. Jace battles are central to the Eternal formats, and it isn’t odd to see the player who wins the die roll at a significant advantage because they’re the first to hit four mana and resolve a Jace. This is very similar to the Lin Sivvi problem I outlined above, and is prevented not by adapting to deal with a resolved JTMS (good luck), but instead we see things like players sideboarding Jace Beleren, specifically because he costs three mana, and gets in play before JTMS, even on the draw. Essentially playing a powerful spell as “Seal of Jace,” rather than because it’s a powerful spell, is surely not how WotC intended the card to be used, and we’re looking at an attempt to work around that. The fact that it falls in line with the way the legend rule has changed is icing on the cake for Wizards.
Like the Jace war, most of the interesting cases are when the same planeswalker is on both sides of the table, or alternatively when a single player is doubling up on abilities.
When two players control a Jace, things will get hairy in a hurry, as the +2 ability is effectively negated by the -0 ability from the opposing Jace. I’m excited to find out which ability wins on an empty board, but I imagine drawing three extra cards per turn will result in an answer to the opponent’s strategy faster than +2 will end the game.
Having Elspeth, Knight Errant on both sides of the table could lead to some very interesting game states, potentially including both players having “everything is indestructible” emblems—which could be absurd. The same goes for opposing Tamiyo emblems, where both players have unlimited counterspells.
When Jace Beleren was the only blue ‘walker, one of the most devastating sequences was beginning the turn with a Jace on one counter, using the -1 ability (drawing a card and killing the Jace) and following it up with another Jace, drawing a card. Now, these double ups are available regardless of the timing of the play—and if you have the mana, you can do both in the same turn without having to hope your ‘walker survives. Some of the more enticing ones to me include:
• Killing off a 6/6 with a pair of Garruk Relentless.
• Blowing up two permanents with Vraska.
• Brainstorming before and after a fetchland activation with 2 JTMS.
• Opponent sacrifices two creatures to Liliana of the Veil.
• Mill 20 with Jace, Memory Adept.
• Double Forking a sorcery with Chandra, the Firebrand.
• Koth of the Hammer in combo decks, as he becomes actual Seething Song.
As a side effect of the rule change and the opportunity to play the same planeswalkers as your opponent, being on the play becomes even better. Getting the chance to move the loyalty die first is a huge advantage, and in something like the Jace or Elspeth mirror can mean the difference between success and failure.
Consider the Elspeth mirror. On the play, with empty boards, you both resolve Elspeth on 4. You, on the play, get to go to 5 loyalty and make a token. Your opponent makes a token as well. You jump your token (6), and put his Elspeth to 1. He jumps his token and puts your Elspeth to 2. You jump your token and kill his Elspeth. Now you both have a 1/1, but you have an Elspeth on 3 to his nothing.
There are three exceptions to this rule—Vraska, Karn, and Nicol Bolas. With each of these planeswalkers, being the second player to play your ‘walker means you “win” the war. You get to blow theirs up—and though you did have to survive one activation of their ‘walker, you end up ahead when the smoke clears. I’d expect the stock in Vraska to increase, just as the general stock of legends does.
The Sideboarding Rule
As long as sanctioned Magic has existed, we’ve had a strict 15/0 rule for sideboard Construction. It’s all or nothing. In general, this is not a big deal, and we’re all comfortable with the concept. There are two times when I’ve seen this come to a head:
As outlined in Tabak’s article, when a player sideboards incorrectly, and ends up with 61/14. This is normally an automatic game loss (unless it’s game 5 of the Pro Tour quarterfinals), but it doesn’t really seem like the kind of thing you’d gain an appreciable advantage from, so why crush a player’s dreams for a subtle mistake?
A new player, who recognizes there could be some value in swapping cards in and out of their deck, might not have the ability to put 15 extra cards together. This happens most often at a player’s first tournament, usually paired with not owning sleeves, and is rare. No one ever cares if this kid runs a seven card sideboard, so let a player play.
They’ve corrected both of these issues with this rule change.
Sick of losing to Dredge in Legacy? You can put 4 Leyline of the Void in your maindeck, and run 64/11. Board it out against any non-Dredge deck. Not very good at making changes on the fly? You can shuffle in your whole board, and only take out 12 cards—running 63/12 for games 2 and 3.
It’s the wild west of boarding now. Do whatever you want!
Really though, it’s going to change very little and improve a lot. I haven’t seen many complaints on this part of the change, and don’t expect to. It’s a net positive, and I can’t think of any drawbacks other than administrative ones (deck checks—but you were already counting their sideboard anyway).
The Land Rule
This is the hardest rule change to grok, and I understand why they’re looking to make a change, but the end result doesn’t seem any less confusing than the previous rule.
It used to be, if you play an Exploration, you assign each land you play to a specific effect—so you could make your first land drop your “Exploration land,” and then if the Exploration gets blown up later in the turn, you can still use your special-action-play-a-land to make your normal land drop. You can’t do that anymore.
The rules as of M14 play out like this: You start your turn with an Exploration and a Horn of Greed in play. You play a land, and with the Horn trigger on the stack, your opponent blows an Engineered Explosives at 1 counter. You lose your Exploration, and you don’t get to play any more land for the turn.
This is a blow to some very bad decks in Legacy, and kind of stinks. It’s an administrative change, done solely to make the organization of a turn more streamlined, and doesn’t actually improve the rule, just makes it confusing in a different way.
An example not outlined in the source article—you have an Oracle of Mul Daya in play, and so you have two “land plays” for the turn. You make two land drops, and then you use Crystal Shard to bounce your Oracle and play it again. Can you play another land?
The answer is no, but it used to be yes. Because the Oracle was considered a new permanent, the effect of giving you a new land drop was new, and you could do that over and over if you could blink or bounce your Oracle.
Legacy Enchantress, at one time, used Words of Wind combined with Exploration and Enchantress effects to repeatedly reset the Explorations and make extra land drops. Eventually it would have enough mana and draw triggers to return Serra’s Sanctum and generate a bajillion mana. Now, this combo no longer works. The most you can do is play a full set of Explorations, and you would not be able to exceed five lands in a turn (with these cards alone).
Fortunately, we aren’t making rules to help bad decks do cool things (for the most part), so we don’t need to worry. I don’t think this situation comes up anywhere where people aren’t trying to be degenerate, so it’s probably fine that the looped Exploration trick doesn’t work.
Overall, my impressions from this set of changes are positive. I don’t feel like these are sweeping changes that will revolutionize the way we play the game. It’s a bit of a TRGR, as the drawbacks of playing legendary permanents are removed, and good cards like Geist of Saint Traft are getting even better. The same is true of planeswalkers—which were already pretty busted to begin with. As with any changes made by Wizards, you’ll have a swath of people covering their heads in fear of falling sky, but the reality is that WotC has proven themselves to be a very skilled company when it comes to making shifts in the way their cash crop is consumed. It will take a bit of adjustment on our part, but it won’t end up being all that different in the normal, run of the mill game. You’ll get used to it, and then it will just be the way things are.
What are your impressions of these changes? Have you uncovered any odd interactions that I’ve missed that could be interesting and impactful? Leave your thoughts in the comments!