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The Gimmick Combine, by Hark Blowswater

2005.10.10


The Gimmick Combine

Hark BlowswaterHark Blowswater
Breaking Magic
Monday, October 10, 2005


Welcome to Gimmick Week! This week, we'll be exploring the nooks, crannies, niches, and hidey-holes of gimmickry. Before you wise guys in the back start whispering to each other - quiet down, I said before! - yes, every other week here is a gimmick week. (For my column, make that every week.) However, this week's gimmick is not any particular set, color, ability, or underworld cookbook. This week's gimmick is ... gimmicks. It's sort of a meta-gimmick. That said, you can probably expect Week Week some time in the future, followed by Gimmick Week Week. (That's a meta-gimmick meta-week.)

The skeptical among you may be worried at this point. "Oh my, what craaazy gimmick will Hark Blowswater blow us out of the water with this week?" If I write from the point of view of inanimate objects, reanimated corpses, and audioanimatronic figures in my spare time, what insanity will I pull out of my mind cage now? You may recall that creativity flourishes when confined. Being forced to write for a theme under which a good portion of my writing already falls, I find myself dangerously stumped.

Maybe I'll write about something I don't often get a chance to discuss. Maybe I'll write about something they don't want me to write about. Please wait a moment while I draw the shades, just in case they're watching.

Oh, No...

I'm going to write about the rules. No, not the rules of design. The rules of Magic. You know the little booklet that comes with your Core Game and the VCR instructions on wizards.com? Those rules.

Lightning Bolt! Lightning Bolt!

Darkness

Thran Turbine

Sorry folks, a lightning bolt just struck my computer. I don't know where it came from, but I have my suspicions. Luckily for the both of us, I have a hand-powered turbine and a lightning-shielded backup laptop! Don't tell anyone.

Breaking the Rules

See, the Rules Team and I have a rocky relationship. We love each other; I love designing cards, which need the rules to work, and they love writing and reading VCR instructions. I find expressions of their love nearly every day at the office. A bear trap here, a guillotine there - it's all very sweet. You see, they don't always appreciate my need to push the envelope. (But how else am I going to get the envelope from my desk to the mailbox?)

Sometimes those of us in R&D like to design cards that don't quite fit within the rules. You can find examples in three thousand or so cards (I've lost count.) Those ideas not outright rejected by the Rules Team cause small changes in the rules. A side benefit to these changes is that they can utilized by future cards in ways unrelated to the original culprit.

Seeds of Strength is a recent example of this is phenomenon. Back in Kamigawa, in order for splice to work the way we wanted, targeting rules needed to be changed. A spell couldn't target the same creature multiple times, but if you're splicing Kodama's Might onto another Kodama's Might, we thought you should be able to give one creature +4/+4 rather than be forced to give two creatures each +2/+2. Take out the splice, massage that effect, rub it, tweak it, and [censored - this is a family site], and you have Seeds of Strength. Voila!

Circu, Dimir Lobotomist necessitated another change to the rules. He's so wordy that "target player's library" would not fit in his text box twice without using microtext (text so small you would need two magnifying glasses to read it.) Warp World was already the splashy microtext card slated for Ravnica, so Circu's text had to be lobotomized. The solution: target the library instead. Behold! We can now target zones.

Right into the Stranger Zone

Being able to target zones greatly expands what I like to call the design-space zone. (Start from play, take a right at the phased-out zone, take a left just before the absolutely-removed-from-the-freaking-game-forever zone, and there you are.) Targeting libraries for milling is just the first step. In future blocks, we'll be able to explore this new zone in ways unimagined by House Dimir's premiere lobotomist.

Now that "Target player shuffles his or her library" can be condensed into "Shuffle target library," library shuffling can seep into all areas of the game without shrinking rules text. "Whenever this creature attacks and isn't blocked, shuffle target library?" Sure! "Shuffle target library: Draw a card?" Sounds balanced to me! Let's not stop at the library, though. Check out this card that didn't make the cut for Guildpact:

Corpse Shuffle

Right now this may not seem useful to all of you, but with the upcoming release of Mirage (including Shallow Grave) on MTGO, not to mention any future graveyard twists we may come up with, this might have seen play had it not gotten lost in the shuffle. (Groan.)

Even after that tomb stirring, we're still wading in the shallow end of all that targeting zones offers us. Shuffling is already a conventional action to perform on a zone. Let's mix it up some more with a card currently in development for a future set:

P'zoned!

Should this card see print, you'll be ready the next time somebody taps your library!

Zoning Clearance

With all these potential cards targeting your precious zones, it's only fair to give you some protection. Nobody would want to have his or her library targeted for demolition with no recourse. That's why I came up with this beauty of a cycle:

Own your zone.

Ground Seal would be jealous. Starting from Seal's close relative in green, I came up with four more incredibly flavorful enchantments to keep your opponents out of your noze. (It's "zone", but reversed. Get it?!) Each enchantment in this cycle lets you draw a card when it comes into play and protects a zone appropriate to the color. Black guards its investments and the gates to the abyss, while red just covers its head. White seeks to preserve the world as it is now, and blue gets stuff that has to do with magical things and wizards. (Blue is the color of magical things and wizards.)

Even if your opponent doesn't playing any of zone-targeting cards, you still get a cycle that cycles. Isn't that clever?

Zoning Out?

That's too bad; I was just getting started! I hope this article whet your appetite for the future of zoning. If it did, I'm right on target.

Join me next week when I write an entire column from the perspective of a polyp.

Until then, may you phase out target removed-from-the-game zone.

Hark Blowswater