My enjoyment of the Return to Innistrad reveals has gone through the roof! Original Innistrad had so much flavor and pristine game play, and indeed magical in how its abilities and strategies on almost every card melds or synergies with other colors and strategies. I have high hopes that the linear abilities of Battle of Zendikar aren’t peeking its head into Innistrad, but instead have a slew of abilities and strategies that intertwine so to create a memorable limited experience.
The reveal of Delirium – or the “is Tarmogoyf a 4/5?” mechanic – really excited me because I was a fan of the Threshold and the similarly related Delve mechanics and this has a very familiar feel to it. Immediately I was conceptualizing on how I could easily achieve the Delirium requirement in standard and limited. Sadly Fetch lands will be gone; that’s fine, as Evolving Wilds-esque cards will suffice. Surely the Seals of the Fire, Doom, and Primordial variety will be making a comeback. Creatures are the easiest to get to the bin. What about artifacts? Nothing too exciting comes to mind initially. However, when I thought about the other new mechanic investigate and sacrificing the artifact Clues, I did one of those jumping out of your seat in excitement but stop half way through because you realize it doesn’t do what you think it does things. Oh. Sadly, when you cash the clue in the token actually just ceases to exist, thus not giving any added value to your Delirium.
This got me thinking.
If the rules worked in a certain way; if WotC made an exception; if there was some quirky double-faced-card type addition to magic, perhaps we could make this work. Flavorfully I think it makes a good amount of sense. You have Jace – or you yourself as the planeswalker protagonist – jaunting around Innistrad trying to find the Kamigawan Carmen Sandiego. During said investigation, finding all of these oddly placed clues which helps identify not only her whereabouts, but also sheds some light onto why everyone is freaking out on this planet. These artificial clues, coupled with the natural surroundings, the crazed people and ravenous animals he interacts with, and the mystifying aura-type witchery of Innistrad, all add to our Delirium – or acute disturbed state of mind. In a gameplay setting, having these clues add to your Delirium would indeed drool with the very flavor we love about Innistrad.
Unfortunately the rules of Magic the Gathering are currently not in our flavor favor for this satisfying interaction. However, like anything else in Magic, we can theorize on avenues which can make this work. As a legally educated individual, I thoroughly enjoy investigating the rules and templating aspect of Magic, mostly to ensure Matt Tabak is doing his job correctly (*cough cough*). This will be a fun exercise to bend the rules in order to make this flavor enhancer work in a gameplay setting.
My Matt Tabak Cosplay
Like any proposition-for-change methodology, it’s imperative to first identify the actual problem in our path; afterwards, I’ll describe three hypothetical scenarios which could potentially rectify the rules in order to achieve our goal; finally, I’ll add some analysis and we can see which option may be the best course of action if any. Each scenario has its pros and cons, and they may seem exotic, but that’s the fun of any thought experiment.
First off, the biggest obstacle we have before us is this pesky rule about tokens:
110.5f A token that’s phased out, or that’s in a zone other than the battlefield, ceases to exist. This is a state-based action;
This rule is the reason why when you Unsummon a Saproling token it is gone for good. This rule coupled with 110.5g is the reason why Eldrazi Displacer’s ability effectively removes Elemental Tokens from the battlefield for good. Appropriately, it is why when you sacrifice a Clue Token to draw a card, it ceases to exist. The crucial aspect of this rule is the last sentence: This is a state-based action. Essentially, this means that tokens can and do enter other zones temporarily, but will cease to exist when State-Based actions are checked (i.e. whenever the spell or ability resolves fully and a player gains priority), thus not lingering around long enough to count for any lasting effects. This is reason number 1 why we can’t have our Clue Tokens count towards our insanity.
Reason number 2 is the fact that a token isn’t actually a card in any zone, it is merely an object; rules 110.5e and 109.1, respectively, explicitly describes just this. If you remember this past standard season, there was this very obscure ruling involving the fact that the Scry ability from Catacomb Sifter via sacrificing an Edrazi Scion Token would indeed trigger even if your opponent had Anafenza, the Foremost in play. Simply put, the Scion isn’t a card and Anafenza specifically states”Creature Card” in its textbox for the purpose of exiling. Granted, the token will cease to exist instantaneously, but the fact that it touched the graveyard at all allowed the Catacomb Sifter to trigger.
Why does this matter? What does this have to do with Clue Tokens and Artifacts?
Say we overcame the cease-to-exist function of problem #1 and Clue Tokens are able to stay in the graveyard for good, Clue Tokens would still not count towards our Delirium. Delirium isn’t a keyword ability, but merely an Ability Word which means the word itself doesn’t have any rules implication; instead, it helps group cards together with similar functionality (207.2c). The ability word of Delirium, according to the rules text of to-date spoiled cards, describes an ability which has the requirement that there are “four or more card types among cards in your graveyard”. From the cards spoiled thus far it appears this ability word is tied to both triggered and activated abilities as well as additional spell effects. However, the pertinent words associated with Delirium are “card types”; tokens aren’t cards even in graveyards, ergo the problem.
WE’VE FOUND ALL THREE CLUES.
110.5g A token that has left the battlefield can’t move to another zone or come back onto the battlefield. If such a token would change zones, it remains in its current zone instead. It ceases to exist the next time state-based actions are checked; see rule 704.
110.5e A token is subject to anything that affects permanents in general or that affects the token’s card type or subtype. A token isn’t a card (even if represented by a card that has a Magic back or that came from a Magic booster pack).
109.1. An object is an ability on the stack, a card, a copy of a card, a token, a spell, a permanent, or an emblem.
We’ve identified the two problems within the rules that we face, now let’s explore some ideas in which we can tweak the rules in order achieve our goal. Luckily, I’ve done all of the thinking for you and have outlined three avenues below.
Option 1 – Delete 110.5f
The first path in our journey is to explore the crazy idea of getting rid of the 110.5f rule entirely. This is an idea I got from Hearthstone, Blizzard’s digital TCG. In that game, when a token is created into the battlefield, it can then be returned to the hand whilst still existing and having the ability to play it again from your hand. For Magic, if we get rid of 110.5f (and the corresponding 110.5g), we’d have the option to let our tokens go into any zone that a regular card could go to, including our hand, graveyard, library, and exile zone.
The initial problem with this approach is twofold. First, whilst this sort of thing would work perfectly fine in the digital world of Hearthstone and Magic Online, it would be a logistical nightmare in paper Magic, particularly when a token would go to a Hidden Zone (400.2). If my opponent bounces my Goat Token back to my hand, it’ll stay there, but then they will know where exactly my Goat Token is in my hand at all times, as it doesn’t have an authentic Deckmaster cardback. Requiring everyone to sleeve their tokens with the same sleeves as their deck sleeves could work, but I think it is a bit unreasonable; for example, some token decks could be required to fork out an extraneous amount of money in order to get sleeves for their 100 Sand Warrior Tokens, or your opponent could play an effect which gives you a token in which you don’t have a sleeved up copy for. Similarly, this sort of situation could occur when the token would be put into your library. If you have an unsleeved/different sleeved token in your library that would be considered a marked card and BOOM game loss.
The second problem I find with this proposed concept is that tokens generally do not have mana costs, unless the effect that created them says it does (110.5b), which few currently do. Whilst their Converted Mana Costs are indeed zero and thusly interact with cards that care about Converted Mana Costs, the lack of an actual Mana Cost makes it quite awkward when one is stuck in your hand or you draw one from your library. A solution to this problem would probably entail errating every token creating card/effect to define an arbitrary Mana Cost or making all tokens have a Mana Cost of zero (0), both of which don’t seem worth the hassle and could be potentially confusing.
It seems after a quick glance that there are a lot of problems with Option 1 regarding when a token would move to a Hidden Zone such as the hand or the library. What if then, alternatively, we modify 110.5f and 110.5g to only apply when a token moves to a Hidden Zone but not to a Public Zone. This way the cardback issue doesn’t apply and the Mana Cost issue mostly doesn’t apply. Conceptually, it seems perfectly feasible and almost intuitive that you could have tokens linger in your graveyard or the exile zone. I was inspired for this idea by Skullbriar, the Walking Grave who keeps its +1/+1 counters on it when it moves to a different Public Zone. Why can’t tokens work in a similar way?
Unfortunately, we still have a couple problems with this approach. One big one is that we would also need to change rule 110.5, which defines a token as a “marker”, in order to state that each token needs to have the correct official or unofficial token used in order to minimize confusion in other zones. This means say goodbye to using coins, empty sleeves, or your two-foot Cthulhu statue to represent your Marit Lage Token (at least for competitive Magic). Fortunately, there are enough WotC and third-party token producers to help make sure every player has the appropriate tokens available.
The second problem is still that tokens in a Public Zone are not technically cards. Their “object” status makes their presence in the graveyard, for example, quite useless. You can’t Rally the Ancestor for x=0 to get all your tokens back into play, because they aren’t Creature Cards. Similarly, tokens in the graveyard don’t count towards Delirium or Tarmogoyf. We could errata all cards that mention a “card” in a public zone to change to “object”, such as changing Zombify to say “Return target creature object from your graveyard to the battlefield”, but that errata change would affect significantly more cards than it is worth, and would actually be a functional errata change and we all know WotC doesn’t like issuing those. Alternatively, a rule could be implemented which would identify a token in a public zone to be considered a “card” for the purposes of cards like Zombify or Tarmogoyf. It would be functional rules change allowing tokens to actually interact with cards it has never before have, but would also turn on your opponent’s Anafenza the Foremost thus denying you a Scry off of your Catacomb Sifter.
I do like the evolution of Option 1, but I feel that it goes beyond our goal of making Clues great again. Applying this to all tokens, particularly creature tokens, might overreach the intended purpose of tokens and token creatures. Therefore, I propose that we explore other options.
Option 2 – Make Clue Cards
I remember when Double-Faced Cards were first revealed, and almost everyone threw their hands in the air, shouting things akin to the end of the world. I first got my hands on one when Aaron Forsyth brought examples of them to Grand Prix Pittsburg; I was still skeptical. Playing a Magic card without the coveted Magic: The Gathering cardback just seemed wrong. Having a check-list/proxy card in our deck seemed equally as wrong. However, we got used to it and now we are happy for our deck boxes to contain our 60-card Maindeck, 15-card Sideboard along with our Double-Face Cards. It turns out the DFCs were flavorfully fun and added an extra depth of gameplay. I think Clue tokens could achieve a similar goal.
This second option before us to explore is that the Clues that you get from the Investigate ability should actually be Magic cards. Not cards that you can play in your deck or your sideboard, but pieces of cardboard with the Clue cardfront and a Magic: the Deckmaster cardback. My first inclination was to have Clues be cards that you can put in your deck with a Mana Cost, and Investigate abilities would simply fetch these Clues from your deck. However, the four card limit would severely diminish the quality of cards in which you could investigate multiple times. Additionally, if you make Clues like Relentless Rats and can have any number in your deck, you’ll have opening hands that are clogged with Clues. This mode didn’t seem like the correct solution, so I think it’s worth modifying it to be cards from outside the game that you can use in conjunction with investigate. Now your deck boxes could include your 60-card deck, 15-card Sideboard, Double-Faced Cards and 15+ Clue tokens.
This sounds like a simple enough solution for our cause with minimal negatives, right? Sadly the logistics behind this are probably worse than Option 1. Do you know how big your deckbox is? It barely holds 75 cards as it is; if you have a standard/modern deck that requires Clues, you’d have to find a bigger deck box. This problem is minor, mind you, but could be one to deter people from playing a huge amount of investigators. Furthermore, unlike tokens, I could imagine a cap on the number of Clue cards one could possess in their deck box being implemented for a match of competitive Magic. That particularly seems unfair if your deck specifically revolves around all of the investigate cards. One additional problem is if your opponent plays cards, like Declaration in Stone , which gives you a Clue; if you nor your opponent have any official Clues cards available, or if your opponent gives you his/her Clue card and you don’t have the proper sleeve on it, it could be a problem.
These problems, with the addition of the propensity to shuffle the Clues into your deck after a game probably resulting in a game loss for the next round, probably outweigh the advantages we would obtain with this. Let’s explore one more option.
Option 3 – Change Investigate
I think for our goal of achieving the flavor synergy between Clues and Delirium that we need to think simple. In that light, I propose that we simply change the ability investigate to give Clue tokens this additional text:
When this token is in the graveyard it does not cease to exist. When this token is in the graveyard it counts as an Artifact Card.
This is our simple solution for our simple problem. Without changing the rules too much or creating convoluted tournament logistic scenarios, we can manufacture situations where one sweet Innistrad ability interacts flavorfully with another. Like I’ve described above, I don’t think the concept of having tokens in the graveyard is too out of the box; experienced players will easily adapt whereas for newer players this probably isn’t one of the more complex Magic concepts to learn. Again, I draw inspirations from Skullbriar’s ability to prevent its counters from ceasing to exist; I further drew inspiration from Pardic Firecat which is peculiar card that lets you pretend it is a Flame Burst for the purposes of Flame Burst. Both cards add complex zone differential intricacies to the game, but definitely nothing that broke brains.
For the Clue token itself, if everyone doesn’t use the actual official token, it’ll be imperative that choose something that’ll discern it from other types of tokens in the graveyard. I don’t perceive that this would be too big of problem, as players will already be exercising this practice on the battlefield. Further, there is still the chance that players could shuffle their graveyarded Clue tokens into their deck after games or during the resolution of a Timetwister, but I don’t think the propensity is much more than players currently do with creature tokens particularly since most players don’t sleeve their tokens. Therefore, I believe that this option would probably be the best option in terms of implementation in order to achieve our goal. Option 2 was probably a bit too much and confusion, whereas the conclusion of Option 1 doesn’t seem like something that can’t happen.
So there you have it. We’ve covered a few different ways on how we could modify the game that we love in order to further immerse ourselves in the flavor of Innistrad. The process may be adding more complexity to the game than it is worth in order to have Clues and Delirium mesh well together, but it sure was fun writing about it. This article is more of a thought experiment and less of a proposal to Wizards, but I hope it was a worthwhile read and I look forward to hearing if this is something worth doing again.