Ruining Magic: The Gathering Part 1

I play a lot of Magic: The Gathering, mostly the Commander format with a regular playgroup (which I gather is pretty atypical as magic experiences go).

The great thing about Magic is a fact that it has a 200-page rule book that you don’t need to read. Magic is one of those well-designed games with a few simple rules giving rise to complex interactions. Beyond the basics literally everything you need to know is written on the cards that you play with, which serve as both game pieces and rules reference at the same time. It’s awesome.

Most of that enormous rulebook, by the way, is definitions of keywords and detailed explanations of how various parts of the game interact (the three most important words for new magic players to grasp are “state-based effect”) that might not be obvious based on your intuitive understanding of how things work. After you’ve played the game for a while you get a good sense of when you need to look something up, but it’s still fairly rare.

Magic’s like 20 years old at this point, and somehow despite numerous attempts Wizards of the Coast have failed to ruin it. It is my contention that they are simply not trying hard enough, so I’m going to do my best to help them out. From time to time I will post things I would do to intentionally ruin Magic.

1. Stack manipulation

The stack is key to all player interaction in Magic, and is kind of remarkable since it’s a concept taken from computer science that works easily and quickly when the game is being played in person but which is an absolute nightmare in every computer version of the game. The stack is also the most complicated part of the game, with the possible exception of replacement effects and the confusing disaster area that is effect timestamping (I have no idea how Mind Control and Threaten interact. It really doesn’t come up that often, but still). Now, Magic isn’t being developed by complete idiots (no matter how many Skullclamps they managed to print) so it isn’t really surprising that they mostly left the stack alone. To my knowledge the only two cards that reference it directly are Time Stop and Sundial of the Infinite, and they only reference the existence of the stack because this is a unique situation would never occur otherwise. The only keyword that has any real impact on the stack is split-second which prevents further spells or abilities from being used, which is quite unsurprisingly restricted to a small number of cards.

In my campaign to ruin Magic I will not be leaving the stack alone. The first thing I will do is print this card:

Express Order – 1UU


Resolve target spell or ability

(“U” is shorthand for Blue mana, all other colours use the first letter of their name)

Now on the face of it this doesn’t look that powerful. You’d mostly only be using it to circumvent counterspells, in which case a cancel would do just as well, but it actually lets you do something that has never been done before: change the order of things on the stack.

A situation that arises fairly often in magic is that you really really wish that your opponent would cast something such that it resolves before whatever you would like to do. Easy example: It is my opponent’s turn and I have a bunch of elves the tap for mana on the board along with Yeva. In my hand I have several green creatures. My opponent casts Wrath of God. Now, what I would really like to do is cast all those creatures (using the mana from my elves) after the Wrath resolves but before Yeva dies. As the game currently works this moment does not exist, but if we print my stupid little spell then it totally will. I could flash my creatures out one after the other and leave them on the stack, force the Wrath to resolve then have them come into play unmolested.

If we wanted to, we could contrive a way for this to happen in a normal game: I cast all my creatures and my opponent Quickens his wrath while they are still on the stack – but there is virtually no reason he would ever do that as it disadvantages him so severely.

Express Order basically forces your opponent to play badly. It’s awful and unfair and no fun whatsoever, so we should print as many copies of it as possible.

I would also print cards that let you reorder the stack, moving things up and down the order of priority. And while these would not necessarily be useful 100% of the time, they would have the great side effect of making the game far, far harder to mentally keep track of.

The stack is only comprehensible because it just that: a stack. Things go in and come out one at a time and only from one end. Once you start shuffling elements around you very quickly reach the point where players need a visual aid to keep track of things, at which point the game is broken.

In order to keep it broken I would have to keep printing a new supply of stack manipulation cards as well as thinking of a reason why each colour would have access to this technology (stack manipulation seems essentially a blue ability to me but I’m sure some flimsy justification can be found for the other colours) but after a couple of years of this every format will be irretrievably polluted. No one in their right mind would want to play such a horribly complicated and obtuse game, mission accomplished.


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