Pattern Recognition #85 - Range Strike

Features Opinion Pattern Recognition

berryjon

27 September 2018

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Good afternoon everyone! Well, it's afternoon when this is published, so I'll roll with that. My name is berryjon, TappedOut.net's resident Old Fogey , and this is, as you may have guessed, Pattern Recognition, wherein I, your most gracious of writers, regale you with tales of Magic the Gathering, it's history, it's design, it's ups and it's downs. Or maybe I'm just leading you into a Fog Bank so I can make my getaway. ;)

Today's article is about something that I liked in the past due to my personal biases towards colours, but has since been removed from the game due to concerns about it being too 'complicated'.

No, I'm not talking about Banding. That's a whole different kettle of fish, and I'm pretty sure even I don't fully understand the interactions with that rule.

Rather, today, I'm going to talk about Range Strike.

Now, there's no link in that phrase because it's not a Keyword, nor is it something I can easily plug into the Gatherer to create a list of cards that have this mechanic. So, instead, I will simply give you some examples, and let you see what I'm talking about.

D'Avenant Archer , Heavy Ballista , Ballista Squad , and Gideon's Reproach .

I would like to introduce you all to Range Strike, one of best friends of White Weenie in the halcyon days of yore, where White had a surprising number of workable solutions to any given problem.

So, a bit of History then. White has never really had huge creatures. Please remember that this was a time when Serra Angel was considered a powerhouse of a White Creature. Which I'm sure is confusing to you newer players that such a thing was possible.

Now, because White was behind the curve in creature power, especially against their traditional enemies - had Shivan Dragon while had Sengir Vampire - and so they needed, from a balance perspective, something to even the field of battle that was a little less complete than simply casting Wrath of God and being done with it.

And to be fair, cards that boosted White's creatures were not uncommon - Crusade started the whole thing off back in Alpha, but Wizards decided to start experimenting with something a little more granular. A little more precise in its effect.

Thus was born Range Strike out of First Strike.

White has always been the king of striking first in combat, and if you don't believe me, Knighthood would like to have a word with you. Range Strike can be conceived of as Firsterest Strike, if you will forgive me for the mauling of the English Language in that.

Range Strike works by bypassing the Combat Damage step entirely and going right for any attacking or blocking creature, dealing damage to it before it could deal any combat damage at all.

This mean, effectively, that Crossbow Infantry could block a creature with 2 toughness, then tap to deal an extra point of damage to the attacker, killing it. This was its intended use, to allow smaller creatures to go out and effectively have a larger power when it came to dealing with creatures.

In practicality, not so much.

Mark Rosewater has come out to say that Range Strike makes combat too complicated, and in a way, he's right.

Take Crossbow Infantry for example. It just says "target attacking or blocking creature". Not a creature involved in combat against you, or on your combat step, or that Crossbow Infantry itself has to be involved at all!

Crossbow Infantry and every other creature with Range Strike can interfere in combat between other players in a multiplayer game with near impunity. And that's not even the best of it!

A creature with Ranged Strike can, if they can kill it, effectively block an additional creature, a two-for-one exchange that is purely creature based.

Or, if, say Serra's Blessing or other cards like that are in play, then you can attack, and 'ping' (the colloquial term for tapping a creature to deal damage to a target - see Prodigal Sorcerer ) a blocking creature to make sure they die.

Or have multiple Strikers gang up on one big creature.

Or maybe they'll display their Venomous Fangs and make Deathtouch creatures look weak in comparison.

Let me back up for a second here.

has, as part of its New World Order repertoire, the ability to deal with creatures directly, but only when they are attacking or blocking. No Sunlance s here, but rather we have cards like Gideon's Reproach and Slash of Talons , instants that allow you to respond to large creatures attacking you, or declaring blockers against your attacking creatures.

So, why the move from Creature based to Instant base?

Well, this goes back to Rosewater's comment about complexity.

Comparing, say Elite Archers to Impeccable Timing , the differences start becoming apparent. And no, I'm not talking about the massive cost attached to the former for the 3/3 body it has. The difference in in the reusability. Impeccable Timing is an Instant, and as such, (unless you're playing and can recur it quickly) is a one-shot effect. You cast the card from your hand and that's it.

But when the effect is on a creature, the effect can come at any time, even when your mana is tapped out. And the most important part is that it is repeatable.

Wizards, at this time, likes their combat tricks to be card based. Instants or sorceries, or in the case of artifacts, something you have to sacrifice - like Implement of Ferocity . Although that one can only be used at Sorcery speed.

Butting combat tricks onto creatures, such as with Angelic Page , or more recently, Duskborne Skymarcher represent exceptions to this, rather than the rule it used to be. A repeatable effect causes each player to, each turn, wonder how the player with the tricks can use it. It's not like a player would think "Hey, he has up, I better prepare for a Blossoming Defense ", and not "Well, he has Crossbow Infantry and a Heavy Ballista to block. Which means I can't attack with those creatures because they'll just die, unless I swing with those other creatures, and hope he blocks and taps for the kill, letting the smaller ones through."

Or, as I said before, "Well, I could attack Andy this turn, but Betty still has her creatures untapped. Do I go for him, and hope she doesn't wipe me out (or better yet, hope she wipes him out) or do I attack her, despite Andy being the larger threat?"

In duels, this is something that can be accounted for. Or you just go "Frak It All!" and swing regardless, putting the onus of decision making on the other player.

But in Multiplayer, the decisions required go up exponentially. And that is not something Wizards likes. They don't like it when people spend more time thinking about math than actually playing the game. Not to say that Magic is a game without math, but rather, the math is usually done by professionals with computers. Players are there to play the game. Magic's creature-based comabt should be more complex than that game of War. While it is a case of 'bigger numbers win', there is a difference, I think, between having bigger numbers be a limited resource, but a surprise when they come into effect, rather than being an unlimited resource whose state is known at all times.

(Note to self - find where you got that 21.7 lands in a deck number from. It's still important.)

Range Strike was removed for adding an unnecessary complication to the combat step in an age when creature based decks were already not as well received as they could have been. There is nothing wrong with them, but it's just something that Wizards doesn't want to have to print at Common and uncommon - where almost all of these cards are - because they can confuse new players and old when they show up out of nowhere.

Or you could be Ballista Squad , and get on Rosewater's "Do not Want!" list twice over for having a mechanic that isn't going to be on creatures anytime soon, and for being a Rebel.

Of course, this is also the same reasoning why cards like Samite Healer and Master Healer got the boot. Damage prevention isn't a big thing in the game, but it is a game changer. Whereas those with Range Strike are better at dealing with attackers, those who can prevent damage like this are better at blocking, preventing creatures, players and even Planeswalkers from dying. It's something that Wizards has also rolled back on in recent years with the idea that once a creature is dead, it should stay that way. No fancy tricks to pull it from the grave that can be used repeatedly.

More and less damage makes combat harder than it needs to be. Not to say that decisions can't be hard enough as it is, but it still needs to be said.

I would love to see more of these cards, but they, like many things, are a relic of Magic's history. Nice. Amazing on occasion, but ultimately, the game can do without them, and it's simply my nostalgia talking.

No deck this week, mostly because a deck about this subject would just be a generic White Weenie deck that consisted of my opinion on the most effective examples of these creatures.

Join me next week when I look over the example cards created by you all. If you're reading this, it's too late to submit!

Until then, please consider donating to my Pattern Recognition Patreon. Yeah, I have a job, but more income is always better. I still have plans to do a audio Pattern Recognition at some point, or perhaps a Twitch stream. And you can bribe your way to the front of the line to have your questions, comments and observations answered!

This article is a follow-up to Pattern Recognition #84 - I Love Landfall The next article in this series is Pattern Recognition #86 - Custom Card Critique

Honestly, the true "firstest strike" is the Laccolith ability!

P.S. You alternate between calling it 'range strike' and 'ranged strike.'

P.P.S. Really not sure what you were on about when you brought up bringing creatures back from the graveyard repeatedly in that paragraph concerning damage prevention.

September 29, 2018 4:55 a.m.

Now this is an interesting article, and it perfectly encapsulates why I don't like the direction WotC is taking this game.

"They don't like it when people spend more time thinking about math than actually playing the game."

So far as I'm concerned, this is a direct contradiction, and utter nonsense on their part. Thinking about the math is playing the game. In fact, it's just about the only playing there is in the game. Turning cards sideways and taking the obvious predetermined path laid before you can hardly be called "playing the game". Yet that seems to be the direction they're constantly pushing the game as of late.

I seriously miss effects like this. Once upon a time I had to actually think before swinging in. Once upon a time, the result of a game would often be determined by a single stack!

sigh, I'm ranting though. It's not even as if old-school magic was flawless, far from it. But I don't like this direction. I feel like I'm making less and less choices as time goes on, and those choices are becoming more and more obvious, to the point that it often feels like I'm not even playing. I'm just a machine playing out the singular obvious choice the deck can make this turn.

September 29, 2018 9:06 a.m.

berryjon says... #3

Tyrant-Thanatos: You and I certainly agree there. When I talked about Volvers a year and a half ago, I noted that Wizard's treatment of multicoloured cards has become more and more tight as time goes on. ? You're playing Artifacts. (Depala, Pilot Exemplar being an excellent example of this pidgeon-holing, and Tiana, Ship's Caretaker being another that isn't as restrictive in design, but still telling players what to play, rather than giving players the tools to build what they want.

But the worst combination is , which Wizards absolutely and stubbornly refuses to move from "Playing with Instants and Sorceries ONLY" to "Hey, Artifacts are cool!". Even their Saheeli, the Gifted deck showed they had no idea what they're doing - and the calls for the Izzet to stop being just Mad Scientists/Mages and return to the fact that they guys are the Engineers of Ravnica were ignored by Wizards. When I saw the near-admission to that by Rosewater on his Blog, my heart sank, let me tell you.

September 29, 2018 8:16 p.m.

berryjon: I miss Volvers too. And that brings up probably my biggest frustration with their design choices in recent years. There are actually so many ways for them to make cards interesting and decision oriented, and they've explored design space in doing so, they just never carry it forward. I want to see more things like hybrid mana costs, kickers that cost a different color, things of that nature.

Standard currently has Zero (0) hybrid mana symbols in it total (this will change with the upcoming set release), not just in mana costs, but in rules text as well. And it has a whopping three cards that have mana of a different color in their ability costs, Kazarov, Sengir Pureblood, Shalai, Voice of Plenty, Pride Sovereign. All at rare.

Honestly, the way they've been handling design as of late feels genuinely insulting. I still haven't gotten over their bullshit "Regeneration is too confusing" claim. Magic was better than other TCGs specifically for its depth and complexity, and now WotC is telling us that we can't handle depth.

October 1, 2018 2:04 a.m.

TypicalTimmy says... #5

Shout-out to Anaba Shaman with Felhide Petrifier for that sweet, sweet death-ping.

Also, while we're at it:

Thornbite Staff + Wolfhunter's Quiver + Literally anything with Deathtouch.

You tap the creature using Wolfhunter's Quiver to deal 1 lethal damage to any target. It dies, and untaps due to Thornbite Staff and resets the creature.

Enjoy your firing squad. Also, keep in mind that even if your opponent manages to play literally their entire library during their main phase, you can gain priority and kill everything in response.

You can literally boardwipe endlessly with this combo.

The best creature in the game to do this combo with is Vampire Nighthawk.

She's not only a Shaman, so Thornbite Staff automatically attaches to her, saving you mana, but she also has Deathtouch and Lifelink. So each time you ping a creature, you gain 1 life for killing it.

Happy janking <3

October 1, 2018 5:17 a.m.

TypicalTimmy: There are tons of ways to perform such combos though, many dating further back than the likes of Nighthawk and even Thornbite. Viridian Longbow completely outclasses Wolfhunter's Quiver, for one. Deathbringer Thoctar + anything that gives it deathtouch can do the same without even having to tap, though it is 6cmc and 2 colors. Additionally, Thornbite Staff can be used for much more... degenerate combos than that. Anything that taps to make a token + Thornbite Staff + Any Sac Engine makes for infinite of whatever the sac engine nets you. Bonus points to Kazandu Tuskcaller for being a Shaman.

Regardless, the whole subject seems a bit of a far cry from the topic of "Ranged Strike", as pingers are a whole different animal tbh. You wouldn't use Crossbow Infantry in a combo like this.

October 1, 2018 9:17 a.m.

Sertar8 says... #7

Back in the days when i started playing magic Crossbow Infantry was my favorite card. I love the art (Seventh edition to ninth) and what keep me coming to play game is all the interaction you can do in combat one that i loved (it was really bad tough) Gustcloak Savior+Crossbow Infantry to ping and block without losing my Crossbow.

Tldr: Thank you for writting this article because it made me recall those days of young me experimenting bad combo. BTW im not all grumpy about new magic i still play to this day, but in my cube Crossbow Boy stand tall.

October 3, 2018 6:55 p.m.

DragonKing90 says... #8

Tyrant-Thanatos: could you perhaps elaborate on wotc saying "regeneration is too confusing"? was there any sort of rules change involved? i ask because my primary modern deck is 5c Slivers with Sedge Sliver. funny enough, it actually did confuse a Grixis Shadow opponent enough for me to win.

October 3, 2018 10:41 p.m.

DragonKing90 says... #9

Tyrant-Thanatos: nvm i found the relevant information. regeneration mechanic being phased out in favor of "gains indestructible until end of turn". im with you 100,000% that this game is headed in the wrong direction. its being dumbed down. i don't think i've ever actually seen or heard anyone say anything good about maro. so how does he still have his job?

October 3, 2018 10:48 p.m.

berryjon says... #10

MaRo does amazing things, and he is perhaps, aside from the Three Steves, the most in-touch with his player community. He also is one man among dozens, and a lot of decisions aren't his to make. Yes, he does sign off on stuff, but it's not like he is the modern Garfield, who designs sets by himself.

He's just a man who is the very public face of the company, and because of that, he draws a lot of ire that simply isn't deserved.

Magic, as a game, needs to bring in new players. And complicated rules are a wall, a barrier to that. So simplification is a good idea to help bring in new players, but you are right - there is a point where the game becomes too simple.

I suspect that the Regenerate->Indestructible happened in part of the development of Magic Arena. One is far easier to code than the other.

October 3, 2018 11:03 p.m.

berryjon

"Magic, as a game, needs to bring in new players. And complicated rules are a wall, a barrier to that. So simplification is a good idea to help bring in new players"

On one hand, I understand this logic, on the other though, I fundamentally disagree. Not with the idea that MTG needs to bring in new players, but with the idea that that requires simplification. I know my experience doesn't speak for everyone, but the entire reason I got into this game was because of its depth and intricacy. I moved from Yugioh to MTG specifically for the depth of combat, for effects EXACTLY like what's discussed in this article. Depth and complexity was exactly what drew me in as a new player. If I had found MTG now, or even within the last few years, I probably wouldn't have picked it up.

"I suspect that the Regenerate->Indestructible happened in part of the development of Magic Arena. One is far easier to code than the other."

I seriously hope not. I write code myself and tbh this sounds like nonsense. They're both essentially If WouldDie: Don't. Just one is until end of turn, one is one time only. I don't see how it would be any more challenging to code than literally every other delayed triggered ability in the game.

October 4, 2018 7:38 a.m.

berryjon says... #12

To be fair, my standards for Complicated -> Simple to bring in new players is SFB -> Federation Commander, so perhaps I'm a bit skewed in that regard.

October 4, 2018 8:41 a.m.

cdkime says... #13

I wanted to build on Tyrant-Thanatos's post--Regenerate has a number of major issues that justify its removal from the game.

It's a really clunky ability--"this creature gets a replacement effect preventing it from being destroyed. For good measure, let's also remove it from combat." If I were making a list of rules points new players have difficulty with, it would probably look like:

  1. The stack--Regenerate implicates this. You have to activate Regenerate prior to the creature being destroyed, and thus know to activate it when lethal damage has been assigned (but not dealt) or a destroy effect is on the stack. Heaven forbid you run into an issue where someone is trying to Krosan Grip your Clay Statue, as then the timing gets wonky--if you had proactively used regenerate at the start of your turn you'd be fine, but you can't regenerate once the spell was cast.

  2. Replacement effects--another area that's pretty easy for established players, but not for new ones.

  3. "Destroy"--that Regenerate and Indestructible prevents Murder, Lightning Bolt, or damage from killing a creature makes sense--that Dismember does not tends to trip up new players.

  4. Effects that are not directly connected to the inherent nature of the ability--it seems a bit strange that "remove from combat" is also part of regenerate.

Taken together, Regenerate creates a wonky ability that voltrons together a number of complex issues. I fully understand why it was removed from the modern lexicon--like protection, banding, and Range Strike, it's a deceptively complex ability.

That's a roundabout way to circle back to my response to the main thread--I think Wizards goes overboard in their quest to expunge these ancient keywords. I understand their not being included in standard-legal booster packs or 60-card starter decks--that's how most new players are introduced to the game.

However, I think these abilities should have a home in some of the more complex products designed for more experienced players--most notably Commander precons (which, while "intro-level", still tend to be designed with a more experienced player in mind).

October 4, 2018 9:02 a.m.

Boza says... #14

One thing I hate about the process of simplification is the removal of keywords and keyword actions from creatures that should have it. Why isn't Aven Wind Mage simply a 2/2 with flying and prowess? Why does Tireless Tracker lack Landfall?

Is this pandering to new players, whom I doubt would be confused from that, or is to prevent people from doing easier searches on Gatherer?

October 4, 2018 9:16 a.m.

I've heard these exact same points a thousand times before though, and it just doesn't make sense to me. As a new player, I never found it confusing. On top of that, they continue to use things like Morph, to the extent of creating alternate, more complicated versions of it via Manifest and Megamorph. Morph's use of special actions whatnot creates far more rules confusion than Regenerate ever did. Much less Manifest, which starts throwing non-creature cards facedown. Back when Manifest was new, I think I heard more confusion about what happens when you Cloudshift a manifested Instant than I have about Regenerate for the entire 15 years I've been playing this game.

I'd be fine with Regenerate staying out of Standard sets and being printed in nonstandard sets, that fits more in line with their claims about it anyhow. What they say and what they do just doesn't seem consistent to me.

October 4, 2018 9:19 a.m.

DragonKing90 says... #16

cdkime: i would say the "issues" regarding regeneration are far from "major". i've only ever seen 1 player be "confused" about how regeneration works. i put "confused" in quotes because honestly i think he was just pretending, trying to see what he could get away with so he wouldn't lose the game, because he wasn't a new player. even the newer players i've encountered have little trouble understanding regneration. i wholly disagree that its removal was justified, especially when replaced by an objectively more powerful ability.

October 4, 2018 9:30 a.m.

DragonKing90: The worst part imo is that they know it's objectively more powerful, and if you look at the cards that have it, it shows. Drudge Sentinel costs to do this, and still taps. It's essentially terrible regenerate, because the effect is stronger so it has to cost more. I called this way back when they said they were phasing out Regenerate in favor of "indestructible until end of turn". It was actually pretty cathartic to wave Drudge Sentinel in my playgroup's collective faces after I spent so much time ranting about exactly this thing back when WotC made that announcement. They didn't believe me, HAH!

I'm still pissed that I was right though.

October 4, 2018 9:42 a.m.

DragonKing90 says... #18

Tyrant-Thanatos: well Drudge Sentinel is also a common lol. commons tend to have their abilities overcosted. which part did your playgroup not believe? the part about indestructible costing more? or the part about being more powerful?

October 4, 2018 9:46 a.m.

DragonKing90: The part about it costing more.

Also Drudge Skeletons and Drudge Reavers, which Drudge Sentinel was clearly a throwback to, were also commons. You can't tell me that isn't more than .

October 4, 2018 9:50 a.m.

DragonKing90 says... #20

Tyrant-Thanatos: gotcha. yeah is definitely more than , i just simply meant the ability would probably cost less than if the card were uncommon.

October 4, 2018 9:54 a.m.

Grappling Sundew disagrees. /shrug

October 4, 2018 9:58 a.m.

cdkime says... #22

DragonKing90 - I'm guessing you don't play with very many new players then. I play and watch a large number of games with friends or family members who either are new to the game or don't play often enough to have a firm grasp of the rules.

Based upon this experience, I've found Regenerate is the second hardest ability for inexperienced players to grasp, after Protection.

This experience is echoed in assorted statements by Wizards R&D, who believe the ability is a bit too "complicated and wonky".

With regards to Tyrant-Thanatos's comment about Morph--I think Wizards realized Morph and Megamorph were mistakes, and I don't see them returning anytime soon. I always saw Megamorph as them trying to "fix" Morph's general lack of power. Based upon what MaRo said after Megamorph's release, I think they've realized Morph's lack of power isn't the only issue, the mechanic itself is problematic. Retroactively, I'd probably want to add Morph to my list of abilities that are rightfully retired, but should still see play in non-Standard sets.

October 4, 2018 10:01 a.m.

DragonKing90 says... #23

Tyrant-Thanatos: i did not know about Grappling Sundew. idk what they were thinking with that one. seems really underwhelming for an uncommon.

cdkime: i play against new players on a semi-regular basis actually. in my experience, protection is far from the hardest ability for them to understand. its even easier for them to understand protection than regenerate, and regenerate is already pretty easy.

October 4, 2018 10:05 a.m.

cdkime: Honestly I've never seen a new player struggle with Regenerate. The people that struggle with mechanics like this are the new-ish players, that have been taught the entire game through a series of he-said-she-saids by their playgroup, with zero rules reference at all. And this is something WotC cannot, and should not try, to fix. This is the same thing that leads to crazy beliefs that Vigilance prevents your creature from ever being tapped under any circumstances at all.

If a new player is taught the game properly, then Regenerate is not confusing, the stack is not confusing. IMO what WotC needs to do isn't simplify the game, it's make learning the game more accessible. Stop relying on your existing players to teach new players the game. They've taken a few steps in the right direction for this imo, but not enough.

October 4, 2018 10:08 a.m.

cdkime says... #25

Tyrant-Thanatos - I agree it's worse with "new-ish" players, and that's where I've had the most difficulties.

With brand new players (heck, even some who really should know better) where I've explained the rules properly, I still have issues with players forgetting the "you need to also tap this creature and remove it from combat" portions of regenerate, simply because that's not really intuitive with the rest of the ability. I think that's probably the worst part of the ability from a game design stance, and what makes it so clunky.

October 4, 2018 10:26 a.m.

cdkime: Yeah, I can kinda see that. I think it becomes more intuitive if players just knew why. I mean the removal from combat is almost specifically so that First Strike effects aren't wasted on regenerators (something the new indestructible until end of turn mechanic will lack). And to me, it's always kind of made sense lore-wise. Your creature has to quite literally pull itself back together, that takes effort (tapping), and takes time, keeping them occupied (removal from combat).

Either way, it's not like there's much we can do now. I still think WotC needs to put more focus on teaching players the game though. The Comprehensive Rules need to be in players hands, and they should have their own in-depth tutorials on how to play. I don't see why they can't have written and/or video tutorials, step by step, on their website, that are advertised on the inserts you find in almost every product. Sure, it would take effort, but if you want to bring in new players, you need to teach them the damn game.

October 4, 2018 10:31 a.m. Edited.

berryjon says... #27

Remember when Starter decks had rule books and not bling foldouts?

October 4, 2018 11:41 a.m.

cdkime says... #28

berryjon - I was a big fan of the 7th Edition Starter set, which is how I was first introduced to the game. It contained a number of very useful tools for a new player:

  • Two 30-card preconstructed decks that were in a predetermined order, as well as guides on how to play each deck, and step-by-step instructions of the plays to make on the first couple turns.

  • A rulebook.

  • A CD with demonstrative games, some online tools, and a list of all the 7th Edition cards.

  • A foil copy of one of the most Timmy-friendly creatures in the set - Thorn Elemental.

It was a great way to teach new players the game. I would love to see them bring back the "do not shuffle, follow these steps so you can play the first couple turns and get the gist of things" decks.

October 4, 2018 11:53 a.m.

berryjon says... #29

And then you could combine the two decks into a workable 60 card deck as well!

October 4, 2018 3:32 p.m.

DragonKing90 says... #30

berryjon: im gonna have to strongly disagree that rosewater is in touch with the community, or undeserving of his criticism. if he were in touch with the community, he wouldn't be making decisions that a large portion of us don't like. this is a man who said "Rampant Growth is too strong". if i had been his boss, i'd have fired him immediately for that comment alone. i (and many others) am also not a fan of him saying that "cheesecake" art is bad, but Enthralling Victor (recently reprinted in battlebond) is just fine.

October 4, 2018 3:51 p.m.

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