Evergreen keywords becomes Skills
Posted on Aug. 13, 2019, 11:16 a.m. by Tzefick
With the reveal in Commander 2019 of Rayami. First of the Fallen it made me realize how strange it is that these evergreen keywords with static creature abilities have never been grouped and formalized. Whenever they appear en masse it is a clusterfuck of words.
I thought it was time to formalize a word for these abilities. And what better way than by example on a card?
Talented Student Show
Creature - Human
Talented Student has all Skills among creatures you control, except Defender.
(A Skill is a static keyword ability that applies to creatures, such as Flying, First Strike, Double Strike, Deathtouch, Lifelink, Haste, Hexproof, Indestructible, Trample, Menace, Defender, Vigilance, Reach, Flash, Protection, Landwalk, Fear, Intimidate, Shroud, and any Skill introduced at a later time)
Now, it's quite easy to simply reject the idea of formalizing the group as it is a constantly changing group depending on what Keyword Abilities, WotC decides to introduce. As such you can never include all Skills that will ever be printed. One principle that WotC have practiced is that any printed card must explicitly say what they do when that effect is printed for the first time.
However when a Keyword has been used for a while, it gets the Evergreen status, and you simply mention the Keyword without explanation of its effect. By this time you expect your players to know or easily explain to others what that Keyword does.
Skills are exactly that, when the Keyword applies to a creature specifically. Thus Evergreen keywords such as Counter, that makes no sense on a creature by itself, is omitted as a skill.
It will take a long time and dedicated effort to implement this change.
Why should we do it? Just to have those 6-7+ cards mentioned before have a smaller word count? Why do we care?
Well there are a couple of things you could do by formalizing the group.
First of all you can reference it specifically on an ability;
"Creature X gets +1/+0 for each skill it has."
"If creature X has a skill, it has indestructible."
"Each creature you control have all Skills among creatures you control."
"Enchant Creature with a skill."
You could choose to double down and divide the Skills into groups and utilize that as additional design space.
Offensive skill - First Strike, Double Strike, Deathtouch, Trample, Menace, Fear, Intimidate
Defensive skill - Indestructible, Hexproof, Shroud, Protection, Vigilance, Defender
Utility skill - Flying, Lifelink, Reach, Flash, Haste, Landwalk
Dividing the skills into different categories again breeds new design space when you are able to reference them as a group.
"Creature X has +2/+0 if it has an offensive skill.
Creature X has +0/+2 if it has a defensive skill.
Whenever creature X deals combat damage to a player, if it has a utility skill, draw a card.
, discard a card: Creature X gains your choice of First Strike, Hexproof, or Flying."
Just to speak an idea.
This is a big change and obviously not everyone (or anyone?) will be positive about such a change. It's big and at this very moment, it doesn't seem to make a lot of sense.
This change has to come over time and with great effort. Preferably when the change happens the immediately following set needs to focus quite a lot on cementing it into people's mindset, utilizing the new design space.
Dividing skills into categories also present their fair share of issues and questions; Which keyword belongs to which category? Is there a fair spread of use of the keywords from all categories? Does underrepresentated categories demand much higher payoff?
This thread already represents a lot of questions and ideas and I hope people will engage in a constructive discussion.
What are your thoughts? Any ideas on improvements? Changes? Yay? Nay?
Your definition of skill is far too arbitrary, and would be extremely confusing to both new and old players alike. What is or is not "evergreen" does change with time, so it's not enough to say "skill = evergreen" and assume that definition will (a) be understood by everyone, particularly new players who might not know what all evergreen mechanics are, and (b) that what was evergreen once may not be evergreen in the future/what was not evergreen becomes evergreen.
Protection, for example, is not an evergreen mechanic anymore, even though it once was. Even though we have seen some reuse of Protection recently, it is far from regaining Evergreen status. Landwalk, Shroud, Fear, and Intimidate have all lost their Evergreen status. Banding was once Evergreen, but no longer is. Why should Shroud receive skill status, even though it has been discontinued, but Banding should not?
The simple fact is that what is or is not a "skill" is completely arbitrary, and any utility gained by simplifying the list will be lost by the utter confusion in any player who does not have an intimate knowledge of the rules. The list is so large that you'll end up having to use reminder text anyway, so you're actually making the rules text longer.
With regards to your proposed uses for the Skill keyword, you could replace every use of the word "skill" with "keyword ability" and then you would have the exact same effect, without the unnecessary confusion of what is or is not a "skill."
With regards to your dividing skills up into offensive or defensive, your very examples proof how arbitrary this can be.
Deathtouch is both an offensive and defensive skill--on offence, it encourages players not to block; on defense, it forces players to hold back attacking. Protection both defends the creature from harm, but also ensures the creature cannot be blocked. Landwalk is very clearly an offensive ability; Reach is very clearly a defensive ability.
Flash does not even make sense in this context, since these abilities are static abilities on the creature, not characteristic defining abilities. As such, they would only function when the creature is a permanent, not at any time when Flash could be implicated.
Ultimately, any benefit from this change is so slight as to be a non-issue, and your best proposed benefit could easily be dealt with using existing rules. On the other hand, the arbitrary and capricious nature of what is or is not a skill makes this so confusing and unfriendly to new players as to require significant reminder text, completely eliminating the space-saving you intend.
August 13, 2019 11:44 a.m. Edited.
I like it! Sure, it's got some weird rules questions sometimes, but it's definitely a great starting point for a wicked design :D
August 13, 2019 7:54 p.m.
This is design space that evergreen keywords are actually trying to avoid. There are only a few rares and mythics that have the "list of keywords" ability. Not only is to complicating the intentionally simplistic evergreen keywords, it is also design space that had to be there at the start and cannot be reimplemented into game at any point. The list of words is not really available on the card, and that list can change.
Your reminder text:
"(A Skill is a static keyword ability that applies to creatures, such as Flying, First Strike, Double Strike, Deathtouch, Lifelink, Haste, Hexproof, Indestructible, Trample, Menace, Defender, Vigilance, Reach, Flash, Protection, Landwalk, Fear, Intimidate, Shroud, and any Skill introduced at a later time)"
Is increblity hard to parse and essentially just puts the text on something like Cairn Wanderer in parenthesis, while also making it somehow even longer. And you cannot put "and any skill introduced at a later time" as part of the rules or even the reminder text, because it says nothing.
The design space for this is also limited and, crucially, is already being implemented on some cards. For example, Kwende, Pride of Femeref really cares about creatures with first strike. But thematically, it cannot be that a card cares for all keywords or even more than 1 at the same time.
Lets take a close look at Rayami. First of the Fallen . He lists specific abilities, because those are the keyword abilities the Sultai colors have access to:
Odric, Lunarch Marshal intentionally list skulk, a blue-black abilility to both reference the set he is from and for flavor. So, while those abilities are listed in huge block of text, this is rarely used on a handful of cards.
Finally, the large block of text is actually extremely appealing to any Timmy, so getting rid of it can disappoint pdemographics of players.
August 14, 2019 9:17 a.m.
Boza - I am not sure I understand how Wizards recently changing the rules on cards speaks to my point regarding this entire proposal being incredibly arbitrary. Wizards, of course, can modify how they write rules text, and their decisions are often well-grounded and clearly explained.
My point is not that changing rules text on cards is what is arbitrary about this proposal, but rather the decision to label 18 keyword abilities as "Skills" leaving the other ~117 as "not Skills".
That's not how Magic's rules work. Every single item in the rules fits snugly into a category alongside every other item eligible for that category. Perhaps I don't know what Melee does, but, just by looking at it, I know it falls into the category of a keyword ability. Even a new player can grasp that concept--they might not know the term "keyword ability" but they'll know "ah, that's a one-word ability kind of like flying. It must have a special meaning."
That's where Skills are arbitrary--the proposed rule would not be about "do you know a general rule" it would be "sit down and memorize this list of 18 keywords. We're going to call these skills, and you're just going to have to remember that we'll sometimes treat these specially."
I think your example of Odric firmly supports this thesis. After all, why should Sulk not be considered a "Skill" even though it was featured on one of the cards this proposed word is trying to replace; or, conversely, why should sulk be a Skill, even though it was never "Evergreen"?
The fact we can justify Sulk (or countless other abilities) both being and not being a skill is what makes this rules text not in-line with the remainder of the game.
August 14, 2019 10:29 a.m.
There's some meaty responses in here, I like it, but I'll have to respond to each point separately.
I get your point about it being arbitrary what is and what is not a skill. And it totally is, because WotC haven't planned for this group, and that's why we are stuck with a not so sleek reference as "Evergreen keyword ability". So to shake up and actually make a group of the term, will require some definition and since there's no ground work, it is likely going to be arbitrary.
Skill is meant to be a line in the sand, stating these keyword abilities are part of the group detonated as a Skill. Skills is not exactly as you say = Evergreen. It takes root in those abilities we have at the moment who have or are evergreen, because it's more a basic passive creature ability that has been featured on many cards. Whenever WotC makes a new ability they want to introduce as a Skill, it will be made denoting it is a skill.
So Skill =/= Evergreen. It also means skills are not necessarily recurring mechanics. As we have seen Evergreen Keywords have been pensioned and sometimes taken over by more elegantly designed mechanics. In principle, skills could also be noted as a non-Active Keyword Ability, my point was just more on bringing the Evergreens together, but if WotC needs a more consistent ruleset without arbitrary lines, that could be the way to do it.
To make it easier to combine the Keywords with the group, you could make a "Supertype" for all Evergreen keywords, simply denoting them as: Skill - Flying Skill - Haste
Multiples becomes Skills - Flying, First Strike, Lifelink
I know this just puts the text "Skill -" in front of every mention of an evergreen keyword we have right now, but it also cements what is and what is not a skill.
Future mechanics that gets approved to become a skill at design-level, will be noted as; "Skill - New mechanic".
Similarly I think it could be an interesting design space to utilize the same reference for Skills (in this context mostly Evergreens).
Your suggestion to use the term "Keyword ability" instead of "Skill" falls flat when that term has never before been used in Magic's history as a part of rule text. And Keyword ability also refers to Extort , to Graft , and so on.
If WotC cannot find a more elegant way to create "Skills" than what I came up with on a rather short timespan merely to discuss the idea, then perhaps we indeed do need to simply use the term "Keyword ability" but preferably "non-Active Keyword Ability", to avoid the vast majority of Keyword abilities that are not Evergreen or similar. However I still think by that time it would be more beneficial to have a unifying term that is more reader friendly than "Keyword ability", even if that is just a facade for "Keyword ability".
I see your point in divisive categories.
I don't think there's much worth trying to salvage that mechanic. One can only dream, but sometimes dreams are too warped and are not meant to be.
Thank you for your comment and objective viewpoint. It is kinda harsh to read through (you don't offer much room) but I don't read offense given, thus none taken.
August 16, 2019 10:43 a.m.
To respond to each of your points:
Your first section admits that the decision to classify some keywords as skills, and others as not, would be arbitrary. I challenged you to find a single instance in the 199 pages of the Comprehensive Rules where there is an arbitrary decision being made.
Off the top of my head, I can think of only one possible example Rule 121.3 - the rule that arbitrarily decides +1/+1 counters and -1/-1 counters cancel one another out, but does not allow for the cancellation of other directly-opposite p/t counters. Even saying that is arbitrary is a bit of a stretch--there is only one situation where this near-arbitrary distinction is relevant: Ebon Praetor and Dwarven Armory .
That's why this proposal is a problem--Magic's rules do not allow for arbitrary decisions. Everything has its place, and fits rather snugly into said place.
Your solution, of printing cards with what would effectively be an ability word ("Skill - X" or "Skills - X, Y") seems like an unnecessary addition that merely takes up space on the card.
It seems a bit silly to use "this has never been done before" on a thread where you're proposing "let's do something that has never been done before."
If you're concerned about having things like Graft count for the bonus, an arbitrary distinction within the rules would not be the right answer. Rather, you'd have to do something long-form, such as:
Enchanted creature gets +1/+1 if it has flying. The same is true if it has first strike, double strike, reach, etc.
You could probably do something like "For each keyword ability it has, other than triggered abilities or activated abilities" - though, while that makes sense within the rules, I think it is a tad inelegant for newer players.
I do apologize if I come off a bit harsh, and assure you that no offense is intended. I strongly feel Magic's rules are a work of legislative art due to their lack of ambiguity and arbitrary decisions, so I might get a bit overzealous sometimes!