Formatting and Wording
Posted on Jan. 28, 2014, 2:04 a.m. by Darkness1835
I think a good discussion to be had is about why certain cards read the way they do. It's very interesting how wording on cards changed as the game became more complex and popular. Card wording NEEDS to be specific now because sometimes one word can totally change the effect of a card in a given situation. This thread is about anything pertaining to wording and formatting of cards. To start it off, I have a question of my own, which inspired me to make this thread.
Why doesn't Courser of Kruphix have Landfall, when her effect is verbatim what Landfall would read and the mechanic was introduced years ago in Zendikar? Why do abilities like Lifelink seem to be eternal while others aren't printed again?
Landfall was specific to Zendikar. It's a thematic mechanic that, though relevant outside ZEN, is used only in the context of that block.
Also, lifelink is an evergreen keyword. Evergreens can appear in any set. Set or block-specific keywords like heroic, transform, and metalcraft are used to add flavor and function in the context of specific locations within the multiverse.
January 28, 2014 2:10 a.m.
But what decides which keywords become evergreen? Will we see more of them as time goes on?
January 28, 2014 2:14 a.m.
Maybe. Evergreen keywords add core functionality to the game. The list has changed over time. If the dev team has an idea that could be effectively carried from block to block (i.e. it's not thematically linked to a location, it's relatively flexible, etc.), then they might keyword it and add it to the evergreen list.
January 28, 2014 2:20 a.m.
They have reprinted keywords in sets outside the original, like Exalted (viz Servant of Nefarox and Bloodthirst (Furyborn Hellkite ). That may suggest that WotC is thinking of making them eternal. Usually, the way of differentiating eternal from non-eternal keywords is whether they typically carry explanations. Flying, lifelink, double strike, trample, deathtouch all don't usually carry reminder text, whereas Dredge, Exalted, Landfall and Bloodrush do.
January 28, 2014 4:18 a.m.
@DaShPrime: That's not a very accurate metric for gauging whether a keyword is an evergreen keyword. M14, for example, included reminder text on many evergreens.
January 28, 2014 11:46 a.m.
Some cards were later reprinted with different text, or had their oracle text changed, because they included wording that was the same the wording later used in a keyword.
Loxodon Warhammer is an example. It was originally printed before the "lifelink" keyword had been defined. But now the newer printings and the oracle text say "lifelink", so you can't stack the Warhammer with another lifelink card and gain double the life.
If they're going to do something like that, I think any text that matches the definition of a keyword should include that keyword. So Courser of Kruphix should say Landfall.
Just my two cents.
January 28, 2014 11:54 a.m.
The first thing to bring up is that there is a difference between a keyword and an ability word. A keyword does the same thing every time, regardless of what card it is printed on. If I have a card with lifelink, extort, deathtouch, bestow, evolve or scry, I know what that ability does, no matter what card it is (I may have to reference an exact cost or X value, but I know the basic idea at least). An ability word is a thematic link between mechanically similar, but not identical, abilities. If I told you a card had heroic, inspired, landfall, or battalion, could you tell me what that ability will do, specifically? If I target a heroic card, will I draw a card, give it 1 or more +1/+1 counters, or do something else? No way to know without seeing the card. Keywords are in normal text, ability words are in italics on cards.
Why is this important? Because ability words have no meaning in the rules. They are memory aids only, they don't actually have any effect on the game that their text does not. Courser of Kruphix is a perfect example. It has a landfall ability, but the fact that it doesn't say "Landfall" has no effect on how they word the ability otherwise. Additionally, only keyword abilities can be referenced by abilities in the rules, which is how the new Archetypes work, or even how tribute can be checked if it was paid on the new BNG cards.
Evergreen keywords are keywords that, like Epochalyptik said, mechanics that are so useful, and not too thematically tied to one world, that they can be used in any set. Most of them are also relatively simple, although a few (I'm looking at you, protection and regeneration) are relatively complex, and some have fallen out of favor (sorry, Landwalk). Several mechanics also have near-evergreen status, such as flashback, scry, cycling, and kicker, but are not evergreen because they aren't used quite often enough (and because design likes to conserve design space). Evergreen mechanics usually get reminder text in the Core Set, but will not have any in Expert-level expansions.
One of the things that R&D has chosen to do, especially since Time Spiral block, is limit the number of keywords and ability words in a block (according to Maro, the average should be 8-11 new and returning mechanics). Courser of Kruphix is (I think) the only card with a landfall-like ability in Theros block. Adding Landfall is not only thematically a bit off, it is confusing to new players. Where are the rest of the cards with Landfall? they ask. What the hell is this word supposed to mean? Landfall was obviously useful enough to appear on one card, but it's not worth the confusion actually adding it into the set for just one card would be.
Thank you to those who read my long-winded explanation.
January 28, 2014 1:16 p.m.
I read it raithe000 and found it very clear and informative. Well done sir.
January 28, 2014 1:25 p.m.
Actually, raithe000, your explanation says exactly what needs to be said in this context.
On a tangentially-related note, one of the mistakes I see in custom sets is an abundance of new keywords. Ideally, you'll include a mix of a few flavorful evergreens and two or three new mechanics per set. You don't want to overdo the new mechanics because they steepen the learning curve and detract from one another when used too much.
January 28, 2014 1:27 p.m.
I don't know about how it is now, but, it used to be, the Standard sets were to have less complex cards, generally avoiding the use of set-specific mechanics. They had a design concept where they were easier to learn the game this way. Evergreen abilities and accompanying reminder text were the domain of the standard sets.
The Expert sets would also use evergreen abilities, but less frequently and without reminder text, and included their own more complicated set-specific mechanics that included reminder text.
Some expert set abilities like Exalted appear to have had reprints in standard sets; I don't know why. Maybe they were particularly popular?
As it is, Wizards is unlikely to add more evergreen abilities unless something particularly handy and straightforward comes along. One of the designers, I forget who, has stated even abilities like regeneration are really too complex as evergreen abilities, but have been retained (with light usage) because it's been part of the game so long, and many players like it. They prefer the evergreen abilities to be simple and useful across a variety of card concepts, and for the list to not be too long so it is easier for new players to learn.