Pattern Recognition #279 - Sorceries and Instants No More!

Features Opinion Pattern Recognition


27 April 2023


Good day everyone! My name is berryjon, and I welcome you all to Pattern Recognition, TappedOut's longest running article series. I am something of an Old Fogey and a definite Smart Ass, and I have been around the block quite a few times. My experience is quite broad and deep, and so I use this series to try and bring some of that to you. Be it deck design, card construction, mechanics or in-universe characters and the history of the game. Or whatever happens to catch my attention each week. Which happens far more often than I care to admit. Please, feel free to talk about my subject matter in the comments at the bottom of the page, add suggestions or just plain correct me.

And so, welcome back to another issue of Pattern Recognition! Today's subject comes yet again from comments and conversation I overhear in the aether of the internet. And the subject that came up was the notion of the difference between Artifacts and Enchantments, as the lines have been quite blurred over the years. Well, this is not about that comparison, but rather it is about the other comparison that was made.

A very long time ago, I talked a bit about the Great Designer Searches, and how one of the questions that filtered out a lot of 'correct' choices was that if you had a chance to retroactively remove a card type from the game, what would it be? Now, I - and this was the most common 'wrong' answer - said that we would remove Lands and came up with various alternate ways to deal with mana.

No, the correct answer - for it was Mark Rosewater's - was to remove Instants.

So today, I'm going to do a little theory-crafting and try to envision how the game would look without that card type. Consider this a creative exercise, and let's roll back the clock to the development of Magic, and Richard Garfield himself. Now, imagine that he got the brainwave while trying to sort out what cards would be Sorceries, what cards would be Instants, and which cards would be Interrupts (YES). Then he gets a Brainstorm!

Why not make them all Sorceries? He looks at his rules, and mechanically, there's nothing wrong with the idea. The game already supports subtypes, as that's what Summons are. And it even supports cards with multiple types, though maybe he should do something about how _Artifact Creature_s are a thing, while the actual Creatures are Summons, because that's what you do! Eh, that can be done later. Anyways, let's just roll them all into one card type for ease of card design. But we would still need to interact with the opponent on their turn, so why not make Instants (and Interupts) into subtypes of Sorceries to help explain when they could be cast!


So stepping away from my daydreaming for a moment, this is true. There is nothing mechanically wrong or illegal in the game with Alpha - or even today - with making Sorceries have a Subtype. Heck, we even called this thing Tribal when said subtype was a Creature type. Double-Heck, we even have Arcane as a Subtype for Instants and Sorceries thanks to Kamigawa, so again, nothing wrong here.

So it is quite possible, within the nature of the game, to have a card that has a type line of Sorcery - Instant, and attach the timing rules of what we know as Instants, and going from there. Because you see, there is another subtype of card that also has rules attached to it.


Long, long ago, in the before times, when rules were written in 6pt font in a card-sized booklet, Walls were a Creature Type that had an inherent rule attached to them. That link goes to my article about that. And so with that in mind, what harm would a second such thing do? In fact, doing this would actually enforce the idea that the information contained on the Type Line could be more than just descriptive. Add to this Basic for Lands, and the future inclusion of Legendary, and suddenly, the notion that you can include timing on the Type line isn't that far fetched.

But the first real test of this would be King Cheetah. You should mouse over that image, for you see, this was the first card printed in reality that could be cast at Instant speed but in of itself was not an Instant (or an Interrupt or a Mana Source). It was later errated in 10th Edition with the formal Keywording of Flash.

But there is no Flash. Now, you could go with the established wording, and just say "You can cast this creature at any time you could cast an Instant", but what would the point there be? We fast forward the clock, and when this ability gets Keyworded, are we going to wind up having "Instant" in the text box of the card, by itself, much as Flash is today?

No. In fact, this is something that MaRo himself has proposed a solution to, and it, like all elegant and (nealry) perfect solutions, has precedent in the game already. Why not, in his view, with the game still in flux, just make all Sorcery - Instant into an Instant Sorcery? And then King Cheetah would be an Instant Creature - Cat?

With this solution, you maintain the location of the information, and the old version doesn't lose its connotations as what happened when Summon became Creature to better align with Artifact Creature, and yes, having two types in the Type line is the precedent that would make this work.

And with that slight change, you can see the next experiment - Benalish Knight soon thereafter. It's a concept, and the idea of a creature that can show up out of nowhere has an appeal to it. It fits with the Vorthos of the game on a certain fundamental level. The snap and surprise arrival, the sudden reversal of fortune that comes from a surprise permanent.

Which then leads into a horizontal cycle in Mercadian Masques - Cho-Manno's Blessing, Buoyancy, Maggot Therapy, Flaming Sword and Tiger Claws. All of of them Instant Enchantments.

It works! It works beautifully because we as the players associate the word "Instant" with timing and not a card type, and that opens up whole new realms of possibility! Galvanic Key? Instant Artifact! Except Instant Land. That would just cause headaches.

Quick Sliver would then read "Sliver Creatures you control are Instants" just to help with this.

I mean, the more I think about it, the more I can see how removing Instants as a card type and moving it to being a sub-type with rules would work. I can appreciate the answer more now, even though I still think it was the wrong one.

But there is still one other knock-on effect I want to consider.

Would this proliferate subtypes? Consider for a moment, that in this hypothetical scenario, Instants become a Subtype. But curiously enough, the next subtype to be printed and have errata applied to cards would be Aura.

Auras were a consolidation and refinement of the previously created Local Enchantments and Enchant 'card type'. They had the inherent rules of requiring a valid target when they were cast and when they resolved, similar to how Instants and Sorceries worked, as well as making Killian, Ink Duelist surprisingly effective at throwing down Auras.

But that was Ninth Edition. Years into the game. Yet, if we presume that in this hypothetical world I have created, that adding rules to types and subtypes becomes more ingrained into the game at the start, would not the concept of Auras become easier to come into play? That the rules would be consolidated around that subtype potentially sooner, rather than making a more meandering trip?

I don't see why not. However, I mean, we have plenty of subtypes with their own rules now, the ones off the top of my head are Equipment and Vehicle. Sure, they have activated abilities to trigger them, but there are still rules in place for what they can and cannot do, and have card interactions that depend upon those subtypes.

But in case you haven't gotten the point, consider this. You all know Slivers, right? Getting a Commander Legends Masters Electric Boogaloo precon this summer-ish? And how their gimmick is that Slivers have "All Slivers (you control) have ability", with the words in parenthesis a later addition to avoid horrible mirror matches. Well, imagine that Horned Sliver just had a text box that read "Trample". But in the rules, the Creature type of Sliver had attached rules to it. And those rules read "All Slivers have the abilities of all Slivers in play." That's it.

What if all Eldrazi had the rule of "This card is colourless", and yet required coloured mana pips? Or Thrulls had, as a rule, not as text "Sacrifice this Creature: Add ". Or Shapeshifters had the rule of "This creature has all creature types", not as text.

I can tell right now you don't like it. And I know why. Because you are putting rules into places that are not designed to hold rules.

We accept subtypes as modifiers to existing cards and types. We know Tribal works because the subtypes provide cohesion. We know that Auras work, and Equipment and Licids work (yes, I know Licids don't) because what they do is explained in the text box. The type line is an identifier, not a explainer.

One of Magic's strengths is how it tries to keep things simple. Or at least consistent. The text box is there for a reason, to explain how the card actually works. By putting information in a place that requires external reference, you lose out on the ability to convey what the card actually does. When you take that information out of a place that has the size to elaborate on mechanics, you lose fidelity in information. You put information out of the cards and into supplementary material.

And that's bad.

Look, I've played games where you were expected to keep the rule book handy because the cards were poorly written, and the designers didn't care to make their game actually playable. Because they thought that such things were normal.

Magic is not that kind of game. Not any more at least, thank goodness.

In all, I maintain that Sorcery - Instant or even Instant Sorcery could have been a viable choice in the beginning of the game. But, care would have had to have been taken to not let this building-block style of rules get out of hand. Yet, I think it could have been done.

I mean, it's not like Artifacts and Enchantments, right? Those would never get mixed up at all.

Thanks for reading this week. Sorry again about last week, but work is work. Join me next week when I talk about something else. What? I don't know yet. But I'm always open to suggestions!

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 #278 - Conspiracy Draft The next article in this series is Pattern Recognition #280 - Yarr, What Do I See?

rotimislaw says... #1

As always, thanks for article berryjon!

Is there a chance to complete the Solle set? I can imagine it might be exhausting and time consuming, so keep it your pace! I'm just letting you know there are people fond of the idea and supporting you to finish it :)

April 28, 2023 5:31 a.m.

berryjon says... #2

It's a work in progress, but progress happens.

April 28, 2023 8:10 p.m.

Caerwyn says... #3

I generally like your articles, but this one is a hard miss for me. You talk about Subtypes for quite some time when the point Maro was making involved Supertypes. You eventually get around to MaRo’s actual point, but then launch back into the irrelevant discussion of subtypes. Notably, despite the MaRo story about Supertypes being foundational to your article, you do not use the word Supertype once.

All told, this looks a lot like you wanted to write an article about the history and usage of subtypes (a worthy article) and wanted to write an article about MaRo’s discussion of instant-as-supertype (another worthy article), but instead decided to write both at once, and in a manner which did both topics a disservice.

May 2, 2023 3:19 p.m.

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