Off Topic: Rules of Engagement

Are you excited? Wizards of the Coast recently announced the revival of the Great Designer Search. Sign me up Scotty. My enrolling will be to appease my morbid curiosity. Knowledge of the comprehensive rules is not my forte. I fully expect to be knocked out of the first round. I’m sure the test will be difficult to thin the herd. I hope anyone contemplating about applying is brushing up on his or her rules knowledge. Since the announcement, I have come out of my hiatus from learning the rules in an attempt to finally pass the Rules Advisor test. Practice test here, reading the comprehensive rules there, and constantly falling asleep on the coach. I doubt three weeks will be enough time to put myself in the running, but at least I might finally get a passing score on the Rules Advisor test. This brings me to the subject material for today: the comprehensive rules.

The Hairy Snowball

All projects, processes, or businesses start out from something small. After the passing of time, growth causes things are tacked on to compensate for any immediate needs. Take the job of the United States president. The executive position was originally a simple function and over time; the jobs and responsibilities of that role has grown to encompass many hats. The comprehensives rules for Magic started out small and has grown from its meager origins. The problem is things get tacked on as time passes to compensate for the needs required by the growth. At first, it may be something simple and appears harmless. Imagine a potato and stick a toothpick in it. Now, randomly stick a hundred of them into a potato. Eventually a point will be reached where the potato isn’t even recognizable.

In the world of quality control, a hairy snowball commonly warns of two things. A big concern is adding steps to a process till the point the process becomes so cumbersome it is almost impossible to teach or train a new hire. Sure, the person who has been doing the testing for 20 years can still perform the functions necessary. It is because that particular employee has been doing the work for 20 years and has acquired the tribal knowledge over time. When a process mutates into something that is impossible to teach a new hire, the process is flawed. The comprehensive rules get stuck with a toothpick with every set. Mulit-kicker, stick in a toothpick. Proliferate, stick in another toothpick. Printing out the comprehensive rules at the moment amounts to 182 pages. Holy bleep, that’s a book. It isn’t even accounting for the tournament rules weighing in at 38 pages. Print out the rules and carry them wherever you go. Whenever somebody wants to learn to play Magic, drop the novel in front of them. They will be giddy with excitement. If memory serves me well, when I started the rules came to a meager 36 pages. A lot of toothpicks have been added since then.

Once it gets to a certain level, the potato becomes unrecognizable. It would be easy to blame and focus solely on the toothpicks. The problem may the potato itself. In analogy land, I am talking about the process. For Magic, I would be pointing and waving my accusatory finger at the cards. The rules aren’t the only problem. The text and characteristics of the cards are confusing. Well, maybe not confusing. The cards could be clearer. I know, I know, I am speaking heresy. I just can’t simply pick on the rules when part of the problem is in fact the cards themselves. Ideas roam around in my head, but I won’t go there. It doesn’t matter anyway. What I do care about what the Magic populace thinks. For the sake of this argument, lets say there are ways to make the cards more understandable. The changes would involve Magic cards to be dramatically changed. For the sake of the game, would you support those changes?

On a final note, one of the reasons we call it a hairy snowball is because it resembles something so gross and disgusting that nobody wants to pick it up and deal with the problem.

The Black Sheep in the Attic

Before anyone starts thinking I’m dogging on the comprehensive rules and trying to make a point about the need for simplification, I find it amusing how the comprehensives rules is treated like a black sheep. It isn’t just me; everyone shuns the comprehensive rules. I would be a rich man for every time I heard someone tell new players not to worry about the comprehensive rules.

You’ll learn as you go. Just have fun.

You don’t really need them very often anyway. That is why we have judges and rules advisors.

Those pesky rules questions rarely come up.

You just need the basics rules knowledge.

Funny to think how the very basis of our game is swept under the carpet. I find it hilarious. Granted, I have a peculiar sense of humor. Come on, it’s the central nervous system of our game and we treat it like a boil or some other gross bodily ailment. Judges are an exception, but they are just weird because who in their right mind actually reads the comprehensive rules.

I do think it is a shame the rules are shunned. The complexity of Magic is what fascinates and keeps players entertained. I don’t want to play something simple. I want to play Magic. A game that can keep my brain flossed mentally for the rest of my life. The people I notice who are attracted to the game like complexity. They like to think. Why pretend to dumb down the game? It’s complicated. I can spend an entire week just thinking about various applications and uses for Fauna Shauman across the various formats. At the same time I feel the strong need to simplify Magic, I think it is wrong to hide the complexity of the game to newer players. People who are truly interested in Magic only become more entranced when I talk to them more about the complexities of the game. Let’s all come out of the closet and admit our love for complexity.

Do you enjoy the complexity of the game?

They’re Smarter than They Look

During college, one of the requirements for my parasitology class was to prepare and give a presentation to an outside venue. The presentation had to be an hour long and video taped as proof to our professor we actually performed the task. Well, we ended up at a rural high school that requested some college influences. Students from the rural community rarely went on to college and the school hoped a group of highly educated university students would be good role models. Sorry, I forgot to add good looking as well. We basically used a presentation we had already given to our fellow classmates. Our main concern was these 10th and 11th graders wouldn’t be able to answer the Jeopardy questions we had done during class time. We eventually decided to wing it and if they proved too difficult we would make them true/false questions. We gave our presentation to seemingly bored youngsters without a hitch. Not a single one appeared to be paying us any attention. Mr. Teacher wasn’t pleased with their behavior. It was a little bit awkward. At the end, we split up the class in two groups and prepared ourselves for a painful round of Jeopardy. To our surprise, they got every single answer correct. No, we didn’t make them true/false. These seemingly bored kids recalled every fact we had thrown at them. We eventually had to create more questions because the groups were tied and the kids were very vocal they didn’t want it to end that way. They were fired up and wanted to flaunt a victory. Somebody wanted to be the winner. Once we were done, Mr. Teacher approached us utterly shocked. He couldn’t believe his class’s remarkable performance. He had been desperately trying to teach them at a sixth grade level when he should have been raising the bar instead of lowering it.

The event greatly impacted my perception of people. My take away was to never underestimate a person’s capacity to learn. Never. Unfortunately, I feel like we treat lots of Magic players like Mr. Teacher. Oh, players could never memorize the comprehensive rules. Why even bother? It is just too complicated for most people to learn. Don’t get me wrong, I do think something could be done to simplify and make things clearer. My problem is the spirit of it. The attitude of treating people as incapable is toxic. It poisons the general mindset. I feel it is similar to how people in the education treat at risk youth. Many do not feel those kids will ever accomplish anything. Treating at risk kids as sub standard does not benefit them in the long wrong. We have failed those kids even before they even made an attempt. Given some guidance and help, those kids can be amazing. Why are we doing the same to Magic players?

Do you feel shunned at trying to learn the rules?

Clear as Mud

The rules have certainly gotten better over the years. Probably the best additions are the examples. Reading rules with no practical application gets a little sleepy. I was reading something last night and the light bulb finally went off in my head after reading the example. Eureka. One of the problems is not everything is clear and things change. I used to look at the rules as omnipotent and never changing. I now look at the rules more like a sinking ship. It still floats, but has a lot patches and pumps in order to keep it from going underwater. At the same time, we are out at sea and can’t just take the ship in for dry dock. The rules and oracle need to be fixed on the go. Magic keeps sailing into the future and so must we.

I actually think the rules are easier to learn once a person realizes they aren’t perfect. It is simply the best we have right now. Deathtouch as changed just a few times. Takklemaggot has been errated more times than I can remember. The end of turn step has gotten more than one revision. Then there are those thingermajiggers that just don’t make sense. It is just how it works. My favorite is snow. I got a chuckle last night when reading about the snow mana symbol.

107.4f. The snow mana symbol S represents one generic mana in a cost. This generic mana can be paid with one mana of any type produced by a snow permanent (see rule 204.4f). Effects that reduce the amount of generic mana you pay don’t affect S costs. (There is no such thing as “snow mana”; “snow” is not a type of mana.)

We have given it a mana symbol, but in paratheses at the end it states there is no such thing as snow mana. We have a snow mana symbol, but it doesn’t produce snow mana. I understand it. I realize how it is used in the grand scheme of things. It just doesn’t make sense to me flavor wise. Maybe what I am trying to say it doesn’t feel natural. A snow mana symbol to me should produce snow mana. Is it rules suicide to let mana have a quality, shade, tone or something? Can’t we have more than vanilla as a flavor for ice cream? Not according to the rules. Eventually, I just have to accept it and move on even though I don’t see what would be the harm on just putting some chocolate syrup on it.

One final question and it is important. What is your favorite ice cream topping?

For all those players embarking into the Great Designer Gauntlet, good luck, good game, and good night.


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