There are two ways game rules come into existence. The first is a top-down approach, where game creators provide the rules at the game’s onset. Here, the rules are directed down to the players, and the game changes very little over time.
The second – and more common – approach is that a game evolves over time, where the rules are set, but the more people who play and the longer it persists, the more a game is subject to alterations and improvements. Any game, no matter how simple, can eventually be upgraded with enough player input. Even something as straightforward as Risk has changed slightly throughout its 50+ year lifespan: in the original 1959 version of the game, players didn’t get to pick their starting locations. (That change took 3-4 years to be adopted.)
This is felt even more dramatically if a game isn’t created and tested but instead morphs over time due to the collaborative input of its participants. Most sports are like this.
Consider these baseball tidbits:
- Early baseball didn’t end in nine innings. It instead was usually played to games of 21 points.
- The idea of ‘monkeyball’ (where you can get a player “out” by throwing at the base runner and hitting them) was a legit rule once.
- At one point you could get a player “out” not only by catching the ball in the air, but also if you caught it on the first bounce.
Games change, whether it’s to improve its quality, make it more competitive, as an effort to streamline the rules, or simply to make it more fun.
The game of Magic has done the same thing over time. From removing Interrupts to adding the Stack rules, to making combat more intuitive, the game has seen more than one major rules overhaul in its two decades around the solar system. Wizards continually tinkers with new ideas within the confines of the rules system, but sometimes, they simply decide that something isn’t working.
The most common area Wizards is keen to address is the idea of rules creep. Every new set comes out with bits of rules baggage in the form of new cards and abilities, and every once in a while Wizards decides an old and obscure rule can be removed to counteract rules creep. The removal of mana burn was probably the most public obscure rule elimination to get the axe in the last few years, and while I’m one who enjoyed the idea that mismanaging your mana pool can get you killed, I understand the reason for getting rid of it.
On the other hand, it works both ways. Everyone can agree that the decision to abandon the “bands with other” mechanic early on was a positive move (a mechanic that made straight banding look great by comparison), and changing the token rule so that it’s owned by the person getting the token instead of the controller of the effect makes way more sense. (I’ve been playing the game for a long, long time, and even I often forgot about that one.)
However, just because a rule isn’t often invoked doesn’t mean it’s due for the chopping block. Most of the time, they exist simply in case they’re needed. One of these rules, in fact, largely only applies to casual Magic:
True or False: players in casual Magic games are free to rearrange their graveyards.
[spoiler show=”Click To Find Out”]False!Yep. It’s called rule 404.2:
404.2. Each graveyard is kept in a single face-up pile. A player can examine the cards in any graveyard at any time but normally can’t change their order. Additional rules applying to sanctioned tournaments may allow a player to change the order of cards in his or her graveyard.
The “additional rules” part means that if you play in any modern Constructed or Limited formats, this rule doesn’t apply. Magic hasn’t made a card that cares about graveyard order since Stronghold (hello Volrath’s Shapeshifter) because they felt it wasn’t worth the effort to track. So, if you’re playing in a setting that doesn’t allow pre Urza-block cards, you’re free to rearrange those graveyards.
For Legacy, Vintage, and some casual games, that’s not the case. And that happens to include Commander.
Practically speaking, these cards will almost always only affect your graveyard, but there are a few of these cards that are based on an opponent’s graveyard order, and you’ll be sure to want to mention that to your opponents when playing with them.[/spoiler]
Granted, this will often be a corner case scenario in most EDH games, but it is pertinent today because we’re going to do look at once card that cares. It’s not to be that guy who likes to add complexity for no reason. Rather, it’s just because the card in question is good enough to warrant the slight hassle:
Today we have: Corpse Dance
Name: Corpse Dance
Focus: Creature Recursion
Highlights: Black and White cards are the best at retrieving fallen creatures to the fight once more, but creature recursion still isn’t the most common thing around. That number drops off significantly if you want the creature to return directly to the battlefield instead of your hand and drops further still if you want to bring the creature back at Instant speed.
Excluding the few cards that bring creatures back who died the current turn, there are precious few cards that can snatch a creature from a graveyard at any time.
And by few, I mean there are only 10.
Most of these are mono-Black cards, and even then, all of them have some sort of restriction, be it CMC, creature type, or requiring additional costs.
For Corpse Dance, it’s graveyard order. Whether you’d want a quick blocker or a massive creature looking to make another attack from beyond the grave, three mana is a highly efficient investment. Granted, you will exile the creature afterwards, making it a one-way trip, but if you lack other easy ways of getting the creature back, Corpse Dance is great in a pinch. Plus, it does what so many of us wanted Unearth creatures to do: be able to be utilized as a blocker.
To sweeten the deal even more, Corpse Dance also makes use of the Commander-friendly Buyback mechanic. For a mere two extra mana, you get to keep the spell in case you wish to attack, block, or activate some powerful ability again later.
The graveyard order thing could be a potential setback if the creature you want back is below several others, but being able to cast this card multiple times throughout a game could alleviate that problem for you. If nothing else, it’s a great card to maximize the use of your creatures one more time.
There are a lot of rules out there to keep track of, and while most players don’t ever have to worry about the timestamp order of cards in graveyards, there are occasions where invoking that obscure rule is worth the trouble. Occasions like this one.
Keep an eye out for us to be regularly featuring other more accessible-but-worth-it Commander cards going forward. In the meantime, we’ll keep the light on for you.
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Do you have a particular Commander card to suggest for us to shine a future Spotlight on? You can send suggestions to email@example.com