I have always had a somewhat love / hate relationship with keyword mechanics.
It’s not that keywords are bad – far from it. The development of new abilities always has and continues to be a staple part of what makes the game so interesting year after year. While many players wait with baited breath to find out which new exotic location Magic will take us to or to see how the storylines will unfold, an equal number hang on every morsel of new set information simply to glean what the mechanics of the set will entail. And keywords make up a large portion of that process.
Keywords provide structure and understanding to new card ideas, gives players a focal point for them to build decks around, offers some cohesion between the mechanics and the flavor of the worlds, and allows (or forces) designers to really hone what they’re trying to accomplish with their effect.
So, really, keywords as a tool are pretty useful all around.
The problem that arises, however, is your classic case of unintended consequences.
From a design perspective, keywords may be a fantastic asset when it comes to wanting to create a specific effect, whether it’s for a singular world or a permanent new addition to the game writ large. Yet once a specific action becomes codified by a keyword, deviation from that effect becomes much more difficult. That is, once something has been termed, it will (for the most part), always behave the same way. Flying is always Flying, Prowess is always Prowess, Regeneration is always Regeneration.
Most of the time this is to the game’s benefit: it makes things easier to learn and keeps complexity creep down. But on the other hand, this process has a chilling effect on printing cards with similar-but-not-identical capabilities. A good example of this would be cards like Shielding Plax or Vines of Vastwood. These cards behave like Hexproof the majority of the time by those that use them, giving them a de facto Hexproof status, but they aren’t. And since Hexproof as an evergreen mechanic has gained much more provenance since the days those cards were made, there’s an ever decreasing reason for them to revisit those cards. They operate in such similar design space that there’s not a lot of incentive for them to simply just make it Hexproof and call it a day.
Most of the time anyway.
We experience this on the player side too. Just think about whenever you look up cards. It’s really easy to throw Hexproof or Shroud into Gatherer and see all the results. Except that Shielding Plax won’t show up in there. Instead, you’d have to take the extra steps to search for the a portion of the rules text to what the keyword is doing – essentially searching as if the keyword didn’t already exist. For most players that’s neither their first inclination of what to do, nor do most desire the extra steps needed to take every time they want to look up a subset of cards.
Still, going off-keyword can have its advantages. For one, it can occasionally help you find something different and creative for your deck – which is always fun for EDH. Second, it has the potential to give you access to an effect in a color that it may not have reliable keyword access to. And third, they may help you get around anti-keyword cards your opponents may be using against you.
Shockingly, this week’s card highlights that last trait particularly well.
Today we have: Gift of Immortality
Name: Gift of Immortality
Focus: Creature Recursion
Highlights: Gift of Immortality is such a fundamentally White card, whose effect has actually existed sporadically in some form going back to Weatherlight. In all cases, these cards allow a player to resurrect a creature as soon as it dies. Unlike many of its predecessors, however, this highly underrated three mana Aura also brings itself back as well at the end of the turn, granting your creature, well, the potential for immortality.
This can be quite handy in decks where you want to ensure a specific creature (say, your Commander) stays alive as much as possible. By having the Gift enchanted to a creature, it effectively nullifies the danger of non-exile spot removal and board wipes in a single unassuming card. In order to prevent both the creature and the Aura from coming back repeatedly, your opponent needs to either destroy the enchantment or invest enough to kill your creature twice on the same turn. Which, for most decks, isn’t often as easy as it sounds.
What’s more, although the end result is the same as regenerating your creature or granting it Indestructible, Gift of Immortality bestows you the means to circumvent cards that may punish or prevent the use of keywords designed to keeping your creature alive. This fact can be quite handy if your play group has a tendency to undermining one another.
And then there’s the whole obviousness of taking advantage of Enter The Battlefield triggers…
Still, Gift of Immortality may not show up on a lot of people’s cursory card searches, in part because of how we players are often slightly conditioned to think first and primarily upon keyword lines due to their expediency and convenience. Unfortunately, in doing so we may miss another excellent solution to our problem right in front of us.
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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