As any new player will attest, Magic is not the easiest game to fully acclimate with. While the basics can be taught in a playthrough or two, the intricacies of a game that’s older than many of its players and whose complete rulebook resembles something you’d see in a law class can take years to fully grasp. Heck, I’ve been at it for over 20 years and even I on rare occasion get tripped up with some corner case interaction that I haven’t seen before. It’s seems easy to say, “In Magic, do whatever you can to kill your opponent” and another to see how that pans out.
Part of that challenge is the basic rules of the game, sure, but a lot also comes down to the overwhelming amount of terminology Magic uses. Graveyard, library, battlefield – these ones are easy to convey since they’re visually seen, but there are plenty of others that can easily trip up or confuse players. State-based effect. Dependency. CDA. Summoning sickness. Fizzle. Even if you’ll rarely need to take into account many game terms during your matches, copious terminology is part of the game’s massive lexicon. The longer you play and the more experienced you get, the more accustomed you become to the sheer volume of game knowledge involved. Yet it’s hard to overlook the fact that Magic: the Gathering as a single game contains more game terms than many hobbies do in their entirety.
None of that is more apparent than that of keywords. As an entrenched player, you become used to a set releasing 3-5 new mechanical keywords or ability words to remember. Those keywords add up, though. If you think knowing over 50 keywords is complicated, just ask someone encountering them for the first time. You certainly don’t have to memorize every single Magic keyword from the onset (nor should you try), but the continued piling-on of new abilities – many of them only seen in a single set – only adds to the difficulty of the game’s learning curve.
That said, the more common a keyword is, the more it helps convey a specific attribute in a way that’s both flavorful and easy to remember, even if it comes at the cost of design space around similar abilities. Haste, for instance, means that the creature can attack and use abilities on the turn it comes out. Reach means that the creature can block fliers. Vigilance means that the creature doesn’t tap to attack. In each of these cases, the keywords are widely used and help compartmentalize card traits into easy to comprehend phrases.
Interesting to note, however, is that none of those three keywords existed at the start of the game. Rather, they were added over time to consolidate card text as well as make it easier to convey what the card is doing. While far less common than new set mechanics, keywording an existing mechanic is hardly unheard of. We’ve seen it numerous times with examples like Fear, Shroud, Hexproof, Scry, and the latest cue, Menace. Goblin War Drums becomes Menace. Mobilization becomes Vigilance. Soldevi Excavations becomes Scry.
Most of the time this goes off without a major hitch, excepting things like poor Muraganda Petroglyphs losing more ammunition or the whole evolution of Lifelink. No, the only time issues arise is with cards very similar to a keyworded ability but are different enough not to be identical. For those of us that like more card variety or edge case scenarios where the distinction matters, it’s a positive thing, but for those who seek simplicity, be it in Gatherer searches or mere understanding of card interaction, having cards Close-But-Not to a keyword can be confusing.
As it so happens, this week’s pick is one such card.
Today we have: Veilstone Amulet
Name: Veilstone Amulet
Edition: Future Sight
Focus: Creature Protection
Highlights: For all intents and purposes, Veilstone Amulet can be read as “whenever you cast a spell, creatures you control gain Hexproof until end of turn”. In most cases, this simple artifact will behave as such too. For just three mana, this effective artifact can be slipped into any Commander deck where protecting your creatures is essential. By casting, well, anything, the Veilstone sets up an incredibly useful protection shield for your army.
This is helpful when responding to someone trying to remove or otherwise affect one of your creatures, or it can be highly advantageous to set off right before sending your minions into combat. Indeed, the Veilstone is incredibly versatile at keeping your opponents at bay, as the last thing they’ll want to do is waste spells on something that may get countered.
Its lack of Hexproof makes it an easily overlooked card when searching for ways to defend your turf, but unlike many other cards that received errata when Hexproof become keyworded, this one didn’t conform. Which is probably fitting in a way. The major difference here is that Veilstone Amulet generates a bubble around all your creatures for the turn – including creatures that aren’t on the battlefield yet (say from casting one) or those you may acquire (i.e. by stealing them). If it actually granted Hexproof, only the creatures you had out at that moment would benefit. Whether that distinction matters to you or not depends on your deck’s purposes, but the fact that it is different is another aspect to potentially use in your favor.
Moreover, since Veilstone isn’t technically granting Hexproof, this also makes your creatures immune to the slowly growing handful of cards that strip it from your opponents, such as Glaring Spotlight, Arcane Lighthouse, and the new Bonds of Mortality. The Veilstone Amulet continues to work right past them.
Indeed, its cheap cost and colorless nature make it a useful drop at any point in a Commander game where you have creatures worth safeguarding. The one catch to its efficacy is that its protection lasts just for the turn and that you must cast something for it to be active. It will not passively do all the work for you. Ironically though, that simple fact helps keep the card from becoming the kind opponents will want to kill on sight, allowing it to often hover under the radar even while on the board.
Well, at least for a while.
That it’s so close to Hexproof without being so may confuse some players, but it’s also unlikely that we’ll see few cards like this one again. For once a keyword takes hold, there’s little incentive or desire from WotC to delve into parallel design territory. So consider Veilstone Amulet a relic, or a holdout. Above all, consider it useful. Even a new player should be able to see why.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org