SIX WEIRD OLD MAGIC RULES
by Ian Taylor
I’ve been a Magic judge for close to 22 years. I didn’t start at the absolute beginning, but I came in shortly after when the game was still in a weird place. Here are some of the strangest rules that are no longer part of the game.
Most of you are young enough to remember Mana Burn. If not: Whenever Mana emptied from your mana pool without being used for something, you took 1 damage for each. It was an example of pointless design that wasn’t really questioned for 15 years. I’m glad it’s gone, but there are some old-school cards that were designed around it that are significantly different now. Braid of Fire is in my Commander deck. It doesn’t really do anything, I just want to see how high it can go.
The mulligan Rule used to be: After drawing 7 cards, if you had 7 lands or 7 non-lands, you may show your opponent your hand and take a reshuffle to draw 7. If your opponent mulliganed, you got a free one. Once a player used their Mulligan, they could not take another (per game, not counting free ones).
If you were even stuck with a non-mana land and 6 spells, you were most likely screwed.
The Paris Mulligan rule (where you mulligan for any reason but draw 1 fewer) debuted at PT Paris in 1997 when it was accidentally left in the Tournament Rules. Players liked it, and it remained the Mulligan rule until tweaked when Vancouver added a free Scry.
Players Don't Die
Thanks to Chingsung Chang for reminding me of this one. This wasn't a fully comprehensive list, but this rule should be mentioned.
There was a time that players didn't die as a State-Based Action. Players could go to 0 or below, and they would not lose the game until the end of the a phase. The BloomDrain deck abused this rule near the turn of the century, but it was jarring for newer players when they tried to burn their opponent in response to the massive Drain Life, only to be told that the game doesn't work that way for some reason.
Those were my honourable mentions. Now let's take a horrifying trip down memory lane:
SO MANY WINDOWS
You might have heard of Interrupts, but that’s just a small part of it. Whenever anything took damage, died, was cast, or activated, this opened a special window where only specific things could be played or used.
For example, when someone played a spell, the Interrupt Window opened. The only things that were allowed until it closed were Interrupt spells, and abilities that could be played as Interrupts. These were limited to effects that messed with that spell. Mostly this involved countering it, but could also include changing colour words, changing the colour of the spell itself, or redirecting the spell. Pyroblast had wording that said when targeting a Permanent, it was an Instant, but otherwise it was an Interrupt.
Similar things happened with the Damage Prevention Step, where you’d use your Samite Healers or whatever. This was also where you would use Regeneration effects. None of this bubble crap.
Windows died a death when the 6th Edition rules changes came about, which was the largest rules change set in Magic’s history.
THE STACK IS WEIRD
6th Edition brought us the Stack, which was a huge change. Previously you could respond to each other’s spells and effects like today, but once both players declined to add spells or effects, the entire chain resolved last-in, first-out. Players could not add to it like they can now.
One of the strangest rules that, thankfully went away very quickly, was that any damage effects would wait around to be applied last. Today if you Giant Growth your Llanowar Elf, I could kill it with a lightning Bolt in response. Not so then. The Bolt would resolve, but the damage wouldn’t be applied til the end, long after the Elf hulked up and was now making you eat a tree.
Thankfully the powers that were recognised the absurdity and changed it for (I believe) 4th Edition.
TAPPING IS WEIRD
You’ll see on Alpha/Beta artifacts the words on the type line: Mono, Continuous, and Poly. Poly artifacts usually become something else like creatures. Continuous Artifacts were always on (Howling Mine) and Mono Artifacts required you to tap them for a one-shot effect. It’s why Alpha Moxen/Lotus don’t have Tap on them.
This led into a larger rule that tapping something shuts it off. If I could tap my Howling Mine on my turn, you wouldn’t draw a card since it was now shut off. The promo card Mana Crypt was very strange under this rule, since if you could use the mana in your Upkeep, you wouldn’t have to flip a coin. (Upkeep triggers worked differently then also. They didn’t immediately trigger at the start).
And finally, tapped blockers didn’t deal damage. If you blocked a 2/2 with your animated Mishra’s Factory, you has to decide whether you wanted to trade, or save both creatures by tapping the factory and giving it +1/+1.
All of these rules were bizarre and unintuitive. The Mono/Poly?Continuous artifacts went away very quickly, being replaced by the tap symbol. The others went away in the 6th Edition rules changes, with errata being given to Winter Orb, Howling Mine, and Static Orb that said they were shut off when tapped.
EVERYBODY FEARS THE LEGENDS
Legends gave us a few things. Such as Legends. And the Legend rule.
Take a look through a Legends spoiler sometime. You’ll see a couple of cool Commander cards, but mostly they’re terrible. Overcosted, flavourful, and delightful trainwrecks. Back in the olden days, all formats has a Restricted List as well as a Banned List, and Legends were all on it.
Each Legend, by name, was restricted to one per deck.
One per deck. Yeah. No comment. This one changed fairly quickly, I believe when 4th Edition came out.
EMERGENCY RULES CHANGE: TRAMPLE
This has happened a few times in Magic’s history. The emergency trample rule change is my favourite.
6th Edition was coming, and with it, a LOT of rules changes. They more or less rebuilt the rules engine from the ground up. One of those rules was to be the Trample rule. The old rule was that your Trample creature would apply all of its damage to blockers, and then apply the rest to the defending player. The upshot was that a 1/1 with Protection from Red would absorb all the damage from a Ball Lightning.
That’s kind of weird but in those days it was normal. Protection was just OP.
However, Furnace of Rath existed, and it did something no other card did in Magic at the time. It doubled damage.
Now if I have Furnace out, and I attack with a Ball Lightning, the opponent could die if they blocked it.
Unblocked Ball Lightning with Furnace out = 12 damage
Same but blocked by a 1/1 = 22 damage
You would apply 6 damage to the blocker, which doubled to 12. The 1/1 ate 1 damage, and 11 went to the player, which doubled to 22.
Obviously a giant hole in the rules, the emergency rules change came out with Urza’s Saga. The rest of the rules would have to wait a few months before revolutionalising the game.
Magic without sleeves is...unimaginable. It actually took WotC a long time to put sleeves in the tournament rules. Contrary to rumours, you couldn’t demand your opponent desleeve (you could demand whatever you liked, but judges would laugh at you).
The rules didn’t acknowledgethe existence of sleeves. For example, judges were expected to unsleeve a deck before checking for markings.
Nowadays you can play with a scratched up fetch after wrapping your deck in Dragon Shields, but in those days you couldn’t be assured of avoiding that pesky Marked Cards infraction. Conversely, the market for damaged cards was way worse than it is today.
That's it for old rules. My mind isn't what it was, so if you want to correct me on something...I may or may not care depending on my mood.
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