Outside the game

So I was browsing through the Comprehensive Rules for Magic: The Gathering today (as one does). And I noticed this bit in rule 702.72, the rule on the Changeling ability:

702.72a Changeling is a characteristic-defining ability. “Changeling” means “This object is every creature type.” This ability works everywhere, even outside the game.

For those unfamiliar with the game, it’s a card game, with a bunch of cards that represent various fantastical creatures and magical spells and stuff. The creatures have associated with them one or more creature types, for example: goblin, or dragon, or human knight (2 creature types, it’s both a human and a knight). There is a canonical list of the all the different creature types defined in the game. Creatures can also have abilities on them, which do various game-mechanical things.

“Changeling” is an ability. As described by the rule 702.72a, a creature with the Changeling ability has all of the valid creature types in the game. So a creature card with “Changeling” printed on it in its ability box is actually a goblin and a dragon and a human and a knight, and all of the other 220 different creature types currently defined in the game. Well that’s fair enough, this is a fantasy game after all. A creature can be magical and be multiple things at once.

The interesting thing is the sentence in the rule that says: This ability works everywhere, even outside the game.

So, even if you’re not currently playing a game of Magic, and you have a Changeling card sitting in front of you, that card represents a creature that is a dragon and a goblin and a human… etc.

Woodland ChangelingIf you accept this statement at face value, it has some interesting philosophical repercussions. What if you have no interest in Magic as a game, but you like dragons and are interested in collecting cards with pictures of dragons on them – Tarot cards, Yu-Gi-Oh! cards, Magic cards, whatever, as long as they have a picture of a dragon on them. You love dragon artwork.

Then, because of rule 702.72a and the fact that it applies even outside the game, you must want a copy of Woodland Changeling (shown at right). It sure doesn’t look like a piece of artwork depicting a dragon, but it is. You don’t get to say, “No, that’s not a dragon, I don’t want that card.” If you want to collect all cards with artwork of dragons on them, then you must want to collect this card.

Let’s push this even further. Imagine someone has a pathological desire to collect cards with artwork of dragons on them. They don’t play Magic, they have no interest whatsoever in it as a game, but they love the cards with dragons on them. Someone has a rare Changeling card, and they are found murdered in their study and the card stolen. The card collector is caught and put on trial. The entire prosecution case revolves around establishing motive. (Forget means and opportunity.)

Look, the prosecution argues, rule 702.72a clearly states that even outside the game, a Changeling card represents all creature types, and is therefore a dragon. Ergo, the card depicts artwork of a dragon! Motive established!

That’s ridiculous, opines the defence. You cannot seriously argue in a court of law that a game rule establishes the motive of my client to murder someone in order to gain a card for a game he is not even interested in, by establishing that the artwork on the card of a bipedal, wingless, humanoid creature is defined as being artwork depicting a dragon!

The prosecution calls an expert witness, Matt Tabak, Magic: The Gathering rules manager at Wizards of the Coast. He swears under oath that rule 702.72a defines a Changeling to be a dragon, and that this definition applies even outside the game of Magic.

A person’s fate rests on this!

Now, obviously this is an incredibly contrived discussion, but it was all brought about by pondering on the implications of making such a rule. Before anyone makes the point, I’ll acknowledge that the rule is written that way specifically to allow things like building decks of cards with which to play Magic – an activity that falls outside the playing of the game itself. For example, if you want to build a deck with 20 dragons in it, you are allowed to put in 18 actual regular dragons, and a couple of Changelings. That’s allowed, because of the rule.

The thing is, the way they did it has a much, much broader scope than needed for that, if read literally. I’m not really complaining about this, or suggesting that the rule needs to be changed – I’m just making an amusing extrapolation. (i.e. I don’t need people telling me “Get a grip, the rule is only intended to cover deck-building!” – I know that.)

8 Responses to “Outside the game”

  1. Daniel says:

    That was awesome.

    Sell the plot to the Law & Order franchise! :)

  2. I think it might also be applicable with some cards like the Ring of Ma’ruf or the Wishes: those which can get cards from outside the game into the game currently being played.

    I’m amused by this rule, too. Now, would this apply if you played Magic with house rules? Can you change the rule 702.72 so that it doesn’t apply in your games with your friends, for example, in a tourney where no rules like this work on the cards when the game is not played?

    Would it mean that all your Changeling cards are Dragons (for example) when when you’re not in the tourney, even if the tourney is couple of weeks long and you might want to play some other games outside the tourney? Or would they just lose the dragonness outside the game when you are in the tourney? (And how to define that? Are you in the tourney when making decks for it?)

    All this with the same disclaimer – I’m just trying to continue the orignal train of thought. I don’t have a problem with this in real life, but it’s just amusing to think about the issues with the concept of rules outside the game.

    This also ties in with how you define the game. For example, I do (or rather, did – no time currently) play the MMOG EVE Online. I like to roleplay in the game, and therefore limit the game to, well, the *game* itself. Other people have been known to cut power to other players’ homes to gain an advantage in the EVE game. These people apparently have much broader concept of what consists of the game of EVE online than me.

  3. Daniel says:

    It just occurred to me – one would assume that in collecting evidence against the defendant the police would confiscate his collection of cards-with-dragons-on, and the presence or absence of other Changeling cards in said collection would be of considerable import in judging his guilt.

  4. Alec says:

    Back in the 70s, somebody in Scientific American – almost certainly Martin Gardner, but I cannot be sure – set up a meta game whose only concern was its own rules. There were a few initial rules (only two, I think) which described procedures whereby a player at his/her turn (as prescribed, of course, by the rules) coule propose a rule change which would be accepted by the other players (using procedures described by the rules). The goal, I think, was to get a rule accepted which would make no more rule changes possible.

    It would be possible for such a game to extend itself into the real world and, for that matter, all other worlds, real or imaginary.

  5. DaveMc says:

    Spawnsire of Ulamog cares that Changelings are Eldrazi outside the game.

    Of course, this raises the question of exactly what it means for a card *in* the game to refer to something *outside* the game; if it’s part of the game state space, doesn’t that make it, by definition, part of the game?

  6. Steven says:

    Alec — 1982, and the game is Nomic.

  7. Geoff Bailey says:

    Alec: I think you mean Nomic ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nomic ), which I first heard about through Douglas Hofstadter but was apparently invented by Peter Suber.

  8. DaveMc: also, the tournament rules define what is even “outside the game”. You can only access your sideboard with cards that manipulate cards outside the game, so in a way the outside of the game is still inside of the game. Then there is the “real outside” which you cannot access (in a tournament) from inside the game.

    Well, except by going more “outside” the game and trying to cheat, for example by slipping cards into your sideboard.

    They did clarify the rules with the Exile concept some years ago, before that cards could be removed from the game altogether.

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