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Magic: The Gathering — Fixing Landwalk

Updated on July 15, 2015

Magic: The Gathering

Magic: The Gathering is a great game. Invented by Richard Garfield as a quick-playing, portable game for Wizards of the Coast, the game has grown over the years. Players are powerful wizards (called Planeswalkers) which utilize magical power to defeat their opponents. Cards are put together into a deck (or library) which represents the resources the player has on hand for the coming duel. These cards include land (power sources), creatures, magic items (artifacts), and traditional spells (sorcery, enchantment, 'instant'). How many distinct cards have been created? Over 13,000!

If you are not familiar with this amazing little game, you can stop reading now. This article is written assuming you have a basic, working knowledge of how the game works.

Still with me?

Good.

WEB: The original 'reach' ability.
WEB: The original 'reach' ability. | Source

Evasion

One of the fundamental concepts in Magic: The Gathering (a.k.a., Magic) is evasion. Evasion is needed in the game to ensure that the vast majority of games do not become stagnant; it also ensures that some dynamics exist, where the choices of what is used to stop what become more interesting and tactical in nature. In the earliest days of Magic (i.e., the 'alpha' and 'beta' sets), the two primary forms of evasion were flight and landwalking.

Flight was simple. When a creature with the ability to fly attacks, only a creature with the ability to fly can block it. There were exceptions, of course: some creatures had the ability to block fliers without themselves flying. Typically, this was a spider, and this ability was thematically represented as webbing (in fact, the enchantment to give this ability to a creature was called Web; this ability would eventually become Reach.).

Landwalk was another matter. First of all, there were (hypothetically) five basic landwalk abilities: plainswalk, islandwalk, swampwalk, mountainwalk, and forestwalk. Others could exist, obviously (e.g., non-basic landwalk). Second, this ability only worked if the opponent controlled a land of the indicated type — if I have a forestwalking creature and you have no forests, then anything can block it; if you have even one forest, then suddenly nothing can block it.

How Many?

According to the Wizards of the Coast Gatherer tool, various landwalk abilities have appeared on 207 total cards:

  • Plainswalk: 10 cards
  • Islandwalk: 49 cards
  • Swampwalk: 56 cards
  • Mountainwalk: 27 cards
  • Forestwalk: 47 cards
  • Other: 18 cards

Think about this for a moment.

If I have a creature that flies, it is flying no matter if the opponent has a flying creature or not. Also, only creatures with flight are going to be able to stop this thing. As a result, when I attack with my flier, the pool of creatures that can block it are a sub-set of the creatures you have available.

Compare this to how landwalk will impact the game:

If I have a creature that has swampwalk, it is only swampwalking if you (my opponent) has a swamp in play. Also, the creature is blockable by anything if you do not, nothing if you do. As a result, when I attack with my walker, the pool of creatures that can block it are either (a) all creatures you have, or (b) no creatures you have.

It is this lack of dynamics — the all-or-nothing aspect of the ability — that makes it such a problem.

Evasive Maneuvers!
Evasive Maneuvers! | Source

By Any Other Name

Evasion has been done in many ways. Most all of them, however, have followed the flying model:

A creature with {evasion ability} may only be blocked by creatures with {trait(s)}.

Flying, for example, is:

A creature with flying may only be blocked by creatures with flying or reach.

The other major evasion abilities are:

  • Fear — may only be blocked by Artifact creatures and/or Black creatures.
  • Horsemanship — may only be blocked by creatures with Horsemanship.
  • Intimidate — may only be blocked by Artifact creatures and/or creatures that share a color with it.
  • Shadow — may only be blocked by creatures with Shadow.
  • Unblockable — may not be blocked.

In addition, there are some that simply spell out the things that can or cannot block the creature. For example, Juggernaut reads:

Juggernaut can't be blocked by walls.

The Protection ability must also be seen as an evasion ability. Any creature with Protection from {trait(s)} cannot be blocked by any creature that has {trait(s)}.

The primary thing to keep in mind is this: with the exception of Landwalk abilities (when an opponent has the indicated land type) and Unblockable, all creatures are able to be blocked by some sub-set of creatures the opponent could potentially have.

What can ya do, right?
What can ya do, right? | Source

Unblockable?

Yes, Wizards of the Coast experimented with an evasion ability to beat all evasion abilities: Unblockable. This was something they have since come to the conclusion was a mistake and have stopped doing it. The issue is simple: it removes choices; it removes interaction; it removes fun. So we can drop that one.

This leaves Landwalk as the one and only remaining ability word that removes choices, interaction, and fun when it is operating within the game. How can you fix this? It is really fairly simple. Make landwalk creatures of a common type able to block each other.

Comprehensive Rules

The comprehensive rules for Landwalk are as follows:

702.14. Landwalk

702.14a. Landwalk is a generic term that appears within an object's rules text as "[type]walk," where [type] is usually a subtype, but can be the card type land, any land type, any supertype, or any combination thereof.
702.14b. Landwalk is an evasion ability.
702.14c. A creature with landwalk can't be blocked as long as the defending player controls at least one land with the specified subtype (as in "islandwalk"), with the specified supertype (as in "legendary landwalk"), without the specified supertype (as in "nonbasic landwalk"), or with both the specified supertype and the specified subtype (as in "snowswampwalk").
702.14d. Landwalk abilities don't "cancel" one another.
702.14e. Multiple instances of the same kind of landwalk on the same creature are redundant.

What Needs to Change

a) is fine as is. Nothing needs to change.

b) is fine as is. Nothing needs to change.

c) is the meat of the issue. This rule needs to be reworded as follows:

A creature with landwalk can only be blocked by another creature with the same landwalk ability as long as the defending player controls at least one land with the specified subtype (as in "islandwalk"), with the specified supertype (as in "legendary landwalk"), without the specified supertype (as in "nonbasic landwalk"), or with both the specified supertype and the specified subtype (as in "snowswampwalk").

d) needs clarification. It should read:

Landwalk abilities don't "cancel" one another. However, two creatures with the same landwalk ability can block each other.

e) is fine as is. Nothing needs to change.

Should Landwalk abilities remain in the game?

See results

Reminder Text

Perhaps the two biggest obstacles to this change is the reluctance to change an ability in any fundamental way after it has been around so long, and the reminder text.

The fundamental chance thing is not as large as it may seem. They have made fundamental changes to existing abilities in the past: Legendary, for example, has gone through a few versions (and is still not how I would like it, but that is another issue).

The reminder text is the biggie. For example, a creature with Swampwalk will often have this ability listed on the card as:

Swampwalk (This creature can't be blocked as long as defending player controls a Swamp.)

Given the number of cards where this reminder text is present, it may be an issue.

All that would be needed would be to let the community know what the new rule is, and change the reminder text to something like this in future printings:

Swampwalk (This creature can't be blocked except by creatures with Swampwalk as long as defending player controls a Swamp.)

Conclusion

Landwalk is a cool ability. It is one of the few abilities that has its effectiveness completely dependent upon the colors your opponent is playing. It would be a shame to lose this ability in Magic, and there have been rumblings and rumors of just dropping this very cool concept.

And that would be a loss to the game. A loss that needs not happen if only a very, very minor change were to be made to the rules of the game.

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