Seedborn Musings – M12 and the Artful Keyword

In what felt like a curveball move, WotC’s started telling us things about M12.  The first set of this naming convention that isn’t or hasn’t been like a motorway, the set’s already proving interesting, with the return of bloodthirst, a casually loved mechanic based on the people I know, and the reprinting of casual hits (and occasionally Standard-worthy) Flameblast Dragon and Archon of Justice.  Those are all good things.  What’s piqued my intrigue (or pigued my intrique?) is the two new terms we’re getting: “dies” and “hexproof.”  I like the former, though it has issues, and I dislike the latter.  So in some combination of intelligent discussion and nerd rant, I’ll tackle the two terms tersely.  Okay, probably not tersely, but it was alliterative, and tortuously often gets confused with torturously and possibly even tortiously.  I guess if you sued someone for taking a long time to cause you much pain, you could be annoyed at their tortious, tortuous, torturous conduct.  Anyway…

I started playing circa the evergreen keyword craze.  In Comprehensive Rules order, here’s what’s been keyworded in my time:

Activate – This would be good, except for the one obvious change they haven’t done with it.  Check Ice Cage, for example.  There is no reason in the universe to say that its activated abilities can’t be activated.  Just say its abilities can’t be activated.  Since it’s a core set, there could be reminder text saying that its abilities still could be triggered if they’re that concerned about confusion.  Activate is a good verb, but they need to clean up some associated text in order to make it sound good.

Cast – The clarification is good and the word is flavorful.  There are a few instances where this falters, but it’s one of their best changes.

Exile – Perfect.  Short, evocative, and with card precedent.  A shining example of awesome.

Deathtouch – Although it’s changed abilities a few times, the idea’s flavorful and simple.  Good job.

Defender – It made sense once they printed cool non-Walls that wanted this.  At the time it was sort of lame, but it’s worked out.

Flash – I don’t like the name, but at least it’s short.  All else being equal, I prefer the name that saves space every time.

Lifelink – I’m not sure how these things link to life, but as it often shows up on white cards, this is the sort of namby-pamby name those things would want, so hurrah for them, I guess.

Reach – Great name, although nongreen creatures have a difficult time getting this flavor across.

Shroud – Also great, although green creatures have a difficult time getting this flavor across.  What’s hidden or mysterious about a Kalonian Behemoth?

Vigilance – Works well, and this one was covering for some awful previous phrasing (“cause to tap” always sounded bad).

Fear – The namesake was in Alpha; this was an easy win.

That’s a pretty good track record.  Maybe I’ve just gotten used to some of the worst ones, but those keywords have helped on balance, and saving space is a great thing to do.  So where do the new ones stack up?

Dies – There are 279 creatures with graveyard-from-battlefield triggers.  Not all of them will trigger off creatures, of course, compensated in part by the 83 cards that reference creatures and graveyard-from-battlefield triggers.  The important bits to know is that it will refer only to creatures, and it will be used only when the creature would go to any graveyard; triggers involving specific graveyards will retain the old/current wording.  (As an aside, does it bother you like it does me that original can mean new/innovative or old/traditional?)

This is in between cast and flash for me as a thing.  Flavor-wise, this is going to sound awkward on a number of cards.  Via Twitter, Rules Manager Matt Tabak’s already pointed this out with Undying Beast.  My initial glance through the creatures with death triggers yielded fewer awkward matches than I thought there would be, so maybe I’m overreacting.  Just as the change from “play” to “cast” made even some new cards jarring in their use of old terms (including Djinn of Wishes, Thada Adel, and Muse Vessel), so too might this bring cards even within M12 where the lack of “dies” is odd.  It makes it to where players (casters?) have an extra term to learn, not a completely replaced one, although this one’s easy enough to get that it should be fine.

As for its resemblance to flash, it’s mostly about how much space it saves making it worth it regardless.  I don’t have a problem with spells that say “flash” on them; I have more issue with cards that say that certain things have flash or that you can cast them as though they had flash.  Flash just doesn’t feel right as a noun to me unless it’s a synonym for panache or flair.  If Leyline of Anticipation said “You may flash nonland cards you cast,” it would sound better to me than its actual “You may cast nonland cards as though they had flash.”  It’s just a bad noun for Magic purposes.  But it saved so much space that I’ve never been able to argue against the word too much, and this change does the same thing (though if they hadn’t changed “from play” to “from the battlefield,” the need for space wouldn’t be as pressing – if you’re upset that something was too lengthy, maybe you shouldn’t have changed it in the first place, WotC).  A lot of cards will read simpler and cleaner, and more than anything that’s what I want a keyword to do.

Hexproof, on the other hand?  Ew a thousand times.  I’m certainly not saying it should have been the colloquial “troll shroud,” as the common creatures it’s appeared on haven’t been trolls.  The normal name for this is very limiting as flavor, anyway.  No, my problem is that the flavor of Magic hexes, especially recently, has had nothing to do with this ability.  Ledgewalk or Slippery (in honor of the commons) would have made more sense than hexproof.  There just are very few creature removal spells flavored as hexes.  Here’s what a hex has represented previously:

Targeted removal (Hex, Tomb Hex, Withering Hex)

Global or player damage (Kaervek’s Hex, Lim-Dul’s Hex)

Counters on permanents (Vampire Hexmage, Hex Parasite)

Enchantments (Elvish Hexhunter)

Hexagonal plates (Hexplate Golem)

Hexproof creatures stop none of these, not even Hex (maybe you want to destroy your own creature).  In particular, I really had liked where they were going with the Hexmage and the Hex Parasite (the two most well-known cards on this list, probably).  Counters as a hex over the thing in question gave a distinct flavor from auras or other things represented by cards and artwork.  And now they’re crushing that budding flavor with a keyword that has no connection to prior cards, isn’t what players have been calling it, and doesn’t make any clear sense.

Why is a hex something only your opponents could have put on your creatures?  I suppose there’s a negative connotation to a hex, but the Hexmage and Hex Parasite say otherwise.  I hope there’s a hexplanation coming soon as to how this flavor works, but it doesn’t so far.  Even the weird ones of the past, like lifelink, had some sort of precedent (Spirit Link isn’t the exact ability, but it’s close).  This has no precedent and overwrites the flavor of multiple cards in Standard!

That said, I don’t know what I’d call this.  I didn’t realize it needed to be keyworded; I support keywording, but hexproof didn’t seem to affect enough things for it to matter.  The flavor has been too haphazard to base it on existing things – Sacred Wolf seems to have the most sustainable fantasy flavor of the affected cards – so it probably is best to come up with something out of whole cloth.  Whatever it is ought to say that it’s only immune from opponent actions; I think that’s where they were going with hexes, but they’ve put too much recent flavor in our minds to have it work.  Thesauruses on sacred help but still frustrate; immune seems a good synonym in that it connotes fighting disease and blight, which is most of what those cards do in practice.  It’s hard to say what the keyword should be, but I don’t think hexproof’s it.

Looking back, Wizards has been pretty effective at making keywords that some combination of evocative and space-saving.  Hexproof saves some space, but it runs up against flavor from recent sets, flavor they easily could have changed if they knew a contradictory keyword was coming up.  This was in their power presumably, and they didn’t work with it.  Maybe that’s why I’m so bothered overall (or maybe it’s just because I like Hexes both Mage and Parasite).  Maybe I just wanted to rant.  I don’t know.  But I don’t like the term hexproof at all.  I realize I have no power over it, but if I worked at Wizards, I would have opposed this as vehemently as possible.  It’s a letdown for me.


I’m normally terrible at building interesting monored decks.  I like to have one around just so I can have something of each color and color pair built (I have most shards and wedges done as well), but monored fails me most times.  There’s been some fun new red cards though, such as Invader Parasite and Geosurge, that I want to use and that suggest some sort of monored thing.  But what?  I’ve tried to built tribal Insect, but it just wasn’t that good (most of the Insects are green, after all).  There’s the metalcraft route, but that winds up being more about the artifacts anyway.  Dragons is done a lot.  So are Goblins.  As you can guess from my previous articles, burn bores me to tears.  So what else is there?  What am I missing as the key to enjoying a monored deck?  Give me some ideas, ye readers, particularly if they use Invader Parasite or Geosurge.  Maybe I’m just missing something with my Insect deck (it would rock to melt face with Insects).  Who knows?  I don’t!  Any help here is appreciated.


About Brandon Isleib

Author of Playing for a Winner: How Baseball Teams' Success Raises Players' Reputations; sometimes-writer at GatheringMagic and Muse Vessel; card name/flavor text team for Magic 2015; Wizards of the Coast's first Digital Event Coordinator; directly responsible for the verb "create" on Magic cards; legislation editor for Seattle; voracious music consumer; Christian.
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3 Responses to Seedborn Musings – M12 and the Artful Keyword

  1. Shoe says:

    I find the most fun cards for inspiration in non-traditional red decks are thigns like Reiterate, Warp World, Wild Evocation, Heat Shimmer, Radiate…etc

    The decks tend to be chaotic and/or play off of what your opponent has a lot, but I love them!


  2. Sarroth says:

    Hexproof comes from the definition of the word Hex. Just look it up, and it makes sense. Most definitions state that a hex specifically refers to a spell that is bad, and “to hex” is to “practice witchcraft on.” So it stops your opponents from practicing their witchcraft on that creature by targeting it. No, it doesn’t stop global effects, but Shroud has and global effects have always confused my friends, so Hexproof won’t be any different.

    As for Hexplate Golem, that’s also named thanks to the definition of the word Hex: meaning 6. The plates the Golem attaches to itself are hexagons. Thus Hexplate Golem’s flavor isn’t tarnished. You say Hexproof doesn’t protect from Hex, but it does. Word + mage usually means that the creature is adept at that magic, and Vampire Hexmage targets opponent’s permanents and takes them down a notch – thus the Vampire is hexing (that’s a word, right?) your opponent’s stuff. The same can be said for the Elvish Hexhunter and your opponent’s enchantments.

    The title of the ability needn’t be from a card. Then again, maybe you know players who didn’t understand Exalted because of Exalted Dragon or Exalted Angel.

    I understand that Hexproof sounds weird, and maybe there are better choices, but I think it fits just fine. It fits with the definition and the game’s rules (after all, in order to truly be protected from all hexes, a creature would need to be indestructible, have shroud, and protection from -1/-1 counters).

  3. Seedborn Muse says:

    I was giving Hexplate Golem primarily for completeness. If Vampire Hexmage was conceived as you described, then that works by me. I understand the denotations of the words; it’s just that recent connotations have been unclear, and all of these were within WotC’s power to deal with if they knew they were making hexproof the keyword. They could have conceived Canopy Cover, Sacred Wolf, and Thrun differently to make it sync better with the upcoming keyword. Those three cards have very different flavors and yet the same keyword that doesn’t sound like any of them.

    It’s an internal inconsistency issue more than an issue with the word hexproof itself. They’ve printed this ability a lot recently and didn’t call it anything to do with hexes, while the abilities they have printed with hexes don’t have much to do with the ability. Straightening out one or the other between creative teams would have been cool, though that might be asking for too much.

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