I define a Spell as a magical action taken by a Vierkun, either in response to an opposing action, or as a basis for setting up other actions or establishing an environment favorable to the Vierkun and/or unfavorable to an opponent. Think of it as an incantation from a spellbook, as words that have power, or as an energy that can be bent or shaped to one's will. A Spell is "stored" in the Storage Depot, and is discarded when used, unless the card text states otherwise.
My definition of a Magic Item is a physical object, rather than an action, that is used in a way that achieves an output similar to a spell. The difference lies in it being a tangible object that you can hold in your hand, such as a magic wand, a magic sword, or a magical potion. A Hand Magic Item, or HMI for short, is also "stored" in the Storage Depot and discarded when used, unless the card states otherwise.
There are 26 HMIs and 74 Spells in Guardians, including all expansions through Necropolis Park. Quick, considering only the cards from the Revised set and not any of the expansions, tell me how many cards affect or reference only Spells and do not affect HMIs?
If you said zero, you're correct.
To recap, what do a Spell and a HMI have in common?
- They are both stored in the Storage Depot
- They are both double bordered on the back
- They are discarded when used (unless otherwise specified)
- They can be played at anytime (unless otherwise specified)
- They are both dispelled by Dispel Magic
- No cards in the base set differentiate between a Spell and a HMI
When Guardians was first created, there was literally no difference between a Spell and a HMI, other than the appearance of the card types, and the concept I outlined above, where one is an action and the other is an object. Note that I am not talking about Creature Magic Items (or Accessories, which came later), as these are very different from HMIs.
This is something that has been bothering me for a long time, as I tried to figure out why HMIs even exist. If they work exactly like a Spell, and can be dispelled like a Spell by Dispel Magic, why are they needed? Sure, I guess it's neat having magic doohickeys that do things, but wouldn't it be less confusing to just create a Spell that achieves the same effect, and let Creature Magic Items simply be Magic Items?
Take a look at all the things you must consider when playing a game: Guardians, Mortals, Elementals, Externals, Bribery, Off-color Bonuses, Terrain Bonuses, Command Cards, Shields, Movement, Flying, Strongholds, Vitality, Channelers, Channeling Receivers, CMP, Stronghold Upgrades, Stronghold Downgrades, Creature Magic Items, Accessories, Storage Depots, Storage Hands, Creature Pens, Text Boxes, Ranged Attacks, Secondary Attacks, Spells, Standard Bearers, AOEs, Healing, Destruction, Immunity, Power Stones, Reinforcing, Retreating, Stronghold Bonuses, LDL, MDL, LUC, and Upcards (I'm sure I've left a few out but you get the idea). Is having two different card types that act exactly the same way really necessary in this type of an environment?
(Subject for a future post: the unnecessary complexity of Guardians, or "trying to do too much")
In theory, the first expansion, Dagger Isle, gave the game designers a second chance to establish differences between Spells and HMIs in the form of new cards. In actuality, Dagger Isle only added one card that affects HMIs and Spells differently. That card was Champs the Wonder Dog, which retrieves (any) Magic Items. It also happens to be the only broken/banned card in the game, so that difference was very quickly nullified.
It wasn't until Drifter's Nexus was released that distinctions between HMIs and Spells began to be made on multiple cards. In fact, the Guardians released in both the Drifter's Nexus and Necropolis Park expansions each have abilities tied to that distinction. Let's take a look at HMIs and the cards that affect them:
A list of Hand Magic Items (HMIs)
10 Gallon Voodoo Hat
40,000 Useless Warhammers
Anvil of Heaviness
Champs, the Wonder Dog
Eye of Missile Mayhem
Hammer of Doom
Head of Gudea
Little Voodoo Hat
Medallion of Skyphos
Monolith of Power
Obelisk of Bablos
Oscar the Wonder Chimp
Potion of Movement Essence
Rock of Far Rolling
Rocks of Skull Cracking
Sarcophagus of Haidra
Shroud of Grahzue
Standard of the Elements
Tablet of Ancathus
The Great Balderoon
Voodoo Hat Rack
Total = 26
Cards That Distinguish Magic Items (and HMIs) From Spells
Sikura (Drifter's Nexus) - a Guardian that can dispel any Spell for 2 Power Stones. It cannot dispel (any) Magic Items or Command Card abilities.
Eisnmir (Necropolis Park) - a Guardian that draws a card whenever an opponent plays a HMI.
Cratur Hobbs (Drifter's Nexus) - a 4 Vitality External Command Card that allows you to bribe a creature by discarding any Magic Item from your Storage Hand.
Oscar the Wonder Chimp (Drifter's Nexus) - a HMI that returns a Spell just cast to your Storage Hand for one Power Stone. It is the opposite of Champs - Oscar can retrieve Spells but not Magic Items.
Zelda, Bag Lady Bug (Drifter's Nexus) - a 2 Vitality Mortal who gains +4 Vitality for each HMI discarded from your Storage Hand.
Geldspar (Necropolis Park) - a 4 Vitality External that prevents HMIs from being played.
Pharaoh Djoser (Necropolis Park) - a 2 Vitality External Command Card that prevents Spells from being played.
Sebek, Queen of Magicians (Necropolis Park) - a 6 Vitality External Command Card that allows you to discard a Spell to choose and draw another Spell from your draw deck.
Including Champs, that's only nine cards in the game that make a distinction between HMIs and Spells. Six of those nine cards are costly to play, requiring discarding a card or burning a Power Stone to function, and have a negative effect on the use of HMIs, which in turn has a negative effect on playing Eisnmir. Nine out of 676 is a very small number and does little to address my contention that HMIs are unnecessary and that the same effect could have been achieved with a Spell.
It's clear that the difference between Spells and HMIs was becoming more important to the designers as time went on, since DN and NP both introduced a Guardian (probably the most important card in the game) that played upon that difference. It is sad to note, however, that there are only 26 HMIs out of a total 676 cards in the game. Many of them in DN are some of the rarest cards in the game (Standard of the Elements, Little Voodoo Hat, Rosetta Stone, Oscar the Wonder Chimp, etc.), so you don't expect to see those in play often (if at all). That is a very small number of cards to be worried about. Sure, some of them are frequently used, such as Hammer of Doom or Holy Grail, but it is still a tiny subset of the game.
The small number of HMIs comes into play when studying Sikura and Eisnmir. Sikura cannot dispel HMIs, which increases their usefulness, but the small number of cards means the threat to Sikura is minimal. In contrast, Eisnmir was the one card in the entire game that held the greatest potential to make HMIs very important (and different from Spells), through the use of card advantage. However, by making the card draw dependent on your opponent playing HMIs (rather than yourself playing them), that small number of HMIs means that Eisnmir's ability is much weaker than Sikura's. I have seen many opponents play Sikura, and many decks designed around Sikura's ability; I have never played against Eisnmir, nor have I ever seen a deck designed around Eisnmir's ability.
So what exactly can be done about HMIs being just like Spells? I'm not sure there is a good answer to that question. The cards have been created and printed and they are what they are; that's not going to change. Even in the Champion's Odyssey set that I designed, the only HMI that I created was my take on the Stanley the Wonder Goat artwork that Phil provided - and it could have just as easily been a Spell. Here's a couple of thoughts on how implementing some house rules for HMIs could make them more easily differentiated from Spells, more frequently used, and just shake up your playing environment for a change of pace. You could apply one idea, some of them, or all of them:
1. Start the game with some of your HMIs already in your Storage Hand prior to your opening draw. This requires fishing them out of your deck before starting the game and then shuffling the remainder of the deck. You could probably limit the number that you start with to be equal to your Guardian's base draw, but for maximum chaos, start with as many HMIs in your Storage Hand as you want (observing the Storage Hand limit at the end of the turn, off course)!
2. If you are going to play Eisnmir, change its text to draw a card whenever you play a HMI. If you want to get really crazy, make it you or your opponent. This could encourage people to play Eisnmir more while loading up on HMIs. Think about it: HMIs not only make Eisnmir better, Sikura can't dispel them, and with as much as Sikura is used, there would be some great battles between Eisnmir and Sikura.
3. Count all HMIs as Spells. This contradicts the advantages of options #1 & #2, but supports my contention that HMIs and Spells are the same.
None of these ideas are perfect, in fact they all might be terrible, but I couldn't really think of something better. To me, there is a fundamental mechanic missing that makes Spells and HMIs different. Maybe that's by design - maybe they are just different for "flavor", and maybe I'm just being cranky by demanding that there be a difference. But in a game full of flavor and loaded with complexity, is it really necessary that they be different? Thoughts?