Under the Hood #2 – The Rules You Need, Not the Rules You Deserve

Under the Hood #2 – The Rules You Need, Not the Rules You Deserve
By: Chad Daniel

(Under the Hood #1 is included at the END of this article, as it was first published on a now defunct website)

The goal of any game is to provide its players with simple to understand rules that allow players to enjoy the game as the designers intended. When you delve into the world of TCGs, 2PCGs, and LCGs, you can basically throw simple out the door. Then sick your dog after it while you call the police and file a restraining order.

To give you some perspective, the last update for the original Vs. System Comprehensive Rules topped 140 pages and the comprehensive rules for Magic: The Gathering is a staggering 220 pages! Vs. System 2PCG Compiled Rules comes in a slim 32 pages; absolutely svelte by comparison. This does make them more accessible to the average player, but still very intimidating.

The rules are called the compiled rules instead of the comprehensive rules because they do not go into as much detail as the other two games. The biggest advantage is smaller size, the trade off is, there are still, “unwritten rules.” The compiled rules cover about 99% of the game and the 1% it does not cover usually involves very corner case situations that usually require one or more players to make decisions actively against their self interest in order to expose. The problem occurs when new card design pushes that 1% into the limelight. It is like airing the dirty laundry so to speak. Every attempt is made to catch those circumstances, but it is not always possible with the limited manpower available.

One thing to keep in mind, nothing in this game happens at instant speed. No really, it doesn’t. While many things are thought of as instant, and for all intents and purposes seem to be instant, if you get down to the nitty gritty, they are not. Think of the game as a single CPU computer unable to do anything in parallel. When something needs to be done, if the game is busy doing something else, it has to wait its turn. To illustrate this, consider these two cards.

Rocket  – Main Character Level 1
Murder You
Main [Energy]: While Rocket is attacking the next time this turn, he gets +4/+0.

Back Against the Wall
Level Up (1) – When a card leaves your hand, if your hand is empty, Rocket gains an XP.

Emma Frost – Supporting Character

Mind Games
When Emma Frost appears, you may have a player discard their hand, then draw that many cards.

So Khamisha, who controls Rocket, plays Emma Frost. When Emma Frost appears, Mind Games will trigger and create an effect. Think of effects like intermediate packages of instructions. Since there is nothing else going, the game begins to resolve the effect from Mind Games. Effects are resolved from left to right and are always processed in order. What happens in the beginning of the effect can change or influence how latter portions of the effect are resolved, and later portions of the effect will use information about or obtained by earlier portions of the effect. Case in point, Mind Games from Emma Frost.

The Game Engine now processes the effect. The first portion, “You may have a player,” is processed and then the Game stops. It has hit a variable and needs more information before it can continue. Which player chosen at this stage of the resolution will determine who has to do the later portion of the effect. Kamisha chooses herself and the Game continues on with, “discard their hand.” Now at this point a one-shot modifier is created. Modifiers are what make changes to the gamestate, and in the case of one-shot modifiers, as its name implies, it makes a single permanent change to the gamestate. In this instance, Kamisha now discards her hand.

Triggers are always monitoring the gamestate looking for the conditions that will cause them to trigger, and Back Against the Wall has found a winner! Has a card left Kamisha’s hand? Check. Is her hand empty? Check. An effect is now created… but we have a problem. It can not resolve because the Game Engine is busy resolving Mind Games. So Back Against the Wall sulks off to the green room to wait its turn.

Focus returns to the Game Engine to continue resolving Mind Games. “…then draw that many cards.” is the final portion which creates another one-shot modifier. This time the modifier is causing Kamisha to draw cards equal to the number of card she discarded. Once that happens the Game Engine checks to see if there are any other effects waiting to resolve, and finds Back Against the Wall. The effect is loaded up and begins to process, “…if your hand is empty…” This is a condition, so the Game Engine pauses to check the gamestate to see if this condition is true. Uh oh, it is not. Kamisha has cards in her hand, so a value of false is returned to the Game Engine causing it to halt processing the effect. The effect is now cancelled and the later portions of the effect are never processed.

You will notice even though the condition was true at the time Back Against the Wall triggered, it had to also be true when it was time for it to resolve. This is known as an, “Intervening ‘if’ clause,” or informally as a double check trigger. Most reading this will already know this and probably already knew how those two cards worked together. That is the reason this interaction was chosen. A baseline of knowledge has been created to facilitate the interpretation of new cards. To successfully figure out how a new card works, it is essential to know why cards work the way they do.

Now on to the women of the hour, Lilith!


When Lilith KOs an enemy character in combat and survives, remove that character from the game. If you do, Lilith has +1 Health.

You may notice a slight word change, but this was done just to remove a potential misunderstanding. The normal templating when something is conditional in scenarios such as this is “If you do” and the original wording did not use that. There is no functional change and it continues to work as the designers intended.

As most of you probably know, a more prominent change was to Lethal. In fact it went through two iterations. First to change it from triggering off stuns to wounding, and second changing it from a triggered power to a continuous power. What we ended up with was;

If this character wounds a defending supporting character, KO it.

The reason for these changes was for two different reasons. It was changed from stunned to wounds to make sure the card continued to line up with what the designers intended. You can read about it when they previewed The Collector and The Grandmaster. The second change was to change it from a triggered power to a continuous power. The reason this was done was to fix a timing issue. In certain situations the game would not behave as expected.

Vampirism is a triggered power with two triggering events that have to happen at the same time in order for it to trigger. That is “KOs an enemy character in combat” and “survives.” If both those things do not happen simultaneously, it does not trigger. In normal circumstances this is not a problem. Lilith strikes and stuns/KOs a character in combat and she does not get stunned in return. She has now survived combat AND KOs an enemy character in combat. Vampirism obviously triggers.

Now what if Lilith had Lethal using the old wording, will that change anything? Let’s take it step by step. Lilith stuns and wounds an enemy character in combat, but they do NOT KO because they have two health. Will Vampirism trigger? Of course not. While Lilith did meet one of the conditions, she survived, she did meet the second condition of “KOing an enemy character” so it does not trigger. However Lethal does trigger. There is nothing else going on in the game, so it resolves and the enemy character is KOed. Will Vampirism trigger? Find out next time on…. Just kidding.

While it seems like it should trigger, and most people would assume it does trigger, under the original wording of Lethal, it would NOT have triggered. Remember, Vampirism required TWO separate events to happen at the same time. In this instance, an enemy character was KO’d in combat, but did she survive? I can already hear the shouts of, “Of course she did!” and to that I say, “calm down, my hearing is just fine, no need to shout.” And secondly, did she survive AT THAT MOMENT? Remember we are not asking if she previously survived the combat, we are asking did she qualify as surviving at the same moment the enemy character was KO’d? It is the difference in saying, “when a character attacks”, and “did a character attack.” If the word “when” is used, it is only looking at a specific point in time. If you are asking “did a character attack” it only matters if it happened in the specified time period. Vampirism clearly uses “When” and at the time the KO occurs from Lethal, Lilith did not also “survive” which can ONLY happen during combat resolution.

This is way Lethal was changed to a continuous power. Now instead of triggering, it changes the type of wound given to be a lethal wound which means the character is KO’d regardless of how much health it has. So now when Lilith has Lethal and KOs a multi health character her Vampirism will still trigger. If your response is, “that is how I assumed it worked already,” my answer is, “and that is why we changed it.” Sometimes our rules look complicated for the sole purpose of making sure the game works as people would expect, but at the same time be consistent and logical. Next time you look at our Compiled Rules and shudder at the thought of reading it all, just be thankful you did not have to write it. Sucks to be that guy.


(The below was Originally posted in 2015)

Under the Hood #1 – A Little Trickery Goes A Long Way

Gooooood morning everyone! It is good to be back and welcome to my first article since the rebirth of Vs. System. For those who are not familiar with me I will give a little background. I got involved with Vs. System right after it originally launched in April of 2004. I was judging MTG at the time and for the most part switched over to Vs. System. It captivated my attention like no other game at the time, and I rushed in full steam.

To make a long story short, I ended up Head Judging more premier level events than any other judge in the world and was part of the Guru list. The Guru list was a group of people that reviewed the card text and rules for new sets to try to fix any problems before they were released. Then Vs. System died, and I slinked back into the shadows. I came out to judge a MTG event every now and then, but nothing really kept my attention like Vs. System did.

Fast forward to 2015 when I got a message from my friend Simon Sangpukdee that Vs. System was being relaunched and he had recommended to his friend Jeff (recent hire at UDE) that he should contact me about head judging the 10K at GenCon. To say I was excited would be an understatement. I love traveling and I love meeting new people, and this was the perfect opportunity to do both!

The day of the event arrived and I could hardly wait for all the interesting questions people would have. And boy did you all deliver! So in today’s article I am going to bring you some of those questions from the 10K and some of the more interesting questions from the facebook group. If you are a studious follower of the group, then you may have already seen my response to some of these questions as I fully intend to copy some of my own answers! Let’s get that ball rolling!

Some of my favorite questions was about Loki. Let’s start with the timing of his level up power. It reads

Level Up (5) – When you play a plot twist, Loki gains an XP.

So what happens when Loki Lv1 has 4 XP counters, a -1/-1 counter, and then its controller plays Trickster God? If you answered a stunned Loki Lvl 2, you would be correct. “Hey!” you say, “doesn’t Loki’s level up power trigger when Trickster God is played? Shouldn’t it resolve first?” This is where playing old Vs. System and other TCGs can hurt you. In those games, effects are resolved, Last In First Out(LIFO), whereas in the new Vs. System effects are resolved First In First Out(FIFO). Once Trickster God is considered played, it is ready to be resolved, and the level up power from Loki would trigger and be behind it waiting to resolve. In short, Trickster God resolves making Loki Lvl1 a 5/0 which results in it immediately becoming stunned, and then the level up power resolves giving Loki his 5th XP and turning him into a Lvl2.

Scenario two; Loki Lvl1 is in combat with three XP counters. Loki’s controller plays Find Cover, his opponent does nothing, then Trickster God, his opponent does nothing, and last Loki’s controller plays Savage Surprise. What is Loki’s ATK and DEF? Before you answer, this is a good time to give you the nitty gritty on figuring out what a card’s ATK and DEF should be. The order goes like this;

Setting or Modifying Base Stats (effects like Mystique and Leveling up of a Main Character)

Apply Counters

Apply modifiers that change ATK/DEF in timestamp order

Can you figure it out now? If your answer is 15/4, then you are correct! We have four things going on here. We have the leveling up of Loki, and three modifiers from resolving effects. Let’s take this one step at a time.

Base – Loki lvl1: 1/6

Find Cover – Loki lvl1: 1/9

Trickster God Loki Lvl1: 9/1

Level Up – Now we have new base stats, so we have to start over again with the modifiers in play.

Base – Loki lvl2: 4/8

Find Cover – Loki Lvl2 4/11

Trickster God – Loki Lvl2 11/4

Savage Surprise – Loki Lvl2: 15/4

Please note, modifiers with a time stamp AFTER Trickster God will not be swapped. Isn’t this fun?

This presents us into a nice segway into Even the Odds. I hear rumors that Even the Odds is on the playable side. 😉 The text on Even the Odds is;

<Anytime>Combat Remove all +1/+1 counters from an enemy character in the combat. That character’s current ATK and DEF become the same as its base ATK and DEF this combat.

Remember above where modifiers and counters were treated differently? Well the same applies here. Even the Odds removes only +1/+1 counters, which means if there was -1/-1 counters, they would remain. Because counters do NOT interact with modifiers, Even the Odds, does NOT stop the -1/-1 from applying. In terms of practicality, this will rarely come up, but in case it does, now you know!

A popular question concerning Even the Odds is its interaction with Supporting Character Groot. Groot has the base stats of 0/0 and a super power that says “Groot has +1/+1 for each resource on your side.” If Even the Odds is played on Groot, that super power is “suppressed” and no longer applies to Groot for the duration of Even the Odds. Since Groot is now a 0/0, he is immediately stunned.

Probably the most popular question of the day was, “Does Thanos get XP if he is stunned at the same time as another character.” The Short answer is yes. The longer explanation is as follows.

One thing you need to remember is the stunning, placing of a wound counter, and the KOing of the card if the wound counters equal its health is the order in which things occur, but it is all one event.

Whenever an a character is stunned and/or KOed, the game looks back in time to just before the event see if anything would have triggered. At that time Thanos is in play and unstunned, so his level up power will trigger.

You may then wonder why does the game work this way? Well, the short answer is, it is the only way triggers based of cards being stunned or KOed can work. Think of Mantis.

When she gets KO’d, you may turn her into a face-down resource on your side.

If you think that Thanos should not trigger, apply that same logic to Mantis. She gets stunned during an attack and KOed. Does she trigger? If you are claiming that being stunned, applying the wound, and then the resulting KO should all be separate events, then Mantis’s power will not work because her power will be off while she is stunned.

But it DOES work because when she is KOed, the game looks back in time to just before the event that KOed her and at that time she is in play, unstunned, and has her card text.

Well that’s it for now! I hope everyone learned something and until next time.

Chad Daniel