The problem with Magic’s combat rules…

I’m a Magic: The Gathering nerd. I’m not particularly good at the game, but I love playing it. However it’s hard to keep turning a blind eye to the fact that one of the game’s crucial combat rules simply doesn’t make sense, as well as conflicting with another rule.

This is the offending rule:

509.1h An attacking creature with one or more creatures declared as blockers for it becomes a blocked creature; one with no creatures declared as blockers for it becomes an unblocked creature. This remains unchanged until the creature is removed from combat, an effect says that it becomes blocked or unblocked, or the combat phase ends, whichever comes first. A creature remains blocked even if all the creatures blocking it are removed from combat.

So let’s play through a hypothetical situation here. In the game, you’re a powerful wizard. You cast a spell to summon a fearsome creature, and you command that creature to attack an opposing wizard. The opponent commands one of his creatures to block yours. They fight it out, maybe one of them dies, and that’s the end of combat. Makes perfect sense.

But suppose, just before combat, you cast another spell to kill the creature that’s blocking yours. Then combat happens. According to the rules, your magical creature just stands there, confused, not blocked by anything, but unable to get through to your opponent.

Now I’ve had this explained to me in a “Magic for Dummies” style by saying that the killed blocker is now lying on the ground and your attacking creature can’t get past the body. That’s daft. How about if both creatures were flying? What, your one can’t fly over the dead one that’s now lying on the ground?

Or suppose, instead of killing the blocker, you sent it in to exile. The blocker completely disappears from the battlefield. Yet still your attacking creature can’t get past it!

There’s no “unfairness” about this rule. It affects everyone equally and at some point probably every player exploits it in some way, such as “block and sac” tricks to avoid letting your opponent benefit from lifegain. But still, in a game built around a long and complicated set of rules, every rule should make sense, and this one doesn’t.

It doesn’t end there, though. When you add double strike in to the mix, the rule becomes even more absurd.

Let’s go back to our hypothetical combat. You declare a 4/4 attacker with double strike. Your opponent declares a 4/4 blocker and combat happens. Your creature swings first and kills the blocker. And then what? With the blocker dead, your guy should be swinging again and doing 4 damage to your opponent. But instead he just stands there and does nothing.

Also has anyone else noticed that even the Magic rules can’t seem to agree on how this mechanic should play out? Rule 509.1h states:

A creature remains blocked even if all the creatures blocking it are removed from combat.

But rule 506.4 states:

A creature that’s removed from combat stops being an attacking, blocking, blocked, and/or unblocked creature.

So when you remove an opponent’s blocking creature from combat, it stops being a blocking creature. But your creature is still blocked by that creature that isn’t blocking. Aargh!!

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