In the middle of a Cube draft the other week, I had a weird brainstorm for a new Magic mechanic. At first I called it, “Ghost Card,” which is fine as a working title, but ultimately too close to a terrible Bill Cosby movie. The idea is to give a card an advantage by making it not exist.
This is a really tricky mechanic to pull off. For one thing, the advantages are pretty subtle. The helper text on the Lotus Garden version hints at where this might come in handy. Only holding a Zen Garden in your hand? Then your opponent’s Mind Rot won’t accomplish anything. And if you’re playing a combo deck that lets you draw a ton of cards in a turn, Zen cards would let you hold more than seven. Hand size is rarely relevant, so this advantage is slender. (By the way, what do you think of the design of Lotus Garden, not counting Zen?)
There’s a huge problem with this version of the mechanic — it relies on hidden information. As shown on the card above, it doesn’t work. You’re sitting there holding eight cards and your opponent is like, “WTF?” Instead, it might read, “Reveal this. If you do, it doesn’t count as a card in your hand.”
A more complicated, but perhaps more mechanically workable solution, would be, “You may reveal this card and exile it from your hand at any time. You may return it from exile to your hand at any time. These abilities do not use the stack.”
Then I thought of another way to create a Zen card, one that has a more tangible advantage. Here’s the second try:
It’s really a more flavorful way of saying, “When you draw this, draw another card.” There are some big differences, though, like avoiding effects that trigger whenever a card is drawn (Underworld Dreams is one example; it also makes your Lorescale Coatl less good). Competitive players would love cards like these because they shrink their deck without ever even being played (it’s the same reason Street Wraith was so popular for a while). The effect is a little confusing to less experienced players, I think. Well, it’s hard to explain Zen stuff. “It’s like, you drew a card, but you didn’t draw a card. So you get to draw another one instead.”
Finally, I tried combining the two effects into one megaZen mechanic, to make a card that truly isn’t there. At this point, there’s a choice of either having way too much explanation text, or the more bare-bones version below, which will surely leave less rules savvy players in the dark. Clapping one hand.