Thursday, February 12, 2015

What is a card?

This post is about ambiguity, but this post is not about Ambiguity. (Don't forget to look at the card topsy turvy as well. And don't forget to look at the card Topsy Turvy as well)

Okay, enough with the puns... at least if I don't find any others while writing... what I really want to write about is how overloaded the term "Card" is in Magic. Let's see how many different meanings I can come up with.

Cards are those things that Wizards designs. For example, Grizzly Bears is a card, and Llanowar Elves is as well.

What about two Grizzly Bears? A card can also mean the physical object, sold in boosters and put in decks. But you can't even simply say that the physical card is "a Grizzly Bears", because there's a few different ones. And there's foil as well, and probably other things I'm forgetting. So the physical card is actually not an instance of what Wizards R&D designed, but of one translation of one printing of such a card, either in foil or not.

Getting to the actual game, cards are a kind of object, in contrast with tokens and copies of cards, which are not cards but serve almost the same purpose.

Noncard objects exist in a few different forms: emblems are always in the command zone; tokens can only exist on the battlefield; ability objects exist on the stack; copies of spells exist on the stack; casting a copy of a card creates that copy in the original card's zone, which in then put onto the stack as a spell while casting.

Permanents are objects that can be either cards or tokens, so another thing a card can be. Compared to other objects, permanents have state:  tapped/untapped, flipped/unflipped, face up/face down, and phased in/phased out.

The comprehensive rules on spells are worded a little strangely: "A spell is a card on the stack", "A copy of a spell is also a spell", "if the player does [cast a copy of a card], that copy is a spell as well". It sounds contradictory at first, but it's manageable.

So what have we got here:
  • What Oracle says a card is, identified by the English name of the card.
  • A printing of such a card, identified by English name together with an expansion. This extends the Oracle card by rarity, artist, illustration, collector number, card frame style, guild symbols and similar in the text box, ...
  • A translation of a printing, identified by a multiverse ID, or alternately by English name, expansion and language; I wouldn't trust that the translated name is unique. The translation adds obviously anything language specific about a card. This includes printed, non-oracle wording including reminder text, as well as flavor text.
  • A piece of cardboard that has a Magic card printed on it. To my understanding, this interpretation of "card" can be uniquely identified by a function defined on an interval of the timeline that maps every instant in that interval to the volume of space that is occupied by the card at that time. Or, a card is a card.
  • A digital representation of such can also be considered a card in that sense.
  • A card is an object that can be in a zone in a game of Magic.
  • Some permanents are (represented by) cards.
  • Some spells are (represented by) cards.
You can imagine that all this ambiguity makes it quite hard to come up with a proper software model for a game of Magic!

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