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Michael Mikaelian

Rulebook: Part Two

This Could Be It, Sweetheart

This spring, SWTCG will see the release of Revenge of the Sith -- and with it, a new rulebook. Michael Mikaelian continues his coverage of exactly what this rulebook will contain, what's been added, what's been changed -- this time looking at Pilots.

It took only a month for the Star Wars Guru discussion group to air most of its unsolicited suggestions for the Revenge of the Sith rulebook. By August 2004, the volunteers posed the question, "Now what?" While we gladly continued to bombard Henry Stern with card-errata suggestions and radical rules changes, a tinge of guilt crept in. He wouldn't have asked for our help if he hadn't also had some specific things in mind.

In his reply, Henry's short list—basically turn structure and abilities—included an item that raised at least one eyebrow. While the list had "abilities," it also contained the more-specific "keyword abilities." The only keyword ability that additionally merited its own inclusion was "Pilot." I found myself wondering, "What's wrong with the Pilot ability to put it so clearly on Henry's radar?" I suspected that it had something to do with tapping and tapped Pilot Characters.

Pilots: Rules Realities

The Empire Strikes Back rulebook gives only a few clues that a Pilot can move onto a unit while tapped, or tap while on a unit: "If a Pilot on a unit is tapped, the Pilot untaps normally during the ready phase;" and "To retreat a unit with a Pilot on it, you must have both the unit and the Pilot untapped."

Reading between the lines leaves us with the current interpretation: A Pilot can move onto or off of a unit while tapped (it cannot, however, retreat this way), and can tap while on a unit. The one ability given as an example of what a Pilot can't do—"Pay 1 Force Arrow This unit gets +2 power for this attack"—doesn't exactly say that it can or can't tap. It just tells you that the ability can't be used because it doesn't apply (the Pilot's not a unit, has no power, and can't attack).

My suspicion was only half correct. Henry's concerns had more to do with the effects that included tapping a Character as a cost. The current rules strip a Pilot of its unit status, but leave it with its type and subtype classifications. A Pilot is still a Character, and can tap to pay the costs of abilities that require tapping a Character. This rules reality is one reason why Kessel System is on the banned list.

The fact that effects that target Characters can also target Pilots on units is another rules reality. This put the onus on R&D's developers and editors to be very careful about how they write abilities that involve Characters. All cards intended to affect units in the Character arena must specify Character units or else they also affect Pilots on other units. Emperor Palpatine (C)'s ability, for instance, requires you to choose a unit in the Character arena. Force Lightning, on the other hand, targets a Character—even a Pilot on another unit.

Pilots vs. Characters

The Star Wars Guru group proposed some changes to the ways Pilots moved to and from units. Instead of just moving a Pilot onto a unit, you'd also need to tap it. Once on another unit, the Pilot would stay tapped. If you chose to ready the Pilot, it "fell off" and moved to the build zone untapped. The driving forces behind this solution were to make moving a Pilot onto another unit similar to retreating a unit, as well as to eliminate any confusion about tapped Pilots. This, however, didn't solve the problem of effects that target Characters regardless of whether they're units or not. Plus, it also violated Henry's first request: it was a drastic rules change.

A second suggestion cut right to the heart of the dilemma: If the problem is caused by the fact that these cards are still Characters, then we should stop considering them Characters. Instead of creating new and elaborate Pilot rules, adding a few words to one sentence solved this problem: "Any card or ability that says it affects units or Characters doesn’t affect Pilots on units." This idea—so simple yet so effective—will completely redefine an entire avenue of deckbuilding once the Revenge of the Sith rulebook goes into effect. While Luke's Garage/Pilot decks will be much less effective, it's quite possible that Kessel System might find its way off the banned list. (Probably not, though, as long as the environment includes Wampa Cave and 1–build cost creatures.)

Whether or not Pilots on other units are Characters wasn't Henry's only concern. The Pilot ability's other abusive feature is that it allows cards to use non-Pilot abilities while on other units. While this isn't an issue for most Pilot cards alone, when used in conjunction with other cards (Luke's Garage again, for example) it can easily become abusive. Removing the cards' Character attribute deals with 99 percent of the possible problems, but you never know when that 1 percent will rear its ugly head. The only way to be certain that couldn't happen was to change the "Pilot's other abilities" rule.

With The Empire Strikes Back rulebook, you can use any of a Pilot's normal abilities that still apply. While many don’t because the Pilot isn't a unit, Princess Leia (G) illustrates pretty handily how some can—and to great effect. In the Revenge of the Sith rulebook, this rule has been changed. Abilities other than the "Pilot" ability cannot be used while the card is on another unit. There are a few exceptions to this: Upkeep, which must be paid no matter where a card is as long as its in play; "Treat as" abilities such as Lobot (A)'s "Treat Lobot as a Droid," which are always in effect regardless of what zone the card's in (even in your hand, deck, or discard pile); and any abilities that specifically function when the card is a Pilot on another unit, such as Dack Ralter (A), Lieutenant Wes Janson (A), and the various Astromech Droid Pilots.

The Star Wars Guru group went pretty far out to find solutions to the problems caused by the Pilot ability. In the end, it came down to the just a few subtle changes that had drastic results. Much the same process went into the group's analysis of the Lucky ability. Check back next time to see how that worked out.

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