In War of the Spark, we have the returning mechanic of proliferate. But we also have additional returning mechanics that don't use the associated keywords, namely Evolution Sage with landfall. This seems to happen a few times per set, where instead of printing the keyword they decide to explain the full mechanic on new cards. Is there a reason that WotC doesn't use established keywords with cards that use the associated mechanic?

3 Answers 3


Landfall isn't an established keyword since it's not a keyword; it doesn't have its own article in the Comprehensive Rules, rule 702. Rather, it is an ability word which does nothing more than link a group of cards with a common theme/mechanic together.

207.2c An ability word appears in italics at the beginning of some abilities. Ability words are similar to keywords in that they tie together cards that have similar functionality, but they have no special rules meaning and no individual entries in the Comprehensive Rules. The ability words are addendum, battalion, bloodrush, channel, chroma, cohort, constellation, converge, council's dilemma, delirium, domain, eminence, enrage, fateful hour, ferocious, formidable, grandeur, hellbent, heroic, imprint, inspired, join forces, kinship, landfall, lieutenant, metalcraft, morbid, parley, radiance, raid, rally, revolt, spell mastery, strive, sweep, tempting offer, threshold, undergrowth, and will of the council.

(the list might be updated when a new set comes out)

Having said that, it looks like Evolution Sage is the only card in that set with landfall a landfall-like ability. Having only one card with that mechanic is (apparently) not enough to return a key- or ability word from a previous block; they generally only do so for evergreen keywords like lifelink, vigilance or shroud.

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    I think a good way of putting it is that the point of the ability words is to group similar abilities together, and with only 1 such card in the set, there's nothing to group.
    – GendoIkari
    Commented May 1, 2019 at 21:34
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    Another thing to consider is: pretend this is the first set someone has ever seen. Do you really want to have to explain landfall or affinity for artifacts or constellation or any set specific keyword/ability just for one card?
    – Becuzz
    Commented May 2, 2019 at 11:43
  • @Becuzz Didn't they do that with affinity on the Tezzeret buy-box-promo? Affinity is a keyword however (I assume) since it isn't listed in the ability word list. But they were willing to print affinity on a single card in this set.
    – SocioMatt
    Commented May 2, 2019 at 17:24
  • @SocioMatt Apparently they did (was not aware). Though I remember seeing some cards in another set that had something that was entirely equivalent to affinity on it, but it didn't use the keyword. As I recall, that card was a common or uncommon (I think). Tezzeret is a rare. I know WotC tries to keep more common cards simpler. Plus I don't think there would be room on Tezzeret to spell it out. (I'd also guess the design team figured if you are buying a box or playing with a rare planeswalker like that, you probably might know what affinity was or could look it up and understand it.)
    – Becuzz
    Commented May 2, 2019 at 17:55

Because they don't want to confuse new players. I don't have a link right on hand, but WotC (or maybe one of its representatives like Mark Rosewater) has stated that it limits the number of keywords and ability words in a set to limit complexity, since it can confuse new players.

  • Isn't that a justification for not including an ability at all, rather than a justification for spelling out a keyword? Do you have an example of a ability that's spelled out rather than using a keyword (where the ability existed at the time the card first appeared).
    – ikegami
    Commented May 2, 2019 at 6:51
  • Off of the top of my head, IIRC there's been cards since Prowess was retired as an evergreen keyword that get +1/+1 until EoT whenever you cast an Instant or Sorcery that don't have it keyworded as Prowess.
    – nick012000
    Commented May 2, 2019 at 6:54
  • @ikegami I don't see how. Even the newest player can understand the words "whenever a land enters the battlefield under your control". A new player would not know what "landfall" means, and have to go looking for the rules on that.
    – GendoIkari
    Commented May 3, 2019 at 14:08

Keywords (and ability words) exist to telegraph the themes of the set

The primary purpose of keywords are to telegraph to players the mechanical themes of the set, and to tie those mechanics to the flavor identity of the set.

Looking at War of the Spark:

Amass is a build-around mechanic for blue, black, and red, and provides a flavorful tie to Bolas's Eternal Army.

Proliferate tells players that they can mechanically build around +1/+1 counters and planeswalkers, and thematically represents the teamwork of the Ravnicans (and planeswalkers) who are teaming up to fight Bolas.

Giving Evolution Sage the Landfall ability word would tell players that they should mechanically care about the lands they are playing. Which... isn't true? The only other cards that really care about lands are Nissa and Awaken Vitu-Ghazi, both of which are rare, and not at all the theme of the set.

Thematically, Landfall was used in Zendikar to represent exploring new lands and discovering new mysteries. Neither of which applies in WAR. Ravnica is thoroughly explored already, and if anything it's being destroyed. A mechanic tied to land destruction might be thematic (if a mechanical nightmare balance-wise), but landfall is a poor fit for the set.

Labeling Evolution Sage with landfall would make comprehension slightly easier (it's easier to remember the ability when you can categorize it as "Landfall - proliferate" rather than remembering the entire thing wholesale), but this effect would be primarily seen amongst experienced players (because they have to already know what landfall is to take advantage of the label), who a) don't need the extra help because they're experienced, and b) will categorize it as "landfall-proliferate" anyways, because c) the ability is extremely simple and doesn't require any memory aids.

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