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When card text says to place a card into exile, and then do something else with that card, what is the purpose of putting it into exile temporarily?

For example, cards often either let your draw from your library into exile, or remove cards from a graveyard into exile, and then cast them from exile. Dire Fleet Daredevil for example.

As someone who did not play for many years, this seems wordy and over complicated. I find myself reading such cards 2 or 3 times before mentally connecting the trigger to the end result without the seemingly pointless intermediate step of exiling cards.

I assume this is a common practice now to avoid some overpowered combo or weird condition. I'd like to have a better understanding of what the rule/card designers accomplish/prevent by having exile as an intermediate step.

Note, I am not asking for an explanation of what exile does in general, nor am I asking why a player would prefer to exile over destroy.

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Exiling a card before allowing an action does a couple things:

  • It protects the cards from interactions until it is cast. If the Dire Fleet Daredevil has targeted a card, you want it to be uninteractable by the owner until you decide to cast it (assuming it wasn't removed in response to the trigger). If it wasn't exiled, it could be removed from the graveyard (e.g. shuffled into library) before being cast, preventing you from casting the card.
  • It acts to remove the card from the game. This is more relevant for graveyard exile than deck exile, where it's more a use-it-or-lose-it situation. Even in the Daredevil scenario, if you never cast the card, it's still exiled.
  • It makes the card public information. This applies more to deck exile. It would be "harder" (read "near-impossible") to keep track of which card you exiled if you got to put the card into your hand. Even if the card is not face-up, it's still in a separate area.
  • It also allows normal ETB stuff to happen without having to create weird special rules (see any of the creatures that flip to planeswalkers like Nicol Bolas, the Ravager). It also makes it easier to understand (for me) rules like 701.27f (multiple delayed transform triggers only result in one transformation rather than multiple) (I can't exile and transform something that isn't on the battlefield vs flipping the same card over multiple times). – Becuzz Jun 28 at 19:18
  • @Becuzz I didn't address that since I assumed flicker/exile+return weren't part of the question. – JonTheMon Jun 28 at 19:20
  • This reasoning is illuminating, but I think there's a premise (or conclusion?) that's been left unstated: The cards "earmarked" by these effects have to go somewhere within the game mechanics; the exile zone is the only place that allows an effect like "you get to play a card from an opponent's graveyard" to work while providing the conditions listed in this answer. – Ryan Veeder Jun 28 at 23:25
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    Re "you want it to be uninteractable by the owner until you decide to cast it", For example, if DFD left the card in the graveyard, if the card was somehow removed it from their graveyard, you would no longer be able to cast it (CR 400.7) – ikegami Jun 28 at 23:42
  • I think the second point is more of a side-effect rather than a reason. Protection and clarity are key here. – ikegami Jun 28 at 23:48
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Dire Fleet Daredevil probably isn't the best example, since the purpose is rather straightforward. The desired effect of the card is that you get to choose a card from an opponent's graveyard. The card you choose can be cast until the end of turn, and if it's not cast by then, it's lost forever. I can't think of a simpler way of implementing that. It could read "You can put target card into your hand, and then at end of turn if it's still in your hand exile it", but that would mean that there's a special card in your hand that has a special property that has to be kept track of, and would mean that there would have to be an extra trigger at the end of turn exiling it. It also means that you have a card that you don't own in your hand, and AFAIK the main game (i.e. not including the un sets) doesn't allow cards you don't own in your library, hand, or graveyard. Not only would this implementation be more complicated, it would also not be functionally identical. As just one example of an interaction that would differ between the two situations, if the card is in your hand, your opponent can get you to discard it, but cards can't be discarded from exile.

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It's not something from recent years; Magic's history is full of cards which remove ... from the game (the old wording for 'exile').

In fact, that terminology is a better indication of what's going on (Wizards of the Coast switched to 'exile' for flavor reasons, and not everybody was happy with this). The cards are removed from the rest of the game in order to make it clear for every player (whether the cards are face up or face down) that they were 'set apart' for a special effect. You'd lose that if they were put in somebody's hand, graveyard or the bottom of their library.

Because they are 'set apart', there aren't that many cards which are able to interact with all cards in the exile zone. (Pull from Eternity is one of the exceptions.) That also means that it's relatively safe for combos by the owner, but also for 'hate' by the opponent (e.g. Tormod's Crypt). In your Dire Fleet Daredevil case, the opponent can't return them to their own hand, or cast them themselves if the spells have flashback.

  • The Wish cycle used to be able to interact with the removed from game zone, but it cannot interact with the exile zone. – murgatroid99 Jun 28 at 16:41
  • Heh, you're right - it's been a long time since I played competitive MtG. I'm on mobile right now - have there been printed any alternatives meanwhile? – Glorfindel Jun 28 at 16:46
  • There are only a few. Pull from Eternity is probably the simplest one. – murgatroid99 Jun 28 at 17:19
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    I disagree that "remove from the game" is a better term than "exile". Things that aren't part of the game (e.g. cards not in my deck, Scrabble tiles, etc.) should be essentially irrelevant to someone playing the game. With so many relatively recent cards that interact with cards in exile, exiled cards are a strategic resource for certain types of decks. For the card in question here, it wouldn't make much sense to be able to cast a card that's been "removed from the game" - if I can cast it, it is clearly still part of the game! – Nuclear Wang Jun 28 at 17:38
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    This ianswer involves a lot of theory crafting and opinions. One or more actual sources would go a long way towards improving this answer. – Hackworth Jun 28 at 19:16

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