Magic's "Guardian Angel" Effect
In the MOBA Leauge of Legends, there exists an item called “Guardian Angel.” While the item offers useful raw stats for a reasonable price, it’s the items’ special effect that has led to the Guardian Angel’s status as a Legendary item: After suffering lethal damage, the item revives you over the course of four seconds with half of your maximum HP. Something else happens when players buy this item, and it’s not listed anywhere in the item’s description. Coined as the “GA Effect” by casters covering professional games, players who buy a Guardian Angel suddenly shift the way they play. Players under the GA Effect make aggressive, risky, and precarious plays. This isn’t isolated to pro-play though, as players fall to the GA Effect even in ladder and ranked play.
When I think about players possibly risking their game-winning position on a risky play, I think back to Magic’s Tenth Edition Platinum Angel. Something about slamming a 7-cost and piloting a boardstate that, as long as your Angel survives, is immune to losing gives you a rush similar to the GA Effect. Players drafting The Brother’s War would know this feeling too, seeing as Platinum Angel returned as a retro-frame artifact. I think that there’s something when you have a way to cheat death in a competitive game. When we know we can’t lose, we think differently and make plays that were once too risky become our go-to options. Even if we make an attack that may kill us on the back swing, we’re willing to make that attack, knowing that we’d live… at least until some removal comes along.
I don’t think anyone is surprised about this. After all, it’s the reward without the risk, but it’s interesting how these effects push us to think differently about the game. For another example, let's investigate a sibling to the Platinum Angel: Phyrexian Unlife. Alongside the card Solemnity, Unlife ensures that you can’t ever lose the game due to being at zero life. The combo is most popular in Commander, though I first learned of the combo from a rogue Modern deck. Unlife + Solemnity makes us think differently about our life total, and there’s no shortage of creative ways to utilize a 40 point life pool. But something shifts when the Unlife player has their combo enabled: protecting the combo is secondary to finding a win. The game becomes a race to turn the dwindling life total into a tempo swing that can secure the game. Of course, everyone remaining targets the Unlife player too, since the rules have changed. This sudden shift in tempo, and the race to victory or elimination harkens back to what battlecruiser players feel when their Platinum Angel hits the field.
Cheating death makes us race to victory, because when we change the rules of the game everything targets us. Removal that may have been kept back to remove a sweeper instead target our Angels, or evenly spread aggression becomes targeted in an instant. There’s a lot that happens when someone plays an effect that cheats death. For the player that twists the rules of the game, they will take any edge and any risk they can to secure a finish. And in turn, because the opponent knows what is coming, they too switch their game plan and hope that in destroying the horcrux that they will snatch back victory.. There’s always something interesting happening when a card that says “You cannot lose the game” is played.