The Justice League – Grand Prix: Oakland From The Far Side

SCG Open Richmond!

Thursday, February 18th – As I write this, I’m currently killing time in the airport lounge of Phoenix, AZ, as I wait for my connecting flight back home to St Louis. I’ve just had three days of fun at GP: Oakland with the usual minimum sleep, so I thought jotting a few things down would help me stay awake to catch my flight and prevent me having another near cardiac arrest as another article deadline looms.

Hello everyone! As I write this, I’m currently killing time in the airport lounge of Phoenix, AZ (maybe I should pop in and visit Eli Shiffrin for some tea?) as I wait for my connecting flight back home to St Louis. I’ve just had three days of fun at GP: Oakland with the usual minimum sleep, so I thought jotting a few things down would help me stay awake to catch my flight and prevent me having another near cardiac arrest as another article deadline looms.

My weekend started on Friday morning with a flight that was almost criminally early and resulted in me leaving the house at a shocking 4am in order to make sure my day went smoothly. The two hour flight to Denver allowed me to spend a bit of time absorbing changes to the Infractions Procedure Guide (IPG) included in the new January update. The first thing that strikes me is that the game play errors have seen some changes and we no longer have separate infractions for illegal game state, incorrect representation and failure to discard. These issues have all been rolled into game rule violations (IPG 3.6) which covers situations when a player fails to follow a game procedure or violates a rule from the comprehensive rules that is not covered by other game play errors e.g. a player forgets to attack with a creature that is required to attack or targets a Paladin En-Vec with Dark Banishing (Paladin has Protection Black). The game rule violations themselves have therefore been adjusted for this inclusion.

Sometimes when a game rule violation occurs the game has already advanced for some time without the players noticing what’s happened. This raises the often sticky issue of whether the game state can be repaired fully and rewound. I’ll talk about this a bit later, but I should point out that a rewind of the game state is the exception, not the rule! However the new IPG points out three situations that should be corrected, even when not rewinding the game —

1. If a player failed to make a required choice for a permanent in play, that player does so — this used to be part of the section on illegal game state.
2. If a player forgot to discard or return cards from their hand to another zone, that player does so.
3. If a player has ended up with more cards in hand than they are supposed to have, return excess cards at random to the top of their library.

Infractions for marked cards have also been streamlined into IPG section 4.8. Cards and sleeves can become very easily marked by shuffling during a tournament and therefore the infraction assumes that it’s accidental e.g. player has a Dark Confidant, Extirpate, two Swamps and an Island upside down in his deck. However some forms of marking (while still accidental) could lead to a significant advantage if the player was to notice during the tournament e.g. player has sleeves for all of his lands which are a slightly different shade of black because he purchased an extra pack of sleeves while preparing his deck. In these cases the head judge has the ability to upgrade to a game loss. If, however, the head judge believed that there was evidence that the marked cards were actually part of a deliberate effort to gain advantage, the head judge would move to cheating infractions and deem the player guilty of manipulations of game materials (IPG 6.4) e.g. the player has sleeves for all of his lands which are a slightly different shade of black and the head judge believes that this was a deliberate act by the player for some reason. Okay, so I’ve intentionally used the same example twice for situations that would be a game loss or result in a disqualification. The point to bear in mind hear is that a decision that the player was cheating would only be reached as the result of an investigation by the judge and listening to what the player had to say about the situation.

Randomly determining a winner (IPG 5.3) has been given a minor tweak to improperly determining a winner to take into account any method of deciding a match which is not based on the skill of a game of magic between two players. People often forget that changing the natural outcome of the match can affect the chances of other player’s around you and strike a blow to the integrity of that event (we had a case of this just yesterday on Day 2 at one of the top tables of GP: Oakland, when the players rolled a dice to decide the winners after a natural draw at the end of the round).

While the changes to the IPG often happens several times a year and perhaps some people find it frustrating, I hope people appreciate that these changes are the brainchild of a large community of DCI judges around the world who are constantly reassessing how to make the game more fair and fun for both competitive and casual players alike. I really don’t think there is another game on the planet that’s been steadily crafted with so much love.

Okay, so by the time I had absorbed all this we were landing in Denver. I made haste in order to refill on V8 juice and make it for my connecting flight to Oakland. In transit to this goal I almost ran into Shawn Doherty who was heading for the same flight. Ten minutes later and Ben Klein appeared as if by magic, and we talked together before boarding began. I was hoping to throw some questions at Shawn Doherty during the flight, but he was ‘Lording it up’ in some sort of extra premier, super-duper first class status in the front of the plane. Although I didn’t really understand the ‘super-duper’ part to his travel status, it might have involved the fact that his milk was extra chilled and his cookie was warmed up during the flight -a fact to which he gloated about in the ‘judge taxi’ from the airport (and many thanks to the tireless work of Paul Yale on Friday as he made multiple trips to both Oakland and San Francisco airport in his own personal time to help out).

I spent a couple of hours in the hall when we arrived and caught up with some familiar faces before heading for the first meeting of the weekend with head judge John Carter. To ensure smooth operations its normal for the team leads to share a meal with the head judge and talk about things that will ensure everything goes to plan. This would usually be a L 3 judge club or higher for the discussion but due to a slight shortage of L 3’s I was given a rare honor of team leading for Saturday. I love working with each and every one of these guys: John Carter, Adam Shaw, Shawn Doherty, Hector Fuentes, John Alderfer , Damian Hiller — and have a enormous respect for them too (albeit I did witness Hector Fuentes stealing French fries from Shawn Doherty’s plate when he went to the bathroom).

When we finished I went up to the hotel room despite a strong desire to draft and worked on my own plan for the day ahead. I was going to be making floor coverage even and efficient, but also needed to work on some discussion topics for my team that would challenge them during the day. At past events that would have primarily involved questions from the comprehensive rules about casting spells or replacement effects, but this time I wanted to include more philosophy based ideas like why we do/don’t back up a game rule violation?; what’s an acceptable way to communicate a game shortcut?; when is a card entering your hand considered a drawing extra cards infraction and why? This change in approach has been hammered into me by the excellent Jason Lems and others as I try and adapt my thinking to a more L3 type manner. Judges work hard at a GP but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from each other as we go. Ingrid and Pete Jahn have also been excellent exponents of this in the last few years as they turn learning into a game with bingo cards for the judges, which they fill in as they answer questions from people around the room.

Saturday morning came way too quickly, and I joined the rest of the staff at 7am for Carter’s initial talk before splitting up with my team for the day. GP: Oakland may not have set any record for attendance, although it was a respectable 700+, it did prove to be a busy morning as the extended format made for sizeable number of questions. Below is a compilation of the more common and interesting ones for the current format —

There were certainly more than a few decks with Bridge from Below. Usually the common question with a Bridge in the graveyard is how to handle multiple creatures, for both players, going to the graveyard at the same time. Now as long as only one player has a Bridge in his graveyard that player will control all of the triggers going onto the stack C.R. 603.3a — we don’t care that the creature hitting the graveyard belongs to another player. He can therefore choose to put them on the stack in any order and just needs to be sensible enough to put the triggers for his 2/2 tokens on the stack last. If both players have a Bridge in their graveyards then we put the active player’s triggers on the stack first (in any order) and then the non-active player’s triggers (again in any order he chooses) C.R. 603.3b.

The Golgari Grave-Troll has a replacement effect as it enters the battlefield (C.R. 614.1c) to put counters on it equal to the number of creature cards in the player’s graveyard. However, if the Grave-Troll is returned to the battlefield directly from the graveyard by something like Dread Return, the replacement effect to give it counters has to happen before it enters the battlefield (C.R. 614.12). Therefore, the Grave-Troll is still in the graveyard and it counts itself when receiving counters.

With so many dual and sac lands available in the format, I’m sure nobody will be shocked to hear that many were packing Magus of the Moon and Blood Moon in their sideboard this weekend. Dual lands from the Ravnica block have a replacement effect that applies as the land comes into play. You pay two life and it will come onto the battlefield untapped. It doesn’t come onto the battlefield tapped and then untap. So you can bring it onto the battlefield untapped with a Blood Moon or Magus present, but it still won’t produce anything other than Red mana.

If a Blood Moon is joined by Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth on the battlefield we get into the layers and have a dependency issue. Both the Blood Moon and Urborg are trying to change land types (C.R. 613.1d). Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth is trying to add ‘Swamp’ to each land while Blood Moon is trying to change each non-basic lands sub-type into mountain (including the Urborg). Normally we would just apply each effect according to its timestamp (C.R. 613.6c), but we know that Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth is dependent on Blood Moon because they apply in the same layer and it prevents the very existence of the Tomb effect (C.R. 613.7a) if we apply blood moon first. So we apply Blood Moon first regardless of timestamp and the Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth only produces Red mana.

Staying with Blood moon a little bit longer, I had a question about a Vesuva coming into play and copying a non-basic land while Blood Moon is on the battlefield. The type changing effect of Blood Moon is not one of the copy-able values when Vesuva enters the battlefield (C.R. 706.2) but Vesuva will still be a Non-Basic land and, because of Blood Moon, it will only produce red mana. The choice of a land to copy is still important as if the Blood Moon leaves the battlefield Vesuva will once more have the abilities of the copied land.

Split second cards like Extirpate and Sudden Death are back, but you can still take a special action (C.R. 702.58b). Special actions include using a mana ability or turning a face down creature face up by paying a morph cost and suspending a card from your hand if you are at a suitable point in the turn (C.R. 702.59a).

Monstrous Carabid is on the battlefield but the player’s opponent has a Ghostly Prison. Even though the Carabid attack is a requirement, the payment of mana is a ‘get out of jail card’ for the Carabid. The player can attack with any creature as long as the requirement of 2 mana paid is met. CR 508.1d – Tapped creatures and creatures with unpaid costs to attack are exempt from effects that would require them to attack.

My next point was just a “what if” question posed by a player about Elvish Spirit Guide and a second one that is a copy of the Elvish Spirit Guide. Suppose an opponent uses Withdraw to target the copy of the Elvish Sprit Guide and then the real Elvish Spirit Guide card. The copy gets bounced first and since the resolving Withdraw spell gives you an opportunity to pay mana, you can use the copy of Elvish Spirit Guide which does have a mana ability (C.R. 605.1a). The game isn’t in a position to check for State Based actions (we’re still resolving a spell people) and make the token cease to exist yet. So you could use the copy to pay 1 mana and save the second from being bounced.

Unearth is an activated ability that works when the card is in your graveyard and you will get a chance to respond (C.R. 702.81a). It’s not an alternative method of casting the spell.

Each of the ‘pact cards’ like Slaughter Pact set up a delayed triggered ability (C.R. 603.7.) as part of the resolution of the spell. If the spell is countered then none of the cards text is followed and you won’t have to make a mana payment during your next upkeep.

Vedalken Shackles checks the number of islands you control and the creatures power when the ability is activated and when it resolves. After that, as long as the shackles remains tapped you retain control of the creature — even if its power changes or it stops being a creature, like say an animated Mutavault at the end of turn (C.R. 611.2b).

Another old favorite was back in the form of Isochron Scepter. The Scepter is allowing you to cast a copy of the card. Since Meddling Mage prevents you from casting a named card, it doesn’t stop you using the Isochron Scepter to cast a copy. A split card can be used for an Iscochron Scepter as long as one half of the card costs two or less. When the Scepter is activated it can cast a copy of either half of the split card regardless of whether that half costs more than 2 (C.R. 708.5 and 708.6a). You cast the copy without paying its mana cost as an alternative cost, therefore you can’t apply any other alternative costs (C.R. 601.2b). You do have to take into account any additional costs.

I was also called to a table where the active player had said ‘go’ to finish his turn and his opponent had picked up a fetch land and given it a deliberate shake while looking at the first player. The active player started to say, “In response to sacking your fetch land….” When the opponent claimed has was only thinking about sacking the land and had not committed to it yet. So what to do? I spoke to each player away from the table and checked their stories. Although it was true that the player with the fetch land had not marked down a life total change (which would have been part of the cost), I don’t think he would have taken steps to change his life total until after he had searched for a land anyway. So what did this gesture of picking up the card mean? My gut told me it was a clear indication of his intent to sacrifice the land, and I held him to that in the end.

Lastly, there were quite a few game rule violations that had players asking for things to be backed up. Remember that most game rule violations (IPG 3.6) occur on the battlefield where all players in the match have an opportunity to spot the problem and stop things from going too far. Remember that both players are responsible for the game state. If a judge does decide to rewind it’s not because he’s physically able to rewind, but rather because he’s able to do so without affecting the course of the game too much when it moves forward again. Let’s look at some examples.

Scenario 1- Player A casts and resolves Wrath of God with WRRG (instead of at least WW) and kills a few vanilla 2/2 creatures on each side of the battlefield. At the end of turn his opponent then casts and resolves Sylvan Bounty to gain 8 life — Judge! This seems straightforward enough, so I would back up. However, what if events are more involved?

Scenario 2- Player A casts and resolves Wrath of God with WRRG and kills a few vanilla 2/2 creatures on each side of the battlefield. In the second main phase player B casts Caller of the Claw and then Sylvan Bounty at the end of turn to gain 8 life. Would you still rewind? Wouldn’t player A reconsider casting the Wrath if he knows his opponent can respond with Caller of the Claw?

Scenario 3- Player A casts and resolves Wrath of God with WRRG and kills a few vanilla 2/2 creatures on each side of the battlefield. In the second main phase player B casts Caller of the Claw and then Sylvan Bounty at the end of turn, but player A responds with Shunt and changes the target of Sylvan Bounty to himself. Starting to get messy? Sure, we could accurately rewind the game, but when things move forward again, there could be a lot of changes in what the players do. I talked to about a half dozen of the L 3 judges on hand at GP: Oakland, none of them completely agreed with each other on how far they would go on a rewind. Some said they wouldn’t rewind to a previous turn, but some would. Some were happy if two or three spells were cast, some were not. Remember that there are no hard set rules for rewinding the game state, but it really doesn’t take much for the progression of a game to change dramatically once rewound. Each judge has to use their own experience and common sense when weighing up each individual case. For my own part, I was called to a table on Saturday where a player had cast Molten Rain on his opponent for two turns in a row, but only had one mountain (Molten Rain is 1RR). No other spells were cast and no creatures were on the battlefield. Many judges wouldn’t rewind two entire turns to fix things, but given that there had been no combat or other spells cast I said yes on this occasion. Just one spell would have drastically reduced my likelihood of agreeing to this. Just remember that rewinds are the exception, not the rule!

As you read this you might be in San Diego or heading there for the Pro Tour this weekend. GP: Oakland certainly had a strong international feel amongst the judges with South America, Europe and Australia being represented with multiple judges. I however will not, and have given up the chance of the sunny beaches of southern California in order to travel to Nashville on Saturday for the PTQ at The Next Level Games. Wherever you go this weekend, may your top deck be lucky.

Most Valuable Judge (MVJ) this month goes to Fabian Peck from Melbourne, Australia. Saturday’s GP was his biggest event to date, and he looked comfortable throughout. He is an excellent Level ,2 and he even brought along some prepared decks of cards for the team to look at in the morning and discuss marked cards. I’m glad I was able to help him get a chance to team lead on the Sunday, and I’m sure he’s going to rock San Diego this weekend!