The Justice League – The Mistakes ALL New Judges Make

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Friday, October 2nd – While most judges have probably used the judge center at some stage to set up exams for themselves, there is nothing to stop you creating exams for other judges that you are actively mentoring. By generating the exams for the candidate, you automatically become ‘privy’ to the results and the answers they give.

Hello everyone! I’ve been enjoying the quiet life this month with almost no judging duties whatsoever. Not that I’ve been scratching around for things to do, because the I’ve been keeping in touch with a handful of budding L 0 judges as I try and work with them towards their L 1 certification. While I’ve been judging around the States I’ve made a lot of new friends and been able to strengthen those initial bonds after the tournament using networking sites like Facebook. Facebook has really exploded the judge community in a big way: I’ve easily added over 100 new contacts around the world just through a common love for magic and judging. Complimenting this online interaction are things like the DCI judge center. The judge center is a great resource that anyone can log onto and use to write reviews for other judges to help them grow, share ideas for improvements and take exams to sharpen your rules knowledge. To get to the judge center go through the wizards homepage for magic and click on “Tournaments and Events” while under the trading card game tab.

While most judges have probably used the judge center at some stage to set up exams for themselves, there is nothing to stop you creating exams for other judges that you are actively mentoring. By generating the exams for the candidate, you automatically become ‘privy’ to the results and the answers they give. So I usually set up three or four exams for each candidate and then email or phone chat with them to talk about the sticking points they have later and suggest some homework for them before starting the process again. While I obviously hope that it’s been enlightening for them, it’s also made me aware of several common flaws and weaknesses that almost all new judges seem to suffer from. So for this month, I’ll humbly try and address some of these issues in the hope that it can provide a stronger foundation for people looking to test for L 1 for the first time!

Commandment 1: Read The Freaking Card!

RTFC seems so obvious, but it’s a T-shirt sensation across the judge community for a reason, buddy! Many abilities and their effects can turn on the presence or absence of a single word in the text of the ability. Some of the seemingly more taxing questions I’ve ever been asked have been clarified by just reading the card. Is the ability triggered or activated? Does it trigger when the creature is blocked or whenever blocked by a creature? Just think back to the last article I did, and the comparison of Tendrils of Corruption and Consume Spirit? Preventing damage from a Tendrils still results in a life gain but it doesn’t for Consume Spirit, since the life gain is tied to the damage dealt in Consume Spirit. Think about auras like Spirit Link and Lifelink. Lifelink gives the enchanted creature the static ability Lifelink, which works according to the M10 rules change and so you gain the life as the damage is dealt. Meanwhile auras like Spirit Link and older cards like Armadillo Cloak have gone back to being triggered abilities for life gain when the damage is dealt. Interestingly, Loxodon Warhammer is unique in that it originally granted a triggered ability to the equipped creature to gain life but has since been changed to grant the equipped creature Lifelink (and therefore it does cause life gain as the damage is dealt). Don’t assume you know what the card does —RTFC, baby!

Commandment No 2: Playing a spell.

Such a fundamental aspect of the game, and yet the fine details of the steps involved are often muddled by the new judge candidates. The steps are outlined in C.R. 601.2a — 601.2g, but let’s walk through this one.

Step 1, C.R. 601.2a. The player announces that he or she is casting the spell. That card (or that copy of a card) moves from the zone it’s in to the stack. It becomes the topmost object on the stack. It has all the characteristics of the card (or the copy of a card) associated with it, and that player becomes its controller. The spell remains on the stack until it’s countered, it resolves, or an effect moves it elsewhere.

The player announces the spell and the physical card moves from the zone it’s in to the top of the stack. Most of the time the card is moving from your hand, but it could be from other zones e.g. from the graveyard if a cards alternative casting cost of Flashback is being paid or from the exiled zone if the last suspend counter was removed from the suspended card.

Step 2, C.R. 601.2b. If the spell is modal the player announces the mode choice (see rule 700.2). If the player wishes to splice any cards onto the spell (see rule 702.44), he or she reveals those cards in his or her hand. If the spell has alternative, additional, or other special costs that will be paid as it’s being cast such as buyback, kicker, or convoke costs (see rules 116.8 and 116.9), the player announces his or her intentions to pay any or all of those costs (see rule 601.2e). A player can’t apply two alternative methods of casting or two alternative costs to a single spell. If the spell has a variable cost that will be paid as it’s being cast (such as an {X} in its mana cost; see rule 107.3), the player announces the value of that variable. If a cost that will be paid as the spell is being cast includes hybrid mana symbols, the player announces the nonhybrid equivalent cost he or she intends to pay. Previously made choices (such as choosing to cast a spell with flashback from a graveyard or choosing to cast a creature with morph face down) may restrict the player’s options when making these choices.

There is quite a lot going on here (including things like splice, which I’m not going to talk about), although a lot of the more plain and boring spells you can play have no need for 2b. At the risk of just regurgitating the comprehensive rules, I’ll summarize as 3 main points. If the spell has different modes then the mode of the spell is chosen at this point. You can always recognize spells with different modes because it starts with something like, “choose one-” before listing the different modes e.g. the Shards of Alara charm spells like Bant Charm. Some spells allow you to choose multiple modes e.g. Branching Bolt or Cryptic Command. A second major consideration in 2b is announcing intentions to pay additional costs or use alternative costs. Examples of additional costs include things like kicker, conspire, delve and replicate. Examples of alternative costs include prowl or evoke. If the spell has some variable cost like a value of ‘X’ in the cost to pay then it is chosen in 2b. I usually sum up 2b as ‘MAX’ for modes, additional/alternative costs and X in spell.

Step 3, C.R. 601.2c. The player announces his or her choice of an appropriate player, object, or zone for each target the spell requires. A spell may require some targets only if an alternative, additional, or special cost (such as a buyback or kicker cost), or a particular mode, was chosen for it; otherwise, the spell is cast as though it did not have those targets. If the spell has a variable number of targets, the player announces how many targets he or she will choose before he or she announces those targets. The same target can’t be chosen multiple times for any one instance of the word “target” on the spell. However, if the spell uses the word “target” in multiple places, the same object, player, or zone can be chosen once for each instance of the word “target” (as long as it fits the targeting criteria).The chosen players, objects, and/or zones each become a target of that spell. (Any abilities that trigger when those players, objects, and/or zones become the target of a spell trigger at this point; they’ll wait to be put on the stack until the spell has finished being cast.)

Targets. The majority of spells will only have one target, but announce how many targets you have if the spell can allow more than one e.g. Fireball. A few rules for targets include —

– It normally applies to a permanent on the battlefield unless the spell specifies otherwise (C.R. 113.2)

– A spell can’t target itself (C.R. 113.4)

– The spell isn’t targeting an object/player if it doesn’t say target (113.9a)

Step 4, C.R. 601.2d: If the spell requires the player to divide or distribute an effect (such as damage or counters) among one or more targets, the player announces the division. Each of these targets must receive at least one of whatever is being divided.

Division of damage or some other effect. Normally ‘something’ divided amongst the targets chosen from the last step. Each target must receive one of whatever is being divided e.g. damage or counters.

Step 4, C.R. 601.2e: The player determines the total cost of the spell. Usually this is just the mana cost. Some spells have additional or alternative costs. Some effects may increase or reduce the cost to pay, or may provide other alternative costs. Costs may include paying mana, tapping permanents, sacrificing permanents, discarding cards, and so on. The total cost is the mana cost or alternative cost (as determined in rule 601.2b), plus all additional costs and cost increases, and minus all cost reductions. If the mana component of the total cost is reduced to nothing by cost reduction effects, it is considered to be {0}. It can’t be reduced to less than {0}. Once the total cost is determined, any effects that directly affect the total cost are applied. Then the resulting total cost becomes “locked in.” If effects would change the total cost after this time, they have no effect.

Cost. Cost can include mana, discarding cards, tapping permanents, paying life etc. The total costs are calculated by taking into account cost increases and then cost reductions. The total cost then becomes ‘locked in’ at this stage.

Step 5, C.R. 601.2f: If the total cost includes a mana payment, the player then has a chance to activate mana abilities (see rule 605, “Mana Abilities”). Mana abilities must be activated before costs are paid.

Mana payments. If a spell needs a mana payment, then this is your chance to produce that mana!

Step 6, C.R. 601.2g: The player pays the total cost in any order. Partial payments are not allowed. Unpayable costs can’t be paid.

Payments. Finally we pay all costs and in any order. Full payment as well please, no skimping on the bill.

Okay, so put it all together and we get the acronym, “MAX-TD-CMP“. What exactly that means to you I don’t know, but because I used to have a roommate called Teddy that was always moaning about his opening hands either having 5+ lands or less than 2, so I think of “Maximum Ted Complaining.” Don’t knock it, it works for me! Understanding the finer order to casting a spell makes some rulings a lot easier.

e.g. Casting a spell with convoke doesn’t become 2 mana cheaper to cast by tapping a copy of Centaur Omenreader to pay for convoke. That’s because the cost of the spell is locked into step 4, C.R. 601.2e when the Centaur is still untapped. Costs like convoke are paid by tapping the creature in step 6, C.R. 601.2g.

e.g. A Wild Cantor on the battlefield can’t be used for its mana ability and tapped for convoke at the same time either. The Wild Cantor has a mana ability that is used in step 5 (C.R. 601.2f) and therefore won’t be around to pay for additional costs like convoke in step 6 (C.R. 601.2g).

e.g. Trinisphere always wins. It kicks in after cost increases and reductions and asks, “Did you pay at least 3 mana for that spell?” If you didn’t, then it’s going to force you to pay 3. This will catch out people who are not paying the mana cost with things like suspend or flipping over cards from a cascade spell and make them pay at least 3.

Step 6, C.R. 601.2h: Once the steps described in 601.2a—g are completed, the spell becomes cast. Any abilities that trigger on a spell being cast or put onto the stack trigger at this time. If the spell’s controller had priority before casting it, he or she gets priority.

Well done! You made it to the end! That wasn’t so hard, was it?

Commandment 3: Handling Multiple Triggers.

One of the most common misunderstandings in Magic involves handling triggers. Abilities can trigger for a variety of reasons e.g. when a particular game state occurs or at the start of a certain phase or step. However, just because the ability has triggered it doesn’t automatically go on the stack (C.R. 603.3b). The game first performs a check of state based actions and keeps performing this check until no new ones are created. State based actions are the game’s way of cleaning up each time something happens in the game, e.g. a creature with lethal damage on the battlefield, a player with ten poison counters or two planeswalkers with the same name. Usually only one check will be necessary, but if there is a state based action to perform, then another check is automatically done straight away. Once the coast is clear so to speak, with no new state based actions produced, the game is ready to put abilities that have triggered on the stack. If multiple abilities are waiting to be put on the stack, the active player puts all their abilities on the stack in any order, and then the non-active player puts their abilities on the stack in any order. State based actions are checked again afterwards. A player will not receive priority until there are no new state based actions and no new triggers going onto the stack (C.R. 115.5).

Commandment 4: Beginning of end of turn vs. until the end of turn.

To help clarify, let’s look at the ending phase (C.R. 512). It consists of two steps: end step and cleanup step.

At the beginning of the end step the game puts all triggers on the stack that trigger at “the beginning of end step” (C.R. 513.1) e.g. Ball lightning and Protean Hydra. Remember that before the M10 rules change we used to refer to this as the “at end of turn” triggers, but cards have received errata to bring their wording into line with triggers for the beginning of other steps like upkeep and main phase e.g. cards like Anurid Brushhopper and Astral Slide will receive new wording to match oracle text if they ever see print again. Now the active player gets priority. So the trigger point has passed for the beginning of end of turn. Therefore any new triggers that refer to the beginning of end step won’t trigger until the beginning of the next end of turn (C.R. 513.3). Once both players pass on an empty stack we move on to the cleanup step.

The cleanup step starts without players receiving priority and presses on with several events that don’t use the stack. Firstly, the active player discards down to his maximum hand size (C.R. 514.1). Secondly, all damage marked on permanents and “until end of turn effects” end simultaneously (C.R. 514.2) e.g. Giant Growth and Agony Warp. Normally players wouldn’t get priority in the cleanup step, but now the game checks for any triggers waiting to go on the stack or state based actions that have to be performed. If there are any, then state based actions are performed and the triggers go on the stack. The active player then gets priority and players can cast spells. Once both players pass on an empty stack the game starts another cleanup step (C.R. 514.3a).

Commandment 5: Triggers to the graveyard from anywhere and triggers to the graveyard from the battlefield (C.R. 603.6c).

Although both technically trigger when they hit the graveyard, cards with abilities that say in part, “put into the graveyard from the battlefield” will trigger based on the state of the card while it was still in play e.g. Festering Goblin and Magma Phoenix. However, cards with abilities that say in part, “when [object] is put in the graveyard from anywhere” are triggering based on their state once in the graveyard e.g. Dread. Why does this matter? Well, a lot of the time it doesn’t, but imagine that the creature had lost its abilities while in play because of Humility (Yes! Finally sneaked it into an article) or, say, enchanted with Lignify? Since the first kind of trigger is based on the creature while it’s still on the battlefield, it won’t trigger since it doesn’t have any abilities at this time. However, creatures like Dread will still trigger because we look at the card when it hits the graveyard and is no longer affected by the likes of Humility or Lignify.

Commandment 6: The intervening ‘if’ clause.

Most triggers are written as “when/whenever/at “[Trigger condition], [effect]” e.g. Awakener Druid, Hypnotic Specter and Manabarbs. However, there are a more select group of cards with abilities which use the intervening if clause and are written as, “When/Whenever/At [trigger event], if [condition], [effect].” These abilities check for the ‘if condition’ to be true when the ability would trigger. If it isn’t the ability does nothing. The ability then rechecks the validity of the ‘if condition’ when the ability would resolve. If it isn’t true anymore, the ability does nothing and is removed from the stack (C.R. 603.4). This recheck is a bit like having an ability checking targets as it goes onto the stack and resolves.

Commandment 7: Read the infractions procedure guide (IPG) — No really, read it!

The largest blind spot for any new judge is the IPG (the artist formerly known as the penalty guidelines). With about 30% of your exam based on the IPG and the MTG floor rules, it will leave you with a very narrow margin of error if you neglect these documents (the minimum score to pass being 70% so do the math!). Start out with the core basics like deck errors (IPG section 2) and game play errors (IPG section 3). These two areas will cover the majority of questions from either an exam or indeed a tournament as a judge. Although the floor rules should also be embraced, I’d always suggest that judges pay particular attention to the communications policy (MTR section 4), since it’s probably the most relevant section for handling player arguments at a tournament.

So, that covers most of the regular sticking points for my newbie judges. Feel free to suggest more great revelations you went though on the forums if you’ve taken the L 1 test yourself (although don’t talk about specific questions). Some of the purists might be looking for commandments 8, 9 and 10? For those people I’ll add – eat your greens, wash your hands when you go to the restroom (no really guys, WASH YOUR HANDS), and tell your mother she is beautiful every day!

Until next time, may your Zendikar topdeck be lucky.