The Riki Rules – Legal Eagle

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Tuesday, July 22nd – Two weeks ago, several articles caused a fair amount of forum chatter with their accounts of rules lawyering. Unfortunately, due to the two-day Prerelease, I had most of my article for last week prepped when these articles came out, and I didn’t have time to whip out this response. Hopefully you all remember these cases…

Rules lawyering. Is it a necessary part of the game to be competitive, or just something that scummy people do?

Two weeks ago, several articles caused a fair amount of forum chatter with their accounts of rules lawyering. Unfortunately, due to the two-day Prerelease, I had most of my article for last week prepped when these articles came out, and I didn’t have time to whip out this response. Hopefully you all remember these cases.

Mike Flores Demigod

From Mike Flores article “Everything You Could Possibly Want to Know about Eventide” (Premium):

The once and future great Lan D. Ho and I were just discussing this one in the Red Deck. It is obviously “good enough” in the abstract (look at that power-to-mana cost ratio!), but I think that Demigod of Revenge is superior if you can get the mana. Why?

People are bad.

People are stupid.

People are sloppy.

People don’t know the rules.

Let People give you free games if they insist (and Demigod is awesome even when people do play correctly, don’t forget).

At this point I have seen people misclick Demigod of Revenge on three different occasions, even deep in PTQ play. If you don’t know how the trigger stacks… sigh.

Quick rewind for those of you who don’t know what he is talking about. Demigod of Revenge has an ability that triggers when the spell is played. It goes on the stack just like any other spell or ability and doesn’t leave the stack until both players pass priority in succession. Unless you explicitly say you are retaining priority, you automatically pass priority after playing a spell or ability (otherwise it would get rather tedious to say “pass” every time).

Your opponent receives priority with both the Demigod spell and the triggered ability on the stack. The correct play here is to let the Demigod trigger resolve, then play your counterspell on the Demigod spell. Mike Flores decrees that “people are stupid” and many will and have forget to let the triggered ability resolve before popping their counterspell. The end result of this misplay is that when the triggered ability does resolve the countered Demigod is in the graveyard, ready to fly back into action.

This is rules lawyering at its best, or worst, depending on your point of view. And I’m here to tell you that it is perfectly legal.

But isn’t it clear what the player’s intention is? No one in their right mind would counter the Demigod before resolving the trigger, so shouldn’t this be handled by the vaunted judge tool “ruling by intent”…?

When using RBI, judges are instructed to think about the difference between a simple clerical error and a bad play. Let’s take the classic RBI example of Harrow. A player plays Harrow and puts the card in his graveyard before reaching for his library to search for lands, only to be stopped by his opponent. “You put the card in your graveyard. That means that you finished resolving the spell and failed to find any lands.”

We don’t allow this type of cheese anymore. So how is this any different from countering with the Demigod trigger still on the stack?

Intent does not mean that judges rule via what the correct play is. In fact, when making rulings, judges are encouraged to focus on neutrality, eliminating play skill from the equation. It wasn’t always this way, and it led to inconsistent rulings from judges with disparate play abilities interpreting situations differently.

One forum user suggested that this was a simple case of the shortcuts, i.e. that when a player counters the Demigod, he is using a shortcut that is implicitly letting the trigger resolve first. He compared this to not announcing the end of combat step, an actual step in the game that players rarely use.

The problem with the shortcut logic is that for a shortcut to exist, both players must agree to it, either explicitly by saying so, or implicitly by using said shortcut in the past. Some actions are universally shortcut unless a player says otherwise. Take the end of combat example. There are few cards that you would find cause to use in this step. Desert is the first one that came to my mind, and that is arguably only because it is such an old card. Because we use this step so infrequently, we shortcut through it. If a player needs to play something during the end of combat step, like Desert’s ability, they need to say so: “During the end of combat step…”

So why can’t we shortcut the Demigod trigger? This shortcut works just fine for the player countering the spell; they clearly want to use such a shortcut to save time and headache. But the opponent? It is not in his best interests to have such a shortcut in place. He wants free Demigods from his opponent’s play error. This does not preclude the possibility that you can agree upon such a shortcut with your opponent. If you say “Hey, I notice you are playing Demigod of Revenge. Do you want to establish a shortcut that if I counter your Demigod I am letting the triggered ability resolve first?” and they agree to it, you are home free.

Of course, this brings up the problem of what happens when there is already a Demigod in the graveyard. Thinking about things from that point of view, it becomes painfully clear why judges are forced to rule that the countering player did not in fact let the Demigod trigger resolve. When there are no Demigods in the graveyard, the countering player can try to make the argument that he was implicitly letting the trigger resolve. With a Demigod already in the bin, this argument falls to pieces because said Demigod would need to be returned to play. Now it is clear that the Demigod trigger has not resolved because the trigger would have changed the game state. You can see, for consistency’s sake, why a judge cannot rule that the player had let the trigger resolve first in the “none in graveyard” case. Doing so would lead to two different rulings based on the game state and force the judge to make a “play skill” determination.

I thought of another interesting counterpoint to the implied trigger passing. Let’s say Player A has Kami of the Hunt in play and plays an arcane spell. The trigger and the spell both resolve and the Kami of the Hunt is now a 3/3. Player A then plays another arcane spell. Player B responds with Suffocating Blast targeting the arcane spell on the stack and the Kami of the Hunt. If he were to pass and let the second Kami of the Hunt trigger resolve before playing the Blast, the Kami would grow to a 4/4 and survive the spell.

In this case, letting the trigger resolve accidentally is possibly unlike the “Demigod in graveyard” scenario, but doing so would be a very bad thing for Player B. In not so much that we are implying correct action from Player A here, but that the default choice of not letting the trigger resolve just happens to coincide with the correct play.

Evan Erwin Oona

There was a day and age when some players would play an unscrupulous trick with Persecute. They would play the spell and say “Persecute you naming Black.” Not having any Black cards in their hand, the opponent would allow Persecute to resolve, only to have the persecutor inform them “Upon resolution of the spell, I name Blue.”

When a judge was called, the persecutor would correctly assert that you cannot choose a color when you play the spell, only when it resolves, so making such a choice upon playing was simply idle chatter. A lot of the time, the player would get away with this trick. Judging technology has come a long way since then. The Penalty Guidelines have a specific example in the Player Communication section that deals with this exact situation:

If a player plays a spell or ability and announces choices for it that aren’t normally made until resolution, the player must adhere to those choices unless an opponent responds to it. If an opponent inquires about choices made during resolution, they are assumed to be passing priority and allowing the spell to resolve.

In the Magic Show #104, Evan Erwin describes a play in his PTQ Top 8 run. To get the account in Evan’s own word’s check out the video from around the 17:00 mark. Briefly, Evan was playing Kithkin and his opponent plopped down Oona, Queen of the Fae and said,

“Oona for 4… naming Blue. Err, no, I mean White!”

Evan held his opponent to his word and made him choose Blue as the color for Oona, went onto to victory because of the big whiff with Oona, and earned the scorn of many forum users for selling out. In the forums, Evan defended his play as a general policy of holding your opponent to his word and not allowing take backs.

I feel that Evan’s argument of “holding the opponent to his word” comes with a big “if,” and that “if” makes all the difference in the world in terms of the morality and/or legality of his decision. Evan believes that in a competitive setting like a PTQ, you should hold your opponent to his word… if doing so is to your advantage. A few examples to clarify.

What if Evan had been the one to make a verbal slip up, saying “I’ll Mirrorweave my Stalwart—I mean Wizened Cenn!”If his opponent had been of the same mindset as Evan and held him to his word, Evan would probably be okay with being held to his own standard. However, it’s unlikely that he would have slumped his shoulders, said “I said Stalwart first, so I have to hold myself to my word and target that with Mirrorweave,” without his opponent’s prompting. Thus you can see the double standard at work.

As a judge, it is my responsibility to hold the same standard for all similar situations, no matter what the players want. I have had several occasions when players have tried to argue against penalties for their opponents, in particular the game loss for tardiness. “He was only 30 seconds late. You don’t have to give him the game loss.” Sorry, but it doesn’t work that way.

Or think about if Evan’s opponent had said the exact opposite: “Oona for 4… naming White. Err, no, I mean Blue!”

Would Evan have “held his opponent to his word” in that case, or would he have gone with the final word? I believe that most competitive players who subscribe to the “no take backs” policy would in fact allow a take back here and go with the final word, because doing so is to their advantage.

So what’s the judge ruling on this? In general, we do not allow any take backs. That much is consistent with what competitive players want. However, this particular case is not so much a take back as it is blurting out the wrong thing and correcting himself. Go ahead and listen to the video. If that’s exactly how it was said, I would allow the player to name White as the color.

To me, this is an outgrowth of Ruling by Intent. By correcting himself in the same breath, his intent is clear to me, and he simply misspoke when he said Blue. As long as he corrected himself before any other game action was taken or anyone could respond with an audible “OMG he chose the wrong color,” we can correct the misspoken choice.

In a roundabout way, we’ve come back to the original point about Persecute. Like Persecute, doesn’t require a color choice until the resolution of the ability. If Evan’s opponent had named Blue, whether by accident or to try to trick Evan, and Evan had said “Okay, it resolves,” before his opponent had corrected himself to White, we hold him to the choice of Blue. At that point it doesn’t matter if he made a mistake or was trying to play the Persecute trick. But since he was able to correct himself before Evan or anyone else could get a word in (based on the way Evan himself retells the phrasing) we hold “White” as the chosen color even though it named at the wrong time.

Friday Night Snakeform

Finally FNM has come back to Davis, California. In the past year, I’ve judged one Pro Tour, three Grand Prix tournaments, and half-a-dozen PTQs. Last Friday was my first FNM in almost three years. I will be a regular at Drom’s Comics and Cards in Davis for the foreseeable future on weekends when I do not have to go out of town for big events.

Later this week, we will run our FNM event with Eventide for the very first time. After getting 16 for FNM last week, I’m expecting an excellent turnout and lots of questions, especially about Snakeform. After declaring Mirrorweave the most confusing card in the set, we already have a new contender from Eventide. Here’s a few basic situations you may encounter with Snakeform:

-1/-1 counters always apply after the setting to 1/1, killing the poor Snake.

Bonuses that come from static abilities of permanents always apply after the setting to 1/1. This means any of the Lieges and any God auras will pump the 1/1 up.

Of course, Snakeform changes the creature’s color to Green, overwriting all of its other colors, so that a creature will only receive half of the bonuses from a Liege or aura at most.

All P/T changing effects from spells and abilities happen in the same layer in timestamp order. Whatever pumps happen before Snakeform in this layer don’t matter. Barkshell Blessing might temporarily give +2/+2, but as soon as Snakeform resolves, the creature is back to a 1/1.

Abilities and losing them. This has caused a fair amount of head-scratching fever with Shield of the Oversoul. Normally, the ability blanking does apply to abilities granted by auras. I got this wrong at the Prerelease, or actually I got it right but then let another judge convince me that I was wrong. It can get a bit confusing because of the Shield situation.

You see, indestructible is not a keyword ability. It’s a characteristic. The best analogy being that it is like a permanent’s color. Thus Shield of the Oversoul isn’t granting the creature an ability of indestructibility, but it is changing a characteristic.

Things get a little confusing when a creature is naturally indestructible like Sapling of Colfenor. In this case, the entire line “Sapling of Colfenor is indestructible” is an ability that becomes blanked by Snakeform. This is ever so subtly different from Shield of the Oversoul which says “As long as enchanted creature is green, it gets +1/+1 and is indestructible.” This ability (on the aura) modifies the creature but does not in and of itself give it an ability. So the creature keeps the pump (because it is a static ability from a permanent) and it keeps the indestructible (because it is a characteristic). If only Snakeform turned the creature Blue; then we wouldn’t have this mess!

Until next time, make sure to call a judge every time Snakeform is played just in case!

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