The Riki Rules – Tap, Tap, Take Back

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Tuesday, July 29th – Riki looks back at last week’s intriguing Demigod of Revenge debate, and discusses the rights and wrongs involved when calling a judge over an opponent’s repeated infractions.

As expected, there was some confusion and in some cases anger over last week’s Demigod of Revenge discussion. I addressed a lot of stuff in the forums, but I want to reiterate a few points here for those who don’t follow the response threads.

There is a lot of confusion about the judge concept “Ruling by Intent” insofar as a few people felt that the intent of the player countering Demigod of Revenge was clear enough. While it is true that countering the Demigod after the trigger resolves is usually the best play, that’s not always the case. Zaiem Beg highlighted two possible scenarios where it would be strategically beneficial to counter Demigod before resolving the triggered ability.

The first is Counterbore – you want to counter the spell and catch any other Demigods your opponent might have in the graveyard rather than in play so that the spell removes them all. The second scenario is with Faerie Macabre, where you would want to remove the countered Demigod and a second copy from the graveyard together. Again, you need to counter before the triggered ability in order to maximize the effectiveness of these spells, which is contrary to the notion of “you always want to let the trigger resolve before countering.”

Of course, then the judge should be able to make that determination based on what the countering player has in his hand, right? No. Over the past several years, there has been a big push to make judges as impartial and consistent as possible. It’s probably been going on for longer than that, but I’ve noticed it mostly in conjunction with the new Penalty Guidelines. What this means is that judges are highly discouraged from making determinations on things like the “optimal/best play” or trying to guess what a player wanted to do.

To further illustrate why, imagine that the counter player is using Dream Fracture. What is the best play? Does your answer change if I tell you that he has the possibility of drawing a graveyard removal card like Faerie Macabre? What if he’s already drawn the Macabre off Dream Fracture? There are all kinds of side alleys that these scenarios can move into where it gets increasingly difficult to figure out what a player intended at a certain point in time without taking into account what’s happened since then. That’s why there needs to be a baseline way to handle things in all circumstances.

What about Ruling by Intent? Well, what I’ve come to realize is that the concept is very useful, but the name is highly misleading. To help people better understand what judges are looking for, I’ve been calling it “Ruling by Show of Intent.” That means that there has to be some kind of demonstrable evidence of what you wanted to do at the time. In the Harrow case, it’s clear that picking up the library and starting to search for lands is a show of intent that you meant to search before putting the card in the graveyard and supposedly resolving the spell fully.

Without some verbal or physical indication, judges should not be guessing at intent, even if the play is obvious. And that means that the Demigod trigger is still on the stack, much to the chagrin of non-tournament or “casual” players.

“If that’s how I have to play to win a tournament, then I don’t want to win.”

This is a common lament from that crowd. But not all tournament players are scumbags, nor do you need to be one in order to be successful. Here’s a story about one player who has been to the Pro Tour (a fairly good indicator of success).

Player A played Sower of Temptation and tried to take Player B’s large Mistbind Clique. Player B was holding a Nameless Inversion, but only had one mana open. Still, he could untap, kill the Sower, and attack with a bunch of Faeries for a massive tempo swing that would likely have ended with him winning the game.

Unfortunately for Player B, Player A’s play was illegal due to a Scion of Oona shrouding the Mistbind. Despite the fact that the illegal play would have been to his benefit, Player B diligently informed his opponent that the Mistbind Clique was an illegal target due to Scion’s shroud-granting ability.

In fact, the only legal target on Player B’s side of the board was the Scion of Oona. Player A didn’t like the prospect of taking the tiny Scion as opposed to the 4/4 Mistbind Clique, and somewhat flustered over his misplay, he tried to take back the Sower of Temptation. However, Player B did not let him take back the play. Playing Sower of Temptation had been a legal play; trying to target the shrouded Mistbind with the triggered ability was the only illegal part of the play. The Sower stayed in play, and Player A was forced to target the Scion.

Ironically, this play resulted in Player A’s victory. With the Scion granting shroud to the Sower, Player B was forced to point his Nameless Inversion at the 1/1. That still left his opponent with a 2/2 blocker for Faerie tokens, didn’t give him back a creature, and more importantly didn’t give him back a Crusade. Player B thought briefly – ever so briefly – about letting his opponent take back the Sower of Temptation play, but knew that was crossing line from sneaky play to completely illegal, get-your-butt-DQ’d-if-a-judge-finds-out play. He probably could have gotten away with it. Since his opponent actively wanted to take back the play, there was no reason that a judge would get involved in the process, and Player B would have been home free. His opponent would have made some other play, and knowing about the Sower, he could have left the mana open for Nameless Inversion to ice the Sower in response to the ability, getting around the shroud-granting of Scion before it even became a problem.

I’m glad that Player B didn’t allow the illegal take back, and extremely proud that he did so in a situation that cost him the game and the match. In the past, Player B has told me about some highly questionable plays that he has made. In particular, during the Time Spiral Block season, he frequently went to great theatrical measures to make his opponents forget about paying for Pact triggers. In one instance he even involved a judge in his charade, asking for the Oracle text on a card that his opponent had just played a foreign version of. In and of itself, this was a legitimate judge call, but he knew exactly what the card did, and was simply buying time to distract his opponent.

With such a thin fine line between right and wrong, it’s often hard for players to know if what they are doing is above the table. Heck, sometimes it’s hard for judges to tell the difference. Having heard the story from his point of view, it seemed like Player B was stalling when he asked for the Oracle text. However, such an infraction would have been impossible to tell without psychic powers, and indeed the judge retrieved the requested information without batting an eye.

On the other hand, the Sower take back would have been a clear case of the illegals that any casual spectator could have caught and corroborated. Do we refrain from breaking the rules because we’re afraid of getting caught, or because we know that it is wrong? This is a Magic article, not a psychological treatise. I’m just happy when the rules don’t get broken. Of course, sometimes the rules get broken and don’t get reported. That can be a different problem altogether.

Zack Hall redux

When I was getting the details of his Japanese communication story from him, Zack Hall and I had a lot of other related rules chats. He mentioned one time when his opponent had missed the trigger for Dark Confidant. He did the dutiful thing and called a judge.

The penalty for a missed trigger is a warning. That’s what Zack’s opponent got and they resolved the Dark Confidant trigger immediately, the proper remedy if the missed trigger is caught within one turn cycle.

When Zack’s opponent forgot the Dark Confidant trigger for the second time that game, Zack chose not to call a judge. Already winning the game handily, Zack didn’t want to get his opponent a game loss. It’s an admirable attitude that doesn’t get highlighted nearly enough in our game. For every nit-picking rules lawyer, there is such a game player who believes in letting the cards, and not the officials, decide the outcome of the match.

But is it right to not call a judge?

Do I need to tell you my answer to that question?

For starters, the penalty would not have been a game loss. In general, penalties do get upgraded for repeat infractions, but Game Play Errors (GPE), of which missed triggers belong to, have a unique upgrade path that goes caution — warning — warning – game loss – match loss. The caution only applies to Regular REL events; at Competitive REL, the first infraction carries a penalty of a warning. What most players don’t realize is that the second infraction carries another warning, not a game loss. This is because the DCI recognizes that GPEs are very common mistakes that usually happen accidentally, missed triggers in particular.

During and after a tournament it is important to track repeat offenders, players who keep messing up in the same way. Not only is it very sloppy and something that should be corrected, but it could also be an indication of something more insidious. Dark Confidant in particular is a card that is open for some amount of abuse. A player at a low life total can pick up his card for Dark Confidant, look at it, and if it is a land reveal it and lose zero life. If it is not a land, he can put it into his hand as his normal draw for the turn and “forget” about the Confidant trigger. If his opponent reminds him, then he takes another shot at revealing a land.

It’s always a dicey thing when it comes to revealing these types of cheats. I do so because I believe two fundamental truths. One, players who are inclined to cheat have already thought this up and/or done this or a similar maneuver. I’m not telling them anything new here. Two, there are more honest players than cheaters, and they are the ones that need to hear about this. Given how easy it is to mask such a cheat as a “missed trigger,” we judges need to hear about and record every such incident for posterity.

Happy Trails

Northern California is losing one of its judging pillars as Don Barkauskas makes the trek down to Southern California to start a new job.

Don immediately steps in as Southern California’s only Level 3+, a hole that is second only to LA’s lack of an NFL team in terms of “huh?” factor. Beyond just the number of his judge level, Don brings years of experience mentoring judges, many of whom have gone on to have great success. Toby Elliot, Nick Fang, Eli Shiffrin, and we’ll just throw my name in there too as judges who owe a lot of their development to Don’s mentorship.

It will take Don a few months to get settled into his new life, but when he does he will be a great asset for growing the judge program in LA and/or San Diego. He may not become an FNM regular, but PTQs and States (is it really coming back, Evan?) will be ripe grounds for his leadership.

Speaking of FNM, I judged my second one last week, and it was a doozy. Of course, it was the Eventide Launch Party, or Release Event, or whatever we’re supposed to be calling it now. 32 players showed up to battle (although 8 of them split off to do an SSE draft while the other 24 just wanted more Eventide). Amongst the crowd were 3 players from the GP: San Francisco Top 8 – Luis Scott-Vargas, Paul Cheon (in town to prep for Nats), and Jon Stocks (in town to be convinced that he should go to Nats). It was pretty exciting for a new shop of less than a month to get that many players in for an event.

I got 4 Snakeform questions, which was just about what I was expecting, although none of them were of the mind-bending Steel of the Godhead variety. And I’m supposed to mention the Spiderman piñata. Really. It got smashed open and Magic cards came flying out. I’m still not sure if it was really cool or really scary. Probably both. Unfortunately my camera ran out of batteries before the smashing.

I’m taking off of early for U.S. Nationals, so my forum responses may be sporadic as the week goes on (or nonexistent depending on the Wi-Fi situation). Actually writing my article should also prove to be an interesting challenge this week.

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