The Riki Rules – Two Scoops and a Sprinkle of Conflux

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Monday, February 9th – Two weeks ago we dealt with two DQ stories. The second one detailed a so-called “fake scoop,” one player intentionally misleading his opponent into thinking he was scooping to “force a concession.” Obviously, this is a fairly scumbag maneuver. If you do stuff like this, stop it. If someone tries to do something like this to you, call a Judge.

I would say that was a successful debut for the Justice League. Of course, leading with James Elliott is like some kind of cheating. He’s bound to be popular because his judging territory is approximately the size of the Louisiana Purchase. But I know that you will all give the other three just as much love even though it is less likely that you have seen them around.

James’s last name is spelled Elliott with two Ts, just like Toby Elliott, whose name I am world-renowned for misspelling. I guess it’s only justice (absolutely pun intended), since in a draft of his article he showed me James actually misspelled my name. What goes around comes around, Mr. Elliott. You would think that with how smart we are (we possibly referring to Magic players, Judges, or all of the above) we could manage to spell each other’s names correctly, or at the very least double check via Facebook or the e-mails we get from each other.

Two weeks ago we dealt with two DQ stories. The second one detailed a so-called “fake scoop,” one player intentionally misleading his opponent into thinking he was scooping to “force a concession.” Obviously, this is a fairly scumbag maneuver. If you do stuff like this, stop it. If someone tries to do something like this to you, call a Judge. Last week James Elliott previewed my topic for this week, a similar yet different case from the floor of Grand Prix: LA, involving none other than the reigning Player of the Year.

The situation was this. Shuuhei attacked with several Faeries totaling either five or six power. Having his opponent’s life total written down as five on his score pad, he thought that was game and started to pick up his cards. His opponent, having himself at seven before the attack was confused, and a Judge was quickly summoned. Enter James Elliott, and eventually due to the language issues, enter yours truly.

The first thing that James and I investigated was whether there was any ill-intent on the opponent’s part. There appeared to be none. Both players were unaware that they were operating with a difference of opinion on the life totals. The opponent did not say or do anything that would indicate any kind of trick or misrepresentation. Shuuhei picked up his cards of his own volition due to his misunderstanding of the game state and thus “conceded,” much to his opponent’s surprise.

That was James’s ruling on the situation, one which I agreed with completely. We did briefly discuss whether it was possible to repair the game state. Basically, at the time, Shuuhei’s hand was empty because they had just fought a brief counter war, and both players were clear on what was in play as opposed to the graveyard on Shuuhei’s side of the field. He had not combined any of the in-play cards with his library yet. Hence, it would have been possible to rewind the scoop and recreate exactly what Shuuhei had on the field, graveyard, and in hand.

On the surface, this might seem like the right thing to do. That’s the player perspective speaking, wanting to have the game decided on the outcome of the cards and not a “misclick.” The Judge perspective is to be fair to everyone. Especially at competitive and professional RELs, this means a certain rigidity to infractions and dealing with such misclicks. Letting Shuuhei off the hook for his mistake because he was lucky enough to have no cards in hand and had caught himself after putting his permanents and graveyard together (but not his library) would not have been fair. A player in a similar situation but with two cards in hand would have a legitimate beef with the handling of the situation in that matter.

Being the seasoned Pro that he is, Shuuhei appealed the ruling to Head Judge Scott Marshall. James and I were both happy with this appeal (at least I was, and I am inferring that James was), not so much because we were unsure about the ruling, but because picking the HJ’s brain on complicated matters like this can be a valuable learning experience. Scott assessed the situation and asked a few questions of his own. In particular, he was interested in the exact motion that Shuuhei made. What he demonstrated was that he had made the classic scooping motion, picking up the two cards on the outermost edges of your area and moving them in towards each other while bulldozering the rest of your cards together into one pile. There was a bit of ambiguity over whether he had actually picked up his cards from the table (or how high) when he got his cards into one pile.

James and Scott Marshall went away from the table to discuss the situation, and while watching over the two players I came to the realization that the root of the problem was the life total discrepancy, something we hadn’t dealt with at all yet. I looked at both of the life pads and traced the problem to a very early divergence. The two players readily agreed on what had happened during the past few turns; it mostly consisted of Shuuhei attacking with his growing airforce. However, things were less clear regarding the earlier damage, particularly where Shuuhei had written down the jump two points larger than his opponent. The opponent was quickly able to remember what happened, but Nakamura, somewhat surprisingly based on my past dealings with him, could not recall the exact nature of those early attacks. Thus it seemed to me that the opponent had the life totals correct, making the game state one where he was not in fact dead. I reported this to James and Scott and it certainly contributed to Scott upholding James’s ruling that Shuuhei had scooped prematurely based on a misunderstanding of the game state.

Afterwards, Shuuhei asked Scott for some clarification on what constituted the concession. Scott explained that the scooping motion that Shuuhei demonstrated – pulling the cards in from both sides – is a well-known and accepted action that denotes concession even if nothing is said. Making that move means you lose, even if you make a mistake, and especially if you are trying to cheese your opponent with a fake scoop. Shuuhei also tried to argue briefly that he had the win next turn anyway. That is again a situation where Judges must rule impartially and not make determinations based on the luck of the circumstances. The opponent would certainly be within his rights to concede the game due to such circumstances, and I’ve seen some very sporting players do exactly that in similar situations. But it’s not a requirement, nor is not doing so unsporting; it’s just something that you have to look into your own character and decide what is more important to you.

The second incident to which I was a participant involved a Bubble Hulk (Protean Hulk “infinite” combo engine) player going off with his combo deck. At some point during the operations of his combo, he said “Any responses to Carrion Feeder?” His opponent did not have a response and the Bubble Hulk player scooped up his cards. The opponent called a Judge.

What just happened?

Apparently the Bubble Hulk player thought that his opponent did not have any responses to the entire combo, i.e. him winning the game through the repetitive sacrificing of Body Double (as Reveillark) to Carrion Feeder getting back Body Double (zero power in the graveyard) and Mogg Fanatic. But his question was merely “Any responses to Carrion Feeder?” No matter how creative you get, it’s a stretch to turn that into some kind of concession or acknowledgement of the combo going off. Again, the player tried to argue that he had the win on the board, as I believe that the opponent did not have a response to Carrion Feeder nor to any part of the combo. He was just along for the ride, possibly wanting to watch the Bubble Hulk player go through the motions to make sure he was doing it right. (True story, a player playing this deck once asked a Judge “How do I win?” and received the standard “Please ask a rules questions,” type response, then proceeded to punt the game.)

The point of both of these stories is to be clear on what is going on. It doesn’t hurt you one bit to get that extra bit of clarification on a situation by asking something like “Do I win?” The Bubble Hulk player may have thought he was asking this, but “Any responses to Carrion Feeder?” won’t cut the mustard. I also advised Shuuhei to check on life totals every once in a while. You can look directly at their pad, or you can do a quick verbal check after an attack (“Thirteen?”) Even with his limited English, Shuuhei can count to twenty just fine, and it is the kind of check that can literally be the difference between victory and defeat.

Some Clever Conflux Pun
When a new set comes out there are always a bunch of questions, fewer lately because Shards is a pretty tame rules block. Exalted in Two-Headed Giant is still a popular one (it doesn’t work the way you would like it to). Devour also continues to get questions asked regarding timing and responses (you can’t respond to them devouring).

One very hot topic of discussion is Progenitus, the baddest Samuel L. Jackson of a card you’ve ever seen. One specific question I received via PM is whether you can cheat a Progenitus into play with Deathrender. Sure. In fact, if you look up Deathrender on Gatherer, it gives you this nifty ruling: “If the creature you put into play can’t be equipped by Deathrender (due to protection from artifacts, for example), the creature comes into play but Deathrender remains unattached.”

This is a simple enough variation of the classic “spells and abilities try to do as much as possible.” The Deathrender ability doesn’t target Progenitus. It would be hard for it to do so since the card is in your hand, a hidden zone, but even if it did, the protection would not be active in your hand anyway. When the Deathrender ability resolves, it tries to do as much as possible in the order written, so you can put your Progenitus in play, then Deathrender will try to attach and fail due to Protection from Everything. That it doesn’t attach to the creature doesn’t invalidate the ability or cause it to back up and return the Progenitus to your hand.

Why does the Deathrender fail to attach itself? This is the inevitable follow-up question. The confusion arises here because players think of protection’s “no targeting” section, which normally prevents the equip ability itself. But without the targeting, they think that it is okay to go ahead and attach it through other means like Deathrender. However, rule 502.7d states “A permanent with protection can’t be equipped by Equipment that have the stated quality…” This is a blanket statement that means that an equipment can never be attached to such a creature. Not even for a second. Deathrender does not attach itself to Progenitus and fall off; it just never gets there.

The confusion on this issue likely arises from the shroud ability. If you can cheat an equipment or aura onto a creature with shroud without targeting it, like using Deathrender to put an Inkwell Leviathan into play, that works just fine. Nothing about an equipment or aura being attached to a permanent targets, and that’s all that shroud cares about.

Indestructibility continues to confound people. Is it an ability? Nope. It is just something that a permanent is. However, something that says “this is indestructible” like Spearbreaker Behemoth does have an ability. Losing that ability (hello, Snakeform) will cause it to lose indestructibility. So what about everyone’s favorite Moo Moo Cow Plow, Thornling? The activated ability that makes it indestructible can be blanked by Snakeform, making it unusable for the turn. The confusing part is when you activate the ability then blank the card with Snakeform. Thornling’s indestructibility is generated by the resolution of the ability itself, altering the card for the remainder of the turn, but it doesn’t actually gain an ability. Hence, you will end up with an indestructible 1/1 snake with no abilities (and the name “Thornling”).

Nyxathid is the other stumper from the set and, given the simplicity of the problem, you can see just how non-rules-intensive Alara block is. Nyxathid’s ability is constantly checking your opponent’s hand. It does not set a number of -1/-1 counters on it when it comes into play. In fact, it doesn’t get counters at all, a mistake I’ve seen players make several times now. If your opponent has three cards in hand when Nyxathid comes into play, it will be a 4/4. When your opponent draws a fourth card, Nyxathid will shrink to a 3/3. If one of those cards is a Branching Bolt and they play it targeting Nyxathid, it will live because the Branching Bolt goes on the stack, leaving your opponent with three cards and making for a 4/4 Nyxathid with three damage on it.

Nyxathid’s ability doesn’t target, which means that your opponent having a True Believer or Ivory Mask will not make for an automatic 7/7. However, once chosen, the player that Nyxathid looks at does not change. This can make for a multiplayer game where you choose a player who is about to be eliminated. When consulting a dead player for information about his or her hand, Nyxathid will return a null value, which the game counts as zero.

I guess I’ve had multiplayer on my mind a lot. I enjoy the subtle differences in the rules that both 2HG and Free For All games can bring out. For example, at the Prerelease we had “yet another question on Lich’s Mirror in 2HG.” But that looks like all the time I have for this week, so I’ll let you ponder the wonders of that one yourselves.

Until next time, this is Riki Hayashi telling you to call a Judge.

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