It’s the Star City Invitational in LA this weekend. One of the things I plan to talk about with judges is the fact that OOOS is still relevant in making rulings.
It’s a natural behavioral tendency when new rules come along to start with the strictest interpretation of them possible. It makes sense – people take a while to process, so they adhere to the rule until they can absorb it in a wider context.
We’re seeing this now in the trigger rules. Yes, the rule itself is clear – it talks about taking actions and passing priorities. But the rule for Harrow is also clear – if the card goes to the graveyard, the spell has finished resolving. In the early days of tournament Magic, people stuck to the rule, which gave the rules lawyers an opening. Judges are comfortable with the minor technical error there thanks to OOOS (and previously Ruling By Intent); I hope that soon they’ll be similarly comfortable applying it in the context of the new trigger rules. The overarching goal behind the new policy is that players don’t have to be responsible for their opponents triggers. That doesn’t extend to being able to rules-lawyer them out of existence when they haven’t really been missed.
OOOS is a meta-rule. It’s an acknowledgement that players aren’t robots and don’t do everything perfectly, but they often get to the right place in the end, even if the path is a little wavy. Since it’s a philosophical approach as to when it’s appropriate to bend the other rules a little bit, it can’t have hard-and-fast-rules. You have to be there and you have to talk to the players.
Ironically, OOOS was created, in part, to handle triggers – specifically Soul Warden’s. The Elf Combo deck in Berlin technically should have game-lossed itself pretty much permanently, since a bunch of game actions were followed by “and I gain 20 life”. Technically, that’s a whole lot of Missed Trigger penalties heading their way, but it ignores the reality – they had a bunch of stuff to do, didn’t quite do it right, but got there in the end.
The criteria for when a trigger has been missed hasn’t really changed. It’s the same standard we’ve held for ‘may’ triggers, and is the basic framework we’ve used for handing out missed trigger penalties. So we can still apply OOOS. Let’s look at a couple situations:
A player controls Pyromancer’s Ascension. He casts Thought Scour, mills himself for two, draws a card, and puts a counter on Pyromancer’s Ascension (because there was another Thought Scour in the graveyard). What do you do? How would you have ruled in the previous incarnation?
Trick question! Pyromancer’s Ascension is a ‘may’ ability. It’s exactly like before, so if you ruled differently, this would be a good illustration.
Odds are pretty good I talk to the player and if it’s clear that he just screwed up the order and was always aware of the trigger, I’d give it to him. It’s quite possible that they thought it triggered on resolution of the spell. Obviously that’s not definitive, but that’s why you talk to them. Let’s try another:
A player casts Emrakul. His opponent says “resolves”. He puts it into play and says “and I get an extra turn”. How do you rule?
This one’s a little more complex, since it involves an opponent, but I think it’s still a good candidate. There was a minor pause, but it wasn’t to try to get information they shouldn’t have. It’s not like knowing that Emrakul isn’t being countered (unlikely anyway) is relevant to deciding to take the extra turn. OOOS is worth considering here.
So when isn’t it appropriate to consider OOOS? There are four parts to OOOS, so if any of the following were not true, I’d think it doesn’t apply:
- The error was something out of order. This may seem obvious, but you have to ask yourself whether “I’m just doing a bunch of stuff without being technically precise” applies. For example, if nothing else was really going on when the trigger was missed, it’s not appropriate. Flow is important.
- You believe they were aware of the trigger before it was too late. Some of this can come down to language or specifics of what happened. If the Emrakul controller had said “Oh, and I get an extra turn!”, I may believe that they only just remembered.
- The error didn’t allow the player to get relevant information. If you believe that the player benefitted from their sloppiness by being able to make a more informed decision about the late trigger, it’s probably best to not allow them to have it. The most common scenario involves a situation where it’s relevant that an opponent hasn’t taken an action, such as countering a spell.
- The error didn’t cause an illegal game situation, or change how things would have happened if sequenced correctly. For example, in the Pyromancer’s Ascension case, we clearly aren’t going to allow the trigger if the Thought Scour that caused it to trigger was put into the graveyard by the Thought Scour that the player just cast.
The new trigger rules are still, well, new, so it takes time for players and judges to adjust. Just as it’s become natural to allow that Harrow, OOOS remains a valuable tool for any judge at a Competitive event.