Out of Order Sequencing and Triggers

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.

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7 Responses to Out of Order Sequencing and Triggers

  1. Tammavit Tasnavites says:

    Hi Mr. Elliott,

    My colleagues and I have been debating on the OOOS vs Missed Trigger for quite a while. Please allow me to seek your opinions on the situations below.

    Case 1

    - Player N used Jace, Architect of Thought’s first ability the previous turn.
    - Player A attacked Jace with Geist of Saint Traf, immediately putting an Angel into play and declare that the Angel will attack Player N.
    - Player N said “Ok” then proceeds to reduce his life by 4 and remove 1 counter from Jace.
    - At this point Player A called a Judge claiming that Player N didn’t announce Jace’s trigger, which should be resolved before the Angel trigger resolved; therefore, it should be considered as a Missed Trigger.

    Personally, on this case I feel that we should not penalize Player N by giving him a Missed Trigger treatment. He obviously didn’t forget about the trigger. Player A didn’t follow proper procedure as an Active Player by putting the Angel into play right away.

    Case 2

    - Player N used Jace, Architect of Thought’s first ability the previous turn.
    - Player A attacked Player N with 1/1 and 2/2
    - Player N blocked 1/1 with 1/1 and 2/2 with 2/2, then immediately announces that only Player A’s creatures will die.
    - At this point Player A called a Judge claiming that Player N didn’t announce Jace’s trigger, which should be resolved before Player N declared his blockers; therefore, it should be considered as a Missed Trigger.

    I do not feel that Player N forgot his Jace’s trigger. In normal circumstances, I also do not feel that he gained any relevant information either. I believe that OOOS can be considered in this case, but my colleagues do not believe so.

    May I have your opinions on these two cases? Thank you very much.

    • telliott says:

      The first one sounds like a good candidate. The player indicated awareness of the trigger at the time they would need to. They just happened to do a couple other things at the same time.

      The second one might be, but it requires more input from the players before you could make a reasonable call.

  2. Renage Okksumison says:

    Just my two cents =),
    1) I do see how it feels bad to make him miss his trigger, but my opinion is that there isnt any other way around it (but thats only how I see it =)).
    2) With this I dont feel bad for letting him loose his trigger. His attitude reeks of “GOTCHA”, and that is an unwanted attitude. (Because he went straight from blocking to combat-dmg resolve shortcutwise (“immediately” you said)).

  3. Heiner Kolp says:

    Hi Mr Elliot,

    To me there are some situations, that are still not clear when deciding if it is OOOS or just missed triggers.

    a) You explained that the Elfballplayers would have gained a lot of game losses during the PT. Well I played in Lyon and a lot of players played the Second Sunrise deck. In one situation a player returned his artifacts causing a lot of triggers to draw cards. Besides drawing cards, one thing for this combo is to perform another action immidiatly, so you don’t forget it. It doesnt involve shuffling or anything. So the player does this action and then draws his cards. The opponent called the judge and he received a penalty for drawing extra cards.
    In my opinion he was always aware of the triggers and made OOOS. Can you explain, why it is not?

    b) It’s more simple.
    Player A cast a spell with player N having counterbalance in play.
    b.1) N uses his Senseis Devining Top to look at his library and then wants to get his trigger from counterbalance.
    b.2) N thinks for a moment and decides to cast Brainstorm and then wants to get his trigger.
    Is this still OOOS or is this the case, where he got information before announcing his trigger?

    Thank you for your answer.

    • telliott says:

      I can’t really comment on scenario (a). It’s certainly a candidate for an OOOS ruling, but, as I pointed out, you have to be there. If a DEC infraction was issued, there was probably a bunch of other factors at play.

      In both cases in example (b), it looks like N uses his top/brainstorm in response to the trigger, then attempts to resolve the trigger, which is just fine. Maybe I am misreading the example. It doesn’t look like he’s failed to acknowledge the trigger at a point after it should have resolved, so I don’t think we even enter Missed Trigger territory.

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