A Flusterstorm in the Hand (Is Worth Two on the Stack)

A couple weekends ago, I had the privilege of Head Judging the third NYSE Open, one of the largest Vintage tournaments in the United States! (NYSE stands for New York Stax Exchange, which I thought was pretty cute.)

It turns out that Vintage players are a pretty fun and relaxed group, and I had a great time. I’d like to give a huge shout-out to my excellent judge staff for a set of strong performances: Chris Rumore, Chris Connett, Brian Paskoff, and Mani Cavalieri! Adam Shaw was a fantastic scorekeeper who remained unperturbed in the face of several issues. I had never worked with Nick Detwiler before, but he proved to be an outstanding TO and I’m excited for my next opportunity to judge one of his events. Finally, Nick Coss and his crew did a phenomenal job both in front of and behind the scenes.

As expected, the event was full of fun moments. For example, this was the first tournament where I used a megaphone for announcements instead of a microphone — and it worked pretty well! Then there was the group of Montreal players who wanted nothing more than to drive home, but their buddy made it into the Top 8, then Top 4, then the finals… Sadly, he lost to Dredge when it mattered most, but whatcha gonna do?

Rather than give a full tournament report, though, I wanted to focus on one very interesting judge call from the day. It went a little like this.

Arthas is playing against Nova. Arthas controls two Volcanic Islands and a Mox Emerald; Nova has several lands.

Arthas taps his Volcanics and casts Time Walk.

Nova responds with “Red Elemental Blast, targeting Time Walk.”

Arthas takes this opportunity to try casting “Gush, returning my Volcanics to my hand.”

Nova counters back: “Flusterstorm, targeting your Time Walk. Two copies target Gush, one copy targets Time Walk.”

Arthas taps his Mox Emerald and says, “I’ll pay for the Flusterstorm so Time Walk isn’t countered.”

Nova replies, “No, it’s still countered. The original Flusterstorm is targeting it too.”

Arthas calls for a judge…which is you! Arthas wants to take back tapping his Mox Emerald, since he thought there was only one Flusterstorm targeting the Time Walk.

How do you rule?

What principles do you use to make this ruling?

Do you have any other questions for the players? (While I believe I’ve given you all the information you need to make a ruling, it’s always help to picture what might happen at the table.)

If you have a “snap” or knee-jerk answer, be honest with yourself: write that down! Then think about it for a few minutes and see if your answer changes. Write that down too!

Once you’ve thought about it for a few minutes, consider the following variations to the base scenario. How do these variations interact with the principles you’ve spelled out? Do you need to outline some additional principles to cover these alternate situations?

Variation 1: Suppose Nova simply said, “Flusterstorm. Two copies target Gush, one copy targets Time Walk.” That is, she doesn’t articulate what the original Flusterstorm is targeting. Does this change your ruling?

Variation 2: Suppose Nova says, “Flusterstorm. Two copies target Gush, one copy targets Time Walk,” and puts her Flusterstorm card on top of Time Walk. Does this change your ruling? How does this situation compare to Variation 1?

Variation 3: Suppose both players agree Nova said, “Two copies target Gush, one copy targets Time Walk.” However, Arthas claims she didn’t say anything else, while Nova is adamant she was clear about what the original Flusterstorm was targeting. Now what?

Variation 4: Suppose you pull Nova away from the table, and ask her if she deliberately chose her words to try and make Arthas forget about the original Flusterstorm. Nova replies that she did. Does this change your ruling? How?

Share your thoughts in the comments! Let’s have a discussion 🙂

Next week, I’ll share how I handled the situation, discuss the principles I used to make my ruling, and explore the history of what policy says about situations like this!

14 thoughts on “A Flusterstorm in the Hand (Is Worth Two on the Stack)

  1. So my initial reaction to this was “Yep, what you did was legal, and that’s the end of that”.

    But then I thought about this some more, and there’ actually some really relevant wording here:

    I’ll pay for the Flusterstorm so Time Walk isn’t countered.

    …That’s actually a proposed shortcut! Arthas is proposing to let all the Flusterstorms resolve, paying for the one/ones targeting Flusterstorm by tapping his Mox, and letting the others resolve. That shortcut is illegal – Arthas can’t pay for all Flusterstorms targeting Time Walk, because there’s two of them. Since this is an illegal shortcut, it can’t be used, and therefore it doesn’t happen. There isn’t a rewind necessary, because the actions simply never happened; you then correct the game state to what it should be, with the Mox untapped, and then continue play.

    In terms of penalties, I actually feel like this might be the unicorn – I’d issue a Communications Policy Violation to Arthas for proposing an illegal shortcut. [looks up the IPG] It says though that this penalty only applies to violations of MTR 4.1, while the error actually was a violation of MTR 4.2. At this point I’d probably consult with the head judge about what penalty to issue, although I would have had the players resume play at this point in order to prevent further delays.

    Variation 1: The original is targeting Gush, because of the tournament shortcut stating so – “A player who casts a spell or activates an ability that targets an object on the stack is assumed to target the legal target closest to the top of the stack unless the player specifies otherwise.” The shortcut Arthas proposed is now legal, and therefore taken. (Spectate the table for a bit to make sure Time Walk is still countered by Red Elemental Blast.)

    Variation 2: Ask the players if they’ve established “putting a spell on top of another spell” as a shortcut for “this is targeting that”. If they haven’t, or one of them genuinely thought that the placement of the card was arbitrary, then this is the same as Variation 1. Otherwise, it’s Variation 0.

    Variation 3: Investigation ensues. Ask a few questions about what wording everyone used, possibly asking both parties away from the match (and possibly enlisting the help of another judge to watch the table while you’re talking to each player away from the match). This feels messy, but if the players fail to agree on reality, this is what we’ve got to do. [I want to issue both players “Failure to Maintain Game State”, because that’s literally what they’ve done; but what actually happened does not match the definition of the penalty in the IPG, even if it does match the definition of the penalty in Merriam-Webster’s.]

    After determining what was said, this reduces to Variation 1 or Variation 0.

    Variation 4: This changes a little bit, but not much. Nova is now the one to be using a shortcut incorrectly, as you are not allowed to create, use, or modify a shortcut “in order to create ambiguity in the game.” However, in terms of a fix, this is still Variation 0; the only major difference is rather than asking about a CPV penalty for Arthas, I’d be asking about one for Nova, as Nova was the first one to break the policy here.

  2. None of these situations would enable Arthas to take back their Mox Emerald payment, in my opinion. I don’t believe Nova was being unclear at any point about their behavior, and Red Elemental Blast is going to counter Time Walk no matter what – Arthas seems to have missed that detail, so the argument of “I wouldn’t have paid for Flusterstorm if I knew the correct targets” is void. Nova’s mind trick, intentional or not, was successful.

  3. “I didn’t understand” is at the top of an incredibly slippery slope for reasons to rewind even slightly.

    I’m very sympathetic with Arthas about the confusing language here. The word “copy” has two possible meanings. However, sympathy is all he’s going to get. Only one of the two meanings made sense given the storm count.

    All four variants go the same way. Although I would never ask the lead-in question for 4.

  4. For those that want a verbal target, what do you do when players don’t share a language? I assure you, this happens at GPs and PTs all the time.

  5. As written: No takeback. Targets were clearly and legally chosen. The player made a clear, legal play in paying for one of the Flusterstorms.

    1: Default shortcut puts the original Flusterstorm on Gush. Time Walk is not countered by Flusterstorm. Stay and observe to make sure that the Blast still does counter Time Walk.

    2: Physical communication counts. Investigate to determine if placing the spell on Time Walk was intended to indicate target, and if you believe this was clear enough. (It probably is.) Same result as written.

    3: Briefly separate the players, and ask them questions about the immediate game state. Try to determine what happened. If one player has better clear recollections of what happened, consider going with their version of events. If you believe the target was not clearly indicated, issue a warning for communication policy violation, and back up to the point where the original target needs to be declared.

    4: As long as the targets were clearly indicated, no change.

  6. I feel like Pi and Eli have accurately spoken for all scenarios except V3. V2’s card placement shortcut seems like a reasonable indication that Nova is indicating her target clearly, but because it did not come with a verbal acknowledgment, I would allow the rewind to that point (Mox untapped, all spells on stack). I don’t believe this constitutes a CPV, because no inaccurate or false information was given.

    I do agree that it’s very much an “AP-said, NAP-said” (Nice phrasing, by the way, Pi.) situation in V3. My investigation would probably include questions such as, “How do you feel you indicated this target,” to Nova, and “What indication might Nova have made to show you that she was targeting Time Walk with her Flusterstorm?” to Arthas, trying to eke out whether there was any indication, verbal or nonverbal, of the target to show that Nova did or did not demonstrate the awareness of this mechanic. If she had, then see my answer for V2. If not, then revert to the solution for V1.

    For V4, I would advise Nova to answer questions about the targets of her spells completely and honestly.

    Also, as Andrew pointed out, the REB is still pointing at TW, so the TW would still be countered, unless he snaps a FoW or something off the Gush. To that end, I would supervise the table *at least* until the stack is clear.

  7. My snap answer is that NAP clearly said what he was targeting with all 4 Flusterstorms, and AP made a play error based on poor rules knowledge. In that case, he doesn’t get to take it back.

    I want to ask the player what he thought was meant by, “Flusterstorm, targeting your Time Walk. Two copies target Gush, one copy targets Time Walk.” I think that, outside of the context of Magic in which words often have exact meanings, there are four copies of Flusterstorm, one of which is the original. With that interpretation, NAP only gave targets for three of the four copies, and was redundant when he both times said that he was targeting Time Walk. I don’t see any reason to assess GRV to either player, so that excuse for a backup is out. If I stretch my imagination, I can see CPV for the line, “I’ll pay for the Flusterstorm so Time Walk isn’t countered,” as it is misrepresenting free information to say that spending one mana will prevent Time Walk from being countered. Or maybe it’s misrepresenting free information to use “the” as the article before Flusterstorm, but I think that’s pushing it too far. I don’t love either of these cases for CPV, so I’m still not going to do a backup.

    -=Variation 1=-
    Casting a spell with something else on the stack without stating what it targets is a short-cut for targeting whatever is on top of the stack. The original is targeting Gush.

    -=Variation 2=-
    I ask if there’s a previously-defined short-cut of putting a spell on top of another card to see its target. If they agree that it had been defined earlier in the match, I say that the original is targeting Time Walk. Otherwise, I say that the original is targeting Gush.

    -=Variation 3=-
    Eww. In this case I consult with my team lead.

    -=Variation 4=-
    Nope. Knowledge of the rules can be used to your advantage. When I cast my Japanese Scavenging Ooze altered to cover the text box, I can say it’s a dude that exiles cards from graveyards. Both are scummy, but both are allowed.

    1. Regarding variation 3: why do you want to consult with your team lead; or, in other words, what do you hope to accomplish by doing so? How might getting another judge influence the players’ perception of your ability to make a ruling?

      1. I don’t have a good sense of how to deal with AP-said-NAP-said situations. There was miscommunication, and the different opinions as to what was said create different game states. My gut says that the person casting the spell is probably correct in recalling what was said while casting the spell, but people do misspeak. My goal is to find out how to handle the situation.

        As for how it will influence perception of my abilities, it will possibly make them less likely to trust my abilities. If I need help to answer a question when there aren’t any confusing cards involved, why would these players trust me when there are confusing cards involved? On the other hand, they might see it as me knowing the bounds on what I know and knowing when to get help, which is a good thing. I’m not great at evaluating how others think, but those are two things I think might happen. Even if I assume that the former is always how players will think, I will still be inclined to consult when I don’t know how to answer a question.

  8. I feel like all of these scenarios are irrelevant. Red elemental blast will counter the time walk regardless of the flusterstorms.

    1. Would you point this out to the players at the table?

      If you prefer, you can simply reimagine the scenario, swapping Nova’s Flusterstorm targets such that the “one copy” (which Arthas tried to pay for) and original Flusterstorm are both targeting Gush, while the “two copies” are targeting Time Walk. This is how things actually happened at the table, but I mis-transcribed the stack while preparing this post. I would revise the scenario to clear this up, but I don’t want to add to the confusion. It also adds a neat wrinkle to see if people are paying attention.

  9. For the situation as stands: no take-backs. The original and the copy are both clearly targeting Time Walk. Arthas has a responsibility for tracking the game state. I suppose there’s an argument here that Nova’s language was somehow ambiguous, in the sense that you might refer to the physical card Flusterstorm as a “copy?” But even then, Storm count is free information. If Nova had actually put a total of three Flusterstorms on the stack, Arthas would have gotten a FtMGS to go along with Nova’s GRV.

    Versions 1 and 4 are also unambiguous: According to the MTR, “a player who casts a spell or activates an ability that targets and object on the stack is assumed to target the legal target closest to the top of the stack unless the player specifies otherwise.” Nova targeted Gush with the original flusterstorm, and in case 4, gets a talking-to about maintaining a clear game state.

    Variation 2, I probably allow the take-back. Nova clearly intended to target Time Walk, but Arthas shouldn’t be punished for not understanding the non-explicit physical indication of targeting. Now, from a policy perspective I’m a little iffy on whether we can just back the game up due to sheer confusion, without finding any infraction being committed. But from discussions I’ve had with other judges, I understand that in some cases like this one it’s acceptable.

    Variation 3, I don’t really feel comfortable answering in the hypothetical. I feel like it’s too much of a “you had to be there” issue. A lot would depend on what, specifically, the two said.

    1. How far back do you go in Variation 3? Back to before the Mox was tapped, or back to before Fluesterstorm was cast?

      1. Variation 2, you mean? Before the tap. Stack is two Storms on each spell, A has priority.

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