Welcome back to You Make the Ruling! I had a great time with the first installment of this series and I think you all did too, so let’s do it again! (To those who are still waiting patiently for the solutions to the previous YMTR, I apologize! I’ll be updating the original post soon.)
The purpose of this series is to highlight the questions and situations that I think are most interesting, educational, and relevant. I hope you find them both entertaining and educational, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on them in the comments!
The following are all real scenarios from the Standard Open at SCG New Jersey, which was a little over two weeks ago. As usual, if it matters, you can assume that you’re the Head Judge.
Below each question, you’ll find a spoiler tag. You can click on that to reveal how I approached the ruling. However, I encourage — nay, challenge! — you to think of how you’d approach the ruling or answer the question before revealing the discussion.
With that said, let’s get right down to it!
- Neptune controls a Hangarback Walker and four lands, three of which are tapped. Artemis passes the turn. Neptune silently untaps their three lands, then quickly retaps them and points at the Hangarback Walker. Artemis calls a judge because she doesn’t believe Neptune should be allowed to put another counter on his Hangarback. How do you rule? Why?
I ruled that we’re back in Artemis’ end step, and that Neptune can activate Hangarback Walker’s ability. Nothing of significance has happened, Neptune has gained no information about Artemis’ play, and he corrected himself very quickly. Even though Neptune is implicitly zig-zagging across the turn boundary by untapping and retapping his lands, this feels very similar to other sorts of minor allowances that we make as concessions to the physical reality of the game, like retapping your lands while you’re casting a spell, or tapping then untapping a creature while considering attackers.
What are your thoughts? Would you have ruled the same? Why or why not? Let me know in the comments!
- On Day 2 of the Standard Open, Aphrodite is playing against Nestor. Nestor has two untapped lands and a Thunderbreak Regent. Aphrodite has a Courser of Kruphix; she casts a second Courser, which resolves. Aphrodite then says, “Go — wait, attack with Courser.” Nestor calls a judge because he’s not sure Aphrodite should be allowed to attack. How do you rule? Why? Does this differ from the earlier scenario?
I think that the essence of this scenario is virtually identical to the first one: one player said something (or did something), then quickly realized they wanted to go back and do something else. The main difference, then, is that this scenario occurred on Day 2 of an Open. While Day 1 and Day 2 of Opens are both run at Competitive REL, Day 2 is generally regarded as more serious, and I’ve experienced a sentiment that players should be held to a higher standard. However, treating events run at the same REL differently seems like a dangerous Pandora’s box to open. So, for the same reasons that I let Neptune activate his Hangarback, I allowed Aphrodite to attack here.
What do you think? Do you feel we should treat players on Day 2 of an Open differently from those in Day 1?
Janus, one of your floor judges, comes up to you and asks for your help with an investigation. Janus explains the situation as follows:
Adonis controls Nissa, Sage Animist and a Hangarback Walker; Nemea controls Elspeth, Sun’s Champion and some Soldier tokens. Adonis casts Ugin, the Spirit Dragon and activates Ugin’s middle ability for 0. In response, Nemea casts Dromoka’s Command to fight and kill the Hangarback Walker. Both players pass, and the stack starts resolving. When Ugin’s ability resolves, Nemea exiles all of her tokens. Adonis starts to move to combat, but Selene the spectator speaks up and says, “Nissa, too?” AP angrily says, “You’re not supposed to say that.”
How do you proceed? What are the major issues you need to resolve and questions you need to answer?Reveal Discussion!
When I was told about this situation, I had two major concerns: controlling the likely tension between Adonis and Selene, and investigating whether Adonis was cheating. I chose to address them in that order, since I believe de-escalating any conflict between participants in the event is even more important than gathering information about cheating. Moreover, I felt that I could resolve Adonis and Selene’s conflict relatively promptly, whereas a cheating investigation could be more open-ended.
As expected, I found that Adonis was visibly frustrated with Selene for “interfering” in their game. I explained that Selene had not done anything wrong by pointing out the error, and firmly encouraged Adonis to set the issue aside and move on. (That said, I did advise Selene to simply pause the match in the future and fetch a judge, rather than saying anything about the game state.)
As for investigating whether Adonis intentionally left his Nissa in play, I felt that the critical piece of information I needed was Adonis’ reaction to Selene pointing out the error. As such, my questions focused on that. Adonis claimed that he simply forgot Nissa's converted mana cost is 0, and that he exiled her as soon as Selene pointed out the problem. Although Adonis was quite defensive, the mistake is understandable, and none of the judges involved thought he was lying or making up a story. I assessed a standard Game Rule Violation penalty, then offered Adonis a chance to take a break from the match and get some water.
- Athena attacks with a manifest and two Soldier tokens. After combat damage, Athena turns up the manifest, which is Kytheon, Hero of Akros. We then move to the end-of-combat step. Does Kytheon transform? Why or why not?
Reveal the Answer!
He sure does transform! When a card refers to itself by name, that doesn’t signify anything other than “this object.” Even though Kytheon wasn’t named Kytheon when he attacked (or, really, anything at all…), that doesn’t matter. The object that is now Kytheon, Hero of Akros certainly did attack with two other creatures, so he will transform. (In a similar way, it’s irrelevant that the manifest didn’t have any abilities when it attacked.)
- Ares controls a manifested Heliod, God of the Sun; his devotion to white is currently three. Can Ares turn Heliod face up? Why or why not? What if Ares’ devotion is currently four? Five?
Reveal the Answer!
Ares can always turn Heliod face up, regardless of his devotion to white. The game checks whether the manifest you’re trying to turn face up is a creature card, not whether it would actually be a creature on the battlefield. It’s good to be a God!
- It’s round 7, and the stage staff are typing up decklists of players who are likely to make Day 2. One of these lists is Hermes’ Abzan Midrange deck, which lists “3 Temple of Plenty” and, right below that, “1 Temple of Plenty“. Overall, the mainboard adds up to 60 cards. Do you check this deck? Why or why not? If you do, what are some likely outcomes?
The important thing to keep in mind with this situation is that our Abzan player could be playing 4 Temples of Plenty. In that case, we have a decklist which is filled out unusually, but technically not incorrectly. It’s more likely, however, that Hermes is playing with 3 (or 1) Temples of Plenty and 1 (or 3) of some other kind of Temple. In that case, we have a straightforward Deck/Decklist Problem and a Game Loss.
- It’s the start of round 9, and the stage staff has found another decklist that requires your attention. Bacchus is using the standard SCG decklists, which includes sections for “Creatures,” “Spells,” “Lands,” and “Sideboard.” Bacchus is on R/G Devotion and has listed “2 Xenagos” under the Spells column. Do you check this deck? Why or why not? If you do, what are some likely outcomes?
The surface-level issue is that there are two Xenagoses (Xenagoi?) in the format: Xenagos, the Reveler and Xenagos, God of Revels. Simply writing “Xenagos” does not uniquely identify either card, and (if Bacchus were a devious sort) would allow Bacchus to switch between the two Xenagoi until he’s discovered.
Normally, this would be a very straightforward Deck/Decklist Problem. The complication is whether we can (and should) use the fact that Bacchus has listed Xenagos as a Spell on his decklist, rather than a Creature, to conclude that Bacchus is playing Xenagos, the Reveler.
Although it’s tempting, I believe that we should not use the section headings to resolve the ambiguity. The IPG gives the Head Judge latitude to downgrade errors if we believe “what the player wrote on their decklist is obvious and unambiguous.” Using the section heading to make an inference is still quite ambiguous (especially when you factor in that Xenagos, God of Revels, spends a lot of his time as a non-creature anyway). Moreover, as Toby mentions in his excellent blog post about D/DLP, “if you have to spend more than a couple seconds thinking about it” or “you have to check the deck to see if there might be something shady”, it’s not obvious.
As a final consideration, considering what would happen if you rigorously enforce the idea that section headings should be the prevailing factor in assessing decklist legality. Suppose Demeter accidentally writes her sideboard in the “Lands” section of a decklist, and writes her lands in the “Sideboard” column. Would you issue Demeter a Game Loss? That generally seems ridiculous, but rigorously applying the section heading principle suggests we should. Of the two situations, I’d much rather issue a Game Loss to Bacchus than Demeter, so (Thanks to Abe for suggesting this way of framing the problem!)
That’s all we have for this edition of You Make the Ruling! I hope you enjoyed this trip through some of the most interesting scenarios at SCG New Jersey. Until next time, may your rulings always be standard-issue.