You Make the Ruling #2: Standard Situations

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!

  1. 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? Reveal Discussion!

    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!

  2. 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? Reveal Discussion!

    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?

  3. 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.

  4. 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.)

  5. 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!

  6. 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? Reveal Discussion!

    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.

  7. 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? Reveal Discussion!

    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!)

  8. 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.

8 thoughts on “You Make the Ruling #2: Standard Situations

  1. All of these are posted without reading other comments or spoilers. Depending on whether my answers are a lot different, I may respond to this with clarifications later.

    1. I had this exact call during the Open the previous day. I ruled that the counter was okay. One slight difference in my call was that the player had not untapped creatures yet (he had another tapped creature on the board), only lands. Since the player had not finished untapping and since he had not gained any information, and had not pause for more than a second or two, I let him take the takeback. The player was pissed, and several North American judges said this was a loose call. However, the head judge, who was European, said he made the same call as I did all the time in Europe and that it was a difference of philosophy.

    Which is to say, I haven’t decided how I want to rule on this one since it’s apparently a gray area? But I need to make a decision, because it’s important that I be consistent with these calls.

    2. Judgement call here. I definitely allow players to back up from a slip of the tongue, but I don’t allow players to gain information about what actions the opponent might or might not take in future phases. The relevant question is not what the active player said, but rather what the non-active player did in between “go” and “wait”

    3. No penalty for the spectator. Pointing out a rules violation is not an infraction. He’s not supposed to do that, however, so he definitely gets asked not to do so in the future and reminded that he can ask players to stop a match and call a judge.

    Also, I’m definitely investigating the AP for possible cheating. Ignoring the interaction of his own cards to his own benefit, then shouting down someone who points this out, sends up all kinds of red flags. If Adonis can convince me that 1) he genuinely missed the interaction between his walkers, and 2) he genuinely didn’t notice the error until Selene pointed it out, he would get a GRV. But he’d some ‘splainin’ to do.

    4. Kytheon flips. It’s the same object it was when it was face down, so Kytheon’s End-of-combat trigger knows who he attacked with.

    5. Heliod flips regardless of Devotion. From the comp rules: “to [flip a manifested creature], show all players that the card representing that permanent is a creature card and what that card’s mana cost is, pay that cost, then turn the permanent face up.” The card representing the face-down creature is a creature card regardless of current devotion.

    6. I check the deck. I expect to see 4 Temple of Plenty, in which case no infraction, no penalty, but it’s worth looking to see if there is a one-of of a different temple.

    7. From the IPG: “truncated names of storyline characters are acceptable as long as they are the only representation of that character in the format,” and there are multiple Xenagos legal. It’s almost certainly the planeswalker, but the God is not only playable but also a non-creature often enough that I could see it getting listed under the “spells” section. I’d feel the need to check the deck, and from the IPG, “needing to check the deck for confirmation is a sign” that the penalty of a game loss applies.

  2. For scenario 1 and 2, I let the ‘takeback’ happen, though 2 depends a bit more on the specifics of how long elapsed after the ‘Go’ and before the ‘Wait…’ My reasoning is that we do not play ‘Gotcha’ magic, and we have clearly defined points where things have gone too far: For scenario 1, if Hangarback player had drawn a card, that’s the ‘too late’ point. For scenario 2, if opposing player had responded whatsoever to the ‘Go’, that’s the ‘too late’ point. (Saying ‘end step’, untapping their lands, or just simply saying ‘ok’… Information was gained.) We don’t play ‘gotcha’, but we also aren’t allowed to ‘fish’ for reactions.

    In scenario 3, first I need to pause the match immediately. I would like to talk to the spectator, and Adonis away from the table. I need to firstly establish why Selene said something, and to let her know that she should call a judge if there’s anything odd in a match, not comment directly. Second, I need to know why Adonis was annoyed that Selene pointed it out. Most players, on the up and up, would merely go ‘Oh, oops’ in that case, as it isn’t something that can be ‘missed’. The statement he made makes me think he intentionally failed to exile Nissa, which means we get to have the DQ talk. I would need to be convinced that he was annoyed at spectator interjection, not annoyed that his Nissa is going to exile.

    (Before I read any of the spoiler tags…)

    1. Read the spoiler’d stuff…

      Ok I got 1 and 2 right. 😀

      For 3… Yeah, I do agree that I should make it clear to Selene that in this specific instance, pointing out the error is actually ‘ok’, but that can change depending on the specifics, so to be safe, she should in the future call a judge. If for no other reason than to avoid the anger of players.

  3. On issue 3:
    I’m assuming this is a Competitive REL, since you are issuing a GRV penalty.
    It should be noted, that if Selene is playing in the event, she should receive a Match Loss for Outside Assistance

    1. Hi Steffen,

      Thanks for your response! Yes, SCG Opens are run at Competitive REL. What aspect of the Outside Assistance definition has Selene violated?


      1. Hi, sorry for the late reply

        I have no idea, but at GP Copenhagen, a spectator pointed out a missed Goblin Guide trigger (with one word, ‘Trigger’, as neither player seemed to notice), and got a Match Loss in the next round.

        I’m guessing for ‘Giving play advise’

        I just assumed the same policy applied here

  4. In scenario 2, I didn’t notice that it was day 2. I don’t think this changes my decision, as both days are Comp REL. At a GP, day 2 is Professional REL, but I’m told that the three biggest differences between professional and competitive are presentation, presentation, and presentation. I’m curious to hear what others say about this, as I have never judged at professional REL and don’t feel comfortable making a decision. In the situation as described, I see it as almost no different from scenario 1. The difference I see is the player uttering a phrase that is a tournament shortcut. Depending on how much time I thought had passed between “go” and “wait”, my decision would be more likely to change in this scenario than in scenario 1.

    In scenario 3, I wouldn’t’ve thought to diffuse the situation first and would’ve instead first tried to speak to AP away from the table. Having read the spoiler, I prefer your approach. Once you got to the investigation, I’m curious as to why you don’t say his answer to a question along the lines of, “Why did you tell S she wasn’t supposed to speak up?” If I ask why Nissa wasn’t exiled, I expect to be told it was forgotten. I think I could get more information asking about why he reacted that way to S.

    Scenario 4 reminded me that players get priority in the combat damage step. Suddenly things make more sense.

    For the last scenario, I tend towards not giving D/DLP when I think I know what the card is. I recall a standard decklist which had blank lines separating creatures, spells, and lands. In the lands section were listed 3 Red. I don’t recall if that list was checked, but I have no doubt that the deck had 3 Mountains. I wouldn’t’ve wanted to check that deck…until someone told me that Xenagod is often played just as an enchantment and not as a creature. At that point, I want to check the list.

    1. In scenario 3, I wouldn’t’ve thought to diffuse the situation first and would’ve instead first tried to speak to AP away from the table. Having read the spoiler, I prefer your approach.

      Thanks! 🙂

      Once you got to the investigation, I’m curious as to why you don’t say his answer to a question along the lines of, “Why did you tell S she wasn’t supposed to speak up?” If I ask why Nissa wasn’t exiled, I expect to be told it was forgotten. I think I could get more information asking about why he reacted that way to S.

      This is a great point! My investigation style often involves asking questions that I already know the answer to, simply to try and establish a baseline. That said, that style backfired in an interesting way during this particular investigation: AP picked up on this and got frustrated that I was asking asking similar questions in different ways.

      I don’t recall if I specifically asked “Why did you tell Selene she wasn’t supposed to speak up?” but I definitely like that angle of approach 🙂

Comments are closed.