A few weeks ago, I head judged Eternal Extravaganza 4 in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Eternal Extravaganza is a tournament series organized by Tales of Adventure, and over the past few years it’s evolved into an institution on the Legacy scene. I was honored to take the helm of the event…and now it’s your turn!
Welcome once again to You Make the Ruling, where you get to come up with the answer to real-life Magic scenarios. This week’s YMTR challenges focus on policy scenarios from EE4. I’ve included my answer to each scenario; but as always, it works best if you come up with your own answer before revealing the discussion.
- Abra casts Ponder. He looks at the top three cards and decides to shuffle his library. He presents the deck to Nidorina, who cuts it. Abra then passes the turn. Nidorina untaps and draws. At this point, Abra remembers he hasn’t drawn from Ponder! You determine that Abra has committed a Game Rule Violation, which should be fixed by having him draw a card right away; he does so. But, wait! It’s a miracle! Abra has drawn Terminus! Can he cast it?
On the surface level, Terminus is the first card Abra has drawn for the turn (Nidorina’s turn, specifically), so it’s eligible for miracle. However, I find this quite unsatisfying, as the card would not have been a miracle if it been drawn at the appropriate time.
I believe it’s more reasonable to treat this partial fix as though we’re splicing the draw that should have occurred Abra’s turn into the present turn. That draw was not Abra’s first for the turn, so the card drawn can’t be a miracle. Philosophically, this is similar to how we treat missed triggers that are put on the stack after they actually should have resolved (“no player may make choices involving objects that would not have been legal choices when the ability should have triggered”).
- Arbok casts Ponder and resolves it properly. He then activates Deathrite Shaman‘s first ability, targeting a land in his own graveyard. Ninetales lets the ability resolve; Arbok adds a black mana to his mana pool. Arbok then casts Thoughtseize. Ninetales points out that she controls an Ethersworn Canonist. Do you reverse Deathrite Shaman’s ability?
When a player casts a spell illegally, we back up mana abilities involved in casting that spell. However, Deathrite Shaman’s mana ability is not a mana ability; it has a target and requires making choices. Moreover, activating Deathrite Shaman’s ability was perfectly legal. In this situation, I see no reason to let Arbok take back activating his Deathrite Shaman.
Articuno is playing High Tide and is in the process of combo’ing off. With storm count of 17, she casts Brain Freeze targeting Nuzleaf. Nuzleaf checks his library and determines it has fewer than 54 cards, so both players agree that Articuno’s
ice beamBrain Freeze will mill Nuzleaf’s whole library. Nuzleaf takes his library, turns it upside down, and puts it into his graveyard. Then Nuzleaf says, “Oh yeah, Emrakul trigger” and points out an Emrakul, the Aeons Torn in the middle of his graveyard.
Articuno says, “OK, I’ll respond.” Articuno casts Intituion and finds three Cunning Wishes. Articuno casts Cunning Wish and puts Blue Sun’s Zenith into his hand. Finally, Articuno casts Blue Sun’s Zenith for X=1, targeting Nuzleaf. At this point, Articuno and Nuzleaf realize that something has gone horribly wrong. What do you do?Reveal Discussion!
Zach Apony handled this call at EE4, and they have shared it with quite a few other judges since then. Kudos to them for doing a great job publicizing a complicated but also realistic scenario.
To get the ruling itself, I believe that the best way to tackle this ruling is to ask what went wrong. Two major possibilities present themselves:
- Nuzleaf improperly resolved Brain Freeze (by treating it as a single spell instead of many).
- Nuzleaf blew past his Emrakul’s trigger by putting his whole library into his graveyard.
These are two very different infractions with extremely different remedies, so picking the right one is absolutely crucial.
The definition of Missed Trigger does tell us that a player “must take the appropriate physical action…before taking any game actions that can be taken only after the triggered ability should have resolved.” On the surface, this sentence seems to fit this situation perfectly: Nuzleaf put some cards in his graveyard after also putting Emrakul into his graveyard. This is a game action that can be taken only after Emrakul’s trigger should have resolved.
If Nuzleaf had been putting cards into his graveyard three at a time, this reasoning would certainly apply, and we would have a Missed Trigger that was pointed out far too late. Rough beats for Nuzleaf, he’s about to die.
But…that’s not what actually happened here. Instead, Nuzleaf put his whole library into his graveyard at once, then immediately mentioned his Emrakul. This points towards Nuzleaf treating the stack as a single spell that said “mill 54 cards”, which leads us straight into Game Rule Violation territory.
Another angle to consider is our policies around shortcuts. Articuno and Nuzleaf effectively agreed to shortcut “mill cards three at a time, repeat this process 17 times” to “mill 54 cards.” However, CR 716.2a tells us that a shortcut “can’t include conditional actions, where the outcome of a game event determines the next action a player takes.” So their shortcut is actually invalid. Since one of the comprehensive rules has been broken, we have a Game Rule Violation on our hands. Thanks to Erik Mulvaney for raising this idea in the Northeast Slack. (This approach is still a bit weird, though, because it suggests that the shortcut only became invalid retroactively…)
Given that the appropriate infraction is GRV, should we back up? There are two axes to consider: whether we can actually perform the backup, and how impactful the backup will be on the game.
Mechanically, the backup is somewhat involved — we need to rewind to the point where Emrakul’s trigger is on the stack above a number of Brain Freeze copies; the judge will have to ensure the players properly calculate how many Brain Freezes have resolved and how many copies remain. This also involves returning Blue Sun’s Zenith to Articuno’s sideboard, shuffling three Cunning Wishes back into her library, and putting an Intuition back in her hand. But, ultimately, these are all doable. Moreover, no random elements are involved.
The second axis is more interesting. Both players have gained a substantial amount of information: Nuzleaf’s whole library has been revealed, and Nuzleaf now knows that Articuno has an Intuition in hand. However, the rubric we use is not simply how much information is being gained, but how impactful that information will be on the game state and the players’ future decision trees. In this case, Nuzleaf’s line of play is likely to remain the same. It’s also quite likely that Articuno will once again try to win the game by casting Blue Sun’s Zenith with the Emrakul trigger on the stack (albeit at a different time).
Putting it all together, I believe a backup is warranted — and that’s exactly what I instructed Zach to do at EE4.
Regardless of whether you believe this is Missed Trigger or Game Rule Violation, this scenario is a great reminder of the idea that we should first determine what infraction has occurred, and then figure out the appropriate fix. It’s very tempting to come up with a desired solution (“I think that Nuzleaf should end up resolving his Emrakul trigger!”) and backtrack to an infraction that lets us apply that fix. But this produces rulings based on feelings, rather than the IPG itself, which contradicts the whole purpose of formalized policies!
As always, Legacy is a fun and sometimes crazy format that tends to push the limits of our policies. I hope you enjoyed the above scenarios, and I’d love to know what you would have done. Let me know your thoughts in the comments!