My first GP this year was GP: Indianapolis, which I worked last month. The combination of a Team Sealed format and the fact that this GP fell on Rivals of Ixalan release weekend made for a lot of interesting calls as players handled new cards and interactions for the first time. Investigations skills played a prominent role in many of these situations, as the right ruling involved determining exactly what happened and when players became aware of mistakes in the game. Because this is a particularly popular subject among my readers, I wanted to write up an article in which I shared some of the techniques I used and some of the techniques I learned.
Q: Amy plays Waterknot on Nicole’s Grizzly Bears, but neither player acknowledges the triggered ability that taps Grizzly Bears when Waterknot enters the battlefield. Several turns later, Amy says that Grizzly Bears should have been tapped. Nicole contends that Amy missed that trigger, and the players call a judge. What do you do?
A: This is a case of Missed Trigger because the “tap enchanted creature” is a triggered ability that was not acknowledged by its controller by the time it affected the visible game state. There is no penalty for Amy because tapping her opponent’s creature is not generally considered detrimental to her. For the fix, recall that some types of triggered abilities do not expire and are resolved immediately after they are discovered. Among these are cases where an “enters-the-battlefield trigger of an Aura that affects only the enchanted permanent and causes a visible change to that permanent” is missed. Because Waterknot’s tapping trigger is this type, Grizzly Bears is tapped now.
Note: Nicole is perfectly within her rights to allow the game to continue without calling attention to this infraction. The responsibility to acknowledge triggered abilities always falls completely on their controller. Failure to acknowledge an opponent’s triggered ability is never considered Failure to Maintain Game State or Cheating.
Note: If you missed this question, don’t be upset; you aren’t the only one. In fact, this question was missed by enough judges on the GP floor that a middle of day briefing discussed this scenario so that everyone would know the correct ruling from then on. I did know about this ruling, having written about it several months earlier when this part of Missed Trigger policy changed. Therefore, I was extremely confident when Nicole appealed this ruling after I gave it. Too confident…
I found a head judge and explained my ruling. All was going well, but before I got the sweet vindication of hearing I was right, he asked me where we were in the game when Amy brought this up. I hadn’t really given this much thought, so I hadn’t asked. Then the head judge asked me how I ruled out Cheating. I was confused because as noted above, Nicole’s non-acknowledgement of this ability does not constitute Cheating. True as that is, there was an important facet of this situation that I was missing. Some game states are more strategically valuable for Amy to bring up her error than others. For example, If she notices before combat on Nicole’s turn, then waits until after combat to point it out, Nicole will have one less blocker than she thought she would have. Waiting like this is not allowed for Amy, and if this is what happened, USC-Cheating may well have been the appropriate penalty.
This line was not something I had even considered, but I know to be aware of it now. I think I am probably more susceptible to not investigating where it is warranted because I write so many rules questions. This is a risk of spending too much time in a world where the information is known with certainty and where Cheating is ruled out by default. If you read a lot of rules questions to keep your skills sharp, remember this lesson too.
Q: Amy plays a Hunt the Weak to have her Grizzly Bears fight Nicole’s Balduvian Bears. Nicole puts Balduvian Bears in her graveyard, and Grizzly Bears stays on the battlefield, but Amy doesn’t put anything on it to represent the +1/+1 counter it should have gotten. Two turns later, Nicole plays a Vanquish the Weak on Amy’s Bear Cub. As Amy is moving Bear Cub to her graveyard, she says, “Oh yeah, my Grizzly Bears should have a +1/+1 counter,” and the players call a judge. As the players are explaining what happened, Nicole says that she would have targeted Grizzly Bears with Vanquish the Weak if it had the counter on it. What do you do?
A: Depending on your interpretation of what happened, there are two possibilities here. The first is that Amy did not correctly perform the instructions on Hunt the Weak. This would mean that she either did not realize the +1/+1 from Hunt the Weak was a thing and mistakenly had her creature live or that she thought the +1/+1 was a temporary buff. This would be a GRV. Because we are too far along in the game for a backup to be a good solution and because this situation does not fit any of the partial fixes, we would leave the game state as-is. In particular, that would mean Grizzly Bears does not get a +1/+1 counter and Nicole cannot change the target of her spell.
The second possibility was that Amy and Nicole knew at the time of Hunt the Weak resolving that Grizzly Bears should have a +1/+1 counter on it, and Amy just forgot to put something on it to represent that. Because the number and type of counters on an object is Free Information, and Amy is not representing this information correctly, this would be a CPV. In cases where a player has clearly acted on incorrect Free or Derived Information provided by an opponent, the IPG allows a backup to the point where the action was taken (not to the point where the incorrect information was provided). Because the +1/+1 counter was put on Grizzly Bears, just not represented properly, the Grizzly Bears would have a +1/+1 counter on it, so Amy would have to find some way to represent that.
Note that the difference between these two completely different infractions and fixes is what the players thought was happening as Hunt the Weak resolved. An investigation was warranted to determine which of these fit best. Unfortunately, this was a weird call for me. The second possible interpretation occurred to me only after consulting with another judge. The first didn’t occur to either of us, and I only became aware of it after talking to one of the head judges about what he would have done. As a result, I applied the CPV fix and called it a day.
Note: Talk to other judges about interesting calls you take! Aside from stimulating conversation, they might point out something you missed, which will help you grow as a judge.
Q: Amy plays Hunt the Weak to make her Thrashing Brontodon fight Nicole’s Dinosaur Hunter. Nicole says, “okay, trade?” Amy then says “Wait, in response to Prey Upon, I want to sacrifice Thrashing Brontodon to destroy your Cobbled Wings. Nicole says that she can’t do that and calls a judge. What do you do?
A: There are a couple of interesting things about this situation. First and foremost, it’s obvious that Amy did not realize that her creature would die as a result of this fight and is trying to salvage some value from her misplay. The floor judge must be alert to the possibility that Amy may be incentivized to selectively provide information to you to make her case for being able to sacrifice Thrashing Brontodon stronger.
Second, Amy actually can sacrifice Thrashing Brontodon to destroy the equipment. She just can’t do it the way she tried to. While it’s legal for her to respond to Hunt the Weak, she would have to hold priority and do that immediately. By context, it’s clear that she passed priority after casting Prey Upon and that her opponent wishes to do the same, which would mean that Amy has forfeited her opportunity to make that play. The proper way to do this would be to respond to Dinosaur Hunter’s triggered ability by activating Thrashing Brontodon’s ability. As a bonus, this line also kills Dinosaur Hunter, whereas the other line would not. If this play had occurred to Amy, it’s safe to say that she would have pursued it rather than the one she did try to make. An important consequence of this is that the judge taking this call must avoid alluding to this proper sequence of actions during the investigation so as to avoid feeding derived information to Amy.
So how should we approach this call? I talked to the players together at the table to determine what happened. I like to talk to the players together unless they are being openly hostile towards each other because it’s easier to find the parts of their stories that differ if they can hear and reply to each other in real time. Both players agreed on the information provided in the question statement, but they differed as to when Amy first tried to activate Thrashing Brontodon’s ability. Nicole of course claimed that she gave Amy a reasonable amount time to respond before attempting to resolve Hunt the Weak. On the other hand, Amy said that she had intended to sacrifice Thrashing Brontodon when she cast Hunt the Weak, and that Nicole was trying to deny her the opportunity to make this play by rushing through the sequence. She held strong to this version of events even when I pointed out the dubious gameplay value of her line which essentially involved discarding a premium removal spell for no reason.
At this point, I decided to involve a head judge because I was concerned that some of Amy’s statements may have been headed in a direction which could warrant serious consequences for her. When the head judge arrived and asked the players to recount their stories for him, Amy conceded that she had not realized Dinosaur Hunter’s ability was going to take down her Brontodon when she cast Hunt the Weak and was trying to sacrifice Thrashing Brontodon because she recognized this now. Accordingly, the ruling was that Amy had passed the point where she would have needed to do that, so she couldn’t. Throughout this time, it still had not occurred to Amy that she could sacrifice Thrashing Brontodon with Dinosaur Hunter’s trigger on the stack, so she didn’t do that either.
Note: I advised the head judge that Amy’s rationale for wanting to make her play seemed to have changed since the time that I interviewed her. He agreed that this was a red flag and that Amy now merited closer attention in the event, but based on my recollections of Amy’s statements, he did not believe she had committed USC – Cheating.