Welcome back to our series of articles on the rules that dictate communication in Magic games. In the previous articles we talked about the way players are supposed to behave when they interact with a judge; in this installment we’ll see what we can say – and what we can omit to say – when communicating with our opponent.
Communication between players
The bulk of communication at tournaments happens between players, and presents an interesting dilemma: players need to have a mutual understanding to make the game progress, yet they’re allowed to trick their opponent in order to win. It’s necessary to have precise rules, and a threshold after which Jedi Mind Tricks become illegal.
Communication between players deals with two topics: describing the game state and declaring one’s actions. We’ll split these in two articles: in the rest of this one we’ll talk about the different kind of information exchanged during a game; the next in the series will wrap up the correct ways to communicate to our opponents our play.
Not all information is handled the same way. Some is essential for the game to progress, and must be clear to all players at any time; other information can be bluffed – understanding the game state and tracking all effects that apply to it is a skill that should be rewarded.
Free information includes the details that we would expect to get at a glance when we turn on the coverage streaming for a GP:
- the name of each card, the zone it’s in, whether it’s tapped or untapped, and the number and type of counters on it;
- the life total, poison and energy counters on each player, the current match score;
- whose turn it is, which phase we’re in, the details of actions players take and the details of past actions that affect the current game state.
Free information is always available to each player. If a player asks for free information, your answer must be complete and true. If you can’t give such an answer, regardless of the reason, you should definitely call a judge, explain the situation and ask for help. In brief, you can’t bluff on free information.
For example, if you play a card in a foreign language, you’re supposed to be able to provide its English name. You also can’t bluff on the number of charge counters on your Engineered Explosives, on your removal’s target, on the modes you have chosen for Cryptic Command, or which color your Voice of All has protection from. If a judge becomes involved because of a problem caused by a failure in communicating free information, at the very least he or she will rewind the game to the point where the miscommunication has impacted it, thus making your mind trick void. If the judge believes that you haven’t made a mistake, but deliberately lied to or confused your opponent to gain an advantage, he or she will disqualify you from the tournament. Free information is sacrosanct.
Since life points are so important and it’s very easy to make mistakes when registering a change, they have an additional protection in the rules. Each time a player gains or loses life, he or she must verbally announce the new life total; in addition, if you notice that a life total marked down by your opponent is different from the one you have, you must raise the point immediately and fix the problem, involving a judge if necessary. Sitting down on the misalignment to bring it up when it’s more advantageous for you is Cheating, and will get you disqualified.
Derived information are details on the game that are not immediately apparent but can be univocally determined using free information:
- how many cards are in a given zone, such as your hand or your graveyard;
- the characteristics of any object – except its name, since that’s free information;
- game rules and Oracle text.
You can bluff on derived information, but only to a certain point. You can’t outright lie or represent them incorrectly, but you’re under no obligation to answer your opponent’s questions on them, and if you do answer you are allowed to provide incomplete answers. Let’s make some examples:
- Your opponent asks you how big your Tarmogoyf is, at a time where the only cards in a graveyard are Bitterblossom and Thoughtseize. You can’t say it’s a 2/3, hoping your opponent doesn’t know that tribal is a card type, since that’s a lie. However, you can answer: “I see a sorcery and an enchantment in my graveyard”, which is not a lie, even though does not really answer your opponent’s question. You can also shrug and tell your opponent to count the card types himself.
- You cast a textless Incinerate on your opponent’s Wolfir Avenger, who asks you what your spell does. You answer that it deals 3 damage to his Wolfir, and your opponent spends his or her mana to regenerate it instead of casting Giant Growth. This is legal, since you have given correct, though not exhaustive, information – your opponent has the responsibility to know the cards or call a judge to read the Oracle text. It would not be legal to tell your opponent that Incinerate deals 2 damage or that Lightning Bolt prevents regeneration.
If you need assistance in determining derived information, your opponent is definitely the last person you should ask, since his or her interest is that you don’t understand them correctly. Spectators, on the other hand, are bound to remain silent, so don’t even try to ask them a question, or you’ll receive a match loss for Outside Assistance (and you may cause anyone who tries to help you saying “It’s a 3/4″ to receive one as well).
Guess who’s left? Correct, judges! Note that judges will not help you in your calculations or tell you outright Tarmogoyf’s power and toughness. However, they will always answer honestly and thoroughly to your rules questions. Being able to ask well-formed questions to judges in order to receive useful information if an important skill that you need to learn if you play competitively. For example, in the two situations presented above you could ask:
- “Judge, there are a sorcery, an enchantment and a tribal among graveyards, how big is Tarmogoyf?” or “Judge, is tribal a card type or a supertype?”
- “Judge, can you show me the Oracle text of this red card my opponent just played?”
As a rule of thumb, your question should not be on the game being played, but on the game in general. You always have the right to ask to see the Oracle text of any card, and you can even ask in private if you don’t want your opponent to overhear. You can’t bring out your phone and access Gatherer yourself.
There’s one last, important thing to know: this rule only applies at Competitive and Professional events, that is at Preliminary PTQs and above. At Regular REL (likely all tournaments held in your shop except PPTQs, but including most GP Trials), derived information is considered free, which means that you need to answer honestly and as thoroughly as possible when your opponent asks you a question. At Regular REL, fun and education are more important than competitiveness.
All information that is not included in one of the previous two categories is private. You are always free to lie on private information. For example:
- Your opponent casts Extirpate on the Mental Misstep in your graveyard, exiles it, then searches your library and exiles another. He or she asks you if you only play two copies, and you answer that you do, even though you perfectly know you have a third in your deck. This is legal: the contents of your deck is private information, and your opponent is responsible to pay attention when he or she searches it.
- Your opponent asks you how many counterspells you have in your hand, and you answer “Five”, even though you only have two cards in your hand. This is (obviously) legal. However, if he or she asks how many counterspells are in your graveyard, you must answer honestly or allow him to count himself, because your graveyard is a public zone, so the identity of cards therein is derived information, and can’t be represented incorrectly.
Judges will help you to determine free information, but not derived information (with the notable exception of providing the Oracle text of cards you can identify univocally), and will frown upon suggesting the correct play, even though they think you want to do it. Being able to ask “good” questions to judge in a skill in itself, one that would probably deserve a separate article.
Obviously, it is possible that a player may provide wrong information, which is different from giving false information. If this happens, immediately involve a judge, who will know how to solve the situation. In this situation, you have committed an infraction called Communication Policy Violation, and the judge will give you a warning. Don’t panic, you’re not being accused of being a cheater: judges disqualify cheaters, they don’t give warnings to them. However, remember that a second Communication Policy Violation in the tournament will result in a Game Loss, so pay attention!
For example, suppose that your opponent controls Tamiyo, the Moon Sage, and asks you how many tapped creatures you control. You answer “Four”, so you opponent activates Tamiyo’s second ability and draws four cards. As he passes the turn, you realize that one of your tokens (that are all represented by dice, so it’s rather hard to understand which one is tapped) could not attack the turn before, so it must be untapped! You call a judge, and he will rewind the game to the moment when the incorrect information has impacted it: he will put four random cards from your opponent’s hand on top of his library and two loyalty counters on Tamiyo.
I hope this article can help you to understand better when and how you can bluff, how you can defend yourself from your opponent’s bluffs and when it’s the moment to involve a judge.
The next article will wrap up the series, and will talk about tournament shortcuts, a way to communicate your actions to your opponent in a concise but clear fashion.