Communication in Magic Tournaments – Part III

Written by Salvatore La Terra
Level 3, Italy

Written by Salvatore La Terra
Level 3, Italy

 Welcome to our series of articles on communication rules. In this article, we wrap up the series talking about the shortcuts we take when describing to our opponent our line of play.

I’ll be brief

I think I already said that Magic is a complicated game. Well, I take it back: Magic is a very complicated game. Playing the game described in the Comprehensive Rules is an exercise in patience – try to play a game in Magic Online putting a stop at every phase and step and without using function keys if you want to see for yourself!

For example, here’s a typical first turn in a game:

“I pass priority in my upkeep.”

“I pass priority, the step ends.”

“I play a land in my first main phase, then I pass priority.”

“I pass priority, the phase ends.”

“I pass priority in my beginning of combat step.”

“I pass priority, the step ends.”

“I declare a null attack.”

“I pass priority in my declare attackers step.”

“I pass priority, the step ends.”

“I pass priority in my end of combat step.”

“I pass priority, the step ends.”

“I pass priority in my second main phase.”

“I pass priority, the phase ends.”

“I pass priority, in my end of turn step.”

“I pass priority, the turn ends.”

What a fun game, uh? Typically— and thankfully! —a real first turn goes on like:

“Play my land, go.”


We have just used a tournament shortcut. Since shortcut are designed to allow us to skip a part of the information we exchange and take it for granted, they present a very high risk of misunderstanding. For this reason, some shortcuts have been defined and assigned a meaning.

“Go.”, “Your turn.”, “Pass.”

You are passing priority until you reach your end of turn step, then you’re passing priority there. Your opponent can play something, but if he or she doesn’t you can’t do anything anymore: your turn immediately proceeds to the cleanup step, you discard to seven if necessary and your turn ends.

“Combat?”, “Attack.”, “I’d like to declare attackers.”

You are passing priority until you reach your beginning of combat step, then you’re passing priority there. If your opponent doesn’t wish to play anything, the game immediately passes to the declare attackers step, which means you must declare attackers, unless there’s a triggered ability waiting to resolve, for example the one from Toolcraft Exemplar or Goblin Rabblemaster. In this case, the ability will resolve and you will receive priority again in your beginning of combat step.

This is certainly the most delicate shortcut of all, and the one that will result in the most disagreements between players. After you invoke this shortcut, you won’t be able to animate your lands or crew your Vehicles, unless your opponent plays anything in your beginning of combat step or there’s a pending ability to resolve. If your opponent does play something, for example a Cryptic Command to tap your team before you have a chance to attack, you’ll have the chance to do something (for example, activate your Mutavault that’s still untapped, since it wasn’t a creature when Cryptic Command resolved), but you are still stuck in combat, so you can’t juggle Equipment around or cast a creature with haste and attack with it.

Before this shortcut existed, players would attempt to do this:

“I’d like to attack.”

“I tap your Goblin Piker with my Icy Manipulator.”

“Ah, you haven’t said we’re changing phase: BALL LIGHTNING!”

We really don’t like this trick anymore. If your plan is to have your opponent play something in a different phase than the one he or she intends to, trust me: change your plan. The judge will rule against you.

(Historical note: before the Sixth Edition rule change, this trick was legal – actually, it was not a trick at all, it was the way the game worked back then, as there was no beginning of combat step: you would say you wanted to attack, and your opponent could either allow you to tap your creatures or interrupt you to cast something, which left you in your main phase. However, this is not the game we’re playing anymore.)

This shortcut has come under great scrutiny in the judge community in the past months. You are welcome to read what Kevin Deprez and Toby Elliott (two very experienced judges) have to say on this topic, but let me put this in layman’s terms: activate your Vehicles in your main phase. Doing things at the very last time is a tenet that’s burned in the brain of many Magic players, and it’s usually correct, except when it isn’t. There’s nothing to gain from trying to animate your stuff in combat, and plenty to lose – namely, a whole combat phase.

Some might say that there’s no way to enter your beginning of combat phase and retain priority. That someone would be wrong: you’re more than welcome to do so, if you have a reason to do so. For example, if you Wasteland away your opponent’s only source of white mana, and he or she obviously taps it, you can certainly enter your beginning of combat to have that mana burn away and then crew your precious Skysovereign with no fear of seeing it sent on a Path to Exile just say so.

“I pump Nantuko Shade four times.”

If you stack a bunch of spells or abilities at the same time, it’s assumed that you put the first one onto the stack, wait for it to resolve, then put the second on the stack, wait for it to resolve, and so on. The old and embarrassing trick of “I Shock it in response to all the activations”, that forced us to pump our Shades one painstaking point at a time, is not legal anymore.

Persecute and I choose black.”, “Lightning Bolt your Jace.”

Sometimes, especially when we’re playing fast or the choice is obvious, we announce a choice that should be made during resolution at the time we cast a spell (for reference, the only things that are announced as a spell is cast are modes, targets, additional/alternative costs, and how damage is split among targets). When we do so, we are saying that we launch that spell and, if the opponent has no response, we’ll make that choice. This is not a legal trick:

“Persecute and I choose black.”

“Ok, it resolves.”

“Discard all blue cards, please.”

Any choice prematurely made when casting a spell must be abided to if that spell resolves uninterrupted. On the other hand, if our opponent responds to our spell, we’re not bound to follow through with the shortcut we proposed, since it’s been rejected by our opponent.

A notable application of this rule is that we can point our burn to opposing planeswalker, and when we do this we mean that we’re targeting our opponent and, in resolution, we’ll decide to redirect the damage to that ‘walker. If our opponent responds somehow (for example, grants Jace protection from red using Faith’s Shield), we’re not bound to redirect the damage.

“I cast Persecute.” “Color?”

This shortcut is the mirror image of the previous one. If we ask our opponent to make a choice that’s supposed to happen during resolution, we’re implicitly agreeing to resolve that spell. After our opponent tells us that he’s choosing red, it’s too late to cast Brainstorm to hide our burn on top of the library.

Do it yourself

There are more codified shortcuts, but they’re so seldom invoked that it’s not worth it to talk about them. However, it’s important to note that players are always free to establish new shortcuts to use in their matches. This is usually done tacitly, through normal gameplay, but you can also explicitly describe a complex shortcut. For example , if you’re playing an Urzatron deck and you’ve assembled the Mindslaver + Academy Ruins combo, you don’t need to go through the motions every time: you can just explain what’s going on, set aside Academy Ruins and enough lands to generate , and say that every turn you will put Mindslaver on top of the library, draw it, cast it, activate it and pass.

Players are always free to interrupt their opponent’s shortcuts, but they can’t do this to force them to waste some more time on the clock. For example, in the previous example you could respond to the ability of Academy Ruins with a Surgical Extraction; in this case, the rest of the shortcut doesn’t happen, so your opponent will be left with two Urza’s Tower and Urza’s Mine untapped.You can interrupt standard shortcuts as well. For example, after your opponent announces that he or she is pumping Nantuko Shade four times, you can say that you want to to Char it in response to the second activation. In this case, the rest of the shortcut is canceled and rewound: the next two activations never happen and your opponent untaps two lands, so he or she is free to use it for other things, for example to cast Altar’s Reap and sacrifice the soon-to-be-dead-for-the-second-time Shade.

Let’s make another example: you control no creatures, so you just play a land and say “Go”. The game would skip to your end of turn step, but your opponent interrupts your shortcut in your second main phase to activate Haunted Dead discarding two Prized Amalgam (which would cause them to return to the battlefield at the end of the current turn). Since he or she has interrupted your shortcut, the game is still in your second main phase, so you could for example cast a Rest in Peace to get rid of the Amalgams.

So long

That’s the end of our tour on communication. We hope these articles will be useful to understand how you can communicate clearly and efficiently, without falling for verbal tricks.



Brook Gardner-Durbin

Brook Gardner-Durbin

Aruna Prem Bianzino

Aruna Prem Bianzino