We all know that Magic is a complex game. There are thousands of unique cards, and these cards are governed by a ton of very boring rules (a loooot of pages of rules).
Magic is also a game with actions and decisions and the order in which players must do these is detailed in the (again) unfathomable mountain of rulings.
It can be quite difficult to perform every single play in a perfect manner. In fact, it’s not uncommon to see players do actions in an incorrect order that, by the rules, shouldn’t be possible.
The most common example of this is one that you probably have seen a lot of times at tournaments: a player begins their turn by drawing a card and then untapping.
We all have done this at some point, and we all know that this is not the correct order and we should have untapped before drawing. We also know that nobody generally complains about this. But, what are we doing here? We are indeed performing a series of actions in an essentially incorrect order.
Performing actions in an incorrect order is something so usual that it’s actually covered by the rules governing Magic tournaments, and it even has a name: it’s called Out-of-Order Sequencing, or OoOS for short.
This rule was born after the Pro Tour Berlin in 2008. In that tournament the dominating deck was Elf combo that could make infinite life and/or infinite mana.
The combo itself is performed using a sequence of triggered abilities that, if the player forgot to perform in a correct order, could result in a game loss by means of getting too manywarnings for missed triggers (in those times all missed triggers meant a penalty for the player). In fact, there were actual games won in this way.
Because of this two things happened: first, that Luis Scott-Vargas and his Elves achieved the glory of the victory, and second, it was decided to change the rules to improve the game flow and avoid these situations.
So, what’s exactly an out-of-order sequence? It’s something that allows players to perform actions without following the usual order, provided that the sequence remains clear and the final game state is legal (there’s a bit more to this, but for now we’ll stick to this simplification).
Let’s see another example before analyzing in detail what the rules say:
I control a Birds of Paradise and a Voice of Resurgence. My opponent, who doesn’t like creatures that cheat more of themselves in play, decides to play a Supreme Verdict, so I put the Voice in the graveyard, I create the token, and then move the Birds in the graveyard.
Of course, there is something out of order here: both the Voice and the Birds should have gone to the graveyard at the same time, before the token is placed in play. Is this action clear? Yes. It’s the resulting game state legal? Indeed. This is a prime example of an incorrect order leading to a correct game state.
But, what does really the rules say so we can consider this an OoOS situation?
- All actions taken must be legal if they were executed in the correct order, and any opponent can ask the player to do the actions in the correct sequence so that he or she can respond at the appropriate time.
- The final result is clear and the game state is legal.
- All actions are performed in a single block, meaning there are no interruptions between them.
- Must not result in a player prematurely gaining information – including identity of hidden cards or opponent reactions – which could reasonably affect decisions made later in that sequence.
Seems complex, but let’s take a look at all this with some more examples:
Alexander plays a Cathartic Reunion, draws and then discards.
This example is not OoOS, due to drawing first. Alexander is gaining an information that he shouldn’t be allowed to have to decide which cards to discard and this is something an OoOS won’t ever allow. It’s very important to remember that if you are gaining information you shouldn’t already have, it’s not OoOS.
Another common example:
Albert: Attack with everything
Nick: I block with this creature and then activate my Mutavault and block with it too.
There’s clearly an incorrect order here: Mutavault should have been activated before declaring blockers, since all blockers must be declared at the same time. But, is there any illegal action? No. Is the resulting game state legal? Yes. If Albert wants to respond to the activation in some way (to remove it, for example) he can ask Nick to perform the actions in the correct order so he can kill the Mutavault before it becomes a blocking creature. And, in this scenario, nothing special happens because the actions would be the same. Furthermore, no additional information was made available by performing the actions in an incorrect order. This means every condition for OoOS is met and we’re good to go.
As the rules say, they can apply to triggered abilities, too:
I control a Young Pyromancer and I cast a Dragon Fodder. I put three tokens in play (two Goblins and the Pyromancer’s Elemental) at the same time in play.
Technically, the Pyromancer’s token should have entered the battlefield before the two goblins. Is this an OoOS? Again, yes: there’s a single block of actions, there’s no information gained and the final game state is legal.
Still on triggered abilities: What happens if, while doing things in an incorrect order, we resolve the triggered after something relevant has happened? I mean: if there’s anything that visibly changed the game state and should have happened before the trigger should have resolved.
In this case we can’t consider it OoOS, as we can’t resolve the trigger after that something happened.
Let’s use an example to better understand it: I cycle a Shefet Monitor and I draw before searching for a land. I haven’t resolved the triggered ability but I have already drawn a card, which causes a substantial change in the game state. In this case, the triggered ability that allows me to search can’t be resolved and this falls outside OoOS.
Let’s look at a last example: I control eight untapped lands (from multiple colors, including multicolor ones). I announce I’m casting Scapeshift, tap four of them, say “I sacrifice eight lands” and put the Scapeshift on the table. I look at my opponent and he says “ok”. I then tap the other four lands to add mana and then sacrifice all of them as I begin resolving the sorcery. My opponent decides to call a judge.
In this case what’s out of order is tapping the four lands to add mana from them: we could have done it before passing priority to our opponent, but not during the resolution of a spell. Ok, now you’ll say that the final game state is very similar, right? Yes, it is, but I have gained information I shouldn’t have: now I know my opponent is not going to respond. If he or she wanted to do something, I could have got those four lands untapped to cast other spells, like a counter. The result is that I have gained information about the decisions of my opponent, so this falls out of OoOS again.
To wrap it up, Out-of-Order Sequencing allows us to perform actions in a technically incorrect order, provided that the resulting game state is legal, the actions are legal by themselves, they’re performed as a single block of actions, and we don’t gain any information prematurely that would affect our decisions. This way we get to a game state in a rather orthodox way, but allows the gameplay to flow in a more natural way, which is the ultimate goal of all of this. And, in the end, our opponent can always ask us to perform the actions in the correct order if he or she wishes to respond in some way.
By the way, these rules apply to any kind of sanctioned tournament: FNM, Pro Tour, Grand Prix … you name it. It works the same everywhere.