Guest Post: Why so flexible on Missed Triggers?

This ended up a little delayed due to some unexpected travel on my part, so many thanks to Joe Hughto for stepping up with a post explaining why we leave so much flexibility on Missed Triggers at Regular REL!

Two pages.  That’s the length of the document that guides judges working at Regular Rules Enforcement Level (REL).  A majority of events are played at this REL and, in fact, a vast majority of local tournaments are run at Regular REL.  Is two pages sufficient to cover all of the varied environments that players will see at Regular?

Let’s explore one part of one section to see what kind of limits are set on judges at these events.  Here is how we are instructed to handle missed triggers at Regular REL:
A player forgets a triggered ability (one that uses the words “when,” “whenever,” or “at” usually at the start of the ability’s text).
These abilities are considered missed if the player did not acknowledge them in any way at the point that it required choices or had a visible in-game effect. If the ability includes the word “may,” assume the player chose not to perform it. Otherwise, add it to the stack now unless it happened so long ago that you think it would be very disruptive to the game – don’t add the ability to the stack if significant decisions having been made based on the effect not happening! Unlike other game rule errors (which must be pointed out), players are never required to point out their opponent’s missed triggered abilities, although they may do so.
Consider this scenario:  Jane is the Head Judge of her local store’s Standard Constructed FNM.  This week, like most weeks, there are about 60 players in attendance.  The normal prize pool adds two packs per person, and she’ll be giving out more than half a case of boosters tonight.  Her store normally hosts a very competitive environment since many of the players use this FNM as training grounds for the deck they’ll be bringing to the nearby GP coming up next month.

It’s round four.  Niko controls Soldier of the Pantheon.  Annette casts Detention Sphere and wishes to exile both of Niko’s Desecration Demons with Detention Sphere’s first triggered ability.  Annette notices that Niko didn’t mention anything about the Soldier’s trigger.  She dances a little dance in her head because she had just enough to take him out on her next turn if she casts Frostburn Weird now.  She casts Frostburn Weird and doesn’t leave up mana for her Dissolve.  Annette passes the turn, Niko untaps, draws, and then notices his error.  He calls Jane over.
She takes a quick look at the JAR to refresh since this seems like it can be an important call.  One phrase sticks out as important to her: “don’t add the ability to the stack if significant decisions have been made based on the effect not happening!”  Given this environment, she feels that there were significant decisions made by Annette.  She decides to not put the Soldier of the Pantheon trigger on the stack.
Now let’s consider a slight different scenario.
Jonah is running his store’s weekly Booster Draft on Sunday.  His store is in the local mall and it gets a very casual crowd who likes to come in and spend a couple hours playing a fun game.  The normal prize structure for an 8-player pod gives three packs to first, and one pack each to second through fourth.
In the second round, Anton is playing against Nicolette.  Anton controls an Oreskos Sun Guide and attacked Nicolette with it during his previous turn.  Nicolette has ended her turn and passed back to Anton.  Anton untaps, draws, plays a land, and casts Loyal Pegasus.  He then moves on to attacks.  While figuring out who he should attack with since he may need to leave up a blocker or two, he notices that he missed his Orsekos Sun Guide trigger.  Jonah gets called over.
He also double-checks the JAR.  He determines that while Nicolette may have made some decisions about the game, they weren’t significant ones that determined her line of play.  He decides to add the trigger to the stack and tells the players to try to be more careful when they have triggered abilities.

Each trigger led to a gain of life so why did these judges rule differently at each of these events?  There is one very important word here that made these rule different ways: significant.  There are lots of things that can influence whether a judge thinks a decision was significant.  One of those factors can be environment.  Remember that the goal of Regular REL is to promote learning, fun, and fairness.  If your FNM is very competitive and players expect you to emphasize fairness heavily, you might rule like Jane from the first situation.  On the other hand, if your local environment is more casual, you might rule like Jonah.
Remember that we as judges are not simply rules robots who just regurgitate the rules and relevant policy.  We are there to make sure that our players enjoy their experience and it’s also fair for everybody.  We are expected to use our best judgement at each call to find out the remedy most appropriate, which is especially true at Regular REL.

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