A triggered ability triggers, but the player controlling the ability doesn’t demonstrate awareness of the trigger’s existence the first time that it would affect the game in a visible fashion.
Generally speaking, the point at which a player needs to demonstrate awareness of a triggered ability is after it has triggered, but no later than when that ability would “first matter.” The finer details of when things “first matter” will be covered throughout this definition.
The point by which the player needs to demonstrate this awareness depends on the impact that the trigger would have on the game:
- A triggered ability that requires its controller to choose targets (other than ‘target opponent’), modes, or other choices made when the ability is put onto the stack: The controller must announce those choices before they next pass priority.
These are triggered abilities that first matter as they are put onto the stack. In order to avoid missing these triggers, the controller of these abilities must remember to make the choices involved with these right away.
Examples: Anointed Deacon, Academy Journeymage, Rhonas’s Monument
For the purposes of triggered abilities, the choice of a “target opponent” is automatically assumed in a two-player game. The controller is not required to explicitly make this choice to avoid missing the trigger. A player isn’t off the hook just yet, though — they will still need to demonstrate awareness at some later point according to whichever of the three remaining groups the effect fits into. Also, the opponent is not assumed to be the target when the trigger requires a “target player,” even if it’s “obvious” that you want to target the opponent.
- A triggered ability that causes a change in the visible game state (including life totals) or requires a choice upon resolution: The controller must take the appropriate physical action or acknowledge the specific trigger before taking any game actions (such as casting a sorcery spell or explicitly taking an action in the next step or phase) that can be taken only after the triggered ability should have resolved.
These are triggered abilities that first matter at resolution. In order to avoid missing these triggers, the controller of these abilities must remember to make the choice or take the visible action when the trigger would resolve (or prompt the opponent to do so). The player may also avoid missing the trigger by making it clear to the opponent what outcome will be taken when the trigger resolves.
Examples: Banewhip Punisher, Anointer Priest, Sparring Construct
As it turns out, this is by far the most common type of triggered ability in the game. Most triggered abilities involve obvious visible actions such as drawing cards, moving objects from zone to zone, or modifying the state of permanents. Note that life totals are considered part of the visible representation of the game — this implies that triggered abilities that cause a player to take damage or gain life first matter at the point that a score pad should be updated.
Note that passing priority, casting an instant spell or activating an ability doesn’t mean a triggered ability has been forgotten, as it could still be on the stack.
When making this determination, a lot of benefit of the doubt is given to players — they usually have to go well out of their way to show that they’ve missed a trigger. For example, if a player casts a spell during upkeep, it is assumed that upkeep triggers are still on the stack, not missed.
- A triggered ability that changes the rules of the game: The controller must acknowledge the trigger or stop an opponent who tries to take any resulting illegal action.
These are triggered abilities that first matter at the point at which an opponent tries to take an illegal action due to the trigger. In order to avoid missing these triggers, the controller of these abilities must announce the trigger at the correct time and/or actively prevent an opponent from taking an action that wouldn’t be possible had the triggered ability resolved.
Examples: Brine Elemental, Lavinia of the Tenth, Wall of Frost, Pyreheart Wolf
If an opponent hasn’t acknowledged the trigger then players are welcome to behave as if it was forgotten, but they must expect to be stopped by that opponent.
For example, suppose Alex attacks Nat with a Pyreheart Wolf and doesn’t immediately mention their trigger. Nat is allowed to animate a Mutavault and try to declare it alone as a blocker. If Alex does not speak up about this blocking assignment being illegal before taking a later action or continuing with combat, Alex has missed their trigger.If a player chooses to perform this “Missed Trigger gambit,” so to speak, they risk giving away information like the identity of cards in their hand or intended plays. Worse yet, a player banking on a forgotten trigger of this type may lock themself into a play they would otherwise not want to take.In the above example, if Alex prevents Nat from blocking with Mutavault alone, Nat wouldn’t get to undo the activation of Mutavault.
- A triggered ability that affects the game state in non-visible ways: The controller must make the change known by the first time the change has an effect on the visible game state.
These are triggered abilities that aren’t immediately visually apparent, but would first matter at some point after resolution. Examples include causing a creature to gain some ability or giving a creature a power and toughness bonus (but not a counter or targeted)The result of these effects may cause some later visible change to the game state. For example, suppose Nat controls an Aether Flash at the time that Alex casts a 3/3 Hill Giant, and neither player mentions the trigger. If, later that turn, Nat deals 1 additional damage to Alex’s creature, Nat will have not missed the Aether Flash trigger if they prompt Alex to put their creature into the graveyard at that time. In this case, Aether Flash’s trigger first matters at the point when Alex’s creature receives lethal damage.
Examples: Boros Elite, Steppe Lynx, Zhur-Taa Ancient, Emrakul, the Aeons Torn.
This is something that people get hung up on, and will be addressed in more detail below. But the default assumption of the opponent should be that the trigger happened when it was supposed to.
Once any of the above obligations has been fulfilled, further problems are treated as a Game Play Error — Game Rule Violation.
For example, suppose Alex attacks Nat with an unblocked Arbor Elf equipped with Sword of Feast and Famine. During the combat damage step, Alex untaps their lands but both players forget about Nat discarding. Even if this is noticed during the post combat main phase, this must be treated as a Game Rules Violation by either rewinding the game or applying the appropriate partial fix, and not by simply asking Nat whether to place the trigger on the stack. It is also a Game Rules Violation if you acknowledge a trigger at the proper time or earlier, and then, because of multiple things on the stack, you forget to resolve it.
Triggered abilities that do nothing except create delayed triggered abilities automatically resolve without requiring acknowledgment. Awareness of the resulting delayed trigger must be demonstrated at the appropriate point.
Triggered abilities that do nothing except create one or more copies of a spell or ability (such as storm or cipher) automatically resolve, but awareness of the resulting objects must be demonstrated using the same requirements as described above (even though the objects may not be triggered abilities).
If a triggered ability would have no impact on the game, it’s not an infraction to fail to demonstrate awareness of it.
For example, if the effect of a triggered ability instructs its controller to sacrifice a creature, a player who controls no creatures isn’t required to demonstrate awareness of the ability.
Similarly, a player demonstrating awareness of an optional trigger with no visible effect is assumed to have made the affirmative choice unless the opponent responds.
Judges do not intervene in a missed trigger situation unless they intend to issue a Warning or have reason to suspect that the controller is intentionally missing their triggered abilities.
The only exception to this, of course, is when a judge needs to issue a Warning or investigate a player for Cheating. The needs of the tournament — specifically, ensuring its integrity — exceed those of an individual match.
A player controlling another player is responsible for that player’s triggers in addition to their own.
- A. Knight of Infamy (a 2/1 creature with exalted) attacks alone. Its controller says “Take two.”
(Whenever a creature you control attacks alone, that creature gets +1/+1 until end of turn.) In this scenario, this ability first matters during the combat damage step. This is a triggered ability that affects the game state in non-visible ways. By indicating the Knight is attacking for 2 damage, the player has missed their trigger, even if they are stating the knight is attacking for 2 prior to the combat damage step.
- B. A player forgets to remove the final time counter from a suspended spell and then draws a card during their draw step.
(At the beginning of your upkeep, if this card is suspended, remove a time counter from it) In this scenario, this ability first matters before the player draws for the turn. This is a triggered ability that causes a change in the visible game state. Once the player draws a card, they have advanced the game past the point where the visible game state would first be altered had the trigger resolved.
- C. A player casts Manic Vandal, then forgets its triggered ability by not choosing a target for it. They realize this only after casting another spell.
(When Manic Vandal enters the battlefield, destroy target artifact.) In this scenario, this ability first matters before the player passes priority. This is a triggered ability that requires its controller to choose targets.
- D. A player forgets to exile the Angel token created by Geist of Saint Traft at end of combat. They realize the error when declaring blockers during the next turn.
In this scenario, this ability first matters before the player indicates that they have moved past the combat phase. This is a delayed triggered ability that causes a change in the visible game state.
Triggered abilities are common and invisible, so players should not be harshly penalized when forgetting about one.
Players are expected to remember their own triggered abilities; intentionally ignoring one may be Unsporting Conduct — Cheating (unless the ability would have no impact on the game as described above).
Even if an opponent is involved in the announcement or resolution of the ability, the controller is still responsible for ensuring the opponents make the appropriate choices and take the appropriate actions. Opponents are not required to point out triggered abilities that they do not control, though they may do so if they wish.
One of the many skills tested in Magic is the ability of players to remember their own triggered abilities. Players should not be punished for the inabilities or poor memories of their opponents.
Why might a player want to remind an opponent of their triggered ability? It’s possible that the trigger might benefit themselves more than their opponent or it might inconvenience their opponent so reminding them makes sense.
Triggered abilities are assumed to be remembered until otherwise indicated, and the impact on the game state may not be immediately apparent.
You are to assume it happened until you have evidence that it didn’t. This is an important point. Just as you can acknowledge a trigger happened earlier than required, you can also indicate the trigger didn’t happen earlier than required.
For example, if you untap with a Kragma Butcher and say nothing indicating the trigger, it is assumed to be a 4/3. However, the controller can indicate earlier than combat damage that they forgot the trigger. Attacking with an Ensnaring Bridge on the battlefield might indicate its trigger was missed. Answering “what’s that creature’s power?” with “it’s a 2/3” is an indication it was missed.
The opponent’s benefit is in not having to point out triggered abilities, although this does not mean that they can cause triggers to be missed.
If an opponent requires information about the precise timing of a triggered ability or needs details about a game object that may be affected by a resolved triggered ability, that player may need to acknowledge that ability’s existence before its controller does.
Nat has two options — they could simply cast Shock, targeting the Bear Cub, hoping that Alex forgot about the trigger. However, by doing so, Nat risks Alex acknowledging the trigger by not putting the Bear Cub into the graveyard. In other words, just because Alex didn’t explicitly announce the trigger doesn’t mean they missed it — the point at which the trigger would first matter in this case would be after Shock resolves. So, if Nat were to attempt this ploy, they risk wasting the Shock.
Alternatively, Nat could ask Alex what Bear Cubs current power/toughness is. This is derived information, so Alex isn’t required to answer, but if they do, Nat knows if the trigger is missed or not.
This may seem somewhat unsatisfactory to Nat, since asking questions about the toughness of the Bear Cub will probably remind Alex about the trigger and give them one last opportunity to acknowledge it. However, as the IPG says, “triggered abilities are assumed to be remembered until otherwise indicated.” The policy isn’t designed to let Nat trap Alex, it’s designed to reflect the way players actually play the game.
A player who makes a play that may or may not be legal depending on whether an uncommunicated trigger has been remembered has not committed an infraction; their play either succeeds, confirming that the trigger has been missed, or is rewound.
Players may not cause triggered abilities controlled by an opponent to be missed by taking game actions or otherwise prematurely advancing the game.
The reason that policy allows for players to acknowledge triggers just after an opponent takes a game action that would otherwise cause the trigger to be missed is precisely because players do not usually prompt their opponents for actions before moving ahead with their turns. For example, players will often proceed straight from their main phase to declaring attackers without asking the opponent if they want to first do anything — such as announcing any beginning of combat triggers.
The missed trigger policy was written to address the way that players already play the game and not the other way around.
A player that says nothing about their opponent’s Braids, Cabal Minion trigger before attempting to draw for the turn hasn’t committed an infraction. If an opponent speaks up about the trigger as soon as the card is drawn, the trigger has not been missed.
During an opponent’s turn, if a trigger’s controller demonstrates awareness of the trigger before they take an active role (such as taking an action or explicitly passing priority), the trigger is remembered.
The Out-of-Order Sequencing rules (MTR section 4.3) may also be applicable, especially as they relate to batches of actions or resolving items on the stack in an improper order.
From MTR 4.3:
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 they can respond at the appropriate time (at which point players will not be held to any still-pending actions).
An out-of-order sequence must not result in a player prematurely gaining information which could reasonably affect decisions made later in that sequence.
This means that, in certain situations, players may acknowledge a trigger as part of a block of actions, some of which may technically be later than the point at which the trigger would first matter, without the trigger being missed.
For example, a player may, in quick succession, sacrifice Pitchburn Devils to pay the cost of their Carrion Feeder’s activated ability, then put a counter on the Carrion Feeder, and then say “you take 3,” without Pitchburn Devils’s trigger being considered missed. If the player takes these actions all at once without leaving an opportunity for the opponent to indicate responses or provide additional information, this should usually be ruled a legal out-of-order sequence of actions.
A player could not, however, remove the last counter from a Rift Bolt, then draw for the turn, and then say “I’ll Rift Bolt your creature.” Even if the player performs these actions in quick succession and without the opponent saying anything, they would still have gained the knowledge of the card drawn for the turn before choosing their Rift Bolt target. This should usually be ruled a Missed Trigger.
Three types of triggered abilities do not expire and resolve immediately if they are discovered:
- A triggered ability that specifies a default action associated with a choice made by the controller (usually “If you don’t …” or “… unless”). The opponent may choose not to resolve this trigger. Otherwise the default action must be chosen.
“Oh, you drew before paying your echo cost? That’s cool, just sacrifice your guy now” is the way that casual players have handled this kind of error for years — this piece of policy has significant precedent. Indeed, much of policy is built around the pre-existing habits and expectations of players. The above sentence is one of the most clear-cut examples of this in the entire IPG.
Examples: Masticore, Pact of Negation, Transguild Promenade. If the opponent doesn’t want the default action to resolve they can choose not to have it resolve. We will see the next two sentences detail how to “resolve it.”
- An enters-the-battlefield trigger of an Aura that affects only the enchanted permanent and causes a visible change to that permanent.
Mostly these will be Auras that tap the permanent such as Malfunction, once the missed trigger has been noticed the trigger will be resolved tapping the permanent immediately.
- A delayed triggered ability that changes the zone of one or more objects defined when the ability was created. For this trigger, the opponent chooses whether to resolve the ability the next time a player would get priority or when a player would get priority at the start of the next phase.
This type of triggered ability, known as delayed zone-change triggers, frequently exist in order to “clean things up.” While this type of trigger includes a lot of delayed sacrifices of tokens (Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker, Thatcher Revolt, Geist of Saint Traft, etc.), it also includes many abilities that are utterly vital to the continued use of the associated object or objects.For example, the delayed triggered abilities that return Aetherling and Obzedat, Ghost Council to the battlefield are included in this category. These triggers are necessary for the creatures’ controllers to be able to continue using them that game. The opponent chooses whether the trigger occurs “now” (when a player would get priority) or “in a moment” (when a player would get priority at the start of the next phase).The timing option here allows for a bit of control over creatures appearing and disappearing from the battlefield mid-combat. Putting the control in the hands of the opponent is acceptable because the opponent isn’t the one who missed their trigger, and this allows the opponent to minimize the impact of the player “suddenly” remembering the trigger. It does also allow the opponent to notice and wait to point it out even if this is to their advantage.Resolving a delayed zone-change trigger that returns a creature to the battlefield at the start of the next phase means that if a player notices their own missed trigger during their opponent’s end step, the opponent may choose to have the creature remain exiled until the player’s upkeep. That means this creature will have summoning sickness and won’t be able to attack that turn. Of course, an opponent can still opt to have that creature returned to the battlefield when a player got priority during that end of turn step if they really want to.Finally, wherever the opponent chooses to place the trigger, it is resolved immediately, without using the stack. This is to prevent responding to these triggers that should have already happened. You wouldn’t want a Slaughter Pact trigger placed on the stack, then the player casts a card draw spell in response to dig out a Stifle, would you?
Notably, the opponent gets to choose the “when,” but not the “if.” One reason for this has to do with the fact that many zone-change triggers are, as pointed out above, utterly vital to the continued use of the associated objects. If an opponent got to choose whether these triggers happened at all, this infraction might be a little too harsh on players who, for example, suddenly find their Aetherling exiled forever just because they forgot to return it last turn. From the previous section: “Triggered abilities are common and invisible, so players should not be harshly penalized when forgetting about one.” So, policy has to have some special consideration here.Also of interest is that even though these abilities don’t expire, players are still under no obligation to remind the opponent of their existence. A player is perfectly within policy by remaining quiet for several turns despite having noticed that their opponent’s Obzedat, Ghost Council never returned from exile. And don’t forget the triggers on Pact of Negation and its buddies. The default action will be resolved even if it’s remembered two turns later.
Abilities consisting of an action followed by “when you do” in the same ability are considered communicated by the announcement of the action. This is most commonly the case for exert and similar abilities.
If the ability was missed prior to the current phase in the previous turn, instruct the players to continue playing.
If the triggered ability created an effect whose duration has already expired, instruct the players to continue playing.
If the triggered ability isn’t covered by the previous two paragraphs, the opponent chooses whether the triggered ability is added to the stack.
The opponent should be explicitly asked if they would like the ability to go on the stack. Judges should not just assume that players won’t want triggers harmful to them or helpful to an opponent to be skipped, no matter how silly asking might seem.
If it is, it’s inserted at the appropriate place on the stack if possible or on the bottom of the stack.
No player may make choices involving objects that would not have been legal choices when the ability should have triggered.
For example, if the ability instructs a player to sacrifice a creature, that player can’t sacrifice a creature that wasn’t on the battlefield when the ability should have triggered.
If the triggered ability is usually considered detrimental for the controlling player the penalty is a Warning.
Furthermore, “usually detrimental” means that you should consider the card associated with the trigger in a vacuum and not take into account any game-specific information in order to determine whether or not a trigger is detrimental. Toby Elliott once said (on his blog) that one guideline for making this determination is to ask yourself: “If the trigger didn’t exist, would the card be played?” If the answer is no, then the ability is probably not detrimental.
In theory, all triggered abilities in Magic could be classified as either detrimental or non-detrimental — in fact, a small group of judges are endeavoring to accomplish this very thing with the Missed Trigger Guides project.
The current game state is not a factor in determining this, though symmetrical abilities (such as Howling Mine) may be considered usually detrimental or not depending on who is being affected.
However, we are allowed to consider symmetrical abilities differently based on who is affected. What exactly is a symmetrical ability? Symmetrical abilities are triggered abilities that meet two conditions. They: 1. are likely to trigger multiple times per game, triggering for different players 2. have the same effect on both players.
Examples include Howling Mine, Sulfuric Vortex, and Burning Earth. A symmetrical ability may either do something positive to both players, or do something negative to both players, but would never do something positive to one player and negative to the other player. Furthermore, a symmetrical ability must have its effect on each player during separate instances of the same ability. For example, Sire of Insanity’s triggered ability (At the beginning of each end step, each player discards their hand.) is not symmetrical.
If a player misses a symmetrical trigger that would be either bad for them or good for an opponent, they should receive a Warning.