A tournament shortcut is an action taken by players to skip parts of the technical play sequence without explicitly announcing them. Tournament shortcuts are essential for the smooth play of a game, as they allow players to play in a clear fashion without getting bogged down in the minutiae of the rules.
Tournament shortcuts go a step further to improve the pace of games and to reduce the number of “gotcha” situations. While shortcuts exist to expedite gameplay, players still make mistakes and may accidentally use shortcuts to pass a point when they intended to take an action.
Most tournament shortcuts involve skipping one or more priority passes to the mutual understanding of all players;
If a player wishes to demonstrate or use a new tournament shortcut entailing any number of priority passes, he or she must be clear where the game state will end up as part of the request.
A player may interrupt a tournament shortcut by explaining how he or she is deviating from it or at which point in the middle he or she wishes to take an action. A player may interrupt his or her own shortcut in this manner.
A player is not allowed to use a previously undeclared tournament shortcut, or to modify an in-use tournament shortcut without announcing the modification, in order to create ambiguity in the game.
A player may not request priority and take no action with it. If a player decides he or she does not wish to do anything, the request is nullified and priority is returned to the player that originally had it.
During the resolution of one of their spells or abilities, a player may not assume their opponent has taken a shortcut. They must seek confirmation that a choice with no visible impact was taken.
Certain conventional tournament shortcuts used in Magic are detailed below.
They define a default communication; if a player wishes to deviate from these, he or she should be explicit about doing so.
Note that some of these are exceptions to the policy above in that they do cause non-explicit priority passes.
- If the active player passes priority with an empty stack during their first main phase, the non-active player is assumed to be acting in beginning of combat
If the active plays says “Combat” or “Attacks?”, they are assumed to be passing priority. If the opponent does something in response, generally they want to be doing it in Beginning of Combat, right before attackers are declared. This is their last chance, and is when they will want to do it a large majority of the time, so we treat it as the default, with an exception.
unless they are affecting whether a beginning of combat ability triggers.
The main exception will be if there are cards that have “At the beginning of combat” triggers, such as Goblin Rabblemaster. Opponents will often want to kill the creature before the effect goes on the stack, so if they act in response it’s assumed it is in main phase, as that is when such actions will normally be taken.
However, if the non-active player takes no action, the active player has priority at the beginning of combat.
This means that if the active player says “go to combat?”, they still have a chance to crew vehicles or activate creature lands if they want. However, the non-active player still has another chance to do something.
Beginning of combat triggered abilities (even ones that target) may be announced after any non-active player action has resolved.
This sentence allows for more leniency in identifying whether a trigger was missed. It overrules the section in the IPG that states when players need to demonstrate awareness of triggered abilities. The IPG details that triggered abilities with targets need to have the targets announced before they pass priority, and with this shortcut we are blurring the lines for a couple of priority passes. This doesn’t mean the player can announce Beginning of Combat triggers whenever suits them, these triggers should still actually occur in Beginning of Combat.
- If the active player passes priority with an empty stack during their second main phase, or uses a phrase such as “Go” or “Your Turn” at any time, the non-active player is assumed to be acting in the end step unless they are affecting how or whether an end of turn ability triggers.
This is worded similar to the combat shortcut, with some differences. When ending the turn, most players just say “Go” or “I’m done”, or just gesture with their hand. This shortcut is in use when players attempts to pass the turn. If there is confusion about the communication, just ask both players separately what they thought was meant, and how passing has worked so far in the game, using your judgement after that. If the non-active player is casting spells, they typically mean to do so at the last opportunity in order to limit options to the active player. The exceptions to this would involve pre-empting triggered abilities that occur at the beginning of the end step. This means killing a Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur to prevent it from drawing a player cards, or killing multiple zombies in order to lessen the effect of Liliana, the Last Hope emblem would be assumed to happen in the post combat main phase.
End of turn triggered abilities that do not target resolve after the non-active player passes priority.
This is a noticeable difference to the combat shortcut, but it reflects that people handle these two steps differently. For end of turn triggered abilities with targets, the controlling player still needs to follow the guidelines to show awareness as listed in the IPG. This means for ones that target, it needs to be announced as the player goes into the phase. For the most part, we expect players to announce triggered abilities pretty quickly as the pass the turn. This line provides clarity that if there are actions taken at end of turn, the active player can still demonstrate awareness of triggered abilities like those that put a token into play.
- Whenever a player adds an object to the stack, he or she is assumed to be passing priority unless he or she explicitly announces that he or she intends to retain it.
This is a perfect example of how shortcuts speed up the game by matching how people naturally play it. Otherwise, players would have to explicitly pass after each time they add an object to the stack (see CR 116.3c).If anything, this shortcut is more important for what it doesn’t allow-—namely, a player hesitating after a play, fishing for a reaction from his or her opponent, and then claiming to have kept priority and acting with the knowledge of the opponent’s reaction.This also explains why Legacy players who play Infernal Tutor and Lion’s Eye Diamond must explicitly state that they keep priority after they play the tutor, otherwise their opponent will just say, “OK I pass!” and they will not be hellbent.
- If a player adds a group of objects to the stack without explicitly retaining priority, he or she is assumed to be adding them to the stack individually and allowing each to resolve before adding the next. If another player wishes to take an action at a point in the middle of this sequence, the actions should be reversed to that point.
This relevant when dealing with cards that have an activated ability that pumps themselves (e.g. Shorecrasher Elemental); their controller can just say “I pump my Shorecrasher’s toughness six times” to speed up the game and, if their opponent wants to cast Mardu Charm on it choosing the four damage mode, he or she can still do so at any time. The opponent cannot argue that he or she played the Charm “as a response to the six abilities on the stack,” because under the first sentence, each ability is assumed to have already resolved before another one is added to the stack (because it can’t be done without priority). Therefore, if the opponent chose to play Mardu Charm after the sixth activation then the Elemental would have already been successfully pumped five times.
- If a player casts a spell or activates an ability with X in its mana cost without specifying the value of X, it is assumed to be for all mana currently available in his or her pool.
Players frequently play X spells and abilities by just tapping lands and implying the actual X’s value. This shortcut formalizes that, so that their opponents can freely act on the knowledge that X is the maximum possible value, preventing miscommunications.Example: Norman is playing Aline, and at the end of her turn generates 10 blue mana and then plays a Blue Sun’s Zenith targeting himself without saying anything else, Aline can act knowing that the value of X is 7 without needing to ask for confirmation.
- If a player casts a spell or activates an ability and announces choices for it that are not normally made until resolution, the player must adhere to those choices unless an opponent responds to that spell or ability. If an opponent inquires about choices made during resolution, that player is assumed to be passing priority and allowing that spell or ability to resolve.
Players sometimes announce choices early when they assume their opponents don’t have any responses to their actions or when they are fishing for information. This shortcut prevents players from announcing choices early in order to trick opponents or improperly gain information and then making a different choice when the decision should properly be made. But if an opponent responds to the spell or ability, the controller may make any choice he chooses, regardless of any announcements made.Example: Albert’s only creatures are 3 2/2 Wolf tokens, and he plays Honor’s Reward, saying: “I’ll gain 4 life and Bolster this token”. Norman answers with: “In response, I’ll Murder it”. Since the choice of which creature to Bolster is not made until the resolution of the spell, and Norman has responded to Honor’s Reward, Albert can change his choice to a different token when Honor’s Reward resolves. Also note that, in this scenario, not changing the choice would make the resolution of the spell illegal, since there are still valid choices on the battlefield when the spell resolves.Example: Andy casts Void targeting Naomi. Naomi asks what number Andy chooses, and Andy states one. It is now too late for Naomi to respond to Void, and Andy may not choose a different number.
- A player is assumed to have paid any cost of 0 unless he or she announces otherwise.
It is almost always in players’ best interests to pay a cost of 0 when an effect requires it, so this shortcut assumes they do so, unless they specifically announce otherwise. This both prevents less experienced players from being taken advantage of and allows them to concentrate on other parts of the game.Example: Player N attempts to prey on his opponent A’s ignorance by trying to use Clash of Wills to counter A’s spell when when X is zero, hoping that A will neglect to announce his choice to pay 0. This shortcut prevents this situation from becoming a problem.
- A player who casts a spell or activates an ability that targets an object on the stack is assumed to target the legal target closest to the top of the stack unless the player specifies otherwise.
The stack is already a fairly complex aspect of Magic, and this is especially so when players get involved in a lengthy counter war with each player responding to the other in immediate succession. Players are not always meticulous in specifying that their counterspell, misdirection, or fork effect is targeting the top object on the stack (e.g. their opponent’s most recent move) when they cast or activate it , even though this is usually their intention.This shortcut also exists to protect players from opponents who might notice a misplay and try to correct them after luckily communicating ambiguously. For instance, in the middle of a multi-step counter war, a hasty player might respond to his or her opponent’s uncounterable Counterflux with a Negate without specifying a target. Realizing the mistake, without this shortcut, he or she could argue that the Negate was targeting at another, counterable spell lower down on the stack.Of course, although the shortcut reflects players’ typical intentions, there are always exceptions. A notable one which crops up in Modern is Remand. Sometimes a player whose spell is about to be countered may choose to Remand his own spell (the object second from the top of the stack underneath the opposing counterspell). In this way, he can try to cast his original spell again later, and because he did not Remand his opponent’s counterspell directly, he avoided returning it to his opponent’s hand. This exceptional interaction is sufficiently rare (and typically employed only by advanced players) that it is reasonable to require players to announce it explicitly when they choose to make use of it.
- A player is assumed to be attacking another player with his or her creatures and not any planeswalkers that player may control unless the attacking player specifies otherwise.
This is true for all attacking creatures that player controls, including any creatures put onto the battlefield attacking. The attacking player must explicitly state which creatures, if any, are attacking any planeswalkers controlled by the defending player as part of the turn-based actions of the declare attackers step (CR 508.1b). A player cannot wait to find out which of his or her creatures are unblocked before declaring that they are attacking a planeswalker.For creatures put onto the battlefield attacking, the attacking player must explicitly state if those creatures are attacking any planeswalkers controlled by the defending player as those creatures enter the battlefield (CR 508.4).
- A player who chooses a planeswalker as the target of a spell or ability that would deal damage is assumed to be targeting the planeswalker’s controller and redirecting the damage on resolution. The player must adhere to that choice unless an opponent responds.
Of course, a planeswalker is not a legal target for a spell like Lightning Bolt, so the Planeswalker Redirection rule (CR 306.7) exists to allow players to deal damage to a planeswalker with a spell that would normally only be able to target a player without using the technically correct phrasing. This choice is normally made on resolution. This shortcut protects the player casting the spell from Game Rule Violations as it’s pretty obvious what the player is actually trying to do within the rules framework. This also protects the player controlling the planeswalker by making sure the player casting the spell sticks to his original choice once the spell resolves.
- A player who does not scry (or look at the top card of the library after taking a mulligan) when
instructed to is assumed to have not looked and chosen to leave the cards in the same order.
This shortcut applies both scrying as part of the resolution of a spell or ability as well as scrying after keeping a mulliganed hand. A big part of the reason for this change is not wanting to punish a player unjustly for ignoring information they have access to, but are not required to acquire. As a player is typically not required to access this information we also do not want to punish the opponent. Philosophically, looking at the top card of the library after taking a mulligan is functionally equivalent to the Scry mechanic, and fits here nicely.
- In the Two-Headed Giant format, attacking creatures are assumed to be assigning combat damage to the defending team’s primary head, unless the creature’s controller specifies otherwise.
The primary head of a Two-Headed Giant team is designated as the player seated to the right of their partner, from the perspective of their partner (CR 805.2). For example, if Nancy is on Nathan’s right then Nancy is the primary head of that Two-Headed Giant team. This decision is made when damage is assigned, before damage is dealt, during the combat damage step. Once damage has happened, this shortcut is implied if the attacking team did not choose which head their creatures were dealing damage to. A player cannot wait to see whether damage prevention or redirection spells will be cast before deciding which head will be assigned combat damage.