Understanding Out-of-Order Sequencing

Magic is a complex game. With over 12,000 unique cards and a hefty set of Comprehensive Rules, it’s not reasonable to expect players to have complete mastery over the precise rules behind every action they’re taking in the game.

As a result, tournament Magic has codified a policy known as Out-of-Order Sequencing (OoOS for short). In a nutshell, OoOS permits players to perform actions without adhering to the strictest sense of the rules, as long as the sequence is still clear and arrives at a legal game state (along with a few other caveats).
This rule serves to reinforce the way that Magic is usually played at kitchen tables and gaming stores everywhere anyway.

To provide an example, suppose I control an Arbor Elf and Thragtusk. My opponent, feeling menaced by Mr. Tusk, decides to Supreme Verdict the board — so I put Thragtusk in the graveyard, put a Beast token onto the battlefield, and then put my Elf in the bin as well.

Can you see the out-of-order sequencing? Looking closely, the Elf and Thragtusk should both go to the graveyard before I get to make a Beast — but it’s very clear to everyone what’s going on. So even though my actions were technically incorrect, they’re still legal due to the protection of OoOS.

In order for OoOS to be valid, a few criteria have to be met:

  • The actions actually have to be a batch or block of actions, which means there’s no substantial pause between the individual actions in the batch.
  • An out-of-order sequence can’t result in any player prematurely gaining information that would reasonably affect decisions later in that sequence. So using OoOS as a way to “game” an opponent’s reactions isn’t permitted.
  • OoOS doesn’t let you retroactively take an action you missed or forgot to do at the appropriate time. In other words, it’s not a “get out of jail free” card.
  • An opponent can request that I perform the out-of-order actions in the correct order, so that he/she can respond at the appropriate point.

Because OoOS is a tournament rule, it applies at all tournaments, from FNM to the Pro Tour.

A recent example of OoOS I observed at my local LGS involved Adam, who controlled a Syndic of Tithes and an unevolved Crocanura. Adam cast Ivy Lane Denizen. His opponent immediately said, “That resolves.” In one motion, Adam put a counter on his Crocanura and tapped a Plains, saying, “Evolve, extort.” Technically speaking, because extort triggers on casting a creature spell, extort must always resolve before an evolve trigger does. However, in this case, Adam demonstrated that he was aware of both triggers and simply performed them in an incorrect order. The rules for OoOS tell us that this can be okay!

Another example comes from the first day of Grand Prix Atlantic City in January 2013, an event run at Competitive rules enforcement. A player had Staff of Nin and said, “Draw for turn, draw for Staff of Nin.” Again, this isn’t the correct order of things — Staff of Nin triggers in the upkeep step, which is immediately before the draw step. But it was ultimately ruled that out-of-order sequencing applied and the player had not missed her Staff of Nin trigger.

In summary: out-of-order sequencing means it’s okay if you take actions in a technically incorrect order as long as it’s clear what you’re doing and you arrive at a legal game state that’s clear to both players. Even though the rule is somewhat complicated, it helps the flow of play go a lot more smoothly, which is why it exists!

Today’s Tournament Tip written by Paul Baranay

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