When Sylvan Library collides with Competitive tournament Magic

Sylvan Library has been the source of many judge discussion about “what do we do with this card in real life??” And the official policy has changed a few times. The comprehensive rules handle the card just fine, and in an interface that removes human dexterity from the equation, like MTGO, there are no problems. But in real life, there is a basic philosophy that we can’t simply rely on trusting the player to make legal choices. With all other cards that require a choice relating to a specific kind of card (e.g., Worldly Tutor must find a creature card, Mystical Tutor must find an instant or sorcery), the card is revealed to prove a legal choice was made.

This is so ingrained in player mentality that a card like Sylvan Library becomes very unusual indeed. How can one prove that he or she is putting back “cards drawn this turn”? The cards aren’t revealed, and that wouldn’t even help if the cards have become mixed with the rest of the hand. So the current official way to handle this card is as follows. You must keep cards drawn this turn clearly physically separate from the cards already in hand as the turn starts if you want to be able to put back any cards for the Library’s trigger. This basically means, put your hand way off to the side, then draw for your turn, and draw for the trigger, then put cards back. That way there’s no need to involve trust in the equation. It will be obvious which cards were drawn this turn.

Speaking of trust, some players might ask, “What if a judge was watching me as I drew, so they can verify that I am putting back cards I drew this turn??” Well, that’s not really the judge’s role. Judges are there to handle rules questions, player disputes, and in-game errors. If a judge watches you draw cards into your hand, then try to put them back, the only thing they can do is enforce the current official policy on how to handle that situation.

What is that policy, you ask? Sorry for dragging it out! Basically, any cards you haven’t kept clearly separate from the other cards in your hand cannot be chosen as “cards drawn this turn” because the opponent can’t be certain you’re making a legal choice. So you have to decide first how many cards you want to pay life for. If that number is zero, the Hidden Card Error policy kicks in, and the opponent gets to look at your hand and choose two cards to shuffle into your library (and you get a warning). If you choose to pay 4 life, the opponent still looks at your hand and chooses any one card (it doesn’t matter if you really wanted to keep one specific card) (and you get a warning). If you choose to pay 8 life, then all is well, and you’ll just remember not to make this same error in the future if you don’t want to pay 8 life again. Note that this is a life payment, so you can’t pay more life than you have. If you’re at 3 life, you’re going to have to choose to pay 0 life, and the opponent will get to shuffle away your two best cards. So, you know, just… don’t do that. 🙂

Today’s Tournament Tip written by Josh Stansfield

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