Underrealm Lich – Not Optional!

Welcome to Golgari Week here at the Rules Tip Blog! We’re starting this one off with a doozy, talking about Underrealm Lich. Lich’s effect appears fairly simple on the surface- any time you’d draw a card, you instead look at the top 3 cards of your library, pick the one you like best to add to your hand, and put the other two into your graveyard. It lets you fix all your draws to be the best option out of three, AND it fills your graveyard up for Undergrowth or reanimation targets or whatever fun stuff you want to do.

But the reason Lich can function the way it does, is by having its ability generate what we call a Replacement Effect. As it says, one of these effects REPLACES an event with a different event entirely- in this case, replacing a card draw with the Lich’s pick-and-mill filtering. This means two big things compared to a trigger (and we’ve seen a lot of people refer to “triggering” Lich!): first, it’s not optional in any way. Most triggers aren’t optional either, but broadly speaking a trigger can be accidentally missed; a replacement effect cannot. Secondly, a replacement effect doesn’t use the stack, and it can’t be responded to; if you’re drawing from a spell or ability, your opponent can jump in with a response before the spell or ability resolves (and likewise, they can kill your Lich in your Upkeep before you move to draw for the turn, if they so choose), but once you start, there’s nothing to be done.

But let’s revive the old Tournament Tuesday for a moment and go back to that first point: what does happen if you’re in round 4 of FNM with tacos on the brain, and you forget you have a Lich on board when you go to draw? Well, that was a point of contention in the Judge community recently, but we now have an Official answer from some of the most senior judges in the program. What happens is we fix it if we can; if the top 2 cards of your library are unchanged (which is likely, if you just take the top card and realize your mistake quickly), we’ll just mill those 2 and move forward as though you chose the card you accidentally ‘drew’. At an FNM we’ll remind you to be more careful and go on from there; at a Competitive event (like a PPTQ), we’ll also apply a Warning for Game Play Error – Game Rule Violation, because we track infractions in case there’s a pattern to be found. But what happens if the cards HAVE changed since your ‘draw’? Well, then we fall back into the normal territory for a GRV- we either rewind to immediately before things went screwy, or we leave them as-is. SO it’ll be up to your Judge for your event to decide whether it’s more harmful to the game to just shrug and say “be careful, keep playing”, or to back up to your draw to do it ‘right’. Of course, all that can be avoided by just being careful to start with! We recommend that you place a small marker (like a dice, or a glass bead) on top of your library in situations like this. It’ll slow you down when you go to draw, and remind you that something’s different from usual. Often, that’s all you need to prevent errors like this- so dig carefully!

Today’s Rules Tip was written by Trevor Nunez

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