Missed Triggers 2 – More DVD Commentary

Well, Here We Are Again

It’s been 6 months since we released the revamped trigger policy. On the whole things have gone well, since the fundamentals – if you miss triggers they may not happen, your opponents don’t have to point them out – have proved to be popular.

We avoided making any changes to the rules in July, so as to give us a bunch of time to see where things were working and where it wasn’t. After studying it for a while, we concluded that there were a few problems. They included:

  • It was hard to learn.
  • It was hard to learn.
  • It was hard to learn.
  • It was too fiddly.
  • Hard to learn, too much it was.

To the Policymobile! We assembled a team of expert policymakers who’d been voicing opinions on how we might improve things and started brainstorming. What assumptions had we made that could be challenged? Would applying what we’d learned to the current policy make things better? Were there creative approaches we could take? We laid all the parameters down and rolled up our sleeves.

We did produce an evolution of the Lapsing Ability policy. It was solid, and would have closed up many loopholes. It got as far as a full workup as though it were written policy, but that’s where it’s weakness really showed. A comprehensive Lapsing Ability policy weighed in at the same length as the JAR. For just Missed Triggers. It was still too hard to learn. Surely we could do better.

And We Did

We gained some goals that we’d learned from the last six months, in approximate order of importance:

  • It had to be super-easy for players to learn, ideally how the players would play naturally.
  • Players moving from Regular REL to Competitive wouldn’t get in trouble for playing like they were still at Regular REL.
  • Players still had to be responsible for triggers; they couldn’t choose to ignore them.
  • Players shouldn’t be upset by having a judge around.
  • Players shouldn’t have any influence on the penalty.
  • Judges should have a clear idea when they should be intervening.
  • Opponents shouldn’t be able to sit on missed triggers for too long to create weird or advantageous situations.

We’d stumble across other small issues as we worked through possibilities, but the parameters above were enough to make things challenging. Feel free to take those and try to come up with a solution. It’s remarkably tough, and for a while, we kept running aground – JAR-length solutions incoming!

The irony of the final solution is that we had 95% of it way back in January. It had been rejected because the various versions let the opponent game out the penalty – whether they would call it out would depend on how valuable they thought the penalty would be for them. Players should never be thinking about penalties, let alone trying to angle-shoot them, but taking that ability away required either giving judges long lists, or letting them intervene on something as vague as “if you think you should”. That makes it almost impossible for a judge to notice something as they wander by, and requires them to have the same understanding of the game as the players. Bleah.

The breakthrough came when we threw away one of the fundamental principles in the IPG – the idea that the penalty and the remedy were related. That sounds simple, but it’s a principle that has been an inherent part of all infractions up to this point. In the early days of the IPG we had a separate section for each infraction called “Penalty”. It got removed because it never had anything in it aside from the penalty, and for the first time ever, we wanted it back.

Having totally different rules for the two let us split responsibility in a way that makes sense, and, as we’ll see below, let us make the rules substantially shorter.


Oh yes. Let’s go!

A triggered ability triggers, but the player controlling the ability doesn’t demonstrate awareness of the trigger’s existence and/or forgets to announce its effect. If a triggered ability has been partially or incorrectly resolved, instead treat it as a Game Play Error — Game Rule Violation.

The language is tightenened up a bit here. Demonstrating awareness of the trigger is a central tenet, and allows for use of things like Out-Of-Order Sequencing in concert with missed triggers. For example, playing an Attended Knight and saying “Go” while reaching into your box for a Soldier token is a clear demonstration of awareness, even if the sequence is used to streamline game play.

Demonstrated awareness is also important because there are now no triggers that just resolve. The concept of No Visual Effect used to be important, but it quickly became clear that it was incompatible with opponents not having to announce triggers. If I played a creature, then attacked with a Kruin Striker, was is safe to block with a 2/3? Knowing the answer to that, at best, required the player to have a more complex understanding of policies outside the game rules, and at worst created an uncomfortable disagreement. Now the state of the game will be the same to both players based on the statements they make.

A trigger is considered missed once the controller of the trigger has taken an action after the point at which a trigger should have resolved or, in the case of a trigger controlled by the non-active player, after that player has taken an action that indicates they have actively passed priority. Players may not cause triggered abilities to be missed by taking game actions or otherwise prematurely advancing the game. For example, if a player draws a card during his or her draw step without allowing the controller of a triggered ability that would trigger during that turn’s upkeep to resolve it, place that trigger on the stack at this point and issue no penalty.

Still the same as before, with a little more language tightening. It’s important to recognize when the trigger actually should have resolved, versus when it logically might have. For example, if a trigger happens, and then the players play instants, once those have all resolved, the player still needs to take another action, since they haven’t clearly passed in a situation where the trigger would have resolved.

Triggered abilities are common and invisible, so players should not be harshly penalized when forgetting about one. Players are expected to remember their own triggers; intentionally ignoring one is considered Cheating — Fraud. However, remembering triggers that benefit you is a skill. Therefore, players are not required to point out missed triggers that they do not control, though they may do so if they wish.

The basic philosophy now has actual rules support in the MTR. Technically, there hadn’t been any rule that allowed the opponents to overlook triggers, except that they wouldn’t be penalized for it. However, that would imply that the judges should step in on every trigger, even if they weren’t going to hand out a penalty. That’s been fixed now and the opponent’s responsibility is properly codified.

This paragraph is the magical key to everything, and is worth breaking it down:

The controller of the missed trigger only receives a Warning if the triggered ability is generally considered detrimental for the controlling player. The current game state is not a factor in determining this.

What is “generally considered detrimental”? There’s a couple of guidelines that can be useful to figure this out. For one, if the trigger didn’t exist, would the card be played? Without its trigger, Dark Confidant is a 2/1 for 1B. That’s hardly going to make the cut, so I think we can safely say that Dark Confidant does not have a detrimental trigger. Detrimental triggers tend to be there to either make the card cheaper, or offset some other abusable advantage.

Yes, sometimes a detrimental trigger can be beneficial, and sometimes decks are built to take advantage of this. However, we don’t want judges having to figure this out. Not only is it difficult, but it goes back to having to figure out the game state. That means if you notice one of these triggers out of the corner of your eye, how do you know if you should step in? Even if you’re watching, are you confident in evaluating if Dark Confidant is detrimental when the controller is at 1? At 2?

It also means that you can have a pretty good idea of all the triggers in the format that you need to watch out for before the tournament even starts. For example, let’s say you’re judging an M13 draft. How many triggers do you need to watch out for? Well:

That’s it! If you’re the kind of judge who likes to prepare in advance, this should make you comfortable. If you prefer to wing it, you should still be comfortable. And if you think it’s just a small list because it’s a core set, the super-complex Avacyn Restored has all of… nine.

Whether a Warning is issued or not does not affect how the trigger is handled, and Failure to Maintain Game State penalties are never issued to players who did not control the ability.

This is important to be clear on. When you are called to a table to handle a missed trigger, you decide whether to assess a Warning. Whatever you decide, you then follow the instructions in the Additional Remedy section. They will always work, no matter what the nature of the trigger.

This also means that the damage the judge can do to the game is minimized. If they make a mistake and step in, the worst that happens is an incorrect Warning is handed out and the player might remember the trigger the next time. That’s a pretty acceptable outcome for a worst-case scenario. It means that the judges assess the penalty, but, as we’ll see below, the players determine the impact on the game state. That feels intuitively correct.

Judges should 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 his or her triggers.

Players will obviously call a judge over to handle situations, but this guideline ensures you only need to intervene when a detrimental trigger is missed. Of course, you may see a suspicious situation, where you think a player is intentionally missing one of their triggers. It’s perfectly reasonable to pull them aside and investigate what’s going on.

Additional Remedy

As before, you start at the beginning and follow instructions until you find an answer. Once you do, you can stop reading.

If the trigger specifies a default action associated with a choice made by the controller of the trigger (usually “If you don’t …” or “… unless”), resolve the default action immediately without using the stack. If there are unresolved spells or abilities that are no longer legal as a result of this action, rewind the game to remove all such spells or abilities. Resulting triggers generated by the action still trigger and resolve as normal.

This piece has been part of missed trigger since the infraction was created, which is remarkable longevity. I *believe* that there are no triggers that fall into this category that aren’t detrimental; I’d be fascinated to see what that looked like.

If the duration of the effect generated by the trigger has already expired, or the trigger was missed more than a turn ago, instruct the players to continue playing.

A couple of big things here. We had a lot of debate over how long a trigger should stick around for the opponent to notice, from the same length as the controlling player to a full turn cycle. Too long and it increases the likelihood you get a weird interaction. Too short and you engender a lot of cheating accusations and feel-bads. A turn is a good compromise. It’s also something that, unlike turn cycle, doesn’t need a bunch of definition – it’s just that point a turn later. Player 1 missed an upkeep trigger during their turn, and now we’re in Player 2’s main phase? A turn has passed. Any time we can do something intuitive, it’s better than having another definition.

Yes, that means turn cycles are gone from the IPG. Missed Trigger was the only place that really needed it, and the other usage – card in the wrong zone – works just as well with the simpler turn concept. The less judges have to learn, the better.

Duration exipiry also avoids a few quirky situations. If a trigger was supposed to give +2/+2 to a creature until end of turn and it was missed, the other player doesn’t have the option to wait until their turn and then make it happen because they have Smite the Monstrous. Same with tokens from Geist of Saint Traft or Thatcher Revolt.

Note that this statute of limitations only applies to the remedy. If the players call you over because one of them missed a Vampire Lacerator trigger three turns ago, you’ll still issue the Warning (and only one Warning, no matter how many have been missed), but not take any further action.

Otherwise, the opponent may choose to have the controller play the triggered ability. If they do, insert the forgotten ability at the appropriate place or on the bottom of the stack. No player may make choices involving objects that were not in the zone or zones referenced by the trigger 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.

… wait, where’s the rest? That’s it? Yep, it’s really that simple. When you’re called over, figure out whether you’re going to issue a Warning. Then, most of the time you’ll turn to the opponent and ask whether or not they would like the trigger to go on the stack now.

This has some nifty consequences when you look at what used to be in the infraction. You may not have noticed that there’s no mention of ‘may’ triggers in the infraction any more. That’s because they work better here – if there’s a random reason that the opponent wants the trigger to go on the stack (a Restoration Angel with only Phantasmal Image as the target), it does so, and then, most likely, the controller opts to do nothing (may triggers with no implications on the game state – i.e. most of them – can just slide by as normal with both players ignoring it). Symmetric triggers, such as Howling Mine, also don’t need any special handling – your opponent decides both halves, so the incentives are in all the right places. Pick a favorite painful trigger and game it through the new remedy. I think you’ll find that you like the new result.

The Team

I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the team who worked on the newest revision. They get all the credit if this is good. I get all the blame if it isn’t.

And everyone else who helped out and offered their feedback and suggestions over the past six months. Comments welcome, as always.

21 thoughts on “Missed Triggers 2 – More DVD Commentary

  1. “if a player draws a card during his or her draw step without allowing the controller of a triggered ability that would trigger during that turn’s upkeep to resolve it, place that trigger on the stack at this point and issue no penalty.”

    This is abusable with the card The Rack.

    1. In a weird situation like The Rack, I’d expect the opponent to be reminding them before the draw, and otherwise investigating. In reality, the opponent is just going to acknowledge the “correct” damage and not have the ugly conversation.

  2. These look pretty great. Solves the complexity, removes the worst of the trigger timing advantage players could get, still doesn’t force players to play for their opponent.

    I do have a question though.

    Now that interceding with a match is a judgement call (only do so if there is a warning), how should players handle observing an error? When is it appropriate to tell the players to stop, and call for a judge when missed triggers are involved? Is it possible to be guilty of outside assistance by simply telling them to stop, and calling a judge?

  3. Are there still two different sets of rules for FNM and Competitive? The last set of rules said that you had to remind your opponent of all missed triggers. This description doesn’t even mention that so I would assume that FNM and Competitve have the same rules now. If I’m wrong, you should make that much more clearer, or ideally, get rid of it. That was one of the worst rules I’ve ever seen since it penalizes people for doing something that is completely within the rules, but only in a different rules enforcement level. It’s also impossible to expect players to actually know what the rule is when it keeps changing back and forth, so you really ought to err on the side of not penalizing the players for something that isn’t their fault. Not to mention, your “remembering triggers that benefit you is a skill” ethos makes perfect sense, and I would think it would be perfectly intuitive if the rules were based on that in all RELs.

  4. I have a question…
    “No player may make choices involving objects that were not in the zone or zones referenced by the trigger 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.”
    So I have a “At the beginning of your upkeep sacrifice a creature.” trigger that I forgot during my upkeep and we get to declare attackers and my opponent points it out and calls over a judge, I reply with “Oh, I meant to make a Saproling with Vitu-Ghazi and sac that”… the judge however informs me that as the Saproling wasn’t on the battlefield when my upkeep started (when the ability should have triggered) I can’t sacrifice it even though I could have responded to the trigger to make one to sacrifice.

    Apply the ‘Rack’ fix above and let the player sacrifice the Saproling?

    1. No, the Saproling wasn’t in play at the time the ability was floating around. It’s a small encouragement to remember your triggers!

  5. Aether Barrier is an enchantment which reads: “Whenever a player casts a creature spell, that player sacrifices a permanent unless he or she pays 1.”

    Using your test of “would the player still play this card if it did not have the triggered ability,” the answer would obviously be no (it would be a textless enchantment for 2U). The test therefore suggests that the trigger is not detrimental, and is thus an example of a non-detrimental trigger which specifies a default action.

    1. It is not “associated with a choice made by the *controller of the trigger*”. So yes this is non-detrimental, but the opponent may choose whethere the triggered ability happens or not (if it was missed).

  6. In the situation mentioned with Restoration angel + Phantasmal Image if that arises it would actually kill the image as targeting isn’t a choice i thought only blinking said creature is.

    1. You’re correct. The next sentence is talking about what will happen with the may – the controller will likely opt not to use it. Of course, in the Image case, the damage is already done.

  7. I’m curious why Serra Avatar is on the list of detrimental triggers for M13. Why would we consider shuffling a card back into the library, and thus becoming a potential resource again through the game rules and your draw step, detrimental as opposed to that card staying in the graveyard where the only way it’s useful is through other cards? If this is indeed a detrimental trigger, why? What about the Eldrazi, would their triggered ability also be considered detrimental? Or is it different because they shuffle the entire graveyard back in and not just the one card?

    Thanks for all the work, this is definitely a lot clearer and cleaner than previous iterations.

  8. I think, I have found a little mistake in IPG.
    In 5.2. Cheating — Fraud Section: “A player who intentionally forgets triggers he or she controls is guilty of Fraud, even if the trigger is a lapsing ability.”
    Since lapsing abilities are cease to exist, this sentence require some correction.

  9. Hi! This is much simpler to follow! I have three quick questions, that I believe have quick answers:

    1) So if I missed a trigger that would have forced me to sacrifice a creature, and my opponent does notice and then chooses to have me play that ability…Am I right in saying that that ability goes on the stack, and that I CAN still create a token in reponse while the “sac ability” is on the stack, but then once the “sac ability” resolves, I will NOT be able to sac that token? I can still make the token, which will be on the battlefield when the sac resolves, but I can’t sac it? What if it’s the ONLY creature on the battlefield when the sac resolves…Does that mean I wouldn’t sacrifice anything?

    2) With regard to Aether Barrier which reads, “Whenever a player casts a creature spell, that player sacrifices a permanent unless he or she pays 1″…If I control that enchantment and then I cast a creature spell and miss the trigger and my opponent calls me on it later…In this case that ability IS associated with a choice made by the *controller of the trigger* (even though the choice may not be associated with the controller of the trigger EVERY time, for example when my opponent casts a creature spell). Does that matter, in which case the default action should resolve immediately and I will have to sac a permanent? Or does that “resolve the default action immediately” only occur EXACTLY when the language of the ability associates it with a choice that could only be made by the controller of the trigger EVERY time it triggers, which would imply that it would always have to have the word “you”? I think most would agree that the “intuitive” interpretation of Aether Barrier’s ability would be that if I forgot the trigger myself, then I didn’t pay 1, which means I’d have to sac a permanent.
    The next logical questions is, if this is not a case where the default action is resolved immediately because the language of this ability does not exactly fit that requirement, then in that case, if my opponent does choose to have me play that ability, am I right in believing that the ability will go on the stack, but that the ability as a whole (and not the default action) will resolve as normal, allowing me to pay 1 to avoid sacrificing a permanent?

    3) I didn’t see in the current language a reference to missing the turn-based action of drawing a card at the beginning of the draw step (probably because it’s not a trigger). Is it still true that if that is noticed later, the player who missed his draw-step draw can draw immediately, and that this action does not use the stack? What if this missed draw is noticed more than a turn later, theoretically?

    Ok, so maybe it wasn’t as quick as I thought, but I’m glad you’re hear to help us all! Thanks!

    1. 1) Yes, the idea is that you can only affect and choose things that were in the game at the time. That produces slightly counterintuitive results with untargetted effects and things you might be able to do in response, but it’s a lot better than the alternative, which is letting you or your opponent target things that weren’t there then.

      2) Aether Barrier’s ability doesn’t apply in the default-option section. It’s a weird one.

      3) This is handled explicitly in GRV.

  10. One other scenario…What if during my second main phase I play Jokulmorder, a creature with the ability “When Jokulmorder enters the battlefield, sacrifice it unless you sacrifice five lands,” and I miss the trigger (and my opponent misses it, too). I am at 2 life. I also have one other creature on the battlefield, say a Hill Giant. My opponent plays Stab Wound on my Jokulmorder during his first main phase, assuming he will now win the game when my next upkeep rolls around. Then I notice the missed trigger (still less than one turn has passed). Does my opponent get to choose whether I play that trigger ability (in this case, he would choose to have me NOT play it)? Or, if I am reading the rules correctly, the trigger involves a default action associated with the controller of the ability, so my opponent does NOT GET TO CHOOSE, and unfortunately for him, *the default action resolves immediately* without using the stack, and I have to sacrifice the Jokulmorder (and his Stab Wound goes to his graveyard, saving me from losing next turn)?
    In which case, my opponent says, “Wait, but I would have just played my Stab Wound on your Hill Giant instead!” Is there any recourse for my opponent losing his Stab Wound like this, or is he just the victim of unfortunate circumstances, and luckily for me, I get to live through my next upkeep?

    Thanks again!

    1. I’d be doing a bit of investigating here, but yes, the opponent should probably have avoided putting Stab Wound on Jokulmorder. 99.9something percent of the time, those triggers are structured so it’s a no-brainer to make it happen.

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