There’s lots of talk about the new trigger policy. That’s good, as it helps us triangulate to what the players are happy with, which is the main goal. As should be obvious from various somewhat contradictory desires (“I like not having to point out opponent triggers, but I don’t want to look like a jerk”) there’s never going to be an optimal policy, so we’ll keep listening and keep tinkering.
One thing that does come up a lot is players getting worried about Dark Confidant. The idea that it’s a beneficial trigger early and possibly a detrimental one late is obviously true. But worrying about cheating and how the new rules encourage it is a little more misguided. They don’t, really.
First of all, why is this rule the way it is? Why do we not try to assess game state in these situations?
Let’s start with an obvious one. I walk up to the table and see someone forget their trigger. They’re at 20 life. I’m pretty sure that if I intervened, most opponents would be pretty upset. Intervening all the time means that it’s to your advantage to have a judge handy if you’re prone to missing triggers, and that’s kind of messed up.
What if they’re at 8? 6? 4? 1? At what point do you want me to step in and remind them? Honestly, on an otherwise empty board in Legacy, Dark Confidant at 4 life is probably still good. At 1 if you desperately need a land to win… possibly still worth it. If I get this wrong, a player is going to be furious at me. All of this is an unfair burden to put on a judge. The rules must be designed to protect them from accusations of bias as much as possible, too.
“But,” I hear you cry, “now they can intentionally miss their trigger and might get away with it!” This is technically true, and it’s still cheating. Having watched a lot of Magic since the original Ravnica came out, let me try to allay your concerns:
- The before and after difference is not nearly as large as people think. In the old days, people could forget a trigger, it would be discovered and it would happen. Now, they forget a trigger, it’s discovered, and the opponent decides if it happens. That seems strictly superior.
The other difference is that the judge is less likely to step in. However, most judges are likely to step in here, not because of the missed trigger, but because they need to launch a cheating investigation. Practically speaking, I might pull over the opponent first to see if they were keeping quiet for strategic reasons, but otherwise it’s an investigation like any other.
- Yes, there’s no warning. Warnings serve a couple purposes – they’re useful in DQ followup investigations to look for behavior patterns, and their upgrade serves as a way of reinforcing that it’s important to keep the game straight. However, neither of those is going to be relevant here. The situation isn’t likely to come up enough where an upgraded penalty comes into play (and if it happened that much, they’d already be in plenty of trouble).
- Dark Confidant is a really high-profile card. It’s one of the most famous cards in all of Magic, so everyone in a Competitive tournament in which it’s legal knows what it does. Honestly, I can tell you from years of experience that it doesn’t get missed.
Don’t get me wrong – people screw it up all the time. But that’s because untap-draw is a natural flow that we all do out of habit, at which point we go “crap, Bob trigger”. A player actually missing the trigger completely is very rare. Plus, since everyone knows what it does, opponents do too, so it’s caught almost immediately every time.
- It’s sitting in the middle of the board. Most triggers that get overlooked are on random stuff off to the side. Dark Confidant is the center of attention, and in the main format in which it’s played – Legacy – there are unlikely to be a sea of other permanents around it being distracting.
- And the above is assuming any Dark Confidant trigger. In tense situations where it might be considered detrimental, the drama ensures that everyone is on top of it. In all my years of judging, I’ve never seen a Dark Confidant come close to being missed in a tight situation. It’s just way too obvious.
There aren’t a lot of cards like Dark Confidant. That one just happens to be famous, but triggers that generate huge advantages that might later be very bad are not common, and having one be tournament-playable is even less so. We can use cards like this to help us think about policy, but we’re not going to have special callouts. Sure, we could have a rule that said “Dark Confidant is detrimental if you have less than 4 life”, but that causes all kinds of education problems and set precedents we really don’t want to follow. And, when you get down to it, every trigger in Magic can be reversed. If you have a Vampire Lacerator in play at 7 life and miss the trigger, do I need to check your hand for Fateful Hour cards before stepping in? What if they’re the lousy ones? The rabbit hole goes deep.
Realistically, Dark Confidant is amazing for you something like 98% of the time.
There’s plenty to object to about the trigger policy. That’s not criticism, as there is never going to be a solution that makes everyone wonderfully happy and we can just try to find something that rises to the level of grudging acceptance. But I think this case is not something that needs to be worried about, particularly. It doesn’t help that when people do talk about this, other people take away all sorts of wrong information and start railing against nonsensical policies that don’t really exist. “Detrimental” is a bit of a sideshow to the core of how we handle triggers, and I hope this has convinced people it’s not worth the focus it gets.