How to Think About the New Combat Shortcut

People have been asking for more explanation on the new combat shortcut. There’s not as much there as people think; for all the words, it’s not doing too much. But, it is different from before, so people want to make sure that they understand those implications. Let’s run through it!

There’s two mental models you can adopt that I find help to think about the new shortcut. They’re technically different but lead you to the same place when you evaluate situations (yes, you can find corners where they’re not quite the same.) Choose the one that makes more intuitive sense to you.

1) The active player passing in their main phase doesn’t leave the main phase, but they lose the ability to play anything at sorcery speed. Play proceeds from there.

2) The active player passing means the next person to take an action will be doing so in the beginning of combat, and beginning-of-combat triggers happen when the active player next gets priority with an empty stack.

Then, all you need to remember is that when the non-active player does something to prevent a beginning of combat trigger from hurting them, don’t apply the shortcut. That part of the shortcut is narrow in application, and the more I look at it, the more I think we’ll probably remove the “how it affects” clause soon. We put that in as a safeguard in case we missed a conditional trigger that wasn’t an intervening-if. None of those have emerged yet, and it’s causing a bit of confusion. It’s almost always correct for the non-active player to wait for the choice of target before acting. If you can find “how it affects” examples, I’d love to hear them.

For these examples, unless noted otherwise, the active player has two Grizzly Bears. The non-active player has a bunch of land and sometimes a way to tap things.

The Simplest One

A: "Combat"
N: "OK"
A: "Attack with Grizzly Bears"

This works great. In fact, it’s going to be the most common situation. But, there’s a second shortcut being applied here. If you apply the models above, it’s clear that there’s an implicit priority pass by both players after the non-active player says “OK”. That means there’s a window there…

A Little More Complicated

A: "Combat"
N: "OK"
A: "Attack with Grizzly Bears"
N: "Wait, before you declare attacks, I want to Doom Blade one of them"

The active player shortcut to attacking, but the non-active player isn’t ready to go that far, so interrupts the shortcut. We do expect the non-active player to interrupt relatively quickly once the active player makes it clear that they’re going into combat. No waiting to see what’s declared as attackers, pausing to think for a bit, then attempting to interrupt the shortcut.

If the active player is worried about this, they can protect themselves with…

The Technically Accurate Approach

A: "Combat"
N: "OK"
A: "Declare attackers?"
N: "OK"
A: "Attack with Grizzly Bears"

Yes, this is annoying. Unfortunately, there’s no way to preserve the active player’s ability to take actions such as Crewing or activating creature-lands after they’ve passed into combat while also streamlining this interaction. The structure of the rules is not our friend here.

Note that the above interaction is the correct number of priority passes according to the game rules. The old shortcut merged them together so that there was usually only one priority pass there. The new one preserves the priority passes, but defers one of them a little bit (depending on which mental model you prefer). So…

Response Time

A: "Combat"
N: "Doom Blade a Grizzly Bear"
A: "Attack with the other one"

In this case, it doesn’t matter where the Doom Blade was played, and this is a level of communication it is beneficial to preserve. There’s still two hidden priority passes in here, though. One before the Doom Blade resolves, and one before we go to declare attackers.

What the shortcut does preclude is:

A: "Combat"
N: "Doom Blade a Grizzly Bear"
A: "Play a Ball Lightning. Attack with it and the Bear"

The non-active player clearly didn’t intend for this to happen and was caught out by the ambiguity of “Combat.” Or, if you feel that the meaning there is obvious, replace it with whatever the most ambiguous or confusing thing the active player can figure out.

This is the primary case in which the shortcut intervenes. Whichever mental model you like, the active player can’t play that Ball Lightning here – passing priority gave up that ability. In some ways, if people just think of this shortcut as “you can’t do that” and a bunch of words to make it work with the rules, you’re not far off at all!

Triggers Make It a Little More Complicated

Let’s give the active player a Goblin Rabblemaster and run through a few of those again:

A: "Combat"
N: "OK"
A: "Make a token. Attack with everything"

This works exactly as it did before. However, change the Rabblemaster to a Battle-Rattle Shaman and you get:

A: "Combat"
N: "OK"
A: "Give this Grizzly Bear +2/+0. Attack with everything"

This is a change from the previous shortcut. The previous shortcut moved to the active player passing priority in Beginning of Combat, which was past the point by which you were expected to declare a target.

Of course, there are still various implicit priorities in that exchange, and the non-active player may need to interrupt:

A: "Combat"
N: "OK"
A: "Give this Grizzly Bear +2/+0. Attack with everything"
N: "Hang on. Tap down your pumped Bear."

Or, without implicit priority passes:

A: "Combat"
N: "OK"
A: "Give this Grizzly Bear +2/+0. Attacks?"
N: "Tap your bear"
A: "OK. Attacks"
N: "Go for it"
A: "Attack with everything"

Interacting with Triggers

Back to the Rabblemaster:

A: "Combat"
N: "Kill your Rabblemaster"

Can the active player play Ball Lightning? Yes! This is the exception to the non-active player acting in Beginning of Combat because we assume that, by default, they’re trying to stop the trigger. If, in fact, they’re worried about that Ball Lightning, this is still possible:

A: "Combat"
N: "In Beginning of Combat, kill your Rabblemaster"
A: OK, Rabblemaster trigger resolves. I have a token.

or, more likely:

A: "Combat"
N: "OK"
A: "Make a token"
N: "Kill your Rabblemaster"

Triggers can still be missed, of course, but it will often take until the active player actually tries to declare attackers to determine that. Of course, you can then interrupt that declaration with the knowledge that the trigger was forgotten.

The Cryptic Command Problem

It’s not a problem with the shortcut, per se, but it’s a protection for the non-active player that’s been removed. There are various permutations of the “Phantom Priority Pass”, but here’s a simple one:

The active player has a two Bears and a Mutavault. The non-active player is at 5 life, but active player is worried about a Cryptic Command.

The active player wants to try to get a read on if the coast is clear. So, they say “Combat” in an attempt to imply that they’re ready to declare attackers. If the non-active plays the Cryptic, you activate the Mutavault and get in for 2. If they don’t, unless they’re a very precise player, it’s a strong sign that they may not have it and you should activate the Mutavault and go for it. The old shortcut precluded that baiting.

Of course, the correct time to play the Command if you have it is after the second priority pass (or interrupting the declaration). But now you need to be more careful if you’re the non-active player to not accidentally tip your hand.

AP Acting First in Combat

The new structure makes it look like the active player can’t be the first person to act in the beginning of combat step. That’s not true, but it does reflect the fact that the active player needing to act first is unlikely. The only scenario I’m aware of is holding a split second spell while your opponent is floating mana, which is not something that’s going to come up every day! In that situation, the protocol is the same as ever – you ask your opponent if they want to do something with that mana in the main phase. If they do, you’re still in main phase, since they used mana they couldn’t use in beginning of combat, nullifying the default.

Otherwise, there is a way to do it, but it does give the opponent some information. While in your main phase, simply say “I do this thing in Beginning of Combat”. Done! Of course, the non-active player has the ability to interrupt and do something in your main phase. That’s not really any different than it was under the previous shortcut.

Wrapping Up

I think this covers all of the likely scenarios. One of the mental models should serve you well, and if you just remember that there now has to be a priority pass in Beginning of Combat (one that’s often implicit), you’re most of the way to handling all the scenarios.

40 thoughts on “How to Think About the New Combat Shortcut

  1. Because often there is no Rabblemaster on the battlefield most player ask not “combat?”. Instead they ask directly “attack?” or “declare attacker?”. Is there a “Technically Accurate Approach” where the active player only needs to ask ones if he is allowed to declare attackers?

  2. Why cant this just be easy and let it be … A:beginning of combat phase. Do x
    N:ok before attackers do x
    A:pass priority
    N:pass priority
    A:declare attackers.
    Like if you are useing the cryptic scenerio then why not just let it be like mtgo right?. I have never once in all my competitive years had a prob with A:beginning of combat PHASE do x.

    1. There’s nothing in your example that’s incompatible with the new shortcut. It’s not like MTGO because players aren’t magic-playing robots and don’t always do everything unambiguously.

    2. for the most part I agree, it’s just better for everyone to just be explicit of your priority passes and your timing of casting spells. the thing is though, only accepting such precise language unfairly disadvantages players who don’t have a firm grasp of the native language

  3. What does it now mean if the active player announces “Attack step?” (instead of “combat?”)

  4. The following line confuses me a bit:
    “We do expect the non-active player to interrupt relatively quickly once the active player makes it clear that they’re going into combat. No waiting to see what’s declared as attackers, pausing to think for a bit, then attempting to interrupt the shortcut.”

    Why is NAP not allowed to do that? The wording of Shortcut Rules MTR 4.2 doesn’t seem to support this interpretation. Furthermore, when my opponent gives away information during a shortcut, I am allowed to act upon.There is no indication that players have to comply a certain “time frame” for interrupting a shortcut.

    In general (as I read the rules): My opponent proposes a shortcut by demonstrating the outcome (in our case “I pass priority, I expect you passing priority too, then , in declare attackers step, I attack with these creatures.”)

    Why am I not allowed to wait for my opponent to completely propose his shortcut and then act accordingly, giving me the time to think about?

    Analogous this means, that if I say “Go.” and my opponent wants to do something in my second main phase, they have to say this immidiately, if not they forfeited that option? But still can act in the end step even after a substantial thinking pause.

    1. Because after a certain point it is clear that the opponent has moved past a point where you wish to take action, and allowing them to continue doing so is acquiescing to that. Plus, letting them do so is the kind of angle-shooting that we tend to crack down on hard.

      1. I understand the reasoning, but ultimately it’s not supportet by the rules written, is it?
        Also, I’m still confused how NAP has to act, to either interrupt or comply the declare attackers shortcut, when he needs a little time to think.

        Imagine following scenario:
        AP: “Combat”
        NAP: “OK”
        AP: “Attack with these” (effectively proposing the shortcut)
        NAP: “Wait, maybe I want to do something…”
        *thinking pause*

        Is NAP now allowed to act in beginning of combat (I.E. casting Cryptic Command), even after a substantial thingking pause?
        If NAP does nothing, is AP now forced to the proposed set of attackers (read: complying the shortcut, meaning the game has moved to the declare attackers step with AP having priority)? Or may he change the set, or may he even activate a manland (read: since NAP said something, he interrupted the shortcut either way.)?

  5. What about intervening if clauses that are part of the BoC triggers? Toolcraft Exemplar does not get +2/+1 if the only artifact they control is removed while the trigger is on the stack. So, for example:
    A: “Combat?”
    N: “Naturalize your Heart of Kiran.”

    Are they in BoC or not? The actions could be interpreted as prevention of trigger and therefore still in the main phase, but since it has an intervening if clause, it could also be done in the BoC and still works the same. This will be extremely relevant in the Standard environment.

    1. Toolcraft Exemplar has an intervening if. Naturalizing the Heart during Combat will still prevent it from going off, so it doesn’t need preventing in main phase.

  6. I’m still struggling a little with how we apply this policy where the active player has manlands, such as Mutavault. From the example you give above, why are we assuming that the non-active player is playing his Cryptic Command in the main phase, thus giving the active player a chance to animate his Mutavault and attack with it? There are no beginning of combat ability triggers to affect things here. Am I reading the below paragraph incorrectly?

    “If the active player passes priority during their first main phase, the non-active player is assumed to be acting in beginning of combat unless they are affecting how or whether a beginning of combat ability triggers. However, if the non-active player takes no action, the active player has priority at the beginning of combat. Beginning of combat triggered abilities (even ones that target) may be announced after any non-active player action has resolved.”

    1. We’re not assuming that. But there’s a priority pass in beginning of combat, and that’s a perfectly legitimate place to activate a Mutavault.

  7. A: “Combat“
    N: ”Grasp of Darkness your Glorybringer”
    A: ”Play another Glorybringer”
    N: “Ok” (don’t need to play my Essence Scatter because I have a Ruinous Path in my next turn)
    A: “Attack with Glorybringer”
    N: “Wait, you are in your 2nd Main Phase”
    A: “JUDGE!!!”

    1. So in this case N would want to Grasp, and make it clear they’re doing so, in Beginning of combat to prevent another Glorybringer

    2. The NAP should pose questions as soon as AP “plays another Glorybringer” stating that we are in the middle of combat. If AP responds stating they are in still in the main phase then you would call a judge. This situation seems like it’s played rather sloppy and quick.

  8. So, just to clarify, so I can explain this to players even in corner cases:

    Even if the new shortcut doesn’t clearly state ways of passing priority in main, the point is that all ways of attempting to go to combat (combat? Attacks?) can be seen as suggested priority passes (as that is why they technically must be) and therefore would invoke the shortcut?

    Does this include more clear shortcuts as well, like “go to declare attackers?” and even “go to main phase 2?” so that AP can still act in BoC?

    1. Yes. The shortcut defines when NAP is acting. Though, “Go to main phase 2” should probably end up with AP acting in end of combat.

  9. I’m kind of worried about this change: “1) The active player passing in their main phase doesn’t leave the main phase, but they lose the ability to play anything at sorcery speed. Play proceeds from there.”

    For the scenario, I am the active player and have several creatures one of which is equiped with a powerful equipment that may end up doing lethal damage. Usually I would ask the more technically accurate question “Beginning of combat??”, and if I’m interrupted by an instant speed spell or ability that kills the equipped creature, then after the spell resolves I’m still on the main phase and thus I can cast a ball lightining or like I do, equip another creature with my floating equipment.

    Does this new policy mean I can no longer do that? If my intention was to move to begining of combat but I’m interrupted at end of main phase, then no longer can use sorcery speed abilities like equip, cast a new creature or otherwise?

    1. The new policy means you can’t do that. The policy in place for the previous ten years also prevented you from doing that.

      1. Toby, what kind of policy about previous years you refering to? Never on a tournament scenario I was impeded to back down to main phase on a scenario like the one described above, not even the one time this was appealed up to a lvl 3 head judge.

        Why is it that if the NaP screws up his response times, or he doesnt pay attention to the phase/step changes, then he has to be benefited by their mistakes.

      2. I do not know the situations you were involved in or the rulings made, but the previous shortcut was much more prohibitive here.

      3. I always thought that if I am the AP in my main phase and the stack is empty, I am allowed to play a sorcery-timed spell or ability. I have encountered many others who thought this was the case.

        Are we all just wrong?

        If I now correctly understand this policy (and apparently the previous policy), it effectively says that once the AP has passed priority in their main phase once with an empty stack, they are no longer allowed to play sorcery-timed spells or abilities for the remainder of that main phase.

        Is this a correct interpretation? Even if the AP specifies, “Pass priority in main phase,” rather than using the shortcut, “Combat?” (or similar)? Does this apply to the second main phase as well?

  10. This seems to be effectively making it so that NAP gets priority first in the beginning of combat step, and then the AP getting it. I’ve been struggling to easily describe the new shortcuts to players, and I sometimes use this to describe it. Would that be inaccurate? I know there are some corner cases where it might not be exactly the case, but it seems accurate otherwise.

  11. “Beginning of combat triggered abilities (even ones that target) may be announced after any non-active player action has resolved.”
    What are the legal targets as you announce the trigger and what is the meaning of “action has resolved” – after NAP put a spell / ability on the stack or after that really resolved?

    I got an example:
    Anton controls a Weldfast Engineer, aber Heart of Kiran and a Sky Skiff. Nina has a Fatal Push in her Hand.
    Anton crews the Heart in his 1st Main Phase.
    Anton: Combat?
    Nena: Okay. In your BoC Push at the Heart.
    Anton: In Response crew Sky Skiff with the Heart.
    Nena: Okay. Push resolves?
    Anton: Yes. After Push resolved I have the Engineer Trigger with Sky Skiff as the target.
    Anton announced the trigger after any NAP actions resolved. The update on the shortcut dies not describe what the legal targets are if you announce a trigger that requires a target. There is noch line limiting the possible legal targets to those that would have been legal at the beginning of BoC..

      1. Toby, how did NAP jump the gun? The very same example from “Interacting with triggers” (N: “In Beginning of Combat, kill your Rabblemaster”) puts AP and NAP in the BoC, at which point it is no longer possible to target the Sky Skiff with the trigger from Weldfast Engineer. Following the CR, it is impossible to target it with the trigger at that point, and (implicit or explicit) shortcuts should not be able to break the CR.
        To recap:
        MP1: AP turns Heart of Kiran into a creature
        BoC: NAP kills Heart of Kiran, AP reacts by turning Sky Skiff into a creature
        The as-of-yet unannounced trigger could in no way legally target Sky Skiff, as its target has to be chosen at the point when we move from MP1 to BOC, yet you say it can? How is that possible when NAP clearly acts in the BoC, as outlined in your example quoted above?

      2. So it is okay to announce targets that would be illegal if you would not use the shortcut (like in mtgo)?

        Would it not be better to change the last sentence of the current shortcut
        “Beginning of combat triggered abilities (even ones that target) may be announced after any non-active player action has resolved.”
        “Beginning of combat triggered abilities (even ones that target) may be announced after any non-active player action has resolved but no player may make choices involving objects that would not have been legal choices when the ability should have triggered.”

        This way the triggered ability would only allow choices that would have been legal similar to the additional remedy for missed triggers in the ipg.

  12. AP: “combat”
    NAP: “ok”
    AP: “attack with these”, turning creatures sideways
    NAP: “bolt your Signal Pest”

    Bolt was cast in Beginning of Combat or in Declare Attackers?
    Did battle cry trigger?
    Can AP think again on attackers?

    AP: “combat”
    NAP: “ok”
    AP: “attack with these”, turning creatures sideways
    NAP: “*** Hold on ***, bolt your Signal Pest”

    Bolt was cast in Beginning of Combat or in Declare Attackers?
    Did battle cry trigger?
    Can AP think again on attackers?

    1. Second one is clearly beginning of combat.

      First one is probably too late, as they’ve given no indication that they want to interrupt.

  13. Why don’t you just follow mtgo priority rules. Solves all your problems. Mtgo priority rules don’t allow for any ambiguity surrounding the beginning of combat step.

    1. Because years of tournament experience showed them to be abusable. Also problematic across multiple languages.

      1. Has there been any serious thought to renaming the combat steps? They seem to be the source of much ambiguity here.

      2. The rules for paper MTG are slightly different because they are based on not just what should be but also how people actually do play. MODO, depending how you have it set up, can make you have to click after every single priority pass – or, on the other hand, bypass all priority offers until the end of turn. (And then there was the Grand Prix in San Diego back in 2013 where Brian Kibler got to F6 in real life while a Judge watched his opponent – who was still playing..)

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