Note: This situation happened at GP Detroit and led to discussion on the L4-list so as to provide an [O]fficial answer as to how to handle it more easily.
AP controls Blinkmoth Nexus and three Darksteel Citadels. He then:
- Plays a second Blinkmoth Nexus,
- Taps two Darksteel Citadels to cast Cranial Plating,
- Taps one of the two Blinkmoth Nexus to animate the other one,
- Equips it with using the last Darksteel Citadel,
- Proceeds to combat and attacks with the Equipped Nexus.
At that point, NAP calls the judge to indicate that AP animated and equipped the Nexus (s)he played this turn, and it therefore has Summoning Sickness.
This is the kind of investigation that is very hard to conduct, as it is basically a “He said/She said” scenario: AP claims he did not make the mistake while NAP claims that since it was his sole chance to not lose this game, he was especially focused on checking which Nexus was which.
Obviously, none of these claims was verifiable information so that wasn’t really helping.
In the end, having to make a decision, I chose AP was correct, mostly because I could not find evidence he was not. Note that this does not mean that I believe NAP was lying either: Since they both mentioned AP somehow rearranged his lands when choosing how to tap mana to perform the actions, there may have been genuine confusion.
The [O]fficial ruling
When two identical permanents are on the battlefield and there are non-visible differences between them, if a player needs to know which is which, they need to ask for clarification.
Non-viible differences follows the logic of Missed Trigger’s “triggered ability that affects the game state in non-visible ways“: There are, game-wise, differences between both permanents but this isn’t reflected in a visible way. For instance:
- One of the Nexus has a +1/+1 counter or a permanent attached to it and the other doesn’t: There is game-wise a visible difference.
- One of the Nexus gained +2/+2 or trample and the other didn’t: There is no visible difference.
Differences in languages or expansions or version is not taken into account, as this is not game-related.
Investigations like this almost never rely on factual elements. They’re actually very close to miscommunication, which are the hardest rulings to make since making a decision is tough and usually leaves a bitter taste in one of the player’s mouth.
In this specific situation, it is obvious that AP wants to animate the Blinkmoth Nexus that doesn’t have summoning sickness. It is so obvious that he doesn’t feel the need to mention it clearly and as such would be unreasonable to expect that he specifically does. That’s why the judge should assume as a default that he did animate the “correct” Nexus.
It can be argued that AP may actually be genuinely confused as to which permanent is which and NAP could be misled up to the point that, by the time (s)he realizes there is confusion (in this situation when a Nexus attacks), (s)he cannot efficiently respond.
In this case, NAP should have asked at some point which permanent is which. The earliest opportunity is when the “Animating Nexus” ability is on the stack but NAP can wait until the most favorable moment to them if they wish.
This is philosophically identical to the fact a player needs to ask the opponent whether a certain Triggered ability is on the stack or not if they need to know to optimize a play.
In a word, NAP cannot assume what’s the most favorable outcome, they need to clarify if they need the information to make an optimal sequence of plays.