Cranial Insertion: We Need to Talk

Cranial Insertion
We Need to Talk
or, It's Not You, It's Me

By Eli Shiffrin, Tom Fowler, and Ted Dickinson

Fun fact: the DCI does not
recognize psychic talent as a
form of cheating.
We're going to step aside from rules questions and the [email][email protected][/email] mailbox this week to deal with a different issue. While most of our deviation from the rules makes all the casual players groan, they should appreciate this one - it hinges on one simple topic:

What do you do when there is no answer to the question?

I don't mean the rules question. The Comprehensive Rules are a perfect and whole document sprung forth from the forehead of Paul Barclay (trust me on this; I've seen the scar)[We have been informed that it's really Beth Moursund who was the rules manager at the time, and Paul was only the NetRep; Paul's scar must have come from his brain exploding after "Sixth Edition rules will kill Magic!" comments.], so every rules question can be answered, even if there is disagreement between interpretations of the rules. But for certain other questions like, "Have I played a land this turn?" and, "Wait, I thought you were at 10, not 50," you can't open a tome of infinite knowledge and point to an answer (unless you're Destiny of the Endless).

In a tournament, this is where the judge comes in. Judges don't just answer rules questions. They also have to judge a situation and determine who's telling the truth, who's wrong but making an honest mistake, and who's lying. And then sometimes they have to resolve a situation like, "I think I drew an extra card but I'm not sure" without a sure-fire way to answer it. In the interest of not advising people how to cheat, I'm going to be deliberately vague on how judges can or should resolve these situations. Those interested in more details should contact their regional (L3) judge, area trainer judge (specific L2s), or drop by the #mtgjudge IRC channel on the Efnet server.

This article is for the players. It's about how to avoid the necessity of calling a judge to make a judgment call, and how casual players without a judge can avoid getting into a mess that's sure to cause arguments. I'll also touch on a couple areas that are less gray but are also communication issues.

Q: My opponent and I are each keeping track of both of our life totals, but we ran into a problem. I thought he was at 15, and he thought he was at 18.

A: The first step to fixing this is to try to figure out where the 2 damage he recognizes came from, and the 3 damage he doesn't. Does he have painlands? Shocklands? Have you been shooting him with Stuffy Doll and he didn't notice, or did he forget to write down a change on a 3-point attack? If he just forgot to change his life total following a Beast token whapping him upside the head, it's fairly easy.

If you're good players, you've been doing this on paper so you can see by what amounts his life fell. A die sitting at 15 doesn't tell anything, but a paper that says "20 19 18 15" does. It is the combination to Moko's cookie jar. So that's tip number one: use paper. For tournaments, the Universal Tournament Rules demands a "physical, visible, and reliable" method of keeping track of your life; many judges will not consider a die reliable, and remembering is right out.

Tip number two is more important. Make sure that every change of life total is clearly communicated and agreed on. Don't just say, "ping for 1" while changing his life total; say, "ping for 1?" then wait for a confirmation before changing the life total.

Tip number three is also useful and important: when life totals change, confirm that new total or totals, or at least do this at the end of every couple turns. If a problem does come up, catching it as quickly as possible will make resolving it easier.

If you want to get really intricate, you can also note what caused each change of life total. This is especially useful if you're planning to write about the match. It can be time-consuming, though, so it's generally not advisable unless you really expect life total discrepancies to be a problem or unless you're doing some reporting on the tournament.

Q: Um, did I play a land this turn?

A: Good question. Did you?

This is never easy. The closest it gets to easy is in the early turns when both players are consistently making land drops and the player going first has one more or an equal number of lands as the opponent, but that still has too many exceptions (Rampant Growth, player forgetting to play a land, etc) to be a sure way.

It should be noted that in a sanctioned event, not being able to honestly answer a question about what's happened since your last turn - such as, "Did you play a land this turn?" - can be penalized as a Tournament Error - Player Communication Violation, which is a warning at all levels. For everyone else, it's just frustrating and annoying to have to stop to try to figure it out.

The best way to keep your land count straight is to put freshly-played lands separate from the rest. Have all your little land piles, including any you fetch up, and then one little land sitting all alone to the side

Another option is to use some sort of token and flip it face up when your turn starts and face down when you play a land. Of course, then the question can become, "Did I forget to flip my token?" instead of, "Did I play a land?" so make sure you practice this a lot and get into the habit. Additionally, some judges may not be thrilled with this method since it approaches outside "notes;" might want to keep this one at the casual table.

The last tip is to simply very clearly state "Land for the turn." Make sure your opponent notices. Then it'll take two people forgetting for this to be an issue, and a verbal statement will be more noticeable than slipping a land out of your hand onto the table.

Judge, where did I park my car?
Q: Um, did I draw for the turn?

A: This is similar to the land issue, except a bigger warning light. It's usually more like, "Wait, did I forget to draw last turn?" or, "Hey, you drew twice for your turn!" and comes up when too many upkeep triggers or actions go on. Luckily, Time Spiral doesn't have that many upkeep triggers. Or more than any set in Magic's history. Not so lucky.

Okay, this is lucky: it is fairly easy for a judge to determine if a player has drawn the correct number of cards, especially in the early game. Refer back to me being intentionally vague, although I suspect several of you have seen (or performed) the process in question.

The best way to avoid this is to be careful. Verbalize your steps, at least to yourself. Say, "untap" then untap. Say, "upkeep" then do anything upkeepish. Or say, "untap upkeep" if you don't have anything to untap, or "swivel, stuff." Whatever. Speaking will help you slow down and not blaze through steps to the point of skipping them or forgetting that you did perform them.

You can also try the same flipping token idea for drawing, with all the same caveats as above.

Q: I played a land, then tried to decide whether or not to attack into my opponent's army of doom. I said, "hmmm" while I thought, then he untapped and drew a card before I could stop him.

A: Yeah, that's not a happy thing. It's very possibly Drawing Extra Cards, which is a Game Loss at Competitive and Professional events and still a hassle even if it's not a loss. And it's easy to avoid.

If you think your opponent is passing the turn, confirm. If he very clearly says, "your turn," "all done," or, "go already, you turtle," you can generally take his word for it without bothering to double check, but anything vague or unclearly said, check and avoid possible problems.

Slowing down is also good here, since it'll give your opponent time to stop you if you try to start your turn prematurely.

(And to the judges in the audience: I said it's only potentially Drawing Extra because there is leeway to consider it a Game Rule Violation or a non-infraction communication issue. Discuss this among your local judges if you expect it to be an issue.)

Q: My opponent played a Harmonize, and I said, "okay" to myself, like, "okay, that's not a good thing," and looked at my hand to see whether I should counter it or not. But then he drew three cards, and I didn't want it to resolve yet!

A: Communicate, people! If your opponent says, "okay," ask, "it resolves?" Don't just say, "okay," say, "thinking" or, "okay, it resolves." You will not be charged per word you speak. It is okay to use your vocal cords.

This comes down to much the same as above. It may be considered Drawing Extra Cards, and moving slower will help give the other player time to stop you if you misunderstood his intentions. Either way, it's not fun to clean up.

Q: I said "Rune Snag that," but accidentally put down a Remand, so my opponent just picked up his spell. What now?

A: What happens now will be a judgment call; some judges will tell you to switch them, since you clearly said that you played Rune Snag, but some will say that the visual representation of putting out a Remand takes precedence.

It's best to avoid this entirely. Not only should you be more careful in which card you put down, your opponent should confirm that you really meant to Remand his spell and not Snag it. (In the case where it's immediately confirmed that the wrong card was put down, I'm fairly sure that no judge will say that the incorrect card is the one that you've played.)

Checking the card that you're putting down instead of just triumphantly windmilling it onto the table is an exceedingly good habit for those cases where you don't verbally announce the spell. Slam down a Think Twice in response to a spell instead of that Rune Snag, and you're more likely to be stuck thinking twice instead of snagging runes.

We do the clash!
The monster clash!
Q: I didn't get enough time to see my opponent's card when we clashed, and it looked dangerous! But he doesn't want to show me again.

A: "Revealing" a card means allowing your opponent to read it; in this case, your opponent has no option. If he didn't give you a chance to read his card, he must show it again.

There's more of an issue when your opponent then says that he gave you time to read it, but you didn't look at it. This is another great situation for communication. So if you don't plan to reveal your card again if your opponent asks, you should confirm that he's done looking at it or chooses not to read the card any further; and if you want to read over a revealed card but need to do something else first, say so.

Q: My opponent said, "go" so I started to untap, but then realized I forgot to shoot him with Prodigal Sorcerer. Can I still do that?

A: This one is fairly common. At the casual level, the answer is usually, "sure, whatever," but it's a bigger issue in tournaments. My rule of thumb is that as long as you have not completely untapped any permanent, you have time to stop and back up a step; your mileage may vary, but this is a pretty solid line.

To avoid this problem: look over your cards in hand and permanents before doing anything else after your opponent passes the turn.

Q: I asked if I could name Genesis with Pithing Needle and the judge said yes, but then when my opponent used its ability during his upkeep, the judge said he could do that! Is that fair?

A: Yes. You asked if you could name Genesis, and the answer is yes.

Surprise, you have to communicate with the judges, too, not just your opponent!

Judges have to make a huge judgment call in how they answer questions. Giving answers that aren't what is asked is too close to coaching, but giving answers like the one you got comes across as tricking you and gives players a poor image of judges. However, since the judge can tell you what I'm explaining after the match but cannot wipe extra knowledge from your mind, it's better to err on the side of not giving too much unasked information.

So the trick is to ask the question you really mean.

"Will Pithing Needle stop Genesis?" is vague. "Will Pithing Needle prevent Genesis' ability from being played?" is not - that is what you should ask.

Likewise, there are questions that a judge can't answer, such as "How big is this Sliver?" or "Will my Incinerate kill that Tarmogoyf?" Try instead "Does Might Sliver apply before or after Ovinize?" and "If I Incinerate a 2/3 Tarmogoyf with no instants in a graveyard, will it before 3/4 before it dies?"

I hope you learned something, or at least got some ideas. We'll be back next week with more rules questions straight from the mailbox, freshly picked and licked by a chimpanzee for your convenience.

Until next time, talk more!

- Eli Shiffrin
Tucson, Arizona


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