Cranial Insertion: Trust Me, It's a Shortcut

Cranial Insertion
Trust Me, It's a Shortcut
or, A Longcut

By Eli Shiffrin, Tom Fowler, and Ted Dickinson

Follow the Yellow Bri-oh my god AUGH!
Rather than jump into the mailbag this week, we're going to take a little walk down this shortcut I know. Come on, all of you, get up from your computers and walk with me. Wait, sit back down, you can't read the article if you're walking away. Come back! Come baaaaack!

The new Penalty Guide includes, as sections 50 and 51, a guideline on player communication and shortcuts. I'm going to cover some of the pressing questions on these, and we'll answer more specific questions as they pop into our inbox. An upcoming article on the DCI's page will also discuss the communication policy a little more; watch the page if you know where to look, or wait for our link to it next week or the week after.

As always, toss your questions our way to [email][email protected][/email] and get an awesome response from Tom, Ted, or me; Moko's not allowed to answer the emails after he sorts them anymore after that international incident...

(Sorry, casual players, this article deals exclusively with DCI-sanctioned tournament mechanics. That means that your group is under no obligation to honor these policies, and may reward your intricate knowledge of "but that's a legal bluff" with disdain or violence.)

Q: What's this new communication policy all about?

A: The player communication policy establishes a long-needed hard distinction between bluffing and Cheating--Fraud. "Use common sense" or "Use your judgment" sounds like a great idea for judges to work by, until you run into the extremes: where one player is disqualified and suspended for the same "bluff" he was told was OK at a Pro Tour.

Aside from being Just Not Right, that's a bit of a public relations disaster. It's bad enough that there will always be some variation from human misunderstanding or forgetfulness; compounding it with wildly different views on what's a good trick and what's omg cheatery doesn't help the players determine how sneaky they can be at all. And so the Golden Rule of Player Communication:

Quote from mmm gold »
Statements made about the game being played must be truthful (to the best of their knowledge). However, statements do not need to be exhaustive - honest answers with careful omissions or "non-answers" designed to misdirect opponents into making suboptimal - but not illegal - plays are acceptable.

For a list of all the little exceptions, read the full section 50 in the Penalty Guide.

Q: What's this new shortcut policy all about?

A: A wise man once told me, "No one has ever played a real game of Magic." The room was full of judges, the staunch defenders of Elder Dragon Highlander and Chaos Draft tournaments over boring old "Standard" and "Sealed" events, so we just nodded. Oh, wait, he means everyone, not just us.

His point was not that we all suck, but that Magic is a game with a million shortcuts. You spring gleefully over many a step and phase, dropping a land and saying "go." You sneak past a ton of priority passes on your second turn when you swing with your one-drop and your opponent writes down that single, lonely damage. You subtly cut through a couple rules of the game by keeping a land tapped under your Drifter il-Dal. In all of these cases, the players agree that a series of events is occurring - that priority is being passed without actions; that combat damage is being assigned; that a land is untapping and being tapped soon afterwards as a trigger triggers, is put on the stack, and resolves . . . and you would probably die of boredom before the game ended if you explicitly announced every single priority pass, noted every pointless state-based effect check, and generally followed every single rule of the game to the very letter.

There is no nifty Golden Rule of Shortcuts in the Penalty Guide, which disappoints me a little; we need more Golden Rules to break. We could very fairly say that the Golden Rule would, in part, be:

Quote from Common Sense »
A shortcut must be mutually agreeable, or it can't be used.

That is, even though "go" is a common shortcut to hop to the end of turn step, if you say it and I want to do something in your second main phase, we stop in the second main phase and don't use the full shortcut.

Q: But I don't want to use all these shortcuts in the Penalty Guide!

A: Then say so. See above.

The shortcuts listed in the Penalty Guide are merely the defaults for when the player fails to specify exactly what is happening; you're always welcome to confirm each step and phase (but if you're doing that to stall, you'll be in deep trouble).

Cheatyface says that he only costs
UU. Cheatyface lies.
Q: What happens if a player breaks the communication rules?

A: There will be a shiny new infraction to cover unintentional violations; the penalty for it is a warning at all levels. For example, your opponent asks how many cards you have in your hand, and you tell him that you have four cards. But then you remember that you played one, and really only have three.

Intentional violations fall under Cheating--Fraud. If your opponent asks how many cards you have in your hand, and your hand of cards happens to be on the table and not in your hand-hand so you say "zero," we're gonna have a problem here.

Remember that Fraud doesn't care about ignorance. "I didn't know that was a rule, so it's not intentionally breaking the rule" is a fine excuse, but it's generally not going to save you from a DQ.

Q: With the communication guideline in place, am I still allowed to just tell my opponent things like how big my Slivers are, or do I have to just tell him to work it out?

A: The communication guideline is the bare minimum that we require from players. You can most certainly help your opponent by being more candid - it's even highly recommendable, since the alternative is often to be a long dance around the real question as your opponent asks different questions in increasing frustration trying to determine the answer.

There is a gray area between sporting and unsporting behavior. The player communication policy defines the line between the gray area and unsporting; your own ethics determine the line between sporting and gray.

Q: If my opponent won't tell me how big his Slivers are, can't I just call a judge?

A: You can, but the judge can't just tell you. What if you've forgotten that Sedge Sliver has a pump ability in addition to its regeneration ability? Or that there's a Gaea's Anthem out there in addition to the pile of Slivers? If a judge simply tells you "That Sliver is 7/4," he's done your job of paying attention to what's in play. Don't be upset if a judge has done that for your opponent in the past, though; this is largely part of the new policy that hasn't been formally stated before.

That isn't to say that a judge won't help you with genuine confusion. If your real question is "What does Bonesplitter Sliver do for it's power and toughness when it's hit with a Serendib Sorcerer?" then you need to ask that. There is also a fair amount of judge discretion involved here, so new players at a Regular REL event won't be stuck unable to form the right question to get an answer.

Q: So if I know that my one creature is really 3/3, but my opponent said "I block your 2/2 with my 2/2" and pushed a morph towards it, I don't have to correct him?

A: That is true. You are under no obligation whatsoever to correct his misstatements. If you do have a creature that's really 2/2, though, you'll want to confirm, "This guy?" to make sure that you're both entirely clear on what's going on.

Q: But what if my opponent's morph is really a 3/3 and he forgot? Can I let him put his creature in his graveyard with combat damage?

A: No. You're still under the obligation to not allow anything illegal to happen, and putting a creature in the graveyard without an in-game reason is one of those illegal things. That's when you have to break the news that his creature is really bigger than he thinks.

On the other hand, if he sacrifices it to something with combat damage on the stack because he thinks it'll die anyway, you don't need to correct him there, either.

Q: I made two Saproling tokens before attacking, so my Herd Gnarr is 6/6. If my opponent asks "So that guy's 4/4, right?" what can I legally answer?

A: You can legally tell him "No, it's 6/6. Haha!"

You cannot legally say "Yup, 4/4."

You can legally tell him "Maybe." You can also say "How many creatures came into play under my control this turn?" or "How many times did his ability trigger?" or any other non-answer.

You can also legally look up to the ceiling and hum the Jeopardy theme song while twiddling your thumbs.

Bonus: Eli cannot legally look up to the ceiling and hum the Jeopardy theme song. He can't hum on key, and this action is considered Unsporting Conduct--Aggressive Behavior.

Q: Could you give a quick, short version of what I can lie about?

A: Sure: Hidden information and future events.

You can lie all you want about morphs, the contents of your hand, the contents of your deck, and such face-down things. If you lie well and say that your face-down creature is a Vesuvan Shapeshifter, you'll get more mileage out of this than saying that it's an Island.

Because, as Serra says, the future's not ours to see, anything that you say about the future doesn't have to be true. You can't claim that something illegal is actually legal, but you can claim that the possible is impossible or vice versa - such as "You can't block, so I attack with everyone" or "I can hold Spineless Thug back to block."

Priority can't come into play.
Much less tapped.
Q: So what's the penalty if my opponent tries to use a shortcut that I don't like?

A: There is no penalty for that; the game is just rewound to the last point when both players were in agreement or to the beginning of the shortcut. Consider a widely-used shortcut: skipping the upkeep. "Untap, draw my card." "WAIT! Tap your lands before your draw!" That's pretty much what should happen if your opponent tries a shortcut you don't like.

Q: If the shortcut stuff is only a suggestion, why is it in there at all?

A: The shortcuts listed are mostly for judges to use; if both players agree on what's going on, they can happily ignore the entire section on shortcuts. It's only when there's a disagreement that the players can't quickly resolve amongst themselves that the policy - and judges - step in.

And it's very useful to have standardized shortcuts for some things. Consider an age-old dilemma: "I pump Looming Shade four times." "Shock it in response."

There were three answers you might get from a judge before:
1) "The Shock is after it's 4/4 and there is only one activation on the stack now."
2) "The Shock is with all four activations on the stack."
3) "Rewind to the start and be more clear."

The new resolution is one option, which is some of option 1 and some of option 3 (the only question is whether the judge will allow the Shock player to rewind playing Shock). Whether or not you agree with this resolution, it's much better than never knowing what answer you'll get if you call a judge.

Q: I hate that resolution.

A: You're not alone. If you dislike any part of the communication or shortcut policy, you can be assured that there are many, many people who agree with you - this policy took quite a while and a lot of discussion to form.

The policy will be updated every three months, though, so whatever you disagree with may be changed at three-month intervals. That's not to promise any specific changes, just that the policy is not forever set in stone. The shortcut policy (and the communication policy, to a smaller degree) is based on what players already do and mean rather than what the DCI wants, so it's much more flexible than any other part of the rules.

Q: How does the shortcut policy apply to places that don't speak English regarding the shortcut phrases?

A: It applies with common sense. If your opponent says "wait till your turn!" you can't say "Oh, you said 'your turn,' so you pass priority until the end of your turn now!" This is not a gotcha trigger, and we care about the meaning here, not the words spoken.

Similarly, any expression in any language (including body language, such as waving your hand at your opponent) should be taken the same as "go" if it's spoken with the obvious intention of expressing "My fine sir, I have no wish to take any further actions until my turn has come to its conclusion." If you're not sure what your opponent meant (possibly because he said "du bist" or "scheiƟ drauf, du.") confirm that he's done before you start untapping.

This is just the basics here; judging by the forums and the judge chat room, there are still a lot of areas to raise questions, and quite a few things with no one hard and fast answer. This is partially the nature of communication - there will always be gray area and things left up to human judgment.

Until the day that Gleemax turns us all into robot slaves.

- Eli Shiffrin
Tucson, Arizona


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