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MTG News: Missed Triggers In Tournaments

MTG can be played in a huge range of ways. In-person or online, two-players or more. There’s no limit to the number of formats and house rules you can use. But there’s yet another distinction that’s more subtle, and can be hard to appreciate without first hand experience. Here, I’ve got something interesting for you to Consider.

Consider

It’s the difference between playing Magic casually, among friends, versus playing in a competitive, tournament setting.

A player named Dominick Paolercio (@Karatedom10 on Twitter) shared an experience they had at the recent NRG Chicago event, and it got everyone talking. Here’s the original post, but I’ll summarize in my own words if you prefer a shorter version. 

As the story is told, an Izzet Phoenix player faces down Sheoldred, the Apocalypse. They cast Consider, it resolves, there’s some amount of pause, and they follow up with an Opt. Sheoldred’s controller then announces two triggers for four points of life loss. A judge call ensues to determine whether the first trigger (referencing Consider) has been missed. 

Sheoldred, the Apocalypse

 

Let’s dive into this specific case.

Tournament Rules

The first thing to remember is that this is a competitive tournament. However you like to play at home, or at a more casual Prerelease or FNM event, is totally fine. However, tournaments have a special set of rules governing these issues. Players can be expected (perhaps should be expected) to play hard, try their best to win, and take every advantage that the rules fairly provide to them. 

Saying something like, “people should be nice and help each other remember triggers,” isn’t necessarily wrong, but it’s somewhat missing the point in this case. 

The rules regarding missed triggers have changed many times over the years, but here’s where they stand today. A player is responsible for remembering the triggered abilities of their own cards. If they don’t remember, the opponent can choose whether or not they want the ability to happen. So yes, if you’re playing Death’s Shadow, you can force your opponent to resolve their Sheoldred triggers. 

Death's Shadow

All of that said, you have plenty of leeway when it comes to announcing triggers. If you attack with Noble Hierarch, formally saying, “exalted trigger resolves, my creature is now a 1/2,” is one way to do it. Another is waiting for your opponent to declare no blocks, and then saying, “okay, you take 1.” Anything similar or in between is totally fine. The only way this exalted trigger would be missed is if you both say nothing and assign 0 damage in combat by failing to announce or mark any life total change. 

In other words, most ambiguous situations will go in favor of the player with the triggered ability. You can’t really tell someone they’ve missed a trigger. There’s not a time limit of one second, five seconds, or thirty seconds in which to remember your trigger. It only becomes missed once the game progresses to a state where it has definitively been missed. 

The Specifics

In this case, the judges ruled in favor of the Sheoldred player, and determined that neither trigger was missed. Their ruling depended on a strange timing issue, which I’ll outline below.

Consider resolves, causing a card to be drawn. A Sheoldred triggered ability goes onto the stack.

Opt is cast, resolves, and causes a card to be drawn. A Sheoldred triggered ability goes onto the stack.

Because Opt is an instant, it’s plausible according to the rules that the Phoenix player might have responded to the first Sheoldred trigger by casting an instant. This is a play you can make, for example, if you’re using full control mode on Magic Arena.

For this reason, the Sheoldred trigger has not yet been unambiguously missed, so there’s still an opportunity for Sheoldred’s controller to announce it. 

If Opt had been a sorcery–say Chart a Course–instead, it’s possible things could have been ruled differently.

Chart a Course

Perhaps the reason this left such a bad taste in Dominick’s mouth is that he cast his Opt under the assumption that the Sheoldred trigger would not resolve, and that he’d therefore have two additional life points to work with. I sympathize. 

Strategy

In this exchange, Will Krueger brings up the good question of, what (strategically) should Dominick have done? And the equally interesting follow-up of what should the rules be, and what types of behaviors should they incentivize?

I answered with two options. First, Dominick could try to progress the game to a point where the trigger can’t be on the stack anymore (for example, changing phases). Second, he could handle it exactly the way he did!

It does stink that Dom had to make decisions in the face of this strange uncertainty. However, consider two possibilities. In the first, Dom may have forgotten about the Sheoldred trigger himself, in which case he made a strategic mistake, which is always fair game in a tournament setting. (This doesn’t seem particularly likely based on his write-up).

In the second (more likely) scenario, he was aware of an ambiguous trigger that may or may not have been on the stack. He’s playing hard and trying to win the game, which means both (1) making sharp plays with his own cards, but also (2) not reminding the opponent about the trigger. 

You can always get (1) if you want it. You could point out the Sheoldred trigger and mark your life total, or at least act as though it’s going to happen. 

You can try to get both (1) and (2) at the same time, but then you’re taking on some risk. You can try to sneak a midnight cookie out of Mom’s cookie jar, but you have to accept the risk that she might wake up and catch you. That doesn’t strike me as unreasonable.

On Sportsmanship

Opt

At times, this topic has gotten heated. I’ve seen terms tossed around like “angle shooting,” “rules lawyering,” and even “cheating.” (Ironically, a different player is the offender depending on whom you ask.)

In my opinion based on what I read, both players acted perfectly reasonably. I probably would have done the same in either position. (Once again, note that a competitive tournament is different from other play environments.)

If I was Dominick, the Phoenix player, I would try to win the game, and leave the door open for the opponent to miss their Sheoldred trigger. If I was the Sheoldred player, I would check with a judge if I could still put my trigger on the stack, even if I’d momentarily forgotten about it. 

For tournament players, facing a tricky, ambiguous situation like this is part of the job description. Handling it is easy–you ask a judge. That’s what they’re there for. Call the judge, explain exactly what happened, answer all of their questions honestly, and accept the ruling. In this story, it sounds like that process was handled to a tee, and I therefore don’t fault anyone involved.

13 thoughts on “MTG News: Missed Triggers In Tournaments”

  1. This right here is why I’ve quit competitive and went to casual. If this were a professional sport, or a judge watching the game, the trigger happens and it is not possible to be missed. The cards on the field should dictate play no matter what, not the players. If you’re trying to skirt that trigger, you’re trying to cheat. You know it’s supposed to happen, you’re a douche trying to skirt it.

  2. I had a similar situation in Sydney last weekend. Modern side event. Opp playing dredge, puts silversmote ghoul into play in end step and passes, absolutely no indication of his prized amalgams. I play my turn assuming those triggers were missed. Afaik, there’s an initial trigger when a creature enters from the gy that sets up a delayed trigger later. I end my turn and opp puts the prized amalgams into play.
    I was rattled as i thought it was missed. The judge ruled that since the delayed trigger does not affect the game state, it was not missed.

    I understand a little better now how it works, but I’m not happy about it. Being unclear about whether or not there will be zombies seems like something opp could take advantage of, say for the sake of argument i played a perilous vault or a containment priest.

  3. >If you’re trying to skirt that trigger, you’re trying to cheat

    except, the tournament rules explicitly allow this to happen – so, by definition, not cheating

    if the rules stated a player gained protection from red if they wore a blue shirt, so you wore a blue shirt, it would be stupid and unbalanced – but if we all entered a tournament knowing that was a possibility – its not cheating

    cheating doesnt mean “something i dont like”

  4. There really isn’t an alternative. If I’m not allowed to let my opponent miss their triggers, that implies that I’m under some threat if some penalty if I do. That now means that I’m responsible for policing my opponent piloting their own deck to make sure they aren’t losing value. For some complicated decks you might face, you might not even know all the triggers they need to be hitting – after all it’s not your deck. In a tournament setting, you need to be responsible for yourself.

  5. @Robseder – You are *trying* to cheat. Sheoldred doesn’t say “may.” You know how the card works, and are hoping you can gaslight your opponent. It’s really disturbing that people think this should be acceptable behavior in a society.

  6. Justin and Jazz – A lot of people feel the same way. In fact, tournament rules used to mandate pointing out opposing triggers. (That had its own set of problems, which Carter alluded to). But you are mistaken in one place. A judge would definitely, definitely not point out a missed trigger in a game they’re watching. These are the accepted rules that players and judges are expected to follow. You can make an argument that we should *change* the rules, but I think it’s unreasonable to expect people to behave differently than the way the rules are currently written.

    Alec – Tough situation. I’ll just add that in the Containment Priest/Perilous Vault example, you can force the Amalgam triggers to resolve. (Like the Death’s Shadow + Sheoldred example). Even more, if a judge investigated and found that the Dredge player was intentionally not returning the Amalgams for a strategic reason (i.e. they didn’t forget) – that would be considered cheating.

  7. My big issue with this debacle; what about maintaining game state? I remember probably 6-7 years ago at a tournament, my opponent and I both got warnings for missing a trigger my opponent controlled. When we missed that trigger, my opponent got to choose if they wanted it to go onto the stack. Ultimately, I don’t like this like, angle shooter-y feeling of ‘oh you didn’t announce this trigger, now I’ve gained a huge advantage’ . I like to assume my opponent is playing to the best of their ability. That could be at the other end of playing cutthroat though, and bauble’s do get missed.

  8. In the example where Chart a Course is played instead of Consider, would the trigger (from the Opt) be considered to be missed as soon as Chart a Course is announced? Or only if the Sheoldred player allows Chart a Course to resolve?

  9. I’d love to play outside of casual into competitive but I’m afraid of saying or doing something wrong the thought of doing so is intimidating. This article enforces that fear. I’ve seen some absolutely silly videos of people raging. The players of the game need to chill and maybe the game will grow more.

  10. Gareth C – If you played Chart a Course and I said, “wait, take 2 from the Consider,” my trigger would not be missed. If I said, “okay, it resolves,” then my trigger would be missed.

    Michael M – This discussion brings out the worst elements of tournament Magic, but I promised it’s not like this all the time. My experience is that tournaments are pretty accessible even for newer players. (I often drag friends who’ve never played a tournament, or haven’t played in years and they basically always have positive experiences). The rules have shifted to be a lot more “common sense” and forgiving for newer players – like the Noble Hierarch example shows. There isn’t some secret, mystical language that you need in order to play a tournament. If you just play the game, acknowledge everything that happens, and ask a judge when there’s confusion, you’ll be totally fine.

  11. I think you have to play as if triggers that happen fall under the responsibility of the player in control of the card to make sure they don’t miss their triggers. Normally the only way that sets people apart in any competitive sport is how well they do individually. It would be no different than the tennis player who forgot to hit the ball over the net and was like we need to rewind so I can do this correctly. This seems to be two people who used the rules of magic in their favors, the only issue is it ended up favoring one person more than the other. Thus why we got this article in the first place. People need to understand that no matter what you do with the policies or rules it is always going to bite someone in the butt. This time it just happened to be Dom. I know if he was sitting across the table he would have done the same thing that his opponent did. I don’t feel that we need to change any policies or rules, just need to be more clear before casting spells.

  12. I mean I quit tournament modern because of this at time I was playing sultai infect and I would tell my opponent as soon as we sat down to announce when intend to move to combat and after blockers and attacks are declared say when you move to combat since infect relies on last second pump spells and combat tricks I got tired arguing with 1 out 5 opponents cause they wanted to say no blocks and now i just dropped mutagenic growth paying life because they said no blocks now that it’s 10 infect they wanna say oh well I’m going block like that’s not how this works

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