Hello. There I go stealing PV’s intro again. I’m back from an exciting weekend at the SCG event in Atlanta. It was quite the experience for me as I was recruited to be the Scorekeeper for the Standard Open on Saturday. At 479 players, it was the largest tournament I’ve ever been the Scorekeeper for. I’m pretty sure I leveled up or became an Eldrazi.
On Sunday, I was back to just being a Floor Judge, the Team Lead (and the only member) on the Logistics Team. As I’ve alluded to in the past, Logistics is the catch-all team and there isn’t much to do at Constructed events. There was even less to do on Day 2 of a two-day weekend when everything was set up on Saturday. Must be nice to be an L3, right?
The Inkwell Incident
Except that I had plenty to do that wasn’t on the menu. With what few L2+s we had left on staff occupied with more serious matters like deck checks, it fell to me to administer the day’s judge exams, two candidates for L1. After I was done with those, I had the pleasure of sitting down to watch some Top 8 Magic, Gerry Thompson versus David Price. No, not that David Price. It was Reanimator versus Bant Counterbalance respectively. During game one, there was a notable incident. As Detective Monk would say, “Here’s what happened.”
After fighting a counter war over Entomb for Inkwell Leviathan, Gerry Exhumed the monster and islandwalked all over David’s Tropical Island. The critical turn came after a second swing put David at 3 life. He untapped with a 3/4 Tarmogoyf and a Knight of the Reliquary in play along with three lands, a Wasteland, the Inkwell-enabling Tropical Island, and some non-Island white source. David tapped his two colored mana sources to cast a second Tarmogoyf, leaving the Wasteland untapped. That gave him two ways to bin the offending Tropical Island, the other way being to sacrifice it to Knight of the Reliquary.
Wasteland was the preferred choice, since that would pump the Knight up to a 5/5, which could combine with the two 3/4 Goyfs to threaten to take down the Inkwell. Using the Knight to sacrifice the Tropical would tap it down before blockers, meaning David would have to double block with the Goyfs to prevent lethal trample damage, although that would result in one of the Tarmogoyfs surviving the combat.
I don’t know if Gerry was looking ahead at the potential triple block scenario (he probably was), but Gerry chose to Daze the second Goyf and David dutifully tapped his Wasteland to pay the 1, taking the triple block option away from him. This play is actually missing from the coverage, which has David lamenting his misplay and commenting like he could have triple blocked. However, after the match I spoke ever so briefly with David–I didn’t want to be too nosy after such a tough loss–and he confirmed that the Wasteland had been tapped to pay for the Daze.
But I’m getting too far ahead of myself. After resolving the second Goyf, David turned the first one sideways and attacked Gerry for three. Suddenly, he was dead on the board to the Inkwell Leviathan. David obviously didn’t see his misplay. I didn’t see his misplay. I don’t think Bill Stark saw his misplay. Gerry may have seen the misplay, but didn’t believe it. When he untapped for the turn, Gerry thought about his next play for some time, perhaps trying to figure out if “It’s a trap!”
Deciding that it wasn’t a trap, or that he had no choice but to walk into it, Gerry attacked. David tapped the Knight to sacrifice Tropical, fetching up a basic Forest. Goyf blocked the non-landwalking Inkwell, and when it came time to deal damage Gerry said, “Okay. Trample for three.”
Realization hit David like that ton of bricks you so often hear about. “That thing tramples.” It was a question, a statement, and a curse. He then made a comment a comment about hating foreign cards. You see, Gerry’s Inkwell was Japanese.
That brings us to the end of the game and the story. David mumbled some more about foreign cards and the misplay he made as a result of not being able to read Gerry’s card. Like the true gentleman and scholar that he is, Gerry flipped through his entire deck and commented that it was the only Japanese card in his deck.
So what can we take away from this incident? First off, Gerry had no obligation to tell David what his cards did. When’s the last time you sat there and read off the full text of every card you play to your opponent? Maybe at a Prerelease when most of the cards are unfamiliar to both players. Even then, I usually just flip the card and let them read it themselves, and that’s only if they ask. The general rule of thumb is to assume your opponent knows what a card does unless they ask.
And I think David knew what Inkwell Leviathan did, although maybe he didn’t KNOW-know, you know? By his own admission, David was primarily a Legacy player and Inkwell is one of those staple boom-booms in Reanimator. The problem for him was that the trample wasn’t a highlighted relevant ability. Islandwalk mattered because he had to find a way to rid himself of the Tropical in order to block. Shroud mattered because Swords to Plowshares and/or Path to Exile weren’t outs. But trample? When does Inkwell’s trample ever come into play? Most of the time when you Reanimate one, it is because your opponent is blue and you plan on walking all over their Islands. Trample doesn’t matter if it is unblockable.
The trample did not register to David as an important ability to remember, and since the card was Japanese, he couldn’t get a visual clue of the forgotten ability by looking at it. So what if David had asked Gerry what Inkwell did? The Oracle text of any card is derived information: “information to which all players are entitled access, but opponents are not obliged to assist in determining and may require some skill or calculation to determine.” (MTR 4.1) Faced with a question like “What does Inkwell do?” you are allowed to give the full text, give a partial answer, or say nothing (usually “I can’t answer that” rather than just a stone silent stare). What you cannot do regarding derived information is bold-faced lie. You can’t say that Inkwell Leviathan is a 1/1 flying creature with lifelink.
You’ll notice that among the legal options was a partial answer. That means that had David asked, it would have been legal for Gerry to say, “It’s a 7/11 with shroud and islandwalk” omitting the key trample ability. This leads to a simple rule regarding derived information: when it doubt, ask a judge. You see, the Oracle text of a card is exactly the kind of information that a judge is allowed to assist you with. Usually you see players ask about a card that they think their opponent might have. Perhaps you are trying to play around a Counterspell that you think your opponent has, but you can’t remember the exact cost of the spell. Ask a judge for the Oracle text and you can know if your opponent has the appropriate mana up.
If David had asked the closest judge (me) for the Oracle text on Inkwell Leviathan, I could have given it to him. Since I read Japanese, I could have read it right off the card. Or if he preferred, I could have printed him out the Oracle text from Gatherer. But as I said earlier, David thought he knew what Inkwell did, at least the parts that were relevant to him at the time. Given his preconceptions about the card it’s possible that he might have made the same mistake with an English card.
Did Gerry intentionally use a Japanese card in order to obscure the trample ability and steal a win? Um, not unless he is from the future, a robot, and a mindreader. As a matter of fact, I highly doubt that the deck was entirely his. It was probably either a fully borrowed deck, or cobbled together from various donors and the Japanese Inkwell was just the card that happened to be handy. Otherwise, why not just run with a fully foreign deck. That way your opponent can’t read any of your cards. Or there is an even more extreme solution; erase the text altogether. The key identifying factor for cards is their artwork. We have to go by this standard because there are a bunch of different languages of cards and it is impossible to expect everyone at a Pro Tour to be able to read each other’s cards. But an experienced Magic player can identify a Rhox War Monk by the funky-looking pancake flipper guy regardless of what language the text is in.
Similarly, there are textless promo cards. Those are a clear indication that card text is not a defining factor in what makes a card identifiable. As an aside, I hate that Cryptic Command is a textless promo. People can hardly figure out how to use it with the text. If your goal is to obscure your cards and hope your opponent makes a misplay because they cannot get visual clues from your cards’ text, go ahead and blank all of your cards into textless cards. And when I say “go ahead,” I mean “don’t be that guy.” Will you get a very slight edge in some fraction of your games? Possibly. Will your opponents need to call over judges to get Oracle text? Yes, making more work for me, you jerk. Would the time it takes to de-text your cards be better spent just playtesting more? Yes. Some things just aren’t worth “the edge.”
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