The Riki Rules: Next Level Judging: One to Two and Missed Triggers in Chicago

Leveling Up

This week, it’s about Level 2. And because the process of going to Level 2 is less to pertinent to most of you, and there’s less specific information I have to write on the subject, I also have a bonus section on a situation from GP Chicago that you may have been wondering about.

Just a little over one year ago, Level 2s underwent a dramatic but not wholly unexpected change. They did away with the position known as L2 Trainer, an intermediate level–it was almost like a Level 2.5–that could train and more importantly certify L1 Judges just like L3s.

The change is that now all L2s are essentially L2 Trainers; they can certify L1 Judges. The catch is that all the L2 non-Trainers had to take a recertification exam and have a brief interview with an L3. This was done mostly to make sure they were still active and interested in the new L2 responsibilities. This change put a huge emphasis on mentoring as the primary difference when going from L1 to 2 and this is the aspect that I try to emphasize to Judges who express an interest in becoming Level 2.


Better knowledge of the rules and policy documents is always a plus when looking to advance. In fact, it’s a plus even when you aren’t looking to advance. As I said regarding becoming L1, most new Judges come into the program with very theoretical knowledge of the rules. I witnessed this the other day when I was talking with two potentials about the interaction between Humility and Night of Soul’s Betrayal. There was a lively discussion about layers, particularly about what layer each effect applied in. I tried to move the discussion in the proper direction without giving too much away. The bad news is that they ended up disagreeing on the end result. The good news is that one of them was right. If it’s important to understand how things like layers work to become a Level 1 Judge, such knowledge needs to become second nature for an L2 not only for the floor applications, but because you will need to access that information in mini-training sessions like this one with potentials. You need to be right, and you need to be able to explain things concisely in a way that won’t overwhelm them.

Becoming L2

One of my personal pieces of advice on the subject of advancing to L2 is that you should try to judge at a GP or PT when it comes to town. And I don’t just mean jumping on the floor on Sunday as a walk up volunteer. What I mean is e-mailing the TO of the GP or the Judge Coordinator in the case of a PT and getting yourself on the official staff. It’s truly an eye-opening experience to work at one of these big events. Certainly one big reason is the people. You hear a lot about this from the player angle, how they like to travel in order to catch up with old friends, especially those from faraway places. I’ve clearly made my share of friends from across the globe, but for judging there is an added benefit to working with a diverse cast of characters, and that is the opportunity to learn things.

From my very first moment on the floor of GP SF, I was in awe of the talent level of the senior Judges. Not that the Judges I had worked with locally were slouches, but I think there is a tendency to take for granted what you have close to you. My experiences at SF and Daytona Beach later that year gave me a much broader appreciation for the entire spectrum of judging. At the PTQ level, everyone is merely on the floor staff working for the Head Judge. The Judges tend to rotate on the various tasks, deck checks one round, putting up pairings another, etc. At big events, there are various teams assigned to Deck Checks, Logistics, and Paper (Deck Checks is often two separate teams due to the size of the tournament). Each team has a Team Lead, who delegates responsibilities and handles most of the mentoring of newer Judges. This system is in place to ensure that the HJ doesn’t have to talk to a million people and to give the staff clear and focused tasks to do.

Working closely with a TL is a fantastic experience; on Day 1, these spots are usually reserved for L3+s who have certainly seen plenty of action. These Judges should basically be the equivalent of your local mentor, and you should take the opportunity to pick their minds about general judging topics that still give you trouble, and ask for specific feedback about your own performance. In those first two GPs, I learned a lot about myself, and I learned a lot about the art of judging. The former I used to relentlessly improve myself, while I latter I brought home to my local guys. That is the other key to these events. Sure, it’s great when you can find avenues for your own improvement, but you are only one Judge. Bringing home what you learns is another important aspect of mentoring and community-building that is essential to the continuing journey of a Judge.

One final aspect of mentoring on the path to 2 that I find very important is reviews. There is a system in place for reviewing other Judges at the Judge Center. In my limited experience, I’ve found that L1s tend not to do reviews of other Judges. Giving feedback in a review is yet another aspect of mentoring. You can really help a Judge learn by pointing out their strengths and weaknesses. If you want to be a Level 2, focus on writing reviews (and writing better reviews).

What the Counterbalance?

While browsing through the GP Chicago coverage, I came across the following two passages in the Pat Chapin/ Carlos Irizarry Feature Match from round 3.

“Irizarry, facing a tapped out opponent, was all too happy to stick a Counterbalance, and the match was shaping up to be a drawn out, control on control bloodbath. When Chapin attempted to play a Counterbalance of his own a turn later, Carlos responded with Brainstorm. He reset the top three cards of his deck, then attempted to reveal for his Counterbalance. That prompted a judge call from Pat.

“If Counterbalance is a may trigger, does my opponent have to declare it going on the stack before he Brainstorms?” The judge ruled in Pat’s favor, meaning Irizarry couldn’t reveal from his Counterbalance.”

“At 12 life, Pat played Swords to Plowshares targeting the Goyf. Carlos activated his Divining Top in response, the moved to reveal for Counterbalance. Chapin pointed at the enchantment saying “You forgot to trigger it again,” and Carlos rolled his eyes in frustration. Clearly his longtime pro opponent wasn’t going to give him any inches in the matchup.”

I just want to make perfectly clear that what is described in these two passages is not correct. As with most cases with such rulings, we have to throw in the usual caveat (why can’t we throw in caviar?) that I like to call IWT, or I Wasn’t There. We have to acknowledge that the truth presented to us in a coverage blog or a story told secondhand may not be the whole truth and nothing but the truth. In fact, with most “bad Judge call” stories told to me by players, I have to sort through a lot of subtext and resentment over said call losing someone the game before I get to the meat and potatoes of what went wrong, and a lot of times I end up telling the player that the Judge ruled correctly.

In this case, the story is told by coverage workhorse Bill Stark, and the possibility of jet lag from Kyoto crushing his concentration aside, I think we can take it as a fair representation of what happened. What we may be missing is some extra Q&A between the Judge and the players that might have established some kind of precedent on shortcuts or some other detail that makes this situation different than what is described to us. Like I said, IWT.

Let’s talk about triggered abilities. When the appropriate trigger event occurs, the ability will trigger immediately, right then and there even if it is during the resolution of a spell or ability. However, even though it has triggered, the ability waits until just before a player would receive priority to go on the stack. Triggered abilities are by far the most polite abilities in the game. Then, after all triggers have been put on the stack (in APNAP order), players receive priority to play spells and abilities. You don’t have to declare triggered abilities going on the stack–they automatically do so–you can’t stop them from going on the stack even if you wanted to. Thus, Patrick Chapin’s question, as reported, is somewhat misstated. This may surprise some people who expect Pros to have encyclopedic knowledge of the game. This just isn’t the case, and in many cases, Chapin included, I have discovered that Pros are just like any other players and their rules knowledge is far more intuitive than you would think.

What Chapin was trying to get across and what the Judge eventually seems to have ruled upon, is the notion that optional triggered abilities (those that say “may”) can be legally forgotten. This was most popular back in the day with Disciple of the Vault when players would literally throw games away by forgetting to “ping” their opponent with the little 1/1. This is definitely high up there in the ranks of skill testers that Judges allow. This is even codified in the Penalty Guide section on Missed Triggers: “If the trigger instruction is optional (“may”) and specifies no consequence for not doing it, assume that the player has chosen not to perform the instruction and issue no penalty.”

The problem is that Carlos did not miss the trigger. The action (or inaction, I suppose) of missing a trigger is described as “A game event triggers, but the player controlling the trigger is unaware of its existence and/or forgets to perform the actions specified by the trigger.” But Carlos very clearly remembers the Counterbalance trigger and tries to resolve it. There is no indication that he forgot about it initially then remembered (we will get to the issue of optimal plays in a bit). Contrary to Chapin’s understanding of how triggers work, you don’t have to announce that they are going on the stack, optional or not. The question then becomes the timing of the library-stacking effect, Brainstorm in one instance and Divining Top in the other. Do we assume that Carlos did these actions in response to the Counterbalance trigger, or because he did not specify his actions as such, do we then assume the opposite, that he allowed the trigger to resolve then played his stacking effect?

Luckily, we have a very recent precedent that we can reference: Demigod of Revenge. This innocent (but not innocent-looking) card caused a bit of an uproar last summer when people discovered that countering it without announcing that you were allowing its triggered ability to resolve resulted in the Demigod returning to play when that ability did finally resolve. “But obviously I want to counter it in a way so that it doesn’t come back!” players would shout at Judges. Yes, that is obvious enough. But it is equally obvious when players don’t announce this intention and make a misplay. Such misplays are part of the game, just as sure as double-blocking a 3/3 with two 1/1s and leaving that 2/2 inexplicably out of combat. It’s just a different type of misplay, one of communication and understanding the card and rules.

As the Demigod example shows us, when there are triggered abilities that have gone on the stack unannounced and you play a spell or ability that could be played in response (colloquially “at instant speed”), it is assumed that you have done so at your earliest opportunity. If you want to let a triggered ability resolve before playing your spell or ability, you need to state this. Hence, “Let the trigger resolve then counter Demigod.” In the case of Counterbalance, things work exactly the same. Unless you explicitly say that you are letting the trigger resolve first, you are assumed to be playing Brainstorm at your earliest opportunity, with the CB trigger still on the stack.

How then does this mesh with the policy on Missed Triggers? They count as missed if you take an action that can only be taken after the trigger has resolved. The most common instance of this would be passing the turn. In the case of, if you allow your opponent’s spell to resolve, it is taken as you choosing not reveal. Other cases might be playing a land or non-instant/flash spell, which can only be played when the stack in empty. In such cases, it is assumed that you have then emptied the stack by saying “no” to the optional trigger.

Finally a word on optimal plays. Even an average Magic player can clearly see that Carlos is using Brainstorm and Top to set up the top card of his library to counter the spell. However, Judges cannot make rulings based on the right play. “Intent” of the now famous phrase “ruling by intent” doesn’t mean what you think it means. More instructionally, the optimal play is different in the case of Demigod and Counterbalance. For one, you need to let the trigger resolve and the other requires you to play your spell in response to the trigger. To rule consistently and not force Judges to make decisions based upon understanding of optimal strategic and tactical decisions, the blanket ruling must be made. Unless you state otherwise, you are playing your effect in response to the trigger, unless what you are trying to play requires the stack to be empty.

Looking Ahead

Next week, I’ll be bringing you the conclusion to this mini-series, leveling up from 2 to 3. Rather than give general pointers on the process, since I don’t really know enough about it to give general pointers, I will recount my own journey to L3, from my initial motivations, to the final gut-wrenching interview at PT Kyoto (don’t worry, Toby. No specific details.)

Until next time this is Riki Hayashi telling you to call a Judge.

Rikipedia at Gmail dot fivek

Risky on efnet and most major Magic forums

Japjedi47 on AIM


4 thoughts on “The Riki Rules: Next Level Judging: One to Two and Missed Triggers in Chicago”

  1. Just to be clear. You’re saying that the ruling presented to Patrick and Carlos was not the correct one? And that given all the information explained afterwards in the article goes on to prove that Carlos did not, in fact, have to be explicit in stating he was responding to the Counterbalance trigger?

  2. What he was saying was that based on what was written, the ruling was incorrect. As he points out, he wasn’t there and doesn’t know exactly what transpired. A single detail that was glossed over, omitted, or missed in the coverage could easily change the entirety of the ruling.

  3. So Chapin steals another game through “Jedi Mind Tricks,” this time on a judge as well as his opponent??? Sounds dangerously close to (if not over) the line to me…

  4. This ruling was reversed and made clear to both players later as well as codified for certain for the rest of the tournament.

    I advise future players to appeal to the Head Judge whenever they’re uncertain.

    And no, Pat Chapin didn’t do anything wrong here. He asked a judge a legitimate question about the rules and got an answer that was incorrect but strategically useful.

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