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Tolarian Academy – Some Winter Break This Is!

Hey folks! Eric Levine here again to tell you about big changes coming your way this January! Since I’m not a strategy writer here to talk about the effects of the Modern bannings, you may be wondering what in the world I’m talking about. If so, I’m guessing you haven’t read the new Magic Infraction Procedure Guide (MIPG) that will go into effect on January 1st, 2012. Feel free to check it out here—everyone who plays at Competitive REL or higher should read this document whenever it’s updated. Knowing the rules is really the same as knowing your rights.

So I promised big changes. Yep, we have those aplenty. You know how lots of abilities used to say “may”? Have you noticed how many abilities are no longer optional? Cards like the Shrines from New Phyrexia and scads of Innistrad cards have triggered abilities that seem like they would have been optional a year ago, but now aren’t. The big reason I heard for this change was to appeal to the casual player. Casual players hate being punished for forgetting things, and if they get frustrated, they’ll stop playing. We don’t want that, so lots of mandatory triggers started popping up. This, unfortunately, had the side effect of irking the more competitive crowd, who seemed to see it as a sign that Magic had been “dumbed down.”

On January 1st, 2012, Magic: the Gathering is going to get a lot smarter. I can’t do much better than quoting the MIPG, so here you have, in its entirety, section 1.4 of the MIPG, titled “Optional Abilities”:

Traditionally, some abilities include the word ‘may’ as part of their text, indicating that their effect is optional. At Competitive and Professional REL, some additional triggered abilities and enters-the-battlefield replacement effects are considered optional. The player is not required to follow the instruction when the ability resolves, and if the ability is forgotten it will not retroactively be applied. An optional ability does one or more of the following things, and nothing else:
• Gains you life or causes an opponent to lose life.
• Puts cards from your library, graveyard, or exile zones into your hand or onto the battlefield. This includes drawing cards.
• Causes opponents to put objects from their hand or the battlefield into the library, graveyard or exile.
• Puts a permanent into play under your control or gives you control of a permanent.
• Puts +x/+x counters, or counters linked to a beneficial effect, on a permanent you control.
• Gives +x/+x or a beneficial ability to a target creature you control.
• Exiles, damages, destroys, taps, or gives -x/-x to an opponent’s target permanent. If the ability could target your own permanents, it is not optional unless that ability could target an opponent.
• Gives you additional turns or phases.
• Counters a spell or conditionally counters a spell, but only when cast by an opponent.
Abilities that trigger at the same point in each players turn and do something to “that player” (e.g. Howling Mine) are never optional.
This list is comprehensive. An ability that does not fit all of the criteria above is not optional, even if it is to the benefit of the player controlling the ability. Similarly, an optional ability is always optional, even if it would be to the detriment of the player for it to happen.

Whoa! This is crazy and confusing! Let’s break it down. First off:

This only matters at Competitive and Professional REL.

What does this mean? Well, it means that this is likely an attempt to add another level of skill to competitive play, but more importantly, it means that you can’t apply this at random store drafts or your FNM. If a creature died this turn, [card]Hollowhenge Scavenger[/card] is still letting your opponent gain 5 life, whether or not he or she remembers.

This applies both to triggered abilities and enters-the-battlefield replacement effects.

A triggered ability begins with “when,” “whenever,” or “at” and will have both a trigger condition and an effect. (Example: “Whenever a creature dealt damage by [card]Abattoir Ghoul[/card] this turn dies, you gain life equal to that creature’s toughness.) An enters-the-battlefield replacement effect modifies how a permanent enters the battlefield. (Example: “As long as [card]Dearly Departed[/card] is in your graveyard, each Human creature you control enters the battlefield with an additional +1/+1 counter on it.”) We won’t be applying this new set of rules to anything that doesn’t fall into those categories.

If such an ability or effect fits one or more of the bulleted criteria and does nothing else, you don’t have to do what it says if it’s your ability or effect. If it’s your opponent’s ability or effect, you are not obligated to point out that they missed it.

Basically, anything that fits the criteria outlined here will be treated, at Competitive or Professional REL, as though it had the word “may” appropriately inserted in its text. Missing these abilities could be bad for you, but it also means that some cards will play completely differently at Competitive and Professional than they will at Regular – after all, you don’t always want to draw cards from [card]Glimpse of Nature[/card]’s triggered ability, right?

If something has an ability that causes each player to do something at the same point in each of their turns (like Howling Mine), that ability is not optional.

This also applies to [card]Howling Mine[/card] variants and random junk like [card]Bottomless Pit[/card], but really, [card]Howling Mine[/card]. I’m sure there are more relevant examples somewhere and I just can’t bring them to mind.

Abilities that don’t fit these criteria strictly aren’t optional, even if that’s good for the player whose ability it is. In the same way, abilities that do fit these criteria are optional, even if missing it is beneficial for the player whose ability it is.

Again, [card]Glimpse of Nature[/card] is my major example here—even though it might be beneficial to ignore the card draw sometimes, it does fit these criteria to a T; so it is optional at Competitive and Professional.

According to Toby Elliott, Level 5 Judge and keeper of the MIPG, this policy does not take into account the game state and should not have room for interpretation or judgment calls. As I write this, judges are actually compiling a list of Modern-legal cards affected by this change.

There is an additional change later in the IPG that also states that opponents are not required to point out your missed triggers at Competitive or Professional REL. No, seriously. If you miss a trigger, even if it’s still technically “mandatory,” your opponent is not obligated to say anything. If you discover that you missed it, then call a judge – if we can, we’ll put the ability on the bottom of the stack and give you a Missed Trigger warning – but if you forget, your opponent is unlikely to help you!

Let’s get down to some examples of abilities that will be optional (and missable!) at Competitive and Professional REL once January 1st rolls around.

• Gains you life or causes an opponent to lose life.

Examples: [card]Abattoir Ghoul[/card], [card]Hollowhenge Scavenger[/card], [card]Inquisitor Exarch[/card], [card]Curse of the Pierced Heart[/card] (damage causes life loss, and though it is not explicitly stated, this counts! I learned from Toby. -Eric, editing ex post facto)

Note that lifelink does NOT fall into this category! Lifelink is a static ability that tacks, “Oh and you gain some life too!” onto the damage the source with lifelink deals.

• Puts cards from your library, graveyard, or exile zones into your hand or onto the battlefield. This includes drawing cards.

Examples: [card]Angel of Flight Alabaster[/card], [card]Charmbreaker Devils[/card], [card]Ghoulraiser[/card], and notably for older formats, [card]Glimpse of Nature[/card] and [card]Skullclamp[/card].

A notable card that does not fit these criteria is [card]Bloodgift Demon[/card]. (it lets you draw a card… but you lose a life! Or it makes your opponent lose a life… but they draw a card!)

• Causes opponents to put objects from their hand or the battlefield into the library, graveyard or exile.

Examples: [card]Hypnotic Specter[/card] and many other Specters, [card]Grave Pact[/card]/[card]Butcher of Malakir[/card], [card]Throat Slitter[/card]

Not examples: [card]Curse of Oblivion[/card], [card]Curse of the Bloody Tome[/card] (this new policy only covers objects leaving the hand or battlefield!)

• Puts a permanent into play under your control or gives you control of a permanent.

Examples: [card]Kessig Cagebreakers[/card], [card]Blade Splicer[/card], [card]Geist-Honored Monk[/card], [card]Sower of Temptation[/card]

• Puts +x/+x counters, or counters linked to a beneficial effect, on a permanent you control.

Examples: [card]Elder Cathar[/card], [card]Shrine of Burning Rage[/card] (and the other four Shrines), [card]Bramblewood Paragon[/card], the Bloodthirst ability

This one bears repeating: Bloodthirst is NOT mandatory at Competitive and Professional REL.

• Gives +x/+x or a beneficial ability to a target creature you control.

Examples: [card]Aven Liberator[/card]

• Exiles, damages, destroys, taps, or gives -x/-x to an opponent’s target permanent. If the ability could target your own permanents, it is not optional unless that ability could target an opponent.

Examples: [card]Deus of Calamity[/card], [card]Marshdrinker Giant[/card] (we’re digging deep here,) [card]Deceiver Exarch[/card]’s second mode

Not examples: [card]Morkrut Banshee[/card]! You can target your own stuff, and you can’t target your opponent.

• Gives you additional turns or phases.

Examples: [card]Lighthouse Chronologist[/card]! There are probably more, but this so rarely comes up.

• Counters a spell or conditionally counters a spell, but only when cast by an opponent.

Examples: [card Erayo, Soratami Ascendant]Erayo’s Essence[/card]

Not an example: [card]Decree of Silence[/card] (it loses a counter too! No good!)

Okay! It looks like we’ve got the whole thing covered. If you’re still confused, feel free to post questions in the comments area. I’m visiting family for the holidays, but if I have time, I’ll get to them, and if not, well, there are lots of other DCI judges around who will most likely come to cover for me. Thanks for reading. I’d like to remind you that while it’s mandatory to have a happy holiday, it will be optional to have a happy new year.

BONUS QUIZ: (Get the questions right and Urza will bring you presents! [Urza will not bring you presents])

Assume these situations are occurring at Competitive or Professional REL.

Q1:
Nathan controls a [card]Pitchburn Devils[/card] and no other creatures. Arthur, who is at 3 life, controls no creatures. Arthur casts [card]Nekrataal[/card]. Is the Nekrataal ability mandatory?

Q2:
Amiel controls a [card]Bloodgift Demon[/card]. Noah ends his turn, so Amiel untaps. Which of the following situations can legally occur after Amiel’s untap step? (Pick all that apply.) For illegal situations, explain the infraction and penalty for bonus points!

A) Amiel explicitly targets himself with [card]Bloodgift Demon[/card], loses 1 life, draws a card for the Demon, draws a card for his turn, and proceeds to his main phase.
B) Amiel explicitly targets himself with [card]Bloodgift Demon[/card]. Noah responds with [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card], giving [card]Go for the Throat[/card] flashback and killing [card]Bloodgift Demon[/card]. Amiel draws a card for his turn and proceeds to his main phase. Noah does not mention the Demon trigger.
C) Amiel forgets his [card]Bloodgift Demon[/card] trigger. Noah notices and says nothing.
D) Amiel forgets his [card]Bloodgift Demon[/card] trigger. Noah does not notice.
E) Amiel forgets his [card]Bloodgift Demon[/card] trigger. Noah reminds Amiel before Amiel draws his card for the turn.

Q3:
Annie controls a [card]Battle-Rattle Shaman[/card]. Neil is at 4 life and controls no creatures. Annie ends her main phase and attacks with [card]Battle-Rattle Shaman[/card], forgetting its trigger. Neil notices that Annie forgot the trigger but decides to say nothing. Before combat damage, Annie notices she forgot the trigger and calls a judge. What should the judge do?

Q4:
Andrew controls a [card]Death’s Head Buzzard[/card], three [card]Avacyn’s Pilgrim[/card]s, and no lands. Nadine controls no creatures. Nadine casts [card]Lose Hope[/card] targeting [card]Death’s Head Buzzard[/card]. Andrew does not want to use the [card]Death’s Head Buzzard[/card] ability. Is this legal?

Q5:
Which of the following cards from Innistrad have optional triggered abilities at Competitive or Professional REL?
 [card]Armored Skaab[/card]
 [card]Ashmouth Hound[/card]
 [card]Balefire Dragon[/card]
 [card]Claustrophobia[/card]
 [card]Crossway Vampire[/card]
 [card]Curse of Stalked Prey[/card]
 [card]Falkenrath Noble[/card]
 [card]Galvanic Juggernaut[/card]
 [card]Garruk Relentless[/card]
 [card]Geistcatcher’s Rig[/card]
 [card]Gutter Grime[/card]
 [card]Hamlet Captain[/card]
 [card]Lumberknot[/card]
 [card]Moldgraf Monstrosity[/card]
 [card]Pitchburn Devils[/card]
 [card]Rage Thrower[/card]
 [card]Selhoff Occultist[/card]
 [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card]
 [card]Sturmgeist[/card]
 [card]Undead Alchemist[/card]

Discussion

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