A look at the new Magic: the Gathering Tournament Rules April 2017, by Thomas Ralph

A look at the new Magic: the Gathering Tournament Rules April 2017, by Thomas Ralph

A look at the new Magic: the Gathering Tournament Rules April 2017

Toby Elliott announced today some updates to the Magic Tournament Rules (MTR) and Infraction & Procedure Guide (IPG, aka the Penalty Guidelines) which I hope will improve player and judge experience at events. I want to focus on a few of them and explain the reason for these changes and the effect. The new rules take effect Friday 28 April.

1. Name a card

In a Legacy match, David is mono-white and Ian is mono-blue. David casts Null Chamber naming Shackles. Ian ponders for a moment why David is naming a white card, but carries on and names Wrath of God. On Ian’s next turn he untaps and casts the Vedalken Shackles in his hand. David says “wait, that’s blocked by Null Chamber”. Ian says “no you named Shackles, the well-known white aura from Exodus, so I can play Vedalken Shackles”. A judge call ensues.

Under the old rules, the judge is bound to rule that David has made a valid choice by naming Shackles. To close down angle-shooters like Ian, the new rules require that when a card is named, if the other player is at all unsure about what card has been specified, he/she should ask for clarification. In this scenario, Ian would have been obliged to ask about David’s intentions, so David would have been prompted to specify Vedalken Shackles as opposed to Shackles, or indeed Gelid Shackles. Failing to do so would likely lead to an investigation for cheating and Ian would be needing to explain why he thought David was naming a card not in his colours.

2. Deck problems

Contrary to popular opinion, neither me nor other judges enjoy handing out game losses for clerical or technical errors. A number of years ago, we stopped systematically counting decklists at every event, in favour of hiking the number of deck checks. Most recently, we have refocused attention on top tables for deck checks, particularly at bigger events. We have also tried to assess the different varieties of things that could go wrong with your deck and to better separate those which can gain a bigger advantage from those which can’t.

The next evolution of this process is splitting the infraction Deck/Decklist Problem into two: Decklist Problem and Deck Problem. This may not mean much right away, so let’s step through it. The first thing judges will consider in these scenarios is: Does the decklist match the deck that the player intended to play, and will the player continue to play that deck? If no, then the penalty is likely to be a game loss. If yes, we will normally give a warning.

Some situations have a higher potential for abuse. A deck problem discovered during the presentation period (e.g. whilst your opponent is shuffling your deck) will still be a game loss, unless the missing card is in the opponent’s deck. This window is necessary to discourage intentional abuse. After this, the opponent has been deemed to agree that the deck is valid.

If a deck error is discovered by a judge or an invalid card has become, or is about to become, visible to an opponent, we are also in Game Loss territory, thus encouraging players to declare any problems as soon as they are discovered. Calling a judge when you draw an invalid card should give you some credit as opposed to “realising” just as the opponent casts Duress.

Finally, it will always be a Game Loss where a player has copies of a card in both main deck and sideboard, has more copies in the main deck than they should, and this is discovered during game 1. This sort of issue is more difficult to catch and less likely to happen accidentally.

Most of this is not a change from the most recent documents but I have included more detail of the changes from the last couple of years to help understanding.

3. Counters

You are now required to tell your opponent on request how many counters are on a permanent, and how many energy/poison counters you have. Most people were doing this anyway. Move along, nothing to see here.

4. Go to combat

One of the most hotly debated rules in recent times was the effect of terms such as “combat”, “attacks”, “I pass priority in my main phase”, and so on. I explained this rule and the rationale for it in a previous article last September and how it would affect, for example, the Crew ability. Both before and after the events of PT Dublin, a great many senior judges, including myself, have received a lot of feedback on how the rules worked unsatisfactorily for them, made the game different to MODO, disadvantaged people who knew the rules better, and removed an opportunity to do stuff that they should have the right to do in the Beginning of Combat step. Many megabytes of discussion have been had.

We’ve listened. And we’re doing something about it.

From Friday, a new rule comes into effect about the asking to move to combat. Here it is:

“If the active player passes priority during their first main phase, the non-active player is assumed to be acting in beginning of combat unless they are affecting how or whether a beginning of combat ability triggers. However, if the non-active player takes no action, the active player has priority at the beginning of combat. Beginning of combat triggered abilities (even ones that target) may be announced after any non-active player action has resolved.”

Let’s break that down using some stories about Adam, the active player, and Neil, the non-active player. The old result is what happens under the current rules, and the new result is how it now works.

a) A normal turn

Adam: I declare attacks
Neil: Go for it
Old result: Adam attacks, Neil blocks, Neil takes some damage, and Adam gets on with his turn.
New result: Exactly as before.

b) That old trick

Adam: Go to my beginning of combat
Neil: I’ll tap down your Awoken Horror with Pressure Point.
Adam: Fine; since you cast that during my main phase, I’ll cast Goldnight Castigator and attack with that instead.
Old result: Not allowed; Neil is assumed to be acting in the beginning of combat step and Adam cannot get back to his first main phase.
New result: No change.
Note: Feel free to insert your favourite hasty creature. I hear Ball Lightning is a thing.

c) Crewing

Adam: Go to combat
Neil: Sure
Adam: Crew my Sky Skiff and attack
Old result: Adam and Neil have both passed priority in the beginning of combat step and Adam now needs to declare attackers, sans Sky Skiff. It is too late to crew.
New result: Sky Skiff is crewed and attacking.
Note: The same principles apply with respect to activating lands that turn into creatures, such as Faerie Conclave.

d) Targeted trigger

Adam: Combat?
Neil: OK
Adam: Blood Mist gives Chittering Host double strike.
Old result: Adam has passed priority in his beginning of combat step and has missed Blood Mist’s trigger. Neil gets the choice of whether to put Blood Mist’s Trigger on the stack, and doubtless chooses not to.
New result: Adam’s actions are legal and Chittering Host gets double strike.

e) Untargeted trigger which we don’t want to happen

Adam: I’m going to attack
Neil: I’ll cast Humble the Brute on your Deceiver of Form.
Old result: Adam can still resolve Deceiver of Form’s triggered ability, as Neil didn’t specify when he was casting Humble the Brute and was therefore presumed to have cast it in Adam’s beginning of combat step with the trigger on the stack.
New result: As Neil is affecting whether a beginning of combat ability triggers, he is now presumed to have cast Humble the Brute in Adam’s first main phase. Adam does not get to reveal the top card of his library. (He does get to cast any sorceries or permanent spell before trying to go to combat again, however.)

f) Everyone’s favourite exception

Adam: End my main phase
Neil: Sure
Adam: Ajani’s Comrade‘s trigger resolves, I put a +1/+1 counter on it. As it’s now 3/3, I use it to crew my Irontread Crusher.
Old result: This worked perfectly fine – it was somewhat of an exception to the way the rule worked. I’m not going to retread old ground here, because it would only make things more complicated than they need to be.
New result: Still works perfectly fine.

A similar set of changes will come into effect with respect of the shortcut “Go”, “Your turn”, etc.


The aim of these changes is to make tournament Magic be more intuitive and make the rules track more closely how people actually play the game. Do they avoid “gotcha” moments? I think so. Are they perfect? Unlikely. Can we use more of your feedback? Absolutely. There’s a comment box below, and my Facebook and Twitter inboxes are always open.

Community Question: Will the new Magic Tournament Rules interpretation of the “go to combat” shortcut be better or worse for the game?

Thomas Ralph

A look at the new Magic: the Gathering Tournament Rules April 2017, by Thomas Ralph
Thomas Ralph tells us about some changes to the Magic Tournament Rules including the combat shortcut, how to name a card properly, and other updates. Will the new Magic Tournament Rules interpretation of the "go to combat" shortcut be better or worse for the game?

Please let us know what you think below...

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