A Framework for Communication

Posted in NEWS on March 13, 2008

By Wizards of the Coast

The manner in which we discuss communication is in terms of information, since effectively we are managing which information players should be required to disclose and which they should not. Past research in this area has shown us that there are three distinct classifications of information:

  1. Information that players should be required to provide completely and represent correctly.
  2. Information that players should not be allowed to directly lie about, but should be able to represent poorly.
  3. Information that players have no responsibility to represent correctly at all.

By classifying these types of information, we can provide a strong framework for communication. Our new Communication Policy, found under section 50 of the March 2008 Penalty Guide, provides that framework.

Interesting Implications

When we take the four rules of our Communication Policy and apply them to the myriad situations that are often brought up in communication discussions, there are inevitably some issues. Below are the most common points that have been brought to me in discussion, together with the explanation for my thinking in those situations.

  • An Object Isn't Necessarily the Same as a Card

    You will notice we use the term 'object' in the new Communication Policy. This term is also used by the Magic Comprehensive Rules, which define an object as "...a card, a copy of a card, a token, a spell, a permanent, an ability on the stack, or combat damage on the stack."

    The same definition applies for the communication policy, so despite the fact that combat damage isn't a card, it's still an object in a public zone, meaning that you can't lie about its characteristics. You can however decline to answer questions about those details, or give carefully-worded answers that omit information. In actuality, all of the details of combat damage can be determined from the creatures that are the source of that damage or from specific questions about the choices made as it was assigned.

  • Asking a Good Question

    Sometimes players ask bad questions. Somehow, I doubt that this will ever change. While we cannot expect players to always ask good questions, we should ensure there is no advantage in asking a poor one. For example, a question such as "What is this?" whilst indicating an object in play is effectively unanswerable. In situations like these, I wanted to put the focus on the player asking the question. This is equivalent to a player who has played sloppily and should get no advantage from his sloppy play.

    For this reason, questions about free information should only be answered if they are specific. If a player does choose to answer a non-specific question about a card, then they may answer following the rules for derived information. Players should be encouraged to call a judge if they are unsure whether they are required to answer a question or not.

  • Cards in Hand

    Classification of the number of cards in hand as derived information has caused an amount of discussion. For this iteration of the policy, I was trying to apply generic concepts with as few exceptions as possible. In that line of thinking, the number of objects in all zones became derived information, as this applies very nicely to the total number of cards in each library, graveyard, and hand.

    It's important to remember while considering this that while a player doesn't have to help you in determining derived information, they can't prevent you from determining it yourself, either. So they don't have to count the cards in their hand, graveyard, or library when you ask, but they must not obstruct you from doing so. Thus laying your hand face down on the table for an opponent to count is acceptable; boxing the cards together in your hand to obscure their number is not.

  • Card Names

    Card names have a special meaning in Magic, similar to keyword mechanics. Just as the word "flying" on a card means "This creature can't be blocked except by creatures with flying or reach," the phrase "Mogg Fanatic" is used to represent all the Oracle information relating to that card.

    As players can request the full details of any card by asking a judge for its Oracle entry, a player giving a card name in answer to a question is effectively giving other players access to all its details if they choose to request that detail. Players can always ask more specific questions about a card's details if they are unsure or unsatisfied with their opponent's answer.

    For purposes of communication, a player providing a card's name can be considered to be providing all relevant information from that card's Oracle entry.

  • Other Types of Communication

    This policy is intended to cover all communication, not just verbal communication. One example of where this would apply is the physical information you're providing when you lay out your side of the game. If you lay out your cards in a confusing fashion, you may be effectively misrepresenting free information (the zone an object is in, its physical status, etc.).

  • Representing Derived Information Poorly

    Players cannot lie about derived information. They can omit certain pieces of that information or word it so that it's misleading, but they can't actually lie. It's important to make this distinction between representing information poorly and misrepresenting information. Therefore, players are afforded some manoeuvrability in which to bluff their opponent, but are forbidden from giving false information that might misrepresent information that should be clear to everyone.

    For example, if you were to ask me if Bloodline Shaman is an Elf, I could reply with "It's a Wizard." (omitting that it's also an Elf and a Shaman), but I couldn't say "No it isn't," "It's a Goat," or any other statement that was incorrect.

    It's worth mentioning that at Regular REL, all derived information is instead considered free. So in the example above, I couldn't omit the Elf and Shaman types when answering the question at a Regular REL event.

  • The Oracle

    The content of the Oracle is derived information. This means players are not allowed to lie about the text or characteristics of Magic cards, even if those cards are not in play. This does not mean that players are not allowed to make up cards, as fictional cards are not part of the Oracle (e.g. "Yes, I do have a spell in hand that will counter your Giant Growth and cost me only one red mana"), but it does mean that when a player asks a question about a Magic card, their opponent cannot lie to them about what that card does.

    Of course, a player is not required to provide his opponent with the full text when answering a question about Oracle content and thus can omit information that wasn't specifically requested. Exactly which information is relevant to each player is subjective.

  • Timing of Game Actions

    You will notice that the only game actions covered by the definition of free information are (A) current game actions, and (B) past game actions that still affect the game state. Potential future game actions and some past game actions therefore fall under private information, which means a player's communication is unrestricted when referring to these actions (presuming he does not break another rule, of course).

    Current game actions are covered simply because players should not be able to lie about a spell/effect/action they are in the middle of performing. Putting an Island down in front of you and saying "I play this Forest" is simply ridiculous, and there certainly are more serious abuses...

  • Unable/Unwilling to Give Free Information

    You'll notice that there is a clause stating that if a player is unable or unwilling to reply to a request for free information, then they may call a judge and explain the situation instead. This is to account for the fact that a player could have no idea of the Oracle text for one of their cards and yet be required to provide it to their opponent. In such a situation, a judge should be called to mediate the request.

    If a player is ever unwilling to provide free information, then I expect the most common reason to be that they are unsure if the information is free or derived. In such a situation, a judge should be called to assist.

Worked Examples

In order to better explain the new policy, I have employed a set of questions often used to test Communications Policy knowledge. In each situation, has an infraction occurred?

After each question is an answer describing any infractions that have occurred and then three example responses; one perfect response (i.e. similar to a response you would expect from a judge), one minimalist legal response and one illegal response.

Example 1

Adam attacks with two Kithkin Mourncallers while he has a Coat of Arms in play. Barbara has a 2/2 Bear token and a 3/3 Elephant token in play. She blocks each one of the Kithkins. After damage resolves, Barbara puts both tokens away and says: "Both Kithkins die." Adam responds with "So the ability triggers four times and I will draw four cards, right?" while putting the Kithkins into the graveyard. Barbara says "Yeah." After Adam draws his fourth card, Barbara calls a judge over for the extra drawn card.
When combat damage resolves, the Bear token, and the Elephant token, and the Kithkin blocked by the Elephant token will go to the graveyard from lethal damage. The Kithkin Mourncallers' abilities will each trigger once. When state-based effects are next checked, the second Kithkin Mourncaller will go the graveyard as a 2/2 with lethal damage and its ability will trigger once. Adam is mistakenly under the belief that all the Kithkin go to the graveyard at the same time.

This doesn't help Barbara much however, as she misrepresented the collection of objects in a public zone (i.e. the triggered abilities currently on the stack).

Perfect Response
"No, the ability only triggers three times, so you'll draw three cards."

Legal Response:
"No, the ability only triggers three times."

Illegal Response:

Example 2

It is Adam's turn and he only has white creatures in play. Barbara also has some white creatures, but plays a Chinese version of Reverent Mantra in his beginning of combat step stating "With white." Adam asks then "What does it do?" She responds with "It can give all of my creatures protection from white." After that, Adam proceeds to pass the turn.

Barbara's opponent has done her a favour by asking her a non-specific question about Reverent Mantra. This means that she's permitted to answer the question as if it were referring to derived information.

Perfect Response
"The card's name is Reverent Mantra, you can get the Oracle text from a judge."

Legal Response
"It can give all my creatures protection from white."

Illegal Response
"It destroys all creatures I don't control."

Example 3

Adam had a Goblin Trenches in play and activated it once. Barbara disenchanted Goblin Trenches last turn and now asks "What is the colour of those two tokens?" Adam answers "Red."
This is a bit of a strange one. The colour of the tokens can be determined conclusively by asking about details of past game actions that still affect the game, meaning that the colour of the tokens is derived information and parts of it can be omitted. However, if Barbara had asked a better question, or asked to see the Oracle text of Goblin Trenches, or asked about the game action that created the tokens, Adam would not have been able to omit this information.

Perfect Response
"It's a token from Goblin Trenches, you can get the Oracle text from a judge."

Legal Response

Illegal Response

Example 4

Adam has two Hill Giants and one Mistform Ultimus in play. Barbara asks him "How many Giants are in play?" Adam points to the two Hill Giants and says "These two have Giant printed on them!"

The creature types of the creatures Adam currently controls is derived information, as it is all visually represented. Adam's answer is true, thus permissible.

Perfect Response
"I have three creatures with the creature type Giant."

Legal Response
"These two have Giant printed on them."

Illegal Response

Example 5

Adam played a Meddling Mage naming Lightning Bolt some turns ago. Barbara asks him "So, what is the card chosen for Meddling Mage again?" Adam then silently points at the lone Lightning Helix in Barbara's graveyard. Then, Barbara plays a Lightning Bolt. Adam calls over a judge.

Barbara was asking about a past action that still affects the game state. This is free information, so Adam is required to give a correct and complete answer. Pointing would have been fine, if he'd pointed at the correct card.

Perfect Response
"Lightning Bolt."

Legal Response
Adam points at a Lightning Bolt card.

Illegal Response

Example 6

Adam plays a Chinese version of Eladamri, Lord of the Leaves. Barbara picks up the cards and asks: "So, it makes itself untargetable?" Adam says: "It gives shroud to Elves."

Adam has given a true statement that carefully avoids the detail his opponent was requesting. If his opponent were to ask for the name of the card, he must give it (and thus would be providing its full detail should his opponent ask for clarification). As it stands, Adam has not made an illegal statement.

Perfect Response
"It's called Eladamri, you can get the Oracle text from a judge."

Legal Response
"It's an Elf, but the Oracle wording now says 'All other Elves have Shroud.'"

Illegal Response
"It gives shroud to itself."

Example 7

Adam has a 7/7 green Elemental token with trample and a Proteus Machine, which he unmorphed last turn and which is set to Elemental, in play. Barbara asks him: "How many Elementals do you have in play?" Adam points at the token and says: "This is an Elemental. I made it a couple of turns ago with my Voice of the Woods."

The creature type of the Proteus Machine is not visually represented and therefore is free information, however his opponent asked a question that doesn't specifically reference the creature type of Proteus Machine. If Barbara asks "What creature type is Proteus Machine?" then Adam must answer truthfully and completely.

Perfect Response
"I have two; the Proteus Machine is also an Elemental token."

Legal Response
"This token is an Elemental."

Illegal Response

In Conclusion

I believe that any policy we apply to a subject as fluid as communication will always have a few issues.

If you have any questions or just want to discuss the above with me, then why not communicate with me? I'd be delighted to hear from you.

Nick Sephton