Just how fast is a rules document?

Posted in NEWS on May 2, 2008

By Wizards of the Coast

An interesting discussion arose at Pro Tour Kuala Lumpur, and I promised to post an [O]fficial statement once it was discussed.

The essence of the discussion was, "do you apply PG-specified remedies in the middle of resolving some spell or ability?" Or, as the Subject line suggests, "Just how fast are those remedies?"

While we have tried to emphasize repeatedly the point that we don't apply random fixes to game states or back up however we see fit - the PG does have some very specific instructions that can fix a game state, or rewind to a point; of course, "leave the game state as is" is also the prescribed remedy in many circumstances.

Let's consider a simple example. In Game 3, Abe announces Sudden Shock, targeting Ned, whose life total is a rather precarious 2. Abe chuckles, because he knows the Split Second on Sudden Shock means Ned can't possibly respond, and Abe will win the game (and match, as it happens).

Now that's fast!

Well, except - Ned realizes that Sudden Shock is a Time Spiral card, and this just happens to be Lorwyn Block constructed... "Judge!" is the next word out of Ned's mouth, and the Judge properly applies the Game Loss to the current game.

Hopefully, all of us would apply that Game Loss immediately—faster than Split Second! —and the match result is 2-1 for Ned. We do not let the Split Second spell resolve, giving Abe the game and match, and then apply the Game Loss to Abe's next game. This much is clearly stated in the PG:

Game Losses should be applied to the game in which the offense occurred

Clearly the directive is to apply that Game Loss "immediately".

(Arguably, the rest of the remedy—correcting the deck—takes place after the Match, but now we're talking about semantics, so let's just sweep that little observation under the rug, shall we?)
Another interesting example; let's say I'm resolving Ponder, only I pick up my library and look at the bottom card. Would you want me to finish resolving Ponder before applying the remedy for Looking at Extra Cards? Let's put that another way: would my opponent want me to resolve Ponder with knowledge of what was on the bottom of my library? Probably not, and the correct timing for this remedy is—no surprise—immediate. (Just for the sake of repetition, and my total word count: let's shuffle the looked-at card(s) into the random portion of my library; I get a Warning, and then continue the game.) We do not delay the application of the remedy while completing a game action.

So, interrupting a spell is as fast as it gets, right?

Oops, wrong impulse...

Do we always interrupt whatever was happening in the game, and apply the remedy? No, not at all. You could say, sometimes we're even faster than that—we're so fast, we go back in time! Let's look at the various ways in which the PG instructs us to affect timing and the game state.

The overall, guiding philosophy is very clearly stated in section 30, Applying Penalties:

These procedures do not, and should not, take into account the game being played, the current situation that the game is in, or who will benefit strategically from the procedure associated with a penalty. While it is tempting to try to "fix" game situations, the danger of missing a subtle detail or showing favoritism to a player (even unintentionally) makes it a bad idea.

So, the standard (or "default") is to leave things as they are without consideration for the immediate game state – as demonstrated in our first two examples. There are, of course, some stated exceptions.

First, and most varied, is GPE - Missed Trigger. The options, in order, are:

  • nothing happened
  • it already happened
  • make it happen, now! (Sometimes makes other actions invalid, so we rewind those.)
  • put it on the stack (and maybe back up the current action), if it was recent; if more than a turn cycle has elapsed, this is more like that first option ("nothing happened")

Those first two comply with the philosophy from Section 30; the next two are the exceptions, and may involve undoing all or part of an action or two.

Next, Game Rule Violations. By now, I suspect most (hopefully all) of you have read & re-read this rather significant addition (new to the December 2007 PG), from GPE - Game Rule Violation:

If the error was discovered within a time frame in which a player could reasonably be expected to notice the error and the situation is simple enough to safely back up without too much disruption to the course of the game, the judge may get permission from the Head Judge to back up the game to the point of the error. Each action taken is undone until the game reaches the point immediately prior to the error. Unless the identity of the card is known to all players, drawn cards are reversed by placing a random card on top of the library. Once the game is backed up, it continues from that point.

Ah, so we can back things up - YAY!!! Oh, wait, there's some very specific guidelines as to how we do it? . . . gee, I guess it's not anarchy after all.

Anarchy? Never!

Note especially, "may get permission from the Head Judge"—we are very clearly stating that a decision like this, where we deviate from the standard philosophy, is entrusted only to the Head Judge of an event.

Note also—and this is a common misunderstanding—we either rewind everything all the way to the point of the error, or we don't rewind at all. This is emphasized again in the very next paragraph:

If not caught within a reasonable time frame, or backing up is impossible or sufficiently complex that it could affect the course of the game, leave the game state as it is and do not attempt any form of partial 'fix' - either reverse all actions or none.

In other words, we will usually just leave things as is, unless the Head Judge sees that it's simple enough to undo all of the damage done.

Is it always that simple?

One more example before we wrap things up. We just finished a complex combat, and we both missed that my Field Marshal gave your Chameleon Colossus both +1/+1 and First Strike. Your Colossus should have survived, and the Calciderm blocking it should be in the graveyard. Now, it's your second main phase, and we're about to resolve Living Death when we realize our mistake.

They're Baaaaack!

If that's all there is to it, it's a simple enough situation, and the Head Judge might choose to back up to the point of the error—in this case, that's the combat damage step—which also serves to rewind Living Death. Now that you realize my (should've been) dead creature will return, you might change your mind about Living Death, and it's OK for that kind of change of decision to occur. We've just changed the very fabric of time, as far as this particular game state is concerned!

But, what if the creature that should have died had a leaves-play trigger—say, it's Championed something else? And that something else has a comes-into-play trigger? And there's a Thornbite Staff in play, and the creature that Staff is equipped to could now untap, then tap and "ping" something else and kill it before Living Death, and I already responded to your Living Death with Unsummon, and . . . OK, enough. This is clearly a situation where we are just going to leave things alone; it's just too complex, and that means leaving the (should've-been-dead) creature in play while Living Death resolves. This remedy ("leave things as is") also applies immediately, but it's just too dangerous to load this mess into the Wayback Machine.

Courtesy Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia and © Jay Ward Productions.

Are there any other remedies that allow us to mess with the space-time continuum? Nope, that's it. (Unless you count the rewind that's mentioned under Shortcuts, and I'm going to pretend you didn't just mention that. . . .)

So, just how fast is the PG? It's fast. Really, really fast. No, faster than that. Even faster. Keep going. More. No, more.

All kidding aside: the default is "immediate"—faster than Instants, faster even than Split Second. In fact, applying the PG is faster than a concession, and we all know how fast that is. We just apply the penalty and implement the remedy in the middle of whatever the players thought they were doing. When we follow one of those specified variations, it's still immediate, but sometimes at a previous point in the game.

Scott Marshall, L4