Training local judges for fun and profit

Posted in NEWS on December 7, 2015

By Wizards of the Coast

Doron Singer

Hello. My name is Doron Singer, and I'm a level 1 judge from Israel. I attained my judge level in the Israeli nationals two years ago, and was prevented from advancing ever since, as nobody ever came to test me for higher levels. However, I believe my rules knowledge to be quite adequate, and since several other people seem to think the same way, I've become more or less THE judge in Israel (a very challenging task with 3 other certified judges here, none of which ever actually judge). For a year and a half, I single-handedly handled everything that needed a fat guy in a horrible purple shirt running around and yelling the rules, be it a PTQ, Regionals, prerelease or the Nationals themselves. However, as the player base kept growing and growing, thanks to the relentless efforts of Allan Teller, I found a need for more judges. I started thinking about a program to teach and train judges, so I won't have to do two deck checks while issuing rulings AND entering match results (I'm not making this up, I had to do just that in the last Nationals). However, I had no appropriate forum for addressing a large number of potential applicants, so the plan never took off. Until one day, one of the players founded the message board for Israeli Magic players.

At first I underestimated the forum, and didn't even visit it. Only after a while, when I was really bored, I hopped in to see what it looks like. At the time it had a couple of dozens of registered members, and one forum that interested me - "Questions and Answers". I started posting to the Questions and Answers forum, making sure people's questions were answered correctly. Moreover, I read over the wrong answers that were given, and realized what rules people seem to be having difficulties with. After a while, people realized I often give the correct answer, and started emailing me to ask WHY the answer is that, and not what they thought. Then it struck me. The forum is exactly what I needed!

I started a new thread, called "Antrax' Corner" (Antrax is the nick I go by online, usually). I intentionally wrote in Hebrew, so I'll be able to address as many players as possible, especially the younger ones. My experience with lecturing taught me how to build a "lesson array", to build a knowledge base, starting with the basics and moving upwards, to the more obscure rules. Every post I made to the thread dealt with a certain rule, and started with a question. The post then proceeded to answer the question, all along explaining, with as much detail as possible, the answer. The following is a list of the posts I made, the rules they dealt with, and the question(s) I used to explain the rule:

Trample and Protection

Q: "A green creature with 5 power and trample is blocked by a creature with 3 toughness and protection from green. How much damage, if at all, is dealt to the defending player?"
A: "Sixth edition rules state that creatures with trample must assign lethal damage to each of the creatures blocking them, and the rest may be assigned to the defending player, or to the creatures blocking them. So, the player will be allowed to assign 0-2 points of damage to the defending player. All of the damage assigned to the blocking creature will be reduced to 0 when it's time to resolve the damage, because the creature has protection from green."

Timing issues with spell casting

Q: "My opponent casts reckless abandon, and sacrifices grizzly bears. Can I shock them in response to fizzle his spell?"
Q: "My opponent cast Armageddon. Can I tap his land in response, so he wouldn't be able to pay the mana cost for it?"
Q: "I play a spell, and my opponent casts Mystic Snake to counter it. I play Orim's Chant in response. What happens? "
A:" When we play spells, the following actions happen:

  1. We announce the spell
  2. We pay all costs for this spell
  3. The spell goes on the stack
  4. The active player (the player whose turn it is) receives priority
  5. The nonactive player receives priority
  6. The spell resolves
  7. The spell goes to the graveyard

Steps 1 and 2 are interchangeable.

Now, how does this relate to the questions? Let us analyze:
Orim's Chant simply says "hey, nobody gets to play spells anymore this turn". Let's say my opponent casts Mystic Snake. According to the steps above he does the following:

  1. Declares "I'm casting Mystic Snake"
  2. Pays all costs - in this case, 1UUG
  3. The spell "Mystic Snake" goes on the stack.
  4. The active player (that's me, because it's my turn) receives priority. I choose to cast Orim's Chant.

Let's stop here. Let's say nothing else happens (both players pass priority). What happens? First of all, Orim's Chant resolves. From now on, nobody gets to cast spells. Does it mean whatever is on the stack doesn't resolve? Absolutely not. Mystic Snake resolves, enters play, and triggers its comes-into-play ability - "Counter target spell". The opponent chooses to counter the spell I've originally played, it's countered.
Now, to the two other questions:

  1. tapping a land in order to prevent me from paying the mana cost for a spell.
    As I've stated before, you pay the costs and announce the spell before anyone receives priority. That's why, when I finally get to say "I tap your land with my Rishadan Port!" it would be quite useless, because all his lands would already be tapped, and the spell would be on the stack.
  2. Burning a creature in response to Reckless Abandon.
    Sacrificing the creature is a part of Reckless Abadon's cost, just like the mana cost. That means I sacrifice my bears in stage 2 (paying costs), which is before stage 4 (players receive priority). Hence, by the time I get priority, the bears are long gone, and I'm helpless against the 4 damage staring me in the face.

Combat Phase structure

Q:" I attack my opponent, and he blocks two of my creatures with a Phyrexian Ghoul and a Grizzly Bear, then says he's sacrificing the bear to the ghoul. Can he do that? What'll happen?"
A: This question, and many similar ones, are constantly asked, and often cause disputes between players. The reason for these arguments is that there are five steps in combat, and during each, the players get a chance to cast spells. So, while Player A is convinced he had cast something in a certain stage, Player B is quite convinced he did it at another step. It's important to declare when you decide to cast your spells, because the timing will affect the outcome of the combat, as will be demonstrated now. So, what are the steps?

  1. Beginning of Combat. We are in the Combat Phase, but no attackers or blockers have been declared.
  2. Declare Attackers. First of all, the attacking players declare all the creatures he wants to attack with this turn, and taps them (if applicable). Once that's done with, the players once again receive priority. Tapping or untapping creatures that have been declared as attackers has no real effect on combat. If I wanted to use my Benalish Trapper, I should've used it in the Beginning of Combat step.
  3. Declare Blockers. The defending players declared which creatures, if any, block which attacking creatures. Again, tapping creatures during this step will not change the fact that they are, in fact, still blocking. Moreover, a creature is considered blocked the second a blocker was assigned to it during this step, regardless of what happens to the actual blocking creature.
  4. Damage on the stack. This is, in my opinion, the most important, and confusing, step in combat. At the beginning of this step, the attacking player chooses how to divide the damage between the blocking creatures/defending player, and the damage goes on the stack. THE DAMAGE DOESN'T HAPPEN YET.The players then receive priority. If I choose to give my creatures +100/+0 now, it wouldn't matter a bit, because the damage they would deal is already on the stack, and the amount of it won't change now.
  5. End of Combat. The damage is resolved, creatures that have been dealt lethal damage go to the graveyard, regeneration shields are activated, etc.

Now that we've reviewed the steps, let's go back to the original question.

The correct thing to do would be to ask "WHEN do you sacrifice your grizzly bear?" Then, my opponent has two options:

  1. The opponent sacrifices at the end of the declare blockers step. The ghoul gets +2/+2. The ghoul puts 4 damage on the stack (2 power, +2 bonus). The Grizzly bear puts zero damage on the stack, because it was sacrificed before it had a chance to put its damage on the stack. The creature blocked by the grizzly bear would assign its damage to the nonexistent bear (because a creature is blocked once a blocker was assigned for it) unless it has trample.
  2. Sacrifice the bear after the damage is on the stack. In this case, the ghoul gets the +2/+2 after the amount of damage it does is already set, so it would only deal 2 damage. The bear would also put its 2 damage on the stack, even though it no longer would be there to witness the damage actually resolving (removing the source does not remove the effect).

The stack

The Stack is the cornerstone of the current rules, and without it it's impossible to understand what happens when, and why. The basic rule regarding the stack is Last In - First Out. That means if we have a stack loaded with spells, the spell that was cast last will resolve first. A new stack is opening every time someone casts a spell without one existing yet. When you play spells, they don't instantly happen, but rather get put on the stack, and both players get a chance to respond to them. The chance to play a spell is called "priority", and choosing not to do anything is called "declining priority". After the active player receives priority and declines it, the non-active player receives priority. If he declines as well, you resolve the first step (The spell that was played last!) in the stack, and then both players receive priority again. (As opposed to the old rules). So, take this situation for example:

Player A casts Armageddon. Player A is the active player (it's his turn), so he receives priority, and declines it. Player B receives priority, and he casts Brainstorm. Player A once again receives and declines priority, and Player B receives and declines priority. There are two spells on the stack: Brainstorm and Armageddon. The Brainstorm, which was cast last, resolves first, and Player B draws 3 cards and places 2 on the top of his library. Now, Player A once again receives priority, declines it, Player B receives priority, and casts a Counterspell he drew, and it goes on the stack, as well. Player A receives priority, declines it. Player B receives priority, declines it. Counterspell resolves, and counters the Armageddon. The stack is empty now, and player A receives priority. He declines. Player B declines. When both players decline priority with an empty stack, the current step ends.

The stack is for more than spells, though. Triggered effects also go on it. What are triggered effects? Simply put effects that some condition causes to happen. For example:

"Bone Shredder 2B creature - minion. Flying. When Bone Shredder comes into play, destroy target non-black, nonartifact creature. 1/1.">

Destroying the creature is not the spell itself! The spell is merely the Bone Shredder, and when it comes into play, it'll trigger the effect of destroying the creature, which'll go on the stack. How does it look, stack-wise?

Player A casts Bone Shredder. Declines priority. Player B declines priority. Bone Shredder resolves, and puts on the stack "destroy target creature". Now both players receive priority again, so Player B can attempt to save the targeted creature.

At this point, I felt the need to do what is known in the guidance jargon as a "understanding check" (sounds better in Hebrew, I promise). I posted a small rule quiz, and asked everybody to write down their answers, and compare with my official solution, which I've posted two days afterwards. Here are the questions I used for the quiz:

  • Joe attacks John with a grizzly bear. John has 5 life. At the end of blocker declaration, Joe casts Giant Growth on the bear. John has only Shock in his hand, and enough mana to cast it. Can he survive this turn?
  • Joe attacks John with a Phyrexian Negator. John blocks with Cho-Manno, Revolutionary. How much damage, if at all, can Joe cause John?
  • Joe casts Armageddon. He has Zuran Orb in play. He asks John "do you wish to Counter?" John says "no". Joe says "Okay, so I sacrifice all my lands to the Zuran Orb". John says "Okay, so I counter your Armageddon". Joe says "Liar! Where's the judge?" Who's right? What should happen?
  • Joe casts Harrow, using mana from his one land and two birds of paradise in play. John declares he wants to use Seismic Mage in response, to destroy Joe's land and counter the spell. Can he do it? What would happen?
  • Joe casts Reckless Spite, targeting both of John's Birds of Paradise. John casts unsummon in response, targeting one of the birds, and casts deathlace on the other. What happens? How much life does Joe lose, if at all?

For reference, here are the answers:

  • The Giant Growth goes on the stack. Joe will receive priority, and then John will. John can use his priority to cast the Shock, targeting the Grizzly Bear. The Shock will go on the stack, and both players will receive priority. They both decline, then the Shock resolves (because Last in, First out), killing the Grizzly Bear. When it's the Giant Growth's time to resolve, it'll be countered on resolution, because all of its targets will be illegal, so John will live to run another day.
  • The Negator will put on the stack two points of damage to Cho-Manno, and three to John. When it's time to actually deal the damage, the damage to Cho-Manno will be prevented, but that won't prevent John from taking 3 points of damage.
  • This whole situation is illegal, in essence. Joe casts Armageddon, and since he's the active player, he immediately receives priority. If he wanted to sacrifice any lands, that would be the time, because asking another player for effects means you are declining priority. He doesn't, and passes priority instead, and John also declines priority. Both players declines, so the last spell cast is supposed to resolve, being Armageddon, destroying all the lands in play, without any player having any more say about it. (By the way, even if it had worked, every "gain two life" from sacrificing a land goes on the stack on itself, and thus both players are awarded priority for it).
  • Sacrificing the land to Harrow is part of the cost. As seen before, first of all you pay the costs, and then the spell goes on the stack. So, by the time John will have a chance to activate his seismic mage, the land will already be gone. (Note: if the costs were indeed paid for the Seismic Mage ability, John would have to target one of his own lands).
  • Losing the life isn't part of the cost, which makes it one of the spell's effects. Now, Reckless Spite is on the stack. One of the birds gets bounced, and the other is turned black. Both targets become illegal (because they're supposed to be non-black, and in play), so Reckless Spite is countered on resolution, and no loss of life occurs.

I got a ton of positive feedback after the quiz, and people genuinely seemed to understand the rules, so I carried on, and started writing on more elaborate issues. I proceeded to deal with:

Triggered effects and the Stack

Q: "I have a tangle wire in play. How many permanents do I have to tap during my upkeep?"
Q: "I have Ivory tower, and my opponent enchanted one of my creatures with parasitic bond. I start my turn with 7 cards in hand, and one life. What happens?"

A: "As you can see, both questions are essentially the same: what happens first? We know that whatever goes on the stack last will resolve first, but how do we know in what order the effects go on the stack?

Let's look at the first question. Here, you have two effects: "Take a counter off tangle wire" and "tap a permanent for every counter on tangle wire". A term we have to learn now is who CONTROLS the effect. The player who controls the effect is the one who controlled the permanent that generated it, at the time it was generated. So the first rule is When several effects have to go on the stack, and one player controls them all, that player chooses the order in which they go on the stack. So, if we go back to the question, a smart player would put the tapping effect on the stack first, so it'll resolve last.

So much for the first question. In the second one, there are two effects, each controlled by another player. In such a case, the rule is APNAP - Active Player, Non-Active Player. That means, first of all the Active Player puts all of his effects on the stack, in any order he chooses, then the non-active player does the same.

So, to the question: first of all, I, the active player, put MY effects on the stack. That's gain life from ivory tower. Then, the other player puts his on the stack, which is "lose 2 life". Because he put his effect last, it'll resolve first, and I'll die, waiting in vain for the life gain to hit me.

Turn Structure

"Q: I said I'm tapping my opponent's land during his upkeep with my Rishadan Port. He took mana in response, and then drew and cast an instant with the mana! He's cheating, he should get mana burn!"
A: Every turn, is made of five phases. Some phases have sub-phases, and those are called "steps". The turn structure, according to the 6th edition rules, is as follows:

  • Beginning of Turn
    • Untap - The active player untaps all his permanents (unless some effects changes that). Nobody receives priority.
    • Upkeep - All "At the beginning of upkeep" effects go on the stack. Then priority is awarded. The effects go on the stack APNAP, as previously taught.
    • Draw - "draw a card" goes on the stack, for the active player, as well as effects that happen in the draw step (like howling mine). Then priority is awarded.
  • Main Phase - relevant effects go on the stack. Priority awarded.
  • Combat Phase - as previously taught. Has 5 steps. Creatures are only considered "attacking" and "blocking" during that phase.
  • Second Main Phase - same as the first.
  • End of Turn
    • End of Turn - All effects that happen at the end of turn go on the stack. Priority is awarded.
    • Discard/Cleanup - Damage is removed from creatures. The active player discards down to his maximum hand size. Effects that last UNTIL end of turn, end now. No priority is awarded, unless an effect triggers at this step (for example, madness). If a stack IS opened for any reason, another Discard/Cleanup step begins after this one ends. This repeats until one Discard/Cleanup step happens with no stacks being opened.

It's important to notice that effects that end "at end of turn", end at step 1 of the End-of-Turn phase. However, effects that last "until end of turn", end at step 2 of the same phase. Why is it interesting?

Take Waylay for example. Waylay used to read "Put three 2/2 white Knight creature tokens into play. Remove them from the game at end of turn." See? The removal happens AT end of turn. So, what the players did, they waited for end-of-turn effects to go on the stack (beginning of the first step in the last phase), then responded, when they had priority, with casting Waylay. Because the effects that are triggered at end of turn are already on the stack, they would only trigger at the next end of turn, so the tokens would only be removed at the next end of turn. So, you cast at in your opponent's eot, and on your turn, you have 3 2/2 creatures ready to attack.


  • Combat Damage - Combat damage is any damage caused by an attacking creature. For example, if I tap a Rootwater Hunter during the Combat Phase to deal damage to my opponent, it's not Combat Damage, because it wasn't done by the creature ATTACKING.
  • Deals Damage - A card is considered to have dealt damage only if it dealt more than 0 points of damage. So, if attack with a Thieving Magpie, and the opponent casts Healing Salve, I get to draw no cards.
  • Regenerating - There are actually two parts to regeneration. The first action is paying whatever costs are needed, in order to active a "regenerate" ability. For example, casting Refresh, or paying 1G for an Albino Troll. At this point, a regeneration shield magically appears around the creature we are regenerating. It doesn't do anything, until it's time for the creature to be destroyed. When the creature is about to be destroyed, the shield kicks in, cleans all damage from the creature, taps it, and prevents the destruction. After that, the shield is used up. So, if I cast Refresh on my opponent's creature, it won't tap it - unless I can cause it to somehow be destroyed, and trigger the shield.
  • Leaves Play - A permanent leaves play if it leaves the "In play" zone, in any way. For example, being bounced to the hand, destroyed or being removed from game.
  • As Though - You can bypass one of the game rules regarding an ability, on this card. This card doesn't have this ability. For example: Yawgmoth's Will, 2B Sorcery. Until end of turn, you may play cards in your graveyard as though they were in your hand. If a card would be put into your graveyard this turn, remove that card from the game instead. You may only PLAY the cards as though they were in your hand - they aren't really there! You can't discard them, activate cycling, or anything else, which isn't simply playing them.
  • Play - Playing a spell or effects means paying all its costs, and declaring that you are casting it. After a spell or an activity have been played, they go on the stack. For example, placing a creature in play with Sneak Attack isn't the same as playing it (because the costs for the creature itself weren't paid, only a cost for the Sneak Attack's ability. Moreover, you don't declare what creature it is, until the ability resolves). Cards like Orim's Chant prevent you from playing spells, which means you can't pay costs and declare spells. But it doesn't stop anything on the stack from resolving.

Replacement effects

Q: "How does that trick with Sylvan Library and Abundance work?"
Q: "Can I cast Urza's Rage, then cast Memory Lapse on it, and it'll end up on the top of my library?"
Replacement effects are effects that replace an expected result of an action, with another result.

For example: Memory Lapse, 1U Instant. Counter target spell. If you do, put it on top of its owner's library instead of into that player's graveyard.

So, instead of the countered spell going to the graveyard, as you'd expect it to, according to the rules, it would be placed on top of its owner's library. It's obvious by their nature that replacement effects won't trigger if the effect they are meant to replace isn't going to happen. For example: if I play a spell with Flashback. The game rules say that a spell that was played using its flashback cost will be removed from the game after resolution. So, if I cast Memory Lapse on a flashbacked Call of the Herd, the replacement part of it wouldn't trigger, because the spell isn't going to the graveyard. However, it'll still counter the spell. What happens with Urza's Rage? Memory Lapse specifically says you only place the card on top of its owner's library if you countered it. Since Urza's Rage cannot be countered, nothing will happen.

Now, to the Sylvan/Abundance trick.
Sylvan Library 1G Enchantment. At the beginning of your draw step, draw two cards, then choose two cards in your hand drawn this turn. For each of those cards, pay 4 life or put the card back on top of your library.

Abundance 2GG Enchantment. If you would draw a card, you may instead choose land or nonland and reveal cards from the top of your library until you reveal a card of the chosen kind. Put that card into your hand and put all other cards revealed this way on the bottom of your library f you would draw a card, you may instead choose land or nonland and reveal cards from the top of your library until you reveal a card of the chosen kind. Put that card into your hand and put all other cards revealed this way on the bottom of your library in any order.

So what's the deal here? We're at the draw step, in the Beginning of Turn phase. I activate my Sylvan Library (before drawing my card - that's still on the stack). We have "draw two cards" on the stack. I trigger the Abundance on that "draw two cards", and the draw is REPLACED by "Choose land or non-land. reveal cards..." Now, Sylvan Library tells me "hey, choose two cards drawn this turn", but I didn't draw anything - because the Abundance replaced my draws with something else (regardless of the fact I ended up with cards in my hand anyhow)!

By the time I got to this stage, I needed no more understanding quizzes, as people were constantly asking questions in the thread, and other people answered them. I corrected the wrong answers, and got to more issues, like legends coming into play, permanents returning into play, and other such small issues that are easy to neglect.

After two months or so of running the "Corner", I had over a dozen people ready to be tested in the upcoming Israeli nationals by the Level 3 judge that was supposed to be flown over to test them. Unfortunately, the story doesn't have a happy end, yet, as nobody came, due to the delicate situation in the middle east area. However, I still have hope that someone will maybe some day test all these people to whom I devoted my time and energy. But even if that doesn't happen, it still cut down on about 75% of the rule questions in tournaments, and that alone is reward enough for bothering to write all those small articles.

In short, I recommend any judge in a small place to try and teach the rules to as many players as possible. It not only cuts down on annoying rule questions during tournaments (I didn't become a judge to explain trample and protection 24 times during an average tournament!), but also lets you rely on other people when you need them (for example, if you ever get surprised like I do, and suddenly find 153 people in your Torment prerelease when you're all alone), and even increases the level of play in general (it's easier to think about tricks when you actually know the rules that allow them). All in all, quite worth the investment of time that will be demanded of you, an amount which I hope will be shortened even further by reading this article.