Why the New Trigger Rules Make Me Feel Like a Jerk

Feature Article from Melissa DeTora
Melissa DeTora
12/7/2012 10:00:00 AM
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There is no Theme Week in Magic this week, although it really feels like it should be Missed Trigger Week. There have been a lot of articles on the topic, and for good reason. Many high level players are unhappy with the October IPG update.

As many of you know, we recently had a rules change to the Magic IPG. For those of you who are unaware, the premise is this: If you are playing in a Competitive Rules Enforcement Level (REL) event, such as a PTQ or Grand Prix, you must announce all of your triggers or else they don't happen.

Additionally, if your opponent forgets about his trigger, you don't have to say anything unless you want that trigger to happen.

Last week, I read a tournament report about a recent SCG open. While it was an enjoyable read, I was a little shocked at a situation that happened during one of the writer's matches. I suppose that what had happened was within the rules, but to me, it felt like a game of Magic wasn't played. It seemed more like a moment of “Ha ha, gotcha!”

Here is a rundown of what happened. Player A attacked with some creatures, including a Pyreheart Wolf. Player B had an empty board. After attackers were declared, Player B played a Restoration Angel. Player A stated, “You know that it can't block, right?” After all, Pyreheart Wolf did attack, and it says right on it that creatures can only be blocked by two or more creatures.

Player B said, “You didn't announce your trigger. I'll block with my Restoration Angel.”
At that point, a judge was called, who ruled that the trigger was missed because Player A did not show awareness of it. Player B was able to block with his angel and Player A lost one of his creatures.

In the above situation, Player B was well within his right to do what he did. The trigger was not announced or even acknowledged in any way. The problem is this: Magic cards no longer do what is written on them. They only do what they say if you say so.

As a player, I personally feel that the writer was aware of his Pyreheart Wolf trigger. Sure, he didn't announce it right away, but as soon as the board changed and a creature had entered play, he immediately stated that the creature couldn't block. He definitely acknowledged that the trigger took place, but unfortunately for him, it was at the wrong time.

As a judge, I would have ruled that he missed his trigger, because when the ability actually triggered, he didn't say or do anything, passed priority and allowed his opponent to cast his angel. This is very unfortunate and something I don't agree with, but they are the rules and I have to abide by them.

If I was in Player A's position, I wouldn't have said anything about the trigger either. The opponent had an empty board. Blocks weren't going to happen anyway. However, once a creature came into play, I would immediately say that it couldn't block because of Pyreheart Wolf's ability. Of course, saying that would have gotten me nowhere and the judge would have ruled that I missed my trigger.

After all is said and done, the bottom line is this: Player B, while was well within his right and played by the rules, came across as scum.

Yes, the new trigger rules have turned good players into jerks.

A Moral Dilemma: Should I be a Jerk?
A few weeks ago, I played in a local Grand Prix Trial. The format was Modern, and I was running UW Angels.

My round one opponent was a very inexperienced Storm player. He was new to competitive magic and borrowed a Storm deck from one of the judges. It was pretty clear that he didn't really understand how to play it.

He resolved an early Pyromancer Ascension and then cast Gitaxian Probe. The following turn, he cast another Gitaxian Probe. I paused for a moment to see if he would tic up his Pyromancer Ascension, but he did nothing. I stated that it resolved and placed my hand face up on the table. He wrote down my hand, put a counter on his Ascension, and drew a card.

At that point, I was faced with a decision. My opponent clearly missed the trigger. He had to put the counter on the Pyromancer Ascension before looking at my hand. I gave him ample time to do that. There would be no question about it that if I called a judge, he would rule that the Pyromancer Ascension wouldn't get the counter.

On the other hand, my opponent obviously didn't know how his cards worked. He clearly wanted the trigger to happen, but he placed the counter on the Pyromancer Ascension at the wrong time. If I told him that his card didn't get a counter, He would think that I was a jerk rules lawyer and the remainder of our match would probably be played in a miserable tone.

So what did I do? Based on how the game was going, I knew there was no possible way that he could win, so I let him have his counter. I had a fast clock and plenty of disruption in my hand, and I won the game and match easily.

What if I was in a losing position? If I was losing the game, I probably would have told my opponent that he missed his trigger. The problem with this is that I shouldn't have to make that choice. I want to play by the rules, and therefore the correct play is to always tell my opponent that he missed his trigger. I shouldn't have to make this decision, or feel bad about it.

At the Chicago 5k, a similar situation happened. I was playing 4C Rites and my opponent was on Bant control. I knew my opponent's hand because of Duress, and therefore knew that I was in a position where I needed to apply pressure early or else I would lose to my opponent's powerful late game cards.

Store QTY Price  
Kas Cards 2 $1.50
Perspective Cards 1 $1.57
Kas Cards 5 $1.75
Your MTG Store 1 $1.77
Armada Games 1 $1.99
On The Square 1 $2.00
OldSchoolGaming 2 $2.23
The Game Cave 7 $2.35
North Valley Games 2 $2.38
Snapcasters Gaming 9 $2.46
Magic MTG Card
Magic MTG Card Jace, Architect of Thought Magic MTG Card
Magic MTG Card

My opponent had a Jace, Architect of Thought in play for several turns and was alternating between using Jace's Fact or Fiction ability and Jace's +1 ability. He used the +1 ability and passed the turn. On my turn, I made a series of plays and then attacked with a bunch of creatures. My opponent said nothing about Jace and then blocked. When we went to damage, he said he'll take three, to which I replied, “no, you take six. You missed the Jace trigger when I attacked.”

My opponent looked really confused. “I didn't miss the Jace. Last turn, he was on two and then I moved him up to three.”

“Yes, but you missed the trigger when I attacked.” My opponent still seemed to have no idea what I was talking about. Previously when my opponent used Jace's +1, he had no blockers and just stated that he would take X, taking Jace's ability into account. Since he now had blockers, it was a little different.

Again, I tried to explain this to my opponent. “You blocked, but didn't say anything about Jace, which means that you missed the trigger. We can just call a judge if you want.”

My opponent appeared to be extremely frustrated. “No, we don't have to call a judge. I'll just take six, but that's really scummy.”

In this situation, I played by the rules but was still called scummy by my opponent. I obviously felt pretty hurt by my opponent's words, but I was well within my right to do what I did. My opponent made a mistake, but I was called scummy for holding him to it. I don't like the fact that if I play the rules, suddenly I'm a jerkface rules lawyer.

Bring back Lapsing!
Lapsing triggers were extremely confusing, especially for new and inexperienced players. However, in my opinion, they worked. Of course, I took the time to memorize these rules and how they were handled, and players aren't expected to do that.

Before the October rules change, triggers fell into one of three categories:

Lapsing Triggers – Lapsing triggers were things that you had to remember. Putting counters on a Shrine, gaining life with Soul Warden, and stealing a creature with Zealous Conscripts are just a few examples of Lapsing Triggers. If you forgot about them, you didn't get them.

Triggers that required no choices and had no visual representation on the game state – These triggers are your Exalted, Jace's +1, Pyreheart Wolf, and Landfall triggers. These triggers just happened and resolved because that's what the cards said they did. You didn't have to announce them.

“Other” triggers – These triggers, such as those on Huntmaster of the Fells, Desecration Demon, and Dark Confidant, are triggers where if you missed them, you would still get them as long as it was within a turn. In addition, you would receive a warning for missing them.

Obviously, creating three different categories of triggers had major problems. It caused newer players to memorize too many things. There was a huge difference between competitive events and FNM. While I took the time to memorize them and actually liked them, they had to go and I'm fine with that.

However, the triggers that I feel need to return are the “middle” category of triggers, or the triggers that have no visual effect. I shouldn't have to announce when my Knight of Infamy gets +1/+1 when it attacks alone. It just happens. That's what it says on the card, and that's how it should be. If I cast Craterhoof Behemoth, both myself and my opponent know what's going on. If I resolve a Craterhoof and then say “kill you,” my opponent should be dead. However, at a recent Grand Prix, saying “kill you,” or “attack for lethal” wasn't good enough. This player missed her trigger because she didn't specifically say that she was placing the Craterhoof ability on the stack, although she definitely intended to.

While I don't have an immediate solution of how to fix these trigger problems, I hope that the judges who write the IPG take these points into account. Cards should do what is written on them. There is no skill involved in doing what is written on the cards. Just read the cards!

The Lack of Missed Trigger Penalties
With all of the Missed Trigger Drama floating around in the past few weeks, Owen Turtenwald wrote an article about the triggers. In his article, Owen mentions a situation at the Pro Tour involving a missed Dark Confidant trigger.

According to the IPG, if a trigger that is considered “beneficial” is missed, the opponent is asked if he/she would like it to be put on the stack. Then, no penalty is given and play continues. This seems like a fine rule. Most players want their triggers to happen. However, there is no clear line of what is beneficial and what is not. In addition, judges CANNOT use the game state to determine if the trigger is beneficial or not.

This is what makes no sense. If you are at twenty life, Dark Confidant is certainly a beneficial trigger. If you are at one life, Dark Confidant is a detrimental trigger. But we don't use the game state to determine if the trigger is beneficial or not. Dark Confidant is beneficial, and that's it.

Who is to stop a player who is at very low life to “accidently” miss their Dark Confidant Trigger? For the record, missing triggers on purpose is cheating, and I don't recommend you do this, ever. With no penalties being given for these offenses, a player could potentially miss the trigger, and if his opponent doesn't notice, then he just “got away with it.” If the opponent does notice, then you're not getting a warning anyway, so no one is hurt by it.

Keep in mind that the Pro Tour has the best and most experienced judges in the world. These judges know exactly what questions to ask and know exactly what they are looking for if they are investigating you for cheating, and therefore a player will not get away with something like this at the highest level of competition.

However, what about at a Grand Prix Trial or similar event? These tournaments are usually run by inexperienced Level 1 judges. These judges will not know how to deal with this type of situation. If a player really is trying to get away with missing his Dark Confidant trigger, all he has to do is say “Gee, I forgot,” and it's over.

This is why these missed triggers should always be tracked, regardless if they are beneficial or not. The potential to gain an advantage is too great, and if a player knows that there will be no warning given, he has a greater incentive to actually do it.

Overall, the changes to how we handle triggers are generally good. I certainly don't like to remind my opponent to kill me. However, I definitely don't think the trigger rules are working the way they are currently written. No one likes a rules lawyer, and with the way we handle triggers now, that is what good players are turning into.

As of right now, we are not playing Magic in the way it was intended to be played. I feel that a change needs to be made, and I hope that a solution is found soon.

Thanks for reading and see you in Toronto!

Melissa DeTora
@AllWeDoIsWinMTG on Twitter

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