Ask the Judge, 5/2/2008
[Recent conversations on judge-related mailing lists and the #mtgjudge IRC channel have made it evident that some players and judges are not entirely clear on recent changes to the Penalty Guide that address issues of "persistent illegal actions." I can't entirely fault them; we have developed a lot of good philosophy based around holding players responsible for the game as it progresses and over the last few years we have become increasingly comfortable with the idea that allowing games to continue unchanged after uncaught errors is by and large the most sensible way to proceed. But the recent PG language is consistent with our general approach and this is illustrated in a wonderfully clear article that Wisconsin L3 Ingrid Lind-Jahn has chosen to share with us this week. -Seamus]
If This Article Has No Title Is That An Illegal Game State?
Recent changes in the Penalty Guide have resulted in some penalty definitions we have not seen before and which on the surface may seem odd or different. Some changes—like the communication guideline—have been very visible. Others have been more subtle.
One of these subtle changes can be found under Game Play Error—Illegal Game State. Game Play Errors were one of the major revisions to the PG a while ago taking the old vague "Procedural Errors" further refining some of them and providing us with a consistent system of categorizing them penalizing for them and remedying them (to the extent allowable in a fair tournament.)
Of all the infractions cited under Game Play Errors the one which was perhaps the easiest to learn anew was that for Illegal Game State. Compared to learning all the details for Missed Trigger for example it was very straightforward. Basically you resolved any state-based effects and issued a Warning. What could be easier than that?
If you've been paying attention you have noticed that now there is another example for Illegal Game State and it does not involve any state-based effects. To quote: "In a Magic tournament a Voice of All is in play that continues to have had no color chosen for it."
There is further instruction in the body of the penalty. "If the problem is due to a player not having made a required choice the player does so immediately." What does this mean? For the Voice of All example the player chooses a color for it. For Meddling Mage the player names a card and so forth.
But why did we choose to place it here? There are no state-based effects involved. And it certainly is possible to create a situation where such a card can come into play such that no choice can be made for it (Illusionary Mask Vesuvan Shapeshifter etc.) but let's set those aside. Let's look at the more common situation—a card has come into play and no choice was made.
Let's start from the beginning. When someone doesn't make a necessary choice such as "as this object comes into play choose…" clearly there has been a game play error. Where in the PG might this error best fit?
This is not a case of Illegal Representation. With the Voice of All at some point players will need to know what color was chosen; at that time it will quickly become apparent that the choice was not made. Illegal Representation requires that the game state is clear to both players—in this case while they agree that the Voice of All has had no color chosen for it the game state itself is not clear. Voice of All needs that color choice as part of its comes-into-play event and the game does not know what the player might have been thinking at the time. (An example of Illegal Representation would be a Morselhoarder which comes into play with two -1/-1 counters but the player does not place anything on the card. Both players may be keeping track of the number of counters in their heads—they know what is correct; it is just not represented in the game.)
For all that it feels like this is a Missed Trigger it isn't. Triggered abilities are clearly defined in the Comp. Rules and are clearly identifiable. Triggered abilities have the words "when" "whenever" or "at." These words do not appear as part of Voice of All's ability. We're dealing with a replacement effect here. Expanding the Missed Trigger infraction to include things which are not triggered would cause many more problems—and confusion—than it would solve.
The Voice of All problem also feels very much like a Game Rule Violation—after all the player did fail to follow a game procedure correctly. Still calling it a GRV would leave the unresolved issue that a required choice was not made.
Ultimately the decision was made to redefine GPE—Illegal Game State and expand it to include just this situation. It is a rather elegant fit for an error that didn't seem to have a good place previously. Take as an example our Voice of All which has had no color choice made for it. This per Toby Elliott "represents a persistent illegal action on the board." What is important here is the concept of a persistent illegal action. This is not like someone who played Wrath of God two turns ago with the wrong mana—that is over and done with. This is more akin to the Armadillo Cloak which has been on a creature with protection from green for the last few turns. Even when the Voice of All is not doing anything in the game at the moment there is still something wrong with it.
Whether or not it is possible to create the same circumstance legally is moot. Sure we can come up with ways to get a Voice of All with an undefined choice into play. That is not the point. The point is having a consistent way to handle those rare situations where a player or both players forget somehow that a required choice needed to have been made.
Could there be a possible advantage for a player being able to make such a choice later as opposed to when the Voice of All came into play? There could be. There might not be. First of all we do investigate to try to figure out just what happened. Why was this required choice not made? If it turns out that a player cheated we will penalize accordingly. If the players simply forgot that's different.
Otherwise I will quote again from the PG. "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." In short there is a persistent illegal action in the game. We investigate for any possibility of cheating. If there is no compelling evidence of one we apply the appropriate procedure—in this case naming a color for the Voice of All—and assign the appropriate penalties. Then the game goes on.
Mistakes happen in Magic. It is a complex game and all it takes is for both players to miss something at the same time to create a potential situation. When an illegal situation has persisted over time we should not attempt to travel back in time to undo it as well as everything else that has happened along the way. Instead we determine what infraction has occurred apply any necessary procedures assign penalties and move forward.
"You chose red? Okay it has protection from red. You get a warning for Illegal Game State. Your opponent gets a warning for Failure to Maintain Game State. You have a 1 minute extension. Now play on."
Ultimately "Illegal Game State" is a term unique to the Penalty Guidelines. We have expanded the original concept to include another set of potential game situations. Illegal Game State is defined by the language of the PG and it means what we have stated that it means. It's as simple as that.
DCI Certified Level 3 Judge—Belleville WI