Who Is Jeff Liu?
Good job clicking on this article. I'm about to try quite hard for the next ten minutes to make you regret that decision. I will be taking you through my experience at the SCG Legacy Open in Los Angeles and what happens when there are unclear game rule changes.
But who am I? You may have already gathered from the byline that my name is Jeff Liu.
I've been a game designer for a number of years now and one of the projects I'm currently working on called SolForge recently had a successful Kickstarter. Since I started working on and making TCGs I haven't been able to play the greatest one of them all Magic nearly as often as I would like. Because of this I've found myself drawn to Legacy because it is the one place I can build a deck and have it ready to play the two to three times a year I feel like playing Constructed.
So now you know what I do and why I have Legacy decks. But how did I get to SCG Legacy Open: LA? Well I drove you doofus. It wasn't too far as I live in Oceanside just north of San Diego. My roommate flew to Costa Rica or whatever for a GP because he's too big time to play locally. I guess that's what happens when you're Brian Kibler.
SCG Legacy Open: LA
I didn't play in the SCG Standard Open on Saturday because I hadn't played Magic in about half a year and therefore hadn't kept up with Standard. Instead I spent it deciding which deck I wanted to play and putting it together. I then birded one Pat Sullivan mostly because he lent me something for my Legacy deck the next day and I had to at least feign support for his endeavors in return.
The deck I decided upon was one some ignoramuses named "Four Horsemen." I will no longer refer to the deck by that name and will instead call it Orb/Monolith combo. The entire deck is based around a two-card combo between Mesmeric Orb and Basalt Monolith.
Once you get both these cards in play you can use the three mana provided by tapping Basalt Monolith to untap it and create a Mesmeric Orb trigger. This can be repeated any number of times to put your deck into your graveyard one card at a time.
Not Knowing the Rules
This article is about indefinite infinite loops or so I'm told.
I was playing in the Legacy event unaware of the term "indefinite infinite loop." I was a much happier camper at that time. I was 2-0 and for the third round I was called up for a feature match.
Fast forward a few minutes and I was in the middle of using my combo right on camera for everyone at home to see my milling glory.
That's when the hammer hit. The Head Judge walked up and said to me "You've got to stop doing what you are doing." I was confused. I questioned what I was supposed to stop and what was wrong. I figure maybe someone saw an accidental error a missed trigger or something on camera and he was coming to correct it.
NOPE. He said that I have to advance the game state. I responded that I was doing so and that I was filling up my graveyard and changing the order of my library. He said that's not enough and I could hear the snickers of the crowd around us. Due to hitting Emrakul the Aeons Torn a few times and needing to reshuffle my graveyard into my deck I had apparently stumbled onto a clause in the infraction for Slow Play.
Now I was actually confused. I thought to myself "Does he not know how this deck works and how I'm actually actively trying to win?" He then started to explain how I can't shortcut the combo because I can't tell him exactly how many repetitions I would need to get to the game state I'm looking for therefore I can't shortcut it. Snickers from the crowd continued at an even higher volume.
So I did what any griefer in my position would do. I put down my deck from which I had been flipping cards off of with both hands tapped my Basalt Monolith untapped it pointed at my Mesmeric Orb and then milled one card off my deck. I looked at the judge and repeated this action over and over while asking "Then is this what you want me to do?"
He then tried to explain to me why what I was doing is illegal how I can't do it more than ten times before changing what I'm doing and how I had to stop. The crowd laughter volume level peaked. I keep asking him hypotheticals and questions about it. I really was flabbergasted. I thought he was crazy because none of this made any sense to me. All the while I was continuing to do the combo on camera because…why not?
He eventually went to talk to another judge and while he was gone I finished the combo and my opponent and I were sideboarding for game 2. (Side note: I lost that game because he was able to find Force of Will off of his Griselbrand that was already in play to counter my Dread Return. I regretted cutting the second copy the day before.)
That was my only encounter with the Head Judge all day. I spoke with various other judges players and people running the event and everyone had their own opinion about the situation. I'm here to give you mine.
First off if what I was doing was against the rules I believe I should have been giving the warnings game losses match losses disqualifications or whatever I deserved for breaking the rules even if I didn't know about them or agree with them. It is not my place as a player to be changing the rules that are in place. I even understand the motivation for having rules in place to prevent stalling with the Orb/Monolith combo because people could abuse it. Just because I wasn't abusing it (I only played it in game 1s and I was never close to running out of time in any round) doesn't mean it should be at a judge's discretion to not properly punish me.
If what I was doing wasn't against the rules then why hassle me over and over throughout the day? How about giving me a warning for failure to follow the instructions of a judge then? I feel like something should have happened on that front. I'm thankful that it didn't and it was probably because the judges are much nicer people than I am.
My largest regret of the day was losing the win and in to get into Top 8. I would gladly give back the prize I got to get into Top 8 and then gotten a series of Game Losses for Slow Play instead. This story would have been much more entertaining for me to write if that had been the case and the experience would have been well worth the price of admission.
Let's get back to the crux of the problem. I have a combo that I can perform an infinite number of times but because of Emrakul the Aeons Torn being in my deck the number of times I need to repeat this action is variable before I get to the game state I'm looking for. I can continuously mill myself and it is likely that I'll arrive at my desired game state in just a few minutes.
The problem lies in that because it is an "indefinite infinite loop" aka I don't know exactly how long it is going to take it is now illegal. So if I happen to have no copies of Emrakul in my deck because it's in my hand the combo suddenly becomes legal. Seriously?
It's right there in the rules.
3.3. Tournament Error - Slow Play
A player takes longer than is reasonably required to complete game actions. If a judge believes a player is intentionally playing slowly to take advantage of a time limit the infraction is Cheating - Stalling.
It is also slow play if a player continues to execute a loop without being able to provide an exact number of iterations and the expected resulting game state.
A. A player repeatedly reviews his opponent's graveyard without any significant change in game state.
B. A player spends time writing down the contents of an opponent's deck while resolving Thought Hemorrhage.
C. After 3 minutes into a round at a Pro Tour Qualifier a player has not completed his shuffling.
D. A player gets up from his seat to look at standings or goes to the bathroom without permission of an official.
All players have the responsibility to play quickly enough so that their opponents are not at a significant disadvantage because of the time limit. A player may be playing slowly without realizing it. A comment of "I need you to play faster" is often appropriate and all that is needed. Further slow play should be penalized.
An extra turn is awarded for each player to be applied if the match exceeds the time limit. If multiple players on each side are playing the same game (such as in Two-Headed Giant) only one extra turn is awarded per team. This turn extension occurs before any end-of-match procedure can begin and after any time extensions that may have been issued.
No extra turns are awarded if the match is already in extra turns though the Warning still applies.
If Slow Play has significantly affected the result of the match the Head Judge may upgrade the penalty.
Since I don't know how many times I must activate my Basalt Monolith before I can guarantee having the rest of my combo in the graveyard I'm not allowed to shortcut it. If I do it manually it is slow play because it is "not significantly changing the game state enough."
This is one spot where people seem to agree that the rule is a little fuzzy. What exactly IS "changing the game state enough?" Apparently changing my graveyard the order of my library finding triggers having flashback spells in the graveyard changing game phases declaring combat and putting Narcomoeba into play isn't enough. I guess I was cheating then?
Imagine the following scenario. I am playing the basically same deck but I happen to also have Nimble Mongoose in play. My opponent has no blockers no cards in hand and only three life left. I attack with my Mongoose but oh no I only have five cards in my graveyard and don't have threshold yet.
That's no problem for me though; I have my trusty Orb/Monolith combo to give me threshold. I use it but uh oh I hit that stupid Emrakul. I reshuffle my graveyard into my deck and now I am back at zero cards in the graveyard. That's no problem though right? I still have the combo I can easily get back to threshold and my opponent is dead.
If the rule is truly how I understand it to be game losses should occur when I try to reach threshold again here. That is how ridiculous this rule has made these situations. It doesn't matter if it is a 90% chance on each iteration 25% or 1%. If it isn't 100% you can't repeatedly try because it might go on for forever and that is deemed slow play.
You don't want an Orb/Monolith combo example? Fine then here's another one provided by Matt Sperling. I have a Goblin Bangchuckers. He's wearing an Umbral Mantle and I've already made infinite mana in one of many possible ways.
So now I have a creature that can shoot another creature for two damage half the time and shoot itself for two damage the other half. In response to this tap ability I can untap him and grow him so that he'll never die if he happens to shoot himself. This also enables him to repeat this action any number of times due to my infinite mana.
My opponent has a 4/4 creature… Let's say a Gabriel Angelfire or Wormwood Treefolk. How many times am I allowed to target it with my half-assed pinger? Once? Twice? Ten times? Zero times? What if I always lose the coin flip and never kill it? I guess I'm cheating again.
The World We Live In
So this is it. This is what the Magic: The Gathering that we grew up with and loved has become. I agree that stalling has to be dealt with in tournament rules but this can't be the solution. When someone has a combination that has zero chance of failure can't we just let them shortcut to the end? I know this isn't the answer because people may or may not agree with the math on the spot and opponents being disagreeable and wanting to see it play out could be a problem. I'm no rules guy I'm just a simple game designer but I believe there has to be a better solution out there that people smarter than me can find.
I'm sorry that this article doesn't have insight into my deck choice tips for sideboarding or even tournament reporting that people seem to cherish from articles on sites like these but that's probably why I'm not a writer. At least I can go to sleep knowing that I was probably successful at making most of you regret your decision to click on this article. Also www.solforgegame.com. Shameless plugging goal complete!