Magic the Savaging

Talking about the recent Kentroversy got me thinking about all the various times I watched someone “get got” at a competitive REL event because their opponent was clever / scummy / whatever you want to call it. Where would you rate each of the following on a scale of 1 to Kent in Peace?


The Pillar Punk Fake

Player A is dead on board regardless of how he blocks the following turn. If Player A attacks with everything, Player B will go to two life with optimal blocks. Player A attacks with everything, Player B makes optimal blocks and goes to two life. Player A verbally confirms life totals. After Player B confirms he is at two life, Player A reveals his hand and says “I have a Pillar of Flame”. Player B concedes.

Player A couldn’t produce red mana.


A less than Surgical Extraction

Player A casts Surgical Extraction targeting Life from the Loam in Player B’s graveyard. Player B reveals his hand and gives his deck to his opponent to search. Player A finishes resolving his Surgical Extraction and hands Player B his deck back to shuffle. After the deck is cut Player B confirms Player A is done resolving his Surgical Extraction. Player A passes the turn.

Player B starts his turn and dredges the Life from the Loam still in his graveyard that had been targeted by surgical, but not removed.


A Seven Mana Titan

Player A casts a Primeval Titan tapping a pile of lands all at once, leaving only two lands untapped. Player B casts Mana Leak targeting Primeval Titan. Player A counts out his lands, sees he has tapped one land too many and uses his two untapped lands to pay for the Mana Leak.


Force of Fake Out

Player A is playing Legacy Storm and is dead on board. He shrugs his shoulders and goes for a combo kill. Player A casts Infernal Tutor, cracks his Lion’s Eye Diamond, and asks “Do you have the Force of Will?” Player B immediately flips over one of the two cards in his hand which is Force of Will. Player A concedes.

Player B did not have a blue card to go along with the Force.


Not so humble Thalia

Player A has a Thalia, Guardian of Thraben in play. Player B casts Show and Tell and Player A flips over a copy of Humility. Player B continues to pay 1 extra mana for his spells, so player A does the same. On a pivotal turn Player A needs all of his mana, so he does not pay extra mana for his spell.

Player B taps the Thalia, Player A taps the Humility.


Underworld Disconnections 

Player A picks up and reads his opponent’s Underworld Connections. Player A casts Pithing Needle and names Underworld Connections. Player B confirms he is naming Underworld Connections. Player A agrees.

Player B then activates his Swamp to draw a card and lose one life.


Angry Elementals

Player A has two Voice of Resurgence Elemental tokens that he attacks with. Player B examines the board and asks: “The voice tokens are 4/4s?” Player A responds with “They have power and toughness equal to the number of creatures I control”. Player B looks over the board again and declares no blocks. Player A confirms they are moving to damage and Player B agrees.

Player B was at 9 life and the tokens were 5/5s.


More Pithing Problems

Player A casts Pithing Needle and names “Borborygmos”. Player B confirms what he is naming and writes it down. Player B puts a Borborygmos Enraged into play and kills Player A with it’s activated ability.


Clique Myself

Player A casts Vendilion Clique. Player B immediately throws their hand on the table. Player A glances it over and says: “Clique trigger targeting myself”


Wrapping Up

An important thing to note is that situations 3 and 5 are against the current rules because you are required to announce floating mana. This means if you do either of these intentionally you are cheating.

Do you know of any interesting “gotcha” stories? Let me know in a comment below.

38 thoughts on “Magic the Savaging”

  1. Opponent is playing Miracles, he controls 1 basic island and 2 scalding tarns. I am on Grixis Delver and have a DRS on the board.

    He goes to his draw step, looks at the top card of the deck, and sets it on the table. It’s a Terminus. He looks at the DRS, then he looks at me.

    I say, “Is the Miracle trigger on the stack right now? I can respond to it?”

    He says yes.

    I call for a judge to confirm the board state: the Miracle trigger is on the stack, and I have priority.

    I say, “Okay, it resolves.”

    The miracle trigger resolves. He can’t cast Terminus because he has no white mana to pay for it.

    1. (In case you missed it, the magical words that every Miracle player needs to know are, “I hold priority and crack my fetch in response to the miracle trigger.”)

      Here’s what makes this example a bit more interesting.

      My opponent knows I am playing a deck that could be running Stifle (meaning I could have actual significant responses to the miracle trigger) and Wasteland (meaning, given the choice, he’d rather not have to use his Scalding Tarn to search out a Tundra). So I actually have a significant incentive to make sure that my opponent respects what it means when the non-active player (me) is given priority.

      If my opponent was intending to give me priority (give me a chance to respond to the miracle trigger with a stifle), and then decide, “Okay, he didn’t stifle the miracle trigger, it’s safe for me to crack a fetch,” then he is trying to “respond to non-active player doing nothing,” i.e. fishing for information, not respecting priority (and the inherent advantage that the rules give to non-active player), and that’s against the rules. So it would be really unfair for him to try to “take back priority” and crack his Scalding Tarn in response to me doing nothing.

      My opponent also doesn’t want to have to have to fetch the dual land if I could Wasteland it the next turn. If my opponent sequences things “correctly,” he has to crack one of his fetches to grab a Tundra before he knows whether or not I’m going to Stifle the miracle trigger, and that would allow me to Wasteland the Tundra on my turn regardless of whether he succeeded in resolving the Miracle trigger or not. Again, he can’t “fish for information” by giving me priority and then seeing what I do and then try to “take back priority” once he knows his miracle trigger is going to resolve. If he wants to have the white available to cast Terminus, he needs to fetch the Tundra and potentially open himself up to Wasteland before giving me a chance to respond and do something like stifle the miracle trigger.

      Incidentally, this whole “non-active player gets priority last” is also the same reason that during combat, the attacking player can’t say, “Okay, in response to you not using a removal spell on my guy after declaring blockers, I’m going to cast a pump spell.” Active player has to make the first move, you can’t respond to the non-active player doing nothing.

    2. Note that you can’t ask for priority purely with the intention to do nothing per the Magic Tournament Rules (MTR) section on tournament shortcuts. This is to avoid the situation where the opponent is thinking in their main phase, you ask for priority to do something, then pass with the intent to put them in combat.

      Now, as you point out, there are a lot of things going on in this situation. And there’s nonverbal communication going on too. The AP just putting Terminus on the table and not saying anything isn’t clear. So be careful in how you’re wording this. I would suggest something on the lines of “You get priority first, are you doing anything?” as the clearest way to clarify the situation.

  2. Along the same lines as the “Angry Elementals” you posted, an example from THS limited:

    Opponent controls a bear (Traveling Philosopher), enchanted with a Nighthowler. I check the graveyards and see six creature cards. I say, “It’s a 6/6?”

    My opponent says, “Nighthowler gives +1/+1 for each creature card in either graveyard, and there are six creatures in the graveyard.”

    It’s actually a 8/8 (a 2/2 creature with a +6/+6 enchantment).

  3. Ah, here’s another legacy example.

    Player A is playing Sneak and Show, and controls 2 Lotus Petals and 2 lands.

    Player B casts a Thoughtseize targeting player A, and sees redundant fatties and redundant copies of Sneak Attack; Player A has the ability to win the game on the next turn by resolving a Sneak Attack.

    Player B casts Pithing Needle, naming Lotus Petal, and passes the turn to Player A.

    Player A does not crack their Lotus Petals for the rest of the game, doesn’t cast Sneak Attack, and loses several turns later.

    1. Ooh, that is good. I would say a little sleezy, but I think the correct move? Player A should read Pithing Needle. Sleezyness also depends on whether or not Player B knew how it would not stop the Petals.

    2. This is perfectly fine. I’ve had people use pithing needle on lotus petals and Lion’s eye diamonds all the time. You can allow the opponenent to make a mistake, if they know their rules, they won’t fall for it.

  4. RTR-THS standard: Player A is on RW burn, player B is on UWR control. Player B is at 6 life. Player A taps 4 lands and drops two copies of Lightning Strike on the table.

    Player B says, “are there two copies of Lightning Strike on the stack right now?” Player A says yes. Player B taps 4 lands and plays Counterflux.

    1. This is fine, it’s just sloppy play from Player A. I’ve had infect players do this, tapping everything and dumping a bunch of pump/protection spells on the table. “Okay how is this stacked? Okay, bolt your dude.”

      1. It turns out that there is a shortcut in place to protect players from “getting got” in this way. See this post from Melissa DeTora:

        Look for the section that begins with “Whenever a player adds an object to the stack”. If you do multiple spells in a row like that, you are assumed to be passing priority after each spell unless you explicitly state that you are holding priority.

  5. I know a HOF player in the 90’s was playing high tide at a PT. He needed to use his stroke of genius on himself to keep combining off and was out of win conditions. He cast merchant scroll, picked up his deck. His opponent asked him what he was getting. The HOF said “what do you think I’m getting?”. Opponent scooped.

  6. I also know a PT champ with 4 PT top 8’s that was in an odessey sealed ptq. Had gone to turns game 3 and was on turn 4, opponents turn. Opponent untaps draws. Looks and says “looks like a draw”. Not yet PT champ says “you’re not going to attack?” “Why would I, I don’t have enough power to win” “maybe I make a mistake, it’s worth a shot.” Opponent attacks, PT champ blocks to lose no creatures. Turn gets passes champ casts double overrun to win. Opponent is furious about taking bad advice from winner.

  7. Legacy, Goblins vs. Shardless BUG

    Both players have run out of cards in hand and life totals are fairly high. I have a Goblin Ringleader and a Tuktuk Scrapper in play. My opponent’s only nonland permanent is an Engineered Plague.
    He casts Shardless Agent, cascades into Abrupt Decay and leans over to read my Goblin Ringleader and Tuktuk Scrapper. I immediatly ask ‘do you want to cast it?’. He answers ‘yes’ and a judge confirms that the only legal target for his Abrupt Decay is his own Engineered Plague.

    1. There is no way I’m ruling that the Decay is being cast targeting Engineered Plague. We don’t force players to choose targets for spells when they attempt to do something illegal. I’m going to ask the opponent what they’re targeting with it and when they respond with either of the goblins I’m going to say that is an illegal target and that’s a game rule violation. We’re going to back up.

      1. I agree that it doesn’t apply here, but it could come up with something like Oblivion Ring – casting it is legal, it enters and turns out all your opponent’s things have shroud. You’ll have to exile something of your own.

      2. Similar outcome happened at the Modern GP yesterday. Judge made someone play ricochet trap with only one target the player was unaware of

        1. Because when he cast the trap, there was a valid target on the stack (the other guy’s spell).

          He tried to ricochet trap the other guy’s counterspell to counter itself, which was illegal.

          However, the guy could still play the ricochet trap, and when it RESOLVES, it has to select a new target (for the counterspell), and there was only one valid target on the stack – the trap – meaning the trap resolves with the intended outcome.

  8. My opinions on the given examples:

    Pillar of Flame – This one’s on a line. If he’s attempting to cast it without paying the correct mana cost, that’s an illegal action, and knowingly attempting to cast it illegally is, well, cheating. Revealing the card is a scummy mind game that I would rate worse than Kent’s RiP, but the player at 2 could have taken a second to look at the board and say “Sucks that you can’t cast it. My turn?”

    Surgical – Know what your cards do. Player B asked Player A if the spell was done resolving and Player A didn’t exile the Loam in the grave. Surgical doesn’t say “exile target card in a graveyard, then…” it says “Choose target card in a graveyard…” Total mistake on Player A’s part, low scum. The fact that this is something that could happen on Magic Online without misclicking, I can’t fault Player B.

    Titan – Player A should have announced they had a mana floating from casting the Titan. That was misrepresenting the board state, but he had the mana floating. If there was intent of tricking the opponent into Mana Leaking, that’s kinda scummy, but I doubt it. Regardless, I believe that’s just a warning, and if Mana Leak was the only answer to Titan, it didn’t matter anyway. Low scum.

    Force – Low-mid scum. Player A instigated the situation, literally asking. The right thing to do when Player A starts picking up their cards is to say “I don’t cast Force.” I see this as Player B being opportunistic and taking advantage of Player A being emotional.

    Thalia – Again, you need to announce floating mana when you cast a spell. It’s possible that no one realized… I’m not a judge, but I think that’s a game rules violation or at least something like failure to maintain game state (acting as though Thalia was not affected by Humility). I think it’s warnings for both players. Intent on Player A’s part is important in the scum factor here, and your situation implies that he was trying to mislead his opponent. Ultimately, I think this is on Player B for not understanding the cards unless he tries to play a spell and Player A points to Thalia like he has to pay more mana or something.

    Underworld – Player A needs to know what the cards do. Player B even confirmed. Entirely on Player A. Again, this is even something that you can do on Magic Online by just not understanding the cards.

    Elementals – Again, know what the cards do. Player A doesn’t need to give a number, same with Tarmogoyfs. As long as everything on board was clearly visible, nothing scummy here.

    Borby – I remember watching this happening. As soon as he put the Needle on the stack I was yelling at the screen to name the correct card. There were a million different things he could have done to uniquely identify Borborygmos Enraged, but he named the wrong card. This is on the Needle player, but it’s moderately scummy. Less than Kent I think, though.

    Clique – Player A needs to announce their triggers properly, but Player B throwing their hand on the table immediately is totally on them. Hard to tell if the information gained from Player B’s mistake changed Player A’s decision, and I would argue that looking closely at Player B’s hand or writing it down would be confirmation that the trigger resolved targeting Player B, but if it’s just a beat in shock before saying “target me,” no scum.

    1. Confirmation about announcing floating mana:

      “Whenever you pay a cost or pass priority with extra mana “floating” in your mana pool, you have to announce how much is still there, including the color.

      …If a player violates this rule accidentally, the penalty is a basic Game Rule Violation, with a Warning and a potential rewinding of the game.

      If a player intentionally violates this rule to gain an advantage, that’s a serious problem and could result in a Disqualification for Fraud at Competitive events like a Grand Prix.”

  9. Modern, I am playing KikiChord, opponent is on soul sisters. My opponent has 2 soul sisters on the battlefield. I combo off, explain the combo to him, and he scoops. Not realizing that for every three power I create, he gains 4 life. (kiki jiki copies angel: 2 sisters triggers. Angel blinks kiki who comes back in: 2 more sisters triggers, totaling 4 life per 3 power in angels.)

  10. Oh also, Cedric wrote an article titled “The Scumbag Dilemma” which brings up to examples:

    1.) Opponent says, “I cast Esper charm, targeting myself.” Opponent must now discard 2 cards, since discard is the only mode on Esper Charm that targets a player.

    2.) Going off with Storm, cast Empty the Warrens. Opponent casts Mindbreak Trap. The storm trigger has not yet resolved. Cedric can now say, “Okay, Mindbreak Trap exiles a copy of Empty the Warrens. Then, storm trigger resolves, making a bunch of copies of Empty the Warrens.

    1. With regards to 2 we’re going to ask when the player is casting Mindbreak Trap. Also, triggers that only create copies of spells are assumed to automatically resolve. The controller just needs to indicate awareness of the copies when they would resolve. Mindbreak Trap is going to get all the copies as the caster intended.

  11. Oh, also, here’s an example from Pokemon:

    There is a card called “Rocket’s Admin” that makes both players shuffle their cards into their deck and draw a new hand.

    Player A shows the Rocket’s Admin in their hand to Player B, and says, “Do you know what this card does?”

    Player B sighs and says “Yes.” Player B puts his hand on top of his library and starts shuffling.

    Player A calls a judge. “I didn’t actually say I was playing the card.” Player B receives a game loss.

    Player B is a 10-year-old kid.

    I don’t really have a problem with any of the Magic examples provided in Jeff’s post (or the comments), but this strikes me as a scumbag move because it’s intentionally trying to bait your opponent into committing a game rule violation. The context also factors into it a lot: for one thing, it happened in the junior division and also, trying to gain an advantage based on your superior understanding of the rules isn’t really part of the culture of Pokemon in the same way that it is in Magic. Magic is a complex game that tries to have precise templating, so it feels like it’s trying to reward players for understanding complex rules. Pokemon almost feels like the opposite: it’s a relatively simple and non-interactive game (no interrupts/instants), and the advice of “Just do what the card says” often doesn’t work in Pokemon due to vaguely-worded cards and weird rulings that contradict common sense; Judge calls in Pokemon are much rarer (and usually much more agonizing) than they are in MTG.

  12. I’m surprised that no one has brought up the Chapin Profane Command play that happened in 2009 that brought up a similar discussion. From

    ‘The crux of his play is that he said, “Profane Command, you lose 6 life and all my legal targets gain fear.” He then attacked with all of his creatures, including a Chameleon Colossus that did not have fear due to being an illegal target for Profane Command because of protection from black. His opponent tried to find a block that kept him alive, but because he thought that Colossus had fear, he could not find the game-saving block.’

  13. I’ve done the reverse for Underworld Connections in a desperate spot…

    Pithing Needle, name Connections, watch as they never activate it again 🙂

  14. GP Columbus, Legacy, late rounds of Day 2.

    I’m on Lands, opp on Elves. On T3, I activate my stage to copy my Forest. I slide a scrap of paper into my sleeve that says “Forest”.

    Several turns later, opp casts Pithing Needle, I’ve got nothing. It resolves, opp names “Thespian’s Stage”. Confirm twice, write it down. 2 turns later, I activate my “Forest” targeting my Dark Depths. Judge call.

    Opp gets salty.

  15. I had an instance in THS standard when I was playing a Red/Green list with a Korean copy of Xenagos, God of Revels. Eventually I have the devotion so Xenagos is a creature. My opponent casts Stoke the Flames on it and my stomach drops as I realize what my opponent is trying to do and they don’t know what the card is. I let Stoke resolve, he casts another Stoke on Xenagos, it resolves, I inform my opponent that Xenagos is indestructible and they scoop immediately.

    As long as the plays are allowable by the rules I feel its on the opponent not to make poor plays. My opponent shouldn’t need my help to beat me. I was fine with your examples, i would have even fine with 3 and 5 before you pointed out that they weren’t legal plays.

    1. Similar story. Played an IQ a few years ago in INN standard, had a Lily and an Avacyn in play. Opponent casts a removal spell on Avacyn.

      “It resolves.”

      Now on tilt, the opponent immediately casts a removal spell on Liliana.

      “It resolves”.

    2. Totally this. I once tried to counter someone’s Dragonlord Dromoka. He acknowledged the counter, then when at the end of turn I pointed out that it was still on the board, he showed me the “can’t be countered” clause. Totally on me. RTFC.

  16. In regards to the titan situation:

    106.4a. If a player passes priority (see rule 116) while there is mana in his or her mana pool, that player announces what mana is there. If any mana remains in a player’s mana pool after he or she spends mana to pay a cost, that player announces what mana is still there.
    116.3d. If a player has priority and chooses not to take any actions, that player passes. If any mana is in that player’s mana pool, he or she announces what mana is there. Then the next player in turn order receives priority.
    117.3a. Paying mana is done by removing the indicated mana from a player’s mana pool. (Players can always pay 0 mana.) If excess mana remains in that player’s mana pool after making that payment, the player announces what mana is still there.

    That’s either rewind with warning, game loss, or DQ depending on how the judge perceives intent.

  17. RTR Standard: A is on Esper Control N is on Mardu Aristocrats
    A have on battlefield Jace, Architect of Thought and Detention Sphere with irrelevant creature under it. N have on battlefield only Falkenrath Aristocrat.
    A- cast another Detention Sphere
    N- says “In response to cast, sacrifice Falkenrath to herself”
    A- confused “okey?”
    N- “choose target for Detention Sphere ETB trigger”
    A- thinks a little a point out Sphere on the battlefield
    N- “You can’t target another Sphere”
    A- reads the card, thinks a little, then put newly cast sphere on his Jace

  18. I’ll be rating them 1-10 (10 being the worst level of scum) and providing a quick reason why I gave each scenario that rating

    Pillar of Flame: 9

    It’s a clear angle shoot, which is highly scummy.

    Surgical Extraction: 0

    It’s not my job to enforce how well my opponent plays.

    Note: If I had removed the Life from the Loam from my graveyard, and then while my opponent was searching my library, moved it BACK into my graveyard because technically it’s my opponents job to announce/physically move the card from m my graveyard, it would be a 10 (which parallels the Kentroversy imo)

    Titan: (old rules) 0
    Titan: (new rules) 10

    This used to be allowed within the rules of the game. Now the rules of the game have been changed that if you’re floating any mana when you cast a spell you must announce specifically how much and what kind of mana you have floating.

    Force Fake Out: 0

    Opponent asked you a direct question and you directly answered. Now if the question was “can you Force?” and you show the Force and say “I’ve got it” then it moves much higher. As stated, this is fine though.

    Thalia: 10

    This is just pure cheating as defined by the current rules.

    Underworld Connections: 0

    If you don’t understand how cards work and name the wrong card with Pithing Needle, it’s not my job to tell you that it won’t do what you want it to do.

    Voice of Resurgence: 8

    If the question had been ‘how big are the Voice tokens’ then the given answer would be fine and this would be a zero. Instead, this is an angle shoot and is an attempt to NOT correct the opponent who has stated something as a fact from publicly derived information.

    Borborygmos: 4 or a 0

    At Competitive REL I would call this a 5, as it’s technically a legal card name in the format and though I’m almost certain he means Borborygmos Enraged, again I am not responsible to play his Pithing Needle optimally for him. Honestly, if it were me this happened to, even at Competitive REL, I would have just clarified he meant Borborygmos Enraged, because I feel it’s what he likely intended to name and used a verbal shortcut, but I wouldn’t hold it against another player for being technically precise if they chose to do so, I’d just think it was a little on the scummy side

    At Pro REL, it’s a 0; you should know better and play tighter at this level.

    Clique: Either a 0 or a 8

    If the Clique player does anything other than immediately look up/away and says “No no, I’m targetting myself” then it’s a 8. The only reason it’s not a 10 is because technically if an opponent just shows you their hand on a whim it’s not your job to not look, but it’s the implication that you’re using Clique to target them and see their hand, which makes it scummy behavior.

    1. Your scores constantly contradict each other. How can you say the underworld connection is a 0 and then say borborygmos could be a 4 or 0. You also say they should know cards better for underworld connections, surely that’s the same for the elementals. It isn’t hard to count creatures on the board.

  19. Infect mirror, I have a Spellskite in play. Opponent targets it with Vines of the Vastwood. I say “it resolves” he then targets his creature with Might of the Old Krosa, which I redirect to Spellskite.

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