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Did You Say "Combat"?


Hello everybody!

Aether Revolt had been released, the Standard format had changed (a little?) and it was time for a Pro Tour.

The Pro Tour circuit was back in the city of Dublin, a city that has never hosted any Grand Prix, but that has already hosted two Pro Tours.

Dublin, the city of Guinness, in the country of Gaelic culture, famous for its green fields and frequent thunderstorms (I see a correlation between these two! ^__^).

A very interesting situation happened during one of the matches on camera, and several players have already offered their opinion. My goal today is to explain to you what the rules say.

Enjoy reading.

Pro Tour Dublin 2017

Dublin is the capital of Ireland, that “small” island in the upper left corner of Europe…

… no, not that one far far away, that one would be Iceland.

OK, Ireland is the quite big Island on the left of the United Kingdom…

… no, Ireland is not part of the United Kingdom, have you ever watched the Olympic Games?

Ireland is the country that gave its flag to Italy, but Italians thought that one of the colors had been washed away, and repainted it: (before you tell it to somebody else: it’s a joke!)

Here you have a short video to get a glimpse of the city.

Policy Theory and Situations: The “Combat?” Shortcut

Which are the “rules” of Magic?

This looks like an easy question, that actually has a few different answers, depending on the context.

If we are playing at home, the answer is “This small booklet”.

If we are competitive players who want to know everything about the rules of the game and the interactions between cards, the answer is “This big book”.

If we are competitive players and we participate in tournaments, there is a second document to read: the “Tournament Rules”.

If we are competitive players, we participate in tournaments, and we also want to know how infarctions are handled, there is a third document to read: the “Infraction Procedure Guide”, or “IPG”.

These last two documents are referred to as “policy” (maybe it’s an improper use of the word, but this is the Magic slang).

The section we are going to look at today is in the “Tournament Rules”, and it’s the section about “shortcuts”, specifically about the “Combat shortcut”.

My goal is to explain to you, with very simple words and parallels, how it works and why it works the way it does.

What do you mean with “shortcut”?

First, here you have the definition from the Oxford online dictionary:

“An accelerated way of doing or achieving something”

Then, you have the definition of the Magic Tournament Rules:

“A tournament shortcut is an action taken by players to skip parts of the technical play sequence without explicitly announcing them. Tournament shortcuts are essential for the smooth play of a game, as they allow players to play in a clear fashion without getting bogged down in the minutiae of the rules. Most tournament shortcuts involve skipping one or more priority passes to the mutual understanding of all players.”

Finally, you have my definition of shortcut:

“Something that is so common that we can consider it obvious”.

I want to use the one that I believe is the most “obvious” shortcut: the one about casting a burn spell on a Planeswalker.

If our opponent casts a burn spell targeting one of our Planeswalker, there are no doubts, right?

He wants to use his burn spell to deal damage to our Planeswalker; easy and very common, right?

OK, technically, he’s casting his spell targeting us and then redirecting the damage to our Planeswalker; in reality, it’s much faster to say “Bolt Jace” than “I cast my Bolt targeting you; if you don’t do anything in response, when my Bolt resolves, I will redirect the damage to your Jace”… long and boring, let’s just say “Bolt Jace”, ok?

The official shortcut says “A player is assumed to be attacking another player with his or her creatures and not any planeswalkers that player may control unless the attacking player specifies otherwise”.

OK, now we have a clear idea of what a shortcut is; it’s a way to communicate in a quicker more relaxed way.

The “Combat” Shortcut

How does combat work?

It’s my turn, I attack you, I deal you damage, I’m happy, I pass.

OK, I'll explain it in more detail.

You passed, and I’m about to play my turn.

I untap, I draw, I play a land, maybe I play a spell; then, assuming that I have a creature, I will want to use it to attack you.

If I don’t want to attack, I will just cast my spells and, when I’m done with all my actions, I will say “Go” or “Your turn” or an equivalent sentence.

If I want to attack, I see two types of situations:

1) My opponent has no creatures and has no mana or activated abilities to use. I will just attack and write down the damage. If he has any surprise, like a spell that costs zero mana, well, they are not common, he will interrupt my actions and will tell me when he wants to do it

2) My opponent has cards with special abilities (like “Tap target creature) or is playing blue and he may have a Cryptic Command or similar (again, an effect like “Tap all creatures”). In this case, I will ask my opponent “Can I attack?”, which means “Do you want to use any spell or ability before I attack?”; it’s the short version, so it’s a *short*cut.

This second case is the one that is more complicated, and I want to use the Cryptic Command and the man-lands (lands that can become creatures) to explain to you why this shortcut exists, and why it works this way.

1) Why should I attack immediately?

I control a creature and a land-creature (not animated). These are my thoughts:

“If I animate my creature and my opponent has Cryptic Command, he will tap both and I will deal zero damage”. True.

“I can try to attack with just the creature. If my opponent has Cryptic Command, he will tap my creature, but then I will be able to animate my land and deal some damage”. True, I receive priority again, after his Cryptic Command resolves and before I need to declare attackers.

“I can try to attack with just the creature. If my opponent has no Cryptic Command, I will deal some damage”. True.

“I can try to attack with just the creature. If my opponent has no Cryptic Command, I will be able to animate my land and deal a lot of damage”. NO, it doesn’t work like this.

Explanation 1: “you told me you wanted to attack, now you have to attack!”

Explanation 2: “you know that I have no Cryptic Command and now you are safe in animating your land, it’s unfair!”

Parallel 1: “you asked me if I was ready to go, I told you yes; now you cannot tell me that you want to do something else!”

Parallel 2: “you told me to go first, and I thanked you; now you cannot tell me that you changed your mind!”

Threat 1: “you told me you were ready to attack, and that’s a promise; if you don’t keep your promise, your soul will be damned!”

Threat 2: “you tricked me and now you know I cannot tap your creatures; you are dishonest, your honor is no more!”

OK, just choose the sentence that sounds more convincing to you; that’s the reason why you should attack immediately.

2)     Why are all sentences containing “combat” or “attack” the same?

Magic is a strategy game, not a game of language.

I don’t know how many languages you speak and at what level you speak them; in any case, let’s play a strategy game in Italian.

I don’t know how many university degrees you have or if you studied Latin or how many verb tenses you use in your language or how many books you read every month… just know that I will play using a very complicated set of sentences, with the only goal being to confuse you.

No, that would be too easy.

I will make you play with a friend of mine, who speaks Chinese, and you must play in Chinese.

You are able to recognize the tones of syllables in Chinese, right?

You are able to recognize the conditional mode and subordinated and coordinated clauses in Chinese, right?

Did you get my point?

Magic is a strategy game, which should be playable by people who speak any language; the knowledge of the language should not be a factor in a *strategy* game.

So, let’s make a deal: we will all speak “Magic English”, which doesn’t use the conditional mode, has only very simple short sentences, and uses “Combat” or “Attack” as a single word to indicate that we have nothing else to do before attacking.


3)     Why my opponent is acting in the beginning of combat step

Here, I will be short, and I will use a very simple example.

I have one creature and I say “Attack?”. You tap it in response.

Then, I cast a creature with haste and I want to attack.

You disagree, right?

Why do you disagree?

Because you *obviously* tapped my creature *just before I attacked with it*, which means that you cast your spell in the beginning of combat step (it’s the first step of the combat phase).

OK, it’s obvious that you did it in my combat phase; we all agree, and it’s codified.

Now, a very important question:

“Is it the way combat should work?”.

Answer 1:

We can have different opinions, and I’m not here to convince you that my opinion is better than yours; my opinion is better for me, just like your opinion is better for you; I listen to you, just like you listen to me. If we remain on our original positions, there is nothing wrong.

I’m here to explain to you how it works, so that you will know and you will remember it during your games.

Answer 2:

We can’t choose how it works. Somebody else decided it.

At the beginning of the game, we draw 7. We can’t change it.

(I know, this is a crappy answer)

Answer 3:

If you believe that it should work differently, please feel free to send your opinion; often, good changes come from single opinions.

If you believe you have a better way for it to work, please phrase it in the most precise and complete way and send it to Wizards Customer Service (and they will direct you or forward it to the appropriate people).

Replying to this article can stimulate some discussions, but will not get to the inbox of the people who are in charge of “how it works”.

Great Judges of the World: Toby Elliott

Toby Elliott is a former L5 and current Hall of Fame judge; he has been one of the pillars of the Magic Judge program for many years, and he’s one of the Pro Tour head judges (he’s regularly the head judge of all Pro Tour events in Honolulu ^__^ and he was the head judge of the last Pro Tour in Dublin).

For those of you who are in the international judge scene and know that I like to joke, Toby is one of my favorite “targets”, because he’s the symbol of order and consistency and precision… while I am in favor of creativity (some may say “you are chaotic”, but it’s not true), flexibility (some may say “you disregard rules”, but it’s not true), passion (some may say “what about being more professional?”, but it’s not true).

If you need to choose a symbol of Magic, don’t take him, he’s way too blue and white… red is much better, follow me! ^___^

Goodbye Dublin

… and another awesome adventure has come to an end.

Dublin is a fabulous city to visit; the picture below was the small hotel I stayed in, wonderful!

I hope you enjoyed this article, and I’m looking forward to reading your comments.

In the next article, we will go back to one of the cities that are among the most selected for European GPs: Barcelona.


About Riccardo Tessitori

Riccardo Tessitori
Riccardo Tessitori

Riccardo Tessitori is a level 3 (former level 5) judge from Italy (and former Pro Player ^__^); he judged more than a hundred professional events, headjudged more than 40 Grand Prix events in Europe, the United States and Asia and has been headjudging Pro Tours and World Championships since 2009:

  • Pro Tour Kyoto 2009
  • Pro Tour Austin 2009
  • Worlds Chiba 2010
  • Pro Tour Philadelphia 2011
  • Pro Tour Barcelona 2012
  • World Magic Cup Indianapolis 2012
  • Pro Tour Dublin 2013
  • Pro Tour Valencia 2014
  • Pro Tour Brussels 2015
  • Pro Tour Madrid 2016
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