Angles

It’s Turkey break here in the States, and the current Twitter trend in Magic is angle shooting. I’ve also heard it referred to as angle sniping, rules lawyering, shady play, and scummy play. These words generally have a negative connotation, but this is a recent change. Throughout Magic’s history, we used another term to describe these kinds of plays: Jedi Mind Tricks.

In the 1990’s, WotC produced The Duelist magazine. It was amazing, and it featured some of the best coverage of Magic tournaments to date. In fact, I want to go on the record here and say Magic coverage was its best when BethMo was running The Duelist.

The Duelist included play-by-play of interesting interactions at high level events. The authors explained the relevant game state, the decisions, and the impact clearly with great photos of the tournament and board state at that time. They had interviews with the players, Magic Lore, upcoming events, and so much more. I wish they still continued The Duelist. It was the one of two paper magazines I have ever subscribed to, and the work product was consistently amazing.

This is important, because I have a markedly different perspective than many of our players today. The Duelist set the standard for exceptional plays and exceptional thinking skills for the next twenty years of my life, and I hope to continue to carry it with me moving forward.

So let’s work through some deliberately contentious scenarios together, courtesy of @Maxtortion, with permission.

Scenario #: Clean %, Slightly Scummy %, Quite Scummy %, (Cheating) %, with my choice in bold.

Scenario 1: 33%, 34%, 28%, 5%
[Opponent has Liliana, the Last Hope in play against my empty board]
Me: Delver of Secrets, pass turn
Opp: Plus Liliana, pass turn
Me: Upkeep, Delver trigger?
Opp: Your Delver should be dead.
Me: You didn’t target my Delver.

The history of magic strikes back. These rules exist because players are so consistently bad at communication so often, the Judges had to codify them. Your opponent wants to win and does not have your best interests at heart. Learn from other people’s mistakes and communicate clearly. Announce your target(s). I voted for Slightly Scummy, but this is a 100% clean play, and your opponent is also wrong for not maintaining proper game state. Opp didn’t announce the Liliana target, and the +1 for Liliana’s -2/-1 is optional and has no target by default.

Scenario 2: 22%, 23%, 41%, 15%
[I have a Grafdigger’s Cage in play, and a Wrenn on 7 loyalty, opponent at 9 life]
Me: Ultimate Wrenn
Opponent: Ok
Me: [reveal 3 lands from hand and point to the Lightning Bolt in the graveyard]
Opponent: [concedes]

I could see this going any number of ways. I, as an explicit player, announce my spells and targets. If I point to a card, I am not casting a spell, just like if I point to your non-basic land, that does not imply I am activating my Wasteland to destroy it. Other players are less explicit in their communication. If the match’s previous communication included hand gestures for brevity’s sake to cast a spell, then that could be construed as casting the spell. Either way, concession is optional. Make your opponent win the game.

Scenario 3: 49%, 23%, 20%, 8%
[Opponent is playing Food Chain. I know it’s a mana ability.]
Me: JUDGE!
Judge: Yes?
Me (In front of opponent): Can I name Food Chain with Pithing Needle?
Judge: Yes.
Me: Pithing Needle on Food Chain.

This is as clean as it gets. The Judge handled this correctly. You may name a card with a Mana Source ability with Pithing Needle. Naming a card with a Mana Source ability will not disable the Mana Source ability. If you do this to try and trick your opponent into not using, say, Food Chain, shame on your opponent for not reading the card.

Scenario 4 (a): 46%, 23%, 23%, 9%
[Playing Scapeshift, 2 Valakuts and 6 Mountains are in play, but only two Mountains are left in library. Opponent is at 13]
Me: [Casting Scapeshift] Scapeshift you out?
Opponent: [Concedes to the Scapeshift on the stack]

This is borderline unethical because of the phrase ends with the implication of lethal damage when 2 Valakuts * 2 Mountains = 12 non-lethal damage. Because your opponent did not make you play it out, the future game state doesn’t matter. Your knowledge of your deck, oddly enough, doesn’t matter either, because it is hidden knowledge. You are not obligated to reveal how many mountains you have remaining in your deck. This might matter more in a posted decklist situation, like a Top 8, but I’d be curious for an L3 Judge’s take on that situation.

Scenario 4 (b): 64%, 18%, 15%, 4%
[Playing Scapeshift, 2 Valakuts and 6 Mountains are in play, but only two Mountains are left in library. Opponent is at 13]
Me: [Casting Scapeshift] Scapeshift?
Opponent: [Concedes to the Scapeshift on the stack]

This is the perfectly perfect way to handle this. Your opponent should have made you play it out.

Scenario 5: 18%, 21%, 42%, 19%
Me: Tendrils of Agony.
Opponent: Mindbreak Trap.
Me: Mindbreak Trap resolves. Storm trigger?

This used to be a 100% clean play when Extended was a format, and it was a common trick Storm players used. This occurs only in paper because, well, people are stupid. There, I finally said it. I’ve been wanting to say it throughout the article, but this is where it happened. Your opponent is stupid because they didn’t make you put the Storm trigger on the stack, pass priority to resolve it, make you target all of the spells, and then cast the Mindbreak Trap. Instead, they got impatient (read: Stupid.) and lost the game.

This only works on paper, because MTGO will automatically put the Storm trigger on the stack, and Arena only has that heathen format, Standard, where the cards rotate and the bans don’t matter anyhow.

Scenario 6: 37%, 22%, 27%, 15%
[I have a True-Name Nemesis in play as my only creature]
Opponent: Toxic Deluge
Me: [Interjecting a little bit] paying 1 puts you to 12?
Opponent: Yes
Me: Okay, you’re at 12. Zealous Persecution?

This is perfectly clean. You don’t speak for your opponent. Your opponent has to pay the life cost, and your opponent decides the amount.

Scenario 7: 56%, 24%, 16%, 5%
[I have a Thespian’s Stage that is currently copying Forest]
Opponent: Pithing Needle.
Me: On Thespian’s Stage?
Opponent: Yeah. Me: Untap, play Dark Depths, use my Forest-Stage to make a 20/20

Honestly, I don’t understand Thespian Stage here. It’s not for a lack of reading. It’s not because I’m stupid. It’s not even for a lack of trying. I’ve done the Judge Program. It’s because Layers is Magic’s Hard Problemâ„¢.

If I understand correctly, Thespian’s Stage’s name is Forest at that point in time, so you would need to name Forest to prevent the activation.

In reality, I would stop and call a Judge. I would explain the situation (Needle has resolved, and I want to name that card, clearly illustrating the Stage/Forest), and then both my actual intent is clear to a Judge, and, most importantly, even if the Judge answers the Hard Problemâ„¢ incorrectly, I still get the right answer.

This is a totally legal play. Opponent, your ignorance (mine, too!) is no excuse. Find a better solution.

Scenario 8: 64%, 16%, 14%, 7%
[Opponent controls a Windswept Heath and a Verdant Catacombs]
Me: Pithing Needle naming Verdant Catacombs
Opp: Wait, with Pithing Needle on the stack, I’ll crack Verdant Catacombs for a Forest. Me: Ok. I’ll Pithing Needle naming Windswept Heath.

This is a neat interaction and the example gave me a good laugh. Let’s break this down.
First, Pithing Needle has no ETB trigger. You can only respond to Pithing Needle’s ability while the spell is on the stack, and then, only when your opponent prematurely announced it. Second, once you respond to the spell, you reset the named card back to [unnamed], and the caster gets to choose a new spell (same or different) upon resolution. Finally, there is nothing stopping a player from announcing the named card upon casting. If the opponent responds, see point two.

My Pick:
My favorite scenario is the Pithing Needle / Food Chain. This is a perfectly valid play. Under most circumstances, it is an objectively bad play. But it is may be a perfectly viable play that is bad and might win you the game. That’s fantastic. As long as you don’t indicate Pithing Needle is stopping players from activating Food Chain’s Mana Source ability, you’re fine.

In Summary:
I think Max and I differ on this specific example philosophically. The question isn’t whether or a play is valid [because you want to win]. The question is, is it allowed? The answer to that question is not always black and white. But, more importantly, you can avoid these scenarios in the future by having clear communication with your opponents, maintaining proper game state, and making your opponent win. So why are you throwing games away?

There are plenty of Jedi Mind Tricks to still be had, and they’re perfectly fine, but you’ll need to perform these in a proper manner.

Never ever:
* misrepresent the board state
* misrepresent your intent
* misrepresent an illegal play

In short, don’t cheat.

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