Policy Wonks: Failing to Maintain the Game State

Hello and welcome to our June edition of Policy Wonks! Today our topic is a strange little infraction in the IPG, one that is handled differently from every other infraction in the entire document. If you read the title of this article, then you know that I am, of course, referring to Failure to Maintain Game State (IPG 2.6). Let’s dive in!

What It Is

Failure to Maintain Game State (FtMGS for short) is never an infraction that is issued on its own. FtMGS is only ever issued to the opponent of a player that has received a Game Play Error (GPE for short) infraction. When delivering a GPE (such as a Game Rule Violation, or GRV) to a player, the IPG asks us to consider whether or not the opponent has had a reasonable opportunity to notice the error that was made. While the Missed Trigger policy says that players are never responsible for reminding their opponents about triggered abilities, this is NOT the case for any other game error. If a player pays the wrong mana for a spell or if a player puts a creature into their graveyard that hasn’t actually died, the opponent is expected to point out these errors if and when they notice them. You will encounter some more-competitive players that are somewhat irate about this and will complain that they are now “playing the game for their opponent,” but it is nonetheless their responsibility to make sure that only legal, correct actions are being taken in their match. FtMGS is our primary tool to enforce this responsibility.

What It Isn’t

FtMGS is unique among infractions because it is only ever given alongside a GPE. It is also unique due to the fact that it is never upgraded from a Warning (IPG 2). This can sometimes create the feeling that FtMGS is not a “real” infraction (because it does not come with a “real” penalty). However, just because FtMGS can never be upgraded to a Game Loss unlike other Game Play Errors does not mean that the infraction is entirely toothless. Put simply, players do not like to get Warnings. Ask any judge that has worked multiple Competitive REL events, they will tell you that they’ve had players argue against receiving Warnings of any sort, including from FtMGS. Players don’t like to receive Warnings. Thus, receiving a Warning is indeed a real penalty, even if it does not have a possibility of escalation. There are certainly some players out there that would completely brush off FtMGS Warnings since they will never affect their match scores (unlike a Game Loss or Match Loss), but most players are not robotic value calculators. Players are humans with emotions and it feels bad to be Warned by a tournament official. FtMGS may be a gentler infraction than GRV, but that’s intentional. If I cast a spell with the wrong mana, I’m the primary responsible party. My infraction and penalty should be harsher than my opponent’s, as they were simply a passive observer in my error. FtMGS in this situation serves to incentivize my opponent to pay closer attention to my game actions.

When It Isn’t FtMGS

The earlier example of a player casting a spell with the wrong mana was specifically chosen to center the direct responsibility of the error on one player. Then, if the opponent had a chance to notice the error and did not, it can be appropriate to issue FtMGS to that opponent. However, there are many errors in Magic that have actual shared responsibility. Let’s talk briefly about double GRVs!

Lots of Magic cards have effects that cause your opponents to change how they play the game. Sometimes your opponent takes an action due to your spell (think Path to Exile ) or sometimes your card changes the rules for both players (think Thalia, Guardian of Thraben ). Here, it is less clear who the “primary responsible” party is. Let’s say I control only a Mountain and cast a Shock targeting my opponent’s Thalia, Guardian of Thraben . My opponent puts their Thalia into the graveyard and I pass the turn. We get into my opponent’s next turn before we notice that I could not have cast that Shock . Who is responsible? My opponent, since they control the Thalia that created the tax on my spell? Or is it me, since I was responsible for paying the extra tax on my Shock ? The current IPG recognizes this shared responsibility and instructs us to issue a GRV to both players. Originally, this phenomenon was limited to some very narrow interpretations, such as me putting my creature into the graveyard when my opponent casts Path to Exile on it. As that policy was implemented in real-life tournaments, though, judges noticed that it made sense for a much larger set of situations (such as the Thalia Shock scenario). In these scenarios, the shared responsibility is reflected in the increased equity of the infractions and resulting penalties. Both players receive GRVs, which come with upgradeable Warnings.

Failure to Maintain Game State, based on its name, feels like an infraction that fits in a lot of different places when players make errors in their games. However, it is a specific infraction that is only issued in specific situations alongside a single-player-error GPE that wasn’t caught quickly. This does involve some judgment on your part, as it can be unclear where the line on “does not point it out immediately” lies. If a player casts a spell with the wrong mana then plays a land before the opponent points out the wrong mana, should that get a FtMGS? I would argue yes, since the spell had some number of actions in its resolution that had to have passed. But if the player is playing things quickly and the opponent is having a hard time keeping up, then perhaps the FtMGS isn’t appropriate. This is where we use our discretion as judges.

Thank you for joining me on this edition of Policy Wonks! I hope you have a greater appreciation and understanding of our little FtMGS friend and its usefulness as part of our toolbox for Competitive REL events. Have an interesting situation that could be a double GRV but you’re not sure? Still think FtMGS is a pointless infraction? Continue the conversation on the Judge Academy Discord server!

If you’d like to contact me, you can find me on the Judge Academy Discord server or by email to daniel@judgeacademy.com