Hello and welcome to our July edition of Policy Wonks! Today we’re going to take a closer look at a strange aspect of tournament policy that is often misunderstood and misapplied. Section 4.3 of the Magic Tournament Rules gives judges a tool to avoid overly penalizing players that participate in play that may not be completely technically accurate. That said, it can be very easy to over-apply this tool to avoid giving out penalties that actually are appropriate. Let’s dive into the gray area of Out-of-Order Sequencing!
What OoOS Is
Out-of-Order Sequencing (OoOS for short) is a concept built into the MTR to help smooth out a lot of inconsistencies in the way that players play a game of Magic. OoOS’s mandate is explained this way by the MTR: “It is acceptable for players to engage in a block of actions that, while technically in an incorrect order, arrive at a legal and clearly understood game state…” Put another way, some amount of inaccurate ordering is allowable if the order doesn’t *really* matter all that much. Let’s look at an example of OoOS from the RCQ I played in last weekend (I was playing a Lotus Field deck in Pioneer):
I controlled Niv-Mizzet, Parun and cast Pore Over the Pages . The technically correct sequence of events is this: resolve Niv-Mizzet trigger to draw a card, pick a target and deal one damage to it for the other Niv-Mizzet trigger, then resolve Pore to draw three cards, untap two lands, and discard a card, then choose three targets for Niv-Mizzet triggers and deal one damage to each of them. In the game itself, I cast the Pore, my opponent indicated no responses, then I said “shoot you for four,” discarded a Lotus Field that was already in my hand, drew four cards, and untapped two lands. Several of these steps were pretty far out of order, but none of these steps resulted in me gaining information before I was allowed to have it (MTR 4.3, paragraph 3). I dealt the four damage from the Niv-Mizzet triggers early and I discarded the card before drawing the cards or untapping the lands. However, this block of actions was completely well-understood by both myself and my opponent, was legal if each step had been done in the correct order, and my opponent had the opportunity to respond if they had wanted. These are all key elements of an OoOS situation.
What OoOS Isn’t
It is not difficult to tweak this scenario to violate any number of OoOS’s requirements. Here is a slight modification, so see if you can spot where the problem is:
I control Niv-Mizzet, Parun and cast Pore Over the Pages . My opponent indicates no response. I draw four cards, discard a Forest, untap two lands, then say “shoot you for four.”
This scenario is extremely similar, but now we have a problem. The decision of which target to pick for the first Niv-Mizzet damage trigger was supposed to be made before I drew the cards for Pore. Thus, I have gained information prematurely and that could have affected my decision of which target to choose for that initial trigger. The line in the MTR is that the “sequence must not result in a player prematurely gaining information which could reasonably affect decisions made later in that sequence” (MTR 4.3, paragraph 3). The word “reasonably” is there and is quite relevant for this situation, since it’s extremely likely that I was going to point all four triggers at my opponent regardless of which cards I drew. In the Lotus Field decks that run Niv-Mizzet, it’s the win condition, so the triggers are almost always pointed at your opponent unless there’s a problematic permanent (say, an Archon of Emeria ). However, perhaps one of the three Pore cards I drew was an Otawara, Soaring City that I could use to bounce an Archon instead. Now I’m incentivized to point all four triggers at my opponent since I won’t need to use them on the Archon. Drawing that card before choosing targets could very easily change my decision-making there, which is why information management is such a key part of ruling OoOS scenarios.
Let’s look at this line from the MTR: “Players [may not] use out-of-order sequencing to try to retroactively take an action they missed at the appropriate time” (MTR 4.3 paragraph 4). This line doesn’t apply to our Niv-Mizzet scenario, but let’s look at one (non-Pioneer) where it does:
I cast Dark Petition . My opponent says, “Sure, that resolves.” I pick up my deck and start searching, and my opponent interjects, “Stop! Nope!” and indicates their Leonin Arbiter that I have completely overlooked. I may have the two mana, but I failed to pay it before my Dark Petition started resolving and now it’s too late. The MTR is explicitly clear on this, even though it is extremely tempting to allow the player to pay now and call it OoOS. Judges aren’t there to stop players from making bad plays. It was my own fault for not paying attention to the game state, and now I’ve thrown a tutor away as a result. Here’s why it matters in this situation: I can only pay for Leonin Arbiter as a special action (CR 116.2d), which means I must do it when I have priority, even though the action does not use the stack. This means that my opponent is entitled to the information of whether or not I have paid for Arbiter when they are given priority before my Dark Petition resolves. They get to know this information and may use it to decide if they want to respond to the Dark Petition in any way, say by countering it. This means that this scenario can’t be OoOS.
Thank you for joining me on this exploration of Out-of-Order Sequencing! Would you allow OoOS on the second Niv-Mizzet scenario? Do you have other possible OoOS scenarios that are tripping you up? 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 firstname.lastname@example.org