Welcome to today’s edition of The Rulebook! We’ll be discussing an interesting way of interpreting the Comprehensive Rules when it comes to handling actions within a game of Magic, one that has helped numerous judges advance their rules knowledge. We’re going to talk about game events.
What is an Event?
Importantly, we’re not talking about “Magic events” in the typical sense. This isn’t an article about a CommandFest or a $1k. Instead, the topic is for individual events within a game of Magic. An event can be defined as “an action or group of actions that are handled simultaneously as determined by the relevant Comprehensive Rules.” The key word in that definition is “simultaneously,” as that vital aspect will inform how these various scenarios are handled by the game. This is best illustrated through examples, so let’s dive in!
Untap (CR 502)
The Untap step has three important events, two of which can get somewhat tricky. First, we handle phasing (CR 502.1, 702.26). This is a great example of what we’re talking about with regards to “events” since all of the active player’s phased-out permanents phase in and permanents with phasing phase out at the same time. They never see each other and we avoid any issues of a permanent phasing back in and then right out again or vice versa. You determine which things need to phase in, which things need to phase out, then you execute both actions at the same time. This will be a recurring theme.
Second, we handle Day and Night (CR 502.2). If it’s Day and no spells were cast last turn, it becomes Night. If it’s Night and an active player cast at least two spells last turn, it becomes Day. If it’s neither, it stays neither. This isn’t a great example of an event (though it certainly is one!), so let’s move on to the last one.
Finally, the active player untaps their permanents (CR 502.3). The rule reads, in part, “… the active player determines which permanents they control will untap. Then they untap them all simultaneously.” This should sound familiar to the phasing turn-based action earlier. Here it’s particularly important because cards like Winter Orb exist. It used to be somewhat unclear if you could untap Winter Orb “last” in order for your lands to be untapped before being stuck under Winter Orb’s effect. Now, if your Winter Orb is tapped when your untap step starts, you determine the permanents you get to untap without accounting for Winter Orb’s effect, then untap them all simultaneously. Thus, Winter Orb does not stop you from untapping your lands and will be untapped for your “lucky” opponent(s)’ turns! Am I saying that you should use something like Opposition to make sure that your Winter Orb is tapped before your next turn? Well, I’m not NOT saying it. The bottom line is that handling the untap action as a single, simultaneous event helps clarify how the rules apply to it.
Replacement Effects (CR 614, 616)
There are several card interactions that, when viewed through the lens of handling an event, become much easier to comprehend. The go-to example that I currently point to is the interaction between Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet and Thalia, Heretic Cathar that was common in Standard a few years ago. Specifically, the situation was this: what happens if you control Kalitas, your opponent controls Thalia, and Thalia dies? Take a moment to try to work it out yourself before continuing to the next paragraph.
Here’s how we use an “event-focused” approach to work out this interaction. We start with the basic event: “Thalia is put into her owner’s graveyard.” From here, we determine that a replacement effect applies to this event, specifically Kalitas’. The event is now “Thalia is exiled and Kalitas’ controller creates a 2/2 black Zombie creature token.” Since all of this evaluation is happening *before the event occurs* Thalia’s replacement effect will now apply to this event! The final event is now “Thalia is exiled and Kalitas’ controller creates a tapped 2/2 black Zombie creature token.” This event has no more modifications and is then executed. Thalia is exiled and Kalitas’ controller creates a tapped 2/2 black Zombie creature token.
State-Based Actions (CR 704)
The last example we will look at involves state-based actions, since CR 704.3 tells us to “[perform] all applicable state-based actions simultaneously as a single event.” Let’s say you attack your opponent with your Glistener Elf while they control an Arcbound Worker with one +1/+1 counter and an Ornithopter as their only creatures. Your opponent blocks with the Arcbound Worker. Can your opponent put any counters on their Ornithopter? Take a moment to try to work it out yourself before continuing to the next paragraph.
Combat damage is straightforward in this scenario. The Arcbound Worker and Glistener Elf each do one damage to each other. The Elf’s damage is processed as placing a -1/-1 counter on the Worker. The Worker’s damage is processed as marking one damage on the Elf. Now, three state-based actions apply in the first check during the Combat Damage Step before you receive priority. One creature has zero toughness or less (704.5f on the Worker), one creature has damage marked greater than or equal to its toughness (704.5g on the Elf), and a permanent has both a +1/+1 counter and a -1/-1 counter on it (704.5q on the Worker). As we saw earlier, 704.3 tells us to process the corresponding actions as a single event. This means that, simultaneously, we place the Glistener Elf into your graveyard, place the Arcbound Worker in your opponent’s graveyard, and remove both counters from the Worker. This is the point when Modular triggers, with the Ornithopter as its only valid target. Now we come to the key question: does Modular “see” the +1/+1 counter on the Arcbound Worker in order to put it on the Ornithopter? CR 608.2h tells us this: “If the effect requires information from a specific object, … if it’s no longer in [the public zone it was expected to be in], … the effect uses the object’s last known information. See rule 113.7a.” Crucially, this means that we look back to see how the Arcbound Worker last existed on the battlefield. And, since it was put into the graveyard *at the same time* that the counters were removed, this means that it did indeed have the +1/+1 counter before it left! This means that, even though Glistener Elf had Infect, it doesn’t destroy the Worker’s counter quite fast enough to stop the Ornithopter from getting it.
Thank you for spending your time with me learning about in-game events and how the game processes information. Did this help you understand a weird interaction? Did this only confuse you further? 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 email@example.com