Missed Trigger Remedies

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Note: This article is based on the March 2008 Penalty Guide.

missed trigger flowchart The letter T!he current Penalty Guide contains a rather sophisticated but also complex section for Missed Trigger infractions. This article aims to clear up the section and provide an "algorithm" for determining the correct remedy. Please have a look at the flowchart on the right. It might look a bit intimidating at first, but the basic principle is simple. Once you get the hang of it, determining the correct resolution of a Missed Trigger situation should be easy. Of course, this chart can't help you in your investigation of a situation which you have to do before you apply any penalties and remedies. This chart is only used for the last step after you've determined the infraction to be Game Play Error—Missed Trigger.

To determine the correct remedy (or "fix") for a Missed Trigger situation, start at the top of the chart. Each diamond shape marks a decision that you have to make based on the triggered ability that was missed. When you reach a rectangle in the chart, you have found the appropriate remedy. Unless otherwise noted, the players also receive appropriate penalties.

Decisions

You have to determine several things to find the correct remedy. The chart abbreviates these decisions for space reasons. Here is a detailed explanation of each decision you might have to make:

"optional w/o consequences?"

Some triggered abilities are optional (they contain the words "may" or "unless"). If a triggered ability has no consequence if the optional action is not taken, follow the "yes" branch to the rectangle on the right; otherwise follow the "no" branch to the next decision point. One example of such an optional ability without consequences is Disciple of the Vault's triggered ability: "Whenever an artifact is put into a graveyard from play, you may have target opponent lose 1 life."

"has choices?"

Triggered abilities can have various choices, such as abilities that target or are optional. If the ability requires choices either while putting it on the stack or while resolving, follow the "yes" branch to check whether the ability has a default choice; otherwise follow the "no" branch and check whether the ability has visible effect on the game state. Even if there was only one valid choice at the time the trigger would normally have been put on the stack (for example, "target opponent" in a single player match), this trigger is still considered to have a choice.

"has visual effect?"

If the triggered ability requires no choices, but has an effect on the visual representation of the game, follow the "yes" branch of the chart. The Penalty Guide defines the visual representation like this:

The visual representation consists of elements the players are able to see happening or in play, such as zone changes and adding counters to permanents, as well as life totals.

If the ability requires no choices and has no effect on the visual representation of the game, follow the "no" branch. One example is Ageless Sentinels's triggered ability: "When Ageless Sentinels blocks, it becomes a Giant Bird and it loses defender."

"has default?"

Some triggered abilities that require a choice have default choices. In particular, optional abilities ("may" and "unless") have the default of choosing not to use the optional action. For example, consider Child of Gaea's triggered ability: "At the beginning of your upkeep, sacrifice Child of Gaea unless you pay {G}{G}." This trigger has a default action of sacrificing Child of Gaea. If the ability has such a default, follow the "yes" branch; otherwise, follow the "no" branch.

"within turn cycle?"

Some situations involving missed triggers are handled differently depending on when they are caught and brought to a judge's attention. The Penalty Guide defines the "turn cycle" for Magic as: "... the time from the beginning of a player's step or phase to the end of that player's next same step or phase." If the error is caught within such a turn cycle, follow the "yes" branch; otherwise, follow the "no" branch. For example, if a player misses a trigger at the beginning of his or her own upkeep and this is noticed during that player's next upkeep (presumably when the same ability triggers again), this is within a turn cycle.

Remedies

Remedies are marked with a rectangle in the chart. When a trigger is missed, the offending player usually receives a GPT—Missed Trigger penalty and the other players receive GPT—Failure to Maintain Game State penalties, unless the error was caught before those players could possibly benefit from it. Of course, intentionally "missing" a trigger that normally carries a penalty must be considered Cheating—Fraud. But please note that some triggered abilities don't need to be pointed out by either player and not doing so doesn't carry any penalty. These abilities are labeled with "no penalty" in the remedy box.

Similar to the decisions, the remedies are abbreviated on the chart. Here is a detailed explanation:

"effect not used/no penalty"

This remedy is used for missed triggers like Disciple of the Vault's: "Whenever an artifact is put into a graveyard from play, you may have target opponent lose 1 life." If such an effect is missed (even if it was missed intentionally), no penalty is assigned and it just assumed that the ability was not used.

"trigger resolved/no penalty"

Some triggers have effects that "just happen" and have no choices to make and no visual effect on the game state. For example, Baru, Fist of Krosa's triggered ability: "Whenever a Forest comes into play, green creatures you control get +1/+1 and gain trample until end of turn." It is perfectly okay not to announce such a trigger and let it resolve silently. Therefore, no penalties are issued (even if it was missed intentionally) and the effect is assumed to have happened. Of course, this can later lead to a Game Rule Violation if the trigger was really overlooked. For example, player A controls both Baru, Fist of Krosa and a Grizzly Bears and plays a Forest. Later that turn, A attacks with Grizzly Bears, which is blocked by a Glory Seeker. It is a GRV if Grizzly Bears is put into a graveyard, since the Grizzly Bear is 3/3 at this point and therefore was not dealt lethal damage.

"resolve immediately"

If an ability with choices was missed, but the ability has a default choice, the default effect of that ability is applied immediately, without using the stack and without a chance to respond by any player. All objects on the stack up to the first invalid one, if such an object exists, are backed up. Any triggered abilities that trigger as result of the default action being applied are put on the stack on top of all remaining objects. Players receive appropriate Missed Trigger and Failure to Maintain Game State penalties.

Consider the following situation: Player A has played a Pouncing Jaguar (a creature with echo) during her last turn. It is now the pre-combat main phase of A's turn. A plays a Grizzly Bears, to which B responds with a Terror, targeting the Pouncing Jaguar. A responds to the Terror with a Fact or Fiction. Before the Fact or Fiction resolves, someone notices that A failed to pay echo during her upkeep and a judge is called. Echo means: "At the beginning of your upkeep, if this permanent came under your control since the beginning of your last upkeep, sacrifice it unless you pay its echo cost." The default action of echo is to sacrifice the creature, so this is done now. Since playing the Terror is now an invalid action, the Terror and the Fact or Fiction are returned to their owner's hands and mana sources tapped for playing them are untapped. The Grizzly Bears remains on the stack.

If the echo creature is a Hunting Moa instead (which has the ability: "When Hunting Moa comes into play or is put into a graveyard from play, put a +1/+1 counter on target creature."), Hunting Moa's triggered ability would be put on the stack on top of the Grizzly Bears.

"put on stack"

In situations where the trigger has no choices but does have a visual effect on the game, or the trigger's choice has no default, the trigger is put on the stack as normal if the error is caught within a turn cycle. All choices that are made when the trigger goes on the stack are made now, but no choices can be made that were not possible when the ability would originally have been put on the stack. All players receive priority as normal and the triggered ability resolves as normal. Players receive appropriate Missed Trigger and Failure to Maintain Game State penalties.

"no fix"

In some situations, no fix is attempted and the game state is left as is if the error is caught after a turn cycle is over. Nevertheless, all players receive appropriate penalties. For example, a Flametongue Kavu came into play during player A's last precombat main phase, but its triggered ability ("When Flametongue Kavu comes into play, it deals 4 damage to target creature.") was missed. When Flametongue Kavu attacks during A's next turn, the error is caught. In this case no fix is attempted.

Examples

Now let's step through a few common or interesting scenarios and see how to apply the chart to them.

Example 1: Comes-Into-Play

First, let's have a look at two abilities that trigger on creatures coming into play. Player A controls a Herd Gnarr (a 2/2 creature). It has an ability that says: "Whenever another creature comes into play under your control, Herd Gnarr gets +2/+2 until end of turn." A plays a Kavu creature and attacks with the Herd Gnarr, which is not blocked. When A assigns 4 damage to B, B calls a judge, because of the missed trigger.

So let's look at the chart. Herd Gnarr's ability is not optional and has no other choices. Its effect has no visual effect on the game state. (The current size of a creature is not displayed anywhere, only its printed values and possibly any counters.) Therefore the remedy is "trigger resolved/no penalty". B receives 4 damage and no penalties are awarded.

Now look at the same situation, only that Herd Gnarr is now a Kavu Monarch (normally a 3/3 creature) that has the ability: "Whenever another Kavu comes into play, put a +1/+1 counter on Kavu Monarch." Only when A is about to assign 4 damage to B do the players notice that A failed to put a counter on the Kavu. Again, the ability is not optional and there are no other choices, but this time the effect has a visual effect on the game state. Since this was caught within a turn cycle, the correct fix is to put the ability on the stack now (in the Declare Blockers Step) and let both players respond to it. This means that B can play a Lightning Bolt in response to the ability and kill the Kavu before it gets a counter and assigns damage. A receives a Warning for Missed Trigger and B for Failure to Maintain Game State.

Example 2: Targeted Abilities

Flametongue Kavu's comes-into-play ability says: "When Flametongue Kavu comes into play, it deals 4 damage to target creature." When A plays it, no other creature is in play. (If that doesn't make sense to you, just assume that A is doing it for the effect of a Pandemonium in play.) During the next turn B plays a Grizzly Bear. After that resolves, B notices the missed trigger. Flametongue Kavu's ability is not optional, but it has choices (since it's targeted), even though the Kavu itself was the only legal choice at the time the ability should have been put on the stack. Also, there is no default choice for this ability. Since this was caught within a turn cycle, the ability is put on the stack now. A can only choose the Kavu as target, since the Grizzly Bears was not in play at the time the ability should have been put on the stack. A receives a Warning for Missed Trigger and B for Failure to Maintain Game State.

Example 3: Dark Confidant

Now for everyone's favorite missed trigger: Dark Confidant ("At the beginning of your upkeep, reveal the top card of your library and put that card into your hand. You lose life equal to its converted mana cost."). With Dark Confidant, we have to distinguish two cases: If the player controlling Dark Confidant draws two cards without revealing one of them, this is actually not a Missed Trigger, but is covered by GPE—Failure to Reveal.

If, on the other hand, the player only draws one card, that player committed a GPT—Missed Trigger. The ability of the Dark Confidant is not optional and has no other choices. But it has an effect on the visual state of the game, since a card needs to be revealed and life lost. Therefore, according to the chart, the correct remedy – if caught within a turn cycle – is to put the ability on the stack when this is caught. When the ability resolves, a card is revealed and the controller of the ability loses life. If the missed trigger is caught after a turn cycle is over, no card is revealed and no life is lost.

Example 4: Braids, Cabal Minion

Another all-time favorite for missed triggers is Braids, Cabal Minion ("At the beginning of each player's upkeep, that player sacrifices an artifact, creature, or land."). Braids, Cabal Minion has a non-optional trigger that requires a choice, but has no default action. Therefore, we arrive at the same remedy box as in the Dark Confidant case, but on a different path.

If the error is caught within a turn cycle, the ability is put on the stack. When the ability resolves, the player must sacrifice a permanent, but can't choose to sacrifice a permanent that wasn't in play at the time the ability should originally have resolved. If the missed trigger is caught after a turn cycle is over, no permanent is sacrificed.

Conclusion

These are only a few examples for a rather complex topic. Missed triggers promise to remain exciting in the future and will provide much fun and entertainment to both players and judges. While the current rules for handling missed triggers are quite complex, they provide a much more fair and consistent way for judges to handle these cases compared to how they used to be handled.

I would like to thank Scott Marshall, Toby Elliott, and Kersten Rückert for proofreading, commenting, and pointing out flaws in my reasoning or explanation. If you have any questions or comments regarding this article you can reach me at srittau@jroger.in-berlin.de or in EFnet's #mtgjudge channel, where I'm known as jroger. If you want to print the flowchart, let me know so I can send you a better quality version (higher resolution or Postscript) of it.

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