Explanation of the Missed Trigger Policy Changes, or How Magic Is Dying Part 783


Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is accurate on the date of publishing. That being said, there is ongoing discussion about the general philosophy behind the recent Infraction Procedure Guide changes, and such discussions may effect additional change. As always, check with the Head Judge of your tournament to get the most up-to-date information.

The one thing I cannot stress enough is that none of these changes applies to Regular REL events – Keep playing nicely at FNM, Game Days, Prereleases, etc.

I was playing G/W tokens at FNM (bad example, I know) last week, and this situation kept coming up:

Me: Untap, draw.
Opponent: Your Shrine of Loyal Legions gets a counter.
Me: Oh, oops, thanks.

Me: Hero of Bladehold, go.
Opponent: Your Shrine of Loyal Legions gets a counter.
Me: Oh, oops, thanks.

Me: EOT Midnight Haunting. Untap, draw, Intangible Virtue, attack.
Opponent: How do you miss THREE Shrine triggers in a row? You’re the worst player EVER.

Has that ever happened to you? You’re playing a game against someone who missed a trigger, and you’re forced to point it out, because otherwise you’d be committing Cheating – Fraud. And it’s precisely that one missed trigger that causes you to lose the game. Well, good news, dear law-abiding players!

You no longer have to point out ANY of your opponent’s Missed Triggers

That’s right! Effective January 1, 2012, the Magic Infraction Procedure Guide (MIPG) states: “Players other than the controller of a trigger are under no obligation to point out that a trigger has been missed, though they may do so if they wish.” Think about the possibilities! If your opponent forgets his triggers, you can:

– Chump block Inferno Titan with your Soldiers!
– Laugh at the Chandra’s Phoenix in your opponent’s graveyard!
– Live after being hit with a Phage the Untouchable!

Honestly, I don’t play enough Magic to think of enough exciting ways to punish your opponent for missing triggered abilities, but I’m sure you can. The point is, you are no longer responsible for keeping track of your opponent’s triggered abilities. What used to be Cheating – Fraud is now acceptable behaviour. Of course, the triggered ability still exists – you just aren’t required to point it out. If you want to do so (for strategic purposes or because you’re Good Guy Greg), then by all means, do so.

What’s with the changes? Why is it that something was previously illegal, and now perfectly acceptable?

Keep that question in your back pocket. To answer that question, we have to explore (#twoexplores) another area of the MIPG: Optional Abilities.

Have you noticed how Innistrad has so few “may” abilities? It seems like “may” abilities exist only on cards that could have potential drawbacks. For example:

– You may have to kill your own flier with Geistcatcher’s Rig – You may deck yourself from Murder of Crows – You may get pinged to death with a transformed Cloistered Youth

Anything that doesn’t allow killing yourself or your creatures is a “must” ability. Why is that? I’ve heard that it’s because Wizards of the Coast is trying to make the game easier for new players to understand. And that does make sense – there’s already so much information to take in, an invisible trigger is probably one of the last things a new player would remember. By making them all mandatory, it puts the onus on both players – as long as one player remembers, the ability will go on the stack. It stops Magic from being a game of “Gotcha!” which is a great way to prevent players from quitting.

What about at tournaments that are more competitive? At higher levels of competition, Magic often does become a game of “Gotcha!” – players want to capitalize on their opponents’ mistakes; they don’t want to feel obligated to point them out. In this strict sense, competitive players don’t like Innistrad. (Although to be fair, in many other senses, competitive players LOVE Innistrad, but I digress.) Why should I have to tell my opponent to return a card with his Angel of Flight Alabaster when he can’t remember it himself? Shouldn’t he know his own cards? Why should I be forced to help him win?

It looks like the DCI listened to those complaints, because they’ve introduced “may” back into the game, and called them Optional Abilities

What are Optional Abilities?

First of all, optional abilities are only applicable in Competitive and Professional REL tournaments. That means none of this applies to your FNM. Besides, FNM has the unwritten rule of “Don’t Be a Douchebag ™.”

In a nutshell, optional abilities are triggered abilities or enter-the-battlefield replacement effects that have been changed from “must” to “may”. Like with existing “may” abilities, the fix for missing them is simple – if you miss one, we assume that you chose not to perform the “may” action, issue no penalty, and move on. Basically, an ability is optional if it is beneficial for its controller, or detrimental to its controller’s opponents. Here are the specific guidelines from the MIPG for what constitutes an optional ability, along with examples I added in parentheses:

An optional ability does one or more of the following things, and nothing else:
– Gains you life or causes an opponent to lose life. (Soul Warden)
– Puts cards from your library, graveyard, or exile zones into your hand or onto the battlefield. This includes drawing cards. (Elvish Visionary)
– Causes opponents to put objects from their hand or the battlefield into the library, graveyard or exile. (Ravenous Rats)
– Puts a permanent into play under your control or gives you control of a permanent. (Sower of Temptation)
– Puts +x/+x counters, or counters linked to a beneficial effect, on a permanent you control. (Shrine of Burning Rage)
– Gives +x/+x or a beneficial ability to a target creature you control. (Chasm Drake)
– Exiles, damages, destroys, taps, or gives -x/-x to an opponent’s target permanent. If the ability could target your own permanents, it is not optional unless that ability could target an opponent. (Kor Hookmaster is optional, Acidic Slime is not optional, Inferno Titan is optional)
– Gives you additional turns or phases. (Lighthouse Chronologist)
– Counters a spell or conditionally counters a spell, but only when cast by an opponent. (Chancellor of the Annex)
Abilities that trigger at the same point in each player’s turn and do something to “that player” (e.g. Howling Mine) are never optional.

To be clear, an ability is optional if it performs actions from one of more of those categories, and nothing else. An ability is either always optional or not – if it seems to be optional sometimes, but not optional at other times, then it is not optional. Finally, the list is exhaustive – if you think an ability is beneficial to you, but it doesn’t fit in the list, then it is not optional.

Here are some abilities that you may think are optional, but are not:

Frost Titan’s first ability – In the list of allowable actions for optional abilities, there is an entry that says “… conditionally counters a spell, but only when cast by an opponent.” Frost Titan’s ability does this when your opponent casts Doom Blade, but not when your opponent activates Royal Assassin. Since it is not optional sometimes, it is never optional.

Dark Confidant – The ability puts a card into your hand, but it also does something else. Since it doesn’t fit into exactly into the options listed, it is not optional.

Crypt Cobra – This follows the philosophy of optional abilities, but it is not covered in the list of acceptable actions.

Morkrut Banshee – Like Acidic Slime, it can target permanents you control as well, while not being able to target your opponent.

Manic Vandal when only your opponent controls artifacts – The “optionalness” of an ability is not influenced by the game state. In a vacuum, Manic Vandal could target an artifact you control. Even though you don’t control any artifacts, the ability is not optional.

Howling Mine – This type of card is already included in the criteria, but since it’s not in the actual “list” itself, it tends to get missed. Turbo Fog is not dead, people! REJOICE!

Handling Missed Triggers

With the exception of not having to point out your opponent’s missed triggers anymore, the policy on Missed Triggers has not really changed. If you miss a “may” trigger, then nothing happens. If you miss a trigger with a default action, assume you chose the default action. If you miss a trigger that requires choices or isn’t optional, and it is within a turn cycle since the ability should have gone on the stack, then put the ability on the stack. That’s it. There’s nothing too complicated about it.

The only thing you have to understand is that any Optional Ability is now treated as a “may” ability. If you miss it, nothing happens. If you don’t miss it (or your opponent points it out before it could be missed), then it goes on the stack, and you get to choose whether to perform the action or not. You don’t have to perform the action if your opponent points it out, just like you don’t have to draw and discard from Murder of Crows. (And yes, that means Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur is pretty good now – you don’t have to worry about decking yourself.)

You still cannot miss your own non-optional triggers. If you miss your own Vampire Lacerator trigger, that’s Game Play Error – Missed Trigger. If you didn’t acknowledge the trigger on purpose, or you remembered that you forgot a trigger from earlier and don’t call a judge, then that’s grounds for Cheating – Fraud.

And now, back to our unanswered question:

What’s with the changes? Why is it that something was previously illegal, and now perfectly acceptable?

Imagine what would happen if I told you that there were a set of triggered abilities that you didn’t have to point out if your opponent missed them. And then I said that there was a specific, inflexible set of guidelines that determined whether an ability belonged to that set. And then I said that there were nine guidelines. And then I said that within those guidelines, there were exceptions. And then I said that if you thought that a missed trigger belonged to that set but it didn’t, and you didn’t point it out, that you could be guilty of Cheating – Fraud.

Some help those Optional Abilities would be, right?

Everyone would be completely paranoid about whether a trigger belonged to the set of Optional Abilities, and nothing progressive would have been accomplished. Additionally, some players could feign ignorance when not pointing out their opponent’s triggered abilities. How do you verify the validity of this statement? “I thought Dark Confidant was an Optional Ability, so I didn’t point it out because I didn’t want him to get an extra card!” It’s possible that some players would know the exact criteria for Optional Abilities, and simply pretend not to know whenever it was convenient. By removing the opponent’s responsibility for pointing out Missed Triggers, that particular avenue of Cheating is removed.


– If ANY trigger controlled by your opponent is missed, you can choose or choose not to point it out – you are not obligated to.
– If you control the missed trigger, and you are ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN that it is an Optional Ability, then treat it as though you chose not to perform the action, and continue playing.
– If you control the missed trigger, and you have ANY AMOUNT OF DOUBT about whether it is Optional or not, call for a judge, and the judge will determine how to proceed.
– None of this applies to Regular REL events.

If you have any questions or comments about the changes, please let me know! I’ve only been privy to this information for one day more than you, so I won’t have all the answers, but I do have access to the secret judge chambers where we all live. If there is any question I can’t answer immediately, I will forward your question to the appropriate people.

Thanks for reading
Jason Wong
@azngenius on Twitter

P.S. A bit of financial/strategic advice: DO NOT ATTEMPT TO ABUSE TRANSCENDENCE. According to “Official Magic Policy Guy” Toby Elliott, the card will probably be errata’d so the ability becomes non-optional.