Trigger Happy – My Take on the New Missed Trigger Policy



Disclaimer: I know full well going into this that not everyone will be in agreement with what they are about to read. The point of this article is not to give a be-all, end-all “This is the best trigger policy ever and it should not change!” argument. Rather, it is to provoke discussion and to share views. I look forward to seeing a lively discussion…not a flame-war!

Let’s go back to August 2011. I was about a year exposed to Magic and was getting my feet wet in competitive level play, through both judging and playing at events. I was in the middle of a StarCity Games IQ, playing against a person who, like me, seemed pretty new to the game. The following exchange occurred during our match (I’ll say this is game 3 for dramatic effect):

Opponent: “Untap, Upkeep, Draw…Ok, attacks – Attack with Chandra’s Phoenix for 3, putting you at 4 life. Okay, second Main Phase…um…pay 3, activate Shrine of Burning Rage – you take 3, putting you to one. Okay?”

Me: “Actually, you missed your Shrine trigger on your upkeep. It’s not a may ability, either.”

Opponent: “Oh, okay…so, you die?”

Me: *Sighs* “Yes.”

Since then, a lot has changed. Players and judges have been subjected to a plethora of missed trigger policies in the last year. From Lapsing Triggers to beneficial and detrimental triggers, it has been a lot to take in. As both a player and a judge, it has been a confusing experience, going from one set of policies to another with no apparent end in sight. In October, the latest set of rules changes came to be, and Lapsing Triggers became a thing of the past. In an effort to clarify and simplify the process for handling missed triggers, the latest revision of the IPG now requires that players be responsible for all of their triggered abilities, regardless of the effect.

The biggest change around this new policy is that players are now required to point out “invisible” triggers (those triggers that have no visual effect on the game state), or they do not happen – unless you have the nicest opponent ever and they put the trigger on the stack. Here are some examples:

As you’ve probably read by now, a lot of fussing has come about since the new policies were released. They generally coalesce into this point: players don’t want to come across as scumbags for following the rules and telling their opponents “Hey, those five Exalted triggers that you were supposed to have but never made me aware of? Yeah…they don’t happen…sorry?”

Today, I’m going to share with you, as both a player and a judge, my thoughts as to why I feel that the current Missed Trigger Policy is the most optimal implementation of the policy in the last 12 months.

No single implementation of this policy will satisfy all players – there will be supporters and critics of any change in rules policies – but the Missed Trigger policy, as it stands, is the clearest, most intuitive offering provided since 2011.

The Policy Itself

Before we delve too deep into the new policy, it might be beneficial for you all to see the current policy (if nothing else, it’s a good refresher!). Below is the text of the current Missed Trigger policy in its entirety:

2.1. Game Play Error — Missed Trigger Definition A triggered ability triggers, but the player controlling the ability doesn’t demonstrate awareness of the trigger’s existence and/or forgets to announce its effect. If a triggered ability has been partially or incorrectly resolved, instead treat it as a Game Play Error — Game Rule Violation. A trigger is considered missed once the controller of the trigger has taken an action after the point at which a trigger should have resolved or, in the case of a trigger controlled by the non-active player, after that player has taken an action that indicates they have actively passed priority. Players may not cause triggered abilities to be missed by taking game actions or otherwise prematurely advancing the game. For example, if a player draws a card during his or her draw step without allowing the controller of a triggered ability that would trigger during that turn’s upkeep to resolve it, place that trigger on the stack at this point and issue no penalty. Examples A. A player controls Braids, Cabal Minion. After he has declared attackers, he realizes that he has failed to sacrifice a permanent at the beginning of his upkeep. B. A player realizes that she forgot to remove the final counter from a suspended spell. C. A player forgets to pay the cumulative upkeep cost for a creature. D. A player controls Soul Warden and forgets to gain 1 life when a creature enters the battlefield under his opponent’s control.

Philosophy Triggered abilities are common and invisible, so players should not be harshly penalized when forgetting about one. Players are expected to remember their own triggers; intentionally ignoring one is considered Cheating — Fraud. However, remembering triggers that benefit you is a skill. Therefore, players are not required to point out missed triggers that they do not control, though they may do so if they wish. The controller of the missed trigger only receives a Warning if the triggered ability is generally considered detrimental for the controlling player. The current game state is not a factor in determining this. Whether a Warning is issued or not does not affect how the trigger is handled, and Failure to Maintain Game State penalties are never issued to players who did not control the ability.

Additional Remedy If the trigger specifies a default action associated with a choice made by the controller of the trigger (usually “If you don’t …” or “… unless”), resolve the default action immediately without using the stack. If there are unresolved spells or abilities that are no longer legal as a result of this action, rewind the game to remove all such spells or abilities. Resulting triggers generated by the action still trigger and resolve as normal. If the duration of the effect generated by the trigger has already expired, or the trigger was missed more than a turn ago, instruct the players to continue playing. Otherwise, the opponent may choose to have the controller play the triggered ability. If they do, insert the forgotten ability at the appropriate place or on the bottom of the stack. No player may make choices involving objects that were not in the zone or zones referenced by the trigger when the ability should have triggered. For example, if the ability instructs a player to sacrifice a creature, that player can’t sacrifice a creature that wasn’t on the battlefield when the ability should have triggered.

Beauty in Simplicity

Okay, now that you’ve read that, let’s discuss. One of the key goals in implementing the current policy was to make things more intuitive and simpler for players. Instead of having to think about whether a triggered ability is lapsing, mandatory or otherwise, the current policy boils down to this: If a triggered ability is missed, it doesn’t happen, save any default actions that may have to happen if spotted (for example, the triggered ability of Transguild Promenade). For players, the beauty of the new policy is that they are responsible for absolutely nothing relating to their opponent’s missed triggers. Nada. Zilch. You can certainly point out a missed trigger if you want, but you have no obligation to say anything. The only reason you would generally call a judge to note an opponent’s missed trigger is to say “Hey, I want this trigger to happen that my opponent just missed.” Just make sure to do so in a timely fashion so you can put the trigger on the stack (see the Additional Remedy of the policy above). This way, your opponent can’t “accidentally” abuse a failure to recognize the triggered ability of Dark Confidant when they are at 1 life. If they don’t recognize the trigger, you can, and they’ll probably lose. If you don’t want the trigger to happen that your opponent misses, say nothing, do nothing, and nothing will happen. It’s simple. It’s easy. It just works. When you see the words “When,” “Whenever,” or “At,” you’re dealing with a triggered ability. Know these words, love these words, and you shouldn’t have nearly as many problems regarding missed triggers.

Note: Obviously, you cannot purposefully miss your own triggers in the hopes that your opponent fails to realize you missed the trigger. If you are found to have done so, you can expect a swift trip to your local Dairy Queen.

What the Words “Beneficial” and “Detrimental” Really Mean

In my experience as a judge and player, I have noticed that players tend to get confused when dealing with “beneficial” and “detrimental” triggers. Here’s what you need to know:

  • The word “beneficial,” with regard to triggers, is kind of a misnomer. Detrimental triggers are the only ones defined in the new Missed Trigger policy. The reason the word “beneficial” is thrown around, in my mind, is simply to serve as an antonym to detrimental triggers. Think of triggers as detrimental or not detrimental. I feel the wording in the policy is sufficient without having to go into a ton of detail about what is and isn’t a detrimental trigger.
  • As a player, whether or not a trigger is detrimental means nothing during a game. As you don’t have to call a judge – ever – if your opponent misses a trigger, the policy applies the same way to you. You would only call a judge if you want a missed trigger to be placed on the stack.
  • As a judge, the only difference in triggers that are and are not detrimental deals with what penalties (if any) are awarded. If a trigger is detrimental and a judge gets involved, the player missing the trigger is awarded a warning for missing said trigger. If the trigger is not detrimental and a judge gets involved, no warning is given. Note that neither player is ever awarded a warning for failing to maintain the game state because of missed triggers.

Pretty simple, right? In essence, if you aren’t a judge, you typically never have to worry about the difference in triggers that are and are not detrimental (unless you want to know what penalties would be awarded to you for missing a trigger).

The Scumbag Dilemma

“Dude, you are such a scumbag!” These words were said to me during a StarCityGames IQ, when my opponent attacked with a Sublime Archangel without announcing or otherwise pointing out their Exalted triggers. The attack would have killed me – I was at 6 life facing down what would have been an 8/7 flier, with no applicable blockers. Instead, I took 4, went to 2, and cast a lethal Rakdos’s Return on my next turn. My opponent, angry and tilted, bolted from the table and told his friends what a jerk I was for not letting him have his triggers, and I walked away with what many players would feel was an undeserved victory (and a few more enemies, courtesy of my opponent’s rant).

This side-effect of the new Missed Trigger policy has many players feeling uneasy about calling their opponent out on “invisible” triggers that are missed (i.e. those that have no visible effect on the game state). They want to follow the rules, but don’t want to be “that guy.” I can understand your uneasiness, and I can understand the rationale for it. However, Magic is a game of skill,people. Players should be rewarded for their tight, thoughtful play, and punished for their sloppy, thoughtless play. When I’m playing at competitive level or higher, I play to win. I don’t give handouts, I don’t provide favors, and I don’t help my opponents. This is just the way I play. I will not let my decision to allow a trigger to happen (or not happen) hinge on my opponent’s opinion of me after a match. Deep down, I know my opponent is probably salty because he/she missed a trigger that cost him/her a match. It happens. I don’t think that he/she is a bad player for missing a trigger, and I sure-as-Hell wouldn’t blame him/her for not letting me have a trigger back that I missed. I’d be mad, but I would be mad at myself – not my opponent. Before lashing out at an opponent for being a scumbag, think about how you could have tightened your play and prevented the entire situation from occurring in the first place.

In the end, folks, we need to realize that, at competitive level and above, Magic is a game of skill – not a game of hurt feelings. These mistakes that we make that cost us matches? They happen all of the time. Missed triggers are play mistakes, not reasons to lash out at your opponents. Once you miss a trigger, especially one that costs you a game or a match, you’ll probably make damn sure that you never let that happen again. Consider it a learning opportunity – a chance to grow as a player – rather than an opportunity to make your opponent feel like garbage. Think about it: if you were playing a game of hockey, and you had a wide open shot on goal, but you misfired and the puck sailed wide of the empty net, do you really think the opposing team would say “Gee, you should have had that goal…here, you can have the puck back. Don’t mess up this time.”? You may hear that in practice, but never in a real match. Feel sympathetic for the error your opponent makes all you like, but you should never be obligated to feel responsible or compassionate for their error. Play tight, play thoughtfully, take your time, and you shouldn’t have this issue. If you make a mistake, learn from it and move on. As it stands, the current Missed Trigger policy provides the most opportunity for tight, thoughtful competitive-level play. You’ll pay the price for playing sloppily, and you’ll be rewarded for playing well. This is an optimal situation in a competitive environment.

This Isn’t FNM, People!

Just to be clear – the new policy does not affect play at Regular REL! At FNM, a prerelease, or any other casual type of tournament, you need to be the better person and remind your opponent if they miss their Thragtusk trigger. In fact, it’s required that you let them know. Believe it or not, winning is not the point of FNM; enjoying your Friday night with friends is. Communities are built at FNM. Skills are built at FNM. Learning happens at FNM. Rules lawyering and enforcing the Infraction Procedure Guide does not happen at FNM. If you’ve ever been the victim of this, let your judge or Tournament Organizer know next time – Regular REL is catered to newer players and those that just want to enjoy themselves, not towards Spikes whose only goal is to beat face every week. Decency is key. Be the better player – help out your opponent on Friday night. Let him/her know that their Sublime Archangel should really be an 8/7 instead of a 4/3, and that, by remembering that trigger, they win the game. Going back to the hockey analogy from earlier…this is a practice environment of sorts. Help out a struggling opponent, point out a missed trigger that you see, and enable growth. You’ll both be happier in the end, and you’ll both be more prepared for competitive level play, should that be your goal.

Final Thoughts

The new Missed Trigger policy is simple to read, intuitive to understand as both a player and a judge, and successfully aims to clarify any confusion that the previous iterations of this policy may have created. Triggers need to be announced clearly; anytime you see “When,” “Whenever,” or “At,” a trigger is happening. If you see a trigger missed at Regular REL, let your opponent know and help them learn. At competitive REL or higher, when you see a missed trigger occurring, you have a choice: say nothing, or say something. Don’t let personal opinion or negative reactions deter you from playing by the rules. Rather, treat missed triggers as a learning opportunity for both you and your opponent. If you miss one, you grow as a player, and it probably won’t happen to you again.

You are not a scumbag for playing by the rules.

That needs to be highlighted one last time. Following the rules is not wrong, and you shouldn’t feel like a jerk. If your opponent misses a trigger, that’s on them – they’ll learn from the experience just as you would if you missed the same trigger.

You are not a scumbag for playing by the rules.

Let’s be real, people: this policy should not be causing as much controversy as it currently is. Personal feelings and opinions are no cause for an uproar about changing policy. The current Missed Trigger policy is clear, intuitive, and wipes out a lot of the problems caused by previous iterations of this policy. Most importantly, the new policy encourages tight, thoughtful play at the competitive level, which, when dealing with the possibility of large prizes (for instance, when an invite to the Pro Tour is on the line), is optimal for players. If you choose to play at a competitive level, you should have your head in the game and play thoughtfully and carefully. In the end, just play the game, follow the rules, and grow as a player and a person. Missed triggers are not the end of the world.

Feel free to follow me on Twitter and drop me a line – I look forward to your questions, feedback, and discussion, both there and in the comments below.

Until next time – be trigger happy – not trigger angry.
Twitter: @wingmanmtg