As a follow-up to my Good Sportsmanship in Magic article, I started writing a piece that covered another side of the coin: Angle Shooting. Since the subject recently piqued interest in the community with the same example that inspired this article, I thought this was a good time to release it into the wild.
I received a lot of positive feedback both online and in real life for my first article for ChannelFireball, and for my latest one I am going to do two things that content creators are told that they should never, ever do: 1) respond to negative feedback in the comments and 2) ignore positive feedback.
In the introduction of my first article, How to Metagame, I mentioned in passing that I had success at a PPTQ because an opponent missed a Chalice of the Void trigger that allowed me to win the game (and the same interaction happened for me again recently on camera in the Dutch Open Series Players Championship, a situation that I am compelled to quote directly from section 4.4 of the Magic Tournaments Rules: “Players are not required to point out the existence of triggered abilities that they do not control, though they may do so if they wish.” In the comment section on ChannelFireball and on a Reddit discussion of my article, this choice to use the rules of the game to my advantage was scorned by a minority of players, some of whom even went as far as to call me a cheater. Although I did receive support from many others reminding those disgruntled commentators that my actions were not against the set of rules that my opponent and I both implicitly agreed to abide by through our participation in a Competitive Rules Enforcement Level tournament, there was enough of a divide on the topic that I thought it would be an interesting topic to explore.
Since I do not yet have an extensive tournament résumé, the positive feedback of many commentators expressed appreciation that my previous article was based on data and aggregated opinions from established members of the community. Today, though, I am also going to ignore that positive feedback and speak solely from my own experiences in an attempt to define the morals in which I choose to play the game, and ask you to reflect on your own moral standing as well.
Are you a player that believes there may be little honor in my tactics, but there is no honor in losing or do you ensure you go forth with honor, return with glory?
What is Angle Shooting?
Although the term “angle shooting” originates from poker—as much Magic lingo does—there is a deviation from the original usage. In both games it is a phrase used to reference an action that exploits ambiguous or weak areas of the rules to gain an advantage. In poker, many of these tactics are considered cheating, but LSV describes “angle shooting” in Magic as “ways to play within the rules which are still not particularly sporting.” After a short discussion about burrito establishments in the San Francisco East Bay Area (#sponsored?), Luis goes on to clarify that the key distinction between Magic and poker is that in Magic, these actions are within the rules and are instead a question of morals/ethics. Upon a review of the Magic related literature on this topic, angle shooting is not something that has been explored at length, and almost never from the side of the perpetrator of the angle shooting. Today I hope to offer an alternate perspective.
Defining Your Own Morals
In discussing a matter that is strictly within the rules but is exploiting the letter of the law, it is important for players to define their own limits to the rules lawyering. Personally, there are many lines I would not cross even though they are technically within the rules of the game, and there are many I would have no problem of enforcing. In the following examples, which are all based on real life occurrences, I invite you to decide where you come down on each example.
Note that in most of the examples that do have video, we do not have access to all of the communication at the table, so the situation may not have occurred exactly as I outlined:
1) You are playing a Vintage Storm deck that can win by setting up a Burning Wish for a lethal Tendrils of Agony in your sideboard, but you forgot to put the Tendrils of Agony in your sideboard! You know that you cannot legally say that you are casting Burning Wish for Tendrils of Agony, but since your deck is well known, you can allow your opponents to concede because they assume that you have the lethal spell. Do you lead your opponents down a path of assuming that you have the lethal spell knowing that you do not?
2) You are playing a graveyard-based strategy and your opponent casts Rest in Peace. You move your cards to exile, but then realize that your opponent never announced their Rest in Peace triggered ability. Do you move your cards back into your graveyard?
3) You are playing before the policy changes for Amonkhet, which now requires named cards to be unambiguous. You are playing Grishoalbrand, which is a deck that can win by drawing a ton of cards with Griselbrand and discarding lands to Borborygmos Enraged’s activated ability. Your opponent casts a Pithing Needle and names Borborygmos, a distinct card that is irrelevant in the matchup and does not prevent your combo. Would you have still gone for the combo?
4) Again, you are playing before the policy changes for Amonkhet, but this time you are tapped out and your opponent goes to the beginning of combat phase where they try to crew a Vehicle. Even though you have no interaction and nothing else has changed on the board between the beginning of combat and declare attackers, you are aware that the rules stated that their exact wording implies that they are actually in the declare attackers step and can no longer crew or remember their beginning of combat triggers. Do you allow them to crew their Vehicle, or call a judge?
5) Your opponent has a The Scarab God and two zombified creatures in play when you pass the turn to them. They slide a card off their library and put it face down on the table. They have not looked at it yet, but then they announce that they are going to scry 2. You think they initially forgot the trigger and have proceeded to their draw step. Do you let them scry? (Bonus question: Do you call them out to Twitch chat for missing the trigger?)
6) Your opponent has lethal already on board and an overkill lethal sorcery speed spell in hand and just needs you to pass the turn to kill you. You cast a spell that requires all of your mana and your opponent begins to untap, draws, and plays the lethal spell. You have no mana available to interact and no cards in hand to prevent your opponent’s play, but your opponent was unclear about the board state and technically you never passed the turn to them. Do you call a judge to get their sorcery speed spell shuffled away?
7) You are facing lethal with your opponent at 9 life and an Ambitious Aetherborn untapped and you have a Longtusk Cub with four +1/+1 counters and a Cartouche of Ambition on it, and you have two energy in your pool. You cast a Larger than Life and attack, with your only hope of winning being that your opponent adds up the combat math wrong and concedes (or that your teammates win both their matches and your game is no longer relevant). Your opponent extends for the handshake even though your attack would only put them to 2 life. Do you accept their concession?
8) You are playing TitanShift in the quarterfinals of a Modern Grand Prix and you cast a lethal Scapeshift. Your opponent’s only way of interacting is by destroying one of your Mountains with Beast Within while the Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle triggers are on the stack. Your opponent casts the Beast Within and destroys one of your Mountains, which would make the Valakut deal no damage, but your opponent concedes anyway because they are not aware of the rules interaction! Do you capitalize on their misunderstanding of the rules?
9) Your opponent casts Triton Tactics after you declare attackers and blocks one of your creatures in a way so that neither creature dies in combat. They do not acknowledge the delayed trigger of Triton Tactics. After you draw for your turn, your opponent notices that you untapped your creature when the delayed trigger on Triton Tactics says that it should not untap. Do you tap your creature?
10) You are playing Mono-Black Devotion in Theros Standard, and your opponent names Underworld Connections with their Pithing Needle. Do you tell them that Swamp was the card they should have named for the effect that they are presumably going for and let them change their named card?
11) You are playing Modern U/B Mill in a PPTQ despite the protests of all your friends and loved ones. In this round you are up against Lantern Control locked in game 3 of a matchup that is so slow that it may actually last until the expansion of the universe rips apart space time itself if it were not for the match clock. Your opponent has an empty library, but can prevent themselves from decking with an Academy Ruins. They have a Leyline of Sanctity in play, preventing you from targeting them with the Ravenous Trap in your hand. You are now in extra turns and you show your opponent the Ravenous Trap in your hand even though you are the only legal target for the spell because of the Leyline of Sanctity. You never announce a target or tap mana, but they concede when you show them the card. Do you tell your opponent that you could not have targeted them with the spell because of their Leyline and take the draw?
12) Your opponent casts a Narcolepsy on your Primeval Titan and they remember for 10 turns to tell you to tap the Primeval Titan on your upkeep, but on the 11th turn they forget. Do you tap your Titan?
13) Your opponent casts Esper Charm, targeting themselves. You think they are intending to use the draw cards mode, but the only mode on Esper Charm that targets a player is the discard one. Do you try to force them to discard?
14) Your opponent casts Bedlam Reveler and you let it resolve before realizing that you can bounce it with your Reflector Mage in response to the trigger and force them to discard it. Do you blame them for using non-English cards and misunderstanding their announcement of their actions before asking them for a rewind?
I know that is a lot to digest, but thinking about how you would treat hypothetical situations is important because in the moment you might not have the opportunity to internally debate. In other words, duty, honor, and valor are either in your heart or they are not. You will never know for certain until you are tested.
Personally, scenarios 2, 4, 6, 12, 13, and 14 are the ones that are against my self-defined moral code and I would have no problem doing any of the others in a Competitive Rules Enforcementevel event. Here’s why:
- If I have already resolved the effect of the spell on my own, I will not undo that resolution like in example 2. I would, however, have no reservations about waiting until my opponent exiles their own graveyard or asks me to exile mine before doing so.
- If I have no way of interacting or decisions to make which can affect the board, like in examples 4 and 6 above, I appreciate my opponents making shortcuts as long as they are clear about the board state. I value my own time and if my opponent has me beat I would like to know so I can sooner move on to something else with my life. Calling a judge to clarify the board state is never a wrong thing to do, but I would let my opponent proceed if I understood their intentions and their play was legal.
- If my opponent has established a pattern where they have remembered a repeated trigger several times like in example 12, I am not going to waste my time on every upkeep waiting for them to remind me because that requires my mental investment. This actually happened to me (I was the player with the Narcolepsy) at Grand Prix Las Vegas in Modern Masters 2015 Sealed. It was my first individual Grand Prix and introduced me to the world of angle shooting. I was shocked that my opponent did this—especially considering that we both had already been eliminated from Day 2—but the judge explained that it was within the rules and so I learned a valuable lesson.
- Example 13 is difficult for me because I do not have specific reasoning why I would not do this, but it feels like it is overly semantic, similar to the beginning of combat example. I may be trying to win at competitive rules enforcement level events, but I do have limits. For me, allowing my opponent to rewind because they forgot something is not acceptable, but using imprecise vernacular is acceptable as long as the intent is clear—this is a global game after all and not everyone speaks the languages that I do.
- As in example 14, if I miss an interaction and let my opponent move through a phase where I could have responded, I would not ask for a rewind. Playing sharp is part of the game and I would not grant my opponent this rewind so I would not expect it from them.
Accepting the Choices of Others as Part of the Game
As long as you and your opponent are both playing by the rules, you should not become tilted or aggressive when they hold you to the rules or call a judge to enforce the rules. Not everyone would react in the same way to a given circumstance, so no matter what direction your opponent chooses you should always be respectful and clear on your communication. Creating an unclear board-state, breaking rules, or aggressive behavior are some examples of when I think it is always appropriate to call a judge, and I hope that nothing I said here discourages you from doing so. The judges are there to clarify the rules and to maintain the integrity of the tournament, and all players also share in these responsibilities. If you are someone that angle shoots, be polite and respectful, and if your opponent is upset then you can proactively call a judge to validate to your opponent that everything that occurred is within the rules.
“I would never want to win like that.”
Well this is the purpose of this article, to help you define how far are you willing to go to win. If you are a player that wants to win with honor, will you tell your opponent that they have lethal on board if they forget to attack? Will you not Daze your opponent because they had a land in hand and could have played around it? Will you let your opponent re-tap mana because they wanted to be able to cast something else? Where do you draw the line of helping your opponent to defeat you?
“But that would never work online.”
It is true that many of the examples I listed above would not be possible online because your opponent can just F6 their turn to prevent premature concessions and is reminded of all triggers. At this point, it is not an unreasonable assertion to make that Magic Online and paper Magic are two separate games with similar rules. In Magic Online the differences include the presence of the clock, the possibility of outside assistance, the risk of misclicking, the inability to intentionally draw, the inability to see double-faced cards such as Search for Azcanta in a Draft, and sometimes even the varying card pool (close to 1,000 cards have never been released online for example, including long delays of tournament relevant cards such as Palace Jailer). Also to consider is if I have never played online, why should I be held to those rules instead?
Time and Place for Everything
In regular rules enforcement level or casual games such as FNM or a prerelease, I would not do any of the 14 examples that I listed above. My goal in these events is not to win but to improve my play and teach those around me. Being a rules lawyer in this environment is toxic to your local community and a judge is going to likely allow a rewind anyway. Being a stickler is also a great way to create a negative reputation for yourself, make opponents not want to play against you, and potentially scare away newer players.
Thanks for reading! Maybe clarifying my stance in this article will save me from some backlash from a feature match that is not appreciated by Twitch chat and the rest of the internet. But now that you know where I stand, which scenarios that I outlined above are against your moral code? Do you think angle shooting has a place in competitive/professional rules enforcement level events? Let’s discuss in the comments!