The Least Known Tournament Rule of Magic: The Gathering

Abhi Vaidyanatha
5 min readMar 23, 2024

I became a Magic: The Gathering judge last year, joining the ranks of individuals who have dedicated their time to running events and understanding the 291 page (and growing) document that governs how the game is played. While the large gameplay document is a marvel in itself, it’s not the only written scripture you must know as a judge. The rule that we’re interested in today is located in the MTR (Magic Tournament Rules), which lays out tournament procedure, rather than gameplay procedure.

I am writing this article due to the intersection of three things:

  1. This rule comes into effect very often.
  2. This rule rarely gets enforced correctly.
  3. Players often don’t realize they can call a judge in this situation.

The Rule

I present MTR 4.8 for consideration: the document on reversing decisions during gameplay.

As per MTR 4.8:

Sometimes, a player will realize that they have made a wrong decision after making a play. If that player has not gained any information since taking the action and they wish to make a different decision, a judge may allow that player to change their mind.

Believe it or not, but official competitive tournament policy states that you may take decisions back after you’ve made them, given that you did not potentially gain any information between the game action and the realization to take something back. This even applies at Competitive REL, which is the standard rules enforcement level for RCQs and Day 1 of open events. At Professional REL, there’s a lot more scrutiny over every move, so while it may still technically apply (would love a confirmation on this), you have a lot less wiggle room for errors.

An Example

I’ve seen situations similar to the following play out at Regular and Competitive REL:

  1. Amy, the active player, taps lands to pay for a Grizzly Bears. The spell resolves and they immediately realize that they’ve tapped their lands incorrectly. They say to Nellie, the Non-active player, “Hey, can I take that back and tap my lands differently?”
  2. Nellie, who is notably tapped out and has no activated abilities on board, considers it, and says, “Actually, I’d prefer if you didn’t take it back if that’s ok.”
  3. Nellie was quite polite in their refusal, which Amy may respect. Amy then assumes that there is nothing they can do because they misplayed, and doesn’t call for a judge.

I’ve used this case because it’s very clear cut. Nellie has no mana open (assuming we are in a format with no free spells) and has nothing they could do to respond. Amy’s spell did not affect any other zones other than the board. A judge could very easily come and administer a backup and have them tap their lands differently with no change to the game state. Furthermore, if this occurred at Regular REL, a judge could apply a partial fix to the game state that isn’t directly supported by policy, and could just let the player switch which lands they have tapped, as Regular REL events are focused on education and player development.

Complications

The problem with this rule is that most situations are not as clear cut as the one I’ve laid out. If an opponent has mana up or if it’s a format with free counterspells, or if there are any activated abilities on board, the Active player has already gained information after a spell resolves. If it’s a Legacy event, where Force of Will is commonly played, there is likely no scenario in which a player can take back the resolution of a spell.

The MTR offers some useful contextual text:

How much information was gained in between is something that we have to be very cautious about, since information can be gained in many different ways. Even by letting a spell resolve, players might be giving information to their opponents.

Generally, it’s always best to lean on the side of leaving the game state the way it is, especially at Competitive REL or higher. It’s also important to know that there’s plenty of cases where players should exercise their right to take decisions back, when applicable.

The Social Aspect

Alternatively, there are social nuances for the difference in calling a judge for this in Competitive REL and Regular REL.

At Competitive REL, it can be embarrassing for a player to ask a judge to take back something like this, so a player may not do it, even if it’s within their right. Additionally, crafty angle-shooters who know the MTR very well may try to cite it to their opponent to let them take back something that shouldn’t be taken back.

At Regular REL, there’s often the opposite problem: newer players may feel intimidated to ask to take stuff back, and also likely won’t call a judge to avoid causing issues, even if I’d always prefer that they speak up! Sometimes experienced players at Regular REL may think that “it’s part of learning the game” to mess up and not be allowed to take things back. This is categorically untrue, as players should be rewarded for immediately catching misplays that have no effect to the game state. One of the benefits of paper magic, as opposed to Arena and MTGO, is that you can’t misclick, even if some players treat paper the same way.

Historical Context

I’m not encouraging sloppy play or for players to abuse this section of the MTR, but rather for everyone to understand that Magic is very rarely played in perfect technical fashion, and that’s okay. Many rules over the years have been developed specifically to aid in smooth communication and efficient play patterns. For example, you may not realize that by saying “Combat?,” you have activated an official tournament shortcut that implies that you’re passing priority in your Main Phase 1 and the Non-active player is now acting in the Beginning of Combat Step. This was designed to help players and communicate naturally without the lack of clarity around where the Non-active player is acting, which led to many issues before the shortcut was etched into stone. The ultimate goal of policy and rules is to help players avoid getting caught up in rules minutiae, not for players to be held to a standard of perfect technical precision.

Ultimately, I hope that the outcome of this post simply encourages more players to call a judge when they are unsure if they can take something back or not. Additionally, I hope this is educational to players that aren’t sure if they are supported by the rules to refuse their opponent’s take-back.

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