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Priority, Stack, Turn structure
Welcome to class one of the Judge school!
If you are reading this, I suppose, you already know how to play Magic:the Gathering and have an idea about its rules. However, a player knowing the rules is greatly different from a judge knowing the rules. It's not even so much about the volume. The essential difference is that a player knows the rules “from the cards”, whereas a judge has systematic knowledge. My series will first and foremost be dedicated to systematic approach to studying the complete rules of MTG. It is not limited to that though, we will in due time touch on Tournament rules and Magic Infraction Procedure Guide (IPG in short) and Judging at Regular REL or JRR/JREG, which (I know for a fact!) are worth of being studied by players as well.
Without further ado, let us begin. We shall start with the ground level. Ground in Magic is the Priority system.
Priority is an imaginary license to perform certain actions. It is granted to the player by the game at certain moments of the turn.
If a player doesn't have priority, he or she may do something only if instructed by the game rules or any specific effect. Generally, the game wonders if a player wishes to take an action only when it issues him or her the “license to perform an action”.
After gaining such a “license”, the player may use it on any of the four following actions:
In cases 1-3, the game will issue a new “license” to that same player, after running all State-Based Actions (SBA) and putting onto the stack all triggers that triggered since the last issue of priority.
If the player passes, priority (with all the same due procedure of running SBA and planting piles of triggers on the stack) will be issued to the next player in turn order, unless each player has passed in that order.
If they have, the upper element of the stack resolves.
If the stack is empty, the game will move its pointer to the next step or phase. Thus, the game takes us from one moment of time to another according to our wishes — with due conditions met, a new step or phase will begin at some point for certain.
The system of passing priority is described in rules 116.3-4:
If you add 116.4 here:
then you obtain the following pattern for a game involving two participants:
It's important to understand that while a spell is being cast or is resolving, while activating and resolving abilities, and while performing turn-based actions (such as declaring attackers of blockers) none of the players has priority, meaning that without any special reasons, players may not cast spells or activate abilities at that moment.
A player may cast a spell without having priority only if an effect allows or instructs to do so. For instance:
Mana abilities may be activated by a player without having priority if he or she is playing a spell or activating an ability that require a mana payment; or if an effect or the rules instruct to pay a cost with mana:
In order to give priority forward, a player needs to pass. Of course, in actual games players do not usually mouth every pass. We wouldn't be playing the game if such boring procedures were compulsory. For this reason, players use tournament shortcuts that speed up the game ensuring mutual understanding of what is happening.
The Stack is a common zone for all players (there is just one stack in all Magic game types except for the Grand Melee format where there may be several Stacks), just like the Battlefield or the Exile zone.
The Stack always exists (but, of course, it may be empty). It is not created nor does it disappear; it cannot resolve. If you hear things like “new stack” or “resolve the stack”, that's blasphemy! ;)
Only spells and abilities, activated and triggered, may be on the Stack. Effects never appear on the stack!
Some long time ago combat damage used to go to the stack too, but that time has long passed.
The Stack has two principle features:
Newer objects are added on top of the stack. Incidentally, some of these objects require the stack to be empty at this point (such as creature spells). It is absolutely normal when one or more objects of the stack resolve and leave it, some remain in it, then some more spells or abilities are added to it.
For instance, if the cunning opponent plays Demigod of Revenge, it is wise to first resolve the Demigod's trigger (which will go to the stack above the Demigod spell itself), and then Cancel it to counter the Demigod that's still on the stack. Otherwise, you will find yourself upset.
When fixing an infraction called missed triggered ability, the judge may place the missed trigger into an appropriate place on the stack. Note specifically that this situation is not dictated by the game mechanics. Such deliberate managing of the stack is available only to judges, not to players.
Each player has his or her own turn. In Two-headed Giant, the team shares turns, i.e. all players of one team have common steps and phases of each turn of theirs.
A turn consists of phases. Some phases are divided into steps.
Some time ago, the difference between a phase and a step was immense, because mana would stay in the pool (improvised container where mana is stored after being generated) until the end of a phase, then burn away by dealing mana-burn. Now mana disappears without dealing any damage at the end of each step(!). However, it is important to learn the turn structure well. I had a case when a candidate showed relatively good level of rules knowledge but failed the interview solely by entrirely confusing all names of phases and steps.
Inquisitive judge candidates and players who like looking through pictures are welcome to take a look at an article from “Magic Academy”: The Dynamics of a Turn. But take to account that the article was composed at distant times when combat damage used the stack. You can read about changes that occurred since then in the following illustrated article “Magic 2010 Rules Changes”.
The combat phase will be analyzed in detail during class 12 of the Judge school.
During what phases or steps do players not receive priority?
In any case during the untap step, and usually during the cleanup step. It is often omitted that players get priority during draw step and may play spells and activate abilities. But the cleanup step is rather peculiar. Usually nothing happens in this step, but if SBA are generated or triggers happen, priorities are issued. Exceptions are listed in CR #514 (CR = Comprehensive rules, i.e. the complete rules of Magic)
What is the difference between a phase and a step?
A phase may consist of steps.
NB: The mana pool is emptied at the end of each step or phase, without any harm to the player.
What phases do not have steps?
The main phase, and the main phase again.
From game point of view they are identical.
Why was the wording “at end of turn” changed to “at the beginning of the end step”?
Because players often confused “at end of turn” with “until end of turn”. Besides, this way the wordings of triggers happening in the upkeep step and in the end step look the same.
”At the beginning of the end step” used to denote a specific moment of time, a point on the time scale — the beginning of the end of turn step, and was used only for triggered and delayed triggered abilities. “Until end of turn” signifies the length of existence of a continuous effect that will end in the cleanup step (!).
What happens if attackers are not declared at the declare attackers step?
If no creatures are declared attackers, the declare blockers step and the combat damage step are skipped. The game will forward us straight to the end of combat step.
More details about the combat phase.
What actions do not use the stack?
405.6. Some things that happen during the game don’t use the stack.
When do the State-Based Actions (SBA) happen?
704.3. Whenever a player would get priority (see rule 116, “Timing and Priority”), the game checks for any of the listed conditions for state-based actions, then performs all applicable state-based actions simultaneously as a single event. If any state-based actions are performed as a result of a check, the check is repeated; otherwise all triggered abilities that are waiting to be put on the stack are put on the stack, then the check is repeated. Once no more state-based actions have been performed as the result of a check and no triggered abilities are waiting to be put on the stack, the appropriate player gets priority. This process also occurs during the cleanup step (see rule 514), except that if no state-based actions are performed as the result of the step’s first check and no triggered abilities are waiting to be put on the stack, then no player gets priority and the step ends.
Can a player cast a card for its Madness cost as she discards it during her cleanup step? Why?
She sure can. Because discarding a card with Madness starts a triggered ability and further on following the description of cleanup step :)
May the active player play something in his declare attackers step before declaring attackers?
He cannot. He will get priority only after attackers have been declared. The same thing happens in declare blockers step: first, blockers are declared, then triggers are put on the stack, then priority is received.
Find the mistake in the video:
You may activate the mana ability of Gemstone Caverns in one of two cases:
So, from this point onwards, the creator of the video is speaking bull. It cannot be done.
I turn Vesuvan Shapeshifter face up, choosing to copy an opponent's Mogg Fanatic. Can the opponent sacrifice the Fanatic in response? What happens to the Shapeshifter in that case?
I have no cards in hand. In process of resolving Civilized Scholar's ability, I draw a Lightning Bolt. May I cast it?
Read the rules and have fun!
Written by Irina Samonova, L2
Translated by Witas Spasovski, L1
Irina Samonova © 1999-2017
Magic the Gathering is TM and copyright Wizards of the Coast, Inc, a subsidiary of Hasbro, Inc. All rights reserved.