Monday, May 16, 2011

Are we playing Brainstorm correctly? (A rules issue)

I'm playing in a Legacy tournament. My opponent has 6 cards in his hand to start his turn, and during his upkeep he decides to first cycle a Lonely Sandbar, and then to cast Brainstorm. He draws one for cycling, and then he draws 3 from Brainstorm, puts 2 back, then shuffles his hand around thinking about what to do next.

He decides to cast Bituminous Blast on my creature, and his cascade reveals the card Sylvan Library, which he casts.

We move on to his draw step, where Sylvan Library triggers, allowing my opponent to put back on top of his library any card that he has drawn this turn.

QUESTION 1: How can I obtain any level of satisfaction that the card he puts back is indeed one of the ones he drew this turn (for Question 1 purposes, assume neither of us realized this was a possibility when Brainstorm resolved)?

QUESTION 2: Next game, he casts Brainstorm during his upkeep, can I request that he openly track which cards he's drawn this turn? If not, why not?

QUESTON 3: A different opponent cast Brainstorm during a non-upkeep phase. Can I ask her to openly track which cards she's drawn this turn? If not, why not?

QUESTION 4: A different opponent draws his card for the turn. Can I ask him to track which cards he's drawn this turn when he, say, plays a land?


My argument for perhaps answering Question 3 in the affirmative is as follows: If "which cards are fresh," so to speak, is something I might need to know about, I should be entitled to track it so I know I am not being cheated. If I am entitled to track it in some contexts, nothing in the rules provides guidelines for differentiating those contexts from all others in which I might want to track the same information.


The rules handle a similar issue regarding Morphs by explicitly addressing the problem in the comp. rules.

"707.6. If you control multiple face-down spells or face-down permanents, you must ensure at all times that your face-down spells and permanents can be easily differentiated from each other. This includes, but is not limited to, knowing the order spells were cast, the order that face-down permanents entered the battlefield, which creature attacked last turn, and any other differences between face-down spells or permanents. Common methods for distinguishing between face-down objects include using counters or dice to mark the different objects, or clearly placing those objects in order on the table."


In a similar vein, all cards that search the library for a specific card type require that card to be revealed in order to avoid a "just trust me" result.

Rather than rely on a player's honor or a judge's presence, players are required to track openly what otherwise would be hidden information, where that information is necessary to maintaining a clear understanding of the gamestate. Why isn't there a similar rule for cards drawn, given that not allowing it to be tracked can lead a situation where I just have to trust my opponent?


  1. Are any of these issues without the card Sylvan Library in the game? Or more precisely, without the current and demonstrably incorrect wording of Sylvan Library.

  2. I asked the HJ at GP Columbus about Sylvan and tracking the cards that are drawn from it. She suggested that those cards should be set aside from the hand, similar to Ponder. I did not get into a more advanced scenario such as what you have presented here, mostly because she acknowledged that there are issues with the card, as worded.

    As Jay alludes to: Sylvan should be fixed.

  3. Q1: I believe it'd make it an irreparable game state since you can not verify what that opponent has drawn for that turn due to the hand shuffle.

    Q2: I think you would be able to if there was say a card (Like Sylvan Library) that is dependent on cards drawn this turn.

  4. I sort of had a talk with a judge the other day about this. If you brainstorm during your upkeep with a sylvan library on the table you CAN differentiate the 3 cards you drew off of brainstorm in order to be able to pick 2/6 cards to put back on top of your library after the Sylvan Library trigger in your draw step. If you don't clearly differentiate/separate then you cannot. As far as being able to keep track of which cards they drew "for the heck of it", my guess is no because there is no reason to.

  5. Here's my opinion as a L2 judge and a frequent Legacy player:

    Sylvan Library and Jandor's Ring are broken in that they require the player to track a quality (drawn this turn/last card drawn) that is not normally verifiable across a hidden zone. In my opinion the onus is on the player that has included these cards in his/her deck to make sure that the appropriate quality is trackable if they want to make use of the abilities of these cards, and that in cases where they have not properly tracked the quality in a verifiable manner they will not be able to take advantage of these cards.

    In a nut shell, if you have a Sylvan Library out, you should keep your "cards drawn this turn clearly verifiable from your "cards not drawn this turn." To address the original scenarios, here is how I would rule as a judge:

    Question 1:
    None of the cards drawn via Brainstorm or Cycling can be verified by both parties so they cannot be put back. If the player keeps the three cards drawn from Sylvan + draw step separate from the rest of his hand then up to two of those cards can be put back. If both players cannot verify any of the cards drawn this turn (e.g. if the player draws for the turn and then for Sylvan Library, then shuffles all of the cards in his hand around) the active player will have to choose to put zero cards back (and lose 8 life).

    Question 2:
    You can ask your opponent to do this, but he is under no obligation to do so. However, if he doesn't track cards drawn this turn and a Sylvan Library magically appears before his draw step, those cards will not be eligible to put back, per my response to question 1.

    Question 3:
    Sure, but she's under no obligation to do so.

    Question 4:
    Yes, but he doesn't have to if he doesn't want to.

    Basically this boils down to, if your opponent knows that information about a hidden zone that is normally not verifiable might be relevant in the future, they are the ones responsible for making sure it is tracked to both players' satisfaction, and if they don't track it appropriately, they won't be able to take advantage of that ability regarding those untracked cards.

    A couple other points:
    - Jay, there isn't anything particularly wrong with Sylvan's wording, aside from the fact that the game doesn't handle tracking attributes of an object in a hidden zone properly. But the current Oracle wording very closely matches the original printed wording and intent of the card.

    - CHA15N there isn't really a way to "fix" Sylvan Library (or Jandor's Ring, or some of the edge cases presented by Manakin et al with Panglacial Wurm) without making the hand and library ordered zones like the graveyard in pre-Urza's block formats. Making them ordered zones, however, creates a lot of logistical problems and pain points to handle some pretty corner cases. Ultimately I think we're better off in the current place of "if you know it might be an issue, you're responsible that the appropriate attributes are verifiable" than in some world where we track the order and turn for all cards drawn.