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Today at work, I played my first game in almost 10 years using a deck from another player. He was playing a deck made of creatures that facilitate life points regain. At one point, using 3 different cards, he was able to exploit a loophole that would allow him to get zillions of life points.

I remember that around the time of 3rd edition loopholes were limited to the "only once" rule, because it wouldn't make sense to abuse a loophole. MTG is so large, it's impossible not to find a loophole between cards, and there are tons of them.

So the big question, does that "only once" rule for loopholes still stand?

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What do you mean by "loophole"? Something that you actually believe to be a mistake in the rules that will be fixed sometime? Or just a good combo that a good player found and built a deck around? The designers are quite aware that there are powerful combos among the cards they create. –  Jefromi Jan 25 '12 at 18:26
There is a difference between a good combo like a dragonstorm deck that deals 20 points of damage on the spot and a zillion life point gain loophole... –  Mathieu Dumoulin Jan 25 '12 at 18:29
So by loophole you mean an infinite combo? Have you seen boardgames.stackexchange.com/questions/4733/… ? That is, the rules explicitly discuss what to do when there's a (potentially) infinite combo. They know that it can happen. –  Jefromi Jan 25 '12 at 18:29
@MathieuDumoulin I am not sure of that. Tournament rules explicitly detail how to deal with infinite combos. And since there are also infinite damage combos and ways to win outside of just bringing the opponent down to 0 life, gaining "a zillion" life is probably no more unfair than dragonstorm was. –  TimothyAWiseman Jan 25 '12 at 18:34
I know dragonstorm well, played it in the last tournament I went to (literally the last before I stopped competing). But there are several ways to generate infinite health and also infinite damage (technically arbitrarily large, the rules allow for it, but make you choose an actual number). That is a combo, but not a loophole. My point was that with other ways to win, even infinite life isn't an "instant win". It isn't any more "broken" than dragonstorm was, and probably less. –  TimothyAWiseman Jan 25 '12 at 18:45

3 Answers 3

up vote 10 down vote accepted

In competitive play, definitely and without a doubt. Something that looks like a loophole is probably just a chance to create a good combo deck and you should use it ruthlessly. Even if it was truly an error in the rules (or miscalculation about how powerful something should be) it will be corrected by errata later, but until then use it.

In casual play, you may wish to at least give the other player a heads up that you are using a combo deck (though not necessarily what combo!). Some casual players do not like playing against combo decks. Then again, many casual players don't like playing against tournament quality aggro decks and it is good form to at least warn them if you are using anything close to tournament quality.

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Combo decks are important for the MtG meta game. The 'Rock, paper scissors' of 'Aggro, Combo, Control' will be removed if you remove combo. Your meta will be shifted and some decks might become too powerful. Maybe you can try to build a deck that's specialized in beating combo instead of banning them? –  AndSoYouCode Jan 26 '12 at 10:20
I never said anything about banning them, they are absolutely vital in tournament play. I said many casual players (some of which don't know what a meta game is) hate playing against combo decks. In a purely casual environment it can be courteous (not required) to inform your opponent if you are playing a combo deck or even a deck that is tournament level. –  TimothyAWiseman Jan 26 '12 at 20:19

I am not aware such a rule ever existed - infinity combos have been around from the very beginning of MTG.

What you are probably referring to is this: if there is a (potential) infinite loop that does not change the game state, then this loop may only be performed once, if the involved players have a choice about it. Since your opponent clearly changed the game state (after each loop, he has more life than before), he may perform the loop as often as he wants. See the rule and an example below.

Under the current rules, all this is covered in this section:

716. Taking Shortcuts

716.1. When playing a game, players typically make use of mutually understood shortcuts rather than explicitly identifying each game choice (either taking an action or passing priority) a player makes.

716.1a The rules for taking shortcuts are largely unformalized. As long as each player in the game understands the intent of each other player, any shortcut system they use is acceptable.

716.1b Occasionally the game gets into a state in which a set of actions could be repeated indefinitely (thus creating a "loop"). In that case, the shortcut rules can be used to determine how many times those actions are repeated without having to actually perform them, and how the loop is broken.

716.2. Taking a shortcut follows the following procedure.

716.2a At any point in the game, the player with priority may suggest a shortcut by describing a sequence of game choices, for all players, that may be legally taken based on the current game state and the predictable results of the sequence of choices. This sequence may be a non-repetitive series of choices, a loop that repeats a specified number of times, multiple loops, or nested loops, and may even cross multiple turns. It can't include conditional actions, where the outcome of a game event determines the next action a player takes. The ending point of this sequence must be a place where a player has priority, though it need not be the player proposing the shortcut. Example: A player controls a creature enchanted by Presence of Gond, which grants the creature the ability "{T}: Put a 1/1 green Elf Warrior creature token onto the battlefield," and another player controls Intruder Alarm, which reads, in part, "Whenever a creature enters the battlefield, untap all creatures." When the player has priority, he may suggest "I'll create a million tokens," indicating the sequence of activating the creature's ability, all players passing priority, letting the creature's ability resolve and put a token onto the battlefield (which causes Intruder Alarm's ability to trigger), Intruder Alarm's controller putting that triggered ability on the stack, all players passing priority, Intruder Alarm's triggered ability resolving, all players passing priority until the player proposing the shortcut has priority, and repeating that sequence 999,999 more times, ending just after the last token-creating ability resolves.

716.2b Each other player, in turn order starting after the player who suggested the shortcut, may either accept the proposed sequence, or shorten it by naming a place where he or she will make a game choice that's different than what's been proposed. (The player doesn't need to specify at this time what the new choice will be.) This place becomes the new ending point of the proposed sequence. Example: The active player draws a card during her draw step, then says, "Go." The nonactive player is holding Into the Fray (an instant that says "Target creature attacks this turn if able") and says, "I'd like to cast a spell during your beginning of combat step." The current proposed shortcut is that all players pass priority at all opportunities during the turn until the nonactive player has priority during the beginning of combat step.

716.2c Once the last player has either accepted or shortened the shortcut proposal, the shortcut is taken. The game advances to the last proposed ending point, with all game choices contained in the shortcut proposal having been taken. If the shortcut was shortened from the original proposal, the player who now has priority must make a different game choice than what was originally proposed for that player.

716.3. Sometimes a loop can be fragmented, meaning that each player involved in the loop performs an independent action that results in the same game state being reached multiple times. If that happens, the active player (or, if the active player is not involved in the loop, the first player in turn order who is involved) must then make a different game choice so the loop does not continue. Example: In a two-player game, the active player controls a creature with the ability "{0}: [This creature] gains flying," the nonactive player controls a permanent with the ability "{0}: Target creature loses flying," and nothing in the game cares how many times an ability has been activated. Say the active player activates his creature's ability, it resolves, then the nonactive player activates her permanent's ability targeting that creature, and it resolves. This returns the game to a game state it was at before. The active player must make a different game choice (in other words, anything other than activating that creature's ability again). The creature doesn't have flying. Note that the nonactive player could have prevented the fragmented loop simply by not activating her permanent's ability, in which case the creature would have had flying. The nonactive player always has the final choice and is therefore able to determine whether the creature has flying.

716.4. If a loop contains only mandatory actions, the game is a draw. (See rules 104.4b and 104.4f.)

716.5. No player can be forced to perform an action that would end a loop other than actions called for by objects involved in the loop. Example: A player controls Seal of Cleansing, an enchantment that reads, "Sacrifice Seal of Cleansing: Destroy target artifact or enchantment." A mandatory loop that involves an artifact begins. The player is not forced to sacrifice Seal of Cleansing to destroy the artifact and end the loop.

716.6. If a loop contains an effect that says "[A] unless [B]," where [A] and [B] are each actions, no player can be forced to perform [B] to break the loop. If no player chooses to perform [B], the loop will continue as though [A] were mandatory.

As a general answer to your "loopholes" remark:

I would take a radical stance and say "There are no loopholes in M:TG". Players are not required to guess the intention of the game designers, they are only required to follow the rules of the game. If the rules allow something like the "white Ball Lightning", something which was clearly not the intention in the design of Waylay, then there's nothing a judge could do about it. If the game designers consider something a loop hole, then the only things they can do is to give the card an errate, restrict its tournament legality, or change the rules. Until either happens, players have free reign, and it's purely a question of sportsmanship and/or house rules.

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Thanks for writing a more thorough answer even though you weren't first! Correcting the assumption from the question, that there was a rule against these things, is a valuable contribution, as is mentioning that infinite loops are not really loopholes. –  Jefromi Jan 26 '12 at 4:25
I think the Time Vault/Wall of Roots "Wall of Boom" deck was definitely a case of exploiting a loophole. But of course Wizards stamped that one out as quickly as they could! –  thesunneversets Jan 26 '12 at 10:23
@thesunneversets To be fair, the state of the game rules was so haphazard at that point that it's not clear that deck was ever actually valid - only that a judge somewhere thought it was. (And Time Vault wasn't actually a part of the deck - just part of the rules fuzziness that led to the deck). I don't believe that would have happened with the current state of communications (although given some of the horrible rulings I've seen at FNMs, you never know); certainly it couldn't happen at a high-level event. –  Steven Stadnicki Jan 26 '12 at 19:05
Well, sure, it was a controversial ruling, but Wizards did create the possibility for it by officially creating a "between turns" phase as a sticking plaster for Time Vault problems. That this kind of thing can and did happen certainly helped them nail down and simplify the rules into something that, fingers crossed, is watertight today. –  thesunneversets Jan 27 '12 at 11:14

First of all, I'd suggest to have a look at the Oracle: several "loopholes" are addressed and often cards text is officially amended in order to remove them. As a result, lots of supposed "loopholes" are short-lived. It's impossible to give you a clear cut advice if you don't write the sequence of cards that created the "loophole" in this case.

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