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Alice's board: 10 lands, Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, Teferi emblem, Tamiyo, Collector of Tales, 2 Wilderness Reclamation, 15 cards left in deck, 15 life, 4 Nexus of Fate in deck

Bob's board: nothing (everything exiled to Teferi emblem already)

This game's effectively over: Alice wins eventually since she can continuously discard Nexus to hand size while Bob cannot keep a permanent in play. This means Bob will eventually lose to milling (see also Edits #1 and #2 about what Alice can do against any possible play Bob can make). But Bob refuses to concede. It could be for a variety of reasons, the most important of which is he won game 1, so if he can stall game 2 for long enough he can make sure he will at worst never lose the match. Meanwhile Alice cannot win faster; milling with Teferi emblem is her deck's win condition.

When confronted about it Bob says Alice needs to actually win the game in order to win the game, and while he's at it, he insists on shuffling Alice's deck every time she discards Nexus of Fate.

If we assume that Bob genuinely does not have a way to avoid losing eventually, is this kind of behavior punishable as time-wasting? He's not taking a long time to think, shuffle, etc - he's just refusing to concede.

Related: Can my opponent force me to play out a demonstrated loop? However in this case, Alice is passing the turn and not looping.

Edit: to clarify how the Nexus lock works, what happens is that you get Teferi to 9 loyalty, ultimate, and then start using its -3 on itself. This guarantees that you'll never run out of cards in your deck (you can also discard Nexus to hand size, since it shuffles back into your deck). Meanwhile you can cast Nexus as many times as necessary to exile all your opponent's permanents, including lands. If they put into play multiple permanents, you can simply loop Nexus, each time removing one of their permanents, so they'll never untap with any permanents in play.

Opponent can play a land and resolve a 1-mana spell, but that spell will have to do direct damage because otherwise any permanent will be exiled come the next turn. Haste creatures don't matter because Tamiyo can cast and recast Root Snare, which prevents their damage. That leaves 1-mana burn spells, but since the only legal 1-mana burn spell in Standard is Shock, 4 copies of this will still not be enough to kill Alice. Fanatical Firebrand can contribute another 4 damage, not enough either. The list in Edit #2 even includes Revitalize so burning Alice out is not an option (she can go to an arbitrarily high life total if she wishes).

In other words Bob is 100% to lose if the game goes on, regardless of what deck he's playing and even if he had access to every single Standard-legal card (except his own Nexus of Fate, which we assume is not in his deck). He's just refusing to concede until he actually loses.

Edit #2: can't believe how difficult it is to word this question. The format is Standard, and here's the list Alice is using. It is postboard and Alice has switched out Nissa for Veil of Summer because Bob is not playing a Nexus deck, which means she does not need a way to attack Bob to zero.

Alice effectively has infinite copies of any cards in her deck because of Tamiyo. How it works is, say she needs to cast the Revitalize in her graveyard, but Tamiyo does not have enough loyalty to use her -3 ability. She can cast Nexus of Fate (it shuffles back in), then tick up Tamiyo naming a card not in her deck (again, she will never deck herself because Nexus shuffles back in). Next turn she can repeat this, until Tamiyo has enough loyalty to tick down. In the same way she has infinite copies of Root Snare if she needs it, she can also tick Teferi up endlessly, and she can refill her hand to seven cards (so she can discard Nexus to hand size) if necessary.

Because there's no way to get out of the lock in Standard (if anyone can think of a way out of this lock, using any Standard-legal card other than Nexus of Fate, I would be interested in it) everyone knows Bob is 100% going to lose, including both Alice & Bob.

  • 2
    Put it this way, should Bob be punished and get a loss (and possibly be knocked out of a tournament) because Alice's deck was not fast enough to get the win in before time runs out? Yes slow play is something that is bad but just because someone doesn't give up doesn't mean that they are slow playing. If could just get a decent creature out (or any) the game could end a lot faster. – Joe W Aug 19 at 21:46
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    Re "Alice can loop Nexus whenever she wants to", I didn't study the combo, but this sentence alone is enough to suggest that a shortcut can't be proposed since they can't have conditional actions. Since a shortcut can't be proposed, playing out is not slow play. You can't be forced to concede. – ikegami Aug 20 at 0:56
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    It sure looks like you are trying to get an answer of yes. – Joe W Aug 20 at 2:19
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    Please take any further discussion to chat. Thanks! – Pat Ludwig Aug 20 at 2:58
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    @Allure If you have 20 power on the board in the 5th turn of extra time and I'm one 1 life and all my permanents are exiled then you don't get to win because you "would have won given more time". This is exactly the same. "Would have won" is not the same as "did win" and if you run out of time you run out of time. – Tim B Aug 21 at 9:50
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No, Bob's behavior here should not be punished. The Magic Tournament Rules have the following definition for Slow Play:

Players must take their turns in a timely fashion regardless of the complexity of the play situation and adhere to time limits specified for the tournament. Players must maintain a pace to allow the match to be finished in the announced time limit. Stalling is not acceptable. Players may ask a judge to watch their game for slow play; such a request will be granted if feasible.

The official Magic Judge Blog defines stalling as follows:

Stalling is when a player intentionally plays slowly in an attempt to gain an advantage due to the fact that matches in tournament Magic are timed. It often happens when a player will either win a match or at least not lose one if the current game is not completed.

The important thing here is that both of these definitions focus primarily on players taking their own actions slowly. They must play at a pace that allows the game to complete, but that does not mean that either player is liable if the game goes to time for any reason. In this scenario, as long as Bob is taking his individual turns at a reasonable pace as quickly as he has taken similar actions in previous turns, he is not slow playing or stalling.


The rules work out this way in this situation because Bob has hidden cards in his library that could potentially change the outcome of the game, and Alice needs to take different actions depending on what those cards are and what Bob does with them. If Bob plays permanents, Alice needs to choose them as the emblem's targets. If Bob manages to get 3 or more permanents onto the battlefield in one turn, (e.g. with Arboreal Grazer), Alice needs to cast Nexus instead of discarding it to exile them all and maintain the hard lock.

If instead Alice had a similarly slow combo but it depended only on visible information and didn't involve conditional actions, Alice could propose a shortcut that would run through the loop until Alice wins. Bob would not have the option to make Alice play it out, and the game would end with Alice winning. Rule 702.2 describes how shortcuts work:

  • 720.2. Taking a shortcut follows the following procedure.

    • 720.2a 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.

    • 720.2b 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 they 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.

    • 720.2c 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.

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    First, you didn't mention Root Snare in your question, so it's not part of the lock. I'm sure that no matter what out I could think of, you could think of a card to add to the lock to counter it. Second, I never said that getting 3 or more permanents would break the lock. I said it would require Alice to take a different action to address it, namely casting Nexus instead of discarding it. – murgatroid99 Aug 20 at 2:34
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    @Allure You described a scenario with a set of cards in your question and I responded to that scenario. You didn't say that it was a tournament-level Standard meta Teferi-lock list. But I'm not going to argue this point further because it's irrelevant. My answer does not depend on the existence of a way to break the lock. – murgatroid99 Aug 20 at 2:48
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    That was a separate point. I was saying that Bob has broken no rules here, and I was also arguing that generally circumstances like that would make a rule against such things unfair. Obviously those were getting mixed together so I've removed that section. – murgatroid99 Aug 20 at 3:04
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    @Chronocidal the lock in this case is teferi ultimate + nexus. It doesn't need teferi in play – Tim B Aug 20 at 14:29
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    Please take any further discussions unrelated to the answer to chat. – murgatroid99 Aug 20 at 21:39
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It's not punishable. A judge may make sure Bob isn't taking too long to play (for example he really has nothing to think about each turn so should not be spending more than a few seconds to draw card, look at card, pass or play) each turn but it's Alice's choice to play a deck without a way to win quicker and if she can't win then that's her problem, not anyone else's.

The other answers already covered the fact that we can't make assumptions about what is or is not in each player's library or make rulings based on that. We follow the rules and IPG, and they say this isn't a loop even if it is a hard lock.

To expand on that further. Our job as judges is to enforce the rules and the IPG fairly and consistently. One of the important rules for fairness is not to reveal information to a player that they could not otherwise have.

If we have to check a deck list and look in a library then force a concession then we just told you that they have no way to win in their library. That is information we've given you.

Lets say you are on 6 life not 20. If you call a judge and we check the lists then give a loss you now know they have no shocks. As judges we revealed the contents of your opponents deck list to you. I'm sure you can see how that would be problematic.

Now lets say your opponent has Arboreal Grazer or Llanowar elves and Lightning Strikes. Now again they have a theoretical out if you life is low enough and they sequence it right. What about if they have some haste creatures?

Alice is asking us to evaluate every possible outcome of Bob's remaining cards and then rule based on that. And all to save Alice from a situation she chose to put herself in by playing a deck with no other win conditions. If you want to win faster...choose a different deck or play some more win cons!

  • Small correction, Arboreal Grazer and Llanowar Elves don't matter - once Bob puts more than one permanent into play, Alice will cast Nexus instead of discard it, and that will make sure she exiles all of Bob's permanents. Against this lock, Bob should never untap with any permanents in play. Haste creatures are dealt with via Root Snare, and besides with Revitalize in the deck, Alice can go to an arbitrarily high life total. – Allure Aug 21 at 9:55
  • Each time you do that you reduce the number of cards in your hand so you can only do that 4 times even if you have the full 4 nexus in the graveyard. This is also making assumptions that Alice knows to do this and is aware of it, will remember it at the time, won't make a mistake etc. All assumptions that as a judge we must not make - we are neutral arbiters and do everything we can to avoid giving play assistance or tactical advice since that would compromise the match result. – Tim B Aug 21 at 10:01
  • I'm not disputing the answer, I'm pointing out that it's a hard lock. You don't reduce the number of cards in your hand, in fact you can replenish the number of cards in your hand using Tamiyo. Nexus never ends up in the graveyard since it shuffles back into the deck. See Edit #2 paragraph 2. – Allure Aug 21 at 10:21
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    A lot of this relates to what I'd call a "general principal" of many games (not just MTG), where judges/referees/arbiters are generally not expected to "solve" complex problems in order to make a correct judgement. I.e. you can judge top 10 level players without being a top 10 player yourself. While judges may need to make tough judgement calls (is X player stalling?), they don't need to determine potentially extremely complicated yes/no questions (does X list have any possible way to beat Y list in this specific scenario?). – mbrig Aug 21 at 16:37
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    @mbrig: Compare for example the FIDE Laws of Chess, which in several places refer to whether or not a helpmate is possible from the current position (using the convoluted phrasing "the opponent cannot checkmate the player’s king by any possible series of legal moves"), but never refer to whether or not one side can force a win against any possible defense. It's simply not something an arbiter is expected to know (and, if more than ~7 pieces are on the board, it may be computationally infeasible to determine). – Kevin Aug 21 at 17:59

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