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Here is another question regarding the very early Magic times, namely Alpha & Beta Edition.

The old rules for spellcasting worked with a “Batch”, described in the Fourth Edition rules booklet as:

A series of non-interrupt fast effects that build on one another as players respond to each other's spells.

I wonder then why it refers to "a series of non-interrupt fast effects", since it could happen that series of interrupts were also played, such as Counterspells, also one after the other, and with a method of resolution very similar to that of the instants.

The only difference, then, if I'm remembering well, was that interrupts had to be resolved between themselves first, and before every other fast effects; and only then, you had to check the instant and other fast effects, even if the fast effects would had cast after the interrupt.

So, the question is this:

Where did interrupts go , if they were not going on the batch?

In addition to what I have already reported, did the "batch" rule carry other consequences regarding interruptions?

Or is that all?

(that is, repeating myself: the interruptions must be resolved first, and regardless of all other fast effects)

Really thank you for tiny details provided ...!!

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+200

For the purposes of this question, let's look at current rules first. Right now you can divide a spell or ability life cycle into 2 parts: the announcement part, where you, among other things, pay costs, choose targets and so on; and later (hopefully) the resolution part, where the “effect” of the spell or ability happens. I'll call them announcement and resolution.

They need not come immediately one after the other. A spell or ability with “instant speed” can respond to another and thus happen completely “in between” the announcement and resolution of another spell, in the following timeline:

  1. Announcement of spell 1
  2. Announcement of ability 2
  3. Resolution of ability 2
  4. Resolution of spell 1

That's how “non-interrupt fast effects” also worked during the start of the game.

There is only one difference to today, and why the term “stack” was used starting with 6th Edition rules vs. the older “batch”. Nowadays more spells and abilities can be added to the stack after just one spell or ability resolves. That was not possible with the batch—once both players passed and declined to add more to the batch, it would wind down completely until nothing was left, and the active player could start a new one.

Alpha/Beta rules

Under the Alpha and Beta rules and up to before 6th edition, there was a third part of a spell or ability's life cycle: a window within which interrupts could mess with that spell or ability, giving us this life cycle:

  1. Announcement of spell or ability
  2. Interrupt window (use it before it closes)
  3. Resolution

During the interrupt window, only interrupt spells (like Counterspell) or abilities that said they are “played as an interrupt” (like on Ring of Immortals) could be played one after another.

But these interrupts weren't put into the batch. They were simply played one after another outside it, modifying the batch without being meaningfully a part of it. They were basically their own thing, in their own kind of “sequence” off to the side.

The tricky part, of course, was that interrupts are themselves spells (or abilities), so could be interrupted as well, in their own interrupt window. The other player would have an opportunity to interrupt, or pass and let interrupts resolve.

So a small "Counterspell war" in Alpha/Beta might have gone like this, with parts by the active player playing spell 1 and Counterspell B, while the other player plays Counterspell A

  1. Announcement of spell 1
  2. Interrupt window of spell 1
    1. Announcement of Counterspell A targeting spell 1
    2. Interrupt window of Counterspell A
      1. Announcement of Counterpsell B targeting Countrerspell A
      2. Interrupt window of Counterspell B: nothing played
      3. Resolution of Counterspell B: counters counterspell A
    3. (Counterspell A never resolves, because it was countered.)
  3. Resolution of spell 1

If you think this is needlessly complicated, you have a good point.

There was an idea behind it all though: Interrupts either added mana or responded to spells. Responding to spells was considered to need a “faster” speed than instant because it didn't just somehow counteract a spell (like a Giant Growth might counteract a Lightning Bolt without actually influencing the Lighning Bolt itself), but it actually "deleted" a spell (Counterspell) or modified it (make it green with Lifelace).

Under the Alpha/Beta rules, once a spell's interrupt window was over and it had “survived”, you knew it would resolve (where it might still “fizzle” for having no valid target). Once the interrupt window was over, the game would consider that the spell was “cast” or “successfully cast”. This was a trigger condition for some effects, like on Wooden Sphere where you could pay 1 generic mana to gain 1 life for a successfully cast green spell.

This means that if you had a Wooden Sphere and your green spell was countered, you couldn't gain life from the Sphere. Under current rules you do, because the trigger condition just happens immediatley after the spell is cast.

Sixth edition developments

The rules team was overhauling the rules continuously from one core set to the next, often introducing new systems in the expansions in between. It was realized between the development of 5th Edition and 6th Edition that cards like Counterspell could exist as instants with not many differences in behaviour.

So 6th Edition rules got a major overhaul of the timing rules and introduced the stack, plus damage on the stack for combat, to many complaints of players who saw the game continuously being dumbed down and intricancies being removed for "the dumb masses" that were supposedly the new target of Wizards.

In reality, when I look from time to time at some Magic questions here, having left the Magic playing community some 20 years ago, there have been so many other kinds of effects, card types and game modes added that streamling some timing things was the right thing to do, in my opinion.

It's better to have a common timing system like the stack that has relatively low complexity and then put the complexity into the cards, than have a complex dual system with batches for non-interrupts and just a "sequence" for interrupts.

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  • @doppelgreener: Thanks for the edits to make it more readable/better understandable.
    – Ingix
    Aug 21 at 7:44
  • A great response from @Ingix.However,there is still a small doubt (in my opinion,but it may be that it was just my interpretation),which in fact is asked in the question"Is it possible to target spells placed at the bottom of a just-cast fast-effects chain?",to which I refer hoping for an answer.Is it possible(or not),to cast an instant after an interrupt has been cast,but without the whole batch being resolved?In my opinion it should be possible:in fact,why to say that interrupts should be resolved first,if it were not possible to continue the chain of spells by casting additional instants? Aug 29 at 9:52
  • In Alpha/Beta that was possible, that changed with 5th edition rules, which was the first "try" to get interrupts reorganized: mtg.fandom.com/wiki/Fifth_Edition/Rules_changes See the "interrupt timing" section there.
    – Ingix
    Aug 29 at 11:05
  • Thanks @Ingix ! So, if you have the time to do so, please, why don't you also try to answer the question regarding the practical example of a situation similar to the one posed here ("Was it possible to target spells placed at the bottom of a just-cast fast-effects chain?")?. I thank you, in any case. Sep 11 at 10:30
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Wizards have been kind enough to make available the transcript of a rulebook from the first era of Magic here. Among other things, it details the card types.

Instants: An instant can be played at any time, and is always discarded afterwards. You cannot interrupt your rival with an instant, but your rival's spells do not take effect until after you have had a chance to respond with instants and other fast effects. Once you have responded, your rival can respond to you, and so forth. After all responses are finished, all spells take place at the same time.

Interrupts: Interrupts can be played by either player at any time. Many interrupts modify the effects of spells; you cast them just as you or your rival are playing a spell you want to change. Although you must discard the interrupt immediately after you play it, its modification to a spell such as a summoning can be permanent. If you are not sure if you want to cast an interrupt, ask your rival to wait while you think. After your rival casts another spell, it is too late to interrupt the first. You may interrupt your own spells, and you and your rival can play more than one interrupt at a time. If you interrupt your own spells, your interrupt happens before your rival's. You may also interrupt an interrupt.

So the way I read this, interrupts were played during the casting of another spell (probably comparable to where we now have an opportunity to activate mana abilities to pay for spells), immediately took effect, then went into the graveyard. All the while a player is still in the middle of casting something, like an instant, or another interrupt, or activating an ability. The interrupts were never placed on the batch.

Mark Rosewater himself has said the Split Second mechanic from Time Stop is reminiscent of how interrupts worked back in the day (see for instance footnote 24 in this rant), and that rhymes well with what I see here, apart from the ability to interrupt interrupts (I guess Split Second could have allowed other Split Second cards to be played while they are on the stack, but that seems finicky).

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