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While playing a game of Commander, I attacked with Ainok Bond-Kin and activated the ability of Rogue's Passage

{4}, {T}: Target creature can't be blocked this turn

targeting Ainok before the Declare Blockers step. Everyone at the table forgot that Ainok could not be blocked and the player it was attacking blocked it with two creatures.

After proceeding to the Combat Damage step, we realised our mistake. Should we:

  1. Continue as if the Ainok had not be blocked and assign the damage to the player?
  2. Continue as if the Ainok had been blocked and assign the damage to the blocking creatures?
  3. Something else?
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    I've attempted to put all this into the question. Please further edit the question (not further comments) if the description differs from what actually occurred. Mar 20 at 22:34
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    How errors are handled depends on the Rule Enforcement Level (REL). This needs to be specified in your question.
    – ikegami
    Mar 21 at 16:44
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    @ikegami REL "make it up as you go along", this is Commander. Mar 22 at 6:28

2 Answers 2

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Considering how quickly you spotted the mistake, rewinding the game to the start of the Declare Blockers step seems like the best way to proceed.

Rewinding the game and remaking the blocks in a legal manner would solve all issues and costs little time.

If so many spells and abilities have been played between declaring blockers and dealing combat damage that the gamestate can't be restored easily, the next best (because least impactful) fix would be to continue with the current blocks. In that case, the only rule being violated would be the unblockable ability.

Simply treating the creature as unblocked would be the most disruptive. It would essentially take the two blocking creatures out of combat, give the illegally blocked creature trample, and the defending player would take unexpected damage. Also, all the spells and abilities that made the last legal gamestate irrecoverable were also made under the reasoning that the block was legal. Nullifying that block would also nullify at least part of that reasoning, without being able to take back the actual spells and abilities.

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    I'm not clear on what you mean by saying it gives the creature trample. The creature would be damaging the player regardless. And if the blocking creatures didn't have anything else they could have blocked, it doesn't matter that they were taken out of combat. Mar 21 at 6:08
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    @Acccumulation, blocked creatures whose blockers disappear still remain blocked and do not damage the player. Unless they have trample that is.
    – hkBst
    Mar 21 at 8:36
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    @hkBst but the creature should never have become blocked. It didn't gain trample, it was unblockable
    – Caleth
    Mar 21 at 10:00
  • @Acccumulation I laid out which legal steps would hypothetically be necessary to have the (illegally) blocked creature deal damage with common effects, i.e. how many extra steps would be necessary to get the desired end result of the unblockable creature dealing damage to the defending player, without any of the assigned blockers taking, dealing, or soaking up combat damage.
    – Hackworth
    Mar 21 at 18:48
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    @Caleth That's the point of the question: we did, as a matter of fact, get into an illegal gamestate. If the game is so easily reversed that we can just say that the creature is in fact unblocked, great, we're done, and that was my first answer. However, if the players played a lot of spells and abilities after the illegal blocks were declared so that a reversal of those actions would be impractical, then you would best proceed with the "least bad" illegal gamestate. I argue that the least bad fix would be the one that violates the fewest rules, i.e. to keep the blocks as they are.
    – Hackworth
    Mar 21 at 19:25
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It was the defending player who made the first illegal move (attempting to declare blockers of an unblockable creature). Punishing the attacking player (by erasing the legally-played ability, failing to damage the defending player, and likely losing the attacking creature to illegal blockers) makes no sense at all.

In other words, the first option (treat the creature as unblocked, deal damage to defending player) intuitively makes the most sense. However, it turns out that Magic's rules do (at least somewhat) cover this scenario. First, an excerpt from the Declare Blockers step rules:

509.1. First, the defending player declares blockers. This turn-based action doesn’t use the stack. To declare blockers, the defending player follows the steps below, in order. If at any point during the declaration of blockers, the defending player is unable to comply with any of the steps listed below, the declaration is illegal; the game returns to the moment before the declaration (see rule 726, “Handling Illegal Actions”).

509.1b The defending player checks each creature they control to see whether it’s affected by any restrictions (effects that say a creature can’t block, or that it can’t block unless some condition is met). If any restrictions are being disobeyed, the declaration of blockers is illegal.
A restriction may be created by an evasion ability (a static ability an attacking creature has that restricts what can block it). If an attacking creature gains or loses an evasion ability after a legal block has been declared, it doesn’t affect that block. Different evasion abilities are cumulative.

So, the declaration of blockers was an illegal action. There's even a section of the rules to handle those! Cool. Unfortunately, it's very short and might not exactly handle the scenario as described:

726.1. If a player takes an illegal action or starts to take an action but can’t legally complete it, the entire action is reversed and any payments already made are canceled. No abilities trigger and no effects apply as a result of an undone action. If the action was casting a spell, the spell returns to the zone it came from. Each player may also reverse any legal mana abilities that player activated while making the illegal play, unless mana from those abilities or from any triggered mana abilities they caused to trigger was spent on another mana ability that wasn’t reversed. Players may not reverse actions that moved cards to a library, moved cards from a library to any zone other than the stack, caused a library to be shuffled, or caused cards from a library to be revealed.

726.2. When reversing illegal spells and abilities, the player who had priority retains it and may take another action or pass. The player may redo the reversed action in a legal way or take any other action allowed by the rules.

As such, the official required action seems clear: the game rewinds to the Declare Blockers step, with the defending player able to assign the would-be blockers to other attacking creatures, or decline to block with them (if there are no legally blockable attacking creatures, the defending player obviously must decline to block).

Of course, some secret information may have been revealed (e.g. if somebody played an instant-speed spell in response to the illegally declared block). Provided that it doesn't violate the limitations on rewound actions in 726.1, that action just doesn't happen (unless you chose to take it again at the appropriate time). The fact that the opponent now has more information than they "should" is, essentially, the price you pay for carelessness and failing to note the illegal action in time.

In any case, since the attack was already declared, and the ability already used, legally, those actions don't reverse. As such, it's a pretty good bet that the defender will take damage. However, they will actually have an opportunity to, for example, kill the creature with an instant, or play a damage-prevention ability, even if they didn't do so "the first time" (after the illegal block), so there's no guarantee that the attack will get through until you reach that point in legal actions.


What if some illegal action happened that can't legally be reversed either? For example, suppose an effect forced you to draw a card, or shuffle your library? The general rules do not cover this scenario. Tournament rules might; I'm not a DCI judge. It's possible that the judge's decision would be "player forfeits for cheating" or "game ends in a draw because an action is both required and impossible". However, a few considerations for casual play:

  1. If the irreversible action was not dependent upon the illegal action, and didn't reveal any new information, one reasonable conclusion is to force the player to play it out anyhow. For example, if a spell or ability, played or triggered at the end of the Declare Blockers step, caused a player to shuffle a card from their graveyard into their library (without this specifically being caused by the illegal block), then you might decide that the spell or ability must happen again, after the rewind.
  2. If the irreversible action depended upon the illegal action (e.g. an effect caused you to draw a card whenever one of your creatures becomes blocked), but no new information was revealed (e.g. because you had previously placed that card face down on top of your library, legally, so you knew where and what it was), then it's reasonable to decide that the action just doesn't happen at that time (you don't get to draw; put the card back where it was) even though that constitutes reversing an action illegally.
  3. If the irreversible action revealed new information (e.g. drawing a card you hadn't previously placed there), there are various options. A simple one might be to undo the action in an information-minimizing way (e.g. the illegally-drawn card is placed back in the library, after which it is shuffled). However, there are situations where this is to the benefit of the player who took the irreversible illegal action (e.g. if they're mana-flooded and drew a land, they probably welcome shuffling that land back into their deck), rather than simply having it still on top to ruin their next draw). In that case, one solution that I've seen is to let the opponent decide what to do (e.g. reveal the drawn card; opponent decides whether to return it to the top of your library or shuffle it into your library or perhaps place it on the bottom of your library). This is obviously unfortunate for the person whose opponent gets to make that choice, but again, it can be viewed as the price of failing to notice an illegal play.
  4. In any case - but especially the third one - there's always the option to call the game as a draw or in favor of whichever player did not accidentally cheat.
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  • Your suggestion (4) doesn't really work for Commander, nobody wants a draw and there are two uninvolved players. Mar 21 at 14:23
  • The attacking player made the second illegal move by allowing the unblockable creature to get blocked. Following the rules and spotting/correcting mistakes isn't just on the person taking the action but others as well. If the attacker had pointed out that the block was illegal as soon as it was declared this problem would have been prevented. In this case it would be best to rewind gameplay if possible and treat it as a legal block if it isn't
    – Joe W
    Mar 21 at 20:31
  • It should be noted that the player that doesn't point out the rule violation and later says the creature should be unblocked they can be considered in violation of other rules. blogs.magicjudges.org/rules/ipg2-6
    – Joe W
    Mar 21 at 22:35
  • @JoeW while absolutely agreed there are a bunch of infractions here, nobody's going to be applying the formal competitive sanctions procedure to a Commander game. Mar 22 at 9:25
  • @PhilipKendall Correct but that also doesn't mean that the creature should be considered unblocked and do damage because a mistake was made. The point of that comment was a reminder that all players are responsible for the state of the game and correcting illegal moves. It isn't just the fault of the defender but the attacker who allowed it to happen as well.
    – Joe W
    Mar 22 at 12:32

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