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My opponent casts Oblivion Ring while I have a Grizzly Bears and a Hill Giant on board, and a Counterspell in hand. I don't mind if my opponent removes the Hill Giant, but for whatever reason the Grizzly Bears are key to my plans, and I would spend the Counterspell to keep them.

I have to choose before I know my opponent's plans: if I don't counter the spell, my opponent can target either of my creatures with the ETB effect; and if I wish to counter it, I must do so before they declare a target.

Often, players shortcut these kinds of spells: "I'll Oblivion Ring your Hill Giant". If I say "sure, that resolves" then the shortcut is applied all at once, and they can't interrupt their own shortcut to say "actually I'll take the bears instead." This opponent hasn't proposed such a shortcut, but I have the idea to ask "Targeting what?" before allowing the spell to resolve. Of course, "The spell has no targets" or "The spell is still on the stack" are good answers to this question, making me commit to countering before they commit to a target. But if my opponent says "Targeting the Hill Giant" then they have proposed a shortcut, and I can say "sure, that all resolves, the giant is gone", keeping my Grizzly Bears safe without spending the Counterspell. Conversely if they say "Targeting the Grizzly Bears" they've also proposed a shortcut, which I can interrupt with Counterspell.

But I wonder whether my question itself would be construed as passing priority, allowing the spell to resolve. After all, the spell isn't targeted, so if I'm asking about targets I must be referring to the ability. Does my intent matter here? Like if I really intended to get my opponent to leak information this way then throw the book at me, but if I thought of Oblivion Ring as a targeted spell and had no ill intent then I still have a window to counter the spell?

2 Answers 2

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In the extreme case, you describe an attempt at cheating, which is always grounds for disqualification. The real consequences depend on the Rules Enforcement Level (REL) you're playing at.

Your analysis of the shortcut rules seems correct. You accept shortcuts proposed by your opponent by conclusive behaviour, not just by expressly accepting them. Whether or not your excuse of mistaking Oblivion Ring for a targeted spell would be accepted depends mostly on the REL and your experience of the game as estimated by the Head Judge.

The current RELs are Regular, Competitive, and Professional. At the Regular REL (Prereleases, FNM, etc.), if you are considered a beginner, you might get away with a rewind of the game state and an explanation that Oblivion Ring is not a targeted spell and why that matters for Counterspell and shortcuts.

At Competitive and Professional REL, disqualification is more likely. Players at those RELs are expected to know the rules of the game, and the excuse of mistaking Oblivion Ring for a targeted spell might not fly. You opponent may assume that you know how Oblivion Ring works, and if you ask "Targeting what?" you implicitely accept the shortcut in full knowledge of the consequences. Walking back on that acceptance might be considered an attempt of gaining an advantage by lying, and thus cheating, which is of course exactly what you intend to do according to your own description. It would depend on the interpretation of the current Head Judge, but if your opponent objects and calls a judge, the best you can hope for is a rewind of the game state and not being disqualified.

Your statement of "I have no ill intent" does not count as an excuse by itself - you have to convince the Head Judge of that. Even if it's true, if the Head Judge is not inclined to believe you depending on the factual circumstances (REL, your proven game experience, other evidence), you might still be considered a cheater and sanctioned accordingly.

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  • Why is it cheating as opposed to just passing priority? At the point at which the opponent has asked for the target, that seems clear to me as indicating the game has progressed to Oblivion Ring's enter the battlefield ability.
    – Zags
    Commented Jun 3 at 14:38
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    @Zags the cheating part is claiming you aren't passing priority if you get called out on it
    – Caleth
    Commented Jun 3 at 14:53
  • In a way, asking what the ring is targeting doesn't just sound like accepting a shortcut, but offering one. But is it really cheating to try to go back even if you can't? Or just a "sucks for you, live with it". If the players are expected to know the rules and how the ring works, then shouldn't the player casting it be aware that when the ETB fires and targets are any issue, there's no going back to countering the spell, and thus they wouldn't be vulnerable to that "cheat". (That might be different if the player casting the ring was a beginner while the other was more experienced.)
    – ilkkachu
    Commented Jun 4 at 21:05
  • @ilkkachu a) A counter-proposal shortcut has to be shorter, not longer. and b) once OR resolves, its trigger will go on the stack before the next player gets priority, but only a player with priority can even propose shortcuts. So no, declaring it a shortcut proposal won't work. The cheating part is the lie with which OP would try to take back their decision after they gained strategic information they're not entitled to. Yes, if the opponent just says "bad luck", there's nothing OP can do, but opponent is fully within their rights to suspect attempted cheating and call a judge.
    – Hackworth
    Commented Jun 4 at 22:39
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    @user10478 Comprehensive Rules 729.2a At any point in the game, the player with priority may suggest a shortcut by describing a sequence of game choices [..]
    – Hackworth
    Commented Jun 5 at 7:17
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I'm not a judge; this is my understanding based on reading articles about calling judges.

Your question effectively comes down to: do you know how Oblivion Ring works?

If you're an inexperienced player and can be reasonably expected to not know that Oblivion Ring has not targeted anything yet, then the judges will issue one penalty (I assume it's a warning). On the other hand if you're experienced enough that you really should know better, then you get a more severe penalty for attempted cheating.

Two similar situations I recall reading about are:

  • Player A has an Aether Vial on 2 counters. They activate it. Player B lets the activation resolve. Player A puts Meddling Mage into play. Player B now attempts to cast Path to Exile "in response to" Meddling Mage's trigger.

Because Meddling Mage has no trigger, this play is illegal. The judges investigated and determined that player B saw the Meddling Mage, immediately realized they misplayed (they should've cast the Path in response to the activation), and attempted to undo their mistake by Pathing in response. Verdict: attempted cheating.

  • Player A has a Reality Smasher. Player B casts Stasis Snare, which resolves. Player B targets Reality Smasher with Stasis Snare's trigger. Player A says "trigger". Reality Smasher should not trigger, because it only triggers in response to an opponent's spell, and Stasis Snare is not a spell after it's resolved.

In this situation, player B should definitely call a judge, because player A is potentially attempting to cheat (keyword being "potentially"). The judge will then determine if player A knows how their own cards work. In theory they should - they're playing with it after all - but this interaction is not an obvious one. If the judge determines the player is innocent, they'll still get at least a warning, which is a permanent record that now that player should know how Reality Smasher works. If in the future the player tries to trigger Reality Smasher again in this way, then the judge can reasonably conclude the player is attempting to cheat.

Your situation is the same as these two. Do you know how Oblivion Ring works? If yes, then you are attempting to cheat. If not, then you'll likely get at least a warning as a permanent record that you now know how Oblivion Ring works. Afterwards, whether the judges will rule that you've let the spell resolve is up to their discretion.

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