All in good timing

During my summer vacation, my girlfriend and I took the time to clean out our storage room. Among the gems I found while cleaning was a signed Beta rule book I got as a gift from Viktor "Oldschool" Peterson during BSK 2011 (it was hidden in a Jet Li DVD case). I flipped through it again, and marvelled at its elegant simplicity.

One of the most common questions about the 93/94 format is whether we use old rules or new ones. We use the current rules, mostly due to the fact that old rules are at times pretty confusing (and sometimes contradictory). Today, with some old rule books at hand, we'll take a look at the history of "timing" before the stack came into existence.

That Revised rule book was in my sister's first starter pack from 1994 :) The Ice Age rules are identical to the 4th Ed. rules, apart from the additional page on snow lands and cumulative upkeep.
The rule books went through some major changes with each core set release during the first few years. The differences between e.g. 4th Edition and 5th Edition rules are probably larger than the differences between 10th Edition and M10 rules (when they e.g. removed mana burn, created the exile zone, removed combat damage from the stack, and of course updated the rules on Bands with Others).

Lets start with the original rules. What do they say about timing?

Yeah, that sounds about right. It really does make things simpler. In these days, the rules were very open for local interpretations and encouraged house rules. One of the few examples about timing in the actual rulebook is when a player responds to Terror with Unsummon. As the player cast Unsummon after the Terror, that player may choose which of them resolves first, and can either let the creature die or return it to his or her hand. First-in-last-out (FILO) are about a year away, and rule conflicts are suggested to be solved with coin flips.

Well, if you have a problem with solving rule conflicts with coin flips, at least you get your ante back.
At this time, the rules section in the Duelist helped players understand that Twiddle didn't actually active cards with tap abilities, and that you couldn't cast Lich on your opponent's side of the table. Complex timing was low on the rules agenda.

Once Revised rolled around in April 1994, the rules got some major updates. You could still discard a Rukh Egg to Bazaar of Baghdad to get a 4/4 token, but coin flips were frowned upon. At this point, Wizards had realized that they needed some common rules for timing in tournaments, and that these interactions could be somewhat confusing.

These are the rules from the summer of 1994, and should we use old rules, these are as close as they get. Some timing issues are rather straight forward, like that you cannot respond to an interrupt with anything other than an interrupt. E.g. if your opponent casts Red Elemental Blast to destroy your Prodigal Sorcerer, you cannot tap it to deal one damage before it dies, nor cast Unsummon to save it. What's a little more strange is that if you tap your Prodigal Sorcerer to deal 1 damage to a target, and your opponent responds with Red Elemental Blast, the Sorcerer wont deal any damage. In that same vein, you could respond to your opponent activating Nevinyrral's Disk by casting Shatter on the Disk, and before Shatter or the Disk ability resolves, cast Fork to copy Shatter. The forked copy will resolve immediately, and destroy the Disk, making the Disk's ability "fizzle" as Fork is an interrupt (also, a forked copy of a card could not be countered, as it was never cast). There were no batches or series at this point, nor any state based effects, and many timing issues were still up to the judge at hand. Timing of triggered abilities were pretty much a grey area, and e.g. responding to the "enters the battlefield"-ability of Stangg by bouncing it with Karakas was a scenario you would be wise to avoid in a tournament. The best way to play was still to cast as few spells and effects as possible at a time ;)

So, what does 4th Edition say about timing?

Haha, I kinda like that they changed the focus of the first sentence from "occasionally rather tricky" to "usually pretty easy". In 4th Edition, they first introduced the concept of a batch. To quote the 4th rulebook: "[A batch is] a series of non-interrupt fast effects that build on one another as players respond to each other's spells. Batches are resolved by first-in, last-out for all effects." This was a huge step up from the wild west of Revised, but still confusing by modern standards. As a simple example, damage resolution didn't happen until all the spells in the batch resolved, so if e.g. your opponent would cast a Giant Growth on one of his or her 3/3s, you could not respond to it with Lightning Bolt to kill the creature, as the bolt would deal damage only after the rest of the batch had resolved. If your opponent casts Terror on one of your creatures, and you respond to it with Ancestral Recall and draw an Unsummon, you could not cast that Unsummon to save you creature before the Terror resolves, as the batch containing Terror (and Ancestral) already had started to resolve.

Triggered abilities at this point are also pretty hard to grasp. A simple example is that if an opponent uses Nekrataal to kill one of your creatures, you can't save it by casting Unsummon, as the triggered ability won't use the batch.

On the plus side, enchantments on the creature won't get CARD ed.
Which takes us to the end of our journey, 5th edition. 5th was released in march 1997, and at this time professional magic tournaments was thriving. Hence, any ambiguity of the previous rules had been cleaned up or removed. The rules for timing however were more complex than ever.

I'm not reading this.
Rather than trying to get into details about the fifth edition rules, which I assume are not that interesting for most people, let me tell you about three decks.

The Travolta deck
In February 1997, the set Visions was released. One of the cards in Visions was Sands of Time, which became one of the key cards in the Travolta deck. Now, Sands of Time immediately received errata stating that the effect of the card didn't apply to itself, which very few novice players knew. As tapped artifacts were "shut off" at this time, correctly letting the abilities of multiple Sands of Time resolve was highly unintuitive, and if a player did something wrong, he or she would receive a warning for failure to maintain game state (or something like that). If you would get three warnings, you would get a game loss, or be ejected from the tournament. One of the win conditions of the Travolta deck was hence to play complex cards, make the opponent misplay, and call on a judge. The deck got it's name from players raising their hand in the air like Travolta in Saturday Night Fever while shouting "Judge!". The deck wasn't very popular, but just the fact that it could be built and that it could "win by Judge" is pretty impressive.

Wall of Boom
In early 1998, a place called "In Between Turns" existed. This was created mostly to solve issues with game states with multiple Time Vaults in play. During 5th Edition rules however, abilities and spells which generated mana (Mana Sources) could be played at ANY time. Hence, you could activate the ability of Wall of Roots in between turns, and as it wasn't during a turn, you could activate it as many times as you wanted. Without state-based effects killing the wall, you could generate an arbitrarily large amount of mana between the turns. If you had a Stasis or Sands of Time in play, you would then skip your untap phase and get all that mana during your upkeep. Add something like a Magma Mine to use all that mana during your upkeep to kill your opponent. A funny thing with this deck is that it was created in January 1998, and the "In Between Turns"-rule was removed almost immediately in February 1998 as the deck was deemed to be against the spirit of the game.

Yawgmoth's Ritual
In late 1998, I played in the Type 1 tournament at BSK. A guy who beat me in the swiss, and ended up winning the tournament, did so with a deck that abused Yawgmoth's Will. At this time, Dark Ritual was printed as a Mana Source, and hence could be cast immediately at any time. In fact, according to the rules, the speed of Mana Sources were even faster than replacement effects (at the time, "replacement effects" were seen as triggered abilities). Hence, if the guy cast Yawgmoth's Will, and then cast a Dark Ritual, he could cast the Dark Ritual again from the graveyard before the Will exiled it. He could do this as many times as he wanted, generating any amount of black mana before killing his opponent with a Drain Life or any other X-spell.

So, there's some history of timing. The release of 6th edition rules really did wonders for the game, and the original timing rules were literally up to a coin flip. When players suggest that we use the original rules in 93/94, it's usually only one or two rules they miss (e.g. mana burn or tapped blockers dealing no damage). If we would arbitrarily choose a subset of rules from 93/94 to use, it could become very confusing for new players in the format. As far as historically correct rules are concerned, every rulebook from Alpha to 4th Edition have sections encouraging house rules, so using the current rules of Magic 2014 could be seen as our house rules ;)

A stack :)
This post was mostly rules ranting, but if you're itching to play some Magic, there will be a 93/94 tournament at Playoteket in Malmö Sunday August 17th. It's in the southern part of Sweden, so if you're in northern Denmark and want to try out the format, it's a great opportunity (I think that revised will be legal for this tournament as well). Also, I think that there will be a second tournament in California September 7th, this time at Forgotten Path Games in Vacaville.


  1. Working on some old school TII formats I had to consider the "Wall of Boom" deck and after some web search I came upon this old(er) article of yours. Actually, the combo had been legal all along.
    "As usual, when choosing
    to skip a phase/turn, you make the choice just before you would start
    that phase/turn. In the case of skipping turns, that choice is made
    before this step. [D'Angelo 11/06/96]"

    Note that it's not a reversal, au contraire, "As usual". It would take a very accomodating judge or a very informed one, but sure, since untapping Time Vault could cost mana, and untapping it could be replaced by an effect or trigger some, mana sources had to be usable. So while Magma Mine wasn't printed yet and AFAIK the only way to win with infinite mana in T2 during upkeep at the time was Volcanic Geyser (quite demanding since it's XRR; of course in TI you had Rocket Launcher: meh, I guess), it still could potentially had happen as early as November 7, 1996.

    (probably completely uninteresting, I don't know, I'm so deep in this shit:)


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