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By: stsung, Ren Stefanek
Mar 06 2018 12:00pm
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At some point after switching to playing online, a player may realize that they truly became a Magic Online player. This means that participating in a real life event may become straining because one got used too much to Magic Online handling everything. It can teach us many things though. There are still things it won't teach us at all because they are not needed when playing digitally. In this article I'd like to tell you about my experience switching from online play to table-top.

This is a follow up article to 'From table-top to Magic Online' which can be found here.

At GP London I participated in Legacy side events and there was one player that for some reason stood out in the crowd. For a while I didn't know why. I just saw him play and my brain noticed something odd. I tried to figure out why this player's behavior is different from the other players and if I saw it elsewhere. At first I didn't actually know what was odd. I realized it later after being seated next to to the player in the following round - the player was sequencing his actions in the game in a perfect way. That is something I do not see often. Actually, many players are asking me why I do it and that is when everything clicked. Many players often want to speed up the game or take a shortcut while I do not because it can mess up the game state sometimes. Some players at the GP asked me if I play Magic a lot, most probably thinking that this has something to do with my experience. Compared to many I play a lot but the real reason why I play like this is not because I played for over two decades but because I'm now primarily a Magic Online player and I need to sequence correctly in order not to actually get lost in the game (the player I watched is indeed a Magic Online player which I found out later hearing a dispute in the game because of Dream Halls not working correctly on Magic Online. We talked a lot afterwards). I wondered if I am also such an oddity to others.

Players can stand out among the players in another way. At a Modern PPTQ I watched one player play very slowly, seemingly not being able to deal with all his cards (was on Dredge) and triggers. After the Swiss portion of the event I found out that the player was in the top8. I wondered how a player not being able to handle basic stuff like drawing a card (in this case Dredging) could actually end up in top8 and then I realized that I watched Jun'ya Iyanaga take down the World Championships while we all had to suffer watching him shuffle his deck. Later I found out that the player that top8ed the PPTQ was a Magic Online player and was struggling with physically handling cards but otherwise he knew what he was doing. At that time I found that odd but later there were two experiences in my life that showed me that switching from online to paper doesn't happen instantly. I got on a plane to meet Lowman02 who is a Magic Online player and also a very good player. I brought Legacy decks with me so we could play some games. I observed Lowman02 struggling to shuffle my deck. During the games he had a hard time drawing a card in the draw step and untapping permanents in the untap step. Those are things that seem to be natural to everyone but they are actually learned. I hoped that my paper events wouldn't go similarly 'well'.

Now I know that people take the card out of a sleeve partly to show the card is a 4/4 Zombie copy of something. When exerting a creature I use the Exerted token I acquired at Nationals or any token ad that I put underneath the card in question.

One of the very few events I participated in was Nationals were I didn't expect to have problems drawing a card in draw step, shuffling my deck, or untapping in untap step. In my first match I made a total fool out of myself and people are reminding me of that even now. I came totally unprepared to the event. I didn't realize that I had a token generator in my deck - I didn't bring any Thopter tokens! I also didn't realize that my deck produces Energy and that I should keep track of it somehow (well, I had dice with me). When I attacked with Glorybringer exerting it I had to stop mid-attack trying to figure out how to actually show that the card is exerted? My opponent saw my confusion and produced a token with Exerted written on it (and told me to keep it because I'd obviously need it more). The last thing that made one of the onlookers burst in laughter was me using The Scarab God's ability. I paid 4 mana and targeted my Glorybringer and then I just stared at my opponent for a minute. I had to ask what to actually do with my Glorybringer because I seriously had no clue. I knew that putting Glorybringer in play without any note on it would probably cause me problems if anyone would call a judge. I had no idea what players were actually doing to show that they have a 4/4 Zombie that is a copy of Glorybringer that is removed from the game (Magic Online produces a black Zombie that is a copy of Glorybringer). After my opponent finally scooped some players came to tell me that they had a good laugh while watching me and I felt very embarrassed. This would have not happened if I would have attended at least one paper event before Nationals (no matter deck I'd play). In the past, I've seen players lose in a similar way and I wondered how that was even possible. After this experience, I finally realized why players can play well while being totally lost. I realized that I am no longer a paper Magic player, but a Magic Online one.

1. Rules
One of the reasons why players advise others to play on Magic Online is rules enforcement that will teach the players the rules on the go. The client is taking care of the game state and doesn't allow us to perform an illegal action. This comes with stuff we don't usually do in paper where we often use shortcuts or ignore irrelevant steps. If we cast Restoration Angel it will ask us to choose a target and then it will ask us if we want to use the ability (since it is a 'may' ability). It won't allow us to choose an Angel if we have one in play. In paper it can happen that a player plays Restoration Angel and chooses to blink their Urza's Legacy Karmic Guide. None of the players realize that something was wrong till someone else comes to the table and asks if by a chance Karmic Guide isn't an Angel. They will check the oracle text and find out that Karmic Guide is indeed an Angel and thus cannot be blinked by Restoration Angel. I learned what the legal targets are. I learned what cards have 'may' in their text and I also know which cards require a target and when that target has to be chosen (I realized this when someone asked me 'is a [card name]'s ability a 'may' one?'. I had two triggers in my head and knew that the card has written 'may' on it even though I couldn't remember the text).

When playing on Magic Online I sometimes manage to do something I'd never thought of when playing paper Magic. In one of the Throwback Gauntlets I played UW Control mirror match. I had Wrath of God in my hand and a bunch of counterspells including Stifle. My opponent then cycled Decree of Justice. While I know from paper that you first pay for the tokens, put them into play and then draw a card, I never really thought of why. Both abilities showed up on the stack. At this point, seeing my hand and knowing my opponent was most probably holding something like Wrath of God in their hand (the last card in hand), I wondered if I don't want to Stifle the draw instead of the Soldiers. This is something that would have most probably not come to my mind in paper at least it would not come to my mind immediately. This is something I brought with me to paper. I know that I can affect way more things in the game than seems obvious. For example in Vintage it is very common to counter something, let some spells resolve and then counter something else which is still on the stack. This way we can avoid certain blow-outs. When I was talking about this with another player he acknowledged that he doesn't really see this happening that often in paper no matter the format (we started the discussion after seeing a rather strange counter war in which one of the players instead of targeting the spell he wanted to actually counter, targeted a counterspell targeting his previous counterspell).

In general I have a better understanding of rules (without me knowing) and even though when I do not understand something I know how it would be handled by Magic Online. This helps me in the end figure out why certain things happen and if I find something odd I check the rules because Magic Online is not always right. One of the things that was posted in our Vintage group lately was this: One player attacked with Blightsteel Colossus. It was blocked by Arcbound Ravager with several +1/+1 counters on it. What happens with the +1/+1 counters? I already knew that when Ravager dies we can put the +1/+1 counters elsewhere and I wondered why I'm certain about this. It took me a while to remember when I was in a similar situation and wondered if it was a similar shock to me. I had a creature with Undying in play with +1/+1 counter and it died after it was dealt Wither damage. That is when I found out about the rule 704.7 saying "If a state-based action results in a permanent leaving the battlefield at the same time other state-based actions were performed, that permanent’s last known information is derived from the game state before any of those state-based actions were performed". Somehow I managed to apply it when Arcbound Ravager died and I thought that it was 'normal' while others disagreed.

At Nationals, we were able to come to our a judge and try answering judge questions from the judge app. I stood there and tried answering the questions some people randomly got. I realized that I know the answers and that the questions do not confuse me the same way when I was taking level 1 judge tests (those were easy compared to this) because I could actually visualize them. When there was a question about replacement effects I remembered when this situation happened to me on Magic Online and the confusion that followed because I suddenly didn't know what to do (in terms of operating MODO). It walked me through the situation though and I realized that thanks to this I got to choose what happens. It was the same in paper and thanks to being able to ask the same questions Magic Online asks I was able to come up with all the different outcomes and not just one that was the most beneficial for me as a player. I decided to try answering some questions myself and got some awesome loot (I answered all my questions correctly)!

What I learned
Somehow the rules logic Magic rules use became way more clear. I can answer very strange rules question and not only I know the outcome but I also know what actually happens and why. For me as a player all I usually needed to know was the outcome (in most cases the most favorable for me). When I wanted to become a judge I realized that the important part is knowing what actually happens before the outcome. This also helps to think fairly well 'outside of the box' because I can use cards in different ways and times.

2. Triggers
One of the things that Magic Online players complain about is missing triggers when they go play in a paper event. I learned that there is room for missing triggers but it actually depends on my experience with the card in general for me. When I play with a deck with many triggers on Magic Online it actually helps me not forget them in paper. I know when the abilities trigger and I know what is required of me when that happens. When I play a card like that I remind myself of the trigger going onto the stack and do that in real life too (in reality I see that happen in my head). If I don't have an experience with the card on Magic Online nor in paper, triggers become a problem. For example when I played with Queen Marchesa for the first time I was unable to draw a single card with it. I just passed the turn without drawing a card and my UW Control opponent was seemingly very angry that some silly girl was winning the game even after she managed to miss the Monarch trigger like 20 times.

This is something that was happening to me when I was playing only with physical cards. When I played with cards in paper for the first time, it was the exact same story. I was able to miss their triggers more often than not until I managed to get used to them and didn't miss them. Nowadays though I learned that my ability not to miss triggers in general got way better. If something happens once (if I don't miss the first trigger) I know that it is supposed to happen again next turn and that is Magic Online that taught me that, not my paper experience. Unfortunately some triggers take more time for me to get used to them (Monarch/City's Blessing) because those things are a bit odd in the game of Magic.

What I learned

I'm fairly certain that this has never happened to you at a real life event. A situation like this will make you realize that we automatically do what is beneficial for us but do not actually place the triggers on the stack. If someone will come to us in a real life event and asks us how we stack our triggers we should be able to answer that question. Many people get confused and sometimes mess it up, similarly to how I messed it up in the Cube match above.

I learned when and what triggers, when we have a chance to do respond, in what order effects are resolved or applied (and what happens simultaneously), and how I need to stack my triggers in order for them to resolve and when I need them to resolve (example Tangle Wire and Smokestack triggers).


3. Sequencing, rules enforcement
When coming from Magic Online to a paper game I realized that I sequence correctly and that often gets me strange looks from players that are not used to play at high level competitive events. Many players just put Deathrite Shaman on the table and then they crack their fetchland to get an Underground Sea to pay for the Shaman. Try doing that on Magic Online. When Magic Online asks you to pay costs all you can do is pay those costs, there is no possibility to fetch or use other abilities (unless they are mana abilities). In the case of Deathrite Shaman and obviously not being able to pay for it, you will just cancel casting the spell. Try the same when trying to cast a Miracle spell for its Miracle cost. You will not be able to cast it. There is a reason why Magic Online does this and in paper you can run into problems if there is some kind of out of order sequencing. Imagine a situation in which you do this and you opponent Stifles your fetchland trigger. This is a simple situation but can already result in a problem. Imagine playing Pyromancer Ascension Storm and while comboing off you create your copies of spells but forget to resolve them. What happens then?

Canceling casting Deathrite Shaman is fine since you can replay it in your main phase. Do this kind of mistake when trying to cast a Miracle spell - you won't be able to cast it, end of story (it will end up in your hand).

Sometimes it is better to simply be on the safe side of things. When I was playing in my paper events I often let people take many things back and sometimes I usually trusted my opponent to keep a game state right. After all I participated in events to play Magic. My intention was never to win because my opponent made a play that didn't make sense because they weren't aware of something. Unfortunately this attitude also lost me many games because there are people that will take advantage of that. For example, at one Legacy side event my opponent showed me his Terminus in draw step and told me he would play it (that was clearly said, we call that 'intention'). While he fetched I played a counterspell targeting the Terminus since the only land my opponent could have looked for at that time was Plains. He told me I can't play the spell because he didn't cast the card yet and decided not to play it in the end. He was right about me showing the counterspell too early but he also already said what would happen (getting Plains and playing that Terminus). This kind of situation happened during our match several times without incident but this time, it was clear that his Terminus would get countered and he would most probably lose and that is why he decided to nitpick. I didn't want to argue about this but it is one of the moments I regret. Certain players will do anything to make what they need happen. The kind of situation I described is something that always put me on tilt because I felt cheated suddenly. My opponent took advantage of me in order to cheat and gain advantage (often game winning). I'm aware that this is a situation I should call a judge, but I really just wanted to enjoy some games and I'd sign the match slip in my opponent's favor rather than argue about anything.

After years of playing on Magic Online though when something like this happens to me I call a judge if it is severe change of a game state or I switch to 'Magic Online mode' (usually both). This means applying the rules 100% correctly, no shortcuts, no out of order sequencing, not taking anything back. This also means announcing triggers and choosing targets. If I don't do any of that it's my problem and I should be punished for it, if my opponent forgets about something or doesn't announce something he has to, it's his problem. I was talking about Regular REL events. When it comes down to Competitive REL events, I have no problems playing in 'Magic Online mode' and often people call me cold-blooded and mean (if they are not used to this kind of events). I'm not, I just follow the rules. It is sad but Magic Online is a safe place for me to play Magic while, real life events often are not. That is why I am sometimes forced to bring that Magic Online environment with me to the real life world.

Many players lost their games because they cast Emrakul and didn't announce its trigger. Many players played Life from the Loam without targeting lands just to see their opponent raise a hand and call a judge. In real life event you don't know your opponent, be it your friend or not, they can try to make you pay for your mistake. It can come out of the sudden, especially if you are playing for top8 in a premier event. When big money is at stake, players behave differently. It's better to learn the rules and follow them. Magic Online helps with that greatly. It will teach you not to take things personally and will help you deal with this kind of mistakes. It sometimes results in odd situations - me taking a piece of paper, writing my opponent's name on it and putting it on my True-Name Nemesis (this often results in my opponent asking me why I do this or a strange look).

What I learned
I learned to sequence correctly and I enforce rules now to the extent that sometimes I have to stop myself and remind myself that I'm not at Competitive/Professional REL event. If I do not manage to follow the rules myself I just go on (for example a missed beneficial trigger, confirmed passing priority when I actually wanted to do something) like nothing happened. Thanks to Magic Online rules enforcement I learned to still make the right play after I mess up. In real life events people tend to avoid looking like a fool and sometimes this is actually what makes them lose the game (not the first actual mistake they made). I've made a fool of myself by misclicking so many times that I learned to live with it and proceed in the game. Sometimes our opponent will understand that what we did was a misclick (obviously pumping their creature when you had lethal in play wasn't your intention), sometimes they may just see we made a mistake (animating a land and then not attacking with it). What is important is still to keep in mind that we can win and do everything to win that game still. Often it's not a single mistake that loses the match, it is usually several of them during the whole game.

4. Playing under pressure
When I was playing in paper I had problems concentrating. I often tried to encompass pretty much everything and somehow use that to come up with the best decision. I was also easily distracted by the onlookers and my opponent. While seeing our opponents in front of us can be an advantage it can be also a disadvantage. Sometimes when I got overwhelmed by things going on around me I somehow missed the fact that I can simply win the game. When it came to a feature match I was pretty likely to lose it just because I couldn't handle the stress.

On Magic Online when trying to deal with my timer I learned to somehow concentrate on what is the most important during the game. I learned to willingly ignore certain things that I can't either play around or ignore things I can't do due to time constraints. This taught me how to play fast and under a lot of pressure. I thought that this kind of 'habit' would show detrimental in paper but during the paper events I played in I realized that this actually helped me, in a strange way though. In real life events we have to finish our match in 50 minutes. Both of us will be playing at certain speed and there is no way to make some other players play faster. Some stall on purpose, some can't simply play faster, some actually manage to play faster when asked to. While I can't do much about a slow playing opponent I learned that there is something I can do with myself. At events of a format I do not know, I often play slower because there are many things that I need to learn about or check more things than usual. Often turn 1 and turn 2 were crucial for me and I sometimes was told I stall. This happened at one PPTQ when I was on BG Delirium and I could either play Evolving Wilds on turn 1 or Blooming Marsh and Vessel of Nascency. I had Tireless Tracker in my hand and Grim Flayer so it was clear I wouldn't use the Vessel anyway and keeping the fetchland actually made sense. My brain that had zero experience playing the deck tried to figure that out while judge call was made by my opponent.

Before I started playing daily on Magic Online, a match at real life event could result in a draw. I don't play slowly compared to others but when we both do not play at reasonable pace timing out happens in paper too (in general it's usually because of mistakes done by either player which takes the game into another direction - one that shouldn't have happened, sometimes the game is simply complex). Nowadays I know that I actually have quite a lot of time during the match and I know how to actually use my time effectively. I can take my time during the first 15-20 minutes and then I can speed up quite considerably in what I do because I usually gather enough of information for me to finish the game (both about my opponent and the deck they play). I learned that I speed up my pace when there is a clear way of how to navigate through the game and I see victory near (even if that means in 3 or 4 turns). In Vintage there are many things that need to be done and on Magic Online it takes quite a lot of time. In paper it's similar. One turn can take about 15 minutes to finish if one plays at relatively normal speed.

What I learned
I learned how to manage my time. I take the time when necessary and play fast when there is no need to think about something because I already did the thinking ahead. I speed up my pace by a lot, sometimes players interrupt me to ask me to play slower so they can follow. Thanks to Magic Online I can play fast and precisely and thanks to it I can also shut everything off and just concentrate on the pieces of cardboard in front of me.

5. Reading your opponent
At our local events people don't usually seem to have fun. You don't hear laughter or passionate chatter. What you hear often is people swearing or players mocking others. This is common but I always had a hard time to play against someone like that. When I play against someone annoying I'm capable to shut that person off now, thanks to my experience on Magic Online. I just concentrate on the game at hand and I treat my opponent the same way I'd do in a Magic Online match. Often I don't know who my opponent is and all I can do is see how strong of a player they are by how they play.

Many players are saying that playing face to face is way better because you can see when your opponent is bluffing and when not. When I wasn't seriously playing on MODO I thought that this may be true to some extent. I didn't agree with that at the time but I couldn't say if my assumption was right. To some extent seeing your opponent in front of you gives you some tells and can help you make some decisions. On the other hand for me it was always about knowing how the game should progress and what the possibilities of the game going awry is. For example many players tell me that I look at the game too pessimistically. Sometimes they are right, I don't think I can win games even though it somehow happens. The reason is because I look at the game from a perspective of two players playing at similar level and getting to draw the cards they need. If I'm highly unfavored all I see is the outcome of me losing. I do still play to my outs and play accordingly to have the chance to win. Sometimes I win and it is exactly because of this - me playing to my outs. During games I always count with the worst case scenario and if I can play around it I do so. This has won me so many games that I'd say that doing this is the right thing to do if you want to play Magic well. Why I mention it is the fact that when playing on Magic Online you have to actually do that all the time. You don't see your opponent in front of you so assuming if the player can play well or not is more difficult. All you can do is assess your opponent depending on how they play and that is something you can actually do. I do that because if I know how my opponent plays I can force him into a situation they do not want to be and I can also bluff, exactly the same way I'd play in real life.

Many players think that this is not possible and that one needs to see the player in front of you but you really don't need that. Seeing your opponent in front of you sure helps, but many players are also not able to assess the player's type correctly and they simply assume something based on impression. For example when a player comes to your table, hardly knows how to shuffle their deck, a deck box showing a red mana symbol and matching sleeves, you may think 'oh, they are on Burn and probably a beginner or casual player'. It's likely you are right, but it does not need to be true. When I show up at an event many players seeing me for the first time think I can't play Magic for some reason. They are blind to certain tells - I can shuffle well, I have a strict pregame procedure, I don't give out free information unless I really want to etc. This alone is also a tell for me because pro players when they see me, they have a totally different reaction - they become very cautious when playing against me and assess me with care. Look can be deceiving but what is even more problematic is what you assume. If you see me and see a woman that doesn't know how to play Magic, it can mean you won't play as tightly as usual and you can lose. If you'd be paired against me on Magic Online you wouldn't probably assume that I'm a woman and would play better. The mistake table-top Magic players do is that they assume, thus are often blinded and do not see the reality. Magic Online players are way less prone to doing this.

What I learned
I learned to treat each match as a separate match and judge players depending on their ability to play Magic. This allows me to be more objective. I also learned to ignore my opponent when they are not nice to me or trying to distract me. Unfortunately this sometimes makes me seem to be even more inhuman than I already am.

6. Expected Value and Efficiency
One last thing I'd like to talk is expected value. Since I could write an article about it I'll try to just summarize what I mean with this. See on Magic Online we play a lot of Magic. It costs us a certain amount of money and many of us aren't rich enough to actually pay for all the events. Many of us are good enough players to enter an event and earn enough money to be at least able to play more. It goes even further because many of us grind money, speculate, or trade to earn money. We process a lot of values no matter if those come from price sheets or probabilities that we calculate at best of our abilities. Based on that we decide.

What I learned
I know the prices of pretty much anything that I regularly buy or sell. Even before starting to play on MODO I easily memorized buylist sheets (I just have a good memory for that as it seems, it's not like I would actually put some effort in memorizing those prices) but when I went to the grocery store I didn't really know what each article I usually buy cost. Now when I go to a store I know the differences in prices from seller to seller and according to that I buy what is below price or at the same price. I get the rest at a different seller. I also realize when I am told to pay a wrong amount. I was actually pretty surprised that the price differences are huge. For example there is a cheese I buy for 23CZK but the very same one can be bought for 39CZK. So when I see this at 23 I snap buy it. When it goes up to 29 (regular price) I buy it too, but when I see the price go over 30 I just let it be and buy something else. It's not just about difference in prices though. I also check the quality of the food I eat. If the food is of a good quality I'm willing to pay more but when the quality is lower I'm not willing to pay even the average price for it. For example I buy instant coffee (not a fan). The very common price range is between 139-199CZK. I'm only willing to only buy it for 89-109 CZK though. This happens when the article is on sale which happens roughly once per 3 month for a few days which is frequently enough for me to restock. This also makes me aware of which sale ads are promoting real sales and which are fake because you are still going to pay more than you'd normally pay. Before I started playing on Magic Online I never really thought of buying stuff at a certain moment or a certain place.

EV doesn't apply only to buying and selling. It applies to pretty much to everything we do. I'll give one more example. When I go visit my parents I need to take a bus from Nove Butovice which is not far from where I live. During business days going to the subway and getting on the train to Nove Butovice is in general faster because the intervals are 1 to 2 minutes long. I'd walk for 4 minutes and then I'd wait at most for 2 minutes. The trip alone takes a minute and half equaling in 7.5 minutes. On Sunday though the intervals are 10 minute ones. So if I don't know when the train leaves it is possible I'd spent 15.5 minutes of my time to get where I need to. The time could also end up being just 7.5 minutes (which is the max time for a week day). In 8 minutes though I can walk to the bus station. I think you can clearly see what's better in this case - during the weekend I walk to Nove Butovice because it is faster.

If you go to a competitive event, you will need to at least bring something you can write down your life total, pen and dice.

Playing on Magic Online made me a better Magic player in terms of understanding the game, discipline, efficiency and time management. This not only translated into playing Magic at real life events it also translated into my life. Magic Online unfortunately won't teach you certain things when it comes to playing in a real life event. If you are a Magic Online player and want to participate in real life event I suggest to dedicate some time to playing with physical cards prior to the event. You will need to get used to certain things and if possible automate them. Learn how to shuffle. That is something you really need to know how to do. Also learn about using tokens and counters. See how people track poison, life totals. Watch some players play to see what is the accepted norm when going through combat, passing turn etc. Read the Infraction Procedure Guide and learn what is expected of you at events.

Thank you for reading
S'Tsung (stsung on Magic Online, you can follow me on Twitter @stsungjp)


Shuffling is the hardest part by Paul Leicht at Tue, 03/06/2018 - 16:48
Paul Leicht's picture

Shuffling is the hardest part of the transition. Particularly in this age of sleeves. Back in the day we just played without sleeves and riffle shuffled just like regular playing cards. That's why really old cards tend to have whitened corners.

And a 60 card pile now is twice as thick as an unsleeved version. Being aware of/understanding the floor rules is probably the 2nd hardest part. But if you are just playing at low rel events that shouldn't matter so much.

As for learning to play mtgo, I started during the beta and as I recall it was relatively good and not horrendous. The clock was initially much longer, the interface was simpler (there were no function key settings) and chat was pinned open. And there were multiple chats that the game just maintained. The game play was relatively easy as well. From 2001 to now, the game has also become much more complex.

As always great article! :D

re by Hearts at Tue, 03/06/2018 - 20:10
Hearts's picture

Being aware of/understanding the floor rules is something that cannot be done in mtg regarding the shuffling rules (and in lots of other areas of the rules). If you see the opponent trying to cheat with shuffling f.ex you can just cut the deck so that the cheat works against him, but this is not allowed per the mtg rules, which it would be in other games.