The 4/19 Night Thread Misses The Timing

If you’ve been paying attention to my previous Yu-Gi-Oh! night threads (and I hope you have, this will all be on the exam) you’ll be aware that it is often a clusterfuck of a game, with obscure, semi-forgotten rulings and rules interactions randomly becoming crucially important. Part of the reason for this is that, in the TCG,1 there is no comprehensive ruleset published anywhere. Players must learn the rules from a combination of the basic rules booklet included in starter decks, official rules article published intermittently on the website, rules inserts in structure decks,2 and good old-fashioned oral tradition, as rules not covered anywhere else are passed on from Head Judges to the broader community. But just as importantly is the fact that the rules themselves are often absurdly exact.

For instance: a little something called “Missing The Timing”. Effects in Yu-Gi-Oh are resolved using something called the “Chain”, which is sort of like Magic: The Gathering’s “Stack”, but also different in some key ways. The most important difference for today’s purposes is the fact that, if there is already an effect on the chain, triggered effects won’t be added; they must wait for the current chain to resolve in order to activate.

For instance, if I were to activate the effect of “Cannon Soldier”, tributing “Sangan”3 as the cost, I wouldn’t actually be able to activate the Sangan’s effect until after the Cannon Soldier resolved. This is in contrast to MTG and frankly most other games, where the Sangan would simply activate and resolve as soon as it was tributed, with Cannon Soldier’s effect still on the stack/chain/non-union-Mexican-equivalent. With me so far?

Okay good, because it’s time to get stupid. If instead of Sangan, I were to tribute “Peten The Dark Clown”, the effect wouldn’t activate after Cannon Soldier resolved. It in fact would not activate at all. Why? Well, let’s look at the exact wording of Peten.

You see, unlike Sangan, Peten doesn’t say “When [condition]: do An Effect”. It says “When [condition]: you can do An Effect”. It’s optional. And because of that, in order for Peten to activate, it hitting the graveyard needs to have been the most recent thing to happen when it would trigger. In our Cannon Soldier example, the most recent thing to happen is not Peten hitting the graveyard but instead the effect of Cannon Soldier resolving, and so Peten is said to have “Missed The Timing”.

And it’s not just that, because Yu-Gi-Oh is a game devoted to human suffering. If instead, Peten’s effect read “If [condition]: you can do An Effect”, it would still be able to activate in the Canon Soldier example. Missing The Timing only applies to “When…you can” triggered effects. Mandatory effects, or effects that use “If” and not “When”, are exempt, and will trigger at the first opportunity no matter what’s happened between then and them meeting their trigger conditions. And of course, most triggered effects in Yu-Gi-Oh follow one of these two conventions instead of “When…you can”, meaning that effects that can miss the timing are rarely top of mind for most players.

And beyond the specificity of the wording, Yu-Gi-Oh can get very particular about what counts as “the last thing to have happened”. Like, if I were to tribute Peten for the tribute summon of a Summoned Skull, he couldn’t trigger, because even though no chain has happened, the game sees the last thing to have happened as being the summoning of a monster, not Peten hitting the grave. No effect. But instead, if Peten were destroyed by the effect of the spell card “Psychokinesis” (effect: “If you control a Psychic-Type monster: Target 1 card on the field; destroy it, and if you do, take 1000 damage.”) then it would get to trigger. Even though Psychokinesis deals you damage, and even though it goes to the graveyard after resolving, it doesn’t matter. The game sees the damage as being simultaneous to the destruction (“and if you do” means simultaneous resolution, something you learn by reading an online article published in 2011), and spells going to the graveyard at the end of a chain don’t count as an action the game is “listening” for.

And just to make sure everyone is thoroughly annoyed, let’s look at a real-life example of this mattering. Back in spring/summer 2012, there was a commonly played card called “Lightpulsar Dragon”. Among other things, this monster had an important, optional effect that triggered when it was sent from the field to the Graveyard.4 So, savvy players figured out a way to force it to miss the timing. They started playing Soul Taker, which reads “Target 1 face-up monster your opponent controls; destroy that target, then your opponent gains 1000 LP.” Because it uses the conjunctive “then” instead of “and”, and because Yu-Gi-Oh is a dumb enough game for that to matter, your opponent gaining life points is considered to happen after the monster being destroyed. Therefore, when Lightpulsar would trigger, the game sees the most recent action as someone gaining life points instead of a monster being destroyed, and so it misses the timing.

Anyway I once knew the rules of Yu-Gi-Oh so well that I was a judge5 and it remains the most worthless accomplishment of my life.