The 5/2 Day Thread is Between Turns

Let me introduce you to one of the most troublesome cards in Magic: the Gathering Rules History.

Avocado, I give you… TIME VAULT:

In concept, it’s simple enough – Skip a turn now, Take an extra turn later.

But of course, early Magic being what it was, this is all pretty vaguely worded and there wasn’t a real “authoritative” source for rules1 other than the tiny included How to Play booklet. Keep in mind, this is 1993, before Wikipedia, before Alta Vista – even the thing that we currently think of as “The Internet,” the “World Wide Web” was only just barely gaining traction in the internet community. As in, CERN only released the WorldWideWeb source code to the public domain in April of 1993.

But it was fine, because Magic was just some kind of card game and there’s no way that it would explode in popularity to the point where there were tournaments with real actual money on the line.

Fast-forward to 1996, when Magic had exploded in popularity to the point where there were beginning to be tournaments with real actual money on the line, to the tune of $12k for the winner of the first Pro Tour in February of that year. There had been smaller tournaments leading up to that point, under the supervison of the “Duelists’ Convocation International,” the official arm of Wizards of the Coast that was handling tournaments at the time. Time Vault has been banned for the majority of the intervening time for “power level reasons” while people were trying to figure out what, exactly, counted as “untapping.”

But you know what, the game has evolved a bit since then, right? No one really knew what was going on way back in 1994…. I bet it would be ok to unban Time Vault. And we can even specify what it meant “to untap” now that we’re solidifying the rules. So Time Vault now said:

Does not untap as normal. If Time Vault is tapped and does not have a time counter, you may skip your turn to untap Time Vault and put a time counter on it. {tap}: Remove the time counter from Time Vault to take an additional turn immediately before the next normal turn.

Time Vault, 1996

“Said” in the abstract, since new copies of the card weren’t being printed – this and other changes of the time were happening on the official online Errata list, managed by Wizards and the DCI, easily available to players on The Internet.

And by “The Internet” I of course mean Newsgroups. Obviously. At the time, much of The Discourse for Magic was happening on Usenet, an early form of the internet that was kind of like an internet forum but without a lot of modern things, such as “pictures” or “avatars” or “an interface.” Look it was fine. It was Fine. Whippersnappers.

Rules would be discussed on the Usegroup newsgroup and official statements would be sent by email to the MTG-L Magic Listserv. A completely normal and reasonable way to use the internet.

On Friday, March 1, 1996, Beth Moursund, one of Magic’s “Net Representatives” at the time,2 sent out the regular official banned and restricted list update. Included was this errata:

from Tom Wylie (Magic R & D)

Long-time players may be surprised to see Time Vault removed from the Type I Banned List. After all, the card was removed from the tournament environment because it was a central component in some very powerful, instant-win combinations involving infinite turns. However, Tom Wylie’s official errata solves this problem so neatly that the DC is comfortable in returning the card to the Type I environment!


Time Vault is reworded as follows to restore the card to its original

“Does not untap as normal. If Time Vault is tapped and does not have a time counter, you may skip your turn to untap Time Vault and put a time counter on it. {tap}: Remove the time counter from Time Vault to take an additional turn immediately before the next normal turn.”

Beth Moursund, “[O] DCI Rules Cover Letter”

Thus officially giving it the card text quoted above. Over the weekend, the internet blew up as much as it could at the time, meaning that a whole bunch of emails and Usenet posts were made about how exactly Time Vault now worked. One of the biggest questions of the time was “When can you skip your turn?” Obviously you can’t do it during your turn because it’s already started, but you can’t skip it on your opponent’s turn because it’s not your turn. And the rules clearly state that “nothing can happen between turns” so that option is right out, right?

Well fortunately, with the internet being what it was at the time3 it was easy to start a dialogue with your community in a friendly, amicable setting. Trolling still meant fun, playful in-joking at other peoples’ expense, rather than…. yeah. So when the discussions were starting to tie themselves into knots, Moursund responded that she would ask at work on Monday and get back to them.

On Wednesday, March 6th, She would send a collection of responses to that and other questions, just as had been done 107 times before:

** Even with the new Time Vault errata, the “skip a turn” payment of Time Vault is still used as a special action, only at the time you would begin your turn (after your opponent’s turn has ended, but before you untap anything). This overrides the normal rule that says nothing can happen “between” turns.

Beth Moursund, “[O] NetRep reply #108″

This ruling is marked as being added to the official Errata list on March 5th, the day before, but I have only been able to find references to that version of the list, not the actual source from that day, but this as far as I can tell, this was the ruling:

“You use the untap effect right as your turn would begin and skip your turn instead of proceeding to the untap phase. [Aahz 03/04/96] You cannot decide to skip your turn during another player’s turn.”

(“Aahz” being Tom Wylie, the Rules Manager at the time)

And then everything was fine forever. Until 1998. By this time, the idea that there was a “between turns” that only could be used for Time Vault (and mana sources, which could be used at any time) was known and understood. Hey wait, what was that parenthetical?

(and mana sources, which could be used at any time)

Oh, sounds reasonable I guess, since other cards can add an additional mana cost to the ability, so you have to be able to use mana abilities and blah blah blah..


Now, by 1998, the internet had become more like everyone knows today: garish repeating backgrounds and serif fonts. One such visual explosion was The Dojo, one of the earliest MtG websites. On Saturday, January 15th, 1998, a report was posted about “The INSANE Deck!?!”

To be clear: Said insanity did not play Time Vault. In fact, at this point, Time Vault was not even legal in the Type II Tournament Format that was played at the time. But this concept, this tiny little window that Time Vault had opened was still there. So at a French qualifier tournament in late January, Jerome Legras and Julien Mozziconacci brought a deck that would come to be known as “Wall of Boom”

It hinged on three cards – Wall of Roots, Magma Mine, and Stasis:

Totally clear, right?

  • Since Wall of Roots’ ability was a mana source, it could be used “between turns”
  • The wording of Wall of Roots is unclear about how many times it can be used “NOT in a turn”
  • Therefore, Wall of Roots can be used an arbitrary amount of times between turns because:
  • Since Wall of Roots’ ability was a mana source, it could be used repeatedly before the game checks to see if it should be dead. Between turns.
  • The result: Infinite Mana

Of course, you couldn’t just take all that mana with you. At the time, Mana Burn existed, which would cause your mana pool to empty at the end of a phase. But:

  • “Between Turns” isn’t a phase
  • So the mana would stay until the next actual phase, Untap
  • But you still can’t do anything then because you can’t use abilities (other than mana sources which are special) during Untap
  • Unless there wasn’t an Untap phase
  • Because Stasis skips that phase.
  • In that case, mana would empty at the end of the next phase that actually happens, Upkeep.
  • You can do things during Upkeep.
  • If you have infinite mana, you can do lots of things.
  • Lots of things like activate Magma Mine a ton of times because there weren’t actually all that many good things to do at the time.
  • Oh.
  • Oh dear.
  • You activate Magma Mine a ton of times and kill your opponent on the spot, “between turns” just before your third turn of the game.

Legras had checked with the head judge of that tournament, who agreed with this interpretation. The two would perform decently at the tournament, each achieving a 6-1 record, but then people got on The Internet.

Which in this case means email. They emailed about it. Technically at the time it was still e-mail.

Once people heard about this, they immediately recognized it as “stupid” and “ridiculous.” Even if it did “technically” work, it was a real “dick move”.4 Soon, the official word was sent out to judges about what to do when this comes up: Do Whatever You Want

wait what

There is no current official ruling about using “Use this ability only once each turn” mana sources between turns. There are reasonable arguments in favor of it being usable zero, one, or indefinitely many times. So it’s up to the head judge at any given tournament to decide. If I’m doing any head
judging before there is an official ruling, I’ll pick the “zero” option, and I strongly recommend that others do likewise.

Beth Moursund, “Between-turns mana sources” 19 Jan 1998

There followed much online wailing and gnashing of teeth, but the “actual” statement would come out in a few days, basically saying “Stop that.” and to no longer allow it, promising to address it in an official update to the rules in February.

And that’s (more or less5) how Time Vault got the wording it has today!

And then everything was fine forever and ever.

…Except that one time in 2006 when you could untap Time Vault as many times as you want to and use another card to let you tap Time Vault to do one damage at a time as many times as you want. By spending all your future turns that you’re not going to take anyway because you’ve won before then.

They fixed that one too by the way.

Have a Great Day Thread!