Judicial Opinion: Distinguishability

Published 3 weeks ago by gallantron Article Views 4,556 Comments 2 Estimated Reading Time 8 minutes Article

Ah, banishing a card face-down – the ultimate form of removal. When you activate Pot of Desires by banishing 10 cards face-down, the expectation is that those cards are gone gone. A quarter of your Deck that you're not getting back, in exchange for that one sweet, sweet extra card in your hand.

There's always been niche exceptions, of course. PSY-Framelord Omega gets to return a face-down banished card to the GY. Primal Seed lets you add two back to your hand. But, for the most part, those cards are not participating in the duel anymore.

Or rather... they were not.

The Kashtira archetype, which was released recently in Darkwing Blast, focuses around banishing cards face-down. Not too problematic by itself – but in the upcoming Photon Hypernova, they're going one step further. Their new boss monster, Kashtira Arise-Heart, will be able to attach any banished card, even a face-down one, to itself as (face-up) Xyz Material. Those cards that you banished to activate Pot of Desires, or the Elder Entity N'tss you got rid of for your Pot of Prosperity? Thanks to Arise-Heart's unique ability, they're all pretty readily accessible.

Well, so far, so good, if you're talking about your own cards. You can just look at them and pick one. But what about your opponent's cards? Think about it – when was the last time you paid attention to the order that your opponent kept their face-down banished cards in? Do you check if your opponent puts the new banish under or on top of the old one? Did the top card of the Deck end up as the top banished card, or the bottom banished card? If you placed a card on top of your opponent's Deck with Phoenix Wing Wind Blast, can you say "I want to attach the top card you banished with the first Desires, which was Blue-Eyes White Dragon", and your opponent has to give you that one? Or do you need to keep track where in the pile it ends up?

There's just more and more questions, the more you think about it. Well, with Arise-Heart being prime meta material in Japan, this felt like an excellent opportunity to get some answers. And thus, we asked. The outcome was not quite what we expected.

The Answer

Sending questions to the Japan office's public support email is… a subject for an entire essay of its own, one day. The actual reply you get is the least interesting part. There is neither a guarantee of accuracy, nor a duty to correct. Anyone that treats email replies as binding statements as fact is being, in my fairly educated opinion, foolish at best. Yet – sending strategic emails is an excellent way to get Japan R&D to think about things. It's a reliable way to get outdated or incorrect database entries retracted. And sometimes, sometimes it manages to make them put things we care about on the database.

This was one of those times. Our email did not receive a response for almost a full week, which is usually a good sign that the matter has been escalated internally. And then – our answer dropped. Not by email, but straight to the database, in the form of Q&A #23918. The answers we got were both extremely detailed, and somewhat unexpected. Thus, without further ado, let's dive straight in.

First, the Q&A permits you to identify face-down banished cards by the instance of banishment. To use its example, if Diablosis resolves its effect to banish from the Extra Deck twice, I can specifically address the first card or the second card to have been banished. To this effect, it instructs players to take whatever measures are necessary to keep the cards distinguishable while they remain banished face-down.

In practice, you will likely simply call out "the Infinitrack Goliath I banished with Diablosis", and then your opponent can take that face-down banished card and hand it to you. That's a pretty straightforward way to realize what the Q&A tells you is permissible. (While spreading your face-down banished cards in separate piles all over the playmat makes for funny memes, it does not in fact make for not good gameplay.)

Second, however, is where things get a bit weird on first reading. The Q&A posits that, if your opponent banishes 10 cards from the top of their Deck face-down to activate Pot of Desires, you cannot distinguish any one individual card. In particular, you explicitly cannot tell which of the cards used to be at the top of the Deck before being banished. They only remain identifiable as a group, as "the 10 cards banished to activate Desires that one time."

Once everyone stopped chuckling about multiple banished piles, this bit was what folks quickly got hung up on. After all, you can just look at your opponent banishing the 10 cards, and point at the one that used to be at the top, right? Well, not quite...

The Interpretation

After getting over my initial bewilderment, my mind quickly settled on another interaction involving distinguishing cards that often baffles players at first – the cards Set by Sky Striker Mecha Modules - Multirole. Since it's been a hot while since Sky Strikers have been at the forefront of the meta, a quick recap: Multirole's effect takes a bunch of Spells from the GY, and Sets them to its controller's field. Both players can see which Spells are taken from the GY, but only Multirole's controller gets to know which Spell gets Set to which zone.

Once you think about it, the parallels are striking. Cards that were perfectly distinguishable are moved, en masse, to another location face-down – and are suddenly indistinguishable from another. "But I can see which card was picked up and placed on the field where!", you might cry. Well, you can't.

When explaining this interaction, we often take a step back from physical cardboard, and think about the abstract game state – perfectly spherical trading cards in a perfect vacuum, if you will. Multirole's effect resolves, and the controller picks Spells in the GY. Both players verify that those chosen Spells are "Sky Striker" Spells with different names. The chosen Spells pop out of existence, simultaneously, and pop back into existence in Spell & Trap Zones chosen by Multirole's controller, simultaneously. There's no way to tell which of the cards that disappeared is related to which of the cards that reappeared. With this change in visualization, suddenly the idea of them being indistinguishable after the fact no longer seems as alien.

Once we accept this parallel, however, we also need to realize that this applies not only to cards being moved simultaneously from one face-down location to another face-down location, but to any cards being moved simultaneously to a face-down location, period. The implications are far-reaching.

The Implications

Let's say, for example, that you resolve Evenly Matched. Your opponent, grudgingly, banishes a Thunder Dragondark and a Saryuja Skull Dread. You now Special Summon Kashtira Arise-Heart and activate its effect, and, for the sake of argument, there are no other banished cards you want to attach to it. Of course, attaching the Dragondark isn't a great idea. It will eventually get detached, and if it's then banished as a result of Arise-Heart's other effect, your opponent will get to search a card, for free. You'd much, much rather attach the completely harmless Saryuja to your monster.

Well, tough luck. Since both Thunder Dragondark and Saryuja Skull Dread were banished face-down simultaneously, both popped out of existence on your opponent's field, and then popped back into existence as face-down banished cards. You can't tell them apart. You can just try to attach "one of the cards that were banished due to Evenly Matched that one time", and then pray that you end up with Saryuja rather than Dragondark.

Now, how does one realize this with actual trading cards? For starters, I would suggest that players adopt the habit of every Sky Striker pilot, and – if they think it's likely to matter in a matchup – quickly shuffle any batch of cards that is banished face-down before adding them to their banished cards.

But even that might not suffice. In the example above, no amount of shuffling is going to prevent your opponent from distinguishing the face-down cards. After all, Saryuja, being a Link Monster, is likely in a differently-colored sleeve from Thunder Dragondark. If the player indicates that they'd like to choose one of the face-down banished cards, I'd suggest just pulling a Danger!, and enforcing random choice using dice or similar means.

Ultimately, clear communication is paramount here. I would not suggest forcing the player to pick a random card from that "batch" if they attempted to choose one particular card from it. It likely won't be obvious to your players why they can't just point at the obviously-distinct Saryuja and attach it. Instead, treat the selection of an individual card as illegal and rewind to before it was made. Rules are not a tool to bludgeon players with.


So, to recap. Q&A #23918 lays out the rules for which of your opponent's face-down banished cards can be distinguished from each other, and which cannot be. It allows you to distinguish between different instances of cards being banished face-down – you can say "I choose the card I banished with Kashtira Fenrir's effect last turn". By contast, it does not allow you to distinguish between multiple individual cards that were banished face-down simultaneously – for example, you cannot say "I pick the card that was at the top of the Deck before you banished it to activate Pot of Desires."

This parallels previous documentation on Sky Striker Mecha Modules - Multirole. Once you realize this, it then immediately follows that this same logic should also apply to previously-face-up cards being banished face-down simultaneously. Therefore, you cannot say "I choose the Saryuja Skull Dread that you banished due to Evenly Matched," unless Saryuja was the only card your opponent banished due to that copy of Evenly Matched. If your opponent banished any other cards due to that Evenly Matched, it is not possible for you to distinguish Saryuja from those other cards.

For judges – I would argue that, if a face-down banished card is chosen from among multiple of an opponent's face-down banished cards that were banished simultaneously, random choice should be enforced. Treat a choice of a single card as illegal, and rewind accordingly. If made necessary, such as due to differently-colored sleeves, we should do what we do for Danger! monsters, and force a die roll instead of allowing players to point at a card.

Or, at least, that's my opinion.

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