This week's Black and White will attempt to address, in no uncertain terms, the most misunderstood aspect of the Yu-Gi-Oh! TCG. In my eight years of playing this game, there has been one single game mechanic that has led to the most rules confusion and caused the most frustration in pretty much any tournament I've participated in as either a player or a judge. This game mechanic is completely unintuitive, and without preparation any inexperienced player will walk right into a situation where two people (the opponent and the judge) are telling them a card effect can't be activated even though they think the activation requirements have been met.

I see questions about this topic asked numerous times a week in a variety of facebook groups and forums with no signs of slowing down.

This week on Black and White: I roll up my sleeves and talk about the differences between effects that can be activated if something happens, and effects that can be activated when something happens.

Seriously: Stop Calling It 'Missing The Timing'
If you've played this game for a length of time, you may heard of the phrase "missing the timing" and when you first heard it, you probably had no idea what that meant. That's not a unique experience, unfortunately. What the phrase "missing the timing" is supposed to convey is the idea that an optional effect that activates "when" something happens can't activate if that something wasn't the last thing to happen.

Now, that sounds easy enough, right? It certainly seems like a very straightforward concept.

But thirteen years of Yu-Gi-Oh! has proven it's not easy to figure out.

Before we go further into the actual discussion of the mechanic, I need to talk about why I'm very much against using the phrase "missing the timing." Don't get me wrong, I used to use the phrase myself when judging. Heck, I'll even still use it when talking to other judges who know the concept behind the phrase. But when the phrase is used, it's meant to be a shortcut for the mechanic of, "you can't activate an optional effect that activates when something happens if that something isn't the last thing to happen." The problem becomes apparent when you try to look for official resources to back this up, and find none. That's right: the rulebook has nothing about this mechanic. It's not in Rulebook 8.0 in any way, shape or form, nor is it in the Advanced Rules section of the official site.

So the first time you heard about "missing the timing" you probably heard about it from a friend or your local judge. But where did they hear it from? Someone else? What about that person? And so on. Basically, explaining "missing the timing" to people became a big game of telephone, where the message gets distorted and twisted as it gets passed along from person to person. Without an official resource to refer to, a lot of people get the wrong idea about what "missing the timing" means.

If you don't know what "missing the timing" means, the three words by themselves don't mean anything. Someone who doesn't know the game mechanic won't be able to figure out that "missing the timing" is supposed to mean "you can't activate an optional effect that activates when something happens if that something isn't the last thing to happen" unless they're told that specifically. The trouble is that the education tends to stop right after the words "missing the timing" are used. All of a sudden, "missing the timing" becomes the magic bullet that somehow magically makes your opponent's cards not work when you don't want them to. Except, of course, no one knows what "missing the timing" actually means, including the person attempting to explain it.

I've seen players and judges alike try to explain why things "miss timing" and completely botch it nearly every time: the most common Mistake I see is thinking if multiple effects want to activate, you can only do one of them because everything else "misses timing," which is a misapplication of the shortcut phrase. If you actually substitute in what the phrase is supposed to mean, it becomes very easy to see the concept of "you can't activate an optional effect that activates when something happens if that something isn't the last thing to happen" doesn't apply.

Only game actions that don't use the chain, and the resolution of the last chain link to resolve, can be considered "the last thing to happen." Effect activations are never "the last thing to happen."

Suddenly, Official Definition!
If you check the page on the official site that has rulings and errata, you'll notice a few of those rulings from years past actually use the phrase "miss the timing" or some derivation of it, but no definition is made in the rulebook or any of those documents.

But! An official definition of this mechanic has recently been made available! In last year's Saga of the Blue-Eyes White Dragon Structure Deck, the tip sheet included a rules explanation called "If… you can" vs. "When… you can". Sound familiar? I highly suggest clicking that link and reading it, as it's the official explanation for the mechanic that's confused duelists for over a decade. It's absolutely imperative that if you play the game on a competitive level, you know what's listed on that single page. I'll be here when you get back.

Welcome back! Now, you hopefully noticed that the sheet didn't use the phrase "missing the timing" at all. That's one of the primary reasons why I've stopped using the phrase when talking about game mechanics: because Konami has already done away with the phrase themselves. And if I had to guess their Reasoning behind it, it probably has to do with the fact that the phrase "missing the timing" doesn't teach duelists what the phrase means. It's an additional Stumbling block in understanding how the game works, and we should immediately toss the phrase from our collective vocabularies.

Now Then: Let's Actually Discuss This
So, in addition to the rules sheet, you'll also need to know that effects can't activate in the middle of resolving chains. Once both players pass on adding effects to a chain, the entire chain has to resolve before anything else can be activated. This info is implied in the Fast Effect Timing chart and rulebook 8.0, but isn't explicitly stated.

Knowing that, let's talk about "If… you can" vs. "when… you can" in more detail.

Firstly, this difference only applies for optional effects. You can tell when an effect is optional if it includes the words "you can" after the colon but before the semi-colon. Effects that don't use the words "you can" are mandatory effects; you don't have the option of not activating the effect if the activation condition is met. Mandatory effects will activate the next chance they're able. Popular mandatory effects include Sangan, both of Light and Darkness Dragon's effects (the Quick Effect that negates things and the Special Summon effect), most of the Lightsworn's abilities to send cards from the deck to the graveyard, and the effect of some of the Hieratic monsters to Special Summon Normal Dragon monsters from your deck.

Popular "If… you can" effects include Inzektor Dragonfly and Inzektor Centipede, most of the Scrap monsters, and Mermail Abysslinde.

And the whole reason this confusion exists: popular "when… you can…" effects – the ones that can have their only activation opportunity happen in the middle of a chain – include Elemental Hero Stratos, all three of the Gadget monsters, Mermail Abysspike, Mermail Abyssturge and most notably as of late, Fire Hand and Ice Hand.

"The Last Thing To Happen"
Knowing the difference between "if… you can" and "when… you can" is only useful if you've properly identified what "the last thing to happen" is at any given point in the game. I don't blame players or judges for not knowing this since I don't think this is currently spelled out anywhere. Let's see if we can change that…

We're going to reference two separate pages: the Fast Effects Timing page, and Problem-Solving Card Text article 7. You need to know both of those to make sense of what "the last thing to happen" is.

When a player takes an action that doesn't use the chain, the "last thing to happen" is whatever that action is. (Read the Fast Effects page for examples).

Getting more complicated, when a card resolves, the "last thing to happen" can be determined by looking at the card's PSCT and properly determining its effect by looking at what conjunctions are used to separate effects. (Read the PSCT article for examples).

When a chain resolves, the "last thing to happen" is whatever the "last thing to happen" is during the last chain link whose activation wasn't negated.

Example:
Chain link 1: Heavy Storm
Chain link 2: Dark Bribe

Because Dark Bribe negates the activation of Heavy Storm, the "last thing to happen" is whatever's happening when Dark Bribe resolves, which we can easily figure out by looking at PSCT rules: Your opponent draws 1 card, also negate the Spell/Trap activation, and if you do, destroy it. Both "also" and "and if you do" mean that the effects occur at the same time, so "the last thing to happen" is actually three things: "opponent draws a card," "Heavy Storm activation negated," and "Heavy Storm destroyed." That means all of the following effects can trigger or be activated after the chain resolves…

Appropriate (because "opponent drawing card outside of draw phase" was the last thing to happen)

Chain Whirlwind (because "card on field destroyed by a card effect" was the last thing to happen)

… and if we ever get a card that can only activate when the activation of a card is negated, it could also activate at this point.

It's pretty common these days for two or more events to be "the last thing to happen" simultaneously. Multiple Lightpulsar Dragons destroyed by a single Dark Hole? They're all the last thing to happen! Activate ALL the Lightpulsars! Once you can easily identify the "last thing to happen" everything falls into place.

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And just to reiterate: when an effect says (A) then (B), it's only (B) that's the last thing to happen. But if (B) is optional, and the player chooses not to do (B), then it's actually (A) that's the last thing to happen.

Ok! So hopefully you got this far and know a little more and are less confused over "if… you can" and "when you can." And hopefully you won't use "missing the timing" as a phrase, because if we as a community are going to have a proper discussion about this topic, we need to stop using words that mean different things to different people. "Missing the timing" is wildly misunderstood and will only further the divide instead of helping us bridge the gap. If you have questions about this topic, other game mechanics, card interactions or tournament policy, send me an e-mail (one question per e-mail please!) to askjudgejoe@gmail.com and your e-mail may be answered in a future Court of Appeals!

-Joe Frankino