At Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan, I was standing right behind Paul Rietzl during his round eight feature match against Lim Zhong Yi. Rietzl played a Vendilion Clique, then made us all jump out of our skins with fright when he fervently stopped Lim from revealing his hand.
Rietzl went on to target himself with the Clique's trigger, and did the right thing in preventing Lim from mistakenly revealing his hand. In this exchange, not only did Rietzl demonstrate the sportsmanship and ethical conduct you would expect from a Hall of Famer and all-time Magic great, he showed us that integrity, honesty, and fairness are a lot more important than the fractional advantage you'd gain from your opponent not understanding the exact ins and outs of a specific card.
Vendilion Clique is a weird card, with a unique spell-like effect that offers enormous flexibility to the caster. Typically, Clique acts as a Thoughtseize-like card in blue decks, offering a way to interact with an opponent's hand at instant-speed (stapled onto an aggressive, evasive beater to boot). However, Clique's ability has several incredibly significant differences from cards like Thoughtseize, and that's where people sometimes get tripped up.
Firstly, you aren't required to select a card to put on the bottom of the library. This means that if you target your opponent with the trigger and see a hand full of irrelevant cards, you can leave them holding their ham sandwich while you get in for three in the air each turn. There's a strong incentive not to take a card "just because," like you might with Thoughtseize. If a card is put on the bottom, it's replaced by a fresh card off the top – and that card might just be better than what's currently in their grip.
Secondly, due to the spell-like nature of Clique's triggered ability, confusion is often generated about the sequences involved when the card is played. The basic sequence is this: Clique goes on the stack – Clique resolves – Clique's ability triggers and the target is chosen – Clique's ability resolves. Unfortunately, and often due to careless play and poor communication, the sequence is shortcutted to: Clique goes on the stack – opponent chucks their hand onto the table.
This should never happen.
Finally, and much more importantly when discussing today's issue, is that you're able to target yourself with the ability. While it's technically possible to Thoughtseize yourself, it doesn't happen anywhere near as often as targeting yourself with a Clique trigger. Why is this? Because of the scenario described above, where the boot is on the other foot! Suppose you have a hand that doesn't look too good, and need to find some more action – you can target yourself, bottom the worst card in your hand, and draw a fresh one.
Ultimately, the way Vendilion Clique functions can sometimes generate confusion or a lack of clarity between players, and this confusion can lead to highly problematic situations like the one narrowly avoided in the clip above.
These situations should never need to arise in the first place.
There are plenty of ways to prevent issues like this. Let's turn to look at solutions, as there is no shortage of preventative measures that can be taken to stop this sort of thing from happening in the first place. Whether or not you're the one on the giving or receiving end of a Vendilion Clique, there are things you can do to make sure the game progresses as it should.
If you're having Vendilion Clique cast against you, you have a responsibility to know what the card does and how it operates – and if you don't, call a judge and find out. This isn't just for Vendilion Clique; if you're never 100% sure how a card or an interaction works, call a judge. There is no shame in ignorance, but there's a lot more shame in posturing as though you know it all.
Your opponent putting a Clique onto the stack is never an invitation for you to reveal your hand, and you shouldn't ever do it. No matter how your opponent behaves or what window-dressing they apply to casting a Clique, indicate to them that the spell resolves and then wait for them to trigger the ability before taking further action. Don't make the mistake of revealing your hand to your opponent before the game requires you to do so.
Don't make assumptions about how your opponent is going to play – they don't know the contents of your hand, and might make a different decision if they did. You are giving up free percentage points if you dump your hand on the table the moment you see a Clique – you may have a hand that they won't want to mess with, and you should make your opponent work for that information rather than just handing it out.
If you're the one casting Vendilion Clique, you have several responsibilities. While you don't have to actively aid your opponent in playing correctly, you should obviously never, ever be looking for a way to gain a strategic edge against your opponent by misrepresenting the way Clique works. This can include doing something like gesturing towards your opponent while putting a Clique on the stack, behaving in a way that makes it seem like you're waiting for your opponent to reveal their hand before the Clique actually resolves, or being ambiguous about whom the trigger is targeting.
Perhaps you're not even sure whom you're going to target when you put Clique on the stack – it may depend on their responses in-game, or even their physical reaction to you playing the card. It's fair to say that things can and do change in the time between when the Clique is cast and when its ability triggers, and that can influence who you end up targeting – there's no issue there. The issue arises when any level of confusion arises between players, and you have a responsibility to keep things as crystal-clear as possible.
Again, this isn't to say you must help your opponent. But as you should know you're heading into potentially murky waters, you need to keep this as unambiguous as possible by clearly announcing when the spell is on the stack as opposed to when the ability is on the stack. Further to this, however, you should also actively prevent your opponent from falling into the trap of revealing their hand, just as Paul Rietzl did.
The past weekend's GP Seattle was a terrific celebration of Magic and its community, showcasing the best of what this game has to offer. It was disappointing, however, to see the following exchange take place during round two of the Legacy event.
There's no reason why something like this should take place at an event like a GP – or, more broadly, within any game of Magic. There's so much going on with this interaction that, to speak very plainly, really, really sucks, and the problems are divided across both sides of the battlefield.
In the clip, Player A casts a Vendilion Clique, and Player B reveals two removal spells. Player A then targets himself with the ability, and "cycles" away an Ancestral Vision. While there is a lot of context missing in this video – exactly what was said at the table, the overall behavior and body language of both players, etc. – it's pretty clear that neither player handled this situation perfectly.
A quick polling of Twitter revealed that there's no consensus on this situation. There were strong voices on both sides of the issue, as well as many people who deplored the situation on a broader level without pointing fingers.
I think this is the best position to adopt – apportioning blame to one side or the other, especially without the whole context of the situation, isn't always going to result in the best outcome. As the inestimable Sherlock Holmes once said, "It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts."
Paul Rietzl gave us a firsthand demonstration of what ethical play looks like when playing with Vendilion Clique, and I think there's a lot to be learned from situations like the one at PT Rivals. Being ethical and respectful is more important than absolutely anything else in a game of Magic – so what can you do to ensure you're playing ethically when you register Clique?
If it seems like your opponent is even considering prematurely revealing their hand to Vendilion Clique, you should stop them. If it seems like your opponent doesn't understand the nuances of the way the card works, call a judge. It's not your responsibility to make them fully comprehend every strategic intricacy involved in situations like this, but they deserve a fair shake and you shouldn't be out to snipe this kind of undeserved edge.
A common phrase that comes up when discussing this issue is that it's entirely the fault of the opponent, as "a player can reveal their hand at any time." This argument does not pass the muster. Revealing your hand "at any time" isn't a game action, like turning a Morph face-up or activating a mana ability. Sure, in practice an opponent can reveal the cards in their hand to you, and in practice you can choose to look at them – but in a situation like this, you should do everything reasonable to prevent yourself from doing so.
If your opponent fumbles their own deck while shuffling and inadvertently drops and reveals some of the cards they are playing, the right thing to do is to look away as they're gathering them back up, and it's exactly the same with Clique. If your opponent makes the mistake of revealing their hand prematurely, you have an ethical responsibility to avoid looking.
Outplaying an opponent of inferior skill is a cornerstone of the game – but this issue exists in a different realm; it's not the same as punishing an opponent's gameplay mistake. If they mistap their mana and don't leave up double blue for Counterspell, punish them by slamming your threat into play – no-one can argue that's the right thing to do. It's very different, however, to take advantage of an opponent that is confused about the very specific mechanisms of a very specific card, especially when it results in them taking a non-game action that strongly affects the game's progression.
By looking at your opponent's improperly-revealed hand, you are not gaining a legitimate or deserved advantage over your opponent. Further, if you are in any way hoping or aiming for them to reveal their hand before you announce the trigger, you're angle-shooting – if not just straight-up cheating – and there is absolutely no place for that in this game.
- Stop assuming that the default mode on Vendilion Clique is to target the opponent.
- If someone casts Vendilion Clique against you and you have no responses, clearly indicate that it resolves before doing something like revealing your hand.
- If you cast Vendilion Clique and your opponent appears to be about to reveal their hand, stop them and ask them if the Clique has resolved, then announce your target – even if you were intending to target them.
- If you cast Vendilion Clique and your opponent reveals their hand before you can stop it, look away as swiftly as possible and indicate to them they should pick up their hand cards – even if you were intending to target them.
- Regardless of which side of the Clique you're on, never make assumptions. Don't assume your opponent knows how tricky Clique can be; don't assume your opponent will target you with the trigger.
- If at any point there is any ambiguity in any game state whatsoever, call a judge.
All that is required for this sort of thing to be erased from Magic entirely is for players to communicate clearly and without assumptions of any kind, to seek a clear and impartial explanation of specific interactions when in doubt, and to be treated fairly and ethically by their opponents. Hopefully, we don't see an interaction like this emerge again in the future.
- Riley Knight