### Where jurisprudence wonkdom meets hyper-nerdery

Owen and I are playing Magic the Gathering frequently these days. You see, I think it's a very educational game from a mathematical/game-theory perspective, and I want to teach Owen, um---you know what? Screw that. I don't need to explain myself. Owen and I think MtG rules!

Whew! There. I'm out of the closet :) Yes, I'm raising a nerd. An attractive, athletic, socially intelligent nerd and this is how we bond.

I won't bore you with the details of the gameplay other than to say players take turns playing cards that do things such as creating new types of creatures than can inflict damage on their opponent. I thought it would be fun to review a recent rules-dispute between Owen, as viewed through the through the lens of statutory law, inspired by my many discussions with my lawyer brother-in-law. I also like to talk about law with Law Dawg, who is a frequent contributor to this blog.

The dispute started when I played a Sporemound, which states "Whenever a land enters the battlefield under your control, put a 1/1 green Saproling creature token onto the battlefield." Basically, if I put out a "land" card (see image below), I get a new creature, a Saproling (pictured above) that can battle Owen and put him at a disadvantage. I then "activated" this ability by playing a land and a corresponding 1/1 Saproling creature.

Owen objected strenuously on the grounds that I had not been granted the ability to put a land out. I argued that the language of the card implied that I had such an ability at any time ("Whenever a land enters the battle field under your control.") In my view, the card implied that playing a land was  normal part of the game, and that Sporemound activated it's special ability whenever this mundane land-playing took place.

But Owen insisted that I had to have a separate card that granted me the ability to put out a land, which could then be counted toward the Saproling.

We took the case to the Court of Mom (Erin), who ruled in my favor initially. But upon appeal, the Judge put the original ruling on hold pending more information. We were instructed by Her Honor to look up further details on the rules on the online Magic website. Her interpretation of the extended description would be final.

We found this entry in MtG website description of the Sporemound, based on prior rulings on the use of the card dating July 1, 2013:
• 7/1/2013Sporemound’s ability triggers whenever you play a land and also whenever a land enters the battlefield under your control for some other reason, such as the ability of Into the Wilds.
Note that Owen was, in fact, correct. Sporemound's ability triggers when a card grants the player the right to put a land into the battlefield under their control. But it also allows the player to trigger the ability whenever a land is played under normal circumstances, even when unprompted by another card.

The high court ruled in favor of Dad, while noting that the full interpretation of the actual law involves both my and Owen's individual interpretations.

Law Dawg provides some background regarding statutory law (first three paragraphs below), and then comments on this specific decision:

Background on Statutory Law

Under both federal rules of statutory interpretation and the rules of every state in the country that I am aware of, the primary goal in interpreting any statute is to discern the intent of the rule makers. If the language of the rule is plain and unambiguous then you resolve disputes by reading the rule and applying its plain language as it is  drafted. The policy behind this is that the language of the rules are the best indicator of what the rule makers intended.

This isn't always as simple as it sounds because disputes often arise about whether language in a rule is plain. And parties to a dispute can sometimes agree that language is plain, but still argue that the plain language means contradictory things. Thus, you must read the rule that applies in the context of the whole statute and take into account its purpose when deciding what the plain language means.

In deciphering plain language, of the most relevant rules to your dispute with Owen (as I will explain below) is that a statute must be read to give effect to all of its provisions so that no portion of a law is rendered a nullify. Only if the language is ambiguous do you turn to items other than the language to discern what the rule makers intended. These include referring to things like legislative history (what did the rule makers say about the provision when they were debating the rule), whether a particular interpretation of the rule would violate the constitution, and other so-called canons of construction.

On the ruling

Now if we look at the specific rule that you and Owen are disputing, I think we can say that the language in the rule you copied in your message is plain and unambiguous. It states that: "Sporemound’s ability triggers whenever you play a land and also whenever a land enters the battlefield under your control for some other reason, such as the ability of Into the Wilds."

The rule pretty clearly states that there are two ways to trigger Sporemound's ability: (1) whenever a land is played; and (2) whenever a land enters a battlefield you control FOR SOME OTHER REASON. The plain language states that the ability is triggered by (1) "and also" (2). It cannot mean that only (1) or (2) is capable of triggering Sporemound's ability. To read the rule the way Owen suggests would violate the principle that rules must be read to give effect to all provisions because it would render (1) a nullity. The Court of Mom got this one right because Erin's ruling applies the plain language of the rule while giving effect to all its provisions.

That's it in a nutshell. Feel free to bring me future questions of this nature for my comment, whether they deal with Magic the Gathering, or household rules and the creative ways Owen tries to circumvent them.

Ruslan Belikov said…
+1 for nerdery! My daughter loves board/card games as well (simpler ones though, she's 4), it's a great way to bond and teach math / logical / strategic thinking. Have you tried german-style games?

PS Do your kids like astronomy? Have you taken them stargazing? Another great nerdy way to bond!

### On the Height of J.J. Barea

Dallas Mavericks point guard J.J. Barea standing between two very tall people (from: Picassa user photoasisphoto).

Congrats to the Dallas Mavericks, who beat the Miami Heat tonight in game six to win the NBA championship.

Okay, with that out of the way, just how tall is the busy-footed Maverick point guard J.J. Barea? He's listed as 6-foot on NBA.com, but no one, not even the sports casters, believes that he can possibly be that tall. He looks like a super-fast Hobbit out there. But could that just be relative scaling, with him standing next to a bunch of extremely tall people? People on Yahoo! Answers think so---I know because I've been Google searching "J.J. Barea Height" for the past 15 minutes.

So I decided to find a photo and settle the issue once and for all.

I then used the basketball as my metric. Wikipedia states that an NBA basketball is 29.5 inches in circumfe…

### Finding Blissful Clarity by Tuning Out

It's been a minute since I've posted here. My last post was back in April, so it has actually been something like 193,000 minutes, but I like how the kids say "it's been a minute," so I'll stick with that.
As I've said before, I use this space to work out the truths in my life. Writing is a valuable way of taking the non-linear jumble of thoughts in my head and linearizing them by putting them down on the page. In short, writing helps me figure things out. However, logical thinking is not the only way of knowing the world. Another way is to recognize, listen to, and trust one's emotions. Yes, emotions are important for figuring things out.
Back in April, when I last posted here, my emotions were largely characterized by fear, sadness, anger, frustration, confusion and despair. I say largely, because this is what I was feeling on large scales; the world outside of my immediate influence. On smaller scales, where my wife, children and friends reside, I…

### The Force is strong with this one...

Last night we were reviewing multiplication tables with Owen. The family fired off doublets of numbers and Owen confidently multiplied away. In the middle of the review Owen stopped and said, "I noticed something. 2 times 2 is 4. If you subtract 1 it's 3. That's equal to taking 2 and adding 1, and then taking 2 and subtracting 1, and multiplying. So 1 times 3 is 2 times 2 minus 1."

I have to admit, that I didn't quite get it at first. I asked him to repeat with another number and he did with six: "6 times 6 is 36. 36 minus 1 is 35. That's the same as 6-1 times 6+1, which is 35."

Ummmmm....wait. Huh? Lemme see...oh. OH! WOW! Owen figured out

x^2 - 1 = (x - 1) (x +1)

So $6 \times 8 = 7 \times 7 - 1 = (7-1) (7+1) = 48$. That's actually pretty handy!

You can see it in the image above. Look at the elements perpendicular to the diagonal. There's 48 bracketing 49, 35 bracketing 36, etc... After a bit more thought we…