If you’ve played even a game or two of Magic then you’ve probably realized how many complex rules there are that hold everything together. Every situation, interaction, and question can be answered through the complete ruleset. A lot of tournament and game wins have come through interactions unknown to one party or the other.
One of the more prominent rules is “fail to find.” It deals with what a player can and can’t do when searching through hidden zones, and how those actions can impact the game and other players.
Hopefully you won’t fail to find your answers here. Let’s get into it!
What Does Fail to Find Mean?
Dismal Failure | Illustration by Dan Scott
Fail to find refers to when a player doesn’t find a card they’re searching for in a private zone, often with a specific characteristic. Players can fail (or claim to fail) to find a specific card when searching in some specific circumstances. When done on purpose it’s usually to avoid an undesirable interaction, or withhold information from your opponent.
How Does Fail to Find Work?
You do a lot of searching in Magic, particularly with your own library. Cards like fetch lands and tutors require you to search through your library for a specific kind of card and do something with it. They often specify a quality or characteristic, like a card type or name.
When you search through a place like your library, you’re searching through a hidden zone. No player can just look through a hidden zone whenever they want like they can with a graveyard. Your actions in hidden zones are very different from those in other areas.
When searching for something like a card with a basic land type after activating a fetch land, a player can “fail to find” the card in their library. This can be done unintentionally if the player used their fetch land under the assumption there was a land in their deck to get.
But that player also has another option, which is to claim to fail to find a card when there are legal cards to find during their search. This gives the illusion that cards of the type you were searching for don’t exist when they do, which opens up the window to surprise them later with a card they wrote off.
This only works when the player finding a card is given a specific characteristic for their search. For general tutors that just say “search for a card,” you have to select a card out of your library because every card is a legal target.
The veil of the hidden zone can create the assumption that no legal targets were there for specific card types. When any card is legal, the fact that a player’s library has cards means that they can’t fail to find.
Can You Always Fail to Find?
No. You can only fail to find when searching for a card with a specific characteristic through a hidden zone like your library. You have to find something if you search in a public zone like the graveyard or the battlefield. You can succeed at finding nothing for the same result if the card making you search has “up to one” wording.
The same goes for cards that don’t specify which kind of card to look for. Demonic Tutor allows you to pick any card in your library. If there are cards in your library, you have to find one.
Can You Fail to Find a Card in Someone’s Hand?
No. You can’t fail to find a card in someone’s hand because the area you’re searching is also revealed by the card that makes you search.
Duress lets you find a noncreature card to remove and reveals that player’s hand, making it public info. It’s no longer a hidden zone, so you can’t fail to find.
Can You Fail to Find in a Graveyard?
No, you can’t fail to find in a graveyard because it’s a public zone. You can only fail to find in hidden zones like libraries.
What Zones Does Fail to Find Apply To?
Fail to find applies to any hidden zone, which mostly means libraries. Hands are also hidden zones, but they’re usually revealed immediately before being searched.
When Are You Not Allowed to Fail to Find?
You aren’t allowed to fail to find in any public zone. That includes the battlefield, the graveyard, the stack, exile, and the command zone. You also can’t fail to find in any hidden zone made public by an effect, like your opponent’s hand.
What Are Examples of “A Stated Quality”?
A stated quality is a placeholder word that refers to an attribute, property, or characteristic of a card. Stated qualities are often characteristics like card types, mana values, subtypes, text, abilities, and more.
A clear example of a stated quality in action is on Mystical Tutor. It has you search your library for an instant or sorcery card and put it on top of your library after shuffling. In this case, the words “instant” and “sorcery” are characteristics and stated qualities of the card you can legally find.
Hidden vs. Public Zones
Magic is made up of zones, plain and simple. Everywhere a card, action, ability, or anything else can be is a zone with its own characteristics. Each zone has three binary qualities to define its existence: public, shared, and ordered.
The battlefield is a public zone so all cards are visible by default. It’s also shared, which means each game only has one of it. But the battlefield isn’t ordered so cards don’t have to be in a specific order or alignment.
The library, on the other hand, is very different from the battlefield. It’s hidden, so its contents aren’t visible to all players by default. And it isn’t shared which means there’s more than one library per game. But the library is ordered, so it has a specific ordering of cards that can’t change without a reason.
Here’s each zone and their qualities:
|Graveyard||Y||X||Non-ordered since 1999.|
Choosing vs. Searching
Searching and choosing are completely different mechanics. Searching typically involves looking for a card in a hidden area. Choosing requires you to select a card or ability to be the recipient of another effect. Choosing, while similar, is not targeting.
As for failing to find, there’s a similar mechanic where you can choose nothing. The rules for this are much simpler. You can choose nothing if the card making you choose says, “choose up to…”
Can You Fail to Find Cascade?
No, you can’t fail to find cascade. There isn’t any searching or finding to do, and the target being analyzed and targeted by the mechanic is public and on top of your library. But you can still choose not to cast it.
Do You Have to Find with Demonic Tutor?
Yes, you have to find a card with Demonic Tutor, unless your library is completely empty. It doesn’t specify the quality or characteristic of the card, so any card is a legal card to find.
What About Gifts Ungiven?
Yes, you can fail to find with Gifts Ungiven because it has wording that gives you specific criteria for a card to find: cards with different names. You can legally fail to find since you’re searching through a hidden zone for cards with a stated quality.
What About Doomsday?
No, you can’t fail to find with Doomsday because you’re searching for five cards with no specific characteristics, which means you can’t fail to find them. It also specifies that you have to find specifically five cards, no more and no less. If you don’t have five or more cards in your library you have to find as many as you can.
Do You Still Have to Shuffle Your Library if You Fail to Find?
Yes, you still have to shuffle your library if you fail to find. The card allowing you to search also specifies that you need to shuffle your library regardless of the success of your search.
Can You Fail to Find a Target for a Spell or Ability?
Spells with required targets need a target to be cast. If a card has the “up to…” phrasing before targeting information, then you can target nothing.
Golgari Findbroker | Illustration by Bram Sels
You’ve found your way to the end! Failing to find a relatively complex topic that may seem pointless to new players, but you probably picked up on its importance quickly.
What are some other mechanics you’d like me to break down for you? Do you have any other questions regarding fail to find? Let me know in the comments below, over on the Draftsim Twitter, or in the official Draftsim Discord.
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