Ask the Judge, 3/2/2007: Feature Friday

There’s a storm coming, so Feature Friday has moved to higher ground. That storm is the new DCI Penalty Guide: the most significant revision to a tournament document since the 6th Edition rules revision. Level 4 judge Toby Elliott explains the layout of the new PG, the reasons for the change, and what to expect the next time you play in a sanctioned tournament.

This week, we released a new version of the Penalty Guide. To say that this is a major revision would be an understatement—the document has been redone from the ground up.

Should you care about this if you’re a player? Not really. The Penalty Guide has no rules in it that you need to know about. It contains instructions to tell judges how to handle situations where the rules have been broken, so that when it happens, the judge will handle it the same way no matter where you are. Follow the rules outlined in the Universal Tournament Rules, as well as the Floor Rules and Comprehensive Rules for your game and you’ll never need to think about it.

If you’re a judge, this is one of the most exciting things to happen in some time. This document contains shifts in the understanding of how to handle infractions that have been gathered over several years and thousands of tournaments. Many procedures that have been informally in use have finally been codified. Others are new and have been the subject of much debate and discussion (trust me on this—there’s been enough email to fill a book).

Here’s a quick walkthrough of the main sections of the document, though there’s no way to do it all justice here. Every judge will need to download and read the whole document.

General Philosophy

Why we do what we do. Explanation of the penalties and how to give them. The Rules Enforcement Levels.

Deck/Warband Errors

Registration errors of various flavors. This now contains clearer information of how and when to fix the decks, as well as new sections for warbands and registering cards at limited events.

Game Play Errors

If the players break a game rule, the fix is in here. This section is completely new and represents the biggest change from the old version.

Yes, Procedural Errors no longer exist.

Tournament Errors

If they broke a rule in the Floor Rules or Universal Tournament Rules, you’ll likely find the remedy in here.

Unsporting Conduct

How to handle players who act out of line.


Here be monsters. The section you have to go to when someone breaks a
rule intentionally.

Card Game-Specific Rules

Miniatures Game-Specific Rules

We welcome Dreamblade to the Penalty Guide, and these last two sections cover rules that are specific to Card and Miniatures games—Drawing Extra Cards, Rolling Extra Dice, etc. Most of the penalties have been written so that they can apply to any DCI-sanctioned game, so these sections are to handle rules that really only apply to one subset.

So why have we done this? What changed philosophically that caused us to want to revisit almost everything? (The snide among you are asking ‘What took you so long?’) There are many answers to this, and here are some of the high points:

Simplification of the Rules Enforcement Levels. Five levels were too many, and their numbers meant nothing. They have been replaced by three levels that are largely self-descriptive: Regular, Competitive and Professional. For now, think of them as approximately Friday Night Magic, Pro Tour Qualifiers, and Pro Tours, respectively, though there will be some interesting wrinkles coming up.

A recognition that both players are responsible for the game state. If I play Pacifism on your creature that has Protection from White, whose fault is it? Obviously, I made the illegal play, but my opponent allowed it to happen. Both players are required to maintain a legal game state at all times. Note that this is not the same as maintaining an accurate game state. If I forget you have Crusade in play and make bad blocks, then that’s my fault (though you are obliged to correct me if I state your creature’s power incorrectly).

A desire to fix problems before they become more severe. We want to encourage players to call a judge as soon as possible. In the past, players have ‘sat on’ illegal game states in the hopes that they might be able to get their opponent a game loss if it goes past a certain point. This incentive is gone, and players benefit from fixing things as soon as possible.

A desire to keep judges from having to make strategic decisions. The old Penalty Guide had the concept of Minor/Major/Severe, where a judge needed to assess the advantage gained by the infraction. This required them to make strategic decisions about game play, and the thousands of judges out there have varying levels of play skill. Even a skilled judge, when faced with a complex situation in a high-level match, may not be able to grasp the nuances of the game and the strategies being employed by the players. As a result, judges are no longer expected to assess the game being played or the severity of the problem. Remedies are based on the underlying cause of the infraction and are applied without any evaluation of who may benefit from them.

A desire for more consistency across the program. This has been touched on in all the points above. It is essential that players are treated the same way by all judges, from the Head Judge of the Pro Tour to the judge at the local draft. Judges should be able to take the Penalty Guide, find the infraction and follow the instructions without needing to make any judgement calls. Additionally, if the judge feels the situation is not covered by the Penalty Guide, or the circumstances are exceptional enough to warrant a deviation (which is very rare), they must do it through the Head Judge to ensure that the player understands why the deviation is occuring.

A need to handle matches that consist of only one game. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Match Point penalties. These are being rolled out conservatively in certain circumstances as an alternative to a Game Loss in matches that only have one game (making it equivalent to a Match Loss). Instead of ending the game, the player loses one point from their total match points in the tournament. Thus, a player who is 3-1 with a Match Point penalty will have 8 points in the standings.

Those are just some of the goals that guided us as we put this together, and I hope this has encouraged you to download a copy to see for yourself how we pulled it off. A change of this size could not have happened without that contributions of many people, and thanks must go out to the L4 and L5 judges for their efforts in putting this together, the L3s who provided feedback on the beta version, and Andy Heckt for guiding the process and providing wisdom when we ran into trouble. Finally, thanks to all of the judges out there who have provided us with the field experience and stories to let us develop a philosophy in the first place. This is your document and each of you played a role in its creation.

I’ll be back in a couple of weeks to talk about how the Penalty Guide is performing in its early days and to answer any questions you may have about the new version and the underlying philosophies, so leave them in the forum. Until then, may you find something in the new version that makes you say ‘finally!’