FINAL JUDGEMENT: The Penalty Guidelines

First of all, I wager that in this article, our beloved editor will incorrectly modify what he sees as a grammatical error. If he does (I did – Ye Editor), and you’re the first one to figure it out and email me at [email protected], I’ll send you something nice, like some foreign cards (or whatever…

First of all, I wager that in this article, our beloved editor will incorrectly modify what he sees as a grammatical error. If he does (I did – Ye Editor), and you’re the first one to figure it out and email me at [email protected], I’ll send you something nice, like some foreign cards (or whatever I have laying around-but sorry, you can’t have my Foil Lightning Bolt).

The new 2000-2001 Floor Rules, Penalty Guidelines and Universal Tournament Rules are out. They become effective on September first, so you’d better get used to them quick. Fortunately, there aren’t many changes, except for in the Penalty Guidelines. We’ve become a little kinder and gentler when it comes to penalties, which is much better for the game.

Most readers are casual players; some have never played in a DCI-Sanctioned tournament. I’m betting, however, that many of you have or intend to do so in the near future. Today we’ll discuss what you can expect when you (invariably) make a mistake in a sanctioned tournament.

What’s the point of penalties? To let a player know he’s done something wrong, and to possibly rectify any imbalance the situation has caused. The level of the infraction is determined by relative disruption that mistake has caused to the flow or integrity of the tournament. We’ll get into some examples later, but first we’ll go over the penalties.

Penalties come in five flavors (in increasing order of severity): Caution, Warning, Game Loss, Match Loss and Disqualification.
* A Caution is a verbal warning for small offenses – the equivalent of a brief "Hey, don’t do that".
* A Warning is an officially tracked penalty. "Hey, you did something you shouldn’t have; don’t do it again". You only get so many Warnings in a tournament before they start getting upgraded to a Game Loss.
* A Game Loss is "Hey, you did something that you shouldn’t have and it gives you too much of an advantage in this game".
* A Match Loss is "Hey, you did something that you shouldn’t have and it gives you too much of an advantage in the match." Disqualification is reserved for the most severe circumstances: "Hey, you did something that completely wrecks the integrity of the tournament".
* There’s also Disqualification without Prizes, which is reserved for Cheating and Severe Unsporting Conduct. I know my readers would never stoop to such things, so we won’t discuss them further.

Penalties for different infractions are different at varying Rules Enforcement Levels (REL). Levels 1 and 2 are what you’re most likely to run into in casual tournaments. REL 3 is for things like Pro Tour Qualifiers, so you may experience that every now and then. REL 4 is for Grand Prixs and National Championships. REL 5 is for Pro Tours and World Championships. Simply put, penalties for similar infractions are more severe at higher RELs.

So now that you’re familiar with what the penalties are, how do you incur them? Well, you make mistakes. We’re assuming unintentional mistakes, by the way. Intentional mistakes fall under Cheating, and as we’ve discussed, no reader of mine would ever do stuff like that. Mistakes come under a few general headings: Deck Problems, Procedural Errors, Card Drawing, Slow Play, Unsporting Conduct and Cheating. Again, the latter two are just unmentionable.

Deck Problems include things like misrecording your decklist or sideboard, playing with cards that aren’t on your decklist or playing with an illegal deck. Most of these problems are easily corrected but will nonetheless earn you a game loss. Take your time filling out your decklist! How many times do I have to say it?

The largest class of penalties is Procedural Errors. These include silly things like Playing the Wrong Opponent, Failure to De-Sideboard, Tardiness, the ever-popular Misrepresentation, and the catchall categories of Minor, Major and Severe. The latter trio and Misrepresentation are the ones you’ll see most often.

Misrepresentation is misplaying a card or a game rule. Examples of this include trying to target an untargettable creature; trying to target a creature with Protection from Black with a Terror; paying the wrong colored mana (3W for a Wrath of God instead of 2WW) or not enough mana for a spell; targeting a player with a spell that targets only creatures. When an action like this occurs, we correct it as well as we can (let’s assume, for simplicity’s sake, we see the error right away). Here’s where I exorcise the ghosts of misperception. The spell isn’t automatically countered; it doesn’t retarget; it doesn’t just mysteriously go away; the player doesn’t take immediate mana burn. Instead, the player undoes the illegal action. Permanents tapped for mana or other costs are untapped. We back up to the last clear point in the game, likely the player that committed the error having priority. He can try again. He can cast that spell/use that ability again on a legal target, or he can decide to do something else. Of course, the Judge will issue a Caution or Warning, depending on the REL, but rest assured that horrible things don’t happen to a player because of a small technical error.

Minor Procedural Errors are things like shuffling your deck after your opponent has cut it, or recording Peregrine Drake instead of Pendrell Drake on your decklist. They’re always a Caution. Major Procedural Errors are more disruptive to the tournament, and include not writing your name on your decklist or not sufficiently randomizing your deck. They’ll always result in at least a Warning. Severe Procedural Errors are extremely disruptive and quite rare, actions that make it difficult for you to complete the game, such as spilling Jolt Cola all over your deck.

Card Drawing penalties involve taking too many or not enough cards. I’ll quote directly from the Penalty Guidelines: "Any time players draw extra cards, there is always a chance they will go unnoticed by their opponent, potentially giving them a significant advantage. Because of this potential for abuse, the penalty for drawing extra cards is fairly severe." At REL 3 and higher, it’s a Game Loss. You can also get penalties for Improper Drawing to Start a Match (like taking seven cards when you’ve already Mulliganed once), Failure to Draw (only drawing one card when there’s a Howling Mine in play) and Looking at Extra Cards (flipping over a card while you’re shuffling your opponent’s deck).

Slow Play is very tricky to call. Players are responsible for playing at a pace sufficiently fast enough to complete their match in the allotted time. This means that a player can unintentionally play too slowly and still get penalized. If the Judge thinks that someone playing slowly in order to gain an advantage in the game or match, then that player is guilty of Cheating.

I know none of you would ever be guilty of Unsporting Conduct, but I’ll tell you about it so you can recognize what it is. Minor Unsporting is using foul language or insisting that your opponent get a penalty. The penalty for this is generally a Warning. Major Unsporting is failing to follow the instructions of a tournament official, or calling a Judge over repeatedly and insisting your opponent get a game loss for minor procedural infractions. At REL 1 and 2, Game Loss is appropriate. At REL 3 and above, it’s a Match Loss. Arguing excessively with a Judge after that Judge has made a final ruling is Severe Unsporting. At all levels, this is Disqualification without Prize.

Cheating includes Bribery, Collusion, intentionally misrepresenting game or card rules, or using a random method to determine the outcome of a game. You read correctly, throwing a die or flipping a coin is Cheating. Note that agreeing to an Intentional Draw is not Cheating – so long as no outside incentives are introduced (because that would, by definition, be Bribery). As you’ve noticed if you’ve read the Suspended Player List, the DCI takes an extremely dim view of Cheating. Punishments are intentionally severe.

Now you know the Penalty Guidelines and sample infractions. You know what to expect and how penalties are applied. And now, you can no longer claim ignorance.

And that’s my Final Judgement.

Sheldon Menery