The Justice League – Five Controversial Calls

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Thursday, November 19th – Most things Judges handle are rather routine. At every event I attend, there is always a common pattern of rules questions and penalties that occur. But, every once in awhile, we’ll get something that is worth of discussion at post-event dinners, on message boards, and even in articles…

Most things Judges handle are rather routine. At every event I attend, there is always a common pattern of rules questions and penalties that occur. At the Morningtide Prerelease, it got to the point where I could have responded to a Judge call, and before the players said anything, I could have said “Reinforce can be played as an instant, and Bannerets can’t reduce the cost of any spell by more than 1” and I would say there would have been at least a 95% chance that it would have answered the players question.

But, every once in a while, we’ll get something that is worth of discussion at post-event dinners, on message boards, and even in articles.

Grand Prix: Vancouver was my first Grand Prix, and the first interesting judge call that I can actually remember, mostly due to the fact that I had only judged a Champs and a couple of prereleases prior to the GP, and the calls at those types of events are far from juicy.

A player playing in a Sunday PTQ calls me over and asks me some trivial rules question. I answer and start to go on my way, but as I turn around I hear…

“Crap! Uh, judge? I lost the card that was in my hand.”

I go back, and ask the standard questions to confirm with the opponent that yes, the player did have a card in his hand, and no, the opponent had no idea where it went. I bent down, moved chairs around, and did everything else my detective handbook instructs me to do, but there was no evidence that the card had fallen. When I ruled out that option, I was able to confirm that during a Wooded Foothills search, the one-card hand got shuffled into his library.

This is where things start to get a little dicey.

One of the biggest flaws in the style of thinking of many judges still early in their careers is that they try and make everyone happy. In keeping consistent with that common flaw, I spent far too long trying to track down witnesses to figure out what the lost card was in order to restore “order” to the game.

Eventually the player recalled “I think it was a Firebolt… Yeah, it was definitely a Firebolt.” I stopped to think, and his opponent responded with “Well, that sounds fine to me. I think I trust this guy.”

At this point I was thinking that this player was either telling me the truth, or he was lying to me because he wanted to tutor for a Firebolt and I would have to investigate him for Fraud.

I guess I must have trusted the guy too, because I gave him his Firebolt, and let them go on their way with what must have been a disgustingly long time extension. I didn’t stick around, but I hope that Firebolt would at least help end the match quickly.

Was it the right call?

No it wasn’t. Especially considering how little evidence I had. I tried too hard to make sure that this guy left the event with a smile, which isn’t the worst thing in the world, but players have to be held accountable for their mistakes, especially at a PTQ level or higher. I did not even have some solid evidence, such as multiple witnesses or an opponent who could somehow confirm the Firebolt (if he had Duressed him the turn before, for example).

If this happened at an FNM or a prerelease, I could see making this kind of call since players aren’t quite as accountable and the stakes aren’t as high.

What should I have done?

I should have left the Firebolt where it was and given the player a warning for Game Rule Violation, since it is, after all, against the rules to shuffle your hand into your library for no reason.

Fast forward to Grand Prix: Denver, which was my second GP. A player in the main event played a Wren’s Run Vanquisher for 1G, but didn’t reveal an elf. This mistake got caught a couple of turns later, and that’s where I came in. I told the player that he was getting a game loss for Failure to Reveal. It all seemed like a routine call.

Boy, was I wrong about that. It ended up being anything but routine.

Just a few minutes later, HJ Riccardo Tessitori and L4 Scott Marshall tracked me down, and explained to me that I had made a mistake. The proper penalty for this incident should have been a Game Rule Violation instead of Failure to Reveal.

“Yeah… but he was supposed to reveal something, and he failed to do so.”

To make things even more confusing, when we talked about it amongst my team, almost everyone agreed with me. Then when the question was talked about amongst the entire staff, the room was literally divided in half, and after watching and participating in several heated debates, it was clear that a judging community divided against itself cannot stand.

Who would have thought that little old me could cause such a fuss?

Did I make the right call?

Not quite, but I think I was as close to right as a wrong person can be. Based on the way the definition of Failure to Reveal used to be worded, this technically could have fallen under that penalty. The two problems were that 1) the philosophy of Failure to Reveal didn’t have Wren’s Run Vanquisher in mind, and 2) the definition for Game Rule Violation fit better.

Some good came of this awkward situation. The next edition of the PG had a neat little change in the Failure to Reveal section

“If revealing the card was optional, treat the decision (and any resulting infraction) as though the other option was chosen.”

I’d like to think that my mistake played at least a small role in creating this inclusion, and maybe even saved dozens of judges from making the same mistake.

You might even say I’m a hero!

Moving on….

What should I have done?

As already stated, it should have been a warning for game rule violation, but what about the fix? When correcting a GRV, you have to rewind all the way back to the mistake, which includes reversing all spells and draws, and since this happened multiple turns ago, I certainly wouldn’t be able to reverse all that (well, technically the head judge has to reverse it, but you get the point). So other than the penalty, the only other thing to do is give the opponent a warning for Failure to Maintain Game State for not noticing the mistake for a couple of turns.

The next situation was actually a group effort, spearheaded by the Head Judge of Canadian Nationals 2009. My country’s most recent Nationals was on a very interesting weekend. It took place on the weekend after the July 1st policy changes and the M10 rules changes.

If you remember correctly, the changing of how mulligans worked went along with the rest of the M10 changes, even though it sort of felt like a policy change. We agreed that it felt enough like a policy change that we were going to implement it a week early. So despite the fact that damage was still going on the stack, and multiple Behemoths Sledges were making games take far too long, our mulligans happened simultaneously.

Did we make the right call?

I think it would have been a bad idea to prematurely use the new rules updates for M10 too early, as it would dramatically change the strategy of the event. The difference with the new mulligan rule is that it was nowhere near as much of a strategic difference, and I’m willing to bet it maybe affected a couple of games throughout the whole weekend, and it may have made 90% of the matches go a little bit faster. I would say the pros in that scenario far outweigh the cons, so yes, I feel we made the right choice.

What should we have done?

Just stay the course.

The first time I Head Judged a Prerelease was a very different experience than the other events of which I had been in charge. A lot more Judges, a lot more players, and a lot more stuff to keep track of overall. So naturally, something messy came up.

At the start of the events I Head Judge, I make sure to make an announcement saying that any form of discriminatory behavior will not be tolerated. I’m not worried about extreme bigotry, as I don’t think most Magic players are like that, but there are the “harmless” jokes that people throw around, and I like to make sure my events are free of these kind of jokes because you never know when they might ruin someone’s day.

A player had a run-in with a Judge and made some of these comments. He was asked to stop, and didn’t listen, which is what had him brought up to me. A combination of discriminatory remarks and not following the instructions of a Judge would make for a game loss, even at a Prerelease. I asked the player if he was in an event, and he said he wasn’t. I explained to him that what he did was an offense that would get him a game loss. He then asked me if he’d get a game loss in the first round of any event he entered, and I said yes.

Did I make the right call?

No. No I did not.

There is no doubt it my mind that what the player did was unacceptable, and there was something to be done, but handing out a game loss wasn’t it.

The problem was that I looked at the situation like it was my job to dole out punishment when, really, it is a Judge’s job to enforce DCI rules and policy. None of the policy documents support carrying penalties for spectators into the next tournament in which they participate.

What should I have done?

In situations involving someone outside of the tournament structure where there is no prescribed penalty for a judge to assign, the Tournament Organizer is always there. If the TO for the event found the players actions inappropriate then he could either bar the player from playing in any more events that day, or simply remove him from the venue. On the other hand, he could decide that these actions were too harsh for a one time offense, in which case you move on, and make sure the player doesn’t do it again.

Fortunately I was able to correct my error rather quickly, and the player got to play in 2HG, and I felt that the player understood the error of his ways.

. . . .

You know how I said at the beginning of the article that events like Prereleases don’t really have interesting Judge situations? Well my last example clearly made a liar out of me, and so does this one, as it takes place at a humble FNM.

A player was playing some wacky combo deck that allowed him to take enough extra turns, that the number of extra turns he could take really didn’t matter. With all those extra turns, the deck finished the job with giant Banefires. The only problem was that during the final round, while the match was at 1-1, all his kill conditions got exiled.

This left the player with two options. He could either concede, which would end the match, have him end the night at 3-1 and possibly keep him out of prizes. On the other hand, if the game ended in a draw, he would be 3-0-1, and would probably finish in first. So his plan was with a few minutes left, he would take a bunch of turns, and spend all of his turns comboing off in order to take even more turns

A few players in the store were complaining that the player was stalling, since he was essentially doing nothing to progress the game state, and taking advantage of the time left in the round to help secure first place for himself.

It should also be noted that he was playing at an acceptable pace. He may have been playing half a dozen useless Time Walk effects every turn, but he was playing them quite quickly.

Right away I knew that a Stalling penalty couldn’t reasonably apply to this situation. At no point should the IPG ever put a player in a position where they either have to concede or get disqualified, and if I had considered this Stalling, then that’s exactly what I would have been doing. I told the players that as long as Mr. Infinite Turns was playing quickly enough, then it was perfectly legit.

Did I make the right call?

Oh, you betchya. For a reason that kind of sucks the fun away from the whole thing as a matter of fact. I was forgetting about this very important sentence in the description of Stalling

“A player intentionally plays slowly in order to take advantage of the time limit.”

So in hindsight, my interesting FNM situation wasn’t all that interesting, but when I was in the heat of the moment, making what at the time felt like a smart, philosophical decision, I happened to think it was pretty cool to have such an event occur at FNM.

What should I have done?

Remembering the exact wording of the penalty would have been good. Other than that, I handled the situation quite well.

. . . .

There you have it. I’ve confessed to a couple of stupid mistakes, and left you with some interesting stories. I think to make up for this, my next article will have to be nothing but self-promotion.

I guess I did label myself as a hero in one example. I am part of the Justice League, after all.

Until next time, stay out of the penalty box.