The Justice League – My Opponent Disqualified Me…

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Friday, October 23rd – To the surprise of many, it was announced a few weeks ago that people registered as a judge, TO, or scorekeeper in an event may also play in it. This means your next FNM opponent could be the Head Judge, the store owner/tournament organizer, or possibly both.

“My opponent just disqualified me.”

This is a phrase you will rarely, or more likely never, hear.

Due to recent changes, it is possible.

To the surprise of many, it was announced a few weeks ago that people registered as a judge, TO, or scorekeeper in an event may also play in it. This means your next FNM opponent could be the Head Judge, the store owner/tournament organizer, or possibly both.

Some of you may be aware of this change already, and others may not. For those of you to whom this is news, I’ve become familiar with the different reactions out there.

“This is awesome!”

“This is an awful idea!”

“I don’t get it. What’s the point? What does this even mean?”

My money says I’ve just paraphrased your initial reaction. I don’t need to tell you why you feel the way you feel, but odds are you’re only feeling one of the three feelings mentioned above, and so I wanted to shed some light on what those that don’t agree with you are thinking.

First, however, I will go through the specific rules and details of this change.

Most importantly, you don’t need to worry about this happening at a Pro Tour. The only events this rule applies for are Friday Night Magic, Prereleases, Launch Parties, Magic Game Days, and other non-Premiere Magic events (a.k.a. random sanctioned events that don’t have names). In addition, these events must be run at Regular rules enforcement level (this only applies to the “other” events, since all the other ones are always ran as Regular REL anyway).

In addition to those rules, some guidelines were handed out to make sure this new addition to the Magic Tournament Rules is used for its intended purpose. Though not required, it is highly recommended that if someone wants to judge and play in the same event, the event possesses these two qualities:

a) There is a maximum of 16 players.

If there are any more than 16 players, then the Judge/Organizer really doesn’t have the time to give a sufficient amount of focus to both judging and playing. No one should put themselves in a position where they can’t fulfill their greater role to the tournament.

b) There are very few (or no) new players at that particular venue.

As a Judge or Organizer, it is your responsibility to make all players feel comfortable and happy. If you’re the Judge for a 12-person FNM that consists entirely of good friends, they probably won’t be bothered by you joining the event as a player. However, if it’s someone new to your store, they might not be as comfortable playing against someone that holds total power over the event.

So now, maybe, you’ve changed your tune, or maybe you haven’t. You may still think it’s an awful, and dangerous idea. I’ve met a fair few players and judges that feel just the same way

Why Is It Awesome?

Have you ever been at an FNM, waiting for it to start, only to find out that you’re one person short of sanctioning it? Sure, those seven people could just play some Magic, but you get no player rewards, no change to your ratings, and no FNM foils. Now, as long as you have a Judge or Organizer present, as long as they know how to play Magic, you’ll have your eighth.

Some of you might be saying “Only seven people at FNM!? That’s impossible.” Consider yourself very lucky if this thought crossed your mind.

One of the biggest complaints I get from lower level judges about judging is that “I miss playing in events.” This issue can only resolve in two ways. Either the Judge continues to feel like they are missing out, or they leave the Judge program. Both of these seem very counterproductive to what we’re going for. By allowing people in the Judge program to stay active in both judging and playing, it strengthens Magic as a whole.

Why Is It Awful?

The word “corruption” certainly springs to mind.

“Corrupt officials” is always going to be the chart topper for the number one fear among us honest, hard-working DCI members. Granting a player the ability to hand out penalties, and to run an event, is putting a lot of power into the hands of someone that has something to gain from it. I can understand why this could concern people, especially those that have dealt with some not-so-perfect customer service at past tournaments.

If you’re concerned about potential abuse of power, don’t stand idly by. Hopefully there are other stores that you can go to where you can support a friendlier environment. If you’re stuck where you are, feel free to contact multiple local judges, or get a hold of someone from Wizards. You’d be surprised at the amount of resources available to you that can help fix serious problems on a local level.

So what can you expect from these bizarre creatures known as the Judge-Player hybrid?

On the player side of things, they are just like everyone else. They play the same games, get paired with the same system, and even lose to the same bad luck. Plus, everyone knows Judges are awful at Magic, so you’ll be getting a free punching bag.

The other half of the beast is a DCI-based rules monster just like any other. They can be called on to answer rules questions, and even issue penalties. Don’t worry too much. The idea that players in the event can hand out game losses isn’t as bad as it sounds. In all the Regular Rules Enforcement Level events I’ve ran, I’ve never given out a game loss. Penalties of that severity are very rare at things like FNMs or prereleases, so if a player-judge is giving out anything higher than a warning then you should make sure they give a thorough explanation as to why.

The one penalty that I think it is very important, and relevant to give, is a disqualification. Game losses are rarely handed out at Regular REL, due to the penalty system being geared towards education rather than punishment at that level. Disqualifications, on the other hand, are relatively consistent across the board. It doesn’t matter if it’s a twelve-person Launch Party, if a player is intentionally destroying the integrity of an event through things like stealing or cheating, then they should be out of the event as soon as possible.

The reason why it’s important for a player to be able to do this is that qualified Judges will often opt out of judging something like an FNM in favor of getting a rare chance to play. I’ve seen a situation at an FNM I was at that made me think a player was doing something very suspicious. I talked to the player, and I came to the conclusion that I thought the player was cheating. The obvious unfortunate part of this story was that I was playing in the event, and had no final decision on what happened to him.

In that situation, you could certainly give your expert opinion to the store owner/TO, but that presents a very awkward situation. For a store owner to put so much trust in one of their players that they are willing to personally tell another customer to leave is something that not all store owners may be willing to do, which isn’t even all that unreasonable. Some store owners could handle the investigation themselves, but a lot of them just aren’t as experienced in DQ investigations as a certified Judge would be.

Considering how rare a DQ investigation will be at such a casual event, I think it’s somewhat unrealistic and unfair to ask a Judge to give up years of FNMs just in case there might be one of those blue moon cheaters

I could be a little biased, though. I absolutely love getting a chance to play at my local FNM most weeks.

Another thing that I’m hoping will come of this will be more involvement in the Judge program. As I mentioned above, one of the biggest complaints from Judges is that they don’t get to play as often, so as I’m sure you can imagine, a big reason why people don’t get into judging is that they would rather focus on playing. If players found out that they could pursue an interest in judging while not dipping in their player participation, I think it could bring rise to a new group of grassroots-based Judges

By now it’s quite obvious that I’m in favor of this new change. Have I changed your mind about it? Did I need to try? I have a pretty good understanding of the broad strokes regarding why people may or may not like this, but I’m really interested in people’s specific reasons. There is potential for some pretty scary corner cases, and if we can nip these in the bud early, then I think the doubters will quickly change their tune.

An additional note: To utilize this new feature, you must be using the newest reporter program. DCI Reporter 3 or earlier will not let you enter someone in as a player and Judge/Organizer.

Bonus Question: Speaking of Judges at stores.

At Pro Tour: Austin we were talking about encouraging store owners to get a certified Judge to attend their events. How important do you think it is to have a Judge at smaller events? Do you think stores should have an incentive for going out of their way to find themselves a Judge?

Until next time, stay out of the penalty box.