At the end of the first day of Grand Prix: Vancouver, head judge Seamus Campbell told the staff that a total of two Slow Play penalties had been handed out. He then asked us “how many do you think there should have been?” to which someone responded “a lot more.”
This was true, but it certainly wasn’t any indication of a lack of skill on behalf of what was a very talented group of judges. What this fact demonstrated was the complexity that is Slow Play. Since it would be impossible to include everything that counts as slow play in the Penalty Guide it makes it one of the toughest penalties for a judge to dole out, and one of the hardest penalties for players to avoid.
“Why did I get a Slow Play penalty?”
A lot of people make the mistake that Slow Play is entirely a time-based thing, but this is not the case. Thinking for 30 seconds doesn’t automatically get you Slow Play, nor does only taking 5 seconds assure your safety. Rather than time, judges will look at the board position, and the actions of the slow player.
One of the biggest things I’ll look for is a player doing the same thing multiple times. Going through your graveyard, or an opponent’s graveyard, a couple times in a turn is a good example of this, or looking at your hand, then looking at what’s in play, then looking at your hand, then looking at what’s in play, then… You get the idea. I understand that a player’s memory might fail him, and they may not be able to remember every single card in their opponent’s graveyard, even if they did just look at it, but the second time you go through it you should be about as quick as possible. Going through every card one by one, twice in one turn, is unrealistic, and eats up way too much time to be considered fair.
Simply taking too long can still land you a penalty, and this is where things get particularly confusing. Just how long is “too long?” I really could not tell you, and even if I somehow could, judges in your area might feel differently. It is a judgment call, after all.
“What should you do to avoid taking too long?”
For one thing, make sure you stay completely focused. If you’re in a complicated situation, and your friend comes by asking what you want for lunch, don’t even say “go away.” Just shoo them away with your hand, and keep your eyes and mind on the next play.
You also need to keep up with the progression of the game state. One of the reasons some players will get labeled as slow is that they fail to keep on top of things. The expectations placed on players is that you have to constantly keep up with the game state. If you spend one turn trying to recap everything that’s happened in the last five turns, you’re likely to be called on playing too slowly. Whenever a play happens, consider what effect it will have on the next turn, or in the next five turns. On top of speeding up your play, it will probably make you a better player.
When a judge is watching a player that they think is taking too long to make a play, they will often simply tell the player “please make a play” rather than giving a penalty. It’s somewhat like a Slow Play caution. I’d rather not wait for a player to take so long that a warning is required, so if I suspect that someone is headed towards a warning, I’ll tell them to pick up the pace. It’s better for everyone at the event. Hopefully this can avoid you getting the penalty, but don’t depend on a judge to save you, especially at high level competitive events. At Regular and even Competitive REL, judges generally recognize that you’re not too familiar with what Slow Play is, so there is a bit of lenience. At a Pro Tour, you’d better be able to play quickly. No matter what you’re playing in, it’s ultimately up to you to make sure you’re playing at an appropriate pace.
“So I’ve received a Slow Play warning. What now?”
The bad news is that if you get another one, it will most likely be upgraded to a game loss. The good news is that you can take a lesson away from the initial penalty so that you never have to deal with a second.
The judge that gives you a Slow Play penalty will probably give you a quick explanation of why you’ve received the penalty, and then let you continue your match. If you’re still confused, then approach the judge after the match and ask if you can discuss it with them. Ask what exactly you did wrong, and what you can do to avoid getting a second penalty.
After you’ve had a talk with the judge, just follow his advice, and the advice I’ve presented above. If you can manage to do that, you should be fine.
And who knows? You may just find less of your matches ending in a draw
“I think my opponent is playing slowly. What can I do?”
You could try asking them to speed up, but that probably won’t do a lot. Most players won’t take kindly to their opponents telling them what to do, so we can only hope they’ll respond to a judge’s requests. If you think your opponent is playing slower than they should be, stick up that hand and call a judge. When the judge arrives you can pleasantly ask them to watch your opponent for slow play.
If you’re worried of offending your opponent for whatever reason, you could ask the judge to watch the match for slow play. You’re asking the same thing, but just making it sound a little less like you have a problem with your opponent.
Don’t think that you’re wasting a judge’s time either. We’re all just as concerned with slow play as you are. We want to get home early too!
“My opponent didn’t get a warning. Why the heck not? I was falling asleep waiting for him.”
Always keep in mind that you may not know all the details of a situation. Not only could they have a hand full of complicated goodies, but they may have just drawn a card that presented them with half a dozen complex options. The judges can see the player’s hand, and it will be considered.
It may also be possible that your perception of “slow” isn’t the same as a judge. In a tense match, your opponent’s slower plays or decisions are going to seem even slower than they really are, especially if time is winding down. You could also just be a particularly fast player. If you’re the quickest guy in the room, then it’s possible that you might feel that half the people in the room are slow players.
“What else qualifies as Slow Play?”
Pretty much anything that slows down the match in an unreasonable way can be considered slow play. If you’re about to do something that will slow down the match in any way, stop and ask yourself if it’s really such a good idea. This can include getting up to go to the bathroom without permission, taking too long to write notes, or talking on your phone during a match.
A couple of announcements:
A new Penalty Guide is coming our way, so everything you know may become a lie… Though it’s unlikely. As it stands right now, the Guide is quite solid. If there is anything changed, it will probably just be some clarifications, though anything can happen. Remember to check it out when it comes out. You can find it on the DCI website.
I’m sure one of the Justice Leagues members will cover the changes. I’d be glad to do it, but my articles are near the end of the month, and new documents come out at the beginning. But we shall see.
I also wanted to mention something on behalf of Falko Goerres. He will be holding a seminar at Pro Tour: Honolulu on how you can become a judge. So if you’re attending the Pro Tour, and have an interest in getting in to the world of judging, I encourage you to attend. The seminar is going to be held on the Sunday at 11am. It’s open to anyone, and there are no obligations to follow through if you show up. It should be a fantastic opportunity.
Speaking of Honolulu, by the next time we meet I’ll finally have a Pro Tour to put on my judge resume. On top of that, I will be attending GP: Seattle the week before. Tons of fun stories will probably come from two hectic, exciting weekends. If you plan on attending either event, both James and I will be there, so feel free to come by and say hello.
Until next time, stay out of the penalty box.