The Riki Rules – Chatter of the Judge

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Monday, December 22nd – I’ve been bombarded with a variation of one question all week: “What do you think of Zac Hill’s article?” Zac’s article, “Sealed Redux, and a Little Bit of “Judge!”” lit a firestorm of discussion and controversy that followed me all over the Internet, where I’ve had e-mail exchanges, PM exchanged, IM chats, IRC discussions, and even a Facebook chat on the subject…

I’ve been bombarded with a variation of one question all week: “What do you think of Zac Hill article?” Zac’s article, “Sealed Redux, and a Little Bit of “Judge!”” lit a firestorm of discussion and controversy that followed me all over the Internet, where I’ve had e-mail exchanges, PM exchanged, IM chats, IRC discussions, and even a Facebook chat on the subject. Heck, the discussion followed me to my PTQ on Saturday, where even as a player, various people solicited my opinion on everything from Tiago Chan DQ to the ins and outs of Insufficient Randomization (IR). I even had Patrick Sullivan of all people sitting next to me at one point, and we had a quick chat about the article after our matches. I didn’t even realize who he was until the end of our conversation.

Knowing that I would be writing about this topic, I preemptively sought out Toby Elliott opinion on the matter, both because I wanted some counsel on how to approach some of the more sensitive subject matter and because I wanted some more background information on IR from the Penalty Guide guru himself. By the way, Toby was the Head Judge of Worlds in Memphis, and he pretty much defined “super,” making the most educational and enjoyable professional event I’ve been to. More specific stories will assuredly follow, but today we some important sundries to get through.

#1 Tiago Chan DQ

For starters, I am very disappointed that we are talking about Tiago Chan here, rather than my favorite guy in the whole world, Player A. There are several good reasons why I obfuscate players’ names in my stories, particularly those relating to DQs. For one thing, it is improper to talk about ongoing investigations. Even though the player has been Disqualified from the tournament, there’s still the matter of an official investigation to determine whether a Suspension is warranted or not. In that investigation, the written statements taken from the player, and witnesses, and all of the Judges involved will play an important role in setting a picture of what took place.

Often, players will question the need to write a statement. These are often the players who feel like they have been wronged by the Judges. Ironically, these are the players who need to be writing a statement to tell their side of the story to the DCI investigation team, because it is entirely possible that they will reach a differing conclusion on the events in question. At the very least you want to give them some up to date contact info in case they need to ask you some questions. While the investigating is going on it just wouldn’t be proper to start discussing the details of this incident with names involved.

Another reason not to put names to the faces is because it adds an unnecessary element of emotional involvement. Just knowing that it is Tiago makes you feel a certain way about. The general consensus is that Tiago is a good guy. He’s certainly been quiet and friendly the few times I’ve seen him at tournaments. His articles projected a similar image. Based on that, giving him the moniker “well-liked” doesn’t seem like much of a stretch.

So you have a situation involving a well-liked Tiago Chan versus a nameless, faceless opponent. Who are you more likely to side with here? Even adding the opponent’s name to the equation, which we can easily retrieve from the tournament pairings, where Tiago vanishes after round 7, doesn’t help matters much. Hao-Shan Hwang isn’t really a name that means anything to us. It doesn’t make us feel warm and fuzzy, like “Tiago Chan,” nor does it evoke negative feelings like “Mike Long” (whom I met at Worlds, story coming soon). Adding Hao-Shan’s name to the story doesn’t change the natural bias in favor of Tiago, regardless of what the facts say.

The same holds true for the Judges. There’s no way to readily track down the Floor Judge, but the GP: Taipei fact sheet tells us that the Head Judge of the event was Jacky Yang. Again, even with a name, Jacky is a faceless person to the world at large. There are only a few names within the DCI, like Sheldon Menery and John Carter, that can evoke a sense of “Aha, I know that name. He knows what he is doing,” to the average tournament player.

Hao-Shan Hwang and Jacky Yang were not faceless butchers trying to bring down the friendly Pro. These are human being involved in this incident. It’s critically important to remember that. Removing Tiago Chan name from the equation could have helped us see that better because we wouldn’t have been blinded by the bright lights of his fame. It certainly would have allowed me to comment a little more freely on the incident… you know, more than the nearly 900 words I’ve already devoted to it.

I’ve had a chance to exchange a few messages with Tiago through the magic of Facebook, and everything I’ve said about the friendly and polite Tiago shines through.

#2 Martin Juza’s Decklist

Some of what I have to say regarding this incident applies to the first one, just as the whole name issue from that one applies here, albeit not as much because Martin Juza hasn’t had the time to cement his reputation. Using his personal knowledge of the man, Zac paints us a wonderfully worded picture of a paragon of precision. Comparatively, Zac’s description of the Judge sounds like some modern day Inspector Clousseau. Based on the description, it seems very much like the Judge made a mistake.

But how did this happen? For the tournaments that I’ve worked, the Judge who discovers a deck registration error is usually not the one who talks to player. All the “problem” decklists are collected together and redistributed amongst the Judges based on table numbers, allowing the Judges to get to the players as quickly as possible.

Hence it is possible that the Judge was simply handed a list with the number “38” written on it, but without any specific knowledge of how and why the Judge arrived at that count. It’s SOP to have a second Judge make a confirmation count, particularly in cases where an irregular count arises from bad handwriting rather just straight omission. Sometimes there isn’t time for double checks or to brief the Judge taking the list on what the problem is.

Granting for incomplete information, that doesn’t explain or excuse some of the behavior described. Any way you cut, what Zac outlined (confirmed by Martin in the forums) was not good. However, I fail to see how this incident reaches the levels that Zac says “if left unchecked and uncurbed, could legitimately threaten the future of competitive Magic as it exists today. I am not, for once, employing hyperbole. The issue is that of inept, counterintuitive, self-interested, or ineffective judging at the Grand Prix or Pro Tour level.”

I don’t know which shocked me more, the conclusion that Zac drew, or that he said that this was not hyperbole. Reading it again, I can see that in the strictest sense he is telling the truth in that “if left unchecked” anything can legitimately threaten anything and everything up to the continued existence of the human race. No hyperbole employed.

I’ve touched on the subject before, but it clearly bears repeating that Judges as a profession (or “profession”) are interested in self-improvement. It is one of the core principles of the entire Program. Did this Judge want to make a mistake? No. Will he make this mistake again in the future? Possibly yes, because he doesn’t know what specific mistakes he made or how to fix them. Feedback is key, but more importantly personal feedback is of the utmost importance. Writing an article about a Judge making a mistake might not even reach the most important audience of all: the Judge in question. The only reason I’m employing a similar tactic is because I am pretty certain that Zac will read this, but also because the information is highly relevant for the rest of us.

If you see a Judge make a mistake, talk to that Judge either immediately if you think you can help correct the mistake, or afterwards to help avert the problem in the future. If the Judge not receptive to your feedback (be careful not to confuse this with “I’m busy and can’t talk right now”), talk to the Head Judge or Tournament Organizer because they too have a vested interest in their staff doing the best job they can.

When you talk to the Judge, make sure to be polite. “Hey, Judge, you really f-ed that ruling up,” isn’t the kind of opening that will grant you a receptive audience. Starting out with asking why the Judge did a particular thing they way they did will go a long way towards them being open to listening to you. It might also help you understand their ruling better. I’ve had plenty of conversations with players start out with a misunderstanding between us, and all we needed to do was to clear that up.

#3 Gene Brumy’s Insufficient Randomization

This one actually encompassed more than just Gene. I’ve gotten private reports that AJ Sacher also received an IR Game Loss at Auckland, as did Masashi Oiso in a Feature Match at Worlds.

The first issue at hand is why this infraction is penalized with a Game Loss at Competitive and Professional RELs. Before getting into that I should note that the infraction actually carried a penalty of a Match Loss at those RELs and a Game Loss at Regular (or at whatever numerical REL equivalent was).

Why so serious?

The simple answer is a common phrase among Judges: potential for abuse. Deck manipulation cheats are often difficult to discover without having several Judges observing a player shuffling over the course of a tournament. The tricks are often very subtle and the player won’t necessarily use them every time he shuffles. Many of these cheats can masquerade as bad shuffling techniques that result in insufficient randomization. IR presumes unintentionality, but because of said potential for abuse of these actions, it is important to impress on the player that this type of behavior is not acceptable.

I’ve heard amateur players worry about repeated Warnings accumulating into Game Losses or worse, yet at the Pro level, I think there is a general tendency to look at Warnings as slaps on the wrist to the point where one competitor in Worlds actually did receive a Game Loss for the repeating the same minor infraction.

Even more puzzling in this discussion is that many players have expressed the opinion that other infractions need to be penalized more heavily due to the potential for abuse inherent in the actions. One such example would be the “trying to play Wrath of God with 3W (assuming the player cannot generate the WW).” If it’s caught, just a Warning for a Game Play Error. If it isn’t caught, the player just got away with a major cheat that has shifted the momentum in the match.

How do we reconcile the two different approaches with regards to “potential for abuse”…? In short, I don’t think we can. There will always be debates about where to draw the line between Warning and Game Loss. It is naturally the biggest jump in a penalty where one doesn’t affect the game, and the other irrevocably does so. I understand Zac’s worry about it. But some very smart people have been at work on the Penalty Guide for a long time. And they have thought about and debated these issues for much longer than the three weeks that Zac Hill has. If he has concerns about these issues, he should feel free to write about them in his articles, and even e-mail the principle movers of the DCI to discuss things further.

One of Zac’s related concerns is that there is no way to sufficiently randomize your deck in the time provided. He goes on to cite some math that went over my head. Unfortunately, while the math may be very interesting and correct, it isn’t relevant to this discussion. The UTR maintains that “The Head Judge also has the authority to determine if a player has used reasonable effort to randomize his or her deck.” I would say that the key phrase there is “reasonable effort to randomize.” It doesn’t say “fully randomized according to math.”

The point is that you have seen your deck during some search effect. You may recognize the positioning of one or more of your cards. You need to make it so that you don’t know where they are. I played in the PTQ this past weekend and I was very easily able to do 3-6 riffles, a handful of side/mash shuffles, an overhand cut or two, and another riffle for good measure within a reasonable time frame after all of my searches. Was my deck mathematically random? I have no idea. Did I know the positioning of any of my cards? No.

Even though Zac keeps trying to steer discussion away from it, the central point of this issue is that all of the players penalized for IR in the past month have been reported to have been doing face up riffles. This is, as Toby described it to me, a null operation. If you face up riffle, you can at the very least know the positioning of two of your cards, the bottom card of each half. For the purposes of watching for IR, a face up riffle didn’t happen. Just like with a mana weave, you need to make an effort to sufficiently randomize your deck after performing such procedures at any point. According to the coverage, Oiso only did one face up riffle before presented, and Brumby did two face up riffles and one overhand cut.

Also, there’s been some confusion about your responsibility to shuffle your opponent’s deck. I even heard one person cite the fact that he knows his opponent will shuffle his deck and a reason to not bother shuffling thoroughly himself. Um… bad.

The requirement at Competitive and Professional is that you must shuffle your opponent’s deck, meaning more than just a cut, for the beginning of game shuffling. For in game searches, you may shuffle if you wish, but the only minimum requirement is a cut. Again, I tried this as my PTQ, 2-3 riffles and a few sides, after my opponent presented his deck after a search. The added time was negligible. Shards Sealed is a fast format, but I was probably a little slower than normal due to my inexperience. I still never went to time in 6 rounds. The closest I came was 3 minutes on a 3-game match where I specifically called a Judge to watch for Slow Play. Done properly, shuffling time is not an issue.

Until next time, this is Riki Hayashi telling you to call a Judge.

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