The Riki Rules – Don’t Lie To Me

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Monday, June 9th – In my first hour on duty with Public Events (formerly Side Events), I saw a bunch of wacky things happen. One of them resulted in a DQ for Cheating-Fraud. Since I was busy with one of the other odd happenings, I only caught bits and pieces of this one from separate judges and players, but it basically amounted to this…

The judge dinner. Apparently, they have one after every Pro Tour. For Hollywood we went to the Pink Taco, a restaurant name that comes with its own punchline. Food and drink were aplenty. We cheered the promotions of Diane “Urchin” Colley, Jason “Lems” Lemiheu, and Seamus “Conform” Campbell. At the end of the night, we set Head Judge Sheldon Menery adrift on a burning Viking boat.

During the course of the evening, I somehow ended up in a conversation with the only two sober individuals on hand, R. Jared Sylva, whose name clearly indicates that he is an Asimovian robot, and John “Saturday School” Carter. We were talking about my upcoming column for StarCityGames.com, and how I needed a good title. Jared and I covered the usual suspects – judgment this and rule of that – when Carter jumped in with “You should call it ‘the Riki Rules,’ or even ‘You got Riki Ruled.'” He said the latter in a very animated fashion, making some kind of awkward white guy karate chop.

Did I mention that Carter was not drunk? Jared seemed to like it enough, so the next morning I e-mailed editor Craig with the ideas and he suggested I opt for the less cheesy version.

Strangely, Jared was also the one who snapped that handsome headshot of me at Grand Prix: Philadelphia. in which I thankfully look much less like Mike Flores than I do in real life.* He also created my (and every other SCG author’s) title graphic. I think he’s supposed to get my first four paychecks too, and I don’t even want to know what happens to my firstborn child.

Do Actions Speak?

In addition to the “Mannequin counters” story, Eric Shukan told me another juicy story, one that shows the importance of proper communication. The basic gist of it is that Player A attacked. Player B made a block, then leaned back in his seat. Let me repeat that; Player B blocked and leaned back in his seat.

A few seconds passed. In these types of stories a few seconds always seem to pass.

After the few seconds, Player A made a sound, roughly a “Huh?” of puzzlement at the less than optimal blocking assignment that Player B had made.

The “Huh?” forced Player B to look back over the game state, and noticing the bad block and made an addition block, fixing the bad situation.

This prompted a series of protestations from Player A, who insisted that Player B had already finished blocking. A judge was called for and Eric rode to the rescue. Being a rather hairy and subjective situation, Eric pulled the two players away from the table and interviewed them separately to prevent them from interrupting each other and trying to influence their stories.

Player A’s story was pretty much as appears here. Player B’s story was… different, but only slightly so. He failed to tell Eric about leaning back in his chair and he insisted that he was still thinking about his final blocks.

The two stories didn’t quite mesh. These are the kinds of calls that really put judges to the test, since the comprehensive rules don’t cover inconsistent stories. But this being a feature match – did I forget to mention that? – Eric had a plethora of witnesses to turn to just beyond the rail. The operative thing when interviewing witnesses is to make sure they are impartial. Eric was very careful to ask about any relationships between spectators and players. Several impartial witnesses corroborated Player A’s story, complete with Player B leaning back in his seat, which is why it appears here as the “definitive” account.

The key question that Eric asked the witnesses regarding the lean was whether they thought that Player B was done making blocks at that point, or if he was merely thinking things through.

“He was done blocking.”

All the witnesses agreed.

At that point, Eric had a potentially explosive situation. He re-interviewed Player B, and now closed in on the operative action and what it meant.

“Were you done blocking?”
“No, I wasn’t,” said the player.

Player A, several witnesses, and at this point, Eric himself disagreed. Unfortunately, that’s the end of the story I got from Eric on site. I tried to follow up with an interview last week, but with our various busy schedules heading into Regionals, we couldn’t hook up. At the end of the story it seemed like things were heading towards a DQ, as Eric stated his belief that the player was lying to him about being done with his blocking assignments. However, there were no DQs in the main event, so somewhere something changed. Maybe seeing the writing on the wall, the player fessed up in time.

Actions do often speak louder than, or as much as words in Magic. How often do you end your turn by saying “Go,” and how often do you make the Burger King open palm gesture? Do you declare all of your targets, or do you just point the burn spell at the crispy critter? What does it mean when a player makes a block, then leans back in his chair?

But one of the important lessons is that actions, even very common ones, can mean different things to different people. While plenty of people interpreted the leaning back as Player B finishing his blocks (and based on the action that Eric demonstrated to me, I would have as well), an interpretation isn’t a finalized game action and there are plenty of judges that would hesitate to make the interpretation that leaning back equals done with blocks. In situations like this, you should always ask for verbal confirmation, a simple “Are those your blocks?” gets you a hard objective reply and it isn’t necessarily going to give away the fact that your opponent is about to make a stupid block and you want to confirm it. Too often players will rush things and not get a simple verbal confirmation that could allay and future confusion because “OMG I can’t believe you blocked like that! Damage on the stack?”

Even in verbal communication, there is room for misunderstanding as words too can mean different things to different people. The classic case is “Okay.” To one player it means “Okay, I have no response and I am allowing your spell to resolve,” while the other is actually saying “Okay, you play that spell. Now what is my response going to be?” Which is correct? In these cases (I did have a call like this at Hollywood, but it generally comes up once per tournament), judges will often go to the past precedent; has the word “okay” been used in the “allow the spell to resolve” capacity earlier in the match?

Remember the little things that your opponent says, especially how they customarily allow your spells to resolve. Is it “okay,” “uh huh,” “sure”…?
Train yourself not to automatically say something like “okay” when your opponent plays a spell. I usually say “Huh?” or “interesting.”

How big is that Deus in the Window?

In my first hour on duty with Public Events (formerly Side Events), I saw a bunch of wacky things happen. One of them resulted in a DQ for Cheating-Fraud. Since I was busy with one of the other odd happenings, I only caught bits and pieces of this one from separate judges and players, but it basically amounted to this:

In a Shadowmoor Sealed event, Player A had Deus of Calamity with two -1/-1 counters and some fat pants in the form of Runes of the Deus. When the Deus swung into the red zone, Player B asked “How big is it?”

Player A’s response was “4/4,” which prompted Player B to make a particular block that made some sense against a 4/4, but not against a 6/6. When the players went to resolve combat damage, Player B got the grim news about the actual size of the Deus of Calamity and promptly called a judge over.

After some typical he said-she said, the head judge of the Sealed event got the call as things were clearly moving in a DQ-direction. Only the head judge can DQ a player, so you know you’re in a bit of trouble when he or she gets involved. At some point during the investigation the head judge determined that Player A knew perfectly well that the Dues of Calamity was a 6/6 and lied to his opponent about its size; end result DQ without prize. It’s quite possible that this was as simple as asking the player directly, because I did overhear the head judge explaining the different types of information in the game and what was legal to lie about. The player clearly wasn’t aware that he had committed an infraction, let alone such a serious offense. In fact, most of you out there are probably unaware of the new Communication Policy that outlines what you can and cannot lie about.

Again, I’ll be piggybacking on the work of super-UK judge Nick Sephton, who is somewhat of an expert on the Communication Policy (or CP, or Player Communication Policy for a much more interesting acronym **). Nick wrote the definitive judge article and ran a success seminar at Hollywood on the CP. He’s pretty much Master Yoda. The problem with Yoda is that his backwards grammar difficult to understand makes him. Nick doesn’t speak in such riddling ways, but he does write in Judgese, a language that might as well be Chiss to the average player.

In this scenario, players are really only interested in one thing. What is a legal response to the question “How big is the Deus of Calamity?”

You’re always allowed to tell the whole truth, so “With the counters and the aura, it is a 6/6,” will get you brownie points and possibly lose you the game. The idea is that you still want to deceive your opponent regarding the size of your creature without lying. In that case, simple omission of the Runes of the Deus works.

“The card has a printed power and toughness of 6/6 and it has two -1/-1 counters on it,” is a truthful statement that achieves the desired result of making your opponent think it is a 4/4. It omits the fact that the Deus is wearing fat pants, but you’re not responsible for informing your opponent about that unless he or she specifically asks. In talking with other judges, the words “card” and “printed” has come up several times as the key lynchpin to the deceptive truth of the above statement. Saying “Deus of Calamity is a 6/6 with two -1/-1 counters on it” is a lot grayer and potentially dangerous from the lying perspective because it is not clear whether “Deus of Calamity” refers to the card or the permanent and that obfuscates whether the aura needs to be mentioned or not. Stating “card” and “printed” makes it very clear that you are saying only that the actual card itself says “6/6” on it and you are omitting bonuses from other sources like the aura.

Just make sure that omission doesn’t equal flat out hiding of the aura. The card must be visible and distinguishable. The most common form of aura attaching is underneath, but slightly higher so you get a two-level effect with the name showing (and a shrubbery). Stacking an aura to hide it completely under your creature is very bad form.

You may be asking yourself “What if the player forgot about his own aura?” That’s certainly a possibility, albeit slight and very stupid. Judges do account for this possibility in the DQ investigation. If the head judge had determined that the player had just forgotten his own aura in his calculation, the infraction would have been a warning for Player Communication Violation. But don’t think that you can just keep lying and work your way out of such a mess. Head judges, especially at the Pro Tour, come with a lot of experience and subtle techniques to get at the truth.

Finally, I find it rather odd that the player felt the need to lie about the size of his Deus in this situation. Had he been completely forthright and said it was a 6/6, his opponent probably would have thought nothing of the Runes and walked right into the double strike, which Player A had no obligation to point out unless asked directly about it (“What does that aura do?”).

Next week: From Judgese to Japanese
One of the main reasons I’ve wanted to judge at the Pro Tour level was to use my Japanese skills to make translation calls. Mission accomplished!

Until then, don’t cheat, because you’re only cheating yourself.

Rikipedia at gmail dot bene
Risky on efnet and most major Magic forums

* One of the other judges was talking to Adam Shaw on Friday and after seeing me said, “I didn’t know Mike Flores was working the main event floor.”

** And lest you think that would be a ridiculous acronym, there is an infraction called the Hidden Information Violation. Yeah.