The Riki Rules – Easy Cheesy Japanesey

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Tuesday, June 17th – I was born in Japan, and I am still a citizen of Nippon. I live and work in the United States as a Resident Alien. That means I have a Green Card (which is physically pink), not that I am a zombie face-sucker. Technically speaking, English is my second language as I grew up with Japanese in the home, but they are more like 1A and 1B. I took Saturday Japanese school classes all the way through junior high. I am conversationally fluent in the spoken language, I can read a newspaper, but my writing has really atrophied to the point where I probably couldn’t compose a halfway decent e-mail in Japanese.

First, a word on Richie Proffitt

I didn’t know Richie. I never had the pleasure in real life, nor had I gotten to know Polar Bear God on any forums. But that didn’t stop me from tearing up when I saw Evan Erwin video tribute last week. In particular, it was the part where he said, “I wanna do something for Richie. I gotta do something for Richie.” You see, I lost someone earlier this year and I was struck with the same “gotta do something for her”-ness. It was a feeling of abject powerlessness that I saw reflected in Evan. So when the details of the benefit tournament started to trickle out, I IMed Even and told him that I would love to be there and judge it.

Unfortunately, the tournament fell on a bad weekend for me, combined with the need to conserve vacation days for Nationals (I’m on the staff, so see you there!) made for some very rough flights. We’re talking either a nine-hour layover in Denver or flat out paying twice as much to avoid such buffoonery with a direct flight. It turns out that flying across the country is hard.

In lieu of actually being there, I decided to send some of my excess judge foils as prize. It’s not much – what amount of Magic cards is enough to make up for that sinking feeling? – but it’s the best I can do right now… at least for Richie. You see, when I said I didn’t know Richie, I meant that I didn’t know the man personally. But I think it’s safe to say that we all have a “Richie” in our local tournament scene or maybe even our playgroup.

If you cannot attend the memorial tournament, I urge you instead to think about the people around you. Think about the way in which your friends enrich your life. Thank them for being who they are. And most importantly, enjoy the time you have with them. If nothing else, make that your lasting tribute to Richie Proffitt.

The Second Word on Blocking

Next up is some unfinished business. After last week’s article, I got a dressing down from Toby Elliot (L5, Palo Alto), world-renowned Penalty Guideline Guru and one of my primary local mentors. Regarding the “blocking” incident, he told me that if I was going to write about Sheldon not DQing the player, it would have been best to actually talk to Sheldon and find out his perspective as idle speculation wasn’t all that helpful.

Indeed, since the entire story came from Eric Shukan and Eric Shukan alone, it had a tinge of bias against the blocking player. I’m not trying to paint Eric as the bad guy here. Far from it. But in Eric opinion, the player was lying about whether he was done blocking and that bias clearly biased my own retelling. In a follow up e-mail, Eric made his position very clear to me:

“I am certain – as certain as one who cannot read minds can be – that the player knew exactly what had happened AND that he could not re-block, but represented otherwise. I have no doubt that the player used the apparent communication glitch to misrepresent his impression of the game-state and try to back up something which he knew he could not back up. It was 100% for me.”

That was the way he told me the story, and that was roughly the way that I relayed it you, which led to a feeling that Sheldon had let the player get away with bloody murder by not DQing him. To clarify the situation, I followed the incident up with Sheldon.

As an aside, I guess one of the reasons I didn’t message Sheldon about this was because I’m still getting used to idea of being able to message someone like Sheldon. It’s not every organization that you can message one of you superiors and get a prompt reply, or any reply at all. Sheldon e-mailed me back within a day, told me that I should have contacted him on this earlier, and then concluded with:

“I don’t really have much to say about the situation, other than it was my judgment that the player was not done with his blocks. Even with the poor communication with Eric, this player was not at any time headed for a DQ. And that’s my Final Judgment :)”

If you’re a judge, that’s all you need. Sheldon Menery, Level 5 International Judge of Mystery and Head Judge of Pro Tour: Hollywood, made his decision and that was that.

But what of Eric Shukan? He still holds to his “100%.” Some players might worry that there can be such divergent opinions on this incident. I say that it can only be a good thing to have judges with different points of view that can bring perspective, discussion, and ultimately learning to the community through their differences. Let’s examine things from both sides.

We got a lot of Eric perspective last week. To clarify, he did not think that the mere act of trying to re-block warranted a DQ. He wanted the DQ because he felt the player had lied to his question “Were you done blocking?” to which the reply was “No.” The opponent (obvious bias there) and several hopefully impartial witnesses testified to Eric about the lean back, which seemed to signify finished blocks.

But as forum user Creecha posted:

“In what world is making a block and leaning back considered final block? Always ask, otherwise you’re dumb, it’s perfectly fine to assign one blocking creature and think about other blocks and can be a great tool to gleaming information from your opponent. Move one creature in front, lean back, look at cards in hand, ask cards in hand, and make another block. Just my two cents.”

That’s fair. As I’ve stressed, the most important thing is verbal communication because it is very hard to misunderstand a “These are my blocks” type of statement. But Creecha didn’t see the way the player leaned back.

That’s when I realized my fundamental mistake. I hadn’t seen the way the player leaned back. I only had Eric account of the lean. And Eric himself had not seen the lean in question. He only had testimony from the opponent and the spectators. When asked about the lean, the leaner in question said he might have sat up/back, but the action he demonstrated was by no means as definite as the supposed lean.

And that’s where you can start to see Sheldon’s point of view. The action in question was too vague. Trying to determine intent from the difference in a 90 degree angle as opposed to a 105 degree angle of lean? Not easy. Another thing to consider is that Eric DQ recommendation hinged on his belief that the player was lying about his intentions. That’s shaky territory because it is quite possible that the player did make a “final block” in his mind, but thought that he could still change it because nothing was confirmed verbally. Again, this is why it is imperative that you get the verbal okay instead of relying on imprecise gestures and movements.

Given the unsure nature of the communication between the two players with regards to the final status of the blocks, it was probably the right call for Sheldon to not push forward with a DQ investigation. While I do think it was very possible that the player was bending the truth in his answer to Eric, there wasn’t much to go on besides Eric gut. After a few questions, Sheldon’s gut told him differently; this wasn’t a player trying to pull the wool over the judges’ eyes. He was just confused and mis-communicated.

This divergence brings to light the different philosophies that judges can bring to a tournament in terms of how proactive we should be investigations and DQing potential cheaters. I say “potential” because rarely do we get open and shut cases where we can definitely say a player was cheating. Catching a player with a Damnation at the Future Sight Prelease (where the product opened was Time Spiral and Future Sight only) is easy (this actually happened). Determining if a player is lying to you in an interview is not.

Sometimes you hear the number 51% bandied about with regards to how sure a judge needs to be before he makes a DQ in a judgment call situation. This figure is a misnomer. There aren’t percentages to a DQ. Each reliable witness doesn’t give you +5% to your DQ score. I’ve heard some judges put it another way and that is that all it takes is 1%, or as soon as they have something that makes them sure about the fraud, they take action. Essentially, this is actually the same philosophy as “51%” just told in a different way, but it does do the job of taking away that ambiguity of what happens for the first 50%.

Some players will no doubt be frightened by seeming lack of consistency in these matters. Ordinary, non-DQ infractions have clearly laid out guidelines for what constitutes the infraction and how the judge should penalize and fix the situation. The portion of the PG that deals with the type of fraud in question describes the infraction thusly:

“A player lies to a tournament official to gain or keep an advantage.”

This is not as definitive as missing a triggered ability or looking at an extra card. As we’ve discovered, it’s all about the gut, and different judges have different guts, different “1%s.”

Lost in Translation

One of the main reasons I’ve worked so hard to work at the PT level is because I have a valuable and somewhat unique skill set that I feel could be a major asset for judging these events.

A little background on me as pertaining to my language skills. I was born in Japan, and I am still a citizen of Nippon. I live and work in the United States as a Resident Alien. That means I have a Green Card (which is physically pink), not that I am a zombie face-sucker. Technically speaking, English is my second language as I grew up with Japanese in the home, but they are more like 1A and 1B. I took Saturday Japanese school classes all the way through junior high. I am conversationally fluent in the spoken language, I can read a newspaper, but my writing has really atrophied to the point where I probably couldn’t compose a halfway decent e-mail in Japanese.

I am not fluent in Magic-Japanese. What I mean is that I don’t know all the games terms and slang for cards and decks. I’ve picked up a few game terms (target = taishou) from what few Japanese cards I own, and now that Gatherer has images of all the cards in different languages, I can study further.

Forum user Az-cz asked:

“Why do you have to be a judge to do Japanese translation at a Magic event? I’ve done judge translation at a Japanese event. I live near Hiroshima Japan and sometimes Marines come out to events. As I’m friends with one of my judges and am fluent in both Japanese and English I often get recruited as the go between. And I haven’t even taken the judge test.”

I never got a response as to what level tournament he did translations at, but my guess is “not at the Pro Tour.” You see, they won’t even let you work on the floor of the PT unless you are a level 2. I imagine this goes for any translation staff as well. Jason Ness made the comment to me that it was great to have someone translating who knew what kind of information judges need for their ruling. Indeed, I can act as another pair of eyes and ears for the ruling judge.

On the flip side, one of the more difficult things about translating is resisting the urge to hijack the ruling. Actually, I have to resist this urge even when I’m shadowing a judge on a regular call. Invariably, because I am talking a lot and directing the conversation between the two players, they will start to talk to me, arguing their points, and I have to remind them that the first judge on the scene is still the one that will making the ruling.

One of the interesting translation calls I got involved a 3-point life total discrepancy. Consulting both players notepads showed the discrepancy started from the very first change in life total, with Player J (the Japanese player) having himself take one point of damage, and his opponent (Player A, although he was not American… he had some kind of European accent) had the first change in life total being from 20 to 16.

Looking to get to the bottom of things quickly, I asked Player J if he could recall what dealt that first point of damage. He looked at his life pad, titled his head, and quickly said, “It was a 1/2 Tarmogoyf.” This made a lot of sense, as there were very few things in the R/G Player A’s arsenal that could deal out a single point of damage.

Player A’s recollection of the 4 damage he recorded was less certain. He did some of the usual deep thinking brow-furrowing and chin-scratching before coming up with “1/2 Tarmogoyf and Treetop Village on turn 3.” That also made some sense, but it took him some time to come up with. I followed up by asking Player J about this, not directly about “Did he also attack with Treetop Village?” because obviously by telling me that he was attacked by a 1/2 Goyf, he was indirectly telling me that the Village did not attack. Instead, I probed about what play the opponent had made on turn 3. Again, very quickly, he pointed out the Magus of the Moon in the graveyard.

A word on liars. I am by no means a criminal profiling expert on spotting liars. However, there are a few industry standards that I like to lean on. Answering questions quickly can certainly be a sign of a person lying. If you know you are going to get asked a certain type of question, you can prepare your answers beforehand, like about what dealt damage to you. However, these types of liars often get derailed when you ask related follow-ups. Certainly, there was no reason for Player J to prepare an additional lie about his opponent playing Magus of the Moon that turn to cover up for the fact that Treetop Village does not attack in his version.

Player J then continued his story into the next few turns, telling me that he evoked Shriekmaw to kill the Magus. Being the only Shriekmaw visible, I asked why it was in play again. “Command,” he said, pointing to the Profane variety. Player A confirmed this series of events, although he thought he had played the Magus on turn 4.

A couple of things could have happened here. If we are to believe Player J’s account, how did Player A misremember attacking with Treetop Village? A likely occurrence is that he was thinking about attacking with Treetop, but then decided that Magus would be the better play. From Player A’s point of view, how did Player J miss the Treetop attack? Actually this is pretty easy. If he just tapped the mana to activate and pushed it forward a little or didn’t otherwise make the attacking Treetop clear, Player J could have easily missed it.

However, even though Player J missing the Treetop Village was a more likely scenario than the opposite, Player J’s story was much more internally consistent. Player A had trouble remembering the facts quickly and every time he did tell us something, he was unsure. When I asked him if he had played Magus of the Moon, his confidence in his Treetop attack clearly went down, and he said, “Maybe I played it on turn 4.” On the other hand, Player J remembered things quickly, and his confidence did not waver. He presented a very clear sequence of events to me, which I relayed to the judge on the call (Lindsay Heming, L3 Australia). I made my assessment, and Lindsay agreed that Player J’s version seemed more solid here, so he ruled that way. Player A appealed the ruling and we brought Sheldon in. Nothing exciting happened this time. Sheldon confirmed a few of the points, asked a few questions, but upheld the ruling. Lindsay and I had done a pretty good job of going over the situation with the players and relayed that information to Sheldon.

So how can you protect yourself against such situations as a player? One important thing is to always confirm damage with your opponent, both verbally and visually. Verbal confirmation is easy enough to understand – when you deal damage, say so with a simple “Take seven” – but what is visual confirmation? After you make verbal confirmation, watch your opponent to make sure they change their life total. Often, players will acknowledge the verbal (“Sure, I take seven.”) then fail to change their life total on their score pad because their mind is already on the next phase or turn. If your opponent forgets to change his life total once, politely remind them. Technically speaking, you should call a judge and you’re certainly within your rights to do so. In general, my feeling is that you should give your opponent one pass on these situations because a lot of players do forget. If it happens a second time, I would definitely call a judge because at that point the player is being sloppy or worse. Either way, we will want to know about this just to keep a running tab on things.

It never hurts to look over at your opponent’s life pad or verbally confirm life totals between turns. “So I have you at 15 and me at 17?” The sooner you catch a discrepancy, the sooner you can get to recreating the game situation and figuring out who went wrong where.

Another easy thing you can do is make notations about what is dealing the damage. Player A finally came the conclusion that it must have been a 1/2 Goyf and a Treetop Village, but to me it seemed like he was only partially remembering and partially calculating what could have actually dealt 4 at that time. If his score pad had read “Goyf + TV” (along with all the subsequent damage sources) that would have been much more compelling evidence in his favor.

Next week: mystery topic
I’m not sure what next week will bring. I actually had a second interesting translation ruling that I didn’t have space for due to having the go back over last week’s topic. I do have some Regionals related stuff I could talk about, and I’m also working on an interview with an important figure in the DCI. No, not that one. So we will just have to see what next week brings us.

Until then…

Do it for Richie.

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