The Riki Rules – Notes Redux

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Monday, October 20th – Last week made for a rather interesting article. Most people seemed to stay on message about the Outside Assistant (OA) issues and wanted to discuss said issues in the forums. A couple of people brought up some legitimate concerns about OA, specifically about what Gerry Thompson wrote, which I hope to clear up today.

Last week made for a rather interesting article. Most people seemed to stay on message about the Outside Assistant (OA) issues and wanted to discuss said issues in the forums. A couple of people brought up some legitimate concerns about OA, specifically about what Gerry Thompson wrote, which I hope to clear up today. A select few wanted to flame me for calling out a fellow writer as a cheater, or flame Gerry for cheating.

First off, if a fellow writer writes about an action that I feel is against the rules, I’m going to write about it, primarily for educational purposes. If someone is writing about something, chances are they don’t think that it is wrong. Furthermore, it figures that quite a few readers will also be unaware of said actions being wrong. In fact, most of the forum posters for Gerry’s original article seemed to completely miss the incident. From an educational standpoint, it was almost a necessity for me to write about this incident. I could have tried to write about it anonymously, obscuring the names involved, but a) it would have been pretty easy for astute readers to figure out and would have just added another level of needless speculative discussion, and b) I felt it important to quote Gerry’s words directly since it was his and solely his account of events.

It’s very important in judging to draw very clear lines in the language that we use. We get a little prickly when someone calls a replacement effect a triggered ability because those are two very different things that interact completely differently depending on the circumstances. “Cheating” is a word that often carries different connotations for judges and players. In the Penalty Guidelines there are currently only four infractions under the heading of Cheating: Stalling, Fraud, Hidden Information Violation, and Manipulation of Game Materials. Outside Assistance is no longer Cheating; it is a Tournament Error (the same category as Tardiness and Slow Play). You’ll note that a few other former Cheating infractions are missing. Randomly Determining a Winner, Bribery and Wagering, Aggressive Behavior, and Theft of Tournament Materials have been reclassified as Unsporting Conduct and are all still penalized as Disqualification with no Prize.

In the strictest of technical terms, only those infractions under the Cheating (uppercase) category are actually cheating (lowercase), but most people, players and judges, would colloquially add all of the DQable infractions in Unsporting Conduct to that list. A few people want to go further and call OA cheating. It used to be Cheating, and it does still carry the second harshest penalty in the book of a Match Loss. In fact, it is the only infraction to carry said penalty, making it quite unusual.

Onto GerryT. Based on the above, it’s perfectly clear that Gerry did not cheat. Let’s go back to the beginning of the description.

“I know Cedric just lost to Kyle last round, so I blatantly asked Cedric what was in his deck, despite Kyle standing right by us. Cedric decided to be the bigger man and decline to tell me because Kyle had scooped to him in a previous tournament. Good deeds are in fact rewarded. However, Cedric did tell me that Kyle misbuilt his deck, but if I lost game 1 I would certainly lose the match.”

A few people actually took exception to this passage. From a rules standpoint, there is absolutely nothing wrong with what happened here. The parameters for giving and receiving Outside Assistance start when the player sits down at his table. While it’s not 100% clear, the fact that Kyle is “standing right by us” indicates that all the parties were standing, most likely at the pairings sheet for the round. It’s hard to construct a viable scenario where Gerry is already sitting at his table, Kyle, his opponent, is standing by the table, and Cedric is standing around talking to Gerry and not going to his own match.

Part of the objection to this passage arises from the classic debate of serious versus casual, or whatever convenient names you want to put to these groups. The serious crowd, quite famously championed by Tom LaPille, will do whatever it takes to win within the bounds of the rules. Since the rules states that OA doesn’t begin until you sit down, they will ask their friends for advice before that. The casual group takes umbrage to this because it “feels wrong” no matter what the actual rules state. Their own moral code extends the OA curfew to the point when they find out who their opponent is. There’s nothing wrong with this position. Some might call it honorable. Others might refer to it as stupid. From a judge’s perspective, as long as you’re not breaking any rules, you guys can traverse whatever road you want, high or low. All I ask is that you don’t call it cheating merely because it offends your own moral code.

One of the keys to an OA violation is intent. It is central to the infraction. The confusion arises because there are two levels of intent. The first is the intent to violate OA. As a forum poster pointed out, this doesn’t factor in at all when it comes to issuing a penalty. Most people who commit infractions in Magic do so unintentionally. Drawing extra cards is one of the classics in this regard. It’s usually something like sleeves sticking together, mistakenly drawing a second time for the turn because of an upkeep effect that was forgotten, or improperly resolving spells like Peppersmoke. Despite these infractions being unintentional, we still hand out Game Losses for Drawing Extra Cards (and investigate for the possibility of intentional drawing in some cases).

OA is the same way. Clearly players don’t know that they aren’t supposedly to look at sideboarding notes when they blatantly pull them out. But that’s a Match Loss nonetheless, regardless of their knowledge and intent with respect to the rules. However, there is another level of intent, and this is where some people seem to be confused. “Seeks advice,” “gives advice,” and “references notes” is the type of language that we find in the definitions of OA. While we don’t care if there is knowledge and intent to break the rule, we do analyze whether there is intent to seek advice, give advice, or reference notes. If advice is accidentally given, it usually isn’t going to be OA. This is slightly different from something like drawing extra cards, which is penalized no matter how accidental.

To use the spectator assistance example, two people talking about a particular matchup next to a table where that specific matchup is taking place might accidentally reveal some piece of strategic information to the players during the course of their conversation without realizing it. Maybe they talk about what cards are “must-counters” in the matchup, and hearing that, one of the players alters his play. I would be loathe to call that OA. The end result may be that “advice was given,” but no one “gave advice” in the strictest sense. It is, however, a good reason to ask talkative spectators to quiet down or ask a judge to remove them from the area.

The line of intent gets a little blurrier when you consider acts of blurting out advice. A spectator is watching a match and blurts out “You gotta counter that or you lose!” Is there intent here? Yes. While the spectator may claim that it was an accident, and that he didn’t mean to do it, sometimes the action is all the intent we need. Otherwise, how would Jack McCoy ever prosecute anyone on “Law and Order”? None of those people meant to do it.

That brings us to the next portion of Gerry’s passage and whether or not the road was high, low, or cheating, and whether he had intent.

“Awkwardly enough, while we are shuffling, I noticed some discarded notepad paper at our table. I recognized Cedric’s handwriting and began listing off the contents of the paper.”

The problem with this quotation is that isn’t a perfect retelling of the facts. It’s part of a story being told, not a player reciting what happened for the purposes of an investigation. I think that’s where a lot of people got tripped up. If you read through this passage as if it were being told in perfect chronological order: he notices the paper at the table, recognizes Cedric’s handwriting, then reads the contents of the paper.

“Well, that’s OA right there!” screams the masses. The contention being that from the point when he recognizes Cedric’s handwriting, he knows what he is looking at is notes and is hence referencing notes. My point last week was that he did not reference them as notes. He was looking at the paper and it ended up being notes.

That may seem like semantics, passive versus active, but it is crucial to this dialogue. Did Gerry “reference notes”? No, he didn’t. The end result is that he “looked at notes.” For OA, I would probably define “reference notes” as “look at notes in order to gain information.” He couldn’t have done this because he didn’t even know that they were notes when he started looking at them. I’ve brought up the fact that OA is an infraction that can occur even without intent to break the rules, but you must have intent to commit one of the named actions. Let’s say that someone walks up to your match and hands you a piece of paper. You read it and it turns out that it lists the cards in your opponent’s hand. Bam! Do you really want to live in the kind of world where Match Losses are handed out along with these pieces of paper if you happen to read them? I don’t. (This odd individual handing out the paper will most certainly be punished though.)

When Gerry started to look at the piece of paper, he did not know that they were notes. Hence it was permissible for him to look at the paper, just as if it were a menu for the local eatery that he was planning on going to after the match. At some point, he did realize that they were notes pertinent to his matchup with Kyle. It was probably somewhere between recognizing Cedric’s handwriting and reading the card names. And this is where people seemed intent on hanging Gerry. However, realizing that they were notes during the process of reading them does not retroactively label the entire event as referencing notes. And trying to determine the exact point where he realized they were notes and labeling any reading after that as OA is problematic at best.

Did Gerry realize they were notes after reading “Two Blightning”? Or was it after “Godsire”? O was it after gauging Kyle’s reaction? I can’t tell you because I’m not a mind reader. And the thing is I doubt that Gerry would be able pinpoint the exact time when he realized what he was looking at was notes. The mind isn’t a simple calculating machine that goes from zero (piece of paper) to one (notes) at some magical point during the process of reading.

Think about it from a judge’s standpoint. You see a player pick up a piece of paper at his table and read it. Do you swoop in, see that there is card information, and slam the book down on the player? What if the player has a short conversation with his opponent about what is written on the paper, as described by Gerry? Again, there really isn’t much there to step in on. I might step in and ask what is going on, and if the player were to show me the paper and tell me that they thought it was his friend’s notes from last round on the very same opponent, I would confiscate the note and move on. I think this is one of the keys to understanding intent from a judging perspective; the intent must be recognizable, because we aren’t mind readers.

What, then, would be “referencing notes” under these circumstances? At what point does someone in Gerry’s position cross that line? Most definitely it would be a case of referencing notes to look at the piece of paper again, say during sideboarding or trying to decide on a particular play. As a judge, if I were to see someone consulting any piece of paper other than their life pad during a match, I would stop and ask some questions.

I would also say that any act of “studying” the notes would fall under OA. As human beings, we have to allow the act of curiously looking over a piece of paper left behind at the table. Continuing to look at the paper to memorize the contents would be referencing the notes. I think this is the only gray area in Gerry’s story; how long does he look at the piece of paper? It’s not quite clear based on his account, and again there’s no way that he is going to be able to accurately recall such a seemingly mundane fact. Based on the way he described it, my initial feeling was that he did not study the notes.

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

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