Since the very beginning of my run here at StarCityGames.com, I have been bombarded with the “spectator question.” It basically boils to some variation of “If I’m watching a match and I witness them make some kind of mistake (rules-wise, not strategic), what can I do?”
We’ve all witnessed mistakes of this variety. Someone plays Cryptic Command with only UUBB mana available. A player puts a creature into the graveyard that isn’t supposed to die. For a mental game, it sure seems like players don’t have their heads in it a lot of the time.
The number one thing that you must not do in situations like this is to interrupt the match and try to fix the problem yourself. Simply put, you as a spectator are not authorized to interrupt a match. The Universal Tournament Rules spell this out quite explicitly in Section 14:
“14. Spectator and Press Responsibilities
Spectators are expected to remain silent during matches and are not permitted to communicate with players in any way while matches are in progress. Players may request that a spectator not observe their matches. All such requests must be made through a Judge.
Spectators and members of the press who believe they have observed rules violations should inform a Judge, but must not interfere with the match.”
Of course, the whole “not permitted to communicate with players in any way” bit is loosely enforced in the sense that we let people talk to players briefly about what they want for lunch and how they are getting home. The crux of the matter is that we don’t want spectators interfering with a match by talking about the game in progress in any way. The reason that any type of communication is disallowed is because we have no way of knowing what a spectator wants to say to a player, making it better to head the problem off before it becomes a problem in the first place. Plus, there exists the possibility of a team coming up with an elaborate code.
As for the player requesting that a spectator not observe their match, it’s not something that comes up very often. At Berlin, GerryT was playing “on the rail” and asked me to remove a spectator, a friend of his opponent. There was no accusation or judgment involved, but clearly Gerry didn’t want to take any extra chances, and he was completely within his rights to make this request. At the PTQ level, it’s a little more difficult to remove spectators because of the space issue; there just isn’t much room in most venues. Spectators are standing around watching matches because there isn’t anything better to do, and it’s better than standing outside. I have had players ask me to clear some space directly behind them purely for comfort reasons because they don’t like playing with the shadow over their shoulder.
So let’s talk about paragraph two of section 14. This is the one that everyone wants to circumvent or ignore. Why it is so bad for a spectator to stop a game and tell the players about the error that was just made? Jeff Morrow put it quite succinctly when I asked him about this subject: “Because they’re wrong.”
I don’t have any handy dandy statistics on this type of thing. In particular, situations where a spectator does talk to a Judge about a mistake they’ve witnessed are probably more correct because the player is sure enough to get the Judge involved. But often, spectators will blurt something out about what they perceive to be a mistake and be completely wrong, receiving glares from the players and other spectators.
A lot of the time, spectators just aren’t focused or invested enough in the game to catch all the details. One very common mistake was spectators forgetting about Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth (often on the opponent’s side of the board) and trying to fix a perceived problem with not paying enough Black mana for a spell. The spectator will usually slap their head with their hand and slink away in solitude. A lot of spectators will be wrong because of insufficient rules knowledge or just because they heard or saw something incorrectly.
One case that came up at my PTQ this past weekend luckily involved the spectator correctly talking to a Judge (me). He asked me “Can Carrion Thrash return itself from the graveyard with its ability?” I was 90% sure that it couldn’t, so I asked him to direct me to the match in question. I peered in at the game state, saw a Carrion Thrash in the player’s hand and another on top of the graveyard. I returned to the spectator and told him he very likely saw the player return one Thrash with the other. He then told me that it was the other player who did it, the opponent of the player’s shoulder I peeked over, so I went around the table and discovered the exact same thing: Thrash in hand and Thrash in yard. Amusing. I told the spectator that he had most likely witnessed this exchange of Thrash on Thrash reanimation, and given that both players had them, it was possible that they were just shortcutting it by returning the same Thrash to hand instead of swapping them out.
One of the keys in the above scenario is that I did my investigation without interfering with the match in any way. In addition to the “being wrong” factor, another reason we disallow spectators from stopping matches is the potential disruption this can cause. Judges have been trained for this. We know how to politely interrupt a match, ask the right questions, and fix things when they’re wrong. A spectator may be able to point out what is wrong, but he could do so in a way that gives up some key piece of information to the game.
Even the best of intentions can lead astray in terms of information. I recall one Judge coming to me at a PTQ concerned that he had just given up some strategic information. A player had asked him “Can my Mutavault block his Shriekmaw?” to which the Judge replied “No, an animated Mutavault is neither black or an artifact creature.” The last bit was probably the point of confusion as some players mistakenly believe that “artifact” is a creature type (it’s a card type). However, by getting the full account of fear and what it meant, the player had a burst of inspiration. “Oh, so Doran can block it,” he said, possibly forgetting that the gold card was black (and white and green).
There’s a fine line between answering the question asked and giving out extra information that might help a player. Judges have to walk this line constantly, and sometimes famously in the case of not being able to tell players how big Tarmogoyf is (my joke answer: “I don’t know. I’m not good at math.”) I’m constantly reevaluating how I answer rules questions and whether I go too far in my explanations. It’s very easy to caught up on this because of the players who ask rules questions outside of a match. To these folks, it’s full disclosure time, citing rules and giving additional corner case rulings that are related. Having to do both types of explanations can get somewhat confusing.
Spectators don’t think about these things, and it is often the case that trying to fix one problem, they create another. This type of disruption can be very damaging to a match’s integrity. Well-meaning spectators can become unintended Outside Assistants.
So how about those spectators who do get a Judge involved, but do so by making a Judge call (raising their hand and yelling “Judge!”) This still isn’t the ideal way to resolve the situation unless you are still playing your own match. The issue is that a spectator calling for a Judge is completely out of the ordinary. The players will look up and wonder what is going on, most likely stopping their action to wait for the Judge to show up and resolve the situation. There are many people who believe that this is right or preferred way to handle things because the match is effectively stopped, preventing further contamination of the game state, but the spectator hasn’t actually said or done anything to screw things up further by giving away information.
There are still ways that a spectator Judge call can disrupt a tournament though. Sometimes, such a call will stop all the nearby matches because the players are uncertain about which match the call pertains to. This is why I say that it is okay for a player to call a Judge when he notices something amiss in a neighboring match. There is no disruption factor there because players are attuned to ignoring Judge calls next to them. I’ve also noticed that spectator Judge calls tend to attract other spectators, which makes it that much harder for me to get to the table in question. A minor irritation, but one that comes up every so often in the close confines of some PTQs.
Another related issue is spectator impartiality, or the lack thereof. You’re usually watching a match because you have some vested interest in one of the players. Most likely it is a friend of yours. Quite possibly it is someone with the same record as you or a friend of yours, and you are doing some preliminary scouting.
Who hasn’t watched a friend’s match only to see him make some illegal play by accident (or you would hope it was an accident)? I heard one story from Extended ages ago about a player playing Merchant Scroll for Mind’s Desire (hint: Merchant Scroll doesn’t get sorceries) and playing Turnabout to generate two mana with nary a Sapphire Medallion or Familiar in play. It was unintentional, of course, the player had no idea he was making these errors, but the spectators did and said nothing because they were his friends. If the opponent had made a similar error, they likely would have stepped in and pointed it out immediately.
Making spectators call for Judges doesn’t preclude this type of selective fixing. The spectator can still ignore a friend’s error and call a Judge when the opponent makes a mistake. But at least it keeps things in the hands of those who know how to properly interrupt a match and fix problems. I also want to add that when I am not an active Judge at an event, I am just a spectator like you. If I see a problem, I get a Judge and tell them the situation. Just because I know how to fix things doesn’t mean that I should from the standpoint of tournament integrity.
By the time you read this, I may or may not be on my way to Memphis already for Worlds. I believe this article should be going up on Monday as part of a schedule change, so I’ll be seeing you here bright and early to kick off the week.
If you are going to be at Worlds and have some interest in Judging, I encourage you to check out the seminars that will be held every morning (check at the event site for specific time and place). These will be very short seminars (approximate running time thirty minutes) put on by some of the world’s finest (including former ATJ writer Chris Richter and MTGRules Net Rep Gavin Duggan). It will start with the very basics, covering a lot of stuff that Judges tell players when they come up to us at events asking what they should do to become a Judge. Of course, the seminar will be much more structured and better prepared. There will be plenty of time for some Q&A. And if you find your interest growing, you might even get a chance to step right onto the floor (of Public Events) and into the action, paired up with an experienced Judge to help you along and answer and further questions. If you have what it takes you could even take the test and be a Judge by the end of the day. It’s literally never been easier with such an amazing group of staff there to help facilitate your journey. Who knows, maybe you’ll be assigned to work with me on Public Events.
Until next time, this is Riki Hayashi telling you to call a Judge.
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