Yawgmoth’s Whimsy #303 – The DQ

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Thursday, November 26th – At Worlds, Charles Gindy was disqualified for Fraud when his opponent made a mistake. I can’t talk about that specific case – I wasn’t there – but I can explain the infraction and the penalty. With States coming up shortly, you need to know what’s legal, and what is going to send you home.

At Worlds, Charles Gindy was disqualified for Fraud when his opponent made a mistake. I can’t talk about that specific case — I wasn’t there — but I can explain the infraction and the penalty. With States coming up shortly, you need to know what’s legal, and what is going to send you home.

If you want the official statement on the Gindy DQ, look here. That’s all I’m going to say about that instance. Instead, I’ll talk about that sort of situation in general terms. I’ll do it by answering a lot of questions that I have received lately.

What Is Cheating?

Let’s start with the most general question: what is cheating? Very generally, cheating is deliberately breaking the rules to gain an advantage. If I stack my deck, I’m cheating. If I draw cards when my opponent isn’t looking, I’m cheating. If I lie about my life total, I’m cheating. If I sneak a couple extra lands into play, I’m cheating. If I say all my guys have flying, when I know they don’t, I’m cheating. If I decide to keep all eight cards in hand at end of turn, instead of discarding one, I’m cheating. If I draw a card and I end up with two stuck together, and I decide to just keep them instead of calling a judge, I’m cheating.

The Magic Infraction Procedure Guide — the new name for what used to be the DCI Penalty Guidelines — distinguishes different types of cheating, but they all fall under the same general description: deliberately breaking the rules to gain an advantage. I’ll get more technical later. For now, let’s use that definition.

But What If I Just Made A Mistake?

The general definition that I used above was “deliberately breaking the rules to gain an advantage.” The MIPG, and the PG before that, distinguish between cheating and game play errors. Cheating gets penalized with a DQ. Game play errors, generally, get warnings. Cheating removes the player from the tournament. Game play errors generally include a remedy to fix what happened (although sometimes the instruction is “don’t do anything”.)

The MIPG recognizes that players make mistakes, and doesn’t penalize mistakes harshly.

But My Opponent Made The Mistake, Not Me!

This is where things get interesting. Let’s look at a common mistake, for discussion purposes. A player — Andy — attacks with his Wild Nacatl, which is a 3/3. The opponent — Nicolas — blocks with his Wild Nacatl. Nicholas does not control a Plains, so his Nacatl is a 2/2. Combat damage resolves, and both players put their Wild Nacatls into the graveyard.

A creature — Andy’s 3/3 Nacatl — has just gone to the graveyard when it did not have lethal damage. That’s a violation of game rules. Permanents are only supposed to change zones when the game says they should, and not at other times. It is just as wrong to put a creature into a graveyard for no valid reason than it is to take a creature out of the graveyard and put it into play. It is an infraction.

Now let’s look at some different ways this could play out.

Scenario A: Nicholas say “hey — that’s not dead. My guy was a 2/2. No Plains,” and Andy puts his Nacatl back into play. This is acceptable. The MIPG does not require players to call a judge for play errors that they can easily fix. The MIPG only requires spectators to call a judge when they see an infraction occur. If players want to fix an error, they can.

Scenario B: Nicholas calls a Judge immediately and explains the situation. The judge will correct the game state (the creature with non-lethal damage is returned to play) and will issue Andy with a Warning for Game Play Error — Game Rule Violation. (This assumes that Andy made an honest mistake — more on that later.)

Scenario C: The players realize the error later on, and call a judge at that point. The judge may or may not back up the game and correct the error. That depends on what has happened in the interim. If Andy simply played a land and said “go,” then the players caught the error, the judge could back up. If it is three turns later, the Wild Nacatl will stay in the graveyard. (When to rewind, and why, is a topic for an article in itself.) Whether or not the Nacatl returns to play, Andy will receive a warning for Game Play Error — Game Rule Violation. Nicholas will also receive a warning for Failure to Maintain Game State. It is the responsibility of both / all players to ensure that the game state remains legal.

Scenario D: Andy deliberately put the Nacatl in the graveyard, even though he knew it did not have lethal damage. Maybe he needed Threshold, or was about to play Living Death, or was about to play Final Judgment and did not want it Exiled. For whatever reason, if Andy put it into the graveyard when he knew it should not go there, and did so to gain an advantage, he was cheating.

Scenario E: Andy made a legitimate mistake. Nicholas saw it, and deliberately said nothing. The fact that his opponent is actually moving the card does not change the fact that both players are responsible for maintaining a legal game state. Nicholas is deliberately letting an illegal action happen because that illegal action favors him. That is cheating.

The MIPG is specific about this. The introduction to the game play errors section says: Both players are expected to maintain the game rules…

The section on Cheating: Fraud is also specific. It says:

6.2. Cheating — Fraud


A person intentionally and knowingly violates or misrepresents rules, procedures, personal information, or any other relevant tournament information. Note that Fraud, like most cheating, is determined by an investigation and will often appear on the surface as a Game Play Error or Tournament Error.

Additionally, it is Fraud if a player (or teammate) notices an offense in their match and does not immediately call attention to it.


D. A player observes his opponent or teammate make an illegal play but does not call a judge because it is to his advantage.

Put simply, if a player knowingly lets a mistake stand, even though it violates the rules, that’s fraud, and that player should be DQed.

So It Is Illegal To Make Mistakes?

No. Magic is a very complex game. At least a few people have said that no perfect game of Magic has ever been played — some mistakes are inevitable. (I should know who is generally credited with that statement, but I just remember hearing BDM and/or Mike Flores quoting it.) Whatever — the simple fact is that mistakes happen.

Making a mistake is not illegal. The MIPG makes a very clear distinction between accidental / true mistakes and deliberate violation of the rules. The penalties are different. A mistake is generally penalized with a caution or warning, although that can be upgraded if a player persists in making the same mistake over and over again. Deliberate violations of the rules are not mistakes, and deliberate rules violations are grounds for disqualification.

Do I Have To Correct My Opponents’ Mistakes?

For some mistakes, no, you do not. For others, you do. It depends on whether rules are being violated.

Mistakes fall into several broad categories.

The first are strategic mistakes that happen before the match. Your opponent may have drafted five color fatties in triple Zendikar, or decided to play Warp World in a Vintage event. These are pretty clearly mistakes, but they have already happened and there is nothing you can do about them. Even if you could prevent the mistake, you are not required to do so. Opponents can make bad choices. That’s part of the game. No game rules are being broken in these cases. (It would be different if Warp World was not legal in the format.)

The second category of mistakes covers tactical blunders. These cover everything from playing the wrong land on turn 1 to not blocking when the opponent is attacking with lethal damage. As a player, you are never required to say “block, or my pump spell is lethal.” You can say that — and you can bluff about whether you have that pump spell — but you are not required to say anything. (The MIPG has a long section on communication — on what it’s legal to say or indicate, and what’s illegal. That’s a topic for another article. The short version: You cannot misrepresent the game state or the rules.)

The third category of mistake is those involving the rules. If your opponent casts something illegally, or makes an illegal action, etc. — those are the mistakes that are required to be corrected. The game has to be played by the rules, and if your opponent violates the rules, you have to do something about it. The fix can involve a judge. It can also just be a verbal correction. (e.g. “Attack with Tarmogoyf.” “You can’t. Moat is in play.” “Oh yeah. Go.”)

Failing to resolve a spell or effect correctly can also be a violation of the rules. If something triggers, and a trigger with a mandatory effect is ignored or forgotten, that is a violation of the rules. “May” triggers are an exception — if the trigger reads “when X happens, you may do Y,” then doing nothing is a legal outcome. No rules violation has occurred if nothing is done — doing nothing is a legal outcome. However, you cannot ignore or forget a trigger that does not say “may,” and you cannot let your opponent do so either.

Here’s another way of looking at it. The game rules don’t belong to either player. They exist independently, and both players are required to protect them and the game state. When something illegal happens, that is an offense against the rules. Whether you made the error, or just allowed the error to persist, you are complicit in an offense against the game rules.

So Long As You Don’t Say Anything, You Can’t Be DQed?

I have heard some players say this. It is not true.

What is clear is that, at the end of the round (or at any other time, for that matter), if you say something that shows that you knew that a play was illegal, but chose to ignore it, then you have committed fraud and should be DQed. Saying, for instance “dude — remember when I Pathed your Bloodwitch? Bloodwitch is pro-White, nOOb!” is an admission of guilt. It just makes the DQ easier.

To DQ a player, all that the Head Judge needs is to be reasonably certain that the offense has occurred. Magic Judges are not in a court of law — they are not bound by specific rules of evidence, legal procedures, or standards that may apply in legal proceedings. Specifically, the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard does not apply. Magic judges operate more like sports referees. In soccer or football, a ref does not have to prove offsides, or that a tackle is illegal — they just have to be reasonably sure that that is what happened, and they can call the penalty.

What talking about an illegal play can do is remove any doubt that the player knew it was illegal. As a judge, if you are unsure whether a game play error was deliberate or accidental, you investigate further. In the end, if a judge is really unsure whether it was deliberate or accidental, most judges avoid DQing the player (although we tend to watch a lot closer thereafter).

In short, judges can and do DQ players without an admission of guilt. Admissions just make the process easier.

How Can You Tell Whether It’s A Legitimate Mistake?

The short answer here is experience and training.

As judges, we watch, and play, a lot of Magic. We know mistakes happen. We have seen tons of them. We also know that players tend to get more tired — and sloppier — as the day goes on. Magic is work — hard, exhausting mental work. Years ago, in “It’s All About the Dinosaurs,” Jamie Wakefield said “when you see someone making mistakes in the Top 8, and wonder how they got there, they probably didn’t make the mistakes in the Swiss.” Brian Kowal said the same sort of thing about his Top 8 performance at GP: Chicago, and I remember reading something from Sam Black along the same lines. Personally, I have judged literally hundreds of events, and played in hundreds and hundreds more. Players get tired and make mistakes. It happens.

However, tired players tend to make certain sorts of mistakes. More importantly, they don’t tend to make others. If a player has tested a particular card extensively, and built a deck around it, I am going to ask some questions before I decide that they suddenly forget what it does. It happens — a lot of people miss Dark Confident triggers, even when it is the centerpiece of their deck — but if a player is at one life and suddenly “forgets” the trigger, he had better be pretty groggy.

Short answer: you can certainly DQ a player for ignoring an opponent’s mistake, even if they don’t talk about it.

Wasn’t It Once Different?

Sort of. It was certainly less clear before the penalty procedures were rewritten a couple of years ago.

I pulled up an old copy of the Penalty Guidelines, from 2005. The definition of Cheating — Fraud was pretty much the same: “A player intentionally misrepresents rules, procedures, personal information, or any other relevant tournament information.” However, the examples were missing. The two examples given were about tournament issues — misrecording match results and using a fake name. You could argue that ignoring an opponent’s illegal play fell under that language, but it was not clear.

Back in those days, the penalties for making rules mistakes were different. Back then, we had procedural errors — minor, major, and severe. Not only were the definitions of the levels complex, but they all included language similar to this:

Philosophy: Procedural errors vary significantly. The judge should adjust the penalty appropriately to reflect the level of tournament disruption.

Penalty: If the procedural error makes it impossible for a player to effectively complete the game or match in the allotted period of time, the judge should upgrade the penalty to a match/game loss.

These rules had a perverse incentive — or an effect of the law of unintended consequences, if you prefer. Under these rules, players had the incentive to ignore an error until it could not be corrected. At that point, the game state would be corrupted beyond repair and the penalty might be upgraded to a game loss. In practice, it depended on the judge: some judges found ways to salvage a corrupted game, and others did not. Awkward.

That’s one strong reason, among many, that the PG was rewritten a few years back, and again with the change to the MIPG. The new rules and procedures are clearer and less ambiguous, and the perverse incentives are gone. Under the new rules, if you deliberately ignore an opponent’s rule violation because you gain an advantage, you are cheating.

So don’t.

Do, however, attend your local State Champs. The 2009s are coming December 5th. I’ll be at the Wisconsin version, at Misty Mountain Games in Madison.


“one million words”