Questioning Authority

Disclaimer: I am not a judge, and therefore welcome any corrections to my understanding of the rules and penalty guidelines discussed below.

This past weekend during the Legacy portion of the StarCityGames.com Open Series in Memphis, TN, Drew Levin was given a game loss going into game 3 of his quarterfinals match versus eventual winner, Alex Bertoncini, for presenting a 59-card deck. Bigheadjoe and I were doing the SCGLive commentary for the match, and while I presented my initial opinion on the broadcast, I wanted to clarify/summarize/update my thoughts on the situation.

Most of my statements on the broadcast were from the perspective of a viewer—not a player in the match. The analogy I made on screen was this: It’s as if you were watching an NFL game, and one of the teams accidentally sent 12 men onto the field. The play starts, the whistle blows. “12 men on the field, offense. Game loss.” Team loses. Game over.

We invited two judges in the booth to explain things, and they did a great job of clarifying the situation. Everything was done entirely by the book, and the penalty was applied accordingly. However, even after some further discussion since the event, I question whether this penalty is appropriate for this situation.

The arguments/reasoning I’ve been hearing all seem to be one of the following:
1) “These are the rules.” (I don’t dispute this.)
2) “It’s been this way for years.” (I don’t dispute this.)
3) “The reason it is this way is due to the potential for abuse.”

As noted above, I’m not disputing the existence of the rule, nor its longevity. What I am doing—and what I think should be done for anything of this nature from time-to-time—is questioning this rule and the logic behind it, to see if improvements can be made. Healthy discussion of these topics is imperative, in my opinion.

Let me pause here for a quick anecdote.

—-
Last summer, a friend of mine and his wife gave birth to their first child. On the way home from the hospital, she was in significant pain, so they stopped at a pharmacy for the painkiller prescription given to them by their doctor. While his wife waited in the car, my friend gave the prescription to the pharmacist, only to discover that the doctor had left the “Quantity” field blank. The pharmacist would not fill the prescription. My friend requested whatever the minimum amount that would normally be prescribed, but the pharmacist refused. This is no fault of the pharmacist. The law is set up the way it is due to the potential for abuse. Thus, the innocent are made to suffer at the hands of the laws that are supposed to protect them, simply due to the existence of the guilty.
—-

The reality of the situation is that Drew presented a 59-card deck, leaving the 60th card in his sideboard. Whether this was intentional or accidental cannot be determined.

However, it has to be one or the other, right?

Option A). Drew intentionally attempted to gain an edge by presenting a 59-card deck.

Option B). Drew accidentally—unintentionally—presented a 59-card deck (miscounted his sideboard/maindeck, sleeves stuck together, distracted by table discussion—the reason is irrelevant).

My questions are these:

If there were a way to prove one way or the other:

○ Is a game loss an appropriate penalty for Option A?

○ Is a game loss an appropriate penalty for Option B?

I’m going to make some assumptions and say the answer to both of the above is No. Option A is downright Cheating, and a game loss is not penalty enough. Option B is accidental—and thus implies some amount of innocence—making a game loss too harsh of a penalty.

Was this penalty put into place to find some sort of middle ground? Was it deemed appropriate to treat both possibilities incorrectly in order to split the difference? Since a game loss can have several different repercussions (getting a game loss in Round 1, Game 1 certainly stinks, but allows you to recover; getting a game loss in Game 3 of a top 8 after working hard for several hours to get there is an entirely different punishment), was this put in place in the hopes that maybe the variable nature of both the infraction and the penalty would allow punishment and crime to occasionally align?

The way it works now, at least as far as I can tell, is that essentially we are punishing players for a crime they could potentially be guilty of, but tempering that by not punishing them to the extent we would if we could prove they were guilty. By making this the procedure, we are accepting the unnecessarily harsh treatment of players who commit an infraction by accident.

Is this how we want the rules to work?

UPDATE: I am getting some really great responses to this already, and as a result I am seeing things differently (or maybe just more clearly). I wanted this to stir up some discussion, and it has.

All the responses have been excellent, but I want to highlight one in particular, so I am moving it here to the main post:

Joey, I think your attitude is in the right place. The problem is the implications of changing the penalty.

Penalties are issued for one of two reasons: The player is attempting to cheat (and thus must be disqualified) or the player’s actions have caused disruption to the game state, whereupon the severity of the penalty is (in theory) warranted by the level of disruption to the game state and/or the potential for abuse. With all that kept in mind, let’s look at the presentation of a 59-card deck.

If a player is running the cheats, a DQ is warranted.

If a player is not cheating, the issue gets a little trickier. You’re right, getting a GL for presenting 59 when it’s discovered at the start and so easily fixed before the game begins seems a little harsh. So, let me ask you this: Is a Game Loss an appropriate penalty if the fact that one deck is 59 cards is discovered in the middle of the game? I’d say yes. The fact that pro players almost always hew true to the doctrine of 60 in Constructed and 40 in Limited bears witness that diluting one’s deck is a bad idea. If the minimum deck size were lowered, people would run with whatever that was. Having a smaller deck gives an advantage. If the problem were discovered in the middle of the game, the disruption to the game state is high – all the cards drawn to this point have been affected – and as such the only equitable penalty is giving a game loss to the offender.

So, having established that this happening in the middle of the game is a serious problem, we now run headlong into the issue you raised: what do we do when one player presents 59 and it is found right then and there? I think it *has* to be the same penalty as the midgame discovery. Why? Because otherwise we run into all sorts of awkward incentive issues – e.g. players would count their opponents’ decks while shuffling after a midgame fetchland instead of during pregame procedures. You could mandate that at Competitive REL and above, players are required to count their opponents’ decks during the pregame procedures, much in the way that players are required to shuffle – but, not only is that a little too much nanny-state for my liking, then the incentives become a little more perverse. What if a player counted pregame, didn’t find 59, counts after a fetch, finds too few cards, and calls a judge? Then the judge has a Cheating investigation on their hands too, because there is of course the suspicion that player B did not say anything during pregame procedures in order to get the penalty now. It’s a bigger mess than what we left behind.

In short: It sucks for Drew that he got this penalty during an important game. But it’s important for the health of the tournament game that deck integrity be defended, and I just don’t see any options better than what we’ve got.

-David Kotsonis
Level 1 DCI Judge
two_eyes on twitter

UPDATE 2: More responses have been coming in. In the comments section below, Arthur Halavais correctly points out the difference between a “penalty” and a “punishment,” noting that “Drew was penalized with a [game loss], not punished.” In this post I used them interchangeably to mean “the consequences of an infraction as applied by the judges according to the rules.” While this use may not have been 100% correct according to Webster, I believe the intended definition is clear, for the most part.

MTG judge and all-around awesome guy, Riki Hayashi (who was present at the event) posted a response to this on his own blog. Check out what he has to say here. His response is different from all others I’ve seen, and is definitely worth a quick read.

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11 responses to “Questioning Authority

  1. I think part of the problem arises in the fact that when the rules were drafted, there had to be an assumption of a lack of information. If a judge walks up to a table with this scenario and has no other information, they have to have a penalty to mete out.

    So are you saying that the infractions for situations such as this should lessen as you get into the final rounds of a tournament? While it’s true that it sucks, I feel the fact that Drew had already sideboarded in/out once already (for Game 2) means this should have never happened.

    I do understand that weird things happen, and I know you’re trying to provoke some discussion, but it almost sounds like you’re trying to soften the rules because “getting a game loss in Game 3 of a top 8 after working hard for several hours to get there.”

    If MTG had situational rules such as you suggested, the rules book would be at least the size of the NFL book; and you see how many times they *still* get the calls wrong.

    • Sorry, just to clarify, I’m trying to shed light on the fact that the penalty is wildly variable depending on when it is given, and suggesting that the penalty be changed to one that is not so affected by when it is given.

      I’m not at all suggesting situational rules depending on when in the tournament the infraction occurs. Sorry if it seems that way 🙂

  2. Seems pretty awk that Drew has had multiple controversial events around a top 8. I bet (Wescoe check!) it’s not the last.

  3. I agree when looked at front the stand point of a innocent party that the point in the tournament a penalty for this sort of this can greatly vary its effect on your tournament. But if you lessen the penalty the arguement goes the other way, the potential for exploitation greatly increases the deeper into a tournament. If you lessen the penalty to a warning a player can do this interntionally and get caught twice (as long as the same judge isn’t called to the same table) and just basically have a slap on the wrists for it.

    The fact is to protect people from those people looking for slight edges by breaking the rules the penalties need to have a varying effect over the tournament. And the way the DCI will look at it is “Do we punish innocents or do we hand an advantage to guilties in the later rounds?” and I’m sure higher level judges spend entire weeks of their life having this debate and what they can bring in to make this more fair.

    But entill they can find something its gonna suck for people like Drew who make a simple mistake who get punished while in the last rounds.

  4. Joey, I think your attitude is in the right place. The problem is the implications of changing the penalty.

    Penalties are issued for one of two reasons: The player is attempting to cheat (and thus must be disqualified) or the player’s actions have caused disruption to the game state, whereupon the severity of the penalty is (in theory) warranted by the level of disruption to the game state and/or the potential for abuse. With all that kept in mind, let’s look at the presentation of a 59-card deck.

    If a player is running the cheats, a DQ is warranted.

    If a player is not cheating, the issue gets a little trickier. You’re right, getting a GL for presenting 59 when it’s discovered at the start and so easily fixed before the game begins seems a little harsh. So, let me ask you this: Is a Game Loss an appropriate penalty if the fact that one deck is 59 cards is discovered in the middle of the game? I’d say yes. The fact that pro players almost always hew true to the doctrine of 60 in Constructed and 40 in Limited bears witness that diluting one’s deck is a bad idea. If the minimum deck size were lowered, people would run with whatever that was. Having a smaller deck gives an advantage. If the problem were discovered in the middle of the game, the disruption to the game state is high – all the cards drawn to this point have been affected – and as such the only equitable penalty is giving a game loss to the offender.

    So, having established that this happening in the middle of the game is a serious problem, we now run headlong into the issue you raised: what do we do when one player presents 59 and it is found right then and there? I think it *has* to be the same penalty as the midgame discovery. Why? Because otherwise we run into all sorts of awkward incentive issues – e.g. players would count their opponents’ decks while shuffling after a midgame fetchland instead of during pregame procedures. You could mandate that at Competitive REL and above, players are required to count their opponents’ decks during the pregame procedures, much in the way that players are required to shuffle – but, not only is that a little too much nanny-state for my liking, then the incentives become a little more perverse. What if a player counted pregame, didn’t find 59, counts after a fetch, finds too few cards, and calls a judge? Then the judge has a Cheating investigation on their hands too, because there is of course the suspicion that player B did not say anything during pregame procedures in order to get the penalty now. It’s a bigger mess than what we left behind.

    In short: It sucks for Drew that he got this penalty during an important game. But it’s important for the health of the tournament game that deck integrity be defended, and I just don’t see any options better than what we’ve got.

    -David Kotsonis
    Level 1 DCI Judge
    two_eyes on twitter

  5. The following is from the IPG, and I’m not sure if it’s been brought up yet:
    “Judges should be seen as a benefit to the players, helping to ensure the consistent and fair running of a tournament. Players should be encouraged to use judges as needed, and should not be afraid to call a judge whenone is required. If a player commits an offense, realizes it, and calls a judge over immediately and before he or she could potentially benefit from the offense, the Head Judge has the option to downgrade the penalty without it being considered a deviation, though he or she should still follow any procedure recommended to fix the error. For example, a player offers his deck to his opponent and while cutting his opponent’s deck discovers that a card that belongs in his deck is in a previously exiled game pile. If he calls the judge over immediately, the Head Judge may choose to issue a Warning rather than a Game Loss.”

    The important thing here is that it has to be the player calling attention to his/her own error. In the case of Drew Levin at Nashville, it was his opponent that caught the mistake, and thus it wasn’t eligible for a downgrade.
    Is there room for a general pre-game discovery downgrade for mismatch issues? Perhaps. It beats some thought, certainly.

    ~Charlotte Sable
    Level 2 DCI Judge

    • It was actually the table judge himself that caught the error, I believe, by noticing that when he finished sideboarding, by presenting his deck to his opponent, Drew’s sideboard had 16 cards.

  6. David’s done a pretty good job summing up what I wanted to say, but I do want to throw in a couple extra bits of info (and though I am a judge, what I’m saying here is just my own opinion, nobody else’s and certainly not the DCI’s).

    First up, intent doesn’t change the crucial factors here, which are the advantage to be gained and the difficulty of catching the problem. Running 59 cards is an advantage regardless of whether you realize you’re doing it; similarly, drawing four cards instead of three from a Brainstorm is an advantage whether it’s accidental or not (and, not coincidentally, would also get you a game loss). Similarly, catching the problem is hard regardless of whether you’re trying to cheat; unless we deck check you right then and there (not particularly likely) or your opponent pile shuffles and counts your deck (also not particularly likely), it’s an invisible, illegal advantage. And generally the infraction guide comes down hard on those, with good reason.

    Second, it’s worth noting that the things aren’t quite as inflexible as you’re making it out to be. If you scan through the infraction guide (which is something I’d recommend every competitive player do; knowing what to expect and what’s expected of you is good), you’ll see a quite a few places where penalties can be downgraded.

    For example: if you sit down for game 1 of your match, draw your hand and spot a sideboard card you accidentally left in, the penalty can be downgraded (to a warning and, essentially, a forced mulligan once the deck’s been corrected) if you call a judge immediately. This mirrors a more general downgrade option that’s available pretty much any time you do something wrong, realize it and immediately call a judge on yourself.

    That option — which is available to every head judge of every sanctioned tournament — is a useful compromise, which avoids the problems of trying to figure out a player’s intent and rule based on that (here, it’s clear the player isn’t trying to get away with something, since he called a judge on himself) while also avoiding the opposite extreme of coming down too harshly on innocent errors that get caught quickly.

  7. As I said on Twitter, I think that is very important to avoid using the word “punished.” Drew was not punished with a game loss, he was penalized with one.

    Why is this difference important? Punishment is “suffering, pain, or loss that serves as retribution” while a penalty is “a disadvantage (as loss of yardage, time, or possession of the ball or an addition to or subtraction from the score) imposed on a team or competitor for violation of the rules of a sport.” Yes, thats a strict definition, from Webster, and I’d say that MTG certainly falls under the category of sport here. Entirely separate from the verbatim definition, both penalty and punishment have a connotation that comes along with them. Punishments feel subjective; penalties fell objective. Punishments feel like they’re both earned and used to encourage non-repetition; penalties feel like they’re used to fix a mistake.

    In law, there are several types of damages that can be awarded in a court case. Two of these are Compensatory damages and Punitive damages. Compensatory damages are awarded in the amount of the value of what was lost, damaged, destroyed, etc. Punitive damage are additional compensation beyond compensatory amounts, only awarded for willful or malicious misconduct, designed to punish one party. If you win a suit against a drug company which hid data about how unsafe one of their products was, compensatory damages could be your medical bills and such, and are usually small (comparatively), while the punitive can reach into millions of dollars, and are designed to both punish the drug company for willfully breaking the law and to discourage it and others from doing the same thing. At times, the amount of the compensatory award may be open to judgment. For example, if I lose my job because I’m unable to drive to it after you wreck my parked card, you may be liable for soem amount of money that I would have made from that job. The amount of the punitive award is always open to judgment.

    The MTG rules have examples of both compensatory and punitive awards. The game loss for presenting 59 cards is strictly compensatory; the breaking of the rules was not willful nor malicious, but it did cause a real form of damage. Is that real amount of damage sufficient that it always affects who wins the game in question? It might not be. Like the car example before, there is a grey area. But unlike in a court of law, where the penalties can be very exacting, here the choice is between a warning and a game loss. Here’s an examples of things the result in warnings: forgetting to put a Faerie Rouge token into play during your upkeep from Bitterblossom. Most of the time (barring corner cases like being at 1 life, and taking into account that there is much less chance of the other playing noticing it and being able to immediately fix it), is having a 59 card deck significantly more likely to win you a game that forgetting a BB trigger? Absolutely. Ask any number of pros, and I’m sure that the overwhelming response will be that a 59 card deck is *significantly* likely to affect who wins a game.

    There are also punitive damages in the rules. As this kind of damage requires Willful or malicious intent, they fall only under the cheating section of the rules, and are made up of the suspensions handed out to players who cheat. Saito, for example, got a DQ as a compensatory penalty (the minimum penalty equialent to damage done to his opponents throughout the event), and an 18 month suspension as a punitive penalty (you can bet that it discouraged some other folks from stalling).

    So, Drew was penalized with a GL, not punished.

    Arthur Halavais
    L2 judge
    @ahalavais

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  9. Pingback: Questioning Authority (via Affinity For Islands) « legacyinferno

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