Game Rule Violation – Claire Dupré

Written by Claire Dupré

Written by Claire Dupré

Magic is a game that involves a large number of interactions, both between players and between cards. Sometimes, these interactions lead to players making mistakes and accidentally deviating from the rules. These errors are gathered in the IPG under the label “Game Play Errors (GPE)”.

What are GPEs?

These are errors committed by at least one player during a match by unintentionally not respecting the rules of the game. For intentional infractions, one should refer to a different category of infraction: Cheating.

These mistakes can occur for multiple reasons: Players get tired, are distracted, play too fast, don’t know the cards or the rules that apply to a complex situation well enough, etc. These situations are not exceptional, which is why GPEs are unfortunately common errors.

These errors are diverse by nature, but can be divided into general categories. The IPG divides them into 7 infractions:

    • Missed Trigger (where a mandatory trigger has been forgotten).
    • Failure to Reveal (where a card that should have been revealed was forgotten).
    • Looking at Extra Cards (where a card that should have been hidden was seen).
    • Drawing Extra Cards (where an extra card was drawn).
    • Improper Drawing at the Start of the Game (starting a game with an incorrect number of cards in hand).
    • Game Rule Violation (mistakes coming from a rules violation that can’t be put into another GPE category).
    • Failure to Maintain Game State (not noticing an error that an opponent has made; this is a bit unusual and will be covered in another article).

What is a Game Rule Violation (GRV)?


It is easiest to define this infraction by outlining what it isn’t. While most infractions can be recognised by certain specific characteristics, this isn’t the case with GRVs. In fact, everything which cannot be placed elsewhere counts as a GRV, as long as it is a GPE – that is, an error related to the playing of the game itself rather than to the tournament structure.

Identifying GPE – GRV

GPE or Cheating?

So as not to waste time at the table, the first question to ask oneself is “Was this mistake intentional?” If this is the case, we leave the vast territory of GPE – GRV and enter the narrower one of Cheating – Fraud.

GPE or TE?

Next, you need to verify that the error was about the game itself rather than about tournament specifics. For it to be a GRV, the infraction must violate the Comprehensive Rules. Most of the time, GRVs stem from errors when using cards or mistakes within the structure of the game, like forgetting to discard at the end of the turn.

It is interesting to note that PCVs are classified as TE, though it would be easy to think that a PCV affects the game itself (a mistake when stating the number of cards that you have in hand has the potential to significantly alter the course of a game).

GPE – GRV or GPE – something else?

Another interesting point to highlight is that all GPEs could be considered GRVs. All GPEs that are not GRVs have been categorized specifically because they required specific and additional fixes.
As such, GRVs are errors which aren’t:

    • A mandatory trigger being missed,
    • An extra card being drawn,
    • A card not being revealed when it should have been,
    • Having the wrong number of cards in hand at the start of a game,
    • A card being seen whose identity shouldn’t have been known.

The most common GRVs

As GRVs group everything which does not fit elsewhere, the diversity of the errors which are included in this category is impressive. It is almost impossible to list all of them; such a list could not hope to be comprehensive. However, we can easily outline some of the most common cases:

    • Incorrect or insufficient mana being spent for a spell.
    • Targeting an illegal target.
    • Forgetting a static ability generating continuous effects (deathtouch, Honor of the Pure).
    • Incorrect application of State-Based Actions.

The penalty

The standard penalty: the Warning

There are cases where players feel that a Warning is too mild a penalty and that it does not take the impact of the error on the game state into account (a very classic example being when a second land was played in one of the earliest turns of a game; see below).
Still, there’s no way we could safely penalise a GRV with a Game Loss, for multiple reasons:

  • It is easy to commit a GRV, and if even the smallest error would lead to a Game Loss, tournament play wouldn’t be nearly as enjoyable.
  • Creating a clause to upgrade to Game Loss when the game state is impossible to fix would only encourage opponents to remain silent until it’s late enough in order to win the game thanks to the penalty. Even though this is cheating, the potential to get caught would be so small that players would most likely try it.
  • While committing a GRV is abusable, responsibility to pay attention to what is going on in the current game also lies on the opponent’s shoulders, so we just cannot absolve this player of all responsibility.

In summary, we admit that players make mistakes (while remaining aware that these could be intentional and therefore Cheating) and equally would like their opponents to help maintaining a correct game state!

It is worth noting that offering too many options for an upgrade to a Game Loss could also lead to judges shying away from their responsibilities in terms of investigating for cheating: “Well, I don’t know if he cheated, but I will Game Loss him just in case.” This would be extremely frustrating for the honest player and wouldn’t penalize the cheater enough!

The exceptional penalty: the Game Loss

Still, there is one situation in which the penalty should be upgraded to a Game Loss: The error has been committed without the opponent having a single chance to notice the error. This is extremely rare and the typical, if not the sole, example is if a card that doesn’t have the morph ability has been cast face-down on the battlefield.

As the opponent has no way to notice the mistake, he can’t share any responsibility with the player who committed it. Consequently, as that player could gain an advantage without their opponent being responsible for it in any way, we can confidently issue a heavier penalty to the player who made the error.

The perception of this penalty

If the concept of shared responsibility is extremely sane for the game because it requires interaction and communication between players, it can nevertheless (but sometimes for good reasons) fail to satisfy, nor to say frustrate, a player.

In most cases, these mistakes don’t drastically change the game state and/or are caught immediately enough to not cause too big issues. The common factor in these cases is that they don’t influence the game in such a way that one of the two players suffers important consequences from the error. In these situations, players are happy to accept the Warning because, as far as they are concerned, the error “wasn’t that important”.

The cases causing more problems are those where one player suffers the full consequences of the error, especially when the mistake was made by their opponent. Many players automatically claim that their opponent is cheating in these situations, or demand they receive a Game Loss.

In their view, the error has such great consequences and was so large, that there’s no way it can have been unfortunate or unintentional, or at the least they can’t believe it can be penalized with a “mere” Warning. They no longer see the error in itself (just like they missed it when it was committed), but only its contextual impact! For the player, context (i.e. the consequences of the mistake) matters. For the judge, the infraction is what’s important.

Consider these two examples. We are about turn 10; player A plays a land, hesitates, attacks with Primeval Titan, searches for lands, thinks for a long moment to activate Kessig Wolf Run, doesn’t do it, plays another spell and an extra land before passing the turn. The players realise the next turn but aren’t too bothered by it as player A already controlled a dozen lands.

Now, here’s a slightly different situation: Player A plays a land, plays a good creature which would allow him to win the next turn, thinks, plays another land and passes the turn. In their turn, player B tries to cast a removal spell on the opposing creature, but player A counters it thanks to his extra land. Player B concedes, then a spectator points out that player A had too many lands on the battlefield. Player B counts lands again and accuses A of cheating when he discovers that the spectator was correct.

Both cases are, from a judge’s perspective, similar: They involve playing an extra land. These identical mistakes, however, had a different impact on the game and led to very different reactions from players, leading to the disadvantaged player to request different penalties.

As such, it is important to have a good understanding of what the penalty for a GRV is and why it should remain a Warning to not agree to this kind of request.

The double penalty

It is sometimes awkward that the delayed discovery of a GRV requires that we also issue a Warning to the player who didn’t commit the error.
This Warning is for the infraction Failure to Maintain Game State, which is dealt with in another article and which will therefore not be expanded upon here.

However, if a spell cast by a player is wrongly executed by the opponent, both players should receive a Warning for GRV. One because he didn’t comply with the instructions of his opponent’s card and the other because he didn’t ensure his own card was properly resolved.

Allowing the game to proceed

The core rule: Leave as it is

The IPG leaves very little interpretation on what to do before allowing a game where a GRV has occurred to proceed: Leave the situation in the state it is in, whatever the magnitude of the error is.

This can be difficult for the players to understand. In the same way that they don’t understand that certain errors do not receive stricter penalties, they don’t understand that judges do “nothing” to repair the game state, to “fix” these errors.

Judges themselves, especially when confronted for the first time to a GRV, are uncomfortable with doing nothing when facing some situations. Therefore, if both players and judges feel something can be wrong by not acting, why should we leave the game as it is?

The answer is fairly easy: Attempting to fix the error can go more harm than good, and the judge is not and should not be responsible for knowing how to rebuild the game perfectly.

Some elements will look obvious, but this can be a trap. Let’s take an example: You are called at a table where player A cast on the previous turn a creature he shouldn’t have been able to because he’s lacking one colored mana.

Fairly easy to deal with, isn’t it? Let’s just return this illegally played creature to its owner’s hand. However, what do you do if A says “But I could have cast a different creature, or at least I wouldn’t have attacked with all my creatures since, without this blocker, I take 8 damage and lose the game”?
OK, let’s have him play that other creature.

But what if B argues “Hold on, if this is the creature he casts, I would have blocked differently, because I needed to keep this flier for the next turn.”
And these are just a couple of examples of the small sentences which suggest that while your fix might have been obvious, it was not and will almost never be perfect. We’ll purposely skip concepts like “I’d have played that instant instead of that other one at end of turn/ But you might have drawn it in this turn’s draw step.”

To summarise, you should do “nothing” when there has been a GRV because if you do something, you destroy the strategy both players have built after they both acknowledged (one by making the error and the other by not noticing it) the game state resulting from the mistake by suddenly changing an element of the game. Even if both players made choices based on an incorrect game state, these choices were at least based on something they both agreed on. If you change the situation, those actions are no longer based on anything and you may turn down part of the players’ strategies.

To sum it up, you will never be certain that you have integrated all the strategic implications of a situation, because you are not in the head of either player and you haven’t been involved in the game from the start as they have.

Last, but not least, a plain return of the illegally played permanent back to the player’s hand is extremely dangerous as this incentivises the opponent to intentionally delay the “discovery” of the problem so as to make their opponent lose an entire turn. Yes, this is Cheating but, no you won’t prove it. We are doing our best to create policies that do not incentivize players into delaying their judge call.

Sheldon Menery

Deviating from this core rule

However the IPG does allow a deviation: Backing up.

Because this is a deviation, only the Head Judge is technically entitled to make that decision. However, while the final decision of allowance is made by the Head Judge, it’s up to the Floor Judge to solicit the Head Judge if he feels a deviation could be fancied. Anyway, the final decision is up to the Head Judge.

Backing up is all about repairing the game state, but not by punctually changing the situation at the moment the judge was called: Backing up is about going back to the point the mistake occurred and resume play from that moment, to allow players to go through a new strategic plan.
Because people’s minds can’t be erased and extra information may have been gained, Head Judges should be cautious when backing up and refrain from backing too many actions.

The reasoning follows the explanations provided further up. In short, the less that has happened when the judge goes to back-up, the less the fact of changing the situation disturbs the strategies that the players have established since the mistake was made, and it is for this reason that in some situations, we can allow a back-up.

The most common example is that an error has occurred early in player A’s turn. They don’t attack and pass the turn to play B, who draws their card and a later, the error is discovered. The only action that has happened since the mistake is player B’s draw, so it is likely that correcting the error will cause the players little to no inconvenience, as the back-up has a very small chance of strongly modifying the strategies that they had developed.

The trap of the partial fix

A trap into which you must not fall is to consider the deviation as a way of fixing the mistake. The deviation consists in backing up completely to the point of the error and preventing the error from occurring. Subsequently, the game is returned to the control of the players.

On the other hand, fixing the error without going back to the point that it occurred falls into the territory of doing a partial fix. The risks of this course of action are the same as those elaborated further up: A judge missing some of the subtleties of the game state can end up disrupting (up to negating) the strategies of the players. It is therefore important to ensure that back-ups go all the whole way and do not get transformed into partial fixes.

However, there are three exceptions to this rule:

    • If a player has forgotten to discard or to put one or more cards from their hand into another zone (for example, Brainstorm, he does this immediately.
    • If a player has forgotten to make a choice or made an illegal choice for a permanent on the battlefield, he does this immediately (Cavern of Souls).
    • If an object is in the wrong zone (a card cast with flashback which was returned to the graveyard, a dead creature which has remained on the battlefield) and the error is caught within a turn cycle, the object is moved to the zone that it should be in.

GRV’s key points

  • A GRV is an unintentional error within the game that does not fit into any of the other infractions categorised as GPEs.
  • While all GPEs are GRVs, those which have been placed into separate categories require particular additional fixes.
  • Warning is the sole penalty a GRV should lead to, unless the opponent had no chance to detect the infraction.
  • A game in which a GRV has taken place should be left in its current state. Backing up is an option in certain circumstances, but it has to be complete and never partial!