IPG Upgrades

Written by Ronald Thompson
Level 3, Washington (USA)

Written by Ronald Thompson
Level 3, Washington (USA)

When a player makes multiple errors over the course of an event, they are eventually subject to an upgraded penalty. The upgrade path varies for each infraction and upgrade decisions must be both appropriate for the situation and issued by the head judge of the event (or when allowed, a team lead). Sometimes it is on the second offense, sometimes it is the third. In some rare cases, the action or intention can upgrade a penalty on the first offense. As a floor judge, when you suspect a penalty is going to be upgraded, you should work with your head judge to allow them to make the final ruling.  The flow chart below diagrams infractions and corresponding penalties based on severity. When an upgrade is utilized, the penalty shifts to the next most severe option:

In my experience, upgrades don’t happen all that often.  Even among all of the possible upgrades, I’ve only ever upgraded Game Play Errors and Tardiness infractions in practice.  So what upgrades are out there?  In what cases do we upgrade?  Should we ever deviate?

First, I’ve found it easier to visualize the different upgrades as a set of buckets:

There are three primary categories of penalties eligible for upgrades: Game Play Errors, Tournament Errors and Unsporting Conduct – Major.  Most GPE and TE follow the Standard Upgrade path identified in the flow chart, starting with warnings and upgrading upon a certain number of repeat offenses (3rd offense for GPE, 2nd offense for TE), while USC — Major follows a unique upgrade path. 

You can see that I’ve included exceptions in the diagram as well: Missed Triggers, Hidden Card Error – Morph not revealed, Tardiness, and Marked Cards.  Each of these infractions will upgrade differently based on the specific circumstances that provide players with an increased potential for advantage.

Upgrade paths serve as an additional tool to educate players.  By telling a player in a game that they have made a GPE without giving them a warning, for example, the player is likely to fix the error and move on; they will probably not remember the error, violated rule, or method of prevention after the game. Alternatively, if we apply a penalty, we can give the moment some educational purpose.  The player is far more likely to stop and take a moment to think about the situation and how they can learn from it.  We, as judges, have the responsibility to use a bigger hammer when the error is repeated too many times or is more serious in nature to further emphasize the importance of correct play and tournament integrity.

Game Play Errors

GPE upgrades will likely be one of the two most common upgrades most judges hand out.  Players will make mistakes during a tournament, especially after 8-10 hours of constant playing. When a player makes an infraction of the same type for the third time in the course of one day of an event, the penalty is upgraded.

Example: Anson casts Supreme Verdict, using the UUWB in his mana pool to pay the casting cost.  Later in the turn, his opponent realizes that Anson could not have correctly paid for Supreme Verdict.  Anson has committed a GPE-GRV and the penalty is normally a warning; however, this is Anson’s third time receiving a GPE-GRV in this tournament and he will be penalized with a game loss instead.

GPEs are the most commonly issued infraction.  After all, it’s easy to misunderstand a rule or simply forget how a particular interaction works (or maybe a player never knew the correct interaction to begin with).  We, as judges, shouldn’t punish these sorts of mistakes heavily.  That is why we have a “3 strikes” upgrade policy.  We do, however, expect players to learn from their mistakes and to not play sloppily, which is why we eventually upgrade the penalty to something more severe.

There are two exceptions to the GPE upgrade pathway, the first being Missed Triggers.  Usually, there is no penalty for missing a trigger.  However, if the trigger that was missed is considered generally detrimental for the player that controls it, the penalty should be upgraded to a warning.  

Example: Antoine controls Braids, Cabal Minion.  His turn starts and he draws a card, missing the Braids, Cabal Minion trigger during his upkeep.  His opponent calls a judge during the pre-combat main phase.  He is issued a warning because this trigger is generally considered detrimental.

If you miss a trigger that you control and that is considered generally detrimental, there is more likely to be potential for advantage.  We want to create a sort of “paper trail” with these kinds of mistakes to allow us to find any patterns in a player’s game play throughout the course of an event.  This “paper trail” of warnings is often a good indication that a player is missing these triggers intentionally.  It is important to note that if you discover a player intentionally missing a detrimental trigger, that is cheating and not a GPE.  Being able to identify these sort of cheaters is a great reason why we issue a warning in these situations.

The second exception to the standard GPE upgrade path is a Hidden Card Error involving cards that are cast using the morph ability.  If a player cast a card using a morph ability, the card cast this way did not have morph, and that player has drawn a card since this illegal action, the penalty should be upgraded to a game loss.

Example: Augusta casts a card with their morph ability but places an Island from her hand face down onto the battlefield.  She then casts Divination.  After Divination resolves, Norman casts Lightning Bolt on the morph creature and it is revealed to be an Island.  Because Augusta had cards in her hand that were not there when the morph was cast, she is penalized with a game loss.

Just like the Missed Trigger upgrade, there is a lot of potential for advantage here.  If the controlling player catches their error before drawing a card, it is easy to verify which card has morph and switch out the cards appropriately.  However once the player has drawn a card, we are no longer able to determine if the player had a morph that was able to be played (or in the case of multiple morph cards, which morphs were available at the time of the error).  This discrepancy can impact the game significantly and should be penalized accordingly.

Tournament Errors

Upgrading Tournament Errors happens with the second infraction.  These infractions are far more serious in nature than GPE and have greater potential to affect the integrity of the tournament in a significant way (often outside the scope of a single game of Magic), which warrants a faster upgrade pathway.

Example: In round 8 of Day 1 of a GP, you sit down to watch a game.  Antonia’s turn just started and she takes an incredibly long time to make any game actions after drawing her turn.  You ask her to make a decision soon and she acknowledges you but does not progress the game state within a reasonable amount of time.  You give Antonia a Slow Play warning and ask her if this is the first time that she’s received the infraction today. She says this is the second time.  Antonia’s penalty is upgraded to a game loss.

We can see in this example that Antonia has a habit that has affected more than one game of Magic. Because she was not able to rectify her behavior (even if the behavior was accidental), we upgrade the penalty.  Again, we want to let players make mistakes without being punished severely.  However, we cannot allow players to play sloppily.  TE infractions will almost certainly significantly affect the tournament and, as such, are upgraded faster than GPE penalties.

Of note, Outside Assistance and Decklist Problems do not get upgraded on repeat offenses. Upgrades generally only apply to infractions that issue a warning–these two infractions do not. Luckily, repeat offenses should never happen with these infractions.

“Deck Problem” as a penalty is new! (sort of.) Deck / Decklist Problems have recently become separate infractions, and Deck Problems have a few specific, immediate upgrades that can be applied: if an illegal deck is presented to an opponent, if an incorrect card becomes known to an opponent during play (or is discovered by a judge), or if a main deck has more copies of a card than it should (usually because some copies should be in the sideboard) and it’s not noticed until the game starts, the penalty upgrades to a Game Loss. Let’s look at an example of each:

Example: Aaron presents their deck to Nadia. Nadia pile shuffles once to count Aaron’s deck and finds the deck only has 58 cards. Neither player can find the missing cards. Aaron gets a game loss and has the opportunity to replace the cards.

Example: In Game 1, Alyssa casts an Ancient Grudge targeting Nathan’s Cranial Plating. Nathan asks Alyssa if Ancient Grudge is really in their main deck, to which Alyssa responds, “Oh, oops! Actually, that is a sideboard card.” Alyssa’s warning is upgraded to a Game Loss.

Example: Navi is playing one main deck Qasali Pridemage, but on turn 5, they draw a second one that is supposed to be in their sideboard. Navi’s warning is upgraded to a game loss.

Overall, Deck Problems are fairly common. Between forgetting to de-sideboard, dropping a card while shuffling, and accidentally leaving a card in your previous opponent’s deck, we see a lot of Deck Problems being issued. It is the above, specific exceptions that can generate significant advantage, and that we thus want to heavily discourage.

Tardiness is the simplest and most often applied upgrade.  If a player is not at their seat 10 minutes from the start of the round and has not notified a judge of their tardiness beforehand (for example, a player requests to go to the bathroom), the tardiness penalty is upgraded from a game loss to a match loss and the player is dropped from the tournament.  If a player does show up before the round ends, they may be re-added to the tournament at their request.  Easy!

We want to dissuade players from being tardy because it can potentially do two things: delay the entire tournament and take play time away from their opponent.  Delaying the tournament doesn’t create any potential for advantage, but it does affect a large number of players, spectators, and staff.  With enough delays, it can even affect the venue (and your ability to be in said venue!).  Loss of individual play time is a little bit more difficult to prove, as it is not kept track of during the course of a match.  However, by simply not being at the table, a tardy player is definitively taking time away from that player and from their opponent.

The last exception in the Tournament Error sphere regards marked cards.  If a player’s cards are marked in a way that could provide “a substantial advantage to the deck’s owner” (per the IPG), the penalty is upgraded immediately.

Example: Andy is deck checked and the floor judge notices that all of the sleeves containing a land have a small mark in the lower-right corner that can be seen from the side of the sleeve.  When the head judge (you) is notified, you are consistently able to find these cards.  During your investigation, you determine that Andy was not cheating.  Andy is penalized with a game loss and asked to re-sleeve his deck.

Unlike other TE upgrades, the Marked Cards upgrade is warranted due to its extreme potential for advantage at any point of any game.  Having a significant advantage over your opponent directly violates the integrity of the tournament and must be penalized severely.

Unsporting Conduct – Major

If a player has malicious intent or shows no remorse for their actions, the penalty should immediately be upgraded.

Example: Anastasia posts a picture online of a fellow player without permission and labels the player using a derogatory slur.  It is quickly circulated and comes to your attention.  When she is approached about the picture, she refuses to remove the picture and laughs about the situation.  Anastasia should be disqualified from the event.

Tournaments must be a safe and inclusive place for all players.  If a player is performing an action that would be considered USC – Major, but you have reason to believe the player has bad intentions or they are unapologetic, they are creating an unwelcoming or unsafe environment for specific persons, or for entire demographics, at the event.  This is one of the worst case scenarios, as far as upgrades are concerned, and the player must immediately be penalized with the most severe penalty available to us.


Because upgrades are pretty rare, it is important for all judges to continually refresh their knowledge of the upgrade pathways.  As a floor judge, use this knowledge to recognize potential upgrade situations.  Work with your head judge to find the most appropriate course of action.  Remember that upgrades are one of the core philosophies in the infraction procedure guide, as they are a tool for judges to educate and reprimand players.  The upgrade system allows us the flexibility to scale calls to the severity of the situation at hand. Upgrading repeated infractions means we have the opportunity to educate players before things get more consequential, which emphasizes the onus on the player to play correctly.

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