The Road to L2 – Investigations, Part 1

Written by Angus Davis

Written by Angus Davis

“I’ve Never Done an Investigation Before!”

“How did we get here?”
“Why did they do that?”
“Why don’t life totals match?”

Have you ever found yourself asking a question similar to these while judging? Congratulations, you already have experience performing investigations.

Anytime that we look at a situation and the answer isn’t immediately obvious, or when we need to probe for more information in order to make a decision, we’re conducting an investigation. My goal in this article is to set you up with a few key pieces of advice that will help you in tackling any investigation regardless of the complexity or implications.

Walking it Back

Some of our most taxing moments in judging can come from trying to reconstruct a narrative for what happened in complex situations and board states, as in the following:

  • A player calls you over to their table and isn’t sure if they’ve made their land drop this turn.
  • Two players call you over because they just finished resolving a bunch of spell and aren’t sure whose turn it is.
  • Life totals in a game have been different for several life total changes and the players don’t know why.

Our most important allies for solving these situations are the players. They may not think they know the answer to the big question at hand, but there will always be some pieces they do know. They might remember the last time life totals changed or the last spell to resolve. Once we have a small piece with which to start, then we can use our customer service skills to encourage them to remember the previous event. It’s easier for us as humans to remember small pieces of information than the whole story at once, especially when we begin with a recent anchor point.

Once you know where to begin, step backwards piece by piece through what happened until we find the answer we are looking for. Be careful when rebuilding the narrative because you might lose your players. If we make logical jumps that are too big and we lose the thread, it’ll be very difficult to restart the process, causing delays and perhaps obstructing the players’ abilities to remember. There is also the possibility that the players will reach a point where they disagree on the facts, in which case we may need a different tack.

Whose Real is Real?

I want to quote the long outdated “Official DCI Penalty Guidelines” here to establish our basis for handling these disagreements:

“Players fail to agree on reality if they disagree on a central fact of the game–such as life totals, mana in the mana pool, what one player said, and so on…”

While this isn’t an infraction that we use anymore, it does help reinforce my first point in this section. Just because players disagree on the facts, that does not mean one of them is lying. Indeed, while lying is a possibility, it’s far from the first conclusion we should jump to. Both players are going to look at the game from a different angle, with different information available to them, which means that what they believe to be true may differ. They may both genuinely believe two different things are true and this where we, as a neutral party, can help to clear up confusion.

So both parties have a different opinion of what happened, and you’ve started asking clarifying questions. Your goal with these clarifying questions is to come up with what you think the most likely series of events is. Once you’ve clarified the players’ versions of events, it’s important to confirm the pieces of the story that you believe to be true–or most likely true. The easiest way to do that is by asking yourself “What piece of information would make me change my mind?”. It’s dangerously easy to establish more facts that support your hypothesis. Looking for reasons to believe your own story isn’t a productive strategy for pursuing the truth; instead, take that piece of information that would change your mind and try and find that, and if you don’t find it, try another. If you do manage to find a data point that disproves your initial assessment, then find a new most likely scenario based on the new resources. If you can’t find a reasonable way to refute this set of events, then you’re probably ready to explain the narrative you are choosing to the players.

I say choose because we aren’t a court of law: we don’t have the time or resources to test every situation beyond a reasonable doubt. There are calls you won’t be 100% on and that leads me into the next topic…

Making a Decision

There are two things that we should be taking note of whenever we take a judge call; “How much time is left in the round?” and “What table is it at?”. If you aren’t already doing this, you should start! It helps us know how long of a time extension we need to provide at the end of a call and where to go back to should you have to ask for a second opinion. Time extensions are the portion we’re interested in here. While we want to take the time to ensure that we get every call as correct as we can, we still have to remember that there is an entire tournament going on around us. When we’re done with our call it’s very likely this match will be continuing afterward and if we provide them too long of a time extension we may end up delaying the entire tournament. While there isn’t a hard rule, if you are much more than 7-8 minutes into a call you probably need to stop poking around and make a decision. Remember, the players may appeal, which will can nearly double the time taken to answer tricky calls.

There are a few circumstances where your match will no longer continue once your judge call is completed–in fact there is a chance that at least one player won’t be continuing in the tournament at all. It’s important to be extremely diligent in these instances, though we should always be conscious of the clock and know when to ask for help. Cheating, bribery, improperly determining a winner, and stalling can all result in disqualifying one or more players involved. In Part 2 of this article, I’ll cover DQ investigations in detail, while also covering some strategies for handling uncooperative players.

In the meantime, check out the previous instalments in “The Road to L2 Series”:

For more on investigations check out the three-part series, “The Search for Collateral Truths” by Eric Shukan:

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