Basics of Investigations

The following document contains information originally provided by Sam Strauss

How can you tell if that player should be receiving a Game Rule Violation or Unsporting Conduct – Cheating? Two players disagree on the current game state, what do you do? Sam will go over the basic tools one can use to perform an investigation, and end with some helpful scenarios for everyone to discuss.
Attendees Notes:

Who performs an investigation?

  • Head Judge
  • Floor Judge (starts and then hands off to head judge)
  • Players
  • Score Keepers
  • Spectators
  • So pretty much EVERYONE!

What is an investigation?

  • An attempt to gather information about a situation.

Where do investigations happen?

  • Can happen any where
  • Normally during a tournament

When do we want to investigate?

  • As soon as a problem arises
  • When there is a disagreement among players
  • Whenever we need more information – Sam Straus (small things are still considered investigations)

Why do we Investigate?

  • To make sure we made/make the right rulings

Tools we can use to investigate

  • Players
  • Board State
  • Spectators
  • Other Judges
  • Score Keeper

Remember – do you have a bias about your source of information? It’s important in stressful situations to make sure you’re still handling it in a professional manner.

Asking Questions – What kind of questions do you want to ask? (in reference to looking at extra cards)

  • What caused the issue?
  • Is any part of the library ordered?
  • Has either player had previous infractions?
  • Has the card touched their hand?
  • Anything that gains us more information about a situation

Don’t be antagonistic; do not put the players on defense. Don’t be hostile or too direct. Players will pick up on that and may not be willing to give all the information you could get. (Both good and bad.)

(Jared Sylva) You can become more confrontational if you feel it’s advantageous, but avoid that if possible. It helps maintain control of a situation, but can close off players from talking to you and potentially burn information bridges.

Read players actions and body language. (hard to do, but useful if you can – lots of books and information on this.)

At what point do you want to involve the head judge?

  • Possible rewind
  • Appeal
  • If you believe they’re going to be DQ’d, information isn’t adding up
  • When you’re going into very in-depth situations, ask questions that you already know the answer to. Verification is the key in this process. Figuring out how they respond to “true” questions. It will be easier to gauge their behavior in later questions.

Time management is extremely important.

  • Strike a balance between integrity of the event and time being used. (finding that balance is very difficult and takes experience.)
  • Don’t run yourself in circles unless you feel there is really something going on. When you’re comfortable with your answer, go with it.
  • Avoid questions with “yes” or “no” answers. Try to ask open ended questions.
  • When out of questions you know the answer to, and you’re trying to find more information – ask the same questions in different ways to confirm the same answers. Players can get flustered, so be careful when doing this.
  • When checking for inconsistences, use your logic. Could this have actually happened?
  • Don’t be pretentious or bias. This is very important. We’re all human and you don’t want to tunnel vision onto one small detail.

Dealing with “he said, she said”

  • Look for the player with the most detailed notes, more facts.
  • Establish Control, let them know you’re in charge. Tell them you want to hear player A’s side first and then you’ll listen to player B’s side. They’ll be less likely to interrupt each other when they know both players will have a chance to tell their side.
  • Just because someone is more “believable” it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re more accurate.
  • “Advantageous recall” When recalling a story, sometimes players might “trick” themselves into believing a situation different than it was.
  • After talking to both players, bring them together and talk about where their stories don’t match.

Sam judges because he keeps track of life with dice

Lying is a creative process, when a player looks like he’s “looking” for information try to pull them away from their creative mode. Ask questions like “what have you done since the start of your turn?” This will put them in a “recall” mode and they’re more likely to fumble their “creative story.”

In a “he said, she said” event, IT DOES NOT MEAN ONE OF THEM IS LYING. Back to “advantageous recall”, players can actually believe what they’re telling you happened. Talk to players one at a time, don’t let them interrupt each other or you. It helps get a more accurate story.

During review, make sure what has happened actually is an infraction. EX – Butterfingers is not an infraction. Don’t turn dropping your deck while shuffling into a violation. “We don’t reverse engineer penalties.”

How confident are you on your call? How confident do you have to be to make a call?

Use resources you have available to make sure

  • 51% is the “minimum” to make a call.
  • Always act like you’re 100% sure of the call you’re making.
  • Let them know they have the right to appeal.


JUDGE?! I just drew four cards off Brainstorm – What do you do?

  • Make sure they actually drew four cards. (not set them aside)
  • Who caught it? (Player who drew the cards caught it in this situation)
  • How did it happen?
  • Did you have any penalties like this before in this event?
  • See if the cards are identifiable by the players, if so, the HJ has the option to downgrade?
  • The potential for advantage already exist.
  • When there are multiple infractions, we apply only the more severe one.

JUDGE?! My opponent drew a card off of my library. – What do you do?

  • Can you identify the card that was drawn?
  • Take preventative action; Explain how the player can avoid this in the future.
  • Looking at extra cards

JUDGE?! My opponent has an extra card in his hand

  • Figure out what turn you’re on
  • Figure out game state/game history
  • Figure out when it was realized they had extra cards
  • Can’t figure out where the extra card game from – Game loss, drawing extra cards.
  • Intent to take the action vs intent to cheat.