Just Another REL – JAR

In a nutshell

  • All tournaments have a rules enforcement level (REL) that describes what level of rules understanding and technically precise play is expected of the players.
  • Regular REL is falls the lowest on this scale, so events run at regular REL focus on education and sportsmanship over precise, competitive play. FNM, Prerelease and Release events, Game Days, and other low-stakes tournaments where a casual environment is desired are run at Regular REL.
  • JAR stands for Judging at Regular REL. The JAR is a document available on the Wizards website that outlines appropriate fixes and penalties for events run at regular REL.
  • If something is wrong with the game state, generally, the fix is to do what seems right to correct it. There are prescribed fixes for most common issues, but there is also a caveat that allows you to deviate if you can come up with a more appropriate fix for an individual situation that the players agree to.
  • At Regular REL, all but the most serious offenses have a Caution (“Please play more carefully”) as the penalty. “Serious Problems” remain DQ-able.
  • Certain “Generally Unwanted Behaviors” can have their penalties upgraded to a Game Loss if they are repeated. These include slow playing, insufficient shuffling, asking for or giving strategic advice during a match or draft, and showing up late.
  • If a player is 10 or more minutes late to their match, that player is considered to have forfeited the match. If the player is still absent at the end of the round, he or she is dropped from the tournament.
  • All of the remedies and penalties discussed here are appropriate for regular REL. Competitive REL has a different philosophy that necessitates different (generally more severe) penalties found in a document called the Infraction Procedure Guide (IPG). If you are staffed for a competitive REL event, you will need to be familiar with the IPG. The judge who certified you for L1 should be able to help you.

Q: Amy taps three Islands and a Plains, then attempts to cast Supreme Verdict. Nicole points out that the lands Amy tapped don’t produce the WW necessary to cast that spell. What do you do?

A: Casting a spell with improper mana is a common mistake, especially in the casual environment that regular REL is meant to foster. Unless the judge has reason to believe Amy did this intentionally, the proper fix is to back up to immediately before the illegal game action was taken, then have the players pick up their game from that point. Caution Amy to play more carefully.

Note: Suppose that the mistake was not caught right away, but a few turns later. In this case, it would be prohibitively disruptive to the game to back up to the point of error. For this reason, the game state will be left as-is.

Note: The only options supported by the JAR are to back up to before the illegal action or leave the game state as-is. For example, it may be tempting to return all the creatures that were destroyed to the battlefield and return the Supreme Verdict to Amy’s hand. Partial fixes like this aren’t a good way to go because they are disruptive to the game, often more so than letting the mistake stand. In this case, Nicole may have played more creatures after the verdict resolved, so the mistake will end up allowing Amy to trade her verdict for more of Nicole’s creatures while also preventing Nicole from attacking with them for a few turns.

Note: There isn’t a hard and fast rule for where to draw the line between backing up and leaving the game as-is. For instance, if the mistake was caught on Amy’s next turn, and both players had just drawn cards and untapped on their turns, some judges might consider it less disruptive to back up (to back up through a draw, return a random card from the player’s hand to the top of their library). Other judges might prefer to leave the game state as-is in this case. Such situations require personal judgement.

Q: At a prerelease, Amy draws her new opening hand after taking a mulligan. She is on the draw and her opponent casts a Thoughtseize on turn one. After revealing her hand, she notices that she has “mulliganed” to 7 and calls a judge. What do you do?

A: Take one card at random from her hand and put it on top of her library. Caution Amy to play more carefully.

Note: If she had caught this before deciding to keep her hand, the extra card would be shuffled into her library instead. This difference stems from our desire to keep the game as close as possible to the way it would have played out without influencing the players. Putting the card on top of the library is the remedy after the game starts because those seven cards are the first seven that the player would have access to, and in most cases, knowing the top card of your library doesn’t provide a big advantage. On the other hand, knowing this information while making mulligan decisions could provide a much larger advantage, so if the player hasn’t kept their opening hand yet, the extra cards are shuffled in.

Q: Amy is playing in a Modern format FNM and casts a Jace, the Mind Sculptor on turn 4. Her opponent calls a judge, noting that this card is currently banned in Modern. Amy explains that Modern is far too expensive for her to buy into, so she borrowed her deck from a local Legacy player who is known to regularly complain that the Modern ban list changes so frequently that he can’t keep track of what’s legal and what isn’t. She adds that she didn’t even have time to review the deck before the event. What is the appropriate action?

A: It’s not legal for Amy to play banned cards in her deck. The penalty for this is a Caution. Additionally, her deck must be modified so that it is legal. Inform Amy that Jace, the Mind Sculptor is not legal to use in Modern tournaments. Have her remove any copies of it, and look for other cards that are not legal while she is doing this and remove them too. If Amy’s deck has less than 60 cards after this is done, add in basic land cards of her choice to bring her deck up to 60 cards.

Note: Basic lands may be added only to bring Amy’s deck up to the minimum limit. For example, if her deck originally had 61 cards, including 3 Jaces, they would be removed and 2 basic lands would be added in to bring her up to 60 cards. If her sideboard originally had 15 cards, including 1 Jace, it would be removed, but no cards would be added because it is legal to have a 14 card sideboard.

Q: At a Game Day, Amy asks Nicole, “Do you have a counter?”. Nicole replies that she does not. Amy then casts an Elspeth, Sun’s Champion, which Nicole immediately Dissolves. Amy calls a judge and protests that Nicole lied to her. What do you do?

A: Players are allowed to bluff about information that their opponents aren’t normally able to see. Nicole has committed no infraction. Tell the players to continue their match.

Q: At an FNM, Amy casts Slaughter Games on Nicole and names Sphinx’s Revelation. Amy goes through Nicole’s deck and exiles three copies of that card. Nicole says “I only play three”. Amy says “OK” and gives her deck back for shuffling. Several turns later, Nicole casts a Sphinx’s Revelation. Amy calls a judge and complains that all of Nicole’s revelations should have been removed. What do you do?

A: Players are allowed to bluff about cards their opponents can’t normally see. Even though Amy is currently entitled to see Nicole’s library, the fact that she normally isn’t means that this falls under the category of a bluff (albeit not a very sporting one), and is acceptable. There was no game rule broken by not finding and exiling all the revelations because if a player is searching a hidden zone (like a library) for cards that have a specified quality (like having a certain name or mana cost), it is legal for that player to fail to find those cards, even if they are there. In this situation, no infraction has been committed. Tell the players to continue their game.

Q: At a store tournament that’s being run at regular REL, Amy casts a Grizzly Bear. Nicole asks Amy “How much mana do you have up?”. Amy replies that she has 4 mana available. Nicole then casts a Syncopate with X=5 on the bear. Amy then moves a fifth untapped land out from underneath her pile and says “Ha! Got you! I really had five lands. I’ll pay the 5.” Nicole calls a judge and explains what happened. What do you do?

A: While players are allowed to bluff about information their opponent isn’t ordinarily entitled to see (“private information”), they must must answer completely and honestly any questions pertaining to information their opponent is normally entitled to see (“free information”). From her reaction afterwards, it’s evident that Amy was confused about this distinction, and probably wasn’t breaking the rules intentionally. I would explain to Amy what the difference is between bluffing and lying, then rewind the game state to what it was immediately before Amy answered Nicole’s question.

Note: In competitive REL situations, there is a third class of information, “derived information”. This is information to which a player is entitled access, but which may require skill or calculation to determine. At competitive REL, players are allowed to decline to answer or answer incompletely questions about derived information. It still is not permitted to misrepresent or make false statements about such information, though.

Note: This situation suggests a guideline you can use to help you determine awareness and intent in cases where a player does something against the rules. I call it the “obviousness test”. Basically, if someone breaks a rule in such a way that the chances of them getting found out are very high, it’s likely that they didn’t realize they were doing something wrong.

Q: At a Modern format FNM, Amy casts a Choke. It’s foreign, so Nicole asks what it does. Amy says that Mountains now don’t untap during their controller’s untaps steps. After watching this exchange, you interview Amy away from the table and determine that Amy knew Choke actually affects Islands, and that she lied because she knew she would probably lose if she didn’t do something big that turn. What is the appropriate action?

A: Both players are entitled to know the text of cards played. By deliberately misrepresenting what her card did in an attempt to gain an advantage, Amy is guilty of Cheating. This is a Serious Problem, so the penalty is a DQ. The head judge may not downgrade this penalty.

Note: Cheating is a DQ-able offense at any REL, and the head judge cannot downgrade this penalty. The same is true for aggressive behavior, collusion and bribery, wagering, and theft (see the appropriate policy documents for definitions and examples of these offenses).

Q: At an FNM where you are the head judge, Amy attacks with two Archangel of Thune. Nicole lets the damage go through. Amy then puts one +1/+1 counter on each of her creatures. Nicole is well known for having an intimate knowledge of the rules and for being intensely competitive. You strongly suspect that Nicole knew each of Amy’s creatures should have gotten four counters, but didn’t say anything to help her position. What do you do?

A: First, Nicole has committed no violations. Unlike other game errors, players are never required to point out their opponent’s triggered abilities. At Regular REL, the choice of whether to intervene in the case where a player has missed a triggered ability is left up to the head judge’s discretion. This choice should be influenced by the tone that the store owners want to set for their events. The more casual the environment, the more likely I would be to point something like this out.

Note: If the head judge chooses not to intervene, the choice of whether to point the missed triggers out to Amy after the match should be guided by the head judge’s knowledge of Amy’s personality. Some players always appreciate such advice, while others resent having their play errors pointed out to them.

Q: Toward the end of the last round of an FNM that you are head judging, you overhear the following exchange:

Amy: You know that this store only gives FNM promos to the top two players, right?

Nicole: Yeah.

Amy: I have more match points than you. If I win, I’ll be in 2nd, but if you win, you won’t be.

Nicole: Yeah, I guess so.

Amy: Since that’s the case, would you please scoop to me?

Nicole: OK.

What do you do?

A: Players are not allowed to use threats or incentives to induce an opponent to agree to a particular match result. This does not fit any of those categories. Determining match outcomes by “outside-the-game methods” is also not allowed. In this case, outside-the-game considerations may have influenced a player’s decision to allow a certain match outcome, but the match itself was not decided by an outside-the-game method. That phrase is intended to prevent players, for example, from agreeing to roll a die to decide the winner of their match.

Q: Amy and Nicole are currently paired against each other in the X-0 bracket in the last round of an FNM that pays prize packs based on record: 8 packs for X-0, 4 packs for X-0-1, 2 packs for X-1. Which of these are acceptable conversations for them to have?

1) A: If you scoop, I’ll give you 3 packs. N: OK. You win.

2) A: Do you want to just split the packs evenly? N: OK. A: Instead of drawing, let’s say one of us won so we’ll have 2 more packs to split. N: OK. You win.

3) A: Do you want to just split the prizes evenly? N: No, let’s play it out. A: Are you $#!%%ing me? Just take the split, you {*(&ing (*^%.

4) A: Do you want to just split the packs evenly? N: I think I’m favored in this matchup. I’ll agree to a split where I get 6 packs and you get 4. A: OK.

A: Scenario (1) is not allowed. Amy has offered an incentive for Nicole to concede the match. Nicole, by accepting rather than calling for a judge, should be punished in the same way as Amy. Both players should be disqualified.

Scenario (2), while similar, is allowed. Players are allowed to agree to split prizes that have not yet been awarded, and may decide to do so before or during their match, but this may not occur in exchange for a game or match result, or used to incentivize one player to drop from the tournament. Here the players have agreed to a match result and also a split, but the split was agreed to separately from the match result, not contingent upon it.

Hopefully scenario (3) stuck out as obviously unacceptable. Such abuse has no place in an event that “encourages a welcoming atmosphere and friendly competition”. In addition to DQ’ing Amy, I would report this incident to the store owners and recommend that they have a talk with her about what constitutes acceptable conduct at their store.

Scenario (4) is allowed. Players are allowed to share prizes as they wish, as long as it does not occur in exchange for a game/match result or the dropping of a player from the event.