Player Investigations

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Johanna Virtanen

Johanna Virtanen

Johanna Virtanen is the Investigations Committee lead, and is in charge of coordinating post-DQ decisions and defining the philosophies used for player suspensions.

Both judges and players alike frequently want to know more details about how post-Disqualification decisions are made. This is an overview of the process, and some of the philosophies used. The Investigations Committee has 8-10 members at any given time.

Some members may be inactive for a month if they are busy, but there are always 6-10 participating in a given month. These judges represent communities spread out on the globe. The individual members may change once in a while, but the Investigations Committee strives to have representation from all over the world.

Why? The Investigations Committee needs insight sometimes into different communities and how those communities grow and evolve and view certain actions. The Investigations Committee needs translators, too. And fairness demands that players be understood in terms of their own cultures and backgrounds.

Around the 1st of every month, all the Disqualification reports from the previous month are looked at. The Investigations Committee lead creates spreadsheets and gives some instructions. Over the next 3 weeks, members provide their opinions, and leave comments and talk about things. Around the 20th of the month the Investigations Committee lead summarizes results, and then members talk about the cases for which there’s not a clear agreement. There’s debate and research. Sometimes judges are emailed for more data, sometimes members talk to Wizards of the Coast representatives. Eventually, the Investigations Committee reaches a consensus on a resolution. If the Investigations Committee is deadlocked, the Investigations Committee lead makes the decision. Most of the cases fit the Investigations Committee rubrics fairly well, but about 20% of them need extra work. It is as solid a collaborative process as you can get.

By the end of the month, the Investigations Committee lead transmits the recommendations to Wizards of the Coast, after which they are reviewed and executed into a resolution. Status is changed from “Submitted” to “Resolved”, and letters or suspensions are sent out or posted. If you submit your Disqualification report on, say Oct 10, it probably will be resolved around Dec 15, if it is fairly normal. Resolution times are 40-80 days, depending on when the report is entered within a given month and on how busy the Investigations Committee and Wizards of the Coast are. The average is about 60 days, if you take into account Wizards of the Coast having to update the web page.

The Investigations Committee determinations are not primarily gut-feeling based. The Investigations Committee has detailed rubrics that cover about 80% of the situations, and yes, they don’t cover everything, but what could? Those weird cases get talked about later and the Investigations Committee might create a new rubric for it. However, keep in mind that interpreting Disqualification reports is a tricky business. The Investigations Committee relies on it’s members’ wide experience and cultural backgrounds to interpret players’ intents and actions from all the statements, and compares the perceived intent to a rubric matrix, which serves as a guideline on how to adjudicate the matter.

Intent is defined into three distinct categories: ignorant, opportunistic, premeditated.

Ignorant doesn’t mean that an action didn’t happen, rather just that the player didn’t realize the seriousness of what he was doing. A player at Friday Night Magic or a Prerelease or even a Pro Tour Qualifier might say, “Hey it’s Turn 5 and neither can win with a draw and we’ll get more prizes if one of us wins, so how about we roll for it and split the packs?” He freely admits it – maybe even said it with a judge right there – clearly had no clue that it was wrong, and tends to be remorseful. Ignorant. Bad but not so bad.

Opportunistic means that the player knew it was wrong, but he didn’t really plan it out beforehand. Rather, he took advantage of it when he saw it. Suppose you think your guy was bounced so you put it into your hand, but really it should have been destroyed. You don’t notice at first, but you notice next turn when your opponent does the same thing to another creature. Not calling a judge here is a example of opportunistic. You didn’t plan it out, but when you noticed it, you didn’t draw attention to it. Bad.

Premeditated. Now suppose that you practice distraction techniques and sleight-of-hand in order to get that creature back to your hand on purpose. Or suppose you bring extra cards to add to your sealed pool, and you look for ways to execute the cheat, rather than just stumble into it. You plan on substituting the right number of commons and uncommons to assuage any deck check suspicions, and you might even bring your own decklist/deck to try to substitute into the sealed pool. Not only did you know this was wrong (Duh!), but you spent significant time planning it out and/or practicing. We call this Premeditated. Very Bad Thing!

For the most part, there are Ignorant, Opportunistic, and Premeditated versions of almost all Disqualification infractions. Some situations are hard to classify, and they may be put in between. Depending on how much advantage you might gain and what level of intent you had, there are have rubrics to guide the Investigations Committee in determining further action, which can be: No Action, Warning Letter, Suspension Time.

No Action means the Investigations Committee feels that the Disqualification decision was suspect or else there were a variety of strange, mitigating circumstances. Also, occasionally, the Investigations Committee gets evidence, maybe even from the Head Judge, that suggests that the Disqualification was hasty or inappropriate. Yes, Head Judges make errors in judgment once in a while, and sometimes they say so in the Disqualification report!

Warning Letter means that we recognize that the action was bad, but because of low advantage gained or ignorance, we don’t want to penalize harshly. In such cases the Disqualification alone serves our purpose.

Suspension Time is reserved for the Opportunistic and Premeditated actions, though not every such action automatically gets a time suspension.

The details on what kind of things would be Warning Letter and what kinds would be 6 months, 12 months, etc. are confidential. There are some bits of information which are too sensitive to discuss in public.

If you are the Head Judge and you write a Disqualification report, the Investigations Committee encourages you to put in your feelings about the player’s skill level, intent, and behavior before and after the Disqualification. This is encouraged even for Floor Judge’s who write statements. The Investigations Committee reads what you and the players write. They do consider the totality of the statements, by players, judges, spectators, Tournament Organizers, and Scorekeepers.

Occasionally on the judge forums some judges have posted discussion and opinion about specific players. That is very dangerous on such relatively public lists. It may taint the witnesses or the research we seek out, and this may result in stigma or unfairness against a player or perhaps even the Judge Program. It could also lead to a legal issue with slander or defamation. So please avoid specific names in ongoing investigations, and try to use some restraint even in completed cases. We all should strive to be a professional and expert organization, not media sensationalists.

The Investigations Committee looks into and discusses all the matters presented to them. They don’t know of all matters that exist, obviously, but when they are notified by credible sources, the Investigations Committee does act to research and resolve integrity issues. If it takes longer than you might like, consider that the Investigations Committee has a process that works fairly well and seeks to be fair to both the community and to the player(s) involved. “Fair” doesn’t mean “lenient”. It means “thorough”.

If you want to ask more questions about how the Investigations Committee works, just ask to the JudgeApps forums. The Investigations Committee lead will answer and provide as much transparency as possible, and might even provide some philosophy on why the Investigations Committee does things a certain way. Not everything will be answered, of course, but the Investigations Committee wants you to feel comfortable with the investigations process and with questioning the investigations process.


Title Author Published
Investigations – The Search for Collateral Truths Eric Shukan

30 Dec 2014

Investigating Like the Pros Steffen Baumgart

6 Feb 2017