Confessions of a rules lawyer

Hello all! Welcome to the Player Experience blog. There’s a preview card coming later in this article, and I know many of you are just here for that, so go ahead and have fun. But for those that like to read – I’m going to talk a little bit about this site and own up to a bit of my own past – as a rules lawyer.

A guide to this blog

First of all – if you’ve never been here before, welcome! This blog is written by Magic Judges as a resource for players both competitive and casual. We have some great resources for you here:
Card of the Month – a focus on a particular popular tournament card and all its rules quirks
Fun formats – A list of awesome formats to try out at your FNM or with your playgroup
Rules and policies for players – explanations of tournament policies for non-judges
The Double Faced Article – an article about how playing and judging complement each other that I’m particularly proud of

I was a rules lawyer

So, on to my topic du jour – rules lawyering. Maybe you’ve heard this term – I’d define it as:
Someone who is really particular about the rules and uses their knowledge to push around people who are less exact than they are

And, as the title promised: I was one. Before I was judging frequently, I still had pretty good rules knowledge, and I used it to be really particular with my opponents and watch out for the littlest gap I could take advantage of. I’m going to talk about how I turned my rules lawyer-iness into something more productive.

Rules lawyers tend to be systemising types – those that, like me, find it easier to take systems and break down how they work. Some have this to the exclusion of understanding people, some don’t. But rules lawyers tend to find the rules easy, and know how they work and appreciate their structure. The turn structure, the way that layers work, how playing spells work, how priority passes back and forth like a frenetic pendulum – these are the things that they understand and appreciate. But not everyone that appreciates the beauty of the rules turns out to be a rules lawyer – so what’s the difference?

The difference is competitiveness. Competition is great – tournaments are a great way to challenge ourselves against others and try to improve our skills. But overly competitive thinking, combined with strong rules knowledge, can lead to becoming a rules lawyer. For me, it was the case that I was learning a lot of rules at the exact same time I was getting into the tournament scene more and starting to travel to PTQs – and the PTQ grinding community of that time was quite focused on these small edges. For example, if you played Condescend for 0, under the rules of the time, unless your opponent actually said pay 0, their spell was countered.  I “got” people this way a couple of times.

Now, before some in the audience get excited, current tournament communication policy has shut down that particular exploit.  But, at the time, even though it was legal, was it right to do that?  I’m not sure.  For me, it was the outlet I had for the rules skill I had worked hard to acquire.  But I found a better way to be through judging.

Now, I’m not here to say that judging is right for anyone who has a strong rules bent – it’s not.  But there are some approaches that are common in judging that gave me a more positive outlet for that knowledge.

For starters, I found a great joy in teaching rules to others.  I was able to find willing mentees and help share my knowledge with those who had less of an automatic understanding.  Later on, I also helped to break down the rules in order to understand how to improve them, and joined some projects to help shape policy on things like missed triggers.  I still get to revel in that greater rules knowledge, and still get to enjoy the mathematical beauty that the rules contain, but I no longer take it out on others – I try and help them have a better time with it instead.

And what does this have to do with the preview card exactly?

Well, my card today is a lawyer – and not a benevolent one either, but an Orzhov lawyer that is most definitely not out to help her fellow beings. Being of the Church of Orzhova, she’s more in to extracting payment for services. Meet Orzhov Advokist:

Orzhov Advokist

Orzhov Advokist


Thanks for coming by – and hope to see you again soon.