Written by Kim Warren
Level 4, United Kingdom
At Regular REL, we put a lot of emphasis on fun and education, and as such Regular REL policy has a very limited scope for issuing penalties. Instead, we try to fix the problem and restore the game state, then explain to the players what the problem was and how and why they should avoid it in the future. However, this does not mean that we just let players slide on everything with nothing more than a slap on the wrist. If a player is repeatedly making the same mistake despite attempts to educate them, we have the scope to upgrade the penalty to a Game Loss for the sake of the event, of the other players, and of adding consequences to their actions in the hope that this will convince them to be more careful. This option only applies if you think that the player is genuinely breaking the rules by accident. If you think that the player is breaking the rules on purpose while knowing that what they are doing is wrong, this is Cheating, and is a Serious Problem.
Why do we disqualify players for Serious Problems at Regular REL?
If a player cheats, they fundamentally compromise the integrity of the event. This is true whether the event is a Pro Tour or an FNM. Cheating needs the strongest possible disincentive in order to outweigh the perceived advantages that a player thinks that they might gain through knowingly and intentionally breaking rules. Being immediately removed from the tournament without prizes and with the possibility of being issued a suspension at the end of an investigation imposes a very high cost on the decision.
Cheating can often be very hard to prove, and as such proof is not the threshold that we require to disqualify a player; if the evidence that you amass makes it seem more likely that the player has cheated, and you feel that the integrity of the event is more compromised by them being in it than by them being removed from it, this is sufficient. If you disqualify a player for cheating, you should always ask them for their statement, and then enter the incident as an Investigation into the Judge Center. This allows us to track highly problematic player behaviour and allows the Investigations Committee to decide if further action is appropriate. Eric Shukan has recently published a series of articles about Cheating investigations, which make interesting reading if you want to develop your skills in spotting when things are more than just accidental.
While it is the best known of the Serious Problems, cheating is not the only way to get disqualified from a Regular REL event. There are other behaviours which are completely unacceptable and cannot be tolerated for the safety and security of the other tournament participants. Violent or aggressive behaviour and theft should result in the immediate removal of the player from the event, and should be subsequently reported to the Investigations Committee and, if appropriate, to the local authorities. Similarly, abusive behaviour or harassment can make other players feel unsafe or unwelcome in your event, and a zero-tolerance approach should be taken with this kind of conduct.
The most common disqualifications are those that occur for rolling a die or using some other random method to determine the outcome of a match, or for bribery where some extra incentive is offered in exchange for a desired match result. Unlike with cheating, these infractions do not require a player to be aware that what they are attempting to do is breaking the rules in order to lead to a disqualification. It is important that Magic matches are decided based on the parameters of the game in order to be fair to all the participants in a tournament. Bribery raises the possibility that the player with the most spare money can just buy tournaments, which is unfair to all other participants. Most people are easily able to see that this behaviour is highly problematic. Simply telling a player it is not allowed after an offer has been made is not adequate in this situation; the opponent has heard the offer, and any further choices that they make are likely to be influenced by it, so that match is irrevocably compromised. Generally, there is less understanding of why using a random (or otherwise non-Magic related, such as arm wrestling) method to decide the result of a match should be treated so harshly. If a match has ended in a draw and neither player is willing to concede at that point, the match should be reported as a draw.
So I’ve disqualified someone – what now?
When you disqualify a player, you should make sure to explain clearly to them and their opponent what has happened. You should also give the player the opportunity to write a statement giving their version of events, which you then include with the report of the situation that you submit through the ‘investigations’ tab of the judge center along with statements from other people who may have relevant information about the situation that would impact the subsequent investigation. All disqualifications entered into the Judge Center are reviewed periodically by the investigations committee. They will decide if any further action is needed, such as a Warning Letter to the player or even a Suspension. It is important to make sure that you include correct contact information for the disqualified player and that your contact information is up to date, because they will reach out to you if they need more information. More information on the disqualification procedure for both players and judges can be found on the Official Resources blog.
Hopefully, you should not often find yourself in a position where you need to disqualify a player from an event. However, when a situation arises where a player may have committed an infraction which merits a disqualification, it is important to make sure that you investigate the situation fully and take the appropriate action at the end, even if in your particular situation it may seem harsh. There are reasons underlying the penalties for these infractions, and deviating from them will simply serve to cause confusion in your player community and send mixed messages about what behaviour is or is not acceptable in a tournament.