Audience Impact – Examining a Potential Case of Outside Assistance @ Neutral Grounds’ Gold Rush November 2016

John Say, Level 1, Manila,Philippines

John Say, Level 1, Manila,Philippines

Hello, I am John Say, a Level 1 Judge from the Philippines, and I want to talk about an experience I had in Judging a competitive event last November 27, 2016. I will not go into a round-by-round detail of the day’s events, but I do want to highlight an incident during that event, which has become a very good learning experience for me, and I believe will be valuable for new, and even more tenured judges. People who know me in person know that I can be a very opinionated individual, and the story I am about to tell is bound to solicit multiple opinions coming from many points-of-view. However, I do believe that our team was able to handle this situation in an appropriate manner, and I hope this report can be helpful to the rest of the community.

Just to give you a background of the tournament that I will be talking about, in my country, Neutral Grounds, one of our largest retailers, holds an annual year-end event called the Gold Rush. It is a 2-day event where players compete for large cash prizes, and some amount of bragging rights for winning the whole she-bang. It is a tradition that has been going on for several years now, and part of this annual tradition is to have several side-events occurring during Day 2 in addition to the main event. I was a member of the Judge team for the Modern Format side-event of this tournament. Despite being a “side” event, the Modern Format tournament was expected to attract a respectable number of participants (we ended up having over 100 players for that event alone), and the event itself had a significant prize pool, which constituted the need to run it at Competitive Rules Enforcement Level.

I have been out of the competitive judging scene for several months at that point, and coming into the event, I prepared myself by dusting off the cobwebs (so to speak) through working smaller-scale competitive events like GPT’s and PPTQ’s for a few weeks prior to the big day. I took a lot of notes during these earlier events, and read up on the Infraction Policy Guide. Little did I know that one particular section in the IPG will come in handy during the Gold Rush side event.

Most of the Modern Side Event was uneventful. Every judge on the team was called on for various questions and clarifications, most of which involving some of the more confusing card interactions in the format, and everyone was able to handle their questions in a prompt and appropriate manner. During the 4th Round of the day, however, a very interesting scenario occurred.

The Incident

Aris is playing against Nate (not their real names). Time for the round was already called and it is down to the 5th and last turn of the end-of-round procedures, which was Aris’ turn. Nate was down to 6 life at this point. During his turn, instead of drawing a card during his draw phase, he dredged back a Life from the Loam from his graveyard. This ended up being the only card in his hand. On Aris’ Main phase, he then cast a Faithless Looting in his graveyard via flashback. He replaced his first card drawn by dredging back a Golgari Grave-Troll, which he placed in the middle of the table, after which he milled six cards from his library. This resulted with him having a total of three copies of Bloodghast in his graveyard. He then draws the second card from Faithless Looting. Now, when he was about to discard two cards, he has the Life from the Loam and another card (i.e. the 2nd drawn card from Faithless Looting in his hand), while the Golgari Grave-Troll was still on the table. He then uttered to himself: “My sequencing is wrong”, since he knows that he needed to cast the Life from the Loam he had in his hand in order to get a land from his graveyard, play the land, thereby triggering the Landfall effect of the copies of Bloodghast in his graveyard.

Before discarding two cards in his hand, a spectator watching the match (who, incidentally, was a friend of Aris) pointed to the Golgari Grave-Troll on the middle of the table saying: “Wait, that card should be in your hand!” Aris then realized he forgot about the card, eventually picked it up and put it in his hand, discarded it and the other card to be able to keep the Life from the Loam in his hand. This allowed him to cast Life from the Loam to return a land from his graveyard to his hand, play the land, trigger all 3 Bloodghasts, and eventually win the game. The Floor Judge who was assigned to monitor the events of that table witnessed everything, including the comment from the spectator. He then asked for a sidebar with the rest of the Judge team to discuss what had transpired before the final result of the table was entered.


The Sidebar

Why the need for a sidebar? The Judge watching the match had suspicions that the scenario was a violation covered by Section 3.2 of the Infraction Policy Guide, namely Tournament Error — Outside Assistance, due to the actions of the spectator. For the benefit of the readers, below is what the IPG says about Outside Assistance:

A player, spectator, or other tournament participant does any of the following:

[*] Seeks play advice or hidden information about his or her match from others once he or she has
sat for his or her match.
[*] Gives play advice or reveals hidden information to players who have sat for their match. 
[*] During a game, refers to notes (other than Oracle™ pages) made before the official beginning
of the current match.

These criteria also apply to any deck construction and draft portions of a limited tournament. Additionally, no notes of
any kind may be made during a draft. Some team formats have additional communication rules that may modify the
definition of this infraction. Notes made outside the current match may only be referenced between games, and must
have been in the player’s possession since the beginning of the match.


[*] During a game, a player references play notes that were created before the tournament.
[*] A spectator points out the correct play to a player who had not solicited the information.

Tournaments test the skill of a player, not his or her ability to follow external advice or directions. Any strategy
advice, play advice, or construction advice from an external source is considered outside assistance. Visual
modifications to cards, including brief text, that provide minor strategic information or hints are acceptable and
not considered notes. Detailed instructions or complex strategic advice may not be written on cards. The Head
Judge is the final arbiter on what cards and notes are acceptable for a tournament. Spectators who commit this
infraction may be asked to leave the venue if they are not enrolled in the tournament.

Penalty: Match Loss

Due to the severity of the supposed infraction, the Floor Judge who witnessed the incident wanted to be absolutely sure of what had transpired before giving out a penalty (if any), which is why he requested for the sidebar with the whole Judge team. Admittedly, this is the first time I had ever encountered such an incident, but somehow, part of me was feeling pretty excited as to how this incident will unfold (if that is conduct unbecoming a judge, then I apologize, but I did ensure not to show my excitement to others about this new, uncharted territory).

The whole team then discussed the merits of the incident. The Floor Judge involved relayed the full details of the incident, and he was at the opinion that the scenario was a violation of the rules. Each member of the judge team was given the floor during the discussion of the incident in order to express their opinion on the ruling, and why they would find their ruling appropriate. I found this to be an excellent way to discuss any incidents that are not clear-cut, or merits further clarification. It may possibly take more time to resolve, but it is a more thorough discussion of the incident, and ensures that nothing is missed. On a personal note, I found it to be empowering, as the team made me feel that my opinion mattered. This is especially important for someone like me, who has been in varying states of activity during my judge career, and as such is a great confidence booster.

How I ruled on the incident

For the scenario, I believed that the most important factor in determining whether a violation was made or not is the nature of the assistance provided. In the IPG, the violation covers giving play advice or revealing hidden information. In this case, the Golgari Grave-Troll was not hidden information, as it was dredged into hand from Aris’ graveyard, and both players had full information on the card that was supposed to be in Aris’ hand, especially since it was placed in the middle of the table in full view of everyone. Based on Aris’ reaction over the whole situation, it seemed clear (to me at least), that he knows exactly what he wanted to do, but merely forgot about a card that was supposed to be in his hand.

The spectator’s comment looked to me as pointing out an incorrect game-state. His methods are not ideal, but in my opinion, the spectator did not give Aris any play advice, nor reveal any hidden information. As such, I believed that the incident, while not handled in the best possible manner, was not technically a violation considered to be Outside Assistance.

The Final Ruling

I relayed my thoughts and justifications for ruling that way to the group discussion. After everyone has had their turn, the Head Judge made a final decision based on our thoughts and justifications. He ruled that, while this incident is very close to becoming a violation, since no actual play advice was given by the spectator, there was no infraction that occurred. He did approach the spectator in private to discuss the matter, and educated him on the proper procedure for spectators who would wish to point out play mistakes or errors during an official match. The Head Judge also advised the rest of the team on how to educate players of the proper procedure – namely, which is for the spectator to alert the players involved in the match of a possible error, without giving full details, then calling the attention of a Judge who will then be in charge of assessing the situation and officially determine whether an error exists or not.

The Takeaway

This incident made an otherwise run-of-the-mill (albeit, large) tournament into an event I will remember for a long time. It provided new insight for me in how to run rulings discussions during the middle of an event, as well as learning the proper procedure on how to educate players in the proper decorum fitting a spectator to an official match. I consider myself lucky that I was involved in the discussion for this incident, as I was actually able to apply what I have learned in succeeding events, where players actually approach me during a tournament specifically asking about proper decorum as a spectator. Hopefully, I am able to convey these learnings to others, and overall, provide a lasting impression on players and the game.

(Editor’s Note: John Say‘s tournament report has already drawn the opinions of several other judges in the Judge Apps forum. Join the discussion through this link)

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