Rulings of Note
Outside Assistance ?
During Extra turn#1, AP takes his sideboarding notes and starts looking at them. Opponent calls a judge, who (correctly) rules a Match Loss (by himself since he is L3 and we empower all L3+s at GPs to issue GL/ML).
It is appealed. Here’s the discussion:
- Me: Why did you read your notes at that moment?
- Him: Well, I wanted to make sure what I had desideboarded. He’s at 1 and I need to know whether I sideboarded my Murderous Redcap out.
- Me: Can I see that paper you’ve been looking at?
[I’m checking that he’s not lying to me basically and looking at the paper, indeed, there are only sideboarding notes and the match-up is registered on it]
- Me: But why didn’t you look into your sideboard instead?
- Him: Oh I can do that? Yeah, that would have been easier indeed.
First, let me state something very clearly: I believe this is “by the book” OA.
However, I felt that this wasn’t really matching the philosophy for OA. The player didn’t gain any information that he couldn’t have legally gained, since he could just look at his physical sideboard.
I therefore chose to overrule the Floor Judge to identify no infraction.
Knowingly making a ruling that will be appealed
When I conferred with the FJ on the way to the table, the FJ told me that considering the situation, he would totally understand I’d overrule him. After I did, he told me I likely took the correct decision, which he’d have done had he been the Head Judge, but he wasn’t in this tournament and he had to make a ruling that would be appealed. Then I asked: “What would you have done had the player not appealed?”
That’s a real issue: Don’t get me wrong, I believe it is very important that a judge makes a ruling. However, I also believe that if the FJ sees grounds for deviating, he should consult with the HJ before making his ruling. Not all players will appeal. And if the player doesn’t, you’re screwed.
The Floor Judge then challenged me as to why I didn’t downgrade the penalty to a Warning, for the purpose of tracking. Fair point! I’m keen on tracking! However, I believe we should track concerning behaviours only, and I could not see anything concerning here.
Which is the 5th?
AP casts Ancient Stirrings and looks at the top 4 cards as he takes them out of the library. When taking card#5, two cards fall from the library. AP looks at the one that seems to him to be #5 and puts #6 back to top. NAP calls the judge as he believes that the cards have been reversed.
The Floor Judge investigated as to which one was #5 and which one was #6, and after making a (likely correct) decision, NAP appealed. The reason is that’s the kind of ruling that will very likely get appealed no matter what you say. However, it’s important the judge made a decision as it sets a default.
Random is random
The first thing I asked when arriving at the table was whether any of these two cards was known to any of the players. The answer was negative.
We have a core theory for deck ordering which is “random is random”. That’s why most of the time there is a LEC, we shuffle the random portion of the library. Here, I overruled the Floor Judge and said they should reshuffle both cards and AP look at a new one.
Reshuffling the contentious cards is by far the best option. Players usually want to make sure no undue advantage has been taken. Additionally, investigating each player’s claims is time consuming and should only be done when it’s mandatory (I’d say because one of the cards was previously known).
A quick check on Cheating
NAP later told me he was concerned about potential marked cards since AP’s sleeves were in a questionable condition and AP could have had gained advantage from “choosing” card #5.
I had proactively investigated that kind of shenanigans by looking at both potential cards #5 and the one AP “wanted” was an Urza’s Tower, despite there was already another copy in the first 4 cards he had already looked at. I therefore excluded Cheating since when casting a spell that makes you select cards, you want to increase your choices, not reduce them.
A Benemental Trigger
Both AP and NAP control Monastery Swiftspear. AP casts Lightning Helix, which is countered by NAP’s Negate. AP attacks with his Swiftspear and NAP blocks with his.
AP states that NAP’s Swiftspear dies (which is possible since NAP can miss his trigger) and NAP sends his Swiftspear to the graveyard.
The issue arose when NAP untapped and cast Timely Reinforcements, because he now has one creature less than AP.
Beneficial or detrimental?
Jara Karban correctly identified the potential for Cheating here: The generally beneficial prowess trigger was possibly totally detrimental in this case. Indeed, in this match-up, NAP is the control deck and AP is the aggro deck. Generally, the control deck tries to not die until the agro deck runs out of resources and draws a few lands too many.
There is a possibility that NAP intentionally let his creature die (therefore intentionally missing his trigger, which is Cheating) to maximize his Timely Reinforcements.
Let’s see how to evaluate all elements:
- Losing the Swiftspear allows NAP to get three blockers next turn. That’s a net +2 blockers.
However, NAP doesn’t overly need to cast the Reinforcements that turn because he’s not that low on life and AP has 0 cards in hand. Hence he can block one more turn with his alive Swiftspear.
- The two creatures being identical, it is weird that NAP realized AP’s trigger but not his one.
However, NAP claims that AP reminded the trigger when damage was dealt, which AP agrees with. I can also see how countering a spell isn’t as “active” as casting a spell for the purpose of thinking about Prowess.
- NAP admitted he already had Timely reinforcement in hand when that happened.
However, he could just say he topdecked it and nobody would ever know.
This was a tough call. In the end, I decided I was not convinced enough that NAP had cheated.
I issued a W for Missed Trigger (which is technically incorrect) but I certainly wanted to make sure this is recorded. I added the mention of “very suspicious” so we can track this better in the future.
For the purpose of writing a good report of this interesting situation, I followed up with Jara by email.
He told me that NAP was not cooperative at all at the beginning, claiming that his opponent called him for something unimportant or irrelevant at the very beginning. He then accused AP of “wasting time”, I think.
This is an element that would have been worth mentioning on the way to the table. Indeed, this would have completed my picture of the player, in this case in a way that’s not in his favor (being reluctant to the presence/intervention of a judge is rarely a good sign).
This doesn’t mean I would have made a different decision. However, remember this rule: the more information, the better!
You don’t need to give all the information at the same time and should prioritize facts over subjective evaluation. But if you have feelings, mention them eventually. If the HJ forgets to specifically ask you, ask him for a minute before he makes a ruling.
One can of course argue that this is a subjective element that can make the HJ’s investigation biased. That is true. However, the purpose of an investigation is to consider everything, and especially what goes beyond the facts (see A guilty pause). A HJ is expected to take all existing information into account and triage them: Some are valuable, some aren’t. The more information a HJ is missing, the higher the risks of making a suboptimal decision are.
GRV vs OoOS
In round 6, AP activates Steel Overseer and proceeds to put a +1/+1 counter on each of his creatures, one after the other, in the order they are on the battlefield. When he reaches his Inkmoth Nexus, he taps a land (to animate it) and proceeds to put a counter on it.
You noticed something too? Indeed, it’s technically too late. Can that be OoOS? Maybe. However, that’s not the crux of the situation here.
Indeed, at that moment, there are two judges (including me), 20 spectators and the opponent around the table. Almost everybody noticed the sequence. Should I step in? That’s unclear. On the one hand, there’s a technical violation of the rules. On the other, we have a philosophy which states that if two players are doing things in the wrong order, as long as the resulting Game State is legal, we should not intervene.
Therefore, as soon as it happened, I immediately observed the reaction of NAP, who smiled and said “sure”, which I interpreted as “That’s fine, I don’t care”. Based on this reaction, I chose to not intervene.
A few seconds after, a spectator came to me to telle me what happened. I told him I had seen it and he asked why I allowed it. I explained that reasoning and he seemed satisfied with my answer.
On the following turn, the same play happened again but this time, NAP involved the judge, who disallowed the counter being put.
That’s a questionable call since it can be argued that NAP allowed a shortcut to be set. However, the pace of the activation made it way less certain on the second time it was really Out of Order Sequencing in NAP’s mind. In fairness, as a player, I’d have called the judge on the first sequence already.
Who’s got priority?
AP speaks Italian is at 7 and controls Dark Confident and Scavenging Ooze.
NAP speaks French and controls Valakut, many Mountains, Wooded Foothills and Sakura-Tribe Elder.
The fact none of the players is a good English speaker made things more complicated (see below).
AP resolves Dark Confident’s ability and reveals a Thoughtseize, going down to 6.
NAP sacrifices Sakura-Tribe Elder, fetching a Mountain, bringing AP down to 3. He then sacrifices his fetchland. Before the said fetchland reaches the graveyard, AP says “In response, I remove Sakura-Tribe Elder with the Ooze”. NAP leaves his fetchland on the battlefield (not fetching any mountain). AP calls the judge.
There were two things to determine in this situation: First, I needed to determine whether the fetchland was activated or not. Then, I needed to determine why NAP left it on the battlefield despite he seemed to have activated it. Indeed, there might be cheating involved.
Both players agreed on the situation, so I talked to them at the table (had they disagreed, I’d have separated them immediately so as to protect information as much as possible, preventing the player speaking second to adjust his story based on his opponent’s one).
Here’s my discussion with NAP:
- Me: Why did you leave your fetchland on the battlefield?
- NAP: I believed AP wanted to activate his Ooze before I sacrificed it.
- Me: Well, AP doesn’t have priority at that moment, how can he do that?
[Note: That is indeed incorrect. Actually, I just realized while typing this report. I totally forgot we were during AP’s upkeep. However, that has positive consequences for the rest of the Investigation.]
- NAP: Oh true, I didn’t realize this
This seemed a really genuine reaction to me, especially as we were speaking in French (see below)
- Me: But that gives you a strong advantage because your opponent is dead if you can fetch in response to the activation, doesn’t it?
- NAP: Well, actually not. He still has a green mana in his pool from the filter land he used so he can just activate again in response. He can’t be dead no matter what I do.
That seemed like a solid series of answers that allowed me to exclude Cheating, at least partially. However, there was one possibility left: NAP may only have realized this during the investigation. Indeed, between the interventions of the FJ and I, it took 22 minutes in total.
There is no way I can determine that with certainty. Indeed, the most telling elements one can gather during an Investigation are the elements that were collected in the first minutes of the investigation: A shady player has a much harder time coming up with a great story when little time has elapsed. I hence asked the Floor Judge whether he felt there was Cheating here. He told me that he more felt players couldn’t communicate properly because none of them are great English Speakers.
Cheating excluded, I chose to uphold that the Fetchland was activated and the Ooze activated in response.
The language barrier
I realized it wasn’t easy to communicate with them in English: They sometimes had a hard time understanding my questions and they were struggling finding answers. This was especially true with the French player, while I could speak decently with the Italian speaker.
At some point, while talking to the French player, I suddenly switched to French in an attempt to get clearer reactions from him. Indeed, when somebody hesitates, you can’t know very well whether he’s:
- Struggling with the language
- Trying to remember
- Crafting a story
After I switched to French, I noticed that he was struggling way less to give me answers. And like I said, his answers were pretty satisfying.
This is of course a very contextual element, but what you need to remember is: It’s not because a player has a hard time answering that he’s lying. You first need to ask yourself whether he manages to understand you properly.
A good but suboptimal reflex
NAP is extremely ahead on the board. He just swung for 20+ damage and AP needs to cast Wrath of God to not lose the game.
At the end of NAP’s last turn, AP puts a Wrath of God under his library with Mistveil Plains then operates a shuffling effect to not find anything. He puts his deck back to its original place and NAP elects to not cut.
The (not) good (enough) reflex
At that moment, I totally realize what may be happening if AP topdecks Wrath of God after his opponent didn’t shuffle… there will be doubts and suspicion. Hence, so as to make sure the game is fair, I reminded NAP he must shuffle his opponent’s deck.
Amongst the possibilities, what I did wasn’t the worst. But it wasn’t the best possible option. Why?
When I reminded NAP to shuffle AP’s deck and before I could stop him from doing so, a spectator who is a friend of AP (I can tell because they were speaking the same language), had a facial movement that felt like “crap”. Then I quickly recollected the following:
- The search effect did not find anything
However, it made sense since it was reshuffling a Wrath of Go, hence optimizing odds for AP
- AP didn’t really shuffle his deck thoroughly
- AP didn’t really present to NAP for shuffling. He put it back to where the library usually stands, at a place that’s far enough from NAP that he may not want to make the effort to shuffle or cut.
That last point is usually telling when it comes to detecting “fetch-tutors”.
All of this made me believe that this shuffle was also a tutor. Had I had better reflexes, I might have caught something. Here, since I missed the opportunity, there was nothing left I could do.
The top reflex
What should I have done? Interestingly, the Wrath of god was a White-bordered 8th Edition. Not the most common one. I should have looked at the top card to see what it was. It’s never easy to remain focus until the end of Round 9, hence why shifts are a good thing I guess!
Bribed with a beer?
At the end of round 6, AP calls the judge because he claims NAP opponent has tried to bribe him.
Both agree on the fact they asked each other to concede as draw was knocking both of them out.
Both agree that they’ve talked about going out in the evening to have drinks. However, AP claims this was directly linked to the concession while NAP says it happened minutes before.
Some weird things
The idea to go and have drinks with someone you’ve just met felt curious to me. I therefore asked NAP if he often does so. He told me that he does it since GP Antwerp where they had a blast with German players they randomly met in a pub. He also added that until now, the game had been super pleasant and he felt his opponent was a great guy. I asked him if he had a friend who could confirm this saying about Antwerp. He gave me a name, I called the friend, telling NAP to not talk to him. NAP complied, I talked to the friend, who confirmed almost everything.
NAP claimed that he knows what Bribery is so he had been super cautious about it. On the other hand, AP was most of the time adamant he didn’t know whether that was legal or not, so he preferred calling a judge. At other moments he said that he “wants the rules to apply”, which made me doubt he actually didn’t know whether that was legal. I started suspecting fishing for a DQ. A spectator confirmed that AP has played “several GPs”. I had doubts about the veracity of AP’s claims.
The whole thing also didn’t make a lot of sense: Even if going out with people I’ve just played against doesn’t seems overly logical to me, I’m not sure I would bribe someone when my record is 3-1-1. Even if I end up 4-1-1 instead of 3-1-2, I’d still needs to go 3-0 afterwards, so the investment seems super bad. That’s usually a spot for Random Determination, not Bribery.
In the end, I didn’t feel I had enough evidence nor even conviction to rule in one way or another (Bribery or Lying). I therefore decided to let the draw stand.
Keeping the tournament running
When you have a 1700ish-player tournament to run, you can’t pause the whole thing for ages. All players but two would like to play Magic.
I therefore ruled the draw would stand but recommended players to not drop as I may change my mind if I can gather more elements later on so as to not delay the tournament (this was the last table and we couldn’t find the friend at that moment).
After talking to the friend (who confirmed everything in AP’s story), I could not find anything that may make me change my mind. Now that I wrote this thorough recap, I’m even less convinced.
Looking at opponent’s cards?
NAP calls me because he believes AP looked at his deck while shuffling. I talked to them apart and told NAP I’d try to put myself in the situation AP was.
I asked NAP to guide me to take the deck the way AP did and performed several shuffles while clearly looking at the deck. After several instances where I made NAP confirm this was the position, I could see no cards. I therefore ruled no infraction.
NAP was not happy with this outcome and followed up with “if he’s not cheating, why would he look towards my deck?” I said that it’s not unlikely AP wants to be cautious when shuffling. NAP was becoming pretty animated, up to the point I had to cool him down.
I think he had decided he was getting cheated and he didn’t like the fact I disagreed with his opinion.
Judges of Note
With all the strikes, the modified structure, the 100 player shift, Milan was more of a logistical challenge than anything else.
He stepped up after his Team Leader was delayed by several flights. He made most of what was needed to make the 100-player shift work.
His understanding of the Swiftspear situation was really outstanding. It’s really rare that a beneficial trigger can actually be detrimental, and this is the kind of thing that judges can easily miss. Wondering why a mistake happened is the best way to actually determine if that was a shady play.
The fetchland situation was really complicated, and Walter’s pre-investigation was really solid: I had a super solid grasp on the events when starting investigating for intent. Also, at the time I should make a decision, he was able to clearly tell me his impression about the player: He wasn’t confused, he had all the elements in mind.