Investigating, step 0: Knowing when to investigate

Note: All of the scenarios described in this article are based on real life situations. However, some of them have been edited so as to serve better the needs of this article. They are in no way meant to be a public statement about investigations that have been led.


A while ago, I published an article named Investigating: The Role of the Floor Judge, one of its first sentences reading: “Judges detect issues, analyse situations and then make the decision whether a situation is worth investigating further”.

Back to the time, I did not feel the need to expand at all on this sentence. I wrote it like a pre-requisite that was obvious and widely mastered. Since then, I have realized detecting shady situations may be trickier than I assumed and, after having been asked numerous times which elements make me start to investigate, I felt it could be useful I share my tips.


Let’s make it clear, 99.99% of the mistakes players commit are genuine. If this means that some aren’t, it doesn’t imply that a witch hunt is in order. This being said, which elements should you, as a judge, pay attention to, just in case this classic GRV would actually be more than a GRV?



From GPE to USC – Cheating


For a play error to be Cheating, there need to be three criteria:

  • Intentionally (action is taken on purpose)
  • Knowingly (the player knows he couldn’t perform the action)
  • Aiming at taking an advantage


Determining whether the action was intentional is fairly easy. Let’s take an Alpha example:

Did the player actually target that Black Knight with a Terror? He did, and he intended to do so. That is what constitutes the GRV. The main question is: Did he know he couldn’t?


Determining whether the player knew he could not do it is actually the last step that constitutes Cheating. When you investigate, this is what you need to determine. It’s therefore closer to your conclusion than to a start for your investigation.


Therefore, what you should start with is answering this question: Is it possible that the player aimed at taking a radical advantage from his game play error? In other words, which contextual elements make this mistake more crucial than many others that look alike?



Telling Element #1: Life totals


They are the first thing to look at since they are an objective way of displaying what is happening in the game.



The player is about to die


This is the most common scenario: A player is about to die and making a “mistake” will help him survive.


AP cast a Fangren Hunter for 4G instead of 3GG. NAP calls a judge.

It turns out that AP cast the Hunter after attacking with all his creatures and that, if he cannot cast a blocker, he is dead if his opponent attacks with everything. After checking AP’s hand, he has no other spell that he can cast that would prevent him from dying.


Therefore, without that mistake, AP will die next turn. This is favorable grounds for intentionally committing a mistake.


The player might potentially have set a plan that included casting the Hunter without realizing it had no second G available, but that was nevertheless worth investigating.

For the reference, the player had played a Rupture Spire as his first action of the turn, tapping a Forest to do so. It’s only after playing the land that he realized he didn’t have GG available anymore. But since he was dead, he had to “try”.



The player has a chance to kill his opponent


In some scenarios, the player is ahead on life totals and is not (yet) close to losing the game. However, he has a spot to kill his opponent before the game continues in an uncertain way.


NAP is at 12 and has one card in hand: Lightning Bolt. AP is at 5, controls Dark Confidant, Young Pyromancer, a 1/1 Elemental token and Liliana of the Veil with 5 counters.

AP points at the top card of his library, indicating the trigger of his Dark Confidant. After a pause, during which AP claims NAP nodded and NAP claims he didn’t do anything, AP reveals a Lightning Helix. AT that point, NAP calls a judge and claims that AP didn’t allow him to cast Lightning Bolt in response to the trigger.


  • After checking if shortcuts had been established previously in the game, it turns out that AP did the same sequence of motions this turn than the turns before.
    This is suspicious: Why would there be a communication issue on this potentially decisive turn?
  • Also, since AP was tapped out during his last turn, if AP really wanted to have it resolve before Dark Confidant’s trigger, one needs to wonder why NAP didn’t cast his Lightning Bolt during his turn or have been more proactive at letting AP know he wanted to cast something in response to the trigger.

These two reasons make this situation favorable grounds for investigating.




Telling Element #2: Global board situation


A player may not be on the verge to dying, but there are situations that can become desperate very soon.


At the end of AP’s turn, NAP casts Glare of Heresy targeting AP’s Elspeth, Sun’s Champion, which doesn’t work since Glare of Heresy is a Sorcery and not an instant.

It felt weird to me that, nearly two years after its release, Glare of Heresy could still be cast as an instant.

This is the very first moment where I became suspicious.


I therefore took a closer look at the game. NAP has a lower life totals (9 to 20), fewer creatures, fewer lands and fewer cards in hand than AP. In a word, NAP is heavily dominated.

When a player is in a close-to-desperate position, the odds that this mistake was not a mistake are higher. That is the point you should involve the Head Judge for investigating further.


Based on my Head Judge reflexes while I was actually a Floor Judge, I went a bit further and glanced at NAP’s hand: He has double Elspeth, Sun’s Champion and no card that is really active in the situation (Glare of Heresy and double Abzan Charm). I also noticed that he has only six lands.

Which led me to the following reasoning: If he doesn’t cast Glare of Heresy at the end of AP’s turn, so as to follow up with an Elspeth, Sun’s champion of his own, NAP will not manage to come back in this game. Indeed, he will need to spend his next turn casting Glare of Heresy on the Elspeth, doing little more (unless he topdecks). Casting Abzan Charm does little since he’s already facing the pressure of a Courser of Kruphix and 3 Soldier tokens.

Even if he draws a land, he will only have seven so he cannot cast both Glare of Heresy and Elspeth.

On the contrary, if he manages to resolve Glare of Heresy at the end of AP’s turn, he can follow up with his own Elspeth, and then the other one if needed. He doesn’t win the game immediately, of course, but at least he is somehow back in business.




Whenever you come up with an element that is telling enough (the list above not pretending to be exhaustive), you should investigate some more to gather the initial elements before involving the Head Judge.


Kevin Desprez.