Detecting, Identifying and Preventing Lying

Yes, preventing. But let’s start with detection and identification!


We’ve all had to deal at least once with these situations where two players disagree on enough elements about the game that one of them is probably lying. That’s what is often referred to as a “he said/she said situation” – a term created so long ago that it should totally disappear in favor of “they said/they said situation”.


Detecting Lying?

Before moving further down the road, it’s important to assess all the possibilities from a situation where players disagree. Indeed, it’s not because two players disagree that one of them is lying: Both may be telling the truth or both may lie.


This is a crucial element that is important to keep in mind when investigating. Quoting a French poet, “when one becomes convinced they’re right, they stop bothering thinking.” So do yourself a favor and keep your mind open!



When a situation is contentious and the ruling is far from being clear cut, often as players have no clue what to expect and it may become tempting for each of them to give you a story that doesn’t match reality but matches their own interests. Here’s a situation that happened to me in 2012, a time where Drawing Extra Cards was an infraction. So that the reasoning is easier to grasp for the vast majority who was not a judge back to that time, I’ve turned it into a 2018-likely situation.

NAP controls Spirit of the Labyrinth, AP casts Baleful Strix and takes a card from the top of their library and moves it towards their hand, which is face-down on the table. Players disagree whether the card touched the hand, which is the defining criteria that will turn a Looking at Extra Cards infraction (should there be doubts the card has been seen) into a Hidden Card Error one.
When talking to both players where the card stopped, AP stated it never touched their hand, while NAP indicated the cards in AP’s hand were shuffled.
Why? I will never be sure but I’d say that AP was aware it’d only be LEC if the card did not touch the hand, while NAP didn’t really have a clue and was afraid that the judge would just take the card that was on top and put it back to the of AP’s library.

I would like to make it clear this is not a common case. In about 15 years of judging, it has happened to me maybe two or three times.



Believe me or not, most situations where players disagree do not involve lying at all and that’s why it’s crucial to have this possibility in mind.

Players often failed to understand either what happened or simply each other. These situations are mostly a consquence of perception of subjective or non-measureable concepts, such as the amount of time that passed or what a player did or said.


When immediate can last 5 seconds

The amount of time that elapsed is all about personal interpretation of a situation, usually backed up by a bias to the desired result of each player. Let’s take an example:

NAP wants to go to blocks while AP claims that they weren’t done declaring their attackers.
NAP says that AP paused for a long time and looked at them.
AP says that they were still thinking and making maths about combat.

The reality can be anywhere in between: Maybe AP was constantly moving creatures until a certain point where they paused, maybe they even raised their head because they wanted to read more carefully one of NAP’s blockers.
* Was AP finished declaring attackers? Not in their mind!
* Was it realistic for NAP to believe they were done? Totally!
Nobody is lying here, they just interpreted facts differently. This is one of the cases where a single reality, after applying human bias and perception, becomes two.



While bad communication often resonates in “language barrier”, this can also derive from a lack of communication of a misunderstanding about a word that was pronounced.

Especially for the non-English speakers, “OK” is often used to acknowledge understanding of an action that was just performed, for instance casting a spell. For the English speakers, unless a specific intonation is linked to “ok”, this means that spell resolved.
Another example is a player who believes their opponent said “go”, or “pass”, when they were were still thinking.

Solving these situations is never easy. A good first step is to evaluate the impact of the miscommunication, keeping the format in mind. For more guidance, refer to this article I wrote about miscommunication.


One of them

I chose to finish with this because this is not rare and by far the hardest: Some elements are so contradictory that one of the players must be lying.

Before going further, I strongly suggest you read(again?) the basic rules for investigating.

To the general concepts described there, I’d add that you should ask broad questions. Indeed, broad questions make liars’ life much harder since they do not know what you’re looking for, therefore they cannot know what to modify to deceive you.





Identifying Lying


The ever-changing story

Discrepancies in stories often are the moment you know a player is lying to you. That’s why it is crucial to make sure the Floor Judge who brought you the case stays around and pays attention to what is said, surrounding calls or not. If they don’t, the player may say something different.
When the player first stated X and they then state Y, something is wrong. However, you need to refrain to jump to a too easy conclusion. That’s the perfect time to quote that French poet again: “When one becomes convinced they’re right, they stop bothering thinking.”
Before making your decision, check one last time whether this could just be a different way to state the same reality. This is especially important if you’ve been asking the same question again and again. The player, despite being honest, may believe you need rephrasing.
Overall, when you ask the same question too many times, this is a dangerous slope. Information gathered past the first minutes is nearly useless: A cheater will likely have crafted their version properly so that’s either pointless or misleading.


Check for habits

When you’re given a statement such as “I acknowledged my trigger by doing [X]”, ask whether this has triggerred before. If it did, ask them how they acknowledged the trigger on these other occasions.
Then compare with what the opponent says about it. Especially if you’re asking the opponent broad questions such as “what happened [X] turns ago?”, where X is the last time the trigger has triggerred, you may be able to get good material for comparing and making up your mind.


Assess whether statements make sense

This is especially true when players try to cover mistakes or change them mind but it’s too late. Here’s a call from a limited GP a few years ago:
AP attacks with a large number of creatures. NAP doesn’t block them all, which makes AP excited as they cast a spell giving trample to the bigger one. AP then looks at NAP and says “you’re dead?”, to which NAP says “going to 1”. Indeed, AP had forgotten to activate an ability.
They called the judge, AP claimed they were making a statement over the future and they were therefore not done activating abilities. This did not make sense in this specific context: NAP was tapped out, therefore AP could just do anything.
Most likely, AP made a strategic mistake. It was costing them the game but they did it.
They sticked to the story, yet it was not really believable.


Preventing Lying

There are two types of Cheaters: Opportunistic cheaters and Premeditated cheaters. (As a reminder, an ignorant is not a cheater, it’s someone who made a mistake).
These days, when I start an investigation at this table where two players disagree and I have this slight feeling a player is looking for their words more than they should, I interject this:
“Before we’re moving further, I’d like to remind you that I’m only here to make the best possible ruling about this situation and that, should I believe one of you is lying to me, they would be disqualified, so do everybody a favor and just tell me what factually happened.”
The main goal is to ensure that players realize the consequences of not telling the entire truth. It’s easy for an involved human mind to believe that making statements which “adjust” reality is acceptable and that they can’t lead to consequences. By reminding players what they risk, you’re forcing a possible liar to make a crucial choice of possibly getting a ruling in their favor or being disqualified. Most of the time, they won’t take the risk. And if they do… too bad for them!


Ultimately, I believe the game benefits more from closing the door to opportunitic undesirable behaviors than reacting harshly but duly to them. Judges do not need to do this, but it just saves everybody a lot of hassle:
* Remaining players in the tournament may not have to wait 10 more minutes for the outcome of this investigation
* The judge gathers better information quicker, leading to a better ruling.
* Ideally, nobody ends up in that confrontational and stressful situation (i.e. a Disqualification)