Backing up, Hidden information and Long-term plans

The IPG indicates that, in absence of meeting the criteria for one of the approved partial fixes, “a full backup may be considered or the game state may be left as is.”
I have already expanded in some articles about backups, and was recently asked whether I usually consider Hidden information before making a decision. So here are my thoughts on this.


The situation

Alex casts Crackling Drake. Nelo, who controls 2 untapped Islands and 4 untapped Mountains, taps 2 Mountain and 1 Island to cast Sinister Sabotage to counter the Drake. After thinking for 10 seconds, Alex casts Expansion (from Expansion // Explosion, copying Sinister Sabotage to counter the original Sinister Sabotage. Alex then notices that Nelo illegally cast Sinister Sabotage and called the judge. After investigating, the judge determines there was no cheating involved. The ruling is therefore GRV, but how to remedy the situation?


Here are the questions I was asked (Q), the reasoning I was asked to evaluate (R) and my answers (A):


Q1: Would you leave the situation as it is or backup the Sabotage to Nelo’s hand ?

R: I would leave it since Nelo gained additional information, while after his mistake. And Alex also made the decision base on the board (Nelo have 1 Island and 2 mountain).

A: The entire reasoning is perfect. Extra information was gained and therefore backing up is dangerous (note that this operates under the same reasoning as Reversing Decisions). All of this feels like we should not backup.

In general, I believe that a good backup should repair the situation, not damage it more. The immediate consequences need to be considered, but consequences on the long run too:
Immediate consequences in this situation are not negligible: One extra spell (Expansion) was revealed. If we backup the entire situation, this gives Nelo a much better overview of the situation when deciding whether to cast Sinister Sabotage again or not. If Sinister Sabotage is not cast again, this creates a different game.


The long run consequences are not negligible either: Since Expansion has been revealed while it should not have, Explosion as therefore been revealed as well. While Explosion/Expansion is a card that is fairly standard in the archetype, Nelo is now certain that it is in Alex’s hand and, should we backup, Nelo could play the rest of the game revolving around this card (never tapping out to ensure it doesn’t resolve, forcing Alex to cast it while not being tapped out, etc.). Outside of the specifics, this is possibly creating a whole different game.

However, while we should likely be on the cautious side of things, it’s possible that us judges miss some implications. A good solution to try to understand the situation better, therefore evaluating better how safe a backup is, is to ask players individually and privately their understanding of the game and the impact of the mistake in the future . By asking a few questions about the future of the game, you will be able to determine whether players feel that backing up will be beneficial or detrimental to their game. You should of course avoid asking directly “do you think we should backup?”, since players do not choose the remedy, but the judge should gather all relevant elements before choosing the best remedy to apply. Also, if you ask the question directly, any player has an incentive to “guide” you to what they feel is in their favor.

If both players feel backing up is great, I would gladly do so. Otherwise, I am reluctant to back this situation up. Too much information was revealed

This might be in Nelo’s advantage, yet keep in mind that we have excluded that Nelo cheated. We should not make a ruling that is meant to put the offender at a disadvantage. After all, Alex could have made better efforts at noticing the error as well (see below)


Q2: If Nelo has Ionize in his hand. Would you leave as is or backup?

R: I would like to backup because it’s pretty bad while we said okay, leave it. Nelo said sure, then he used the “additional blue” to cast another counter. It would be worse if [Ionize] would deal lethal damage.

A: Whether Nelo can counter again or not does of course feel like a game changer.
Now, while the content of the hand is incredibly important to take into account during the investigation for Cheating, it is not when evaluating whether to backup. The IPG states:

IPG: “While Game Rule Violations can be attributed to one player, they usually occur publicly and both players are expected to be mindful of what is happening in the game. It is tempting to try and “fix” these errors, but it is important that they be handled consistently, regardless of their impact on the game.”

Trying to be fair is a legitimate feeling. However, trying to make rulings depending on the content of the hand goes against this philosophy.
Also, keep in mind that it was determined that everybody is honest (An investigation was performed and concluded that Nelo did not cheat) and both players share some (even if not the same amount of) responsibility in the mistake, both players therefore accepted that having cast Sinister Sabotage for 2U as the correct game state and made decisions based on it.

Obviously, the fact the judge can decide to backup or not will lead to inconsistent rulings, especially in such complicated situations. However, it’s important that the process that leads to making the decision remains similar so that it is not biased. By adding hand content to the equation, the judge is becoming a fortune teller, and predicting game states is incredibly hard (that’s also why I suggested to ask players for their opinion on the game: That’s less prone to making guess mistakes).

Overall, whether Nelo has Ionize in hand would not change my mind. If it were, this means I would not be making a ruling to repair a situation, but to assess who should “win” that ruling.

This is a very dangerous slope, first because this is prone to bias and then because in more complicated cases, the tree of decisions may be too big to properly apprehend. For instance, how would you take into account the presence of Anticipate in Nelo’s hand, which could give them access to an Expansion of their own? You cannot look at the top three cards.


Q3: If Nelo cast the [Ionize] in response to [Expansion]. Would you leave as is or backup?

R: I would backup. Even there are a lot of extra information, it seems it’s bad to have Nelo use the additional blue to cast the spell which he could not cast.

A: To me, that is still not a game changer in this specific case since I would likely have left the situation as is (unless both players felt strongly in private that backup was great). But overall, the more information has been revealed, the less likely I am to backup anything. Hidden information is a core element of the game and it can’t be discounted.

I agree it is a bad situation, but many GRVs, when not caught immediately, make games end up in bad situations. The question is whether it is worse or better after a backup, and when I am not able to determine with certainty that it will be better after the backup, I would rather leave the situation as is. Again, if players feel that backing up is better, then it is better. I am here to help them play, they know how to make their game a great one.


Q4: Which information would you take into consideration to backup or not? Hidden information? Life total? Board status?

A: Those are great elements to consider when investigating for Cheating but they are very dangerous to take into account to evaluate whether to backup.


Q5: Should we add “adjust mana payments” to the list of Partial Fixes?

R: I understand we can’t force player to tap mana. But since the intention of the player is to cast a spell with correct mana, if they pay the mana, they should do. Otherwise it’s very suspicious. It may lead to “oh I misread the card, I don’t want to do that”.

A: Having Nelo tap their second Island is indeed currently not supported by the IPG, which has a very small set of approved partial fixes.

This is a topic that has been discussed several times already and, every time, the conclusion is that it would most of the time be detrimental to the game:

  • The main issue is that it makes rulings different when the player has mana available and when they don’t:
    • Also, this becomes weird when they don’t have a second island but a Chromatic Star: Should they activate the ability?
    • What of they were missing one red mana but have a Simian Spirit Guide in hand?
  • Then, we never force a player to tap mana they didn’t intend to:
    • What if their only other blue source is also their only white source and they planned from the beginning to cast a Path to exile?

Basically, in the 95% situations where you backup, the player will simply recast it paying the correct mana if they can. And in the remaining 5%, this partial fix would likely make the game worse, which is what we are actively trying to avoid, usually by leaving the game state as it is.


Kevin Desprez.

Credit goes to Alex Yeung, Yi Zhang and Siyang Li for the discussion and exchange that led to crafting this article.