I’m addicted to Twitter. In fact, I spend so much time browsing Twitter that I decided to cut the number of people I follow in half to avoid getting too caught up in it. But before I did that, a couple of tweets caught my eye. Canadian superstar Paul Dean put up a bunch of Twitter polls about the handling of certain judge call situations. This is the the question that kicked it all off:
The situation might not be obvious at first glance. Reality Smasher triggers only when you target it with a spell, while Stasis Snare is a triggered ability. Therefore, there should be no Smasher trigger. The way your opponent phrases this, it seems like he is either fishing for you to discard a free card or he doesn’t know how the interaction works.
In his tweet, Paul asks two questions. The first: Should I call a judge? The answer to this is a resounding “yes.” I’m shocked that in his poll, only 64% voted for this option. In many sports, judges and referees are viewed as something negative. They’re a person who tries to catch you in case you’re breaking the rules. So if you call a judge on your opponent it might offend him. Given the fact that Magic is a very friendly game played between two people, you don’t want to create a tense environment while playing. Therefore, most people are discouraged from calling a judge. After all, they’re here to play a friendly game.
This approach works well at the FNM level where you might avoid calling a judge unless your opponent is blatantly cheating. But at competitive REL, things are different. At this point, you’re playing for a decent amount of money. In this situation, if I’m playing a Grand Prix, I’d call a judge on my opponent, but for a different reason than you might think. I’m not calling the judge because I think my opponent is cheating. In this case, I would almost always think he’s not. It’s quite rare—rules interactions are easy to miss, and I wouldn’t fault my opponent for not knowing how it works. But the reason I’m calling a judge here is that there’s a small percent of people who go into the tournament intending to flaunt the rules. It’s important to me that judges catch these people.
But that’s basically impossible unless we as players help. At GPs, players outnumber judges 50 to 1, so it’s unrealistic for them to catch every offender.
The only way to do so is to change our view on judge calls. Basically, when someone calls a judge on me after I make a play mistake, I don’t get offended. I made a mistake. I know I had an honest intention and I’m more than happy to let the judge find a fix and solve the situation for me.
If you shy away from calling a judge, you open the door for opportunism. An unscrupulous player can try to play two lands at a certain point because their opponent might just tell them, “oh, you already played a land,” decline to call a judge, and move on. But sometimes, their opponent will not notice, and they gain a big advantage.
It’s hard to catch people like this unless we take great care and call a judge every time something like this happens. They will give the person a warning, and once they accumulate enough of them, they’ll be watched much more closely. Alex Bertoncini or Fabrizio Anteri, who were suspected of cheating, eventually got caught and were banned.
At GP Birmingham a couple of weeks later, I had a complicated turn with Eldrazi Tron where I played a land, then I went to attackers. In the combat step, my opponent played a Snapcaster Mage, which prompted me to activate my Relic of Progenitus, which drew me another land. Post-combat I played some spells and thought for a long time about whether I wanted to hold my land or play around the Liliana of the Veil discard ability.
Inthe end I decided to play the land, which was a mistake, because as you know, I already played a land that turn. My opponent pointed it out to me but he was in no rush to call a judge. So I did the only thing that seemed reasonable to me—I called a judge on myself. At this point I knew I made a mistake, and I broke the rules of Magic. I also knew I didn’t do it on purpose, because the game was quite complicated and a bunch of stuff happened before I played my first and second land. The judge came, fixed the situation, I got my warning, and we moved on. This is how things should always be handled—with a judge present.
As for the other part of Paul’s question: Should my opponent receive a warning? That’s on the judge. They’re qualified to adjudicate the situation and should be able to find a good solution.
If you disagree with the judge’s ruling, don’t be afraid to appeal to the head judge. After all, judges are only people and we all make mistakes. I’ve never seen a judge get offended if I ask for an appeal and sometimes it turns out that I was wrong, and I learn something from it. I’ll never forget my 20-minute judge call at PT Honolulu where they let my opponent and me replay three turns after we made a game rule violation that would significantly lower my chances of winning. Basically, if there is anything you should take away from this article it’s this—judges are here to help you!
The second thing that troubles me quite a bit in professional Magic is slow play or sometimes even straight up stalling. A draw is basically a loss for both players, as instead of distributing 3 points between the two of you, they’re distributing only 2. I have to admit that I might be at fault here too. When I started playing professional Magic, I used to be a very fast player. But I often made mistakes because I’d make a hasty play that I didn’t think through. Over the years I’ve taught myself to play more slowly, which led me to make fewer mistakes of this kind.
Onthe other hand, I’ve had four unintentional draws in the past two years on the Pro circuit, which I think is about four too many. 50 minutes is enough time to finish a match when playing at a reasonable pace, so there’s no excuse for that.
The problem with slow play is that it seems like the rules aren’t very well enforced in this case. In one tournament I was playing for Top 8. I had to win in order to achieve my goal while my opponent would make it in with a draw. I was aware of this, so I decided to call a judge prior to the start of the game to watch our match for slow play. I felt like my opponent was excessively slow. He was sideboarding for a long period of time, pile shuffled his deck multiple times, piled my deck as well, and played slowly. The judge, however, chose did nothing. It left a sour taste in my mouth and tilted me a little bit. It felt pretty hopeless.
I don’t have a solution for this. I just wish that judges would be less forgiving in these cases. Also, it feels like every judge has a different meter. The rules are vague on this. Some judges will warn you after a minute while others will let you think for a minute and a half. Don’t get me wrong. I love the judge staff. I think that most of the time they’re doing their job admirably, but this is one of the areas where I think guidelines could improve. On the other hand, I can see how this is a tough rule to enforce, as it can determine the result of a match when a judge forces a player to make a game action in a difficult spot.
Calling a judge can be awkward, but we owe it to the game to do it.