The Riki Rules:Call a Judge


First off, apologies to all of our international readers who were unable to view the “Riki vs LSV” chess clock video last week. Of course, the “unable to view due to copyright laws” should have tipped you off that something was amiss. For the rest of you who did get to see the video, I guess apologies are also in order for the “Rikiroll.” In fact, there is no video of me playing against LSV with chess clocks. (Luis himself didn’t realize this until he clicked on the link.) Maybe someday we will get around to recording something like this though.

As I’ve stated in this space previously, I don’t play in PTQs to win. The Blue Envelope is about as relevant to my life as a literal blue envelope. Hey, here is this envelope. Too bad everyone uses e-mail and no one sends paper letters anymore. I have, however, fantasized about what might happen if I were to win a PTQ. Most likely I would take the flight and just go Judge the event. What an addict I am.

When the time came to sleeve up a Standard deck for my one PTQ break per season, I decided that I wanted to use this opportunity to do a little research and run an experiment. It’s like the beginning of a new comedy routine. You might be a blackshirt if, you play in events just to do research on judging issues.

My experiment for this PTQ was to call a Judge every time an infraction was committed, a rules question came up, or any other general judicial concerns. I played a stock [card]Time Sieve[/card] deck, which is notorious for its missed Howling Mine triggers.

Round 1 – Tristan 5cc

Things started out like clockwork as I called for a Judge before the round even started. The issue was my opponent’s sleeves. He was using Street Fighter brand sleeves–either Chun Li or Ryu, I can’t remember which–where the character is throwing a fireball straight out of the sleeve. It’s a very bright and reflective fireball, and I asked the responding Judge to take a look at the sleeves. He double checked with the Head Judge (who is the final authority on this and pretty much any matter at any given tournament), and the sleeves came back clean.

Sleeves are a touchy issue. It’s probably about time I addressed the topic, but I don’t feel like I have enough information on them at the moment. What I need to do is try out a bunch of different sleeves and do a comprehensive study on all the brands. I will say that my favorite brand, the Magic card-backed Ultra Pros, have been very subpar as of late. Sleeves in the same package seem to be coming off of different cutting presses, so that half have slightly worn white edges while the other half has the normal black edge.

The second call this round was for a Game Rule Violation. My opponent made a Beast token with Garruk using the last loyalty counter, then played a second Garruk, untapped two lands, and attacked with his team, including the most recently created 3/3 Beast. I called the Judge, my opponent received his GRV, and we went about our merry way. I think I played Pollen Lullaby that turn and proceeded to go off.

It’s easy to see why my opponent attacked with the new Beast. When he played his second Garruk and untapped his lands, the creation of the Beast token got relegated to “last turn” in his mind because that’s how things usually go with Planeswalkers–once per turn.

This is definitely the kind of thing that most people do not call a Judge on. It’s usually:
“Hey, that guy can’t attack. He is summoning sick.”
“Oh, sorry.”

The problem is that this is a very easy way for people to cheat. (Aside: I have no reason whatsoever to suspect that this was anything but an honest mistake on Tristan’s part. The following discussion of cheating is purely hypothetical.) Play a creature (or make a token), do some other stuff to pass the time, then attack with your sick creature hoping that your opponent doesn’t notice. If you get away with it, that’s some free “hasty” damage for you. If not, your opponent will most likely just point it out and you Maze of Ith your extra attacker.

This is a good reason to get your friendly neighborhood Judge involved in things. Your opponent will collect his GRV Warning, which on the surface doesn’t seem that much harsher than you pointing it out; a Warning is just that, and it takes a third offense for a GRV to be upgraded to a Game Loss.

That’s a concern I’ve heard players express about the upgrade path for penalties, that they are too lenient. I mean, cheaters can cheat twice before they have to start worrying about things. Maybe. Kind of. If a Judge determines that a player is actually cheating–intentionally attacking with a summoning sick creature, for example–it is one and done. Meet me at the DQ.

But you see, that’s why it is so important to report these sorts of violations. If we don’t hear about it, we’ll never have that extra background information to make that determination. On the other hand, if someone is consistently showing up on our radar as “that guy who attacks with summoning sick creatures” it might throw up a red flag. I’ve heard of cheaters past and present who go for these small edges–attacking with a sick creature, playing a spell with the wrong mana–because they know their opponent will not call a Judge and simply go for the home remedy, deftly keeping them under the radar.

Round 2 – Sam playing the red burn’em ups

While we were shuffling, my opponent expressed some concern about his own sleeves. This might seem like the perfect opportunity for some more Judge call-age, but I declined. His concern was over some chicken scratches on the back. From where I was sitting, I couldn’t make out anything on the backs of the sleeves. They were opaque blacks. I suppose they were scratched up, but not any more than any other sleeves that have been shuffled more than once.

Our first actual call came when I played a Japanese [card]Ethersworn Canonist[/card], and Sam wanted to know what it did specifically. We called a Judge and we were about to ask for the Oracle text when our neighbor offered up his sideboard Canonist to look at. I would have done the same with my sideboard Canonist, except that I am leery of giving away free information like “I have more of these useless dorks in my sideboard.”

The next call was for my opponent untapping two creatures that were frozen by [card]Pollen Lullaby[/card]. It was actually a player in the next match over (the opponent of Canonist guy), finished with his match and watching ours, who caught the mistake. I probably would have caught it myself, but the spectator jumped in before I could process everything. I told the spectator the proper way to go about fixing a problem (ask the players to stop and call a Judge). You might be a blackshirt if”¦ you spend time during your match to educate spectators on the proper way to interrupt your match.

The Pollen Lullaby thing bought me a turn in which I did nothing and I died one turn later.

Round 3 – Derek playing some kind of Jund concoction

In the third round, I got to make my first Howling Mine call. To be fair, I didn’t actually cast too many Howling Mines in the first two rounds. In round one, I landed a Mine but my opponent didn’t get a turn with it. In round two, I might not have played any Mines, which would explain why I lost. Throughout the day, in fact, I kept keeping loose hands without Howling Mine, despite knowing from playtesting that such hands tended to run out of steam and do nothing. The Judge call was pretty straightforward. Howling Mine has a triggered ability. Derek missed it. GPE – Missed Trigger. The infraction names make so much more sense nowadays.

I actually had to appeal this ruling because the Floor Judge tried to give me a Failure to Maintain Game State. That infraction is for players who fail to notice that their opponent did something wrong until later. The problem is that I caught Derek as soon as it was reasonable for me to know. After he drew one card, I waited and watched him. He didn’t play a land (probably because he didn’t draw one) and moved into his combat phase. That was my first indication that we had moved beyond the draw step and he had officially missed the trigger. FtMGS (the most awkwardly acronymed infraction since Hidden Information Violation) should only be given to a player who doesn’t catch an opponent’s infraction at the soonest opportunity.

Due to the appeal–fetching the HJ, two Judges conferring, HJ making his own ruling–this was the only Judge call of the day that required a time extension. We got four minutes added onto our match, which we did not need, but it did provide a nice cushion when we went to game three.

After the call, Derek became noticeably tighter with his play, announcing both his regular draw and the Howling Mine draw, and clearly announcing his intent to enter combat. Derek is a very experienced PTQ player, so he is used to Judge calls. Whereas this might have rattled a lesser opponent, it clearly focused him on the task at hand (beating the crap out of me with double Putrid Leeches).

Round 4 – Craig playing some crazy 5cc deck with a bunch of Planeswalkers including Jace Beleren, Sarkhan Vol, and Ajani Vengeant

I only had to call a Judge once this round and it was to watch for the every-hard-to-tackle Slow Play. Craig was looking at his hand and his lands for a long time, doing some complex calculations when he said, “I’m gonna Cruel Ultimatum you and I need to figure out the mana.” He had several Vivids, a Reflecting Pool, and one land enchanted with Fertile Ground (oh, because he had Garruk Wildspeaker in his deck too). As soon as he told me his intention to take some time (on top of the time he had already taken before making his declaration), I called for a Judge.

This was still game one, and we were only about fifteen minutes into the game, but I felt that his pace had already been deliberate, and basically saying “Imma gonna take alotta time,” makes the Mario music in my head go into speed mode. Craig took some more time getting his mana sorted out in his head, then he went about actually tapping the mana.

Had I been on this call from the other side, I might have given Craig the infraction at this point. There’s no reason to figure out the mana in your head, then essentially figure it out again as you are tapping your lands. Unfortunately, the Judge kept getting called away to nearby tables and never got to watch our match continuously for long enough to make the call. Them’s the breaks sometimes.

Round 5 – Mark playing 5cc with Sen Triplets

Yes, those Sen Triplets. From a game play standpoint, this lead to the most exciting part of my day. Mark landed his Triplets while I had four mana sources in play and two Time Warps in hand. I went to great lengths to stop the stealing of my turns, Silencing him in response to the Triplets ability one turn, and using Time Sieve to gain another draw step. To no anvil. Mark took two extra turns with my Time Warps and then stole the game.

However, Mark also missed two Howling Mine triggers over the course of the match. As I alluded to earlier, a second Game Play Error (of which a Missed Trigger falls under) is a second Warning with the third infraction being upgraded to a Game Loss. To be fair, these weren’t just run of the mill Missed Triggers. In both cases, we got into counter wars during his upkeep over things like Silence and Cryptic Command in land bounce mode. In the second case, Mark actually forgot both the Howling Mine and his regular draw.

If Mark had missed another Mine trigger, would I have called in a Judge for the Game Loss. Yes, if for no other reason than to see if the Judge would correctly apply the upgrade. To his credit, finding out that a third infraction would be a big GL forced Mark to really tighten up his game with regards to remembering the triggers. Every turn he would very carefully draw one, then draw the second (and eventually third). Did this cause him to later lose his concentration on his actual game play and make an error that opened the door for me to combo off and win? That’s impossible to guess, but it’s possible. To be fair, I doubt he expected the third Negate of the game to win the crucial counter war over Cruel Ultimatum on his turn, opening the door for me to Open the Vaults.

Round 6 – Benjamin 5cc

Benjamin won the award for “round with no infractions.” We played some good clean Magic, and there was much rejoicing (from the Judges). Yay. Wave those little flags and banners, you minstrels.

Round 7 – Dylan with Kithkin, err Soldiers

There was only one Judge call this round. Dylan played a Soldier Banneret fellow, then tried to play a Preeminent Captain for just W, thinking that the Banneret would help out his buddy for being both a Soldier and a Kithkin. That’s not how it works. For reference, check out the Nightscape Familiar cycle for an example of a card with two separate abilities that does reduce a card’s cost twice over. [Or check out [card]Grand Arbiter Augustin IV[/card] for the actual card that does this. -Riki, who has bad card memory]

Unfortunately for the experiment, Dylan came out of the gates with an Elite Vanguard on turn one both games. I think one of the games even featured some ridiculous “Captain of the Watch off of Windbrisk“ action. Such short games don’t lead to a lot of calls. And that’s where I ended my day. I dropped after round 7 because Butler, the camera guy showed up and Luis wanted to record an episode of Magic TV (*cough* LSTV) with me as the guest. Look for that video sometime next week as I sit on the left instead of Mashi and we yap about Harm’s Way.

Last week, I set the over/under at three calls per round, and everyone I know took the over. I don’t know if that is a condemnation of the play skill of the average PTQer or an acknowledgment that I can be an album cover. Counting the appeal as a separate call, there were ten Judge calls in seven rounds. That’s certainly a lot more calls than the average player will make over the course of a tournament. It’s also a lot more than we want people to make.

Therein lies the rub. If every player at the PTQ played with the same “call a Judge for everything” mentality, the tournament would have come to a screeching halt of time extensions and appeals. The four valiant Judges fighting against the entropy of 177 players would have fallen like the 300 at Thermopylae. Staffing levels would have to be increased two or three-fold to deal with such a player base.

After the match when I caught Mark on two Missed Trigger infractions, the HJ pulled me aside and basically said, “What the hey diddle diddle are you doing?” He may have even used the term “rules lawyer,” which I have never liked, at least not in the jerkwad context. I consider myself to be a “rules lawyer” in that I play the game by the rules. Why should I feel like a jerk for following the rules as they are spelled out? It’s not like I was doing other, more jerky things like the “he put his card into the graveyard. That means he forgot to search for something, right?” trick (which no competent Judge should let you get away with anymore. See Out-of-Order Sequencing in the MTR for more info).

It would certainly be sporting for me to say, “Go. Don’t forget Howling Mine,” or to simply remind my opponent when he does forget without getting a Judge involved. I guess the HJ objected to the fact that I was basically waiting to pounce on my opponent for the Mine trigger. But it is a player’s responsibility to maintain the correct game state, not to play for his opponent.

I talked about the “hasty attacker” scenario earlier, and how cunning cheaters can use people’s reluctance to call a Judge to sneak in some extra damage. In that case, the mistake, either innocent or malicious, can lead to a significant advantage. From that perspective, it is important to track such occurrences and make sure that players are not gaining such an advantage on a consistent basis due to sloppiness or cheating.

Howling Mine would seem to fall under a different category. There isn’t an advantage to my opponent missing the Mine trigger. I suppose there are corner cases with milling, Sudden Impact, and possibly Megrim. But in general, it’s safe to say that an opponent would not intentionally miss a Mine trigger. In such cases, if you’re comfortable resolving the issue (“Hey, don’t forget the Mine.”) without getting a Judge involved, by all means please do so. Madness? Maybe this is just Sparta.

Until next Saturday, when I will follow up on the Harm’s Way stuff from my Magic TV segment, “Bore.”

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