The Riki Rules – I Have Confidence in Confidence Itself


I have finally arrived in the 21st century, and it only took me ten years. Last week on Twitter (follow me at Riskypedia), I did something more than update people on my eating and exercise habits. Seeing as every one of my followers was probably Magic-related, I posed the following question as a Tweet:

“From a player perspective, what distinguishes a good judge from a bad one when they answer a call?”

Before you read on, feel free to write up a reply to that question. Maybe even prep it in the comments box, then read the rest of the article and see if your perception stacks up with my Twitter feed. Then you can revisit or revise your reply.

Nine people responded, which isn’t a statistically significant sample size, but there were definite trends to the thought process behind the responses. As the title of the article foreshadows “confidence” was the number one answer on the board.


It’s true that the average L1 doesn’t display confidence on rulings, mostly because they aren’t confident. There’s something to be said for simple rote repetition. By the roughest of estimates, I’ve probably handled fifty calls for Looking at Extra Cards (LEC). The procedure is such second nature to me that I just gave an infraction to my cat to prove that I could. She was unamused.

For judges who are still on LEC infractions zero to ten, the process is far from automatic. There are many factors to consider. Did the player look at or draw those extra cards? What’s the name of the infraction again? And what is the right penalty? (The last two questions are often solved by a quick look at a handy pocket reference chart.) Don’t forget to ask if the player has received any previous penalties for potential upgrades. Then you have to fix the situation; shuffle the library–but minus any previously seen cards off of cascades and such. And finally write out the information on the back of the match result slip and issue an appropriate time extension. Whew!

That’s a lot to remember, and point of fact many newer judges don’t remember it all. Obviously, forgetting some portion of the procedure or consulting said reference chart doesn’t inspire confidence. Imagine being pulled over by a cop who has to consult his pocket guide to tell you that you were speeding. You might contest that ticket. Hence why these new judges get appealed so much.

There are a few tricks of the trade that have been passed down over the years. I don’t know if there is an original progenitor (some kind of Legendary Hydra Judge?), or if they are just a part of the program. My favorite by far is RTFC: Read The Friendly Card. The advice isn’t just for players anymore. For judges, the reason for reading the card is a little different though. While we sometimes do it to confirm that a particular word (like “may”) is there, the technique can be used buy some time. While I pick up and glance over a card, I am actually thinking through some of the above steps like what the infraction and penalty are, and not reading the card. Just be sure to pick up an appropriate card. No one is going to be fooled if you stare at an Island. I also recall one story that a player told me about a judge who picked up and read Wild Mongrel at the height of UG Madness’s popularity. “I insta-appealed,” said the player. “What kind of judge doesn’t know what Wild Mongrel does?”

Conversely, several people did tweet back that a good judge should seek help when they get in over their head. At first, I thought this ran contrary to the idea of showing confidence, and in fact from the judge perspective it does. I always get a little annoyed when someone asks me for confirmation on something they should know. And yet, I’ve asked for confirmation on something I should have known. Brain farts happen. The most important thing, something that only one response mentioned because it’s so basic, is to get the ruling right, and asking for help can only be good in that regard. However, even when going for help it is important to show confidence. A judge saying “Uh… I don’t know,” and running off isn’t what players want to see. I much prefer “I just want to confer with my associate so that I make sure I get this right.” I think most players will appreciate the extra effort being put in for the sake of correctness.

Confidence can be a double-edged sword. Gavin Verhey told an interesting tale from his recent PTQ win. In the finals, Gavin swung in with a Mutavault and two Bobs. His opponent Darkblasted the Mutavault. Gavin let Darkblast resolve and activated Mutavault again and struck for exactly lethal…

Except that trick doesn’t work anymore. In addition to killing Magic by removing “damage on the stack” (the aftermath of which probably deserves an article in itself), m10 also changed the layers in a very subtle way, moving all power/toughness setting effects in a higher sublayer than power/toughness pluses and minuses. Resetting the Mutavault to 2/2 no longer overwrites the -1/-1 because it is a different sublayer.

As Gavin tells it, “I had made my play with such absolute confidence while my opponent had been playing timidly the whole match, and had been unsure of other not-so-obvious rules.” Gavin’s confidence essentially tricked the judge into thinking the play was kosher. This type of thing has actually worked against me as well. I don’t mean that a confident player tricked me into making an incorrect ruling. Unfortunately, my own confidence in an incorrect ruling tricked the players into accepting said ruling. It was a Legacy event, a format that I hadn’t had much exposure to, and the question was about [card]The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale[/card] and it’s interaction with other beginning of upkeep triggers.

Just looking at the text on the card, I ruled that the controller of Tabernacle controlled the triggers, thus making them non-active player triggers on the Tabernacle player’s opponent’s turn. Of course, looking at the Oracle text tells us that Tabernacle gives the ability to each creature, meaning the abilities would be controlled by the active player. I should have known this because Magus of the Tabernacle also gives the upkeep cost to the creatures. I should have consulted with one of several judges present who had more experience with Legacy. Heck, I should have had the Scorekeeper look up the Oracle wording of Tabernacle, a procedure that I now know is fairly common at Legacy events. Instead, my overconfidence led to a blown ruling. Minor mistakes like that can happen when you judge as much as I do (and judging a diverse format like Legacy can only increase the risk of that). But I don’t want to just say “Eh. It happens,” and move on. Recently, I’ve spent more time reading about Legacy and studying the cards and rules interactions in the format because it seems like it is only getting bigger (rumors of “Overextended” aside). I want to be ready and I certainly don’t want to blow any more Tabernacle rulings.

Finally, Nick Fang wrote an article about confidence biting him and Seamus Campbell in the rear. It’s a fascinating tale about one judge’s confident demeanor tricking them both. (No, I don’t know why it’s formatting all weird.)

24-hour Draft Challenge Update

The event itself was a huge success. Drafting all through the night. What a glorious thing to see (even though I went home at midnight to get some sleep).

Despite early fears that this format would be glacially slow, aggro is a viable strategy. The Aura Gnarlid deck was a big winner early on. This beast is essentially unblockable, even more so if you get a Drake Umbra on it, and people were misplaying all over the place against it thinking that it was just a Rabid Wobmat rather than getting pumped for every aura on the field. Players seem particular suceptible to forgetting about Guard Duty.

Another aggro archetype is the Kiln Fiend deck. I saw two versions of this. Red-blue looks like the more successful version as Distortion Strike is 10 to the dome with a Kiln Fiend out. Randomly add things like 7/6 unblockable Halimar Wavewatches and you’ve cobbled together a nice deck given how late the Wavewatches and Fiends go. I also saw RW Fiend garner some wins. There’s nothing as bombtastic as the Distortion Strike combo, but Attack the Darkness is a decent cantrip in the deck that can help you push through some extra damage.

Eldrazi ramp didn’t seem to be a particularly popular or successful strategy. The giant monsters work fine in Sealed, but in Draft, Artisan of Kozilek seems to be the only good value Eldrazi.

Being of sane body and mind, I did not stay up all night. Neither the foil uncut sheet or the case of RoE put up as prizes appealed to me. The one draft I got in played out interestingly. I opened Threaten Manticore and got passed red removal after red removal spell. I ended up with 4 Heat Rays, Staggershock, Forked Bolt, and 2 Flame Slash. Suffice to say, I could kill creatures. What I couldn’t kill was my opponent. After passing up an early Vent Sentinel for one of those burn spells, I snatched one up late to along with my Ogre Sentry army. I also got a Keening Stone in pack three.

When I got the pack with Keening Stone, I took a long hard look at it and the gazillionth burn spell that was also in the pack. Could I pass the mill card and hope to table it? I chose not to take that chance. Early on in a format, people are more likely to rare-draft “for val,” plus with the reputed slowness of the format, a mill card seemed like a legitimate bomb. Why be greedy?

Keening Stone was everything I expected and more, winning me both games in which I drew it, off of two and three activations respectively. Vent Sentinel ended up being my other finisher as expected. On my way to a 2-1 record in the draft, Burn Wall did 34 of a total 40 damage in my two other game wins. LSV is right that not every deck can utilize Kenning Stone. Even with the slower format, eating two turns for the first activation is not something you can do lightly. However, it’s the kind of situational bomb that you can build around. It can also save a ruined draft as you pick up otherwise unplayable cards like Ikiral Outriders late to turtle behind.

After getting a full night’s sleep and going for a morning jog (15K), I returned to Drom’s to witness the end of the madness. The grinders of the group were in their 8th draft and to my surprise the outcome wasn’t decided yet. Alvin pushed through with a 2-1 performance in the final draft, enough to hold off his closest rivals, Johannan and Justin. Taz barely finished fourth, out of the box prizes, but karma was still awake after 24 hours as he won the raffle for the foil sheet. Despite being burned out on Magic for at least two or three days, enthusiasm ran high for a repeat of the event come M11. Count on it. Maybe this time some lazy website editors from Oakland can be bothered to make the one-hour drive for such a special event.

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19 thoughts on “The Riki Rules – I Have Confidence in Confidence Itself”

  1. Nice Read.

    I highly enjoy the RoE draft format, as it offers a lot more different decks in pretty much every color combination that plays totally different.

    Zendikar lacked all this, every deck played like Beatdown no matter what.

  2. I’d say the best quality of a judge would be speed. If a judge has to look up the exact infraction on a cheat sheet that’s one thing, but I tend to ask rulings and interactions questions more than asking judges to hand out infractions, and I’d at least like to know that the judge knows what my cards do. If it’s a ruling question (and not an infraction issue), the faster a judge gives me an answer the more confident I am in the judge’s ruling, especially if it makes sense to me.

  3. If you get the eldrazi ramp deck, just take every teampump effect you can. The red inoked becomes a bomb, and a reliable lategame Iwin.

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  5. I would have to say the most important thing distinguishing a good judge from the bad is accuracy of rules knowledge. Too many times has an L1 gotten m10 combat damage rules or replacement effects wrong where I’ve had to appeal to the head judge just to be able to order blockers or have gemstone mine enter the battlefield with counters on it through a bloodmoon.

  6. About five years ago, I was playing in my first US Nats, day 2 top 54, against a small time rounder/cheater Gerard Fabiano. The douche is losing and, in desperation, tells me he needs to pee or will die. Of course, I call a judge. The judge goes “I can’t give you a time extension”, and Fabiano runs off the table.

    Of course, in hindsight I should have appealed to the HJ, but it was my first Nats, big tourney, so the stupid floor judge and I chatted for five minutes while Fab went to the bathroom.

    Eventually, he comes back, we keep playing, time is called and I have a dominating board position, he is dead next turn at the end of five turns.

    I ask him to concede as he clearly is dead next turn, I let him check his top card to confirm if he wants. He OBVIOUSLY says “No, this is a draw”.

    The same floor judge (who was watching the whole time) agrees “I can’t give you guys an extension just b/c he went pee”.

    (I can provide other US Nats players who witnessed this if need be).

    Moral of the story? I want judges who do the RIGHT, ETHICAL and RULES LEGAL action, or closest to it, everytime… unlike asshole pros and the judge I’m mentioning.

  7. The one thing I find most important in a judge is the ability to answer only the asked question. I have seen several times where a judge gets called over on a ruling and while they may not give specific strategic advice, have dropped little hints about the correct course of action, probably not even intentionally. I realize it is very difficult to more or less turn yourself into a rules spitting robot and I have admiration for those judges that accomplish it.

  8. If I call a judge I just hope for two things:

    #1 – Accuracy – By far the most important
    #2 – Fairness – No bias just because you happen to be familiar with someone in the situation

    As for confidence I actually think that is a big problem with a lot of judges. Their ego gets in the way of their performance. I would much rather have the honest judge who is willing to admit he isn’t omnipotent and just ask for help.

  9. Blind Answer to the initial question: A good judge’s call is consistent with current policy, and the reasoning is clear to all parties involved. Even if I disagree with the philosophy behind a rule, so long as the logic I am presented with is sound (and supported by established policy), I do not fault the judge making a given call. At that point, they are simply the bearer of bad news.

    If one does not know the answer offhand, I expect effort to get the necessary info, be it from consulting the Head Judge, pulling it up on their iPhone, or some other means. No arbitrary uninformed calls, unless all other reasonable means of checking are exhausted. Yes, I realize that the word “reasonable” is incredibly subjective.

    As with any job involving a staff/attendee type interaction, pleasant attitude, civil demeanor, and the ability to function well under pressure are a few other strong points.

    TLDR version: In order, Competency, Clarity, Civility.

  10. Chris the Gathering

    They better come out and document my Victory at that event Riki… Ill actually be playing in it so you get to see my lovely face again. Oh and dont forget about those Islands Riki. Take Care and good to see you writing again.

  11. I didn’t have an immediate answer for the question, since I’ve never actually played in a judged tourney–FNM and the like is the most “competitive” I’ve been, and I don’t think I’ve met anyone who was rated a Rules Advisor, much less a judge. But, having read your articles and experiences, here are my feelings.

    It seems like “confidence” should be a reliable technique for judging. As a retailer, I know that customers respond better to a salesman who knows–or appears to know–what he’s talking about. This is true when suggesting a product for purchase, but also true (and more relevant to judging, I think) when explaining why an item isn’t returnable. A clerk who says, “uh, I don’t think I can do that” will get an irate customer every time. One who explains the store’s policy in a calm and rational manner, while leaving no room for a customer to think they might get a break, is far less likely to be yelled at; rather, the customer will see them as simply a “bearer of bad news.”

    Of course, having the knowledge of retail policies is an important step toward that confidence, and knowing when to call a manager in to back you up (or set you straight) is an important skill for a sales clerk. The same is true for a judge, it would seem: know your calls and make them with confidence, and when you aren’t sure (or when a player is being particularly uncivil and pushy), call the higher judge. Makes sense to me.

    Given my original disclaimer, take this for what it’s worth, but there’s my $.02.

  12. I agree with the “Don’t say more than you have to” part as well; I had a judge tell me the sleeve on my “Simian Spirit Guide” needed to be replaced after a deck check, with my opponent sitting across from me.

    (I’m an L1, and I’ll admit it’s difficult to not let something slip)

  13. I would rather not say.

    The most important factors for a judge are as follows

    Rules Knowledge- To know exactly what question is being asked, how all the interactions work, and to give a full and clear answer with 100% certainty.

    Non Biased- Many judges, especially local judges, either know a player they are making a ruling for, know the reputation of a player they are making a ruling for, or themselves play more on a casual as opposed to competitive level, and therefore are more forgiving with rules and errors. The reality of the situation is that there should be no such thing as more forgiving. Penalties should not be able to change dramatically based on what a judge who was not even there thinks about a situation. It’s ridiculous and unfair that player A can get a warning and player B can get a game loss or a DQ in THE EXACT SAME SITUATION. Who is some ass hole judge to look at a person they dont know, judge them, and then decide whether they legit missed something or were trying to cheat? This is a massive flaw in the magic rules system and it should simply be X Infraction = Y Punishment, with zero middle ground.

    Common Sense- So this weekend in the top 4 of a local ptq the MORON head judge steps in to give a well known pro tour semi regular a warning for something stupid and minor. He walks roughly 5 steps from the table and takes him aside to talk to him. In this conversation, he discusses the contents of this players hand, which included very important cards that change the way the game is played, such as Martial Coup. Myself, and multiple other spectators around the match area could HEAR the things this judge was saying, including the full contents of the players hand. While obviously my opinion only and I am unable to prove this, it is also my belief that this players opponent also heard the content of their opponents hand and therefore altered there own play for the remainder of the game given this knowledge. Honestly, that isn’t even the point. The fact that so many spectators could hear it and that there was even a significant possibility of this players opponent hearing it alone is enough. It is pure stupidity, completely unfair, and in my opinion one of many reasons this completely biased, snobby, idiotic judge is unqualified to ever head judge a tournament.

  14. Someguy you are a complete moron. Gerard Fabiano is one of the most legit, non shady, non cheating, most well respected guys on the pro tour and he has been around forever. You are making a complete tool out of yourself with your ignorant remarks. Anyone who has been on tour for a long time or lives in the NY/NJ or New England area knows Gerard and knows he has one of the absolute best reputations and the most integrity of any player around.

  15. I’m not a complete moron. You can look it up on the DCI registry, it was the last US Nats Mike Turian played in. I was paired with him too. Unlike Fab, Mr. Turian was a pleasure to play against, didn’t stall the match even while losing etc. Mike Twas watching the game as well, he was witness.

    Interestingly enough, Mike Turian missed the top8 on tiebreakers that year. So, aside from screwing me, Gfab also screwed Mike T out of a US nats top8. If anyone deserves it, it is him, one of the classiest guys ever.

    Sorry if you are part of his cadre or you worship the ground he walks upon, but he really did do it. Judging has gotten better since then, thank God. Nowadays he can’t get away with crap like that (you’ll notice as the judges get better at catching cheaters, they do worse and worse at events…)

  16. Oh, and aside from Mike T and other friends of mine, Anand Khare (sp?) from the TOGIT crew was there as well… If they are your friends, you need to get to know your friends better…

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