When is it appropriate to call a judge on your opponent’s in-game actions at competitive tournaments?
Specifically, I want to look at those situations where you notice your opponent perform an action that is technically against the rules, but may be just an honest accident.
At a Grand Prix a while ago, I called a judge in a situation like this and specifically asked the judge to give my opponent a warning, even though I believed it was an honest mistake. In subsequent discussion with some friends, it was obvious that not everyone would’ve called a judge. It also became obvious that not everyone appreciates why I would call a judge in these scenarios, and that some think this is a real “shark” thing to do.
Czech superstar Ondrej Strasky wrote an article recently covering one of my Twitter poll situations, and a related discussion about slow play. I’d like to expound on this topic a bit, visit a few similar situations, and give my perspective on it.
My goal in this article isn’t to tell you that you need to call a judge, but simply to explain why I do, and explain what the general perspective of most professional players is. This article is more about the conversation in the community than trying to convince you of my opinion.
The Different Perspectives
I originally took to Twitter to see what the general consensus was for this particular scenario:
I cast Stasis Snare, target Reality Smasher. My opponent says 'trigger'. Comp REL. Should I call judge/should they receive a warning?
— Paul Dean (@paullife_) September 13, 2017
Note that a Reality Smasher should not trigger when it is targeted by Stasis Snare since it is an enters-the-battlefield ability that is targeting the Reality Smasher, and Reality Smasher only triggers when targeted by a spell. By “Comp REL” I mean that we were playing under competitive rules enforcement, i.e., at a PTQ level or above.
I would say that my small Twitter follower base is probably much more weighted towards competitive players than casual. Just like Ondrej, I was a little surprised to see how many players wouldn’t call a judge on this one. In my opinion, this is one of the more black-and-white polls in this article, as he is gaining a clear, immediate, and unfair benefit for an interaction that most competitive players would be familiar with.
As an aside, I think it’s OK for people not to know these interactions, even at a Grand Prix. Magic is to be enjoyed by all players and not everyone plays it at the same level of seriousness, and therefore may not be familiar with all card interactions. Throwing shade on someone for being newer or taking it less seriously than you isn’t okay.
Based on my opponent’s face and reaction, it seemed like he just wasn’t familiar with that interaction and genuinely believed the Reality Smasher would trigger. Regardless, I asked the judge to give him a warning, and here’s why.
The Potential Issue, As I See It
Imagine that I am a player who wants to win at all costs, without moral integrity. I go to a Grand Prix with Reality Smasher in my deck, thinking that about 30% of my opponents will not know this interaction, and will simply discard a card if I ask them to. That means there is a real benefit to just saying “trigger” every time someone casts Stasis Snare, Fairgrounds Warden, Ob Nixilis Reignited, etc.
If my opponent says, “hey man, that’s an ability, not a spell, so Reality Smasher doesn’t trigger,” I’ll just say, “Oh whoops, yeah man, you’re right—my bad. That resolves.” Then it blows over and we carry on with our match.
Of course, there’s a risk that the judges will find out that I’m doing this intentionally because I might start to rack up warnings. If I get multiple warnings for the same type of error in a tournament, the judges will realize that I’m doing it intentionally and disqualify me for cheating.
Not to worry though—my opponents might not even call me on it. I could probably do this 6 or 7 times in a tournament before I actually get a warning for it. Then maybe I’ll stop before I incur any real consequences.
How many games will I win unfairly if I do this every tournament?
Personally, I don’t believe that there is very much “traditional” cheating in Grand Prix and Pro Tours. By that I mean using shuffle techniques to make your opponents draw lands, or drawing extra cards when your opponent isn’t looking, etc. I do think, however, that there is a non-zero amount of this “opportunistic” cheating in competitive tournaments.
Going to competitive Magic tournaments is a part of my lifestyle. I do it at least once a month, I love it, and I don’t want that to change. Tournament integrity, and making sure that this behavior doesn’t persist, are an important part of what makes my life as enjoyable as it is. If I felt like I was being cheated regularly and nothing was being done about it, it would ruin the experience.
That’s why I call a judge in these scenarios rather than sorting it out myself. It’s not that I’m trying to “shark” my opponent and get a win because they got their third warning. That has never happened to me and I don’t expect it to. If something like this happens and I call a judge on you for saying “trigger,” it is not necessarily because I think you’re a cheater—it’s just a matter of principle.
If you play against me, I control Reality Smasher, and I say “trigger” in this scenario, I will completely respect it if you call a judge. I would never be personally offended in this scenario. Many of the game’s best players feel the same way as I do.
I call a judge on them, on me, on whatever. It's how the game should be played.
— Brad Nelson (@fffreakmtg) September 13, 2017
A Spectrum of Scenarios
It seems to me that a large factor in whether or not people call a judge is how likely they think it is that their opponent “should know better.” Almost everyone would call a judge if their opponent only taps 3 blue mana to cast their Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, then says “oops” when called on it. The more “easonable” it is to make that rules violation, the less likely it is that people will call a judge.
Why This Hurts New Players the Most
I will call a judge in most of these scenarios regardless of how confident I feel they are doing it by accident. It isn’t about whether they did it on purpose or not—it’s about preventing players from being able to come to a tournament and do so on purpose.
In the Archangel Avacyn scenario, for example, I think I am pretty unlikely to receive a warning if I use Fatal Push and gesture for my opponent to destroy the Archangel Avacyn. Let’s say that I’m at 5 life with no answer to Avacyn, the Purifier, and I cast Fatal Push. There’s a chance my opponent doesn’t know that Archangel Avacyn’s flip side is actually 5 CMC, since under the old rules it was 0 CMC. So there’s a chance that they put their Archangel Avacyn in the graveyard, and I win a game I otherwise had no chance in. If my opponent is aware that it doesn’t work, there’s no downside—I just lose normally because they probably won’t call a judge on this “reasonable” mistake.
That is cheating, and it especially punishes new players who don’t know the rules as well as I do. That’s why I feel so strongly about it. I don’t want people to be able to engage in this behavior. In short, the scenarios where your opponent may think you’re really unlikely to know the interaction are the ones to watch out for most.
I can understand that there are some players who are newer to the competitive scene, and these sorts of interactions feel daunting to them. Maybe you’re still learning the rules and have only played FNM, and a GP is coming to your city but you’re worried that your opponents will be calling a judge on you for these nuanced errors.
Don’t take it personally. Your opponent probably knows you aren’t trying to cheat and are making a simple mistake. Just carry on and continue enjoying the event. Getting a warning is not a big deal—all professional players have gotten plenty and will continue to. Receiving a warning isn’t a statement that you’re a cheater. It simply means that you made a mistake and should try your best to avoid doing it again.
I would like it if more players called judges in these scenarios. Don’t be shy, and do so politely. I usually use a phrase like, “this isn’t an accusation or anything, but as a matter of principle I’m going to call a judge here.” Although I’ve encountered two or three people who reacted poorly to it, the vast majority of the Magic community understands.
I can appreciate, though, that for a lot of players, simply enjoying the tournament experience and having positive interactions with their opponents is much more important than making these judge calls. I respect that. If you don’t want to make these “matter of principle” judge calls, I don’t think you have to. As long as a sufficient amount of players are doing so, it should deter this behavior.
These situations are often really gray areas and you should do what you feel is right. I’ll leave you with one last especially tough one as food for thought. If you’re wondering: Yes, I would probably call a judge—and no, I would not feel awful about it.
I hope this article was useful for you or at least thought-provoking. Let me know what you think in the comments.