This week I wanted to take the time to talk about a few of the common pitfalls that could result in a disqualification (DQ). These tend to trip up less experienced players but I’d encourage even veterans of the game to have a quick read. Aside from not doing these things yourself, it is essential that you report anyone who does, as failure to do so could result in your own disqualification. I write this article in the hopes that it will prevent some entirely avoidable DQs.
1. Thou shalt not decide the outcome of a match of Magic: the Gathering in any way other than by playing Magic: the Gathering.
The rules are really, really clear about this. You determine the winner of a match by playing a match of Magic with the deck you registered for the tournament. This is how you determine the result of a given matchup: be it a win, loss, or draw for each player. If you want to roll dice to determine who wins a game then I highly recommend Monopoly… did you know there are Monopoly tournaments? Crazy! But seriously, go there instead.
The most common place people fall into the trap of “improperly determining a winner” is at events with a cut after the Swiss portion. For example, at GPs you need 7-2 to make Day 2. As such a draw is essentially a loss on Day 1 (unless you end up in the unusual 6-0-3 bracket). Once you have 2 losses, a drawn match takes both players out of the equation. If you go to time and fail to determine a winner by finishing your games you have two legal options: accept the match result—in which case it’s a draw and you are both out—or one of you kindly concedes to the other. You can politely ask for the concession but you aren’t allowed to offer anything for it (see bribery later) and no one should feel obliged to give a concession if the result is otherwise a draw. If my opponent has been rude during the match then I’ll take us both out rather than concede.
If someone tries to offer a different means to determine who should have won, you should immediately call a judge. The player offering to, for example, roll a die, should be DQ’d. If this seems harsh, remember that you are at competitive REL and they should know this is unacceptable. Remember, you are playing Magic, not “highest number wins!” Also, if you do not call a judge immediately to report the activity, you could be DQ’d as well if an onlooker tells the judge or a passing judge hears the exchange!
There is an extra angle to this issue now. It was a popular option when players agreed that they shouldn’t draw (for cut issues mentioned previously) to look at the next couple of cards on the top of their decks to see “who would have won.” This has finally been added to the category of improperly determining a winner. After all, your deck is random, so anything could have happened. By looking at the random deck you are essentially rolling a die to see who would win. Do not look at your deck while a discussion of concessions is occurring unless you want to no longer compete in the event—and if that’s the case you may as well concede, it’s quicker than getting a DQ!
2. Be careful with prize splits
This issue breaks my heart. I would really like to see something done about this because almost everyone who falls into this trap is a new or inexperienced player. The trouble is, you can agree to a prize split. You can always agree to redistribute the (dividable) prizes that would be determined on the outcome of the match. For example, let’s say you are in the final of a GPT. 1st place will receive 2 byes and a box of boosters and 2nd will get ½ a box. The winner always gets the byes—these can’t be split—however, you can agree before the start of the match to redistribute the other prizes. This is often desirable when one player wants the byes and one doesn’t. For example a conversation might go like this:
Player A: “Do you want the byes?”
Player B: “Not really; I’m not even planning to go to the GP.”
Player A: “Well, I am, and I only have one bye so I’d really like them.”
Player B: “Shall we rearrange the prizes, have 1st get the byes and 2nd get the boosters?”
Player A: “Sure, sounds good to me.”
Player B: “Ok, I will concede the match to you.”
Now Player A gets the byes that he wanted and Player B gets all of the prizes he was interested in.
This sort of agreement is common. Unfortunately the problem for newer players is that there is a subtle undercurrent to all of this splitting. You have to avoid touching the bribery rule. You cannot offer an incentive for a match outcome. When people say bribery they imagine someone saying “I’ll give you $50 if you concede.” Alas, prize splits can often, accidentally, fall into this category if you aren’t careful with you language.
Let’s reimagine the previous exchange between our friends Player A and Player B.
Player A: “I’d really like the byes.”
Player B: “I’ll concede if you give me the boosters.”
Enter the angry judge who promptly gives Player B a DQ and no boosters.
The first version of this discussion essentially said the same thing as the second. Both players established who wanted what, rearranged the prizes to fit, and then someone conceded. However, at no point in the first example did someone say they would do X if Y happened. “I’ll concede if you give me the boosters” is bribery. In the first example Player B didn’t say that he would concede he merely stated he didn’t want the byes and suggested that second place gets all the boosters and Player A said he wanted the byes and agreed to the split. This prize split might also be agreed to in a situation where both players think the byes are of equal value to all the boosters, so they may have just played out the match rather than have one person concede—then, at the end of the day, they both get a prize of good value to them.
Basically, when it comes to prize splits you need to be really, really careful about what you are doing or you might wind up with no prizes at all. The best advice is to ask the Head Judge away from the table. Ask them whether you can say, “Shall we say the loser gets all the cash and winner gets the PT slot?” The judge can then advise you whether this is acceptable or not. Then, remember to not change your wording at the table! You won’t get penalized for checking with a judge away from the table if your phrasing turns out to be bribery. It is particularly important to do this out of your opponent’s earshot so that the integrity of the match isn’t compromised without you meaning to do so.
Personally I would like to see something done about this issue. I, personally, can happily tiptoe around a point to arrive at the split and result I want without triggering bribery. Less experienced players fall into this trap because they see people like me arrange a split and then try to do the same without understanding how it can go wrong. Then they get DQ’d at the first tournament where they’ve done half decently and might leave competitive Magic as a result. I’m sure this is an issue judges have looked at and I can’t think of a nice solution. Until anything changes, just be careful.
3. Don’t lie to a judge.
Judges aren’t actually here to punish you. They do deal out penalties when a player break the rules, but this is all covered in the rules and it ensures fairness—enforcing these rules protects the integrity of the tournament and the experience of everyone in it. Most infractions result in warnings; while these can occasionally accumulate and cause bigger penalties, they don’t actually cost you anything on their own. I’m not going into all the in-game ways you can get penalties; however, the single most important outside game rule is not to lie to a judge.
When a judge asks you a question you must answer truthfully. Quite often they are merely trying to establish the facts, they are not looking to penalize you. Unfortunately, a twitch reaction (probably from school or angry parents) is to deny knowledge. But lying gets you a far bigger penalty than anything else you were likely to receive, often upgrading from no penalty straight to DQ!
For example, the following scenario came up at GP Brisbane 2007 and featured Olivier Ruel—who really should have known better. In one round, his opponent was wearing a t-shirt with a reflective logo on it. It turned out that Olivier could actually see the cards in his opponent’s hand (at least sufficiently well) by looking at the logo. A spectator noticed that Olivier was leaning forward whenever his opponent drew a card, and suspected that he was looking at the shirt. The spectator, not being sure what to do, correctly informed a judge to allow them to assess the situation and if anything was afoot. When Olivier was asked if he could see his opponent’s cards in the shirt he replied that he could not. This was, on further investigation and from onlooker reports, established to have been a lie.
The funny thing is, before Ruel lied, there was no infraction. Your opponent can show you his or her cards at any point. If I drop my hand on the table you are perfectly at liberty to admire all of my cards. I have chosen (or accidently) revealed my cards to you. If I wear a mirror around my neck you are allowed to use it to read all of my cards. If I hold my deck so you can see—without trying—some of my cards during shuffling, you have not done anything wrong. Olivier was not doing anything wrong by looking at the shirt. The judge was trying to establish that Olivier’s action of staring at the shirt and moving to see the reflection was the reason he kept leaning forward. If Olivier had answered that, yes, in fact, he could see the cards, the judge would have politely informed the opponent that maybe his shirt choice was harming his ability to win the game and then left the table in peace. As it was, Olivier lied to a judge and got DQ’d for that. When you are asked a question, it’s not necessarily because what you are doing is wrong. More to the point, regardless if you have done something wrong, your possible penalties are: Warning, Game Loss, Match Loss, or DQ (if it’s really, really bad). If you lie—and a judge will know if you do—there is only one penalty: you get DQ’d. Yeah, game/match losses suck. DQs suck more. Be good; don’t lie to judges.
I was going to cover some more general pitfalls of competitive tournaments for newer players, but I seem to already have written quite a lot. Do me a favor and point players at your LGS who are attending their first GP, PTQ, or SCG event to this article. Every time I hear about someone getting DQ’d because of rolling a die, bribery, or lying my heart sinks—the story is nearly always followed by “it was their first GP.” Ignorance is not an excuse at competitive events. I hope this prevents very avoidable DQs from being handed out.