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Draws and Concessions: A Better Alternative

Last week I wrote an article about draws in tournament Magic. I proposed that draws be reduced to 0 points. The merits of that idea were primarily to encourage better gameplay by incentivizing players to play faster and to remove intentional draws from tournaments. Removing IDs forces players to play the last rounds, improves Magic coverage, and gives Magic more legitimacy as a professional game.

Commentators raised a number issues with my proposal, many of which I consider to be legitimate flaws. I won’t rehash all of those arguments here. You can read many well-presented arguments against my article from the comment section of last week’s piece if you’re looking for more information. I think there are a lot of merits to making draws worth nil, but at this point, I’m not certain the positives outweigh the negatives.

I’m not stubborn enough to dismiss problems or let myself be blindly tied to the idea of draws being worth 0 points. If the idea has too many issues to be executed properly, then I’m willing to admit that “I was wrong, and this isn’t a good idea.” What I am tied to is the idea that there is a better system out there.

One commenter on my last article eloquently hit on the major flaw with my plan—I was trying to treat the symptom instead of the disease.

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I was trying to come up with systems where people lose the incentive to draw or concede to each other when in reality, I should have been looking directly at the disease itself. Instead of going after people’s incentives for doing certain things that are problematic, why not just make them against the rules entirely?

Simply Make IDs and Concessions Against the Rules

Sometimes, the simplest solution is the best one. If we don’t want people to intentionally draw or concede to each other, then the answer is to not allow it. Treat intentional draws and concessions the same way that collusion and bribery is treated today—by disqualification and a potential for suspension. Force players to play their matches out to their natural conclusions, much like how it is in every other respected game and sport.

Players cannot intentionally draw with each other or concede to each other for benefits, implied or explicit. This means players won’t scoop to experienced players deep in tournaments. If two players play a match out to a draw, they don’t have to sit there and awkwardly discuss whether or not one player should concede to the other instead of accepting the result of a draw. The result simply is a draw. This prevents situations where newer players get bullied by experienced players or where two experienced players can figure out exactly how to best game the system for their benefit. Players just play their matches and report the results of those matches.

Will it Work?

There are a few major arguments against this policy:

The first argument is that this is impossible to enforce, and thus not a good rule. I disagree. If we make intentional draws and these types of concessions against the rules of tournament Magic, it will drastically reduce the amount of people who will even consider it. Players would be risking a disqualification from the tournament and a potential ban for bribery for trying to pull this off. It’s a classic case of “the rewards don’t even come anywhere close to outweighing the risk.”

How do we stop people from slow-playing their way to a draw anyway or mulliganing to 3 both games in order to artificially concede the match?

I think instances of these things happening would be very low. The reason people draw and concede so readily these days is because it’s easy and legal to do, and there are benefits. If we made it against the rules with a heavy punishment, players would try it less.

It’s easy to tell when someone is purposely throwing away a match. Giving judges discretion to determine whether someone is making mistakes versus throwing away a match on purpose is no different than how a judge’s discretion is used now to determine cases where a player is making a mistake or cheating. Judging by the severity of these issues and how much care judges would need to use, I imagine it would take repeat offenses or an extremely obvious case for someone to get banned from this.

I don’t believe people would wrongfully get banned often. In the case where it does happen, Magic already has a system in place to appeal such rulings. Players can appeal suspensions and bans to a higher power, and those decisions can be overturned.

Let’s look at what it takes for someone to pull this off. They have to knowingly and willingly break the rules, risk a disqualification and potentially a lengthy ban for even trying in the first place. Once they are willing to take that enormous risk, then they have to play a match poorly enough that their opponent will win, but not so poorly that it’s obvious they are throwing the match. Beyond that, there has to be some incentive for them to even do this in the first place, meaning they would have to be playing against a friend or someone they trust to not report them, because trying to discuss such an arrangement before the match would be illegal—they would be risking a disqualification and more if their opponent or a spectator called a judge.

None of that seems very likely. Maybe a few cases would slip through the cracks, but I consider that no different than how a number of Magic cheaters slip through the cracks. The hope is that eventually they will get caught, and many do. I don’t just buy that we can’t stop players from doing this.

What about situations where someone simply doesn’t want to play the rest of a tournament or an emergency comes up? Are they forced to play the last round rather than just pack it up and go home? What if two players at a local store just want to prize split and go home because it’s 2 a.m. and the store wants to close?

Thankfully, there is a simple solution to these problems—dropping from the tournament. If you just want to concede the last round of a tournament and not play it out, you can drop before pairings go up instead. In the case of an emergency that comes up during the round, it would be fine to allow a player to both concede and drop from the tournament based on the head judge’s discretion.

What about when a player knows they have zero outs to win a game and simply wants to concede to end their misery so they can go get food before the next round?

I think it’s important to allow people to concede in these situations. Let’s say a player has locked up a win but will take another 15 minutes to pull it off. The other player shouldn’t be forced to sit there and play an extra 15 minutes of a game they can’t win. It shouldn’t be against the rules to concede a match, but it should be against the rules to concede a match for anything external to that match.

I think it’s easy to differentiate between these two situations. Allow players to concede when they’ve played out the match and can’t win. Make it against the rules for players to concede when the match hasn’t been played. Some theoretical gray area exists between those two that is exploitable, but I think it would be the exception, not the norm. The vast majority of players won’t try to exploit these situations because most players play by the rules and don’t want to risk a huge punishment.

Things like match-fixing or playing purposely bad to allow the other team to win are the kinds of actions that will get players permanently banned from other respected sports. The incentive to do it in those sports is high. Players can make lots of money, and often, throwing a match is the most beneficial thing a team can do. Yet those teams still play a fair game, and there would be an enormous outcry if they did not. Things like match-fixing are relatively rare in professional sports—at least, you don’t hear about them often—and the main reason is that punishments are so high that few people are willing to risk their careers and reputations on it.

If we want to hold Magic to a higher standard when it comes to tournament and professional play, we need to follow the lead of these other sports. Make intentional draws and concessions illegal, and then punish people who don’t abide by those rules. Anything else is just attacking the symptoms. Let’s go after the disease.

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