I wasn’t looking forward to writing this, but hopefully it can help my readers avoid a similar situation.
It all started with a six-hour car ride to Ohio. After that, we planned another three-hour car ride to Indy, where we’d have another PTQ, and then a six-hour ride home after that. This was a little crazy, but we figured attendance would be low in Ohio thanks to the Open in Columbus, and everyone in the car had a serious itch to get on the Pro Tour.
And what a car it was. Eddie “Mad Dog” Song at the wheel, with Lukas “Max Crank” Carlsen at his side. In the back we had myself, Caleb “Durdlewad” Durward and Andrew “The Blade” Tenjum. Eddie had chosen UW Heroic as his weapon, which I thought was a fine Eddie deck if a little high variance. Tenjum and Lukas were both on the Abzan Aggro list Tenjum had been crushing with, and I was still playing the 4c Soul deck.
4c Sidisi Soul
Adding the 4th Wingmate Roc is the main change from earlier lists. It’s well positioned and great in multiples, and I win more games off of it than Soul these days (though Soul still has an important role vs. Hornet Queen). I almost added a Clever Impersonator to serve as a fifth Roc.
A few people asked me about the UW Heroic matchup, and I actually beat it the last three times I faced it by boarding in pretty much everything but the Drown in Sorrows while cutting Elvish Mystics, Communes, and Siege Rhinos. Turning into a pile of efficient disruption is great, as Soul/Roc/Sidisi should win the late game naturally. All you really need to do is protect a removal spell with either Thoughtseize, Negate, or another removal spell to get the job done.
The ride down was Swift. Taylor Swift. We marathon’d the entire discography despite my loud objections, frequent criticisms, and pleas for mercy.
That night, we stayed in a fabulous one-and-a-half-star hotel with stellar reviews like: “This was an awful, awful experience” and “never again.” And the place lived up to the hype! Between the sticky floors and small, uncomfortable mattresses we got maximum value on our ten dollars a head.
Eddie Song is a blanket hog.
That morning we broke the sheet of ice off of the car and slowly drove/slid our way to the tournament. Normally, I would’ve feared for my life since we were careening around an icy road with other vehicles that also couldn’t stop or turn with much consistency, but at that point I would’ve welcomed the sweet, sweet silence of death over the Taylor Swift that was still playing.
The tournament was only 80 players, but top-heavy with grinders like Adam Yurchick, Kyle Boggemes, Adrian Sullivan, and rookie of the year Raymond Perez Jr. I recognized about 20 players that were all solid picks to Top 8 a given PTQ.
The tournament started out well. I picked up a loss in round three to some harsh mulligans, but beat a few Abzan decks, a GB Devotion, and Jeskai Tokens to enter the last round of Swiss at x-1. I got the pair-down, and sat down across from an opponent who was dead for Top 8.
“I think I’m dead.”
“I think you are too. Would you consider conceding?”
“Well no. I’d like to, but I’m playing for twelve packs.”
At this point, I wanted to offer a prize split, and from my knowledge of the rules this was fine so long as it was verbally separate from any talk of concession. That is, you definitely can’t say “I’d like to prize split in exchange for a concession,” but you can say, “I’d like to prize split” and follow that with “would you like to concede?” An opponent can certainly accept a split and then crush your dreams, and I’ve had this happen on several occasions.
I worded my next sentence in line with my understanding of the rules:
“No problem, I’m fine playing Magic. Separate from that, would you consider a prize split?”
He paused a bit, considering what that meant.
“I believe that benefits you, since the Top 8 pays out cash,” I said.
“Sure, if that’s something we can do.”
“Ok, let’s ask a judge, just to be sure.”
Fortunately, there were two judges watching.
“Judge, I’d like to offer my opponent a prize split. Is that something we can do?”
The judge took a moment to think, then said, “well, any offer of split can’t be connected with a concession,”
Or something to that effect. I don’t remember his exact wording, only thinking this was in line with my understanding of the rule. His next words I remember quite clearly:
“But what you do with your winnings after the tournament is up to you.”
So, to reiterate, my question was “can I offer my opponent a prize split” and the answer I got was “what you do with your winnings after the tournament is up to you.” Seems pretty cut-and-dried, eh?
At this point, my opponent doesn’t look at me but to the judge and says “I would like to concede.” The judge smiles and says “I think you handled that well” and takes our match slip.
The second judge walks up and asks, “did you guys agree to a split or no?”
I thought this was a curious question, but I didn’t want to misrepresent anything to either the judge or my opponent. While we didn’t verbally confirm a split, my opponent had said he would if it was legal, and that’s what I thought the other judge had told me. So that’s what I said.
“Yes, just like the other judge said we could.”
My opponent nodded and said “yes,” implying he got the same message from the first judge that I had.
We started walking and discussing PayPal information to pay off the split, just in case one of us had to leave early, when two judges, Trent Novak and David Rappaport walked up. I didn’t recognize Trent, but I knew David from a few tournaments over the years. He’d always struck me as an excellent judge with a knack for explaining complex rulings in a way that players can understand.
“I’m the head judge for this event,” Trent said, “did you two split?”
“Yes,” I replied. “But I understood that was fine so long as it wasn’t offered as a condition for anything.”
“That doesn’t matter, we’re still in the Swiss. Splits are only allowed in the Top 8. What you guys did was collusion, and for that we’re going to have to disqualify you.”
“Really? But we asked a judge and he said it was fine.”
“Oh, well if you were given bad information then it’s not fair to punish you. Point out the judge and go start your match. We might have to come interrupt you again, of course.”
So we started our match, and on about turn four the judges returned.
“I’ve found a discrepancy between your story and that of my judges’. For the integrity of the tournament, I’m going to have to disqualify you both.”
We talked for a bit more, and the head judge confirmed that the judges agreed I’d never verbally offered anything for a concession, which left me wondering where the discrepancy was.
I grabbed a DQ form to fill out the statement, noting the attached email address. I didn’t want to write about it at the time because I wanted to digest what happened. Plus, my penmanship sucks.
David talked with me a bit, and asked if I was mad. I told him I was fine, and that my win % in PTQ Top 8s wasn’t that hot anyway. I wasn’t really worried about the loss of a tournament, but rather about a hit to my reputation. I take my role as an ambassador of the game seriously, and to the best of my knowledge I’ve never been close to being DQ’d before.
David nodded, said that it was OK to be upset, and that if I wanted to talk about the DQ he’d be around. He also mentioned that the head judge wasn’t recommending a suspension in this case.
With the open space in the Top 8, Raymond Perez Jr. snuck in at X-2, which was the real travesty here because he was playing that Abzan Whip pile and was basically dead money. Still, I’m sure his Top 8 opponent appreciated the bye.
Tenjum obviously Top 8’d, and thus the car got to wait for him to lose to Adrian Sullivan in the finals, and we settled in to play some Cribbage, Euchre, and Hanabi.
After my head had cleared a bit, I decided to take David up on his offer. I wanted a deeper understanding on the ruling. Clearly I’d had it wrong before, and didn’t want to make that mistake again. Getting a ruling that I could separate from my own incident was a good idea, as our memories are bound to muddle the details of events.
I found David talking to the head judge and another judge that I recognized but didn’t remember the name of. My main question had to do with the understanding that player splits were common, and I wanted to know why this situation was different. I also wanted to understand the discrepancy between earlier rulings I’d received and the one I received there.
Basically, it was explained that player splits before the tournament were fine because they were impossible for judges to regulate, but anything mid-tournament was suspicious, and that I should never split during the Swiss. I got a few strange answers to some questions, like a “no” in response to: “Aren’t splits common when playing for Top 8 so that the player’s can reduce variance in their prize”—they very much are common in this case.
Still, I did get a clean explanation from another judge that was listening in:
“Splits are legal, and concessions are legal, but when they occur near each other is when we start to have problems, and a judge can rule that one influenced the other.”
I was pointed to the rules for tournaments section 5.2, which reads:
“5.2 Collusion and Bribery
The decision to drop, concede, or agree to an intentional draw cannot be made in exchange for or influenced by the offer of any reward or incentive. Making such an offer is prohibited. Unless the player receiving such an offer calls for a judge immediately, both players will be penalized in the same manner.
Players are allowed to share prizes they have not yet received in the current tournament as they wish and may agree as such before or during their match, as long as any such sharing does not occur in exchange for any game or match result or the dropping of a player from the tournament. As an exception, players in the announced last round of the single-elimination portion of a tournament may agree to divide tournament prizes as they wish. In that case, one of the players at each table must agree to drop from the tournament. Players are then awarded prizes according to their resulting ranking.“
So, even though I didn’t expressly offer anything for a concession, my offer of a split could be seen to influence my opponent towards a decision, which fits the definition of collusion/bribery here.
This explanation made a lot of sense, as judges (especially the head judge) have to rule on intent in a lot of different situations. In this case, the ruling that I was familiar with previously—that splits were fine so long as they weren’t expressly offered as reward for a concession—wasn’t necessarily true, as your actions could always imply intent, and a concession and a split happening near to one another could be seen as enough evidence in and of themselves.
At this point, David smiled and said, “and here’s where I tell you how to work around it.” And started talking about how, if one person conceded and then both players walked outside to have a cigarette, then who knows what they’re talking about and there would be nothing to rule on. I’d heard it before from other judges, but hearing it now made something snap into place in my brain, and I let out a long and hard inward groan.
When the original judge had said “what you do with your winnings after the event is up to you,” he wasn’t referring to my straightforward question of “are we allowed to split here,” but rather was trying to spoon feed my opponent a reason to concede, to imply that we could exchange money somewhere else without talking about a split.
And that’s what set off the whole thing. When I ask for a ruling, that’s what I’m looking for, as I’m trying to understand the rule better. I very much am not trying to break any rule, and the last thing I want is some vague language to tell me how to “beat the system,” especially when a miscommunication might lead to a DQ. I left pretty sure that this was the discrepancy between ours and the judges’ stories.
That night, the following twitter interchange occurred:
Kim Warren is a level 4 from Europe, which is impressive. Level 4s are kings of tournament procedure.
Kim’s response bothered me. It’s in line with what I’d heard in the past, that splits and concessions were independently fine, even if they happen near each other, so long as they weren’t linked verbally.
This meant one of a few things:
- I’m still misunderstanding why I was DQ’d. This is possible, since the investigation was spread out and things could easily get confused, but that’s also why I went back to talk to David, to try and understand the ruling independently of the DQ but also in relation to it. I even took him up on his offer to follow up with email, though I haven’t gotten a response yet.
- I got a bad ruling, a wrong interpretation of the rules. I don’t think this is likely either, as the judges involved seemed sharp, and like I said I’ve gotten good rulings from David in the past. Still, I’d be fine with this being the case. Judges are human and they make mistakes. Variance happens. So it goes.
- Both rulings are accurate, and a judge can either be 100% fine with a split and a concession being near each other or decide it’s a DQ-able offense.
To me, this is the scariest conclusion, as it means someone can get a ruling from a L4, act on it in another tournament, and be DQ’d. I’m fine with some rulings having some give to them, but with something like Bribery/Collusion, where the end result is fairly harsh, giving a more open interpretation/lenient take on the rules could seriously burn a player if he runs into a more strict judge down the line. Ideally, players would be given a consistent message to what is a fairly common and serious situation.
I’m not about to cut down on tournament Magic over this, and I’ll still be PTQ’ing and GP’ing and what have you. I love this game, and I’m in it for the long haul. However, I doubt I’ll ever talk splits again unless it’s with a buddy before the tournament or something during the Top 8 that the TO facilitates, which is probably the end goal of the rule in question.
See? The system works.
That night we got some IHOP, which makes for good comfort food. Their stuffed french toast is about the most decadent thing ever, and I ordered two servings to go with my fried chicken dinner. This was ambitious, and I only finished half the second order of toast.
After that, we made the three-hour drive to Indy, taking a merciful break from Taylor Swift to rock out to Michael Jackson and the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack.
We found another hotel with “character,” and I had trouble sleeping. I went into the bathroom where the light wouldn’t bother anyone, and wrote down everything I remembered about the DQ.
The next day we PTQ’d in Indy. This tournament was about the same size, 80 people or so, but it looked a bit softer. I dropped an early round to a mull to four and an early Ashiok feeding my opponent a turn four Wingmate Roc. I lost the second to last round to the mirror, and finished at 5-2.
From our car, Lukas Carlsen Top 8’d, but lost out in the Top 4. We Winston’d, Cribbaged, and ate hotel food while we waited.
On the way home we listened to more Taylor Swift. It was recently pointed out to me that, between the DQ and everything, marathoning Taylor Swift was pretty much the highlight of the trip, and that I should be grateful.