Sometimes we need to take a step back and look at the less serious side of Magic. This article was originally just a collection of stories from myself and other judges (edited for anonymity’s sake) and a little bit of learning and judge perspective thrown in. Some of the funnier stuff is at the bottom, so I recommend skimming until slippery match slips.
“Judge! I need to know who wins the die roll!”
There’s a few stories that fall under this category. My favorite of all time is still getting called over to the table at Friday Night Magic and having two players argue about who won a die roll to determine a game winner. One player had rolled a lower number, but the table got bumped so they wanted to know if it still counted or there should be a reroll. I was pretty dumbfounded at the time, called for backup and disqualified both players. To this day I’m still blown away by the absurdity.
Other classics include being asked about a multitude of ways to determine a winner without playing a game of Magic. At first it was a simple question of if that was legal, which got a simple no. Easy enough. For some reason though the player decided this wasn’t good enough and started naming off every other method they could think of.
Flip a coin? No.
Rock, Paper, Scissors? No.
More money in wallet? No.
Finally I told them to stop and just fill out their slip.
One of the most common errors occurs when people misunderstand one another or a player incorrectly explains what they actually want to have happen. This happens with judges as well and it’s been quite the sad trombone on a number of occasions. One that prominently comes to mind is at a competitive REL event where a player specifically asked me if a spell would “kill his creature.” At the time all I had seen was a handful of small white bears and no relevant abilities or other permanents that would stop a Lightning Bolt from killing something.
So I replied if the spell resolved then the creature would die. The Lightning Bolt resolved and a creature was binned. I was called back a few minutes later and then told that Brave the Elements had been cast that turn naming red. Both players came up angry at me afterwards and I was stunned at the lack of communication. With the benefit of hindsight I can say I wasn’t paying enough attention to everything else that could be going on in the game. You can’t just assume the players or even other judges will give you a 100% accurate picture of what’s happening or even that their question is what they actually want to ask you. At higher RELs, that’s on the player asking the question, but at regular you’ll frequently want to ask a question or two of your own when answering anything past a simple “how does this card work?”
There have definitely been times where I simply haven’t been clear enough in my answers either. Explaining the entirety of an interaction is sometimes useful, but other times when you lay everything out a player stops listening at a certain point. This has come up most recently with bestow creatures and explaining when they are and aren’t considered creatures. Same goes for morph—what exactly a morph is on the stack, or when its controller gets swapped, and so on.
Here’s the key issue with being a judge and making errors. If we say that I make an average of 8 judge calls a night and discount larger events, then I’m going to average about 1660 judge calls a year. If I get even 2% of these unequivocally wrong, that’s still going to be a lot of people who think I’m incompetent because I messed a judge call up. Much like referees in sports, we have a massive amount of control over the influence of games when we give rulings. So while my percentages may be acceptable over the course of a year, players aren’t likely to take that as an excuse unless they know me well.
We aren’t perfect and I definitely am not. While I try my best to help with certain aspects of policy, I sometimes don’t slow down enough and fully understand situations, or I go off old knowledge that may not be accurate. While it doesn’t excuse being wrong, I can only apologize and move on. Of course sometimes you won’t always get that from a judge…
I’m Not Your Buddy, Guy!
Corbett – One time I was playing in a Canadian PTQ and the head judge made a ruling that I thought was pretty terrible—they broke up a match that had already finished a game in order to fix scorekeeper error. So after I finished my match I questioned him about it. He told me I was stupid, which I obviously took offense too, and I felt that he wasn’t representing the judge system well. So I asked him who his regional coordinator was (this is the closest thing to a supervisor most judges have) and he told me “I know what you are gonna do, I’m not going to tell you.” So we got into a bit of a back and forth where I would ask him and he would tell me to Google it.
Of course I was in Canada without internet service and not entirely convinced this was something I could actually find with Google. So I asked him a couple more times in a manner that was respectful, but firm in that this should be something he should be willing to give out no matter the circumstance. He then gave me a warning for unsportsmanlike conduct then when I didn’t walk away, upgraded it to a game loss.
“Are you seriously going to DQ me from your event for asking you who your RCO is?” He gave me a match loss (which eliminated me from Top 8 contention as I was x-1) and I walked away angry and upset that a judge that would refuse to answer a simple question. To top it off I then get threatened with tournament expulsion to protect them and their childish decision making. Later when I asked their last name so I could have it if/when I did contact the RCO they covered their name badge with their hand, which was more funny than sad at that point.
I haven’t played a Magic tournament in Canada since that day.
Of Mice and Slow Play
Most of my slow play calls come in one of two modes: The quiet acceptance and speeding up of play or the lengthy and fun conversation about what slow play is and why you need to play faster. Of course you don’t have to actually do that, you could instead argue with me about how you’re entitled to all ten minutes left in the round.
Explaining why it still isn’t acceptable could then lead to a jovial exchange of, “Is this how you give customer service?” “Go away and I won’t have you fired.” “Who’s your manager?”
This gets old really quickly it turns out, especially since he’s still playing slowly. Finally he brings up the real heart of the matter, which is the threat of taking business elsewhere. Frankly this is a silly threat to tell someone, once they know you’ll be going out the door and not coming back, all incentive to help them is removed and instead it becomes a race to get them out the door with as little fuss as possible. I did get to explain that, yes, please go play somewhere else if you aren’t willing to follow the same tournament rules everyone else manages to abide by. Feel free to play somewhere where they just don’t care about enforcing rules, because you won’t find that play experience here.
He left in a huff, telling me he would never return, tell all his friends not to play here, and that I was a dick. He came back three days later.
Don’t Want You Back
Baggins – One of the true joys of my job is seeing just how many people run the, “I hate you and your rules, maaaaannnn, so I’m outta here!” and then return within a weeks time. It gets even better when people that get disqualified or otherwise booted from the store for being jerks try to come back quickly. It speaks to the high class of event we run in the first place that people who feel so wronged by various judges and employees still head back to the store once they calm down.
Slippery Match Slips
I’m stealing one of my favorite stories from Nick Fang, author and robot overlord of http://www.whysogrumpy.com/ and scorekeeper for most of the Grand Prix events in the U.S.
“It’s two minutes into the round, and a frantic and upset player runs up to the desk. He was already late to start with and trying to rush to his seat, so he’s already under duress. The inevitable and universal first statement comes spilling out.
‘I’m not on the pairings.’
Here we go again.
‘We have you dropping last round, did you not mean to?’
‘No, that got entered wrong.’
And now the usual ritual of finding the table number and pulling out the slip.
‘This says you lost and dropped, what happened?’
Depending on the person, some different variant of mumbling and bumbling around why they might sign something you didn’t verify ensues. Three more minutes pass while we verify what happened with the opponent, and validate that no funny business was afoot.
Problem is, this player wasn’t near the bottom of the standings, they were actually X-1, so they’re in contention. Can’t really just give them a bye, nor can we just match them against one of our lower ranked players because getting the matchups right is actually a tournament integrity issue. So now we have to issue what’s called a cascade, in which we break a series of pairings and mix-and-match them to get valid pairings. This affects four tables this time, and it’s already now seven minutes into the round, and by the time all is said and done, now we’ve got four tables of people who are starting to play a good twelve minutes into the round, with full time extensions (since for most of them, at least, it wasn’t their fault).”
Needless to say, threats back in the day went over very well and there were absolutely no issues and everyone had no problems with each other. Guys were just being guys by virtue of being drunk and / or high while also being extremely threatening. One day at the local game store, one gentlemen decided that the appropriate response to being told to stop being a drunken lunatic during a draft was threatening to stab people. This was less amusing and more terrifying, especially since Magic players in general tend to have this weird obsession with knives. In no other hobby have I encountered nearly as large a cross-section where people just casually carry bladed instruments on them. At this point I felt the appropriate response was to disengage and attempt to reason with the man by explaining that perhaps he should go outside and we could have a nice chat while my good friends called the police. Luckily for me one of his friends did step in and explain the concept of the police and general downsides about being arrested, which encouraged them to leave.
Obviously they were allowed back in the store, because Magic stores were less sane in the late ’90s.
One of my friends wandered in at some obvious level of inebriation, and then decided his best course of action was to stumble forward into the building and immediately plow into the table directly in front of him. After plowing into that he stumbled back onto his feet directly into the next table in line, but then decided the floor was a safer location and thus the table crashing was halted. Because this store was reasonably loose on the rules for regulars, he then continued in the tournament for a game or two before he was simply too hindered to continue.
What Does My Deck Do?
At a Legacy 1K, there was a normal judge call, “Judge, I need oracle text on my deck” which was originally figured to be a joke. Players need oracle text for foreign or older cards all the time at eternal events. As it turns out, it was the player’s first Legacy tournament and he had borrowed a deck consisting entirely of old and foreign cards, meaning maybe one in ten cards were intelligible to him.
At this point the judge dropped his phone on the table with the MTG guide app open and said, “you know how to use this?” and then left once it was confirmed he did and his opponent was OK with the phone being used for this purpose to prevent about 40 more judge calls. This process was repeated throughout the tournament until the player dropped.
Turn Down for What?
At a competitive REL 1K event, a judge was called over to a match. He was greeted by one of the players asking if the judge knew what the deck was. Confused and trying, understandably, to figure out whether it was a joke, he wasn’t quick to respond. The same player then asked, “JUDGE! Are you deaf?” At this point, the judge realized the player was simply an ass and proceeded to UC minor him, explain outside assistance, the role of a judge, and question his life choices that got to this point.
The Difference Between a Magic Card and a Token
Boland: At Grand Prix Miami last year I was playing Bant Control featuring Thragtusk, Revelation, Supreme Verdict, and friends. I cast my singleton Progenitor Mimic onto a board containing only Thragtusk, knowing I can clone the Beast token if my opponent has a kill spell. He Searing Spears Thragtusk in response, so I copy the leftover Beast and pass.
My upkeep rolls around and I pull out another Shakespeare trading card to make a token from Mimic’s ability. Opponent snap-calls a judge: “it says ‘if this creature isn’t a token,’ and it is! It’s copying that Beast token!”
Instead of trying to explain what are and aren’t copyable values to this guy, the judge pulls a Beast token out of his breast pocket. “This is a token.” Then picking up my Mimic for comparison: “This is a Magic card.”
My opponent got the message.
I Thought It Would Be Cool
Gold: At the Avacyn prerelease I was judging a Sealed event. I got a judge call from a player. He says “Judge, I want to soulbond my creatures.” I tell him that neither creature has soulbond. He tells me that he just cast one, and wants to soulbond. I tell him that he needs to have soulbond in order to do this, and show him a card with soulbond. He insists that he wants to pair his creatures, so I explain that I’m the judge and he cannot.
After the match I look through his deck and he has NOTHING to benefit from soulbond, so I ask him why he wanted to soulbond. He told me he thought it was cool… That’s all.
Slow Speed Train Wreck
Golden Freddy: At Friday Night Magic I’m playing Standard and another soon-to-be judge was watching my game. My opponent is losing handily and we’re both staring intently as we figure the game will be over soon and we could do anything else. The opponent casts Ponder and picks up three cards while still holding his hand in the other hand. You know where this is going.
Boland and I glance at each other… But his hands are so far apart. Then he starts to slowly inch them closer, moving just a teensy bit over 30 seconds saying “Hmm…” and concentrating. He stops with the cards like an inch and a half apart, Boland and I look at each other and I sigh in relief. Then my opponent slams his Ponder cards into his hand in an instant shuffling them together. My head flew off and ate him. Hah, just kidding, that’s only if we were in a pizzeria. No, we just flipped out. I still don’t think he was trying to cheat, he was just stressing out and then turned the rational part of his brain off. I’ve seen so many stupid moves that nobody would be playing Magic if we treated them all as intentional.
Senor Davis: While going to lunch at a Grand Prix I noticed a match at the end of a table with two players trying to resolve a Karn Liberated ultimate. When I took a closer look I found they were incorrectly leaving all their exiled cards out of their decks, most likely from delve cards, and were shuffling up for their new game. I pointed this out to them and posited that they would want to shuffle all their cards into their respective libraries before starting the new game. The owner of the Karn then picked up his card, read it (with his finger on the text, so you know he was really trying hard) and said, “No, I’m pretty sure this is how it actually works. What do you think (opponent)?” He handed the card over to his opponent who also finger read the card and stated the same thing.
While they were doing this I went ahead and looked up the oracle text on my phone to be sure, since the Karn in question was in Spanish. I then asked the most pertinent question to the Karn owner, “Can you read Spanish?”
What about the non-active player?
Five Minutes or Less or Your Warning is Free
Doom: At a recent Grand Prix event, I had the pleasure to observe one of the better judge calls I’ve seen. So this is almost two stories in one, the first of which involved a case of mistaken identity. Two players had figured out in round five that their DCI numbers were wrong. As it turns out they were just randomizing which opponents they played against round to round as they had no idea how to identify themselves properly. After finding both players and some fun mid-tourney edits, all is well with the world.
Of course immediately after giving a time extension, one of these players asked for a time extension to go get his delivery pizza. The judge pondered this and gave him five minutes to go grab it and come back. Eight minutes later the gentlemen came back to play his match and was issued a slow play warning. Personally I’m surprised that the extension was even issued, but it gets better. Obviously pizza guy decides to appeal the warning, because why wouldn’t you after already taking 20 minutes of everyone’s time due purely to your own poor decisions? So another extension had to be issued and the slow play warning was upheld. The only reason another extension was given was because due to the size of the tournament, the nearest appeals judge was approximately a fifth of a mile away. People got some exercise in that weekend.