Where have all the funky judges gone?

Posted in Feature on April 6, 2006

By Olivier Ruel

People don't like losing at Magic. You don't, I don’t, no one does - you can accept being defeated, but not losing three matches in a row without a care. When a judge comes to explain you will be receiving a Game Loss, most of the time for illegal list or illegal deck, you're the only one to blame.
However, people tend to reject responsibility and hold responsible the judge who made the decision. They would contest, get infuriated against the judge, but the end result would usually remain the same.

There are penalty guidelines, more and more judges who are able to make the right decision at the right time, and this is great to acknowledge that a GL for illegal decklist is the decision that is likely to be contested the most on a tournament. It just proves judges are really getting better, and this is great for Magic.

To all of those who started playing not so long ago, let me tell you about some of the « funkiest » rulings in Magic history. I'm not talking here about Local events, where judges can make big mistakes sometimes, but we won't blame them for that: they are often still in the learning curve, so it can happen. What I'm going to share with you is about decisions made during GP and PT, meaning events on which judges are to be considered as « la crème de la crème » and sometimes sponsored to attend.

Silvère Bonhomme, running French National champion, is playing in GP Zurich ‘98. A judge asks him to tap his permanents with a perfect 90° angle. The same judge comes back to the table five minutes later and sees, how horrible, lands 70° tapped. Decision? Game loss.

Jean-Louis D'hondt, the late 90's Belgian superstar, is posting his second straight top 8 Tempest Block Constructed with his monoblue Tradewind Rider deck, back in late ‘98. At a certain point, during his quarter finals, Jean-Louis draws two cards, as his sleeves are a little sticky after two days of competition. He calls the judge, explain him he accidentally took two cards but didn't look at any of them. Can he put one back on top? Nanana, Match Loss.

That was also the time of the:
-End of turn, Whispers of the Muse
-You didn't say buyback, burn for five
-I confirm, you burn for five

I'm keeping my favorite three stories for the end. All of them involve French players, as being french myself I've heard more fine stories from my country fellows on the subject. They're about rulings you'll see once in a lifetime - if you're lucky.

3. Not So Intentional Draw

The following is happening on day two in GP Brussels 2004. Farid Meraghni is one of the few true geniuses of the game. He won his first PT one year after starting playing Magic. But Farid has never been that much into constructed, so even if he is a good player, it won't help that much if he doesn't know the cards.
For instance, Gabriel Nassif provided him with a deck for the event, a Standard UW control deck with March of the Machines and Darksteel Ingot. Farid explained after the tournament how he wouldn't play Wrath of God not to destroy Ingot when March of the Machines was on the Board, despite the mana artifact being indestructible.
That's how Farid knew the interactions between his cards. He's now playing an important third game versus some green deck with Skullclamp on the Board. On Farid's board, March of the Machines. The guy equips a 1/1 despite March, none of the two judges notices, not even Farid who didn't even read the full text of his enchantment. Then the guy draws two again, and then two more, for a total of six illegal draws. My brother Antoine who was passing by interrupts the game to explain the problem. The judge’s answer was something like « mind your own business » I believe. Sweet. Now, what would the judges decide? After all, Farid had to be aware - maybe he didn't mention anything on purpose - they had to figure a proper ruling which, I have to admit, wasn't an easy one.
After a five-minute chat, in between which time was called, the judges came back and called game three... a DRAW.
After the round, one of them explained us how they looked at the game and figured out that none of the players could win anyway.
Antoine: Did you realize Farid could have won this game?
Judge: No, not a chance, that's why we called this game a draw
Antoine: If his next draw is a land, he wins...
Indeed, he would have, and only the judges didn't notice.

2. Appeal Once, Appeal Twice....

I put myself in second place, it's not that modest, I know, but I think I deserve it for what follows.
This is my first GP abroad, in Lisbon, back in September 99. If I want to travel again, I really need money, obliging me to score at least 4 points in the last two rounds of the event, which is Urza Block Constructed. I'm running Enchantress, and I can't win without Yawgmoth's Will, which I can only cast using Fertile Ground.
The problem is that I'm down one game VS Land Destruction, and my 4 Fertile Ground are in my Graveyard, meaning I've literally no way to win. 15 minutes left on the clock, and I'm just waiting for my opponent to finish me. He's tapped out, says go, I draw, play land, say go, then he goes:
Opponent: End of turn, Fault Line for 5
Me: Well, you were tapped out
Opponent: I wasn't!
Me: Antoine?
Antoine: He was.
We call over the Head Judge, Antoine testifies, but as he's my bro the judge doesn't seem to care that much. The judge leaves the table and comes back with the following ruling:
-You're gonna play a new game instead of that one. (looking at me, a little bit angry for some reason) And I don't want to hear anything about you until the end of the tournament!
Me: sure...

So we play again, I take the game and we draw.

On next round, I'm up a game VS black suicide.
He goes: SwampDark ritualLurking Evil
My start is fast too, turn one Land Exploration Land, turn two Land Land Masticore. And so we race.
And then I attack for the win.
Opponent: I go down to 2. Me: Nope you're dead.

The Head Judge comes back.
HJ: I told you I didn't want to hear about you anymore!
We expose the situation, and the decision comes:
HJ: (pointing my opponent) You win this game.
Me: Why ???
HJ: I told you...
Me: But...
Spectator: Judge, this is a 4-turn game and no spell was played since turn two, it shouldn't be that difficult to see who's right and who's wrong.
HJ: Sure...

Five minutes later, I'm declared winner, and finish 31st on Tie Breakers.

Would I ever have been a Pro if that “reset ruling” had not been taken, or if the spectator had not asked the judge to start that game again? I'll never know.

1. And the Winner is:

My favorite one relates to a Team Event in PT LA 1998. The winning team would win 1000$, and one of the Top teams in this event was Raphaël Lévy-Stefan Valkyser-Peer Kröger.
During the quarter finals, the French-German team was deck-checked. When the judges turned the decks back, they explained to one of our heroes’ opponent he ticked a wrong case in his decklist, meaning he wrote he was playing one card while he was instead playing the next one on the list. Game Loss? Tututu, nope sir, you will play the card you listed instead.
Player: But I didn't open it.
Judge: Pay attention next time

After the round, Raph and his teammates were joking about how you just had to list the good cards if you wanted them in your deck. If they were having a clue about what would happen next...

After the final draft, the big game for money is going to start. No wait, there will be a deck check first, this is so useful for a final...
Judge: Raphaël, can I have a word with you?
Raph: Sure
Judge: You didn't register Weatherseed elf, but Weatherseed Treefolk.

I'll let you guess the end of the story...

That was another time. I talk about PT and GP held in 98 or 99 and realize I am a dinosaur despite being 24. I can now appreciate the work judges do on tournaments and realize how better everything on tournaments went in the last years: players, organized play, judges...

But still I feel a little bit nostalgic about the time when the latest fashionable joke was about the most horrible play or ruling. And sometimes I really wonder where all the funky judges have gone.

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