Player A: "I attack with the Skittering Skirge and Dauthi Horror."
Player B: "Wait a minute! You summoned the horror last turn. The skirge should be in your graveyard."
Player A: "Uhmm..."
Player B: "Judge!"
How many times have we, as judges, encountered the above situation during a tournament? All of the time. This and many situations like it tend to get thrown into the category of infraction we like to call Card Misrepresentation. Card Misrepresentation is the toughest category of infractions to resolve that commonly occur during an event. Cheating and Unsportsmanlike Conduct are perhaps tougher, but are encountered only infrequently.
The current version of the penalty guidelines are reproduced below. Keep these in mind as you read this article.
H.2. CARD MISREPRESENTATION
A player is in violation of the floor rules section 1.3.18-Card Interpretation if he or she misrepresents a card.
Note: If more than one turn has elapsed since the violation occurred, it is generally better to let the current game situation stand (despite the error).
Level 1, 2, or 3
First Offense: Notice. Correct the mistake if feasible.
Second Offense: Warning. Correct the mistake if feasible.
Third Offense: Double warning and match loss.
Level 4 or 5
First Offense: Warning. Correct the mistake if feasible.
Second Offense: Warning and duel loss.
Third Offense: Double warning and match loss.
When trying to resolve these offenses, the first thing I always do is get as much information as possible about the sequence of events leading up to the problem and about the current game state. Be sure you ask both players directly to tell their stories. Often you may encounter a young player or a non English-speaking player that are reluctant to say anything contrary to the other's statements.
Next, be sure to carefully read all of the cards involved. Do not rely on your memory alone, especially now that several hundred cards are in the process of being re-templated via Oracle. Recently, I have taken to looking up the exact card text in Oracle before ruling on a situation that would impose any sort of penalty.
Once you understand exactly what the problem is, you now have to determine how to fix it. The first question you ask yourself is "When did the error occur?" Remember the golden rule. Never "fix" anything beyond the current turn. Take the common Skittering Skirge example stated at the beginning of the article. The proper procedure is to immediately bury the skirge. Often player B will ask for a "life refund" if the skirge happened to damage him last turn, but you should not reverse anything beyond the current one. Also, remember that both players are responsible for following the rules. It is often appropriate to apply a lesser penalty (Caution or Notice) to the other player as well. The skirge situation is an excellent example where both players are culpable.
If the play error occurs while resolving a simple spell, then the fix is generally straight forward. Typically, the player will either forget something or do something out of order. For example, often when casting Time Spiral, a player will start shuffling his or her graveyard into their library before removing the spiral from the game. Alternatively, they might simply forget to remove the spiral altogether and it gets shuffled into their library. In situations like these, its very easy to back up to where the mistake was made and then to proceed properly.
Instead of forgetting a step when resolving a spell, often a player will not announce a spell properly or they fail to succinctly communicate their intentions. In this case, the solution can be more problematic. Let's look at another example.
Academy Rector is a creature in Destiny which reads "When Academy Rector is put into a graveyard from play, you may remove it from the game. If you do, search your library for an enchantment card and put that card into play. Then shuffle your library." A player controls a rector that ends up going to the graveyard. This player proceeds to place the card in his graveyard and then starts digging through his library. What do you do? Under level 1 or 2 enforcement, the intent of the player was obviously to use the remove from game ability. I would move the rector to the removed from game pile, apply the proper penalty, and allow the game to proceed. Under a higher level of enforcement, the "obvious" intent of the player is not how things need to play out. Essentially, the player choose not use the remove from game ability. The rector should stay in the graveyard and the player will need to re-shuffle their library.
When applying penalties to Card Misrepresentation, the guidelines call for a Notice under level 1, 2, or 3 enforcement, and a Warning under level 4 or 5 enforcement. In practice, I have found these to be generally correct. However, you should scale penalties up or down if the player's intent or the resulting disruption warrants it. For example, player A plays Balance and while resolving the spell, he or she equalizes cards, then lands, then creatures. The proper order is actually lands, cards, and then creatures. Although technically incorrect, this sort of a mistake has no bearing on the integrity of the duel. I would downgrade the penalty from Warning to Notice in the case of level 4 or 5 enforcement, and from Notice to Caution for level 3 and under.
As an opposite example, consider a player that activates a Scroll Rack, and then in response casts Intuition. The player grabs the three cards from Intuition, proceeds to rack 7 cards from his hand, and then starts to shuffle. The player's library is now hopeless messed up and there is no way to fix the problem. This should result with a Warning and a Game Loss.
Determining intent is a bit tougher than determining disruption. Generally speaking, judges need to give players the benefit of the doubt. We must assume the misrepresentation was unintentional. Multiple occurrences of Card Misrepresentation, especially surrounding the same card, may very well have been intentional. The standard penalties for multiple offenses are appropriate and should be applied. Alternatively, when a player would gain a significant game advantage as a result of the misrepresentation, it is also appropriate to increase the penalty. As a guideline, I would treat the mishap as a second offense, e.g., from Warning to Warning and a Game Loss.
Overall, the most important thing to remember when dealing with misrepresentation issues, is that your main goal as a judge is to maintain the integrity of the duel. Do whatever you can, within the context of the current turn, to maintain the game state as if the mistake never happened. When the duel is irreparably damaged by the actions of a player, then that player needs to be penalized, even to the extent of losing the duel.