Judge Points: New Penalty Guidelines

Posted in NEWS on December 8, 2015

By Wizards of the Coast

Sheldon Menery

The DCI continues to perfect its mission to bring the highest-quality Magic events to its membership. Each year, with the new tournament rules updates, we see a slight tweaking of the existing rules in order to bring them in line with the DCI's vision of the very best and most fair tournaments.

This year's update is no exception. Although the update encompasses far more than just the Penalty Guidelines, penalties are a large part of a Judge's day. This week we'll go over the changes and what they mean to you.

104. Deck Problem-Illegal Sideboard List

The section regarding what to do if player's sideboard contains more than the required number of cards has been revised. The previous penalty was to issue a game loss and to remove the sideboard. This was a harsher penalty than initially intended. Under the 2001-2002 Penalty Guidelines, the sideboard should be made legal by removing the extra cards. This should be done from the bottom of the sideboard list and can include the removal of partial sets of cards. For example, if a sideboard list contains sixteen cards, the judge will look at the list and determine what the bottom card is. If this card is part of a set, the judge will remove only one of that set.

The first change we cover is an excellent one. As noted, the penalty of removing the sideboard for the entire tournament was overly harsh; it certainly translated into multiple game losses. More matches are played with sideboards than without.

131. Marked Cards-Minor

This is what we used to call "Marked Cards-No Pattern." The nomenclature change makes it consistent with other sections of the Penalty Guidelines. The penalty has softened a bit (Caution at REL 1-3, Warning at 4-5). The lighter penalty reflects the lower likelihood of the markings giving a player an advantage.

132. Marked Cards-Major

Obviously, this is what we used to call "Marked Cards-Pattern." If a significant advantage could be gained from the sleeve/card markings, then the penalty must match the potential advantage (Game at REL 1-2; Match at 3-5). Judges are no longer required to pick out a pattern, simply markings that could unfairly aid a player. All this assumes unintentional markings. If they're intentional, then the player is cheating; the penalty is different and more severe.

Sheldon Menery explaining the rules.

141. Slow Play-Playing Slowly


Slow-play penalties do not require a judge to determine whether a player is intentionally stalling. All players have the responsibility to play quickly enough so that their opponents are not at a significant disadvantage because of the time limit.

Players are responsible for playing in a timely fashion regardless of match standing/score. The section on adding extra time due to slow play has been removed. If slow play has significantly impacted the match, the penalty (Caution at REL 1-2; Warning at 3-5) should be upgraded. At higher levels, don't be afraid to hand out game losses when slow play has given a player an unfair advantage.

When discussing slow play with players, you'll often hear them say that "the situation is complicated." That may be the case, but competitive and especially professional Magic are about making difficult decisions regarding complex situations in a timely fashion. Some leeway in tough situations is warranted, but not so much as to put the opponent at a time disadvantage.

I've also heard players defend playing slowly in untimed matches, such as in the Top 8. Even though there's no time limit, play should move at a reasonable pace. It's not allowable to use time/slow play to wear down, wear out, intimidate, or otherwise put the opponent in a weaker position.

161. Cheating-Bribery

In an effort to make this section more understandable, references to "collusion" have been removed. Players are prohibited from offering or accepting bribes in exchange for concessions or intentional draws, and players are not allowed to randomly determine the outcome of a game or match.

This section is a simple clarification. No bribes, no random outcomes: no dice rolls, no comparing life totals, only the natural conclusion of the match. Players are still welcome to share prizes however they see fit, so long as that agreement doesn't depend on match concession or agreeing to draw.

What it means most is that players can't agree to split prizes and draw in a Top 8 final. One player is free to withdraw from the tournament before the final match begins, so that first and second place are determined and prizes may be awarded. Section 25 of the Universal Tournament Rules offers more guidance. It's a bit too long to quote, but important enough to read.

164. Cheating-Other

This new category includes any intentional infraction that does not fall into other, specifically-listed categories, like bribery, stalling, or fraud. Any infraction committed intentionally, regardless of how minor, is cheating and should be dealt with most severely. Intentional violation of the rules undermines the integrity of the entire event, not to mention the DCI.

The new Penalty Guidelines have both softened and hardened where they need to. Minor, unintentional disruptions must be noted, but must not be allowed to be a path to victory for rules lawyers. Disruptions of significant impact, however, must be dealt with in a manner commensurate with the level of the infraction.

One final note: the system of recording penalties works to catch the habitual offender. There was a player at Pro Tour New Orleans who was disqualified partially based on his recent record of infractions at Grand Prix: Minneapolis. PT New Orleans Head Judge Mike Guptil made a smart, courageous decision to look up the player's record for a pattern of behavior and apply an appropriate penalty based on a combination of the player's infractions during the event and his history.