Lies My Old PG Told Me

Posted in NEWS on May 23, 2007

By Wizards of the Coast

Ladies and gentlemen, it is time for the un-education. For about ten years now, there has been a Penalty Guide. Wisdom in how to apply this Guide has been passed on throughout the system, from informal chats to articles and seminars. Learning this information is an essential part of becoming a judge and improving your skills. High-level judges have been explaining how it all works for years.

They've been lying. Sorry.

It's not their fault. This new Penalty Guide comes along, and it pulls the rug out from under some basic principles of judging. I'm here today to talk about some 'truisms' used in the past that are no longer true. Every once in a while, a judge will try to interpret the new Penalty Guide through the prism of these rules and it ties them up in knots. I've seen these four in action, and the results aren't always pretty.

As a bonus, I'll give you four new truths to take away instead.

Every infraction needs to be penalized

Because the old Penalty Guide was vaguely defined, with two generic categories in Procedural Error and Unsporting Conduct, it was possible to classify any infraction, no matter how slight, somewhere in the document. This actually had multiple detrimental effects, such as penalties being different from area to area, and trivial penalties could overshadow significant ones in terms of where we wanted players to correct their mistakes.

A classic example is failing to bring a pen to a tournament. There is no infraction in the new Penalty Guide that will cover it. This is intentional. There are times when a penalty is not called for, even if it's a violation of a rule (which this isn't), and the odds are that if it's a relatively minor thing a formal penalty is not required.

Some judges may feel that this leaves them without any recourse. This is not true. Do not underestimate the power of a pointed correction, or a sharp word without a formal penalty. A player who persists with a behavior that needs correcting can be directly instructed to fix it, and penalized accordingly if they fail to do so, but this should be a last resort. Most players did not intend to commit the minor infraction and are not looking to abuse the lack of penalty. If we felt that there was a way to abuse it, odds are we made it a formal penalty.

Truth: Sometimes players commit an infraction. At other times, they just need to be educated.

Disruption is the essential factor

Because it tried to encompass all possible infractions, the old Penalty Guide needed to give judges a framework that would help them determine whether an offense was Minor, Major or Severe. One of the guidelines was to assess the disruption that an infraction generated.

With the new Penalty Guide, degree of disruption has already been taken into account in determining the level of penalty. However, it's not the only factor, and, as a result, some infractions that cause a minimum of disruption are penalized harshly, while others that may cause some disruption are less severe, or not penalized at all. This has caused some distress among judges who have been trained to weigh disruption heavily, especially in assessing Unsporting Conduct and Procedural Error penalties.

One example would be a player failing to write their name on their decklist. Yes, this is a minor disruption to the judge staff as they track down the player or two who forgot to write down their name, but other factors, such as the limited potential for abuse, and the likelihood that it will be part of the opening announcements (and thus fall into that category) were stronger considerations. Again, there's nothing to stop you asking them to be more careful in the future without issuing a formal penalty, and if you believe they may be intentionally trying to take advantage of not writing their name down, the infraction is Cheating – Fraud.

Truth: Disruptive behavior should always be addressed and corrected, but it may not require a penalty on the same scale.

The PG is a legal document

The old Penalty Guide was vague and required a lot of education and word-of-mouth for judges to understand how to apply it properly. As a result, it could stand up to analysis – there wasn't all that much to analyze! One of the goals in creating the new version was to have more explicit definitions of penalties. For the most part this has been successful, but this success has brought about a perception that the guide is a legal document or holy writ and can only be understood by deep textual analysis. This is not the case – the guide was never intended to be a comprehensive legal document, and while we've made every effort to be thorough, it will not stand up to a vigorous legal analysis.

I've seen some impressive attempts to derive meaning from every word in the Guide, down to the exact definition of the word "manipulate". Again, a level of common sense has to be applied – if a deep textual reading would find a contradiction or loophole in the meaning of an infraction definition, then the odds are you're reading too deeply.

For example, a player who plays Terror on a creature with Protection from Black has, under a strict analysis of the Penalty Guide, committed Cheating – Fraud. They've taken an intentional action (targeting the creature) that is against the rules and is to their benefit. This is a case where reading too deeply ties you up in knots. They're not cheating if they've just not realized the creature has Protection from Black (though if you believe they knew and were trying to get away with it, then yes, it's Cheating) and the meaning of the infraction should be applied over a strict interpretation.

We do our best to clarify and fill in these gaps when they are discovered – the next revision will have a line to cover the above scenario – but it's the meaning that's important.

Truth: While the penalties in the Penalty Guidelines must be enforced consistently, the philosophies and definitions are there to guide you to the correct understanding of actions, infractions and penalties. The document itself is worthless unless you mix in your wisdom, experience and common sense.

Everything is covered

We brought the Penalty Guidelines to Pro Tour Geneva to beta-test the document. The goal was to see if it covered all the situations that could come up at the Pro Tour.

It didn't. Within an hour, we realized we had no section on non-Cheating draft violations. By the end of the tournament, we had a few more bits and pieces to add in, so even though the tournament as a whole was a success from a testing standpoint, the document was not yet complete.

The Penalty Guide is the work of tens of people, using the feedback from hundreds of people who have thousands of tournaments worth of experience. That may sound like a lot, but in terms of crafting a comprehensive document, there's a chance something has been missed. Ultimately, we're all fallible, and the new Penalty Guide doesn't give us the generic buckets that allow us to fudge that.

We give the Head Judge latitude to fix this if necessary. A significant and exceptional circumstance includes "a situation that has no applicable philosophy for guidance". If a deviation based on this occurs – and they should be rare – please don't hesitate to let us know about it. You may have found something that we never considered and it will help us make the document stronger in the future.

Truth: The Penalty Guidelines will be better with your feedback. If you find something you feel is missing, contact a high-level judge to discuss it with them.

Toby Elliott, L4