Regular Vs. Competitive – A Comparison

Posted in NEWS on June 5, 2008

By Wizards of the Coast

In the past couple years, the Penalty Guidelines have changed from a document seemingly almost set in stone – seldom revised and then only to a limited extent – to a dynamic document which has been opened to revision and fine tuning when necessary. We have seen significant changes in the recent past, worked with them and lived through them. As a result, we now have Penalty Guidelines that are clearer and easier to apply in a consistent manner.

We had another major update to the PG in March of 2008 – expected to be the last major update for some time – and I would like to discuss a major facet of that update. One of the more significant changes was the further clarification of the difference between Regular REL and Competitive REL. The goal is to emphasize fun and education and de-emphasize highly competitive behavior at the Regular level.

This emphasis is clear in the definition of the Regular REL:

"Because of the social nature of Regular REL events, judges should be more lenient about inappropriate chatter during traditionally silent times, such as during a booster draft. Overt strategic statements are still illegal, and players are expected to refrain from being disruptive."

This is a big change, and it allows judges and players some flexibility when it comes to UTR 71 ("Players may not talk or communicate to others during a draft.") We went from "silence" to "reasonable restraint." This probably reflects what most of us had been doing all along in store drafts and FNM, but this new approach is consistent with the spirit of the Regular REL. Players like to get together and play Magic. It is a game, and therefore has a significant social aspect – in short, people like to talk when having fun. While we want to maintain a level of professionalism in how FNM is run, we also don't want to quash the players' enjoyment.

Another change is related to the updated player communication guidelines, described in Nick Sephton's article. This relates to the way game information is now categorized. In brief, there are three categories: free information, derived information and private information. Free information is information all players are entitled to in a game (such as life totals, score, details of current game actions) and players must honestly answer questions about it. Derived information includes a wide variety of other information which may require some thought or work to figure out – the way different cards may be affecting an object, or even the number of cards in a player's hand. Players may not lie about derived information, but it acceptable for them to answer obliquely – this is an area where we allow for bluffing in the game. (See Nick's article for more information and some examples.)

However, in the communication guidelines there is also the caveat that:

At Regular REL, all derived information is instead considered free.

This is an elegant compromise between allowing players the ability to bluff or be misleading within certain limits about derived information at Competitive and Professional events, while requiring players to be straightforward at Regular events. I have often seen experienced players at a Regular event take some time to explain rules and interactions to a less experienced opponent – something that can make the game more enjoyable for both players. While we can't force everyone to be patient to new players, this sentence should at least help to make Regular events less cutthroat.

Another change is found under Deck/Warband Error – Deck/Decklist Mismatch

Players in Limited tournaments that do not feature decklists may change the configuration of their deck between matches.

Some premiere TO's have been doing this for a while at Prereleases. This mainly is to the benefit of less experienced players – if someone finds out he made a horrible error in deck construction, he can fix it and NOT have to start out every match with the same problem deck. Sure, an experienced player can also change his deck configuration, but the odds of it being a significant advantage for him are slight – and Competitive and Pro level events use decklists, so this provision won't apply. Once again, this provision demonstrates the trade-off between strict enforcement (at higher RELs) and allowing players to enjoy playing the game at Regular REL.

And here's another difference within that same infraction -- the penalty at Regular REL is now a Warning. While the list of errors that fall into this category goes beyond deckbuilding errors, those errors often are caused by carelessness – for example, having a card from an opponent's deck shuffled into your deck. Changing the penalty to a warning at Regular REL takes into account the more casual nature of a Regular event (including such things as newer players and players distracted enough to be more careless).

In the category of Game Play Error, GPE – Illegal Game State now warrants a caution at Regular. This is a classic example of an infraction that, at Regular, calls out more for education than simply punishment. Newer players make a lot of mistakes, and if they learn that calling a judge gets the problem fixed and is not simply asking for a penalty, that is all to the good.

GPE – Missed Trigger is also a caution at Regular. Again, this recognizes that mistakes happen, and at Regular – which you could look at as being just a step above casual play – judging should be more about fixing what you can fix and letting the game progress, provided no major harm has been done. When legitimate mistakes happen, the PG makes the assumption is that there is no major harm.

GPE – Game Rule Violation also falls within this category. At Regular REL the emphasis is on education and explanation rather than punishment, and the penalties reflect that.

As you might expect, GPE – Failure to Maintain Game State is also a caution at Regular. We still want to encourage both players to be aware of and responsible for the game state, so for many violations that fall in these categories both players will be getting cautions.

There has been another major shift in philosophy, especially where Regular events are concerned. We had long had a set of infractions which, if committed, were penalized with a DQ across all levels of events (namely Cheating and Unsporting Conduct – Severe). There is no question that the behavior described in these categories is seriously wrong and should be penalized accordingly.

In an earlier revision of the PG, we further defined, clarified and re-categorized these infractions. For example, Unsporting Conduct – Severe was broken out more specifically: Randomly Determining a Winner, Aggressive Behavior and Theft of Tournament Material. Bribery was also moved from Cheating into Unsporting Conduct. Unsporting Conduct is defined as:

"...disruptive behavior that may affect the safety, competitiveness, or enjoyment of an event in a significantly negative fashion. An offense that doesn't seek in-game advantage should be considered unsporting behavior."

Bribery and randomly determining a winner are not offenses that seek an in-game advantage per se. They "cut to the chase" of improperly determining the winner of a match. This is behavior that steps into the arena of affecting the integrity of the tournament as a whole.

Cheating has its own definition:

This section deals with intentionally committed infractions that can give a player a significant advantage. Knowledge that the action is illegal is not required for the infraction to be Cheating.

Most of the behaviors that qualify as Cheating occur within a match or while drafting/constructing a deck (although Fraud might not), but there are two key phrases in the definition. Cheating needs to be intentionally committed – a mistake is not Cheating (although it may be grounds for investigation for possible Cheating). The infraction also has the potential to give a player significant advantage.

In the 3/08 update, further work was done with these infractions. This was not a sudden, random change in philosophy. Judges have had many discussions and debates about them over at least the past few years. Out of all these discussions we realized something about a set of these infractions. While some things are obviously Very Bad, even if you haven't read the PG, UTR or Floor Rules (such as drawing a card when your opponent isn't looking), others are not so obvious, especially to new players (such as rolling a die to determine a winner, or bringing in outside notes).

The current PG recognizes this. Certain infractions, which were formerly a DQ across all levels of events, may be penalized less severely at Regular. This does not apply to all possible DQ offenses, but a very few specific infractions have seen significant downgrades for Regular REL.

First of all, Outside Assistance has been broken into two categories: Outside Assistance and Hidden Information Violation. The first is now a Tournament Error, and there is a new infraction under Cheating to cover Hidden Information Violation.

Outside Assistance includes such things as referencing outside notes and seeking advice from others, as well as giving advice to others. The penalties for this have been relaxed somewhat. While giving/seeking advice are still very serious infractions, we also realize that there are many times when this advice comes from people blurting it out without thinking. Most experienced players are aware that outside notes of any sort are inappropriate, but this is not intuitively obvious to many newer players.

At Regular events, which are often a player's first exposure to a tournament environment, the penalty for Outside Assistance is now a warning – and probably the strict lecture as well. The reasoning for this is, the more casual players are, the more they tend to talk about the game, and they often don't realize (until someone calls them on it) that this is inappropriate at a tournament. It is also not unusual for newer players simply not to know that outside notes – things like 'how to play" articles from Wizards' own website – are a no-no. A warning and explanation should be sufficient to educate players at these events.

At Competitive and Professional events, however, be aware that the penalty continues to be stiff – a match loss. At these levels, players are assumed to know the rules, and have the responsibility to be more aware of tournament procedures and rules.

Seeking Hidden Information illegally (such as peeking at your cards or your opponent's cards in any way, shape, or form) is now considered a form of Cheating.

Many forms of Cheating are recognizable as such, even for people who don't know the rules of the game very well. For example, most people (including people who have never played Magic) would probably agree that lying to a judge is not appropriate behavior. On the other hand, there are some forms of Unsporting Conduct, as currently defined, which are not so obvious. We have now made an effort to recognize that there are a few offenses which a player may commit without knowing or even realizing that the act is against the rules.

The Penalty for some Unsporting Conduct infractions has been downgraded at Regular. For example, when a match is drawing to a close with no clear winner, casual players sometimes roll a die to decide who wins – an infraction known as Randomly Determining a Winner. This is inappropriate, but not all players realize this intuitively. Now, at a Regular event, if we are sure this offense was committed in honest ignorance, we may downgrade the DQ to a Match Loss. This is still considered a very serious offense, but in this case we feel that a Match Loss can help communicate the severity of this penalty to a player without DQ'ing him from the event.

Another infraction which we've handled the same way is that of Bribery and Wagering. Again, this is inappropriate behavior, but just what falls into this category is not always obvious to players. Most would probably recognize that offering $100 for a concession is probably not acceptable. However, while teammates may arrange before hand to share prizes, some players do not understand that they can't do a prize split in exchange for a concession. Again, we may, at Regular only, downgrade this to a Match Loss when we feel the players were not aware that this is inappropriate.

Even Cheating has a bit more flexibility under the PG now.

At Regular REL, the Head Judge may, at their discretion, downgrade the penalty for a Cheating infraction to a Match Loss if they believe that the player committing the infraction was not aware that what they were doing was illegal.

Cheating is still a very serious infraction. This does not mean that we automatically downgrade this offense at Regular. It does mean that we recognize that there may be rare instances where a player honestly does not realize that they were doing something wrong. Now we have a way to handle it in a matter that promotes the education aspect of our mission as judges. (A Match Loss is still a significant penalty that should make an impression on a player.)

Infractions are still infractions – no matter what the REL. However, we've recognized that at Regular events, players want to be able to play Magic and have fun while doing it. These changes to the PG allow us to emphasize fun and education at events such as Prereleases and FNM while still maintaining the integrity of these tournaments.

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to e-mail me. I would love to hear from you.

(And thanks to Toby Elliott for his helpful suggestions.)

Ingrid Lind-Jahn