Ruling Concept: Judging a Judge

Posted in NEWS on May 24, 2000

By Wizards of the Coast

Mike Bahr

Ruling Concept: Judging a Judge
by Michael Bahr [level 3, Tempe, AZ]

Hi all and greetings.

I just spent the last two hours reading articles posted by you, the other judges, on the judge page, and was constantly impressed at the sort of practical application of this information that you all are making possible. Think about this, a new judge is inducted into the program, and right away they have access to all of our collective experience so that they don't get bullied by pro players, deceived by cheaters, or lost in the process of calculating OMP. They can "stand on the shoulders of geniuses, and thus reach higher still", to paraphrase the well-known comment on research.

However, among all that excellent reading, I saw only occasional reference to one of the touchier situations that we as judges face when working our events, and that's judging a judge. What happens when the person on the table is a certified judge (especially if they are, gasp, higher level than you are) and they seem to talk the talk so well that you're just not sure you're right about your ruling, your decision, and maybe even a penalty that you want to apply. It happens to the best of us, we second-guess ourselves. Without meaning to, we allow our face of authority to erode, if only for a moment. And God help us if we make the wrong call! :)

I'm going to explain a particularly interesting event of this kind that took place last Saturday at Arizona Gamer in one of our weekend Standard tournaments. With that in mind, I'm going to go over the options we have in these kind of situations, the outcome that we as judges are trying to accomplish, and the sort of mental preparation and expectation we need to have when approaching a table to make a ruling that might well be questioned by one of our own.

Saturday was a nice day for a tournament, we were running 32k at REL 3 with a good number of players, five rounds cut to 8, and right away in round one I start getting called to a table for rulings. A younger (age 12) player, we'll call him "Alex", was playing Bargain (a little sloppily, I have to admit), against a level 2 judge (age 16) whom we'll call "John". Names have been changed to protect the innocent. John's first complaint was that Alex had played a Renounce, placed it in his graveyard, and then attempted to name permanents to sacrifice. Now, we all know the correct play is to place Renounce on the table (when it resolves), sacrifice the appropriate permanents, gain the appropriate life, and then place Renounce in the graveyard. John's contention, and a valid one, was that Alex must have Renounced for zero, since he didn't sacrifice anything before placing it in the graveyard. Clearly Alex's intention had been to play Renounce correctly, but what do we do? It's Rules Three. What Alex actually did was a valid play, albeit not at all the play he had intended to make. Renouncing for zero not good, me say.

Well, we have a lot of options in this situation. We can simply warn Alex for misrepresenting a card, and force the play as called. We can apply misrep and force the play as intended. After all, we want the game to proceed as naturally as possible. Basically, we want the integrity of the tournament upheld, and it's understandable that a twelve-year-old who's played Magic for six months may not know all the rules nuances that his opponent was well versed in. We can make no call at all and force the play as called or intended. We can back up the play to before the announcement. (After all, nothing has happened yet, so no problem with the integrity of the table). The problem is that just about every call here is widely in favor of one player or the other. I made a judgement call that John should have been a sportsman and taught Alex to play the card correctly, rather than calling for a penalty. I did issue Alex a warning for misrepresentation, and explained to him very carefully (so as not to confer advantage) that I wanted him to play as tight as possible in this match, and not sloppy, because it might be a game-breaking difference. Al nodded, promising to be more careful. John was satisfied with the warning, but not with my next move, which was to force the play as intended. This gave Alex a slight advantage, as he was to go off that turn and win game 2 (forcing a third game), so it was important that the warning be issued. To have forced the play as called would have been, in this case, the equivalent of a match loss (Alex was at 1 or 2 life) and that's not the appropriate penalty for misrepresentation. It wasn't the result that the tournament would be best served with.

No sooner did I walk away than was I called back to the same table. John says "That's game, right?" As I asked why, John says, "Alex just forgot to pay 1 life to draw a card under Bargain. So he's getting another misrepresentation, and clearly that's a game loss, two warnings for the same penalty in the game. I mean, you as a level 3 should know that." Alex confirms that he did, indeed, forget to pay life as he just drew a card. More slop, but again unintentional.

THAT is what happens when you judge a judge. They know the rules, they can try to use them in a game. It's true... two warnings for the same penalty are supposed to cause a game loss. Well, I had two problems with this. John, again, should have been a good sport and simply made Alex pay the life. He wasn't required to, the rules don't state it, but in my mind it's as simple as forgetting to pay life when you Vampiric Tutor, and having your opponent remind you, at which point it of course gets paid. It was another small, innocuous error. I wish Alex hadn't committed this error because it's true that he's playing sloppily and that to ignore his mistakes will likely let him win this game handily. My other problem is that as a head judge, it's not up to the players what penalties get handed down. Always remember this... when the DCI says that the head judge's say is final, they're giving you that loaded gun for a reason. We want to uphold the integrity of the tournament. We want to keep players having fun, and to make the tournament environment better by our rulings. Further, we want games to proceed as naturally as possible, keeping penalties to their absolute minimum necessary to maintain order and fair play. I'm in a bind here. I have a player/judge dictating to me what should be done, and technically by the book he's right. I have another player, unintentionally playing some heavy duty slop. I can't really even call John for unsportsmanlike conduct, because technically he's really not doing anything outside the rules. What to do, indeed?

It's times like this when it's a good idea for us to say "time out, I want to check on something" and then take a look at your floor rules, your penalty guidelines, anything to keep your perspective on the event solid and your ruling accurate. As high level judges we might have an expert knowledge of the rules, but you can always look it up if you're not sure.. the players will respect you for your accuracy. I saw what I was hoping to see, that I could issue a warning that would have the desired outcome... the match would continue, our player/judge wouldn't be using leverage on his opponent in this way, and Alex would still be penalized for his slop. I issued a warning for Procedural Error-Major. Sayyyy... John, that's a different penalty! I'm afraid there will be no game loss here.

John was unhappy, repeating, "It's clearly misrepresentation, but oh well, that stuff don't faze me." A moot point as John won the third game and the match. But I'm glad I ruled as I did. Nobody got to use the rules as their own personal weapon, and nobody got away scot-free with slop. The integrity of the tournament was upheld. Ultimately, the outcome was something that we could all live with. That's all you can hope for as a tournament judge... not to make the correct rulings, but for your rulings to produce the best/correctest (?!) possible outcome.

Use these options and the penalty guidelines to try and make your rulings produce those outcomes. If you have a player, even a judge, who is being unruly and ridiculous (and you've looked up enough info to be sure you're right, if necessary), then don't hesitate to bring the penalties against them... after all, you're ruling in what you believe is the best interest of the tournament. Conversely, if you know you need to let someone off the hook when all indicators seem to point to the opposite result, you have that ability based on the guidelines. It's important that I emphasize here that this loaded gun is only to be used with the greatest of care and most careful of discretion. As judges we need to stay as close to the book as possible while still doing the right thing.

The fortunate thing is that most judges, especially of higher level, are of a more cooperative temperament when you're called to their table. When Ray Powers (another local level 3) is playing in one of my events, I have no fear whatsoever of even the most stumping rules quandary or game situation from him. If anything, he will get more and more excited the further afield I have to go to find the correct answer. It's been my pleasant experience to report that most judges are like unto Ray in that they, too, are interested in the integrity of the event and will cooperate with you as a head judge at your events.

It's the Johns of the world that you have to be careful with... they're judges, they know their stuff, but they haven't become detached enough from the realm of Players to fully realize the values and beliefs we cling to in the realm of Judges. When you have to judge a John, do it the way you know you need to. Look up that weird ruling if you think they're social engineering you. Look up the penalty if you think it sounds a little severe (or not severe enough). Don't let them dictate to you, and don't let them make rulings... you're the judge, not them. Your other players will respect you for being impartial, and will feel that you are truly neutral and fair as an arbiter, and the judge in question will realize they have stepped over the line if you calmly bring them back down to earth with sound logic and neutral rulings. Your own temperament is crucial here, if you can't be the Iceman, you're gonna get worked... that's one of the things I always wished I could effectively teach novice judges. Perhaps this will serve to illustrate some small piece of that.

That about covers today's segment on Judging a Judge. I hope you find this information practical and useful, and I look forward to more of the fine articles I'm used to seeing on the judges' page.

Mike from Tempe, over and out!

- Arizona Gamer Staff - - Tempe,AZ -
- Mike Bahr - DCI Level 3 Judge - -