Thursday, February 18, 2016

Being An Effective Line Captain

Judges interact with scorekeepers and stage staff at many different crunch times throughout a tournament. For some of these interactions, the urgency is readily apparent: pairings or result slips are printing and need to be posted or someone has a problem that only someone on stage can help them with. In these cases, the impact of not approaching these tasks with purpose is evident. Pairings don't get posted. Players are left waiting and wondering who's going to help them.

There are some interactions that don't have such an obvious impact on the event, though, and these are equally important. Line captaining seems simple enough, but the difference between a good line captain and a bad one can be the difference between the event starting on time and starting late.

What Do Line Captains Do?

As a line captain, you're an ambassador to the players who are registering (or collecting prizes or filling in tax forms). You're their gateway to signing up (or picking up prizes or whatever) in as little time and with as little fuss as possible.

Your job is to help keep the line at registration (or maybe prize payout or some other function that requires a bunch of players to talk to a few people on stage) moving quickly. You'll wrangle players into a single-file line or guide them to the appropriate line if different stage stations are managing different processes. Essentially, you're directing traffic.

You're also often the first point of contact a player has when he or she walks into an event, which means that you'll have to field common questions like "where do I sign up?" and "where can I get a deck list sheet?" It's important that line captains are equipped with the information they need to answer these questions or point players to the person who can.

As with many kinds of choke points, having ineffective direction can be worse than having none at all.

So, what makes a good line captain?

Find Out What You Need to Know

I asked Eric Dustin Brown, whose line captaining abilities I respect immensely, what he would tell a judge line captaining for the first time if he could only tell him or her three things. His answer was pretty telling:

  1. Learn who is signing people up for what.
  2. Learn which way the line forms.
  3. Learn what information the players need.

The most effective line captains are equipped with information. It's hard to direct players to the right place if you don't know where the right place is. The first thing you should do when you're asked to line captain is find out what the players need to know so that you can tell them.

Learn who is signing people up for what.

If multiple events are open for registration, such as On-Demand side events and the main event, different people may be taking registration. There might be a dedicated registration person for side events, but he or she might also be taking main event registration while there's no one in the side events line.

The more you know about the registration process from the stage side, the easier it will be to direct players to the correct spot. No one likes being bounced around from station to station to do what they're trying to do.

It also may be important to find out which stations can take credit card registration, if that's an option. Many organizers only have one or two credit card machines, which means that not everyone can handle those registrations. The same is true for DCI number look-ups or special kinds of registration, like vouchers or players with byes.

Learn which way the line forms.

In some venues, there will be rope lines and stanchions to make a neat and tidy line, but that's not always going to be the case. If you're tasked with line captaining when a line has already formed, it's better to work with what the players have set up (unless it's getting in the way of something else, like the door to the room or bathroom). Otherwise, you'll have to devise a plan for the players who are waiting.

When you're trying to figure out where to have players wait, keep the layout of the room in mind. Where are they least likely to get in the way of other traffic? How long do you expect the line to get, and will the space you have accommodate that line easily? Will stage signs still be visible to other players in the room?

Learn what information the players need.

When they get to the stage, what should they have ready? This list almost always includes their DCI number and their event entry fee. Some organizers use registration slips, in which case players will need to have those filled out before they get to the stage. Other organizers just have players type their DCI numbers into a keypad.

Beyond just knowing what players need, it's important to make sure that they have those things ready before they get to the stage. If someone has to dig out their DCI number, it's better to send the person behind them to the stage while they find it. A player digging through their wallet or bag in front of a registration computer delays the entire line; a player digging through their stuff off to the side delays only themselves.

If a player doesn't have something that the need, be prepared to help them get it so they can get through the registration process. For example, know who can help them find their DCI number and where the closest ATM is.

The Two-Player Rule

This is one of my pet peeves, so it gets an entire section all to itself.

When the front of the line is a few steps from the registration stations, keep two players in front of each station. Yep. Two.


It takes time for a player to walk from the front of the line to the next available admin, and that's time that could be used to register someone. Two-person lines aren't going to make things significantly messier in front of the stage, but they can drastically speed up the registration process by maximizing how much time each of the stations can use to actually get people signed up (or prized out, etc.).

Responding to the Needs of the Stage Staff

Sometimes things happen on stage. Someone has to deal with a laptop that isn't working or step away talk to the venue representative. When something like this happens, I try to let my line captain know as soon as possible, but sometimes noise, distance, or the urgency of the issue get in the way.

As with most other judging tasks, awareness is key. When you're line captaining, this is awareness of players, the stage staff, the clock, and any other judging obligations you have, like team meetings. If you think something weird is going on that might affect who can take registration, just ask. If you think there's a better way to be doing something, suggest it. If it's simple, you can probably just do it.

Awareness is more useful when it's paired with communication, and that goes both ways. If you need something, like to step away from the line for a minute, or notice Something Bad happening, say something.

When I'm on stage during registration, I'm in a tiny little world that consists of my computer and the player in front of me. Sometimes that world includes the other people on stage or a player sneaking past the line to ask a question. Sometimes I have time to glance up at the line, but I'd prefer to spend that time with my head down, signing players up for their events. The more time I can spend doing that, the less time they have to stand around waiting.

And the less time you get to spend line captaining.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Matt Braddock: EE 5k Satellite, Baltimore

Today I have another guest post for you. Matt Braddock, L2 from Maryland, also moonlights as a scorekeeper for organizers in and around the Mid-Atlantic region. A few weeks ago, he traded his judge shirt for a staff one at an event organized by the folks at Tales of Adventure. The beginning of his event was full of printer challenges, and Matt's resourcefulness with technology was instrumental in finding a way to minimize the delays.


I recently worked an Eternal Extravaganza 5k Satellite event at the Baltimore Convention Center. Having acted as scorekeeper for this organizer more than once, I was anticipating bringing my laptop and having my own setup. The night before the event, I got a message asking if I could bring my own laptop: bonus points for prior experience!

I have my own checklist for items I need to bring with me, since the first event I worked I had forgotten my charger (and subsequently spent $70 at a Staples on the drive). Most of it is stuff I carry with me daily for teaching (laptop, Bluetooth mouse, mini mouse pad, charger, display adapter), but I also pack a few extra items for scorekeeping (mechanical keyboard and USB hub).

I arrived at the venue around 8:50 a.m. Players would start arriving around 9 a.m., and the player meeting was at 10 a.m. I immediately got everything hooked up, and because I know how fragile technology can be, decided to try out the printer. Now, this is the exact printer I used for a previous event with no problem. The computer recognized it, and the driver was installed previously, but it wouldn't print.

As I started to register players, I kept messing with the printer. I tried uninstalling and reinstalling device drivers and running troubleshooting prompts, but nothing seemed to work. Finally, it was almost 10 a.m., and there was no fix for the printer in sight. The organizer came over, who also has a background with computers, and we tried a few more things.

Eventually, around 10:15 a.m., we discovered that the problem was a USB 2.0 device being plugged into a USB 3.0 port. My Surface Pro 3 only has one USB slot, so there was no alternative. Even though this exact printer had worked with this exact computer months prior, an update to Windows 10 likely changed something that made it incompatible.

The organizer and I attempted to find an alternative for getting seatings and pairings out to start the event without a printer. First, I printed the seatings for the player meeting to a PDF and hosted it on Dropbox. Then, I used to create a custom short URL, which was distributed to judges. However, the Dropbox link made them open it in the app, which not everyone would have, so this wasn't going to work.

The organizer then tried to get the text from the PDF I had created into a text file to post on Pastebin; this ended up being fruitless, since the formatting was not very pretty. Then, he attempted to get it into an Excel spreadsheet, but again, the formatting didn't work.

Having now almost reached 10:30, I took back over and decided to convert the PDF to a PNG file (using GIMP), host it on, then make a custom short URL to distribute to the players. There was initial concern from the organizer with how images look on phones, but this option would only take me 90 seconds to complete and give the players something functional.

Being creative with the event name, I used "ee5kmeet" and "ee5kr1" for the custom short URLs, and the HJ read off the link to the players. We also ensured all judges could pull it up, and they spread out among the players to help them. In the meantime, the organizer sent an employee out to obtain a new printer, which, after Round 2 had started, I was able to set up wirelessly with very little fuss.

While there are benefits to newer technology, it can sometimes come with a price (incompatibility with older hardware and software). Being able to think outside the box with prior experience is an essential skill when technology does everything it can to stop you from doing your job.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

John Brian McCarthy: Judge! My Points Are Wrong!

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about editing matches that included this line about whether or not to fix pairings for players who had misreported their match result:
Make sure the Head Judge and/or tournament organizer are on board with what you want to do. They might have concerns that you haven't considered.

 When I shared the post in the Mid-Atlantic Judge's Slack, John Brian asked if I could write a follow-up article on what sort of things might play a part in the Head Judge's decision. I thought it was an interesting and useful topic, so I asked him if he would be interested in writing it as a guest post.

And here we are.


“Judge, I think my points are wrong.”

These are among my least favorite words to hear as players are hustling toward their seat during round turnover. When a player believes that his or her points are wrong, there are three things we need to discover:

  1. Are the player’s points actually wrong?
  2. When did the mistake happen?
  3. How did the mistake originate? 

First, let’s find out if the player’s points are actually wrong. One common source of this concern comes from printing pairings and standings at the same time. If a player receives a bye, he or she will already be awarded the points for his or her win, which might cause some confusion. If the player’s points are correct, we’ve got no problems.

Once you’ve verified that the players’ points are truly wrong, it’s time for the players, head judge and scorekeeper to have a conversation. You need to find out when the mistake happened. Players will often be able to tell you the results of each round, which makes finding the errant round faster — if they tell you that they won round two, and you have it marked as a loss, you know where reality diverges from software. If the player can’t remember, you’ll have to go round-by-round to find the mistake, which can be time-consuming — one way to speed up the process is to ask the player if he or she still has his or her life pad from the previous rounds, which can often jog his or her memory. If the player has already torn off the sheets and stuffed them in a table tent, you might ask what matchups he or she played.

Once you’ve identified the match where things went wrong, it’s time to find the match slip. Fortunately, you’ve been sorting and banding the match slips from each round (right?), so you can quickly find this player’s slip and check the entered results against what the slip says. If the slip is correct and it was mis-entered, fix the results in WER, then get the player paired and playing — I can’t think of any scenario where we would not fix a data entry error.

If the slips all match what was entered, you’re generally going to need both players from the round in question — if you can’t get the player who was recorded as the winner of the match to confirm that he or she lost (perhaps because the player went home, thinking that he or she lost), you probably don’t want to change the result. If you’ve got the player marked as the winner insisting that he or she lost the match, but can’t find the other player … thank them for being honest and fix it.

So what if the slip is wrong? That’s what the rest of this post is going to address.

The Disruption Calculation

At this point, you, the head judge, have two options:

  1. Change the results of that match in the computer
  2. Don’t change the results of that match in the computer

So take out your official Player-caused Match Slip Error Scale (you should have been issued one when you were certified, but you might also get an SCG-Branded one with enough Judge Reward Points)* and start putting weights on each side of it.

The “change results” side is usually going to have a pretty consistent weight: two players have match results that are wrong, which is a pretty big disruption for them.

So let’s calculate the other side: how much is it going to disrupt the tournament to change the results? Weights here include:

  • What will happen to opponents’ tiebreakers?
  • How far did a player made it in a weaker bracket?
  • What delay will be caused by fixing the error?

Here are some factors to consider when calculating the weight on each side:

How long has it been since the error occurred?

If you’re seating round five and the error was in round four, you’re looking at a lot less disruption should you choose to fix it than should you choose not to, because no one has yet played a player whose record doesn’t match their own, but they will if you choose not to fix it. Your delay is minimal, because you’re probably only switching the two players whose result was wrong.

Now let’s change the situation: you’re seating round five and the error occurred in round two. You’re still looking at quite a bit of disruption to the players whose match results are wrong if you choose not to fix it — one is going to be up three points while the other is down three points.

But look at the disruption caused if you do change it: one of your players has played against two weaker opponents while the other has played against two stronger opponents than their point totals will reflect after fixing them. If our player who lost the match goes on to face stronger opponents than he or she should in rounds three and four, he or she is more likely to accrue additional losses, while our winning player who is now playing against losing players is more likely to win and have an easier path to the Top 8 than he or she should.

Switching the results is disruptive to everyone. You’ve also got the potential to have to break more pairings, if the two players’ records diverged since their match. For example, let’s assume that these players left round two with AP at 2-0 and NAP at 1-1. AP goes on to win her next two matches, putting her at 4-0, while NAP loses both, putting him at 1-3. If we fix the pairings from their mistake in round two, they’d be at 3-1 and 2-2 — we can’t just swap their assignments for round five or we’d be create more pair-ups and pair-downs. Instead, we now need to find existing pair-up/pair-downs (if possible), break those matches and re-pair them — that means sending out more judges to stop more players from playing, and writing extensions on more match slips.

What round are you going into?

You’re going into the penultimate round, standings have been posted and players are going to be making decisions to draw in. While they’re doing that, you’re considering whether to change a player’s results, which has an effect on OMW%, the first tiebreaker. While this can be disruptive, players generally don’t draw in during the second-to-last round unless they’re undefeated. Making a change here has the potential to be more disruptive than in earlier rounds, but not by much.

On the other hand, during the final round, the pairings are generated with a “greedy” algorithm that takes tiebreakers into account. At this point, adjusting the pairings could mean a significant number of re-pairs (causing major delays), or disruption to the top portion of the room as players make decisions to ID based on incorrect information. Even if you’re looking at a player near the bottom of the standings, there’s a chance that he or she played a player near the top in an early round and that his or her results will have an effect on final standings and tiebreaker math. If your scorekeeper advises you that a change will likely result in a full re-pair, that’s a lot of disruption to balance out.

What REL is this event?

My willingness to fix pairings is greater at Regular than it is at Competitive. First, many Regular REL events don’t cut, but pay out based on record instead, in which case tiebreakers matter less. Second, because there are fewer prizes on the line, I’m less concerned about the potential disruption to the remainder of the event. Finally, the MTR specifies that players at Competitive REL events are expected to “be familiar with the policies and procedures” — that includes how to correctly fill out a match slip.

Make Your Ruling

As soon as a player lets you know that he or she believes that his or her points are incorrect, the wheels in your head should start spinning to determine the total disruption with each option. You and your scorekeeper now each have a job to do, and you’ll ideally do them at the same time. By the time the scorekeeper has verified for you that the result is wrong and how long it’s been, you should be ready to have an answer for him or her on what you want to do about it. The clock is ticking on at least one match’s extension, so make your decision quickly, especially if you’re leaning toward fixing the result, because that operation will take longer to execute.

Oh, and while you’re doing all this, you remembered to start the round, right? I’ve seen Head Judges (some of whom look eerily similar to me …) get so wrapped up in handling issues like this that they don’t notice that all the other players are sitting at their tables, patiently waiting to begin. You might consider deputizing another judge to start the round — while anyone can keep an eye out for when most players seem to be seated, if you delegate making decisions on whether to re-pair players for slip errors, you’re probably setting up an appeal (at which point you’re writing a longer time extension) or worse, inconsistent handling of these errors relative to analogous situations.

If you choose not to fix the results, be ready for at least one player to be upset. The player who had to take a loss on a round that he or she won is going to be unhappy, and it’s legitimate for him or her to feel that way, so don’t dismiss him or her! Instead, briefly explain why you made the decision you did, and remind them that it’s their responsibility to fill out the match slip accurately. Then get them to their table, issue an appropriate extension, and get them playing, offering to discuss it later if they’d like.

A Word on Cheating

I think players assume that match slip fraud happens approximately seven thousand times more often than it really does. The reality is that it’s really, really hard to get away with it, and that it’s just not an effective way to steal a match. It’s a ton more likely that players just screwed up on filling out the slip.

That said, some players (usually kids) will try it, and I’ve seen some incidents where a player has tried it without considering the consequences. So while you’re considering whether you want to fix the error and your scorekeeper is figuring out the implications, ask some questions. In the event that you’re deciding not to fix it, the player who should have won will often appreciate that you looked into the possibility that his or her opponent may have done something dishonest. Some things to consider:

  • Who filled out the win numbers on the slip? If it was the loser who filled it out wrong, that’s interesting**. Were the numbers filled out before the winner signed? 
  • Who ran the slip up? If it was the loser, that’s interesting. If it was a judge, did he or she verify the results? If not, you’re going to want to speak to the judge about doing so. If the judge did verify and the loser answered, that’s very interesting. 
  • Are there scratch outs or eraser marks? Seeing a slip changed from correct to incorrect is interesting.

If your interest is piqued enough by unusual circumstances, ask some follow-up questions. But remember that the clock is ticking, and if you decide that everything is on the up-and-up, every minute you give makes it more likely that your round will be waiting on this match to finish.

The Result, in Retrospect, Is Wrong

As the head judge, you’re going to encounter another category of decisions that are cousins to the match slip error: the players who come up after their match has been reported and want to change it. One player may have decided to drop and go home, so he or she wants to give his or her opponent the win. Or the players realize, after the match, that one accidentally made an error in-game that caused him or her to win when he or she shouldn’t have.

In general, I don’t like allowing players to request their slip back after its been turned in to make changes. The primary reason is that while this is sometimes the result of one player trying to be a nice person, it’s also sometimes the result of Bribery. At an Open last year, a judge witnessed an exchange between two players who’d gone out to smoke after their match. One of them said to the other, “I’ve got to ask one more time — could I have the win here? I’ll give you half my prize money.” If the judge hadn’t been there to intervene, the opponent could have agreed, gone in and asked the change the results, after taking bribe out of sight of tournament participants.

So, I won’t let players change their results after submitting them, barring significant and exceptional circumstances, like the realization that the result was actually incorrect because they forgot to incorporate the game loss that a player received for tardiness.


As the Head Judge, when the players screw up on a match slip, it’s your call how to fix it. The responsibility for the error is all theirs. But the responsibility for the fix is all yours: make sure that you’ve carefully considered the total disruption and chosen the path with the least net damage to tournament integrity, because you need to own that decision. If you quickly and carefully weigh the disruption caused by both options, you’ll make decisions that you can support to the players and the rest of your staff.

*Not a real thing, but it should be.

**A story for this weekend about how noticing something interesting doesn’t always mean Cheating: Our scorekeeper at the Eternal Extravaganza Satellite in Baltimore called me up to the stage and told me that two of his local players had just played, and the losing player turned in the slip. He thought this was odd, as the winner is vigilant about turning in the slip when he wins. At his urging, I tracked down the players, who were eating lunch after finishing their match, and asked about it — the player marked as losing said, “Uh … oops” and they both promptly fixed it.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Let's Talk About Words: "Investigations"

Words, as a concept, are near and dear to my heart (you can tell, because of all the writing that I seem to do). Verbal and written communication are beautiful things, but they can also foster paralyzing perceptions and create roadblocks to development and understanding.

One of my goals with this blog is to break down these barriers around scorekeeping--it's not as mysterious or arcane as it's portrayed to be, and while the software is far from perfect, it is mostly functional--both scorekeepers and those who interact with them. These barriers don't just apply to scorekeeping, though. They apply equally, perhaps even more so, to other concepts in judging that we use specific words to describe.


Back in November, Jared Sylva (L4 and former Mid-Atlantic RC), presented on investigations in two time slots at the North Carolina judge conference. His presentation was adapted from one he had given a few months prior, at the conference in Richmond. The notable thing about his approach to the topic was that he started off with a bit of an unconventional definition of what it means to perform an investigation.

This is the first line of my notes from the first seminar, which was about types and techniques:

EVERYTHING is an investigation--calls, deck checks, end of round, watching games.

In all of those situations, the goal is to gather information and determine an outcome. Sometimes the outcome is that nothing needs to be done--the deck check reveals no infractions, matches finish in turns--and sometimes action is necessary--a rules question needs to be answered or a player made a mistake that needs to be corrected.

Notice that there's nothing explicit about Cheating in this approach to investigations. That's what we might discover as a result of our inquiry, but the process is all about questions. (I love questions.)

While I picked up on the difference between Jared's approach and the general way "investigation" is perceived by the judging community from the outset of his presentation, it didn't strike me as particularly important until halfway through the second seminar, which was about common investigations.

Jared's list of topics included things like determining whether a trigger had been missed, resolving life total discrepancies and performing natural counts for information. About halfway through, someone raised their hand and said something like this (this is exactly what I have in my notes, but it might be paraphrased):

"Can you  give more examples? When I signed up for this class, that's what I thought it was about--specific things to look out for."

If I had overlooked the importance of the distinction between these approaches to investigations before, it was certainly staring me in the face now. A judge in the audience had expected this seminar to be about red flags, signals that a player might be intentionally rather than accidentally committing an infraction, and how to deal with them. He hadn't expected strategies for approaching "run-of-the-mill" judging situations.

And I couldn't fault him for that expectation because of what's inherent in our community's understanding of what "investigation" means.

  • You probably want to investigate for Cheating, but...
  • After investigating, I was confident that the player wasn't trying to gain an advantage.
  • Let's assume that you've already investigated for Cheating.

Phrases like these get thrown around all the time. In fact, many policy discussion forums, like the Mid-Atlantic Judge Slack's #policy channel, have a house rule that excludes the mention of Cheating from the discussion about handling specific situations.

These two approaches--"EVERYTHING is an investigation" and "If you think they might be cheating, investigate" aren't mutually exclusive. In fact, I think that both of them are valid.


And this is a pretty big However.

One of them is problematic.

A Brief Sojourn in the Past

Once upon a time, we were all new to the tournament official side of things. For me, it was in the summer of 2008, when I was judging my first event: WoW TCG Nationals at GenCon (talk about a trial by fire). I had read quite a few articles on judging leading up to the event, most of them written by Magic judges.

There were a few common threads among them, and the one that sticks out to me the most is the imperative that, if something seemed shady, the Head Judge should be involved immediately to investigate.

This instantly put investigations squarely in the court of judges who had more knowledge and experience than I did. They made them out to be something scary, that could only be handled by a judge in a leadership role, and they made the process feel like something that I not only shouldn't do, but something that I couldn't do.

It created a sort of stigma around investigating that made it unapproachable. As an L1 with basically no large-tournament experience, I didn't feel like I had the foundation I needed to ask the right questions or appropriately identify when "shady" and "not sporting" crossed the line into Cheating

I advanced to L2 that same weekend, but the stigma around "investigations" didn't magically go away with my shiny new judge level.

After many events, including the first major event I Head Judged, I figured it out enough to get by as an L3. Functionally, I could ask questions and make a decision about what I think happened, what the player's intent probably was, and whether that intent purposefully violated the rules.

But I still wasn't comfortable. I could do it, but the idea that investigating was something for judges with more levels and experience than I had still lingered. (For context, at the time, WoW only had three judge levels.) The stigma from my early encounters with what "investigating" means persisted.

The Things We Say

As I interacted with judges around the world, I learned that my experience wasn't unique.

I wasn't the only one who initially found that the idea of investigating was overwhelming and a little bit foreign.

I had trouble pinpointing why I felt that way, and I certainly had trouble helping judges I was mentoring overcome their own inhibitions around "investigations."

Questions like "What should I ask?" had veiled, complicated answers when it came to "investigations," and the responses usually went something like these:

  • It depends on the situation.
  • You don't want to ask leading questions.
  • You want to be direct.
  • You want to ask a questions that might catch the player in a lie.

All of these answers have something in common. They're vague. They're all accurate to varying degrees, but they're not helpful to someone trying to learn the process. They keep "investigations" cloaked in mystery, hidden away behind doors through which only the most experienced judges can pass.

Except that, in Real Life, tournaments aren't Head Judged by only the most experienced judges. They're Head Judged by you and me, and we have to investigate. We have to ask the right questions and make the hard choices, but the way judges tend to talk about "investigations," and thus many of the written resources that we have readily available while we're trying to learn, is hand-wavy:

  • Get the Head Judge involved right away.
  • Ask some questions to determine whether the player is Cheating first.

If someone is trying to learn techniques for "investigating," these answers can be frustrating. They present a barrier to understanding that masquerades as insight.

The Things We Do

Deck checks are pretty straightforward. There are lots of different techniques, but they're just different ways of answering the same question: did the player present a legal deck to his opponent?

Watching games is pretty straightforward. There are lots of things to pay attention to, like life totals and available resources. Are the players making legal choices?

End-of-round is pretty straightforward. What's the status of the matches that are still playing? Do they have time extensions? What turn are they on? What are the possible outcomes, and who benefits from the situation?

A player whose sleeves are worn might notice the pattern. A player might agree with his opponent that he had life totals wrong without asking any other questions. A player might hope that the current game ends in a draw near the end of a round.

We're observing these situations. Sometimes we're asking questions to ourselves or the players about the things we've observed:

  • Could the pattern of markings on the sleeves provide an advantage?
  • What led to the discrepancy in life totals?
  • What's the game count?

These questions are ones you'd want to ask if you're concerned that a player is intentionally violating the rules to gain an advantage. The player with marked cards might have noticed the markings two rounds ago. The life total discrepancy could lead to opportunistic cheating. A player who's up a game at the end of the round might be playing slowly on purpose.

But you know what?

These are also questions judges ask regularly when they don't suspect that something untoward is happening.

When you're on the deck checks team, you might be deciding whether to upgrade the Marked Cards penalty to a Game Loss. When you're called to a table where players disagree on life totals, you might need to help them establish where things went wrong. When you sit down to watch a match near the end of the round with an extension, you might want to know whether there's the possibility of another game after this one.

The line between "investigations" and "judge calls" isn't so distinct after all.

Changing the Discussion

As a community, we investigate all the time. As floor judges. As scorekeepers. Sometimes even as players and spectators. We ask questions and we make decisions based on the answers we get.

But, we reserve the word "investigations" for that thing that only the Head Judge is supposed to do, and only when a player has done Something Bad that might be worthy of a DQ.

This distinction isn't helpful.

There's dissonance between the things we say about investigations and the things we do on the floor of events. That dissonance creates, for many judges, a mental block about "investigations" that can be hard to overcome, and it's one that doesn't need to be created in the first place.

I mentioned earlier that I think that these two perspectives on investigations are both valid.

That's not entirely true.

I think that these two perspectives are the same.

Investigations aren't scary. How can they be? You do them all the time.