How I got disqualified (and what we can learn from it)

(Note: Writing this in English since I think this could be of interest to the international judge community.)

Last Saturday, I got disqualified from a PPTQ tournament in Salzburg, Austria after I won the finals. I originally didn’t plan to write anything on this, but after my inbox pretty much exploded the day after with friends and acquaintances asking what happened, I figured that they probably deserve an explanation. I have two goals with this post: One, briefly explain what happened from my perspective, and two, shed light on what I perceive as an actually serious problem in the tournament rules.

What I do NOT intend to do is blame anyone but myself for what happened. Everything that led up to the disqualification was my fault, and it was fully within the judge’s rights to make his call, even if it was the wrong one (which he couldn’t have known). However, I do feel that we could’ve arrived at a better call, but more on that later.

So what happened?

Basically, I’m an idiot.

I originally wasn’t even planning on playing in this tournament, as Salzburg is actually a tad too far away from my hometown Munich for me to consider going there for a PPTQ. I have a lot of good friends in Rosenheim, though, which is basically halfway between those two towns, and I really wanted to compete in their (extremely prestigious) store championships that were to take place the evening before. And after my good Rosenheim buddy Andi Reling offered me to crash at his place on Friday and then make the drive to Salzburg from there, I was in. So on Friday before I went to work, I packed my stuff including my 6th edition basic lands that I love so much and looked forward to one-and-a-half days of gaming.

Now the reason I mention those basic lands is that – Spoiler Alert – they were what ultimately led to my demise. Quick backstory: I always had a soft spot in my heart for the basic lands from 6th and 7th edition, for a couple of reasons. One, I really think they’re pretty. I mean, look at them! Two, I started playing around that time, so there’s definitely some nostalgia at play. Three, white borders are actually very practical on basic lands because it means you can find them quicker with your fetchlands (or your Evolving Wilds). And four, I do enjoy the occasional tilt I induce in my opponents when they see my ugly-ass white-bordered lands.

I have been playing with this specific set of lands for two or three years now, which naturally led to them looking pretty used after some point. I didn’t really consider that a problem because as long as they’re not distinguishable from the other cards in your deck – who cares? What I failed to take into account, though, was that the condition of a card is not the only factor in deciding whether it’s tournament legal. You also have to consider its shape, like – hypothetically – when the lands have been so heavily used that they start to bend a little. Which is improbable, but possible, when – again, hypothetically – their owner tends to shuffle and flick his cards rather aggressively. You can see where this is going.

So, back to the tournament. I received a rather average pool, went 4-2 with it after losing to two great players (Sebastian Thaler and Thomas Holzinger) and didn’t even think of the Top 8, already making dinner plans for the way home before final standings were announced. Which made it all the more hilarious when I actually managed to sneak into eighth place as the only player with twelve points, who for some reason had the best tie-breakers of the X-2 players with a mighty 55 percent. I basically considered myself on a giant free-roll at this point and didn’t really care about winning or losing in the Top 8.

There, I was lucky enough to draft a pretty strong UB Tempo deck, which is basically the only deck I know how to draft in this format. After my deck had powered me through the quarters and semis, the head judge came to the table and asked me if he could have my deck for a second. Five minutes later, he called me to the judge station and quite impressively demonstrated to me that my lands were not okay to play when he effortlessly piled my deck into lands and non-lands just by looking at it from the side.

It was at this moment that I realized for the first time that we might have a problem here.

The aftermath

The head judge proceeded to ask me some questions and I truthfully answered to him that I always play those lands and didn’t even realize that they could be bent in a problematic way. I also didn’t think that this explanation was somehow implausible – it never even occured to me to check for something like that, which naturally sounds stupid when the problem is as obvious as it presented itself. But then again, I’m an idiot.

Anyway, the judge told me to change my lands right away and issued me a Game Loss for the finals because of Marked Cards – Pattern, which I immediately accepted. That’s the standard infraction for players who foil out their lands but not the rest of their deck, and I felt my case was comparable to those. I thought that would be it, but after I won the finals as well, the judge approached the table and asked to speak with me in the storage room, away from everybody else. There he informed me that he thought about my case some more and does not believe that I was unaware of my lands being bent. He said he had a look into my DCI history, which clearly showed that I was an experienced player, and that there was no way that a player of my pedigree didn’t realize that his cards were bent. Therefore, he believed I was a cheater and I would be disqualified from the event.

Now, if you’ve never been disqualified from an event, let me tell you: Getting disqualified sucks. It’s not so much the loss of the prize boosters and RPTQ qualification that hurts; I don’t care about the boosters and there are plenty of chances left to qualify this season. What pains so much more is that you didn’t only ruin the day for yourself, but for a lot of other people as well: The friends who rooted for you in the finals and were happier for you than you were yourself after winning game 3; your previous opponents who will keep wondering for a long time if their loss to you was actually legit; the organizers who set up one of the most fun PPTQs you’ve ever played in, only to watch it end on a sour note; and of course the head judge who neither appreciates having to disqualify people nor the paperwork that comes with it. By virtue of my stupidity, I have let down each and every one of those people, and for that I am incredibly sorry.

However, I do think that this mess could’ve been prevented and a better ruling could’ve been achieved. Again, I am explicitly not blaming the judge here. He had to make a tough call under uncertainty and I don’t envy him for that. But: I really think that the tournament rules should support the judge by actually forcing him to remove as much uncertainty as reasonably possible.

Looking at the rules (the amateur perspective)

To clarify what I mean by that, let’s take a look at the tournament rules. Section 5.1 („Cheating“) of the official Magic the Gathering tournament rules states that

Cheating will not be tolerated. The Head Judge reviews all cheating allegations, and if he or she believes that a player has cheated, he or she will issue the appropriate penalty based on the Infraction Procedure Guide.

Note how the Rules clearly state that the mere suspicion is sufficient to get disqualified for cheating. The Head Judge doesn’t need proof to eject you from an event. That’s actually a good thing, since proving cheating in Magic is incredibly hard, at least if no cameras are involved. If we held jurisdiction in Magic to the same standards as its real-life counterpart, we simply wouldn’t catch any cheaters at all.

Of course, that also means that from time to time, some innocent people will be caught in the net, but that’s simply something we have to live with. (I mean, it’s not like a DQ is life-ending or something like that.) In principle, I’m totally fine with taking a hit if it means that actual cheaters get caught with greater frequency. However, judging by my case, I do feel that we could decrease the number of „innocent“ people being disqualified.

The problem is not that merely suspecting you for cheating is sufficient grounds for a DQ; the issue is that the rules don’t actually tell judges how to arrive at that conclusion.

The Infraction Procedure Guide that is referenced in the above quote has the following to say about cheating:

A person breaks a rule defined by the tournament documents, lies to a tournament official, or notices an offense committed in his or her (or a teammate’s) match and does not call attention to it.

Additionally, the offense must meet the following criteria for it to be considered Cheating:

• The player must be attempting to gain advantage from his or her action.
• The player must be aware that he or she is doing something illegal.

If all criteria are not met, the offense is not Cheating and should be handled by a different infraction. Cheating will often appear on the surface as a Game Play Error or Tournament Error, and must be investigated by the judge to make a determination of intent and awareness.

So cheating is basically defined as knowingly doing something illegal that benefits you, and the judge is required to investigate as soon as they smell something fishy. How to conduct that investigation, however, is entirely up to them. I’m sure that there are informal best practice approaches that judges use for conducting an investigation, and I know that they have to justify every disqualification in a written report to Wizards, but still: This means that especially if you’re judging alone – like say, at a smaller PPTQ – you can investigate the case as much or as little as you want. If you extensively talk to the player, interview witnesses and former opponents, closely watch the suspect’s in-game-actions before you form your opinion – great. But if you make your call after questioning the suspect for 30 seconds and doing literally nothing else, that’s also fine.

Am I the only one who thinks that’s a problem?

What could’ve been done (?)

Now let’s back up to my case at hand. To reiterate, the head judge told me he believed that I was cheating because the lands could’ve been used in an illegal way that’s beneficial to me – i.e. I attempted to gain an advantage. He also believed that I was aware that my lands were illegal, since he looked up my DCI history, saw that I was an experienced player, and experienced players don’t make mistakes like that. Both boxes checked, easy DQ.

I feel like this rationale is terrible for a number of reasons.

First off, giving out rulings based on the suspected player’s experience is awful. I’m all for letting newbies off the hook if they did something stupid but that’s not what happened here. I’ve been playing Tournament Magic for six years now, and had it been six months instead I apparently would’ve gotten away with a Game Loss. So basically I got punished for loving Magic and playing a lot of it. That’s simply terrible.

Second, if you take my player history into account, why not all of it? Why not consider the fact that in my six years of tournament Magic, I’ve barely accumulated any warnings or game losses and do not have a single previous disqualification to my name – thus strongly indicating that I am an honest player? (Also note that during several deckchecks in the three years before, my choice of lands had never been an issue. How did we go from „No problem“ to „You’re a cheater“ so fast?) Why only use the part that suits your argument? When I posed this question to the judge, he answered that he didn’t have access to that kind of information, but had to make the call right now.

Which brings me to my third question: Why? The tournament was already over, and no ruling would change that. So even if I was a cheater, the damage had already been done. Why not take the time then, request access to my warnings history, and increase the chances to get this call right? And should the judge then still decide that I’m a cheater, you can simply disqualify me retroactively and send an e-mail to my finals opponent.

There a lot of similar questions that all have the same answer. Why didn’t the judge interview any of the spectators in the Top 8 or any of my previous opponents, many of whom were still in attendance? Why did he only interview my friend Andi, and only did so after Andi offered to the judge to be interviewed voluntarily? Why didn’t he take the time to watch me play before making his decision? After all, if I had marked my lands in such a way that I would be able to discern them from my spells, I still would’ve needed to strangely glance at my library from time to time to deduce what I would be drawing next. Did anyone see me do that? How could he know? (There was actually an interesting spot in my semifinals match where I gambled on drawing my fourth land and declined to cast my Anticipate in favor of a three-drop. I didn’t get there for two full turns – had I known the top card of my library, there is no way I wouldn’t have snapped off that Anticipate.)

So how could he disqualify me for something that basically amounted to: „I have a gut feeling“? Simple: Because the rules allow him to.

Again, I’m not picking on the judge here. I’m the one who’s to blame for bringing him into this situation in the first place. Also, everything he did was fully within his right. I am also aware that a thorough investigation is often neither possible nor reasonable. In this case, however, I feel like a more detailed look at the matter would’ve been completely feasible AND would’ve yielded a different result. So why not hold the judges to a higher standard whenever it’s possible? I really don’t get that.

It’s also possible that I’m completely wrong on this. If you feel like that’s the case, please don’t hesitate to tell me in the comments. I’d love to hear from all of you what you think of this, especially any judges among the readers. In the end, it’s no big deal to me, and I certainly won’t be playing any less Magic because of that. And if this disqualification means that we’ll have a constructive discussion about the rules, then there’s at least one good thing that came out of it. Apart from me throwing away those ugly lands, that is.

Thanks for reading.

18 thoughts on “How I got disqualified (and what we can learn from it)

  1. Zeromant

    I think you’re perfectly right with everything you say.

    1. You’re an idiot.

    You went to considerable lengths to needlessly create a situation where it is at the very least ambiguous if you are a cheater. Now, I personally do not believe you cheat (this is why I agree you’re an idiot), but putting on my judge cap (which I haven’t actually worn for over a decade) I strongly believe it is every player’s duty not only to be honest, but also to avoid appearing to be dishonest by negligence. If you’re not a cheater, DON’T ACT LIKE ONE. Purposefully using basic lands which stand out from other cards should make any judge suspicious, and also any opponent. It’s neither acceptable to create extra work for judges that way, nor to distract your opponents because you now specifically require them to watch you for cheating.

    Now, bringing your own „cool“ basics to limited tournaments is something many pro players do, as is constantly flicking cards in your hand, but these are both still bad habits which were successfully made ubiquitous at tournaments by an elite. It is entirely probable, by the way, that they were pioneered by players who DO cheat / purposefully distract their opponents with them. Well, today cheaters can hide behind the facts that „everyone does this“, and „this is the cool thing to do“ – they managed to create trends which facilitate their unsporting acitivites. Honest, but stupid players mimicking these bad habits while being unaware that they might cast doubts on their honesty are splash damage.

    2. The judge made a terrible call

    You repeat very often that his decision was perfectly fine, but it actually wasn’t. Just because he was within his rights to make a terrible call doesn’t make it a fine call. If he (or anyone else) did not actually catch you taking advantage from your marked cards, he has no grounds to „believe“ you cheated. Your playing experience is totally irrelevant here (in contrast to your infraction history).

    „Believing“ a player cheated needs concrete justification, or otherwise a judge could disqualify any player he considers shady just because of that very assessment. Unless you left something important out of your story, the judge had no grounds to disqualify you at all, and his decision proves that he was not qualified to head judge that event.

    1. Freakle

      Actually, if the judge ruled that the player presented a marked deck (which it obviously was given that the judge could separate lands and nonland cards without looking at them), this is a illegal deck and an auto-ban. He was absolutely right to ban the player, there is no need to stand at the game and scream „gotcha“ as soon as the player may or may not take advantage of said marked deck.

      1. handsome Beitragsautor

        This is incorrect. (Or at least overly simplistic.) There is obviously no need to yell „gotcha“, as you said, but cheating requires 1) willingly creating an 2) illegal situation that 3) benefits me. If the judge doesn’t think I did it on purpose, it is not cheating and thus no DQ. I’ve quoted the relevant section of the Infraction Guide in my post.

        1. Freakle

          this is not correct, the rule you stated was about „cheating“, however if you are presenting a marked deck in a systematic way (like say, all your lands are marked as in your case), the rule is pretty simple. For PPTQ enforced rules (strict):

          First Offense: Double warning and a match loss. The player has until the beginning of his or her next match to replace the cards.
          Second Offense: Triple warning and ejection.

          as you proceeded to play with the lands and even won the second match, triple warning and ejection is automatic.

          the call may be weird from the judge, however i have witnessed this now a couple of times (opponent double sleeves only value cards like goyfs and lili // opponent used heavily played sleeves for his lands in limited and relatively new ones for the drafted cards, etc…) it is always an automatic match loss.

          So, if the judge gave you a warning in the last round, he has to eject you from the tournament given that you played in a K.O. round. There is no room for him to evaluate the degree in cheating or not cheating. That might be the reason that after re-reading the rule and the enforcement, he has disqualified you anyway after the finals.

          1. handsome Beitragsautor

            I’m not sure I understand what you’re getting at. I did NOT play the finals with the same lands, I exchanged them with lands from the basic land station immediately after receiving my game loss for the finals. Maybe that’s the misconception here?

          2. Philip K.

            The rules you are quoting are part of the DCI Penalty Guidelines (I assume, link:

            This rules document has not been in use for almost ten years (as far as I know).

            Currently, the documents governing DCI-sanctioned events (aka all wizards-related magic events) are the IPG, the MTR, the Comprehensive Rules and the JAR. Infractions are specifically covered in the IPG (Link to the current iteration of the rules documents can always be found here:

            Sorry, but your whole comment is based on wrong facts as it seems ;).

  2. Nico

    I am not an expert in official MTG tournaments, but according to my legal conception setting up a situation that allows you to exploit it for cheating qustifies a disqualifiction – whether you did or not.
    And if he was able to separate your lands from the other cards just by looking at their sides, well, this just proves that cheating would be possible somehow.

  3. philipp

    I think the judge is right, if my opponent would have played them and i he could’ve used it just one this would be annoying. Also you said it was your fault and thats right and i think the problem. In this case it seems hard, but to prevent cheating he has to disqualify you there, since it will be nearly impossible to see if you used this sort of cheating espeacially without coverage. If i would have to judge a random person in this case i would also give this disqualification. But thats just my opinion and i know you and i am sure you didn’t use it but how would the judge know this?

  4. handsome Beitragsautor

    Guys, again: I am not arguing the call wasn’t within the rules. What I am arguing is that we could’ve arrived at a better call if the case had been investigated further, which the rules don’t require because they are worded extremely vague when it comes to disqualifications.

    Also, setting up a situation which looks like cheating is NOT sufficient ground for a DQ as long as the judge doesn’t believe I did it on purpose. Look at the rules I quoted in the post.

  5. Tigris

    If everything which could be used to cheat would lead to a disqualification, there would not be a warning etc. system…
    So I cannot really understand this argument. I mean every missed trigger etc. could possibly be used in some way to cheat!
    Of course using such „marked“ cards was stupid, nevertheless disqualifiying someone for cheating because he could have cheated would make for empty tournaments…
    I mean if the judge would have wanted to find out if he does actually cheat, he could have looked (before telling you) at the last game IF you actually use your marked cards for cheating and than make the call for cheating.
    But warning you beforehand (and giving a gameloss) than looking at how you play and then disqualifying you for cheating makes no sense at all.
    Also about „marked“ cards. I have seen several players using old sleaves with various black points on them during turnaments (in fact I had some points on my sleaves as well once), but even when asking a judge about this I have never seen anyone making a call about this people having to change the sleaves.
    (Sure points were on almost all sleaves but actually not always the same amount etc. and this could be used even more for cheating, since you could see every single card if wanted!).

    1. Tigris

      Do you know, did the judge know the person being second place?
      Because the way it sounds he could just have given a gameloss hoping you would lose with that anyway and later disqualified you because you still managed to win!

  6. Nico

    I reffered only to my legal conception, not to the official rules which might punish the innocent or let the guilty get through, I don’t know 😉

  7. Lex

    @Zeromant: Why is it bad behavior to bring your own lands to a limited tournament? I don’t call myself a pro player but I’m also not new to this game but I love giving the game my own style. That’s why I like to pimp my commander deck, that’s why I always play the same lands from the same edition and with the same language in my T2 deck and that’s why I always bring 20 copies of each basic type to limited tournaments.
    I don’t think, you can call it bad behavior, especially when you’re playing in a store that doesn’t hand out any basics. When I played the prerelease of „Fate Reforged“ I forgot my basics at home and I had to borrow some from other players cause the shop owner said it’s not his job to lend us basic lands and everyone is responsible to bring own ones…

    1. PittiPlatsch

      Normally a Tournament Organizer is required to provide basic lands for limited tournaments unless he or she announces otherwise *before* the tournament.

      [Quote: MTR; 7.3] „If the Tournament Organizer is not providing basic land cards for use in a Limited tournament, he or she must announce this before tournament registration. Tournament Organizers may require players to return basic land cards when they leave the tournament. If the Tournament Organizer does not have sufficient basic land cards, players may use their own during the tournament as long as they are in good condition and are not marked.“

      Perhaps someone should friendly educate your Organizer.


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