|The Warning System and You
Talkin' out of turn, that's a paddlin'. Lookin'
out the window, that's a paddlin'. Starin' at my sandals, that's a paddlin'.
Paddlin' the school canoe, you better believe that's a paddlin'.
Unlike Bart Simpson's substitute teacher, DCI judges don't
give out paddlings. The major reason involves big fat lawsuits. So instead, we
give out warnings. What I find interesting is the myriad of ways warnings are
used by judges in different areas. While some variation is to be expected, it
would be helpful to players if some consistency in rulings was established. The
Penalty Guidelines were written with exactly that goal in mind, and they are
helping create an environment where players can go to any event and know what to
expect. However, the Penalty Guidelines cannot work properly if players and
judges don't understand the warning system and how the investigative process
Unofficial vs. Official Warnings
There are two ways to let players know they have done something
wrong at an event: unofficial warnings and official warnings. Unofficial
warnings are mainly used for minor, nondisruptive, and unintentional mistakes.
The first instance of slow play and procedural errors like not tapping mana
correctly, misordering of the graveyard, and neglecting to untap before drawing
generally warrant a caution or notice. These unofficial warnings are tracked by
the judging staff during the course of an event. If the behavior continues even
after the player has been made aware that it is unacceptable, the player should
be issued a single warning.
The majority of offences are taken care of with a single warning.
Card misrepresentation, deck registration problems, accidentally seeing the next
card in the library, and misplaying a mulligan are all prime examples of
situations that should be treated with a single warning. When a judge feels a
player's actions are purposeful or when an honest mistake results in a severe
game advantage, a double warning should be issued. The triple warning should be
reserved for a severe breach in the integrity of the tournament such as flagrant
cheating or extreme unsportsmanlike conduct.
So what does it mean?
It is important that players understand why they are receiving a
warning and what will be done with it. The primary function of a warning is to
educate players about game play. A warning should not be viewed as a penalty in
and of itself, but as a note to the player that they did something wrong and a
note to the DCI that there was a problem. Most warnings that we receive are not
acted upon further simply because it is rare for a player to accumulate enough
for the behavior to be deemed habitually disruptive. It must be noted that while
individual incidents may warrant investigation if they are serious enough, the
DCI will only punish habitual offenders if there is a record in our penalty
database of a problem.
One of the biggest gray areas when it comes to penalties is
unsportsmanlike conduct. It is important that players are allowed to have fun,
so we don't want to be too restrictive. On the other hand, if we let players run
wild, there's a good chance that they will be annoying more people than they are
entertaining. A good rule of thumb is any kind of behavior you would be ashamed
to have your mother see you doing probably deserves some kind of action. As with
play error, the more disruptive the behavior, the more severe the penalty. If a
player mutters profanities when they draw poorly, issue them a caution. If they
yell profanities, give them a warning. If they use profanity to insult a fellow
player or a judge, give them a double or triple warning, and if they don't stop,
issue a disqualification and kick them off the premises.
I had a judge tell me recently that a group of players had been
causing problems at his events for months. They were constantly belligerent,
foul mouthed, and destructive. I checked the penalty database for each of them
and found nothing. When asked about their warning history, he said, "This past
weekend was the first time it has gotten so bad that I had to give them an
official warning." A warning should not be the last resort in a series of
attempts to control unsportsmanlike players, but instead should be used as soon
as a problem develops. This is especially important if it is a player you have
had multiple problems with in the past. You should not give out warnings at the
drop of a hat, but any harassment of other players or judges, physical violence,
or misuse of facilities (including damage or intentional "trashing") should be
dealt with immediately. The warning system will only function if judges use it.
I am getting the impression that many judges dislike giving
warnings for unsportsmanlike behavior, perhaps in fear of retribution from
players or being considered harsh. It is your responsibility to use the warning
system in a way that benefits you and your players. Remember that while being
light with the warnings may keep you on some players' good sides (usually the
disruptive ones'), eventually, your leniency may cause you to lose the players
you want to keep. I hope you didn't forget that group of players I mentioned
before. I had asked another judge in the area about their behavior. The
response? "Yeah, I keep an eye on them whenever they show up at my events. They
don't try anything, though. They know I won't put up with it."
Too many warnings
We received a tournament report once that had 83 players and 87
warnings. What happened? The judge could not control the players during deck
registration and gave every player a warning for "failure to obey instructions
of judge, opening sealed product early, and talking during instructions." This
misuse of the warning system not only serves to clog up the database, but causes
judges to lose the respect of their players.
Mass warnings should never be used. So what do you do when an
individual or a small group fails to follow instructions? Let's say Johnny and
Sarah came to my tournament. They handed in their deck registration sheets and
forgot to put their names on them. Depending on the K-value of the event, they
would either get a notice or a warning. The end of the day rolls around, and
neither one has had any other problems. I really think their actions were
administrative mistakes which didn't give them any kind of advantage, so I
decide to downgrade the warnings to notices, or the notices to nothing at all.
Is this a prudent use of the warning system?
To figure that out, let's look at the reasons behind tracking
offences. The warnings each player receives remain in the penalty database for
two main purposes. Firstly, they enable the DCI to identify repeat offenders.
For instance, if Todd gets multiple warnings for "accidentally" drawing too many
cards after mulliganing, we have to start questioning how "accidental" these
offence are. The second use of the warning database is to give us a better
picture of a player who is under investigation. Let's say Todd is now caught
with a distinctly marked deck. By looking at his warning history, we find the
above offences, which clearly point to pattern of questionable behavior. In
addition, we find one instance of him forgetting to put his name on a deck
registration sheet. This last offence tells us nothing.
Does this mean you should never give warnings for administrative
problems? Let's visit Johnny and Sarah again. It's now two weeks later, and low
and behold, Johnny has again forgotten to put his name on the sheet. At this
point, I can send in a warning which specifies repeat instances of neglecting to
follow procedures. Sarah learned her lesson last time, and has written her name
in large letters across the top so I'll be sure not to miss it. Instead of
clogging the database with three separate warnings, I have taken care of one
player myself, and sent in one report outlining repetitive behavior which slows
down my events. This is an efficient use of the warning system.
What can I do to help?
There are many things you can do as a judge to ensure the warning
system works. Obviously, giving them out correctly is the first big step, but
there are a surprising amount of things that can (and do) go wrong between a
player receiving a warning and it being entered into the database. Make sure
that the player's name and DCI number are written clearly on the warning sheet
or entered correctly in DCI reporter. Even if you think a name is unique, there
is a good chance it isn't. Also make sure you have included enough information
to give an accurate description of what happened. A warning for failure to
unsideboard is self explanatory, but offences like procedural error,
misrepresentation, and failure to agree on game state need more detail to prove
useful. Once the warnings are filled out correctly, make sure the tournament
organizer sends in the paperwork in a timely manner. You can imagine how
frustrating it is to contact a player about repetitive behavior, only to find
out the next day about another offence which took place a month earlier. Most
importantly, when you encounter a serious problem, contact me by phone or email
as soon as possible. It generally takes about 2-4 weeks for me to get the
warnings in for any given tournament. In that time, potential witnesses may
forget important details, and the offender can cause more problems. I try to get
all investigations wrapped up in 1-2 weeks, and prompt notification on the part
of the judge plays an invaluable role.