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Monday, September 29, 2014

A Personal Anecdote on Slow Play from SCG Indianapolis

This weekend at #SCGINDY I was watching a match and a player took a long time to take his turn. He had a Xenagos and a handful of creatures. His opponent had Elspeth and his own army. It wasn't a full board stall, and the player was trying to get through some damage to Elspeth while keeping up enough defenses to keep Xenagos around. I asked him to make a decision and he did. The next few turns had similar board states, and he took a similar amount of time. I felt that this was Slow Play because he hadn't really picked up the pace with what was essentially the same board situation as last turn. There were several points where he started to tap lands, then untapped them, then tapped them again. The same with attacking creatures. Classic (potential) indicators of Slow Play. Eventually, he won with back-to-back Stormbreath Dragons.

Normally, you are supposed to give the player the Warning during the game when you reach your "This is too much" threshold. Standard courtesy is to wait for the player to take an action so that you don't disrupt their train of thought. In this case, rather than interrupt the match further, I waited until that game ended to issue a Warning for Slow Play. This was something I've never done before, and it largely stemmed from my fear that stepping in during the game to give a Warning would take up more time than I was "saving," and the match was one of the farthest from the stage, making for a long and time-consuming walk if the ruling got appealed. I have no problem making such a walk, but it would just eat time from the entire tournament. I guess my gut just felt that he was less likely to appeal once the game had finished. I explained to the player that due to the length of time he took on those turns, I was issuing a Slow Play Warning along with the 2 extra turns, which seemed like they would come into play as they were shuffling for game 3 with about 6 or 7 minutes left in the round. I had been called back to the stage for something, so I asked John Temple to swing by that table and make sure they understood the +2 turns. According to John, the player who got the Warning ended up winning on turn 7 of extra turns.

It's hard to say that I'm happy to give out Warnings because that seems a bit harsh, but I am glad that my intervention allowed the match to come to a natural conclusion, as ultimately that is our goal in issuing Slow Play. It was probably also relevant that I chose to wait for the game to finish before speaking to him. Taking the time to explain this took 20-30 seconds, something that I wouldn't normally issue a time extension for, but it happened while the players were shuffling, already "dead" time. Had I paused game 2 to do this, it's entirely possible that "turn 7" would have been a turn or 2 earlier in game 3. It isn't always possible to wait for a game to end before giving Slow Play. In fact, it is often the case that Slow Play is happening because there is a board stall and no chance of a game ending soon.

Waiting until the conclusion of the game isn't without its downsides. If the player had lost, he might have felt like I was piling it on by giving him the Warning. "Oh, I played slow and still made the wrong decisions to lose that game?" There's also the potential for you to "lose the evidence" if the pace of play picks up. When you interrupt the game, you can point directly to how long it has taken for them to make their most recent decision. That has some power. The lack of evidence might be even more relevant if the ruling gets appealed. You have no game state to refer the Head Judge to look at. I don't think I will be changing my normal style of giving Slow Play Warnings, but it is an interesting variant to consider and keep in your repertoire.

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