Thursday, October 30, 2014

Please Put Your Playmat Away

I've seen a lot of conversations about Unsporting Conduct as it pertains to appropriate playmats in the last few days, and like many subjects, I've got some thoughts.

I see a lot of judges in these types of discussions fall back on Unsporting Conduct (USC) Minor, an infraction that carries a penalty of a Warning at Competitive REL. "I would totally USC that playmat." I think this is a mistake for a couple of reasons.

At a tournament earlier this year, I was talking to a player and he used the word "retarded" as a pejorative to describe a play. This might have been a fine time for a Warning, but it was just the two of us talking and we weren't really in earshot of anyone. I chose a different route and said, "Would you mind not using that word in that way." He immediately got the context of what I was saying and apologized. "You're right. That's not cool." Why not a USC Warning? For one, the use of that word as a pejorative is currently in a nebulous place in our society. It's not quite the N-word, but it isn't (yet) heavily enforced. Second, given the demure nature of the conversation, his use of the word didn't really constitute a disruption to any other tournament participants besides me, and I felt that I got my point across to him well enough. He left the conversation with the idea that he shouldn't use that word in that way, not that a judge had caught him and penalized him.

After a tournament, hanging out with judges, one of them used the word "rape" to describe something that wasn't rape. Obviously, being after hours, I'm not going to issue a Warning. My reaction was to be a little snappy and interrupt him with "Hey, not cool." There was a female judge sitting right next to him, and she also spoke up. The judge knew what he had done, apologized, and we all moved on. Had it been in a tournament setting, that would have crossed my USC Minor threshold (or USC Major if directed at someone).

At a recent tournament, I saw a player in line at the coffee place. He had on a shirt that read "Cool story, babe. Now go make me a sandwich." As soon as I got into the tournament hall, I went to the TO and informed him of this player, pointing him out when he entered a few minutes after me. The TO spoke with the player, who agreed to go get a sweatshirt to wear over his T-shirt. No USC was issued. Was that right? I think so. We want to promote a safe, friendly environment at tournaments. That's been a big movement over the past few years. But issuing penalties for shirts, playmats, and sleeves that are contrary to that goal is itself counter-productive.

The Dragon Ball Z Principle
Yes, it is ironically named after an anime, but it also fits perfectly. In that anime, the main character Goku fought through a series of tougher and tougher opponents, Yamcha, Tenshinhan, Piccolo, and Vegeta. After defeating each one, the next story arc would feature an even tougher opponent, and Goku would need to team up with the last arc's rival in order to defeat the new foe. I try to look at the Magic community in the same way. Today's enemy is tomorrow's potential ally. And while Goku could get away with just beating the crap out of his rivals, the same doesn't hold true for us judges. In fact, how you deal with an unruly player today will define your relationship with them in the future and whether they will step up.

The truth is that the stereotype of Magic players being immature and socially awkward does hold some weight. I know because I was there, well into my late 20s, and really it wasn't until I started to take judging seriously at the age of 30 that I feel like I "became an adult." This is why I identify and sympathize with today's Magic "youth." It's not easy to stop being an asshole, and it really helps if someone you look up to points the way and gives you friendly nudges. Giving a USC penalty isn't a friendly nudge.

People who say "I'll know it when I see it" in reference to Unsporting Conduct whether in verbal form or art on a playmat or sleeves strike me as the same kind of people who say that about Slow Play. When I see statements like "I'll know it when I see it," I tend to fill in the rest as "and I don't do anything about it." This isn't a blanket condemnation of all people who says this, but I can say with certainty that the vast majority of judges have never issued a USC or Slow Play penalty, so chances are good. Whenever I ask a judge if they've issued a Slow Play Warning, they usually say, "No, but I've given a bunch of hurry ups," you know, the "I need you to make a decision" talk. The equivalent of this for USC is "nothing." If you think it's hard to tell a player that they're playing too slow, try telling them that they are acting like an jerk.

There's a line here somewhere. It's kind of blurry. The definition of USC Minor reads "A player takes action that is disruptive to the tournament or its participants. It may affect the comfort level of those around the individual, but determining whether this is the case is not required."

"Takes action" is a key phrase for me. Saying something like my above examples certainly constitutes taking an action. Wearing a shirt or using a playmat doesn't strike me as the same. There's certainly a choice made to put on a particular shirt or purchase and use a particular playmat in a tournament, but those are more passive than what I feel is required for a USC. That doesn't mean that we shouldn't ask people to turn their shirts inside out, or to put their playmats away. I just think it means that we have that conversation first. Consider it a courtesy to the player much like asking a player to make a decision before leading with a Slow Play penalty. It also puts us judges on a less antagonistic level.

Explain to the player how the object might affect the comfort level of other participants. Use phrases like "friendly environment." Get them on your side. Get them to see your point of view. If you do, maybe next time they will choose not to wear/bring the object in question. Maybe if the future, they will stop their friend from bringing a similar object. Make a future ally, not an enemy.

It's been pointed out to me that, yes, there is a point where a message on an object could cross over into something that you would issue an infraction for. There was a incident a while back where a player made "Spirit tokens" altered with a school bus labeled "Sandy Hook." He then repeated his "joke" after the Boston Marathon bombings. I would personally issue USCs for these because they are an active statement in a way that wearing a T-shirt you bought from a website isn't. That's my line. I can understand if you disagree. But the main thing is, let's ask the players to put these objects away.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Anafenza, the Foremost Confusing Card

At Grand Prix Los Angeles, some rules question about Anafenza, the Foremost made the rounds.

It turns out that this card is completely unique in the annals of Magic cards in what it does, or tries to do, and as with many firsts, there are some possible kinks in the process. Here's the scenario:
Active Player (AP) control Anafenza. The Non-Active Player (NAP) controls Glory Seeker enchanted with Herald of Torment and Temur Banner enchanted with Ensoul Artifact. AP casts End Hostilities. What cards end up in the graveyard and what cards end up in the exile zone?

Let's start with the easy ones.
Anafenza, the Foremost will most certainly end up in the graveyard, since it doesn't affect its controller.

Ensoul Artifact will also end up in the graveyard, since it is in no way, shape, or form a creature.

Glory Seeker will end up in exile because it is a creature controlled by Anafenza's opponent.

That leaves us with the Herald of Torment and the animated Temur Banner, which are opposite sides of a coin. Herald is something that is printed as a creature, but is currently not due to being bestowed. Temur Banner is a noncreature that is currently animated to be a creature. Whatever your answer, for consistency's sake, these 2 things should act different.

The correct answer is that Herald of Torment will end up in the graveyard and Temur Banner will be exiled. These results bother people, including many excellent judges for various reasons. The problem as they see it, is the wording of Anafenza, which uses the "from anywhere" clause. "From anywhere" has been most prominently seen on Emrakul, the Aeons Torn and her Eldrazi broodmates, which causes these cards to act differently from most other "goes to the graveyard" triggers. Namely, they trigger from the graveyard and evaluate the state of the card in that zone. This means that a Clone copying an Emrakul will not trigger the graveyard shuffle because in the graveyard it is just a Clone. Meanwhile, a Clone copying Wurmcoil Engine will trigger and leave behind 2 tokens upon its death because its trigger looks back at what it was on the battlefield and sees the Artifact Wurm.

This leads many people to view Anafenza's ability in the same light, that it has to evaluate the object as it would be in the graveyard, hence thinking that the Herald should be exiled and the Banner shouldn't. But there's an important distinction. Anafenza doesn't have a triggered ability! She has a replacement effect, and by definition, a replacement effect can only modify an object before it changes zones (weird Theros God corner cases aside). On the battlefield, Herald of Torment is just an enchantment aura, and Temur Banner is still a creature. Anafenza treats them accordingly.

What about the fact that Anafenza refers to "creature cards"? This is another part of the wording that is tripping people up. You see, creatures on the battlefield aren't creature cards. Yeah. Really. They are just "creatures" or "creature permanents." Creature card specifically refers to things in the hand, library, exile, etc. This makes people think that the ability can't possibly affect things like Temur Banner that are only temporarily animated while on the battlefield. Look! The physical card doesn't say creature on it. It isn't a creature in any other zone.

I think it's possible that Anafenza is worded a bit poorly to convey its full effect. But "If a creature card or creature permanent..." is needlessly wordy and just confusing. Oops, and that now includes token creatures, which are creature permanents (but not cards... is the wording now internally inconsistent?)

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

1000 Miles - Week 38-40 Update

Week 38
Thursday: 7.8 miles
Friday: 6.4 miles
Monday: 3.4 miles
Tuesday: 6.6 miles
Wednesday: 6.4 miles
Week Total: 30.6 miles
Year Total: 796.0 miles

Week 39
Thursday: 3.4 miles
Saturday: 6.3 miles
Sunday: 13.0 miles
Tuesday: 8.7 miles
Wednesday: 9.4 miles
Week Total: 40.8 miles
Year Total: 836.8 miles

Week 40
Thursday: 3.1 miles
Tuesday: 8.8 miles
Wednesday: 8.2 miles
Week Total: 20.1 miles
Year Total: 856.9 miles