Anatomy of a Penalty

This morning, I was reading a post on a Grand Prix forum from a relatively new judge wondering about how to fill out a penalty properly at a high-level event that uses DCI Reporter. It wasn’t until I went to send a link to a post about how to do this that I noticed that somehow, surprisingly, I haven’t written one yet. So, here we go …

First, the basics, in case this is somehow the first article you’ve read about this.

On the front, place a clear mark next to the name of the person receiving the penalty to make it clear that there is a penalty to be processed. Many people will teach you to use a W for this, and while this is better than just a star or other symbol that might be ambiguous (Side note: A useful thing to do when you decide how to annotate things is to remember that you are but one of many people on the floor, and one of many people who are interacting with a result slip, so the more you know about what other people might do and the more you take this into consideration, the better decisions you’ll make. For example, some people will use stars or circle names for penalties – this is unexpectedly suboptimal, because there is a small contingent of players that will circle the names of the winning player for reasons foreign to me. Not great that they do this, no, but it’s a reality that’s best worked around.), it’s still not ideal. Better is when that mark is the class of penalty (W for Warning, GL for Game Loss, etc …) because this can serve as both a built-in checksum and can also give some hints about any oddities on the slip in terms of win count (e.g. players who don’t know to fill out a Game Loss as an actual win for the other player).

On the back, you want the following, in order:
Judge’s Name (First Last), Player’s Name (Last, First), Infraction Type
Penalty Issued, Comment

The reason for this order is that it matches the order of data entry into the penalty dialog, so it makes it easier for the scorekeeper to find the right data quickly rather than rooting around the slip for which information is which (biggest offender here tends to be swapping the player and judge name). Why First Last for judge and Last, First for Player? Fine question – for reasons lost to the history of humankind, that’s how DCI Reporter does it (the answer to so many things, really).

That’s it. Now, for the not-so-basics, some of which should save you a bit of trouble:

  • As much as possible, you want to make it so that there is no reason to turn the slip over and look at the front again. The way this most frequently manifests itself at a Grand Prix – it’s very important to use your full name and the player’s full name. Using just the last name or abbreviations can lead to ambiguities that take time to sort out. Similarly, no initials, signatures, or nicknames.
  • Another way that you can save a flipping over of the slip – copy the table number onto the back of the slip so it’s easily on hand (but if you’re doing this, make sure it’s clearly labelled so that it’s obviously a table number instead of a random errant number).
  • You don’t need to do all of this for a No Show. Instead, you should be doing this.
  • For your first, and only your first penalty of each tournament, you should put your DCI Number. This allows the scorekeeper to enter you on the judge list if you aren’t already on it without hunting you down. Once you’re on the list, however, you’re looked up by name and not number, so you don’t need to include it every time.
  • If the penalty that you issued is not the standard penalty for an infraction, make sure that your comment prominently lists “UPGRADE” or “DOWNGRADE” along with who you consulted with for that deviation, if applicable.
  • When issuing a Game Rule Violation, if you are also issuing a GRV or a Failure to Maintain Game State to the opponent for the same incident, you can skip everything but the opponent’s name and the infraction with a reference to the other penalty. There’s no need to rewrite your name or copy the comment again.
  • Remember not to write card names unless the card was already revealed to both players. The result slip should never become a spoiler.
  • Your comment should be clear and concise. We don’t need a novel here, just enough information for judges to be able to correlate penalties as being the same, and for the investigation committee to see if there are any trends or unusual behaviors should they ever need to look back on somebody’s penalty history. On the other hand, they do need to be understandable without any further context. So, “Drew 4 cards instead of 3 for Concentrate” is better than “Concentrate” or “Player cast Concentrate, went to draw cards, accidentally thought the card said 4 cards rather than 3 so drew 4 cards instead of 3.”
  • For Missed Triggers, it’s generally safe to just say “Trigger from Card X” rather than having to explain what the trigger is, unless it was an unusual case or circumstance. The trigger on the card can always be looked up.
  • Looking at Extra Cards seems to be a very common penalty these days and is one that can be gamed for advantage. Make sure that you’re noting whether or not it’s during shuffling or during regular gameplay (usually in conjunction with drawing), and whether it’s the player’s deck or the opponent’s so that the investigations committee can notice any patterns that develop with a player.
  • Unless it’s unusual, tardiness generally does not require a comment.

Finally – please write legibly. Hard to read penalties eat up a lot of time for scorekeepers. If you can’t actually do so, please get somebody else to help you fill out your penalties.


It’s Saturday at Pro Tour – Magic 2015. Rich Hagon comes walking up to the scorekeeping desk.  What do you do?

You don’t actually notice until he arrives and starts talking to you. Not surprising, since you’re focused on something else. Sometimes he needs stuff from you, but sometimes he’s just looking for players or here to see other stage staff, so there’s no reason to break your concentration until he starts the conversation. It takes a bit to figure out what he’s asking for, then you start figuring out how to get him that data. You’re probably an OK scorekeeper (you did make it to the Pro Tour level, after all). However, you’re being a reactive scorekeeper. Somebody asks you for something, and you deliver. The vast majority of not only scorekeepers, but staff of all sorts operate in this reactive mode, and the separation between the bad and the average-to-competent staff boils down to whether you know how to deliver what’s requested, how to generate it if it’s unorthodox, and how quickly you’re able to do so.

Don’t get me wrong – there is a lot of variation on this scale, and a lot of learning that people need to do solely on execution, speed, and creativity of delivery. Even the most experienced and skilled staff are constantly looking for ways to get a little faster. So it’s not that this isn’t important. It’s just that no matter how good you get at being reactive, the best you’ll ever be is OK.

You stop what you’re working on, since it isn’t urgent, and pull up the DCI Reporter window and wait until he gets into earshot before asking him what he needs, as coverage is a high priority at these events, and more likely than not if he’s come out to the main area, he probably needs some data that you’re going to be the one to provide. You’re being a proactive scorekeeper. This is where OK staff start to become good staff. You’ve done this enough times or observed this enough times to understand when you’re likely to be involved and when you aren’t, and you’ve learned to speed up the process by being ready and engaged when you’re likely to be needed.

This sort of learning tends to be the sort where you practice your job over and over again. Instead of just paying attention to how you’re doing things, what works and what doesn’t, though, you’re also paying attention to your own workflow patterns. It seems like when this person approaches, they’re usually looking for you as opposed to for the head judge. At the end of the round, a judge is going to want outstanding tables when there’s 5 minutes left to go. A player walking up holding a slip in the later rounds of the tournament is probably looking for the box to submit side event result slips. One walking up with nothing in their hands but standing with their buddies probably wants to drop.

Note, none of this causes you to perform any processes more quickly. However, you’ll notice that people start to say that you’re quicker. This is partly because you’re more immediately responsive, and partly because people who need things from you tend to think of response time as the total time between when they need it and when they get it. They don’t separate between the time it takes to understand the problem and the time it takes to actually solve the problem, so cutting out the former feels like cutting out the latter to people.

You notice that it’s near the beginning of one of the later rounds, and that he is walking toward you not looking at his tablet. As he approaches, you pick up a copy of the standings that you already pre-printed and hold it out to him, so by the time he arrives and starts to talk, he looks down and notices what you’ve offered, takes it, and continues on his way. Now we’re talking. You’re being a predictive scorekeeper, and this is where the magic happens, where people think that you’re pulling off some crazy Sherlock shenanigans and start saying your name in revered tones as a psychic wizard.

What really happened here?

Why did we have standings already printed? In the last few rounds of a Pro Tour, various coverage people are going to need access to standings to know who to watch and to do math on possible Top 8 qualifiers. It can be different ones at different times, but this happens frequently.

How did we infer that this is what he was going to ask for? Well, if Rich is walking around late in a round, he’s probably trying to corral interviews or otherwise looking for other staff, but early in a round he probably is going to be watching matches and more likely to need you. If he’s staring at his tablet, it’s generally got the name of a person on it that he’ll be looking for, and if not, then he probably hasn’t yet figured out who he’s looking at yet and needs data to figure that out.

Another example: Blake and Nate are over on the side table trying to sort out feature matches for the round, and Nate walks over to ask you to print the master list of deck archetypes. Instead, you hand him the specific pairings with archetypes listed next to each name instead, which is already printing by the time he arrives at your computer.

How is this possible? Well, they’ve been picking features every round, but this round it’s taken longer than usual, and while you’re prepping paperwork for judges, you overhear them discussing which archetypes have and haven’t been seen on camera already. As soon as archetypes become a selection criteria, it’s a good bet that they don’t have all the data they wish they had. You, on the other hand, have the right tools to create a merged pairings/archetype list.

Examples of this sort abound. When you see a player running toward you at the beginning of the round, calling over a judge to stand next to you before that player arrives so that you know one is on hand. When a judge walks toward you holding a decklist, pulling up your reference for who’s sitting where.

There are a few key skills that combine to make these and just about any other similar situations possible.

You need to be comfortable enough with your own work and workflows that you can pay attention to what other people’s workflows look like, and what their motivations are likely to be to solve those workflows. “What is this person likely trying to accomplish right now?” goes a long way toward helping to figure out what they’re probably going to come asking for.

You need to be effective at your job without having to focus so hard at it that it keeps you from observing the things going on around you, since that observation gives you the evidence that you need make better deductions and pick up on things that you might be able to help with.

You need to understand what other people think about what you know and what you can do, both to help predict the types of things they’ll ask you for (which necessarily will fall in that category), and to synthesize ways that you can help that they haven’t conceived yet, which nobody but you can do effectively since nobody else will know to ask.

While these examples are from the scorekeeper’s perspective, the same principles apply regardless of your role. Let’s take, for example, judges. Noticing the line in front of the stage at the beginning of the day, grabbing a set of pairings and starting to work through that line for people who just can’t find their own seats. Seeing the cluster of people around a table and walking over to be a pair of eyes on a potentially contentious match. Catching that there are an odd number of people at the deck check table and standing nearby to help with a deck check that is one person short.

Everyone is interacting with other people and other staff of all sorts. Learn to do your job well. It’s important. But if you’re not paying attention to what it takes for everyone else to do their job well, then you’re never going to be as good at your own job as you could be.

Be magical. Predict, don’t just react.