Taking a look at casual MTG formats and Commander rulings, by Thomas Ralph

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In mtg casual formats such as Commander, it is for the playgroup to decide

Taking a look at casual MTG formats and Commander rulings, by Thomas Ralph

“In casual formats such as Commander, it is up to each individual playgroup to determine the outcome of ambiguous cases.” – Thomas Ralph, Level 3 Magic Judge, many times, 2016

You might be interested in this Facebook group: mtgUK Rules & Judges Questions

As we ring in the new year, I wanted to take a look at the phrase above. Feedback has reached me that getting this answer to a question makes people feel fobbed off, undervalued, or like they don’t matter. I don’t want anyone feeling any of those things because of me. So my 2017 new year’s resolution is to retire that form of words. But there are genuine reasons why, as a judge, I often can’t give you the answer you want. Join me as we go through a few of them:

The answer might not exist

Whilst Commander was made a legal format for FNM through the creation of the Casual tournament option a few years ago, the Magic Tournament Rules and Infraction & Procedure Guide don’t apply to non-rated events, nor (of course) to casual play outside the Wizards Play Network context. So attempting to apply these rules to casual play doesn’t make any sense.

Questions can sometimes arise about out of game issues, such as how to award “win points” if a player concedes or gets decked. These also don’t have an answer in the rules of Magic, same way as the rules don’t set who gets awarded prizes at the end of your FNM.

Finally in this section, the Magic Comprehensive Rules, as well as most cards, were designed primarily with the two-player game in mind. A few cards just don’t fit in quite as well with the multi-player game. If this comes up, a judge can suggest what they would propose as a player in the casual game; it’s just an opinion though and these may vary.

“An official judge answer”

Sometimes we get asked for “an official judge answer” to questions about casual formats. There is no official judge answer to casual Magic – and whilst we’ll give an unofficial answer, we’d prefer for players not to then take the answer to their playgroup and claim they “got this answer from a judge” and use our authority improperly. So I will always point out when I can’t give an official answer.

Arguments between judges

Many judges, including myself, are highly opinionated and love sharing our opinions. What I’m not so keen on is judges getting into arguments online, particularly in public forums. A source of this kind of argument is when an ambiguous casual play ruling leads to divergence between two different valid opinions. This can of course happen for a question related to tournament play too, but in those circumstances we would normally privately discuss it or take it to the judge-only forums, before coming back with a consensus answer. For casual questions with no official answer, we can’t do that, and so we will often say “these are the opinions, pick which one you like” and close the thread.

The role of judges online

I’ll have to put a “moan alert” on this section, so please skip down if you don’t want to read it :)

Judges who answer rules questions online in their own free time are volunteers. It is not a condition of becoming or remaining a certain level judge that one spend time in a Facebook group helping folks out. I do it because helping other people is part of my personal mission statement. Some just want to pass the time. And other reasons include to practice for judge tests or big events, and purely for the love of the game.

What we all have in common, however, is that we aren’t paid to answer rules questions online. (Except maybe the few who are actual Wizards employees, and even then I suspect a lot of their rulings are done on their own time.) It’s each judge’s choice how to spend his/her free time. Most of us are happy to help whenever we can with rules questions, and I don’t see that changing.

Very occasionally, though, a question comes up online that’s really complex, involving half a dozen cards, most of which don’t see play in serious decks. It’s often the case that the situation has been constructed to be intentionally difficult, to “test” judges or catch us out. And  if a judge answers one of these questions correctly, the questioner usually then adds some other cards or twists which are even less likely to ever occur in normal play.

Judges are allowed to decline to answer these questions. Not everything that could theoretically happen in a game of Magic needs to have the outcome known ahead of time. We reserve the right to say “call us when it actually happens”.

Moan over :D

In your playgroup

In casual games it really is up to you and the people you play with to decide what rules and arrangements help you to have the most fun. If you all think something on the banned list isn’t overpowered, then use it. Two different interpretations of a rule? Pick which one makes the game more fun. Rules as written making the game harder to play? Change them. Try it out and change it back if it turns out worse. It’s your game.

I hope this helps understand where I and other judges are coming from when we answer questions about casual play, and why it’s difficult to give a definitive answer to certain questions.

You might be interested in this Facebook group: mtgUK Rules & Judges Questions

Community question: Should the mtgUK Rules & Judge Questions group rules suggest that Commander and casual play questions be asked in our Commander & Casual Gamers Magic: The Gathering Community [mtgUK] group where players can also discuss strategies and deck building?

Thanks for reading,

Thomas Ralph

Taking a look at casual MTG formats and Commander rulings, by Thomas Ralph
"In casual formats such as Commander, it is up to each individual playgroup to determine the outcome of ambiguous cases." – Thomas Ralph, Level 3 Magic Judge, many times, 2016

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