I'm going to ask you a question.
Before you scroll down to see what that question is, I want you to take a moment and realize the importance of this question. It's one I've been thinking about for a few days now, and I'm still not sure what the answer is.
What are you going to remember about Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir?
For me, I know there are some things I should remember:
- Shouta Yasooka making his second Pro Tour Top 8. Yasooka's deckbuilding prowess and insanely consistent results are something I've always admired as a player in the past and as a commentator today. It's truly incredible to watch him play, and I sincerely hope this gets him one step closer to the Hall of Fame induction that he has, in my opinion, already earned.
- Adrian Sullivan making his first Pro Tour Top 8 with U/B Control, a deck he used to qualify for PTDTK and something he has been writing about for the past five months. It's always fun for me to watch someone master a specific deck and then enjoy results with it, and Adrian has no doubt mastered U/B Control.
- Martin Dang winning the tournament with a beautiful Atarka Red deck. We should always remember the Pro Tour champion.
And now here's the thing that I'm pretty sure I will remember about PTDTK:
- Round freakin' Six. Ugh.
Magic as a competitive sport that people want to watch and participate in is at a turning point. What happened during Round Six of Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir caused that, and it certainly needs dissecting because it's not something we as a community can have happen again. Today I'm going to dissect the entire situation, explain why what happened is terrible for Magic coverage, and how to handle that type of situation in the future.
For those who missed it, the situation in question is what happened between Patrick Chapin and Michele Ancona in Round Six of the Pro Tour. Both players were 5-0 and having great starts to their tournament. Game 3 was winding down, and at the point you're about to watch below, Chapin was in a favorable position and looking to close the game out, hopefully in time. It's 100% possible for Ancona to win the game with a perfect string of draws and some bricks from Chapin, but it would be fairly unlikely.
During this portion of the game, Chapin was trying to 1.) maximize his ability to win the game by playing as close to perfect Magic as possible, 2.) cut off any outs Ancona could draw to ensure that he couldn't peel runners to steal the game, and 3.) do all of this while balancing a very short clock because a win is miles better than a draw in that situation. To say this is a high pressure situation for both players is an understatement, and as you are about to see, not everything always goes to plan.
Go right to the 57 minute mark.
There's a lot to take in here. The easiest way to do that is to use timestamps, so I will do exactly that moving forward.
The Ajani Activation
57:00. Chapin considers activating the ultimate on Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, but he then reconsiders and moves towards using Ajani, Mentor of Heroes. Once he settles on activating Ajani, Chapin sees the following:
57:54. Ancona: "He needs to reveal."
57:55 - 58:00. Chapin: "Yeah sorry." Ancona looks to the judge. Patrick says, "I'll show you my whole hand."
We'll stop here for a moment. So the problem here is that Patrick has found a creature with Ajani, did not reveal it, and has added it to his hand.
At no point has Chapin shuffled around his hand. It's actually very easy to track where the Tasigur is for all parties involved. Ancona can do it. The judges can do it. Everyone watching the broadcast can do it.
But that's not the point.
Magic tournaments have rules. It's important that we abide by those rules. And in this situation, there is a rule to be abided by:
2.5. Game Play Error - Game Rule Violation Definition This infraction covers the majority of game situations in which a player makes an error or fails to follow a game procedure correctly. It handles violations of the Comprehensive Rules that are not covered by the other Game Play Errors. An error that an opponent can't verify the legality of should have its penalty upgraded. These errors involve misplaying hidden information, such as the morph ability or failing to reveal a card to prove that a choice made was legal. If the information needed to verify the legality was ever in a uniquely identifiable position (such as on top of the library or as the only card in hand) after the infraction was committed, do not upgrade the penalty and reveal the information if possible.
58:00 - 59:30. The table judge, Kevin Desprez, makes his ruling on the situation.
Kevin Desprez, a level 5 judge from France, did a fantastic job here. For starters, he understood the gravity of the situation immediately. Two players, underneath a tremendous amount of pressure where emotions are running high, and he makes the above ruling clearly and concisely. He does a great job of explaining the ruling that he's making, why he's making the ruling that he's making, completely understands that Patrick is going to be appealing the ruling (as he wants to argue his case), and keeps both players calm. It was truly impressive work.
So where did things get bad? Right around here:
Here's My Hand
58:55. Ancona tells Chapin: "I didn't know the cards in your hand." Chapin says, "From Courser…"
And let the fun begin…
Do I think Ancona is lying here? No. I don't. And it's irrelevant if he is because Ancona has no responsibility to keep track of the cards that Chapin reveals to Courser of Kruphix. Yes, the cards that Courser of Kruphix reveals are public information, but Ancona doesn't have to track it. He would be wise to do so, as having that information could be incredibly useful during the game, but there's nothing that says that Ancona needs to keep track of those cards. Also keep in mind that while most of this conversation thus far has been framed around Chapin trying to win the game, Ancona can also still win the game.
Like Chapin, Ancona has many things to think about, up to and including if he should be trying to play for a win or a draw given the situation - two different paths entirely, each giving two entirely different decision trees. So it is completely feasible that Ancona doesn't know the cards that Chapin has in his hand at that point in the game because he has decided to save some mental energy on one thing (what cards Chapin is revealing to Courser each turn, as Patrick doesn't have very many cards in his hand) and apply it to something else more important entirely (choosing to play for a win or a draw and what those decision trees bring).
But let's play devil's advocate for a moment. Let's say that Ancona was keeping track of the cards in Chapin's hand from Courser of Kruphix and that he has been writing them down the entire time. Chapin says, "I will show you the cards in my hand," turns them over, and they are different from what Ancona has written down. That's another situation entirely where we will see both players disagree on what the contents of Chapin's hand should be.
- Has Ancona written the cards down wrong?
- Did he cross the wrong cards off his list?
- Did Chapin forget when he had Courser going and when he didn't?
- Did Ancona?
All of the above is why bringing up that Ancona should know what cards are in Chapin's hand is useless.
1:02:45 - Head Judge Riccardo Tessitori has arrived.
Chapin's argument is that, yes, he did add Tasigur to his hand by means of placing it face down and having it touch his other cards. But as he also explains, he never revealed his card to Ajani (implying that he hadn't yet finished resolving the ability) and that because he has not picked up his hand or moved the cards around at all, that the gamestate is completely repairable.
Truly, it is hard to argue with anything he is saying.
1:04:50. "Hats off to Pat for doing his best to wiggle out of this. He came up with a better argument than I thought he would." - Randy Buehler
1:05:25. "Look, this is a guy who lived through the 90s. There was a lot of rules lawyering back then." - Randy Buehler
1:11:40. "Like I said, he did grow up in an era where you could talk the judges into all kinds of crazy things." - Randy Buehler
Let me explain why you can't say those things ever:
What happened during Magic in the 90s is a pretty dark time. It is referred to as the Wild West for a reason. There are some good things that came from the 90s, to be sure, but for the most part, the beginning of tournament Magic isn't something that is talked about and for good reason. To insinuate that Patrick Chapin - a Magic Hall of Famer, weekly columnist, author of two Magic books, and ambassador for the game like few we have ever seen - is using something he may have learned from the 90s to "wiggle his way" out of the current situation he's in in front of a live audience for all to see (which it shouldn't have been, but we will get there soon enough) is so mind-numbingly insulting to who he is and what he stands for in this game, it is difficult for me to articulate.
If you want to draw comparisons, we can freely do that with other sports, their dark times, and how they generally aren't spoken about (and with good reason); however, they are certainly not spoken about on live broadcasts to thousands of people. A few examples:
Feel free to dig around and learn more about those terrible times in their respective sports if/when you have time. But that's not something we as commentators should be bringing up to our viewers because it brings very little positivity along with it.
Let me explain.
One of the many jobs I have as a Magic commentator is to get you, the viewer, excited about wanting to play Magic. I'd like for it to be tournament Magic because I personally believe that tournament Magic is an incredible experience that anyone who plays Magic should take part in, but really any Magic will do. I bet that you, the viewer, are probably less excited about wanting to play Magic (especially tournament Magic) once you find out that the 90s were a period when you could bend judges to your will to get a ruling, and you might be watching Patrick Chapin, potentially your favorite Magic player and certainly someone you've heard of, doing that right now. Because who's to say that that era is behind us? I'd like to believe that it is, but nothing was stated saying as much.
Does that make you want to go register for a Magic tournament? Does that make playing on the Pro Tour appealing to you?
1:05:25. Riccardo upholds the initial ruling. Chapin continues to argue his case. Chapin mentions a few times that the match is being recorded and that we can wind back to the tape and see what has transpired.
The biggest reason is because feature matches then become more important than regular matches. With access to a camera to correct mistakes like this, it gives an unfair advantage to players in the feature match area. As you may know, feature matches are not selected at random in Magic, much in the same fashion that who plays on Monday Night Football on ESPN, Sunday Night Baseball on ESPN, and Wednesday Night Basketball on ESPN (Man, ESPN is killing it!) is not selected at random either. The games are selected with specific teams, athletes, and/or rivalries in mind to build and further brands of those involved and/or obtain more viewers to put in front of advertisers to (potentially) make more money for them.
Magic is no different. It's a business trying to (gasp!) make money. The best way to do that is to put the biggest names on camera whenever possible because that's who people want to watch. As such, those players would receive an unfair advantage because they would be placed in the feature match area more often and, as a result, have access to the benefits of a camera more often. Then, things stop becoming about how good you actually are at Magic, and then become about how personable you are with the coverage team. So for all you introverts out there playing in your first Pro Tour, it sure sucks to be you!
Now let's apply why we can't use the camera to make rulings in the feature match area. Consider the following hypothetical scenario:
This exact same situation happens between Chapin and Ancona in Round Six. Chapin makes his argument, Riccardo Tessitori overturns the ruling based on what Chapin has said with the use of a camera, and play continues. Chapin is issued a warning. Ancona goes on to lose the match on turn 5 of extra turns. Rough beats all around.
In Round Seven, the exact same thing happens to Ancona but in a non-feature match. This time, there is no camera to confirm what has happened, and because of that, Tessitori has to rule differently. He rules that Ancona's opponent did add Tasigur to his hand from the Ajani activation, which means it is a game loss. Ancona's opponent has heard about the Chapin story from the previous round and is dumbfounded that this ruling is going against him when it didn't for Chapin. "It's not my fault I wasn't selected for a feature match," he says under his breath while scooping up his permanents.
That means that the exact same infraction got ruled two different ways, which is obviously an unacceptable outcome for players playing in a tournament and for judges judging a tournament. You can take issue with the rule that is in place, but you cannot adjudicate the same rule differently based on circumstance.
Many people have asked questions like "What is the camera even there for then?" and "They do it in professional sports, so why can't they here?" Those are easy questions to answer:
What is the camera even there for then?
Mostly your entertainment, but if I'm being honest, also to (duh!) make money! You like Magic? You want to see the best players in the world play? Cameras are necessary to do that. But if a company finds out that 30,000 people are watching something at the same time, they'd like to take advantage of those eyeballs and put something in front of it that may interest that demographic.
Like, say, I don't know, SCG Game Night. Or Friday Night Magic. Or Monster Energy Drink.
Or Coca freaking Cola! (Click on that. That's a real thing that is actually happening!)
They do it in professional sports, so why can't they here?
Because in professional sports, all the games have cameras, whereas in Magic, only a few of them do. Take the NBA for example. Not only do all of the games have cameras, but as of this season, the NBA has a state-of-the-art replay center in Secaucus, NJ to assist referees with the replay review process.
Once Magic has all of their games underneath a camera, then we can roll back the tape and get some mistakes corrected. But for now, we have to work with what we have.
Another thing to consider:
Let's say that Tessitori does overturn the ruling due to the discussion he has with Chapin. No camera is involved, Chapin's argument is seen as compelling to Riccardo, and he decides that it was an honest mistake. There's no need to go by the letter of the law in this instance because everything is repairable. He issues Patrick a warning and play continues.
Do you know what probably happens next? I predict one of two things:
1.) The general public sees this as favoritism towards Patrick Chapin, a well-known Magic personality and Magic Hall of Famer, whose brand is very important to protect given what he has done for the game. "Of course they ruled in Chapin's favor" the masses will say, and they will be upset as play continues.
2.) Ancona loses his cool and is viewed as a poor sport for not taking the ruling in stride. "Sometimes rulings get overturned. I don't know why he's so mad," the masses will say, and they will look at Ancona as a poor sport who should just "get over it."
If I was 5-0 in a Pro Tour, had vast knowledge of the rules, and that ruling got overturned due to a compelling argument from my opponent instead of upholding the letter of the law, I would lose my cool to a degree that is very unbecoming of me. And guess what - you probably would too.
I said it on Twitter on Friday when it was happening, and I still feel the same way:
NONE of this should be on camera FYI. Literally NONE OF IT.— Cedric Phillips (@CedricAPhillips) April 10, 2015
I know there are people out there that were entertained by watching those events unfold, and that's all well and good, but you need to look towards the bigger picture here. If a relatively new player or someone who is considering making the leap into tournament Magic watched Round Six unfold (and remember - you were probably that person at one point in your life), the likelihood of them wanting to attend a tournament after seeing that fiasco dwindles so much more than you think. And you don't get a second chance at making a first impression. You just don't.
So maybe we lose that person to something else. And maybe that person was the next Reid Duke. Or the next Luis Scott-Vargas. Or maybe he was just some kid who likes playing in FNM every weekend with his token deck because that's what he did to get away from how horrible his high school experience was. I don't know. But every time I watch something like this happen, it upsets me because tournament Magic is the best thing that has ever happened to me in my entire life, and every time something happens to stop someone from trying that experience, from going into their local store and registering a DCI number and playing in their first tournament, it makes me really upset.
Because I was that kid once. And that was my escape. And I don't know what I would be doing today if it weren't for that. And you know what? I'm not the only one with that story. I meet people with the same one during Open Series stops all the time. I actually met one this past weekend at Spring States in Seattle and the first thing he asked me was, "Are tournament matches always like that?"
Keep something in mind here - Patrick Chapin and Michele Ancona are not at fault. Convoluted judge calls happen in competitive Magic. That's a fact. But not all things that happen should be seen. And this certainly falls underneath that umbrella. The whole thing was just such a bad look for this game, and it's something that should have never been streamed.
What we put in front of people who watch coverage matters.
I believe the best way to handle this situation would have been to keep the cameras rolling for the initial ruling by Kevin Desprez, and then once the inevitable appeal comes from Chapin, cut away to the booth and explain to the viewers what is happening. As a commentator, you get the unique opportunity to frame the narrative of this situation, and you can use this moment to inform and educate the viewers on this entire process. But at no point should we see the appeal process that we saw between Chapin, Ancona, and Tessotori because there's no outcome where it doesn't look bad for at least one person involved, and furthermore, as we learned during Round Six, the negatives far outweigh the positives.
After the final ruling has been made off camera, the commentary team should be informed so they can inform the audience of what the ruling and result is. I would also have someone interview Tessotori separately so he can explain the ruling he gave on the situation, why he decided the way he did, how the rule works, why the rule works the way it does, and other things to make it incredibly transparent for the viewers at home on what has occurred so they have a better understanding of things.
My motives have always been the same: I want what is best for Magic. I felt that way when I wrote my coverage pieces previously, and I still feel that way now. I've basically put my life on hold to cover Magic tournaments 40 weekends a year and then edit this website six days a week. And I'm not saying that because I want your sympathy; my choices are my own, and I'm happy with the ones that I've made. I tell you that because this is really the only thing that matters to me at this stage of my life. I can't affect this game the way I want to playing it. It sucks to admit that, but I'm not good enough to do it, and I know it. But I can affect it positively in a different way, and that's what I've been trying to do for almost three years. And when things like this happen, it frustrates me.
This is the best damn game in the world. You want to know how I know it's the best?
Because someone reading this right now is planning on driving over ten hours to go play in a PTQ where the only prize is first place.
Because someone reading this right now has driven twenty hours to go 3-3 drop at a Grand Prix, and they would do it again if they had the chance.
Because David Williams is a professional poker player who has had loads of success and can do anything he wants to, but he chooses to fly to Vintage tournaments with his spare time because he loves playing the format.
I want what's best for this game. I truly do. But how Round Six of Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir was presented is a black eye on our game. When I think about PTDTK, I want to remember the emotion I felt when I watched Adrian Sullivan, a friend of almost a decade, clinch his first Pro Tour top 8. I want to remember watching Shouta Yasooka slice and dice his way through the competition and think to myself, "I cannot fathom ever beating that guy in a match of Magic" much in the same way I cannot fathom ever beating Lebron James in a game of pickup basketball.
You know what I don't want to remember?
Round Six. And how many people won't attend their first Magic tournament because of it.