Welcome to the first Rules Processing article here on the Crystarium! Rules Processing will be a series of articles focused on, if the name didn’t give it away, rules related things. Articles covering anything from the stack, to giving judging advice, to taking questions from readers and providing answers.

I have been working on what was intended to be the first article of Rules Processing for some time, but unfortunately that’s a few weeks away (at least), and now that we’ve had yet another controversy in a tournament related to the enforcement of penalties and the games’ penalty system, I think the time is right to release an article, not to mention the fact I’m itching to really get my thoughts out on this one, mainly because I see a lot of opinions that I actually disagree with, at least in part.

Let me begin by introducing myself. I am Yoh Ceeza. I love rules. I love poring through a game’s comprehensive rules and really getting to understand it as much as possible, from a rules perspective. I love talking about rules and sharing my knowledge of them. In my many years of being involved with card games, I’ve been a judge for Konami, judging the Yu-Gi-Oh! TCG, I’ve also been a judge for The Pokémon Company International (TPCi), judging the Pokémon TCG (and a couple of video game events as well) and finally I have been a judge for Bushiroad, judging Weiß Schwarz, Buddyfight, Vanguard, and Luck & Logic (RIP). I’m also in the process of sending out the secret smoke signals needed to become a Final Fantasy TCG judge. Without going into unnecessary detail, I’ve judged a fair amount of large scale and important events, some with a slot at Worlds on the line, sometimes as just a floor judge but often as head judge. 

Before we get into the subject of the day, I just want to state that my aim today is to take a current issue and explore it in-depth; to discuss my thoughts about the penalties given, what changes, if any, need to happen to the penalties system FFTCG uses, and also go over the things FFTCG can and should be doing to improve in regards to incidents like this. This incident is the latest (at the time of writing) in a long line of incidents at tournaments, it’s not any more important or special than any before or after it, it just happens to be the one I decided to write about. So without further ado, let’s get on with it.

The Pentagate Scandal

The incident in question happened at the 2019 Lightning Crystal Cup in North America. In the sixth round of the tournament, during a game, a player called a judge on themself. They informed the judge that they had discovered they were running 5 copies of Minfilia (5-160S). As a result of the illegal deck infraction, the player received the penalty of a game loss. At the point when the player was given the penalty, they were 5-0 and guaranteed to make top 32, allowing them to progress to day 2 of the event. As an additional note, the player had also received a warning for an infraction in a prior game.

The Penalty

Now you know what happened, let’s move on to talking about the penalty that was given: a game loss. Was this the correct penalty given the circumstances? Well, yes. 100%. I’ve seen a lot of people calling for a disqualification, some even wanting the player banned from the game (temporarily or otherwise), but the fact of the matter is: a game loss was the correct decision with the information currently known. You can be sure if further damning information comes out that my stance may change, but for now I can only proceed on what is known to those not involved in the tournament. I do think there are steps that need to be taken after the penalty is given, and I’ll talk about that a little later in the article, as well as go over why a disqualification for cheating would set a bad precedent. For now, I’d like to explain in more detail why this decision was correct, despite many feeling the opposite, and also go through how other card games penalty guidelines line up with this (spoilers: they are exactly the same.)

So why was this the correct punishment? Simply put, it’s what the penalty guideline in FFTCG says.

Here’s a snippet from it:

You can also find a little bit (but not much) more detail here:

If you’re now screaming about that last line regarding a player being immediately disqualified when it’s clear the player is deliberately using an illegal deck, don’t worry, I will, as I’ve said, cover why this wasn’t worthy of a disqualification based on what we know later on.

So, how does the penalty FFTCG gives for this stack up against other card games’ penalty guidelines? Well, let’s take a look, starting with Yu-Gi-Oh!’s:

It’s literally the same in this case, but let’s not stop now, let’s take a look at Bushiroad’s:

Since we currently don’t know if the decklist was illegal, we can only go by the fact that the deck was illegal. Even if the decklist is also illegal, the penalty does remain the same here. Now you might be seeing the “~ disqualification” and think that this means you can give a disqualification for this, and that is true. In this case, because Bushiroad has a section on actual cheating (as do most card games), the disqualification on this infraction is more about if the player fails to fix their deck to match the deck registration sheet. If you’re going to give a disqualification for cheating, well, you give that penalty, not an illegal deck penalty. Anyway, one last one to go over, here’s Magic’s:

The “penalty is upgraded” line is in reference to the fact that the initial penalty is a warning in Magic, and the penalty is upgraded based on the exact details of the infraction. In this case, because the player has an illegal number of copies of a card versus the decklist, it’s a game loss instead of a warning. What this line does not mean is the game loss is upgraded to a match loss (because that’s the next step up in Magic, not a disqualification, more on that later). Going forward in this article, I’ll draw directly from Magic’s “Infraction Procedure Guide” when I want to talk about how another card game other than FFTCG handles its penalty systems, this is because referring to how each different card game does it is fairly inane given they are all basically identical  (although Pokemon does tend to be more lenient because it’s focused more at children). Additionally, Magic has been running over 25 years (since 1993) and because of that has had a long time to build and refine a penalty guideline that’s probably about as extensive as you can get, and given how much influence Magic has had on FFTCG’s systems, I think it’s the best choice to look at when comparing to FFTCG, or just discussing how specific things should be handled.

Now, before moving on, one small wrinkle I believe is worth talking about is the warning the player got in an earlier round. Should the player have had the penalty bumped up because of the warning? Well, before I answer that, let me quickly tangent. I want to mention briefly the list of penalties in FFTCG, they are: a caution, an official warning (because you can get unofficial warnings?!), instant defeat (aka game loss) and disqualification. The unnecessary renaming of penalties versus other card games aside, this is pretty universal across all card games as far as the penalties you can give, besides the glaring omission of a match loss but that’s not hugely relevant at the moment.

Right, back to the question, should the player have the penalty bumped from a game loss to a disqualification because of the warning? No. How about two game losses? No. Let’s move on. Just kidding, you probably want a bit more detail on that.

Firstly the idea of two game losses (which is basically a match loss). Why not that? Well, I’ll let Magic answer this one:

Let’s now talk about bumping the game loss to a disqualification because of the warning. I think the above point Magic makes about the penalty matching the crime is apt. In the given scenario, where the penalty was a game loss, a disqualification does not fit the crime, even with the warning. Typically, you escalate the penalty you would give based on the previous one, however if the penalty you are giving is above the previous penalty, you don’t usually escalate further. On the other hand, if this situation meant the penalty was a warning, then it can (but doesn’t necessarily have to be) upgraded to a game loss. Perhaps you’re now wondering what happens if the player gets a caution or a warning after the game loss. Well, this is where things get more complicated, and I’ll talk about that in another part of the article.

Disqualification!

Now, if you’re someone who thinks the player should have been disqualified, I’d say it might take a bit more than me saying “tHe PrOpEr PeNaLtY wAs ApPlIeD” to convince you otherwise. Assuming you’re willing to be convinced otherwise that is. If you aren’t, well, thanks for reading anyway, I guess. I understand it’s not as simple as that for most people, and if it was that simple, well I wouldn’t bother writing an article about it, so let’s get into why a disqualification isn’t the correct penalty here.

The first thing to understand about a disqualification is that it is THE most severe penalty any judge can give, so much so that almost no card game will allow anyone but the head judge to issue such a penalty (some also don’t allow anyone but the head judge to give match or game losses, because those are also still pretty significant penalties). With a disqualification, you are not only removing a player from the tournament, you are also almost always stripping them of any prizes, and in some cases blacklisting them from events for a period of time. To actually give that penalty you better have a damn good reason, because chances are you’re going to be asked by the company running the TCG why you did, and to give good justification for your reasons.

Let’s take a look at what FFTCG says about giving a disqualification: 

I’ll be the first to say that this isn’t quite as extensive as it needs to be, but as it says there, typically in a card game you are only disqualified from an event if you deliberately deceive aka cheat, or decide to start punching people in the face. In regards to this event, the reason people would want the player disqualified is because they believe they cheated. So let’s quickly go to Magic in regards to how they look at cheating:

There is quite a lot here, but to me there are two very important points:

“A person breaks a rule defined by the tournament documents, lies to a Tournament Official, or
notices an offense committed in their (or a teammate’s) match and does not call attention to it.”

“Additionally, the offense must meet the following criteria for it to be considered Cheating:

  • The player must be attempting to gain advantage from their action. 
  • The player must be aware that they are doing something illegal”

This line of thinking isn’t, and shouldn’t be, unique to Magic’s penalty enforcement. In order to disqualify someone for cheating, the player has to be aware they are doing it. Now, I’ve seen a lot of conjecture saying things like “how can you play 5 games before this and not know when you’re searching so much?” and that’s a valid question, but that doesn’t prove he knew. That’s simply your take and opinion. In order to disqualify the player, the head judge has to believe it based on sufficient information, and no judge worth their salt should be handing out disqualifications based on anything else. If a judge does hand out a disqualification based on their feelings or uninformed thoughts, then it not only brings their own integrity into question, it also bring the tournaments integrity into question. A judge should only ever hand out a disqualification when they have the adequate facts to validate the penalty. Ultimately, a disqualification is a huge penalty to give, and to go back to Magic once again, it’s something they take very seriously, as you can see in their very detailed disqualification process.

Investigation Please

Now, while I’ve said a game loss was the correct penalty at the time for the infraction, and a disqualification was not, that isn’t where this incident should end. In fact it’s far from it. The most immediate thing that should have happened is that an investigation is started by the head judge, they should have gotten statements from the relevant people, question the player, perhaps check any stream footage if they were on at any point and so on. At the end of it, the head judge looks at the information they have and makes a decision. Nothing may come of it, but maybe something will. I can’t say if anyone at the tournament has started or performed an investigation into this infraction. However, I do believe it’s fair to say there are some questionable facts involved, such as:

How did the player realise they had five copies of a card but not realise they had four?

In a deck like Scions with a good amount of search, how did a player never notice this in the first five rounds?

None of these questions, or any others, make the player guilty of cheating or not when we don’t have the answers. I’ve heard stories of players have a situation where they ran an illegal number of copies of a card at a high level event and only realised it after they were out of the tournament. It’s not impossible to do, and here’s a little quote I’d like to share which I think is relevant:

“Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity”
– Hanlon’s Razor

Regardless, the proper thing to do here is investigate, and I really hope that’s what happened.

All Eyes On Them

Besides the investigation, the next thing that needs to happen is that the player involved should be under heavy scrutiny for the rest of the tournament. Now, that’s not to say they have someone stand next to them for every game. Frankly doing that would probably give the player adequate right to complain to Square Enix about judge bias towards them. However, any player that judges are suspicious of, should have eyes on them more than others, and I believe this is one of those situations where the player in question should be watched more closely.

So, what happens if the player ends up receiving another penalty? If he does something that would get him a caution, does he get DQd? What about a warning? Well, it’s entirely depending on what the player does, but generally a caution isn’t going to be enough to do anything to the player. However, given they already have a warning and a game loss, a further warning is likely enough, at the judges (or head judges) discretion, to issue another game loss. You might now be wondering what should happen if they get a further game loss (not counting a warning escalated to a game loss that is). Well, it’s likely at this point you just escalate to a match loss. Although, as previously mentioned, FFTCG doesn’t seem to include that in their penalty guideline. However, the head judge has the authority to issue the penalty they think fit the infraction, so regardless of its omission, it can still be given. If you’re now wondering if the game loss could instead escalate to a disqualification, the answer is that it depends. It depends what caused the player to get the second game loss, and if combined with the previous incident, the head judge now feels he has sufficient evidence to issue a disqualification.

GO BEYOND!! PLUS ULTRA!!

Okay, so the penalty was issued, the player should be investigated and should be monitored more closely throughout the rest of the tournament. Let’s pretend all of this stuff is actually done, that should be the end of it right? Let the player move on to the next tournament and forget about it? Well, yes and no. A player should be allowed to start a tournament “fresh,” that’s how it is with any card game. However, a list of infractions given and to which players should be submitted to a database. This database isn’t just for any judge to access, and unfortunately the judge system FFTCG has in place currently doesn’t really have any judges in a high enough position to warrant access to it anyway, but the idea of the database is to be able to track consistent behaviour across tournaments by a judge panel, or the staff of the game. If a player actually gets a disqualification, it can be helpful to look at past behaviour to see if the punishment was warranted. This doesn’t mean a lack of penalties automatically gets a player’s disqualification overturned, it just means for those players that have a previous and consistent history of penalties at events, it can be easier to make a decision. Other factors should always be considered when reviewing the disqualification.

Beyond a penalty tracking database, I’d like to see the game’s “floor rules” updated and properly structured, I don’t really think the penalties listed need changing, although a match loss penalty does absolutely need to be added. The document also needs a big dollop of polish, as the formatting is about as consistent as Guardians, and it needs far more detail and structure.

Community (lolNA)

I understand a lot of people in the community are sick and tired of incidents like the one discussed here which keep happening. People are angry, and they want something done about it, and while I don’t believe giving this person a disqualification because of others’ infractions at other tournaments is the correct course of action, I do think more can be done. FFTCG and its community has grown in an age where communication about incidents is shared almost instantly. This stuff isn’t unique to FFTCG, it’s just shared far more than most other card games, as far as I can see, and the fact the game is smaller than games like Magic or others compounds the issue because the community tends to be more close-knit. I believe that, given the way this community is, Square Enix need to do more to be transparent. They should not be putting up walls and going “you weren’t there” or “if you have a problem, please contact official channels.” They should address the community, explain what happened and explain the action taken. It might help for them to also talk about their plans to address it in the future. Besides the solutions I’ve listed, there are plenty of other things they can do, like deck check on entry. Although I know first-hand that isn’t always entirely feasible which is why I didn’t talk about it above in any detail. Things like the size of the judge team and the restrictions on when you can begin registration at the venue can make it basically impossible. Deck check on entry also doesn’t stop players committing gameplay infractions that result in game losses. Sometimes, no matter how much you do, you can can’t do enough. Unless you just disqualify and ban everyone for everything. That’ll solve it in no time, because then everyone will be banned and so no one can commit infractions.

Finally, while some of what I’ve said here is the facts as they are, some of it is simply my opinion, and you are more than welcome to agree or disagree with anything I’ve said regardless. Unfortunately, while I think everyone should be allowed to discuss their opinions on this, far too often these discussions are deleted and swept under the rug, which just fuels the fire of the community hatred of this stuff more as far as I’m concerned. Moderate specific people, not the entire discussion, and let the community talk!

“I would prefer even to fail with honor than to win by cheating.”
– Sophocles

El. Psy. Kongroo

-Yoh Ceeza