Cass mentioned while introducing us new GDC crew members that I’m a current L2 judge (with aspirations to become L3.) One of the main things that attracted me to Magic is ‘the stack’ (I’m a computer science graduate), and EDH has always fascinated me not just with its big plays, but also the myriad rules interactions that simply boggle the mind.

Of course, the biggest factor that pulled me into this format is the community. I’m blessed to be part of a group of like-minded individuals who adhere to the same social contract. One day, I’ll write more about them and their contraptions, but today, I’d like to talk about the social contract – in specific, relating two situations which I’ve encountered that really show how important it is to think about what a social contract really means, and what effect it has on the players that encounter it.

This story is from before I started playing EDH. I was already with my current group, but we hadn’t fully embraced the format yet; as such, 60-card mayhem was the norm.

One particular player – let’s call him “Jay” -had only recently joined our group. My memory of his joining is sort of fuzzy, but if I remember correctly I came across him on our local forums asking to join a regular casual group. Someone within the group invited him to join us for a few sessions.

My first impression of Jay was that he seemed socially awkward. He didn’t really talk about himself much, but he’d absolutely gush about his latest ideas and decks, very nearly bordering on compulsive. We’d simply dismissed it, because after all, Magic seemed to be his passion, and everyone has his own way of self-expression. Who were we to judge?

One fateful weekend, things took a sharp downturn.

I was unable to make it that weekend, so the incident was related back to me by those who were there. Apparently, Jay debuted his new creation – a Dwarf tribal deck. All well and good…it’s always fun to see casual theme decks, and at the time we didn’t really care about what formats our decks were legal in.

The deck, if I recall correctly, had playsets of Dwarven Miner and Dwarven Blastminer, which we were absolutely okay with. The bone of contention was that the deck also contained a startling FOUR copies of Strip Mine.

Needless to say, the games played that weekend turned out to be quite sour, with more than one of the group being unable to put up with the overbearing land destruction. I understand that there was significant tension throughout the games, and choice words were exchanged more than once. Everyone was incredulous that Jay defended his deck with the “flavorful” reason:

“Dwarves dig mines…hence the deck must have a set of Strip Mines.”

After that weekend, there was a lively discussion over our group email thread, and more than one of us tried to persuade Jay that Strip Mine was banned/restricted in Eternal formats for a reason, and that he should at the very least adhere to that list.

Well, “lively” does no justice in describing the ensuing explosive tirade that Jay launched into. He criticized every single one of us for being “slaves to the competitive format”, for being unappreciative of the effort that he’d put into his brainchild, and for ganging up on him because he did so well with the deck. Things got so bad that Terence, our group’s resident pacifist (and one who rarely chimes into our discussions), actually broke his silence and spoke out against him.

At that point, there was no way but out for Jay. It was a most bitter parting of ways.

Were we too harsh on Jay? I’m not completely sure, but what I do know is that subsequently this volatile breakup came to light on our local forums. He became the target first by concerned onlookers offering feedback (which he didn’t listen to), and then the usual flamers who slung snide remarks and caustic replies his way. He pretty much quit the forums outright after that.

Was our local community too harsh on Jay? Again, I’m not totally sure, but what I do know is that he subsequently became notorious on more than one well-known Magic forum for all sorts of negative behavior – above all for being a “troll”.

. . . . .

The next incident took place only a few months ago at our local PTQ: Journey into Nyx, in which I was the designated Head Judge. It was the final Swiss round, and I was presiding over the top tables, vigilant for signs of collusion and/or bribery. Around the middle of the round, I noticed a large group gathered around one of the top tables, where a local player (we’ll call him “Darius”) was paired down to an out-of-town player “Ivan”.

At the start of the round, Darius tried to persuade Ivan to take the intentional draw, but was rejected. Ivan’s reason for rejecting the offer was that he had an outside chance of making top eight based on the tiebreakers. Nothing was said when Darius won the first game, but then Ivan took game two to force the match into the deciding third game.

At this point, Darius, presumably nervous about his chances, once again asked Ivan for the draw, reasoning that it wouldn’t help either of them to scrub out at that point – but once again was rebuffed by Ivan.

The third game swung more and more in favor of Ivan as it progressed. Darius was on the brink of desperation, finally needing a Hail Mary to turn the board state around. When he top-decked a blank, he went into the tank for a considerable period of time – I had to prompt him to make a play or else receive a Slow Play warning. At that point, he seemed to lose his cool, and tried to persuade Ivan to concede to him because he was higher in the standings and would have been locked in for top eight with a win or draw. Ivan, on the other hand, had to rely on the results of another bubble match going his way in order to even have a chance at top eight.

This was not so much what bothered me; what did bother me was that the onlookers started to chime in. They were saying to Ivan…things like how he should understand the “local way of doing things”, and how “one good turn deserves another”, or how he shouldn’t play the role of “evil dream-crusher.”

At that point, I had to forcibly step in and to the front of the table. Using my most authoritative yet neutral tone, I asked the table, “Do we have a result yet?”

There was a bit more wrangling between the two players, with Ivan visibly distressed by the pressure around him, but in the end, he stuck to his stance. It was with undisguised loathing that Darius finally signed the result slip. He left the table with the words somewhere along the line of, “Thanks for scrubbing both of us out, noob.”

Later in the round, I was informed by one of my floor judges that Ivan wanted to have a private word with me. Without going into the full details of the conversation, I can simply say that Ivan was very disturbed by the pressure, to the point where he started doubted his tiebreaker calculations and was wavering on his position. He even asked me on more than one occasion whether it was really “the way things are done here” – that the player being paired-up should concede to his opponent so that the one with the more probable chance of making it does in fact get there. He was almost convinced that the local gamer community would have turned against him if he didn’t. (Ivan was a foreign student studying in Singapore.)

I explained to Ivan that while I wasn’t at liberty to reveal the results of the matches already played, I believed that he should be firm about his decision and that he shouldn’t let what people tell him cloud his judgment. Still, it was a good fifteen minutes before he was convinced with his own decision to stay the course.

. . . . .

What do you do when the social contract you believe in is diametrically opposite to what others around believe in? Have you ever been called out for what you think is correct?

What if you’re in the majority? Is there an accepted “right way of doing things”?

What if you’re in the minority? If you’re in Ivan’s shoes, what decision do you make?

Hit up the “Comments” section below to let me know your thoughts.

Oh…and in case you’re wondering, Ivan did make top eight.