How to Avoid Unnecessary Match Losses

At a recent RCQ I was judging, the top 8 had just been decided, and they were discussing splitting the prize support. They had agreed to split it evenly among all 8 of them, and were talking about what to do with the invite. I told them that if they had any questions about what they were allowed to do, they should ask me privately, away from the others. Shortly afterwards, one of the group proceeded to say the following to all the others:

It sounds like I'm the only player here who wants the invite, and I don't really care about the cash. Judge, am I allowed to offer that I get the invite and the other 7 players split my prize support among themselves?Lightly edited for dramatic effect.

This player received a match loss for their quarterfinals match. They did not get their invite.

What happened here?

Wizards of the Coast has extremely strict rules against various things that involve the exchange of items of value and/or determining tournament results. They can be roughly broken down into 4 categories:

I'm going to collectively refer to these as "the rules no one likes". ("RNOLs", for short.Believe me, I tried to come up with a better acronym.) These are unique among all other infractions because:

If you want to have a solid understanding of the RNOLs, you should first read what the official policy documents have to say about them. The Magic Tournament Rules divides them into two categories: "Bribery"Which for some reason also includes Improperly Determining a Winner and Collusion. and "Wagering". The Infraction Procedure Guide divides them into a different two categories: "Bribery and Wagering" and "Improperly Determining a Winner".The IPG doesn't mention Collusion at all. So technically it's illegal but there's no penalty for it, which is... odd.

The remainder of this article will assume you're familiar with those definitions.


By any normal definition of the term, playing in a Magic tournament for money is gambling. You're putting up money to enter, and you may lose that money or win more money based on factors that are not entirely in your control. Just like in a poker tournament, skilled players have an advantage, but each individual game is dictated largely by chance. The same is also true for Settlers of Catan, Football, League of Legends, and pretty much any other game that isn't completely deterministic like chess.

Legally, poker is the only one of those to be often considered gambling.It depends on the jurisdiction. This is hotly debated, and a lot of judgesThe legal kind. have in fact ruled that it isn't gambling, due to the skill component. As far as I can tell, there's no good reason for this; it's a mishmash of various historical quirks and special interests, including:

So the fundamental reason why Magic is spared the "gambling" classification seems to be that it's less popular and therefore has less money at stake, hasn't been around for as long, and the fantasy flavoring means it attracts less unpleasant people.

Understandably, Wizards would very much like to keep it that way. If the same laws that applied to poker tournaments started applying to Magic tournaments, organized play pretty much couldn't exist.And they really don't need more angry religious people either. So Wizards tries to keep anything that even just vaguely smells like traditional gambling far away from Magic tournaments. That means no betting on anything, and no introducing additional randomness like flipping a coin to determine the winner of a match.This applies even to things that don't run afoul of any laws. For example, there are websites that let you bet on things with play money, which as far as I'm aware are completely legal, yet Wizards still won't allow players to use them to bet on Magic tournaments.And in some places even this isn't enough. Any large event in Canada will hand out booster packs to all players, because the players have to receive some guaranteed object in return for their entry fee or else it risks being classified as gambling. For GP Vienna a few years ago, they had to ban everyone under 18 from entering the tournament, because it was classified as gambling. GP Bochum 2010 had to switch to non-monetary prizes like electronics at the last minute due to threats from authorities.Making it into the immortal judge gossip hall of fame as "GP Best Buy".Less well known among judges is that there was a second GP Bochum 2 years later, which also handed out electronics as part of the plan all along. Wizards eventually stopped running GPs in Germany and Austria entirely, as their gambling laws were just too strict.

That explains the ban on Wagering and Improperly Determining a WinnerThis is also why playing for ante is not allowed., but what about the other stuff? Why are Bribery and Collusion illegal?

I'm not quite sure, but I know of a few potential reasons.

First off, we obviously don't want player wins to be determined by how much money they have in real life; Jeff Bezos shouldn't be able to win the Pro Tour by just offering each opponent $10,000 to concede. And we don't want judges accepting bribes to make an incorrect ruling. But that doesn't explain why bribes between players that only involve tournament prizes are illegal, like "you can have all my prizes if I get the invite".

If we look at other tournaments, such as in sports, bribery and collusion are harshly punished. This is probably because they're spectator sports; the spectators want there to actually be a game, not just a mutually beneficial split. Magic is ...kind of a spectator sport? Wizards certainly likes to publicize its tournaments and get coverage, but there's still a big difference between something like football and Magic. In a football tournament, every game is going to have spectators. But in Magic, the spectators are only relevant for the top tables; most players are playing for their own enjoyment, not for the crowd.

And in fact we have seen Wizards start instituting different rules for high level play that's intended primarily for spectators. Members of the Magic Pro League aren't allowed to intentionally draw in high level tournaments, which is not a rule that applies to lower level tournaments. So why don't they do the same thing for bribery? Why not ban bribery on coverage, and allow them everywhere else? And why is there an exception for the finals? Surely if you want the spectators to get a good show, the finals would be the most exciting thing to watch, and that's the match Wizards would least want to be a draw or concession?

And what about Collusion? Why are we ok with intentional draws when two players decide to do it on their own, but it suddenly becomes a problem once other players are involved? The "we want the spectators to be entertained" hypothesis does not resolve any of these questions.

Some theories:

Say that Alice is playing Bob and Carol is playing Dave in the semifinals. Carol wins her match, and Alice knows that she has a good matchup against Carol's deck, and Bob has a bad matchup against it. It's mutually beneficial for Alice to bribe Bob to concede to her, since her deck will have a higher chance of winning the tournament. This is unfair to Carol, since they now have to play a harder deck just because they finished first.

This explanation doesn't seem perfect, since it's a rather rare case, and I'm not convinced that it's really worth disallowing it just for this. But it's plausible, and it neatly explains why there's an exception to allow such offers in the finals.

As for collusion, the answer could similarly be fairness to other players. It's not a problem when players collude to their own mutual benefit, but it starts becoming bad once players are trying to help out their friends. When this happens, players who have more friends are are at advantage over those with fewer friends. Unlike skill at Magic, ability to make lots of friends is not something we want to reward.

This doesn't explain why we still allow two players to draw their match, since that alone could be used to benefit a friend. That's probably because it's impossible to prevent draws. Players could just choose to not attack, not cast the game-winning spell, etc. until time runs out in their match.

Ultimately, I don't quite know why these rules are written the way they are. There are a number of plausible reasons, but none of them are completely satisfying, and there are still some gaps here and there. The real answer is probably that it was a complicated tradeoff of goals that were made semi-arbitrarily by different Wizards employees over the past 30 years of tournament policy's existence. I doubt there's any single consistent philosophy that underlies it all.

Improving the Situation

Clearly, the current state of affairs is not ideal. Players hate receiving Match Losses for something they would never have dreamed would be illegal, and judges hate having to ruin a player's day over something so trivial. Feel-bad stories abound. A few from the boundless depths of the internet:

A participant at my FNM who'd only been playing for a few months managed to go 3-0, which I think was a personal first. His opponent in the final round proposed splitting the prizes, to which he made a reply like, "oh, sure... So do you want to roll a die for the win or something?" The judge was standing directly behind him, and immediately [...] had him disqualified. [...] I'd be pretty surprised if this player ever participated in another sanctioned Magic event.Excessive penalty for a new player at FNM

I'm getting the vibe that if my shirt is the wrong color, I'll get disqualified. The whole thing has kept me away from the competitive scene entirely.Disqualification at GP Houston

The fact that two L2s are disputing whether this is totally fine or a DQ implies the bribery rules are seriously flawed.Prize splitting rules question

My friend literally got dq'd for saying something like "taco bell is on me if I win". It caused him to become dissallusuioned with Magic. He eventually sold his collection and doesn't play anymore.A tale in two acts. #MythicInvitational

How can we fix this?

The most impactful change would be to support the removal of sweeping anti-gambling laws.Did you know you can get arrested for playing a game of poker at home with some friends?The best story I've found so far is here, where the police come in with guns drawn on a low stakes neighborhood poker game, say the players haven't done anything illegal, falsely(?) claim that the players were being defrauded by the hosts, and admit that the police officers play poker themselves, yet still detain and question the players and arrest and prosecute the hosts. These laws benefit almost no one but rich casino owners, and are used as an excuse to not provide help to people who are suffering as a result of addiction or poor life choices.

The second thing to do is make it clear to Wizards how awful these policies are for players. While Wizards can't change the laws, they clearly have some degree of leeway over these policies: In 2019 they lowered the penalty from an immediate disqualification regardless of context to just a Match Loss at Competitive REL and no penalty at Regular REL.Of course if the player knows its illegal and does it anyway, that's Cheating and is still a Disqualification.

The most direct way to give Wizards feedback is via their support form here. They also pay attention to social media, and they'll see many of these Reddit threads about bad new player experiences. But ultimately, Wizards' hands are tied. They obviously don't want their players quitting the game over this, nor do they want all the bad PR that this gets them whenever one of these threads gets popular. The decrease in severity of the penalty in 2019 was made to try to partially address these complaints, and could only be made after a lot of consultation with their lawyers. Further feedback might get them to relax some small portions of the policy and clear up some of the ambiguities, but it certainly won't make them abolish these penalties altogether.

Lastly, stop using judges as a scapegoat. Very often judges are the ones who bear the brunt of players' ire, with complaints that we should just flout the rules that we agreed to uphold. Many of these Reddit threads are full of players getting angry at the judgeThe article that Reddit post links to has been deleted, but you can read it here. As a sneak peek, I'll tell you that the story involves a player who goes by the nickname "Sir Lies a Lot", who stands accused of lying to a judge. for doing exactly what they agreed to do when they signed up to judge the event; that isn't fair to them, nor is it going to solve the problem. The approach that is most likely to improve the situation is for players and judges to be on the same side of the issue, to present a coordinated front to Wizards of the Coast, and say "Wizards, your current policies are unacceptable, and you need to improve them."

Unfortunately, some judges will give in to these sorts of angry player demands. In addition to risking the legal status of organized play, this leads to even more attacks against the judges who do properly follow the rules. ("That other judge didn't issue a penalty for this, so clearly you're just biased and out to get me.") This really doesn't help the issue.

Trust me, there are extremely few judges who actually like giving a player a penalty that's going to ruin their day and potentially make them never play Magic again. But we aren't in charge of tournament policy and we can't do anything about it; the problem is Wizards policies and the legal system under which they must function. So if you want to change things, talk to the politicians and Wizards executives who have the power to fix the problem, rather then just taking it out on whoever is nearest to you when you're upset.

Competitive Culture

Another thing that could be done to help fix this state of affairs would be to change the competitive player mindset and culture.

Right now, Magic players tend to feel entitled to splits, concessions, and bribes; like they're things that should exist in every tournament, and Wizards policy is keeping them from doing what's rightfully their choice.

But this is quite strange when you think about it. When two players agree to split prizes, they're doing it to lower variance. Their expected value is the same regardless of whether there's a split or not, but by lowing the variance, they increase their expected utility, since winning $1000 is not quite twice as nice as winning $500.

But... the whole point of a Magic tournament is the variance! If players didn't want to risk large sums of money, they could just play in free events, or the entire tournament could split in round 1. Players want the ability to win/lose large sums of money.

Maybe players do want some risk, just not that much? Well, many TOs have tried exactly this, by implementing flatter prize structures where less money is riding on a single match. But it turns out flat prize structures at Competitive events are very unpopular! Players do not like them and will complain.

I'm not really sure what's the cause of this contradiction. My best guess would be that players want the prestige and respect that comes from playing in a high stakes tournament, and they enjoy daydreaming about "winning it big", but then when it comes down to a lot riding on a single match, they "chicken out", and no longer want the risk.

That doesn't explain some of the more extreme cases though. For example, what exactly is the point of entering FNM and splitting the last round in order to guarantee yourself that extra $2? Is $2 really going to make or break your bank account? Didn't you come to play Magic? This behavior seems inexplicable under my previous explanation. So I suspect there's a second aspect too: This has just become a community norm. Players aren't splitting due to any considered decision, but just because it's "the thing to do". Everybody else does it, so you just do it too without thinking about it.

This gets worse the higher up the competitive ladder you go. Many professional players have a quid pro quo arrangement, where they engage in Bribery while maintaining plausible deniability by never explicitly offering anything, privately compensating their opponent later onUsually either with money/tix, or by conceding/splitting to them in a future event, and getting mad at anyone who refuses to concede or split. Or, heaven forbid, inform a judge about their behavior.

In that last example, the pro player community decided that they really wanted to die on the hill of "it's unacceptable for us to have to follow the same rules everyone else has to follow", and mobilized to criticize Drew's opponent, Craig Wescoe, for having called a judge. (Note that if Craig hadn't called a judge, they would likely have been disqualified themselves if any of the many spectators had mentioned what happened to a judge.) So much hate was directed in Craig's direction that they actually published an apology for having followed the rules, and promised not to do so in the future.

When the pro player community is actively trying to undermine tournament integrity and are coordinating among themselves to hide the evidence from judges, it's no surprise that there's so much confusion and inconsistency among players' understanding of what's allowed.

This is pretty different from most other tournaments. Football, poker, League of Legends; they all have much stricter rules against this sort of thing. I think Magic is the way it is because this culture has simply become entrenched, not because it's inherrantly different from other games. Other sports tend to have a different vibe; more along the lines of "we're here to win, and trying to negotiate is scummy".

So it may be worth trying to change this culture. Consider what your goals are before entering the tournament. If you enjoy the risk and high variance, then actually follow through and play the matches. If you'd prefer less risk, then ask the TO for a flatter prize structure up front rather than trying to individually negotiate such a structure with other players.

In The Mean Time...

This isn't going to be fixed tomorrow. Wizards policies take time to change, and only change when there's significant pressure on them to do so.If you want to go really meta, you can go here to place a wager on whether Wagering will become permitted in Magic tournaments. Player culture also takes time to change, and at the time of writing, I don't see any signs that the community is heading in that direction. So for the foreseeable future, players are still going to want to know exactly what is and isn't legal, and judges are going to need to answer these questions consistently and accurately. Both players and judges share the same goal of minimizing the number of unnecessary Match Losses that must be issued, so let's dive into the details that everyone should know.

Unfortunately, as I mentioned previously, tournament policy is really unclear about what exactly the RNOLs do or don't apply to. There's significant disagreement even among L3 judges as to where the lines lie, and it just gets worse at lower levels. Without Official clarification from Wizards it's difficult to provide anything definitive, but I'll do the best I can.Specifically, I'm going to explain my understanding of policy and how I make rulings at events. This is not Official, but if I hear about any Official rulings from Wizards that contradict this article I'll revise the article to accommodate them. So you can at least trust that nothing in this article is known to be wrong. Other judges may disagree with my interpretations, but given that the main purpose of this article is to try to clarify and standardize interpretations of policy so that different judges stop issuing so many inconsistent rulings, I'd hope that any judges who do disagree with what I lay out here will reach out to me and we can figure out together what the correct answer should be moving forward rather than just going rogue and doing whatever they feel like doing.

It's Not About What You Say, It's About What You Mean

The first thing to understand is that it is certain agreements that are prohibited. Not certain words or phrases, but the actual information that's communicated between players.

Alice: "I'll offer you $100 to concede to me."

Bob: "I concede."

Clearly these players have agreed to a bribe.

Alice: "If I were to offer you $100, would you concede to me? To be clear, I'm not actually making an offer, I'm just curious."

Bob: "Yes, in that hypothetical situation, I would accept."

Alice: "Oh ok, neat. Just so you know, I have $100 in my wallet."

Bob: "That's good to know. On an entirely unrelated note, I concede."

This is still a bribe. The exact same information has been communicated from Alice to Bob, and the same outcome has occurred. The fact that the communication was done via implicature rather than completely literal statements is irrelevant.

Alice: "Judge, am I allowed to offer Bob $100 to concede to me?"

Judge: "No, you are not."

Bob: "I concede."


This is why we do not even allow discussion of such things in front of other players. Any "hypotheticals" presented within earshot of the opponent could simply be acted on as though they were a real offer. Good judges will interrupt these sorts of conversations as soon as they seem to be approaching dangerous territory, in order to remind the players that anything they want to ask of the judge needs to be asked away from the other players.Those players often say "oh ok judge, thanks" and continue on with exactly the same question they were about to ask, earning themselves a Match Loss. There's only so much we can do when the players won't listen.

Consider the case at GP Houston 2015, where a player in a win-and-in for top 8 attempted to bribe their opponent as a "joke". The offer was in fact quite serious; they just tried to play it off as a joke so they wouldn't get disqualified. (This didn't work, because the judges there were intelligent humans who know what sentences actually mean.And as usual, a large mob of players formed up to attack the judges involved, accusing them of being terrible at their job and ruining Magic.)

While that player may have been part of the small fraction of players who understand the rules perfectly well and just think that judges are idiots, most players don't understand what Bribery policy actually is. I constantly get asked "am I allowed to say [thing]?", and when I tell them no, they just keep proposing different combinations of words that mean the exact same thing. I struggle to explain to them that there is no prohibition on what you can say, the prohibition is on what you can do.

Another common case is where one player tries to trick the other player into offering first. “A draw is so bad here. If only there was something we could do." The idea behind this angle-shoot is that the opponent will offer a bribe, and then the player can call for a judge and get the free match win. But this doesn't work, because the trap is itself an implication that a bribe or coin flip is being suggested.And policy calls this out explicitly by saying that "Making such an offer or enticing someone into making an offer is prohibited and is considered bribery."

As Face to Face Games put it in The Argot of Concessions:

Over time players have developed their own secret language around concessions. This argot empowers experienced players who know the grammar and vocabulary of this language. It siphons power from inexperienced players and makes it easier for them to be taken advantage of.

In conversations between a person who knows the argot and one who doesn’t, the speaker knows what key words and phrases to use and which to avoid. However, the layman can easily get trapped by saying something that seems innocuous.

This is unfair. Players should be rewarded for better strategic play, rules knowledge, and deck building. Not for their ability to speak sideways.

The only thing that article got wrong is that the "secret language" of experienced players doesn't actually make what they're doing legal. You may not bribe your opponent! Period! It doesn't matter what words you use! The judge understands the nuances of human communication just as well as you do, and they're not going to be fooled by word games.

Stop trying to make bribes happen. They're not going to happen.

What is a bribe, really?

This sometimes gets a little more complicated. There are situations where it's unclear whether a bribe is actually occurring.

The big one is when a proposed prize distribution itself carries an implication that one player will concede. If one player says "how about the loser of this match gets 75% of the prizes, and the winner gets 25%", it's pretty likely that that player is planning to concede. But we can't be certain of that; it's also possible that they're trying to entice the opponent to concede. And it's fully possible that neither player actually wants to concede, so they'll agree to this prize redistribution, then awkwardly look at each other waiting for the other to concede, then realize that they misunderstood the other person's intention and proceed to play their match. So this isn't Bribery.

What we care about is whether there's a quid pro quo. If one player's action is contingent on the other player's action, that's not allowed. Anything like "I'll concede if you do X" or "I'll give you my prizes if you do X" is not allowed. But if it's just setting up a situation where it would be to a player's advantage to concede, and they still have the choice not to, then that's not Bribery.

What is a wager, really?

A wager is when two or more people each risk something that's explicitly defined in order to win something from the other person. It doesn't have to be money; it could be cards, who does the chores, or anything else.

(The one exception is the tournament entry and prizes itself. As I mentioned earlier, by the commonsense meaning of the word, Magic tournaments are gambling, and they fit the definition of a wager: You put up money to enter, and you may or may not win it back. But obviously this shouldn't be included. The "Wagering" infraction only applies to wagers that are made in addition to the tournament stakes, bringing in external items of value.)

Implicit rewards are fine. Any time a player plays a match, they're risking a portion of their reputation as a good player in order to win a better reputation. This is allowed.

Note that in order for something to be a wager, the person in question must have both the opportunity to lose something and the opportunity to gain something. If someone tells their friend for encouragement "hey I'll give you a pack if you win", that's not a wager, since it's entirely one-sided.This is not what Official policy says, but it's been confirmed via Official Wizards sources.

What is impropriety, really?

For Improperly Determining a Winner, the relevant consideration is whether the winner is being determined by the the tournament game that the players played and the strategical considerations therein. Here are some examples of ways to determine a winner that are not allowed:

And here are some things that are allowed:

You'll notice that the last example is not in line with the IPG's definition of IDaW:

A player uses or offers to use a method that is not part of the current game (including actions not legal in the current game) to determine the outcome of a game or match.

Using "who will be happier if they win" to determine the winner is obviously not "a method that is part of the current game". But I'm confident that Wizards wants to allow it, so we should assume the definition the IPG provides is wrong for situations like this one. Unfortunately, we're given absolutely no guidance on what the correct definition is. I suspect the intention is something like "it's acceptable to decide the game based on choosing a personal characteristic of each player and checking whose is higher, as long as the determination of which characteristic to use is made though some deductive process."

This is of course completely detached from what tournament policy actually says, but given that tournament policy is obviously wrong, and Wizards is their usual brand of uncommunicative, this is the bar that seems to match all Official rulings I'm aware of while also being at least somewhat intuitive.

What is Collusion, really?

Your agreement involving concessions or intentional draws may not include more than one match.

Agreements about prize redistribution/splits alone may include more than one match; there's no limit on how many players can be involved there.

Opponent Responsibilities

For all of the RNOLs, if the opponent accepts the offer, they receive the same penalty. And as I mentioned earlier, whether or not they say the word "accept" is irrelevant. If they say "no that's not allowed" and then go and exchange money in the parking lot later, that's still accepting the offer.

If the opponent legitimately does not accept the offer, then they receive no penalty.This was another change made in 2019. It used to be the case that "not calling a judge about your opponent's offer" resulted in the same penalty as the player making the offer, which is why some of the examples I've used elsewhere in this article mention that.Note that it's still not legal to fail to call a judge when your opponent commits an RNOL infraction by making an offer like this. But if you don't do it, you won't receive a harsh penalty.


To try and help you test out your understanding of policy, I've provided some example questions below. For each scenario, think about it and decide whether you think it's legal or not. If you miss any, try to figure out where you went wrong. If you're still confused afterwards, that means I explained something poorly; leave a comment or contact me in some other way so that I can improve this article for future readers.

Question #1

Alice and Bob are friends, and before the tournament they agreed to split all their prizes with each other. They play each other in the last round of Swiss, and they determine that since Alice has more points than Bob, they'll get more prizes if Alice wins this match. Can Bob concede?

Yes. This is not Bribery because nothing is being offered for the concession; Bob is just choosing to concede because it's in his best interest to do so. They were already planning on splitting prizes no matter what happened in the tournament, so there's nothing being offered in exchange for the concession.

Question #2

Alice and Bob are playing each other in the finals of an RCQ. Alice really wants the invite, and offers Bob all of the prize support plus her top 8 promo.

This is fine. Since it's the finals, Alice is allowed to offer tournament prizes to Bob in return for a concession. (Technically it's in return for Bob dropping from the tournament, but there's no functional difference as far as the players are concerned.) The requirement that the player drop rather than concede is a holdover from back when players had ratings; dropping wouldn't affect their rating like a loss would, meaning that a player wouldn't be getting a higher rating by bribing their opponent. Now that we don't have ratings anymore, the difference is irrelevant.

Question #3

Alice and Bob are playing in the final round of Swiss. They know that if Carol loses her match, they can safely draw into top 8. They agree that they'll start playing their match and if Carol loses partway though, they'll immediately draw. Carol's match is taking a while, so Alice and Bob play a few turns into game 3 and then call it a draw. They then start a new game, play a few turns into that one, and do the same. They repeat this until Carol's match is finished, then report their result.

This is allowed. Players are allowed to make use of information about other matches when deciding whether or not to draw, and they are allowed to draw individual games if they want to.

It's not Slow Play or Stalling because each individual game action is taken quickly, and we don't penalize players for "not trying to win".

Question #4

Alice and Bob are sitting down to play in the last round of Swiss. They're in contention for prizes, but not for top 8. Alice says "I need to get home soon; can we split the prizes?"

This is no good. Alice has strongly implied that if the prize split is accepted, she will concede. (There's no other plausible way needing to get home soon would be related to wanting to split.) This is making the match result contingent on the prize split, and that is Bribery.

Question #5

Alice and Bob are friends who traveled to the event together and are playing each other in the finals. Alice jokingly says "loser has to drive home".

Not allowed. This is Wagering on the outcome of a match.

Question #6

Alice is a judge, and bets $10 with a friend on whether any player will get 3 Warnings over the course of the day.

Not allowed. The IPG says that Wagering is only illegal for players and spectators, but this is an error, and the MTR makes it clear that judges may not Wager either. The number of Warnings that someone receives is still "a portion of the tournament", and may not be wagered on by any tournament participant.

Question #7

Alice and Bob meet before the tournament starts and agree that if they play each other, whoever is lower in the standings will concede, and the winner will split their prizes with the loser.

No good; this is Bribery. The concession is contingent upon the prize split, and vice versa. The fact that it was agreed to before the tournament rather than during the tournament is irrelevant; you don't get to violate the rules just by doing it where people can't see you do it.

Question #8

Alice and her friend Bob are already qualified for the Regional Championship, so they're not planning on playing in an upcoming local RCQ. They make a $20 bet on whether their other friend Carol will win that RCQ.

This is not illegal, because Alice and Bob aren't at the tournament, so the MTR doesn't apply to them. If either of them shows up, they're now a spectator and will be in violation of the MTR. (A penalty will be recorded and they'll be asked to leave.) It doesn't matter that the bet was placed before the tournament began, since it's still in effect when they show up.

Question #9

Alice is playing in a tournament. She also owns a betting website where people are betting on the outcome of that tournament, but Alice hasn't placed any bets herself.

No issue here. Those other people might be in violation of the rules if they're at the tournament too, but Alice has not wagered anything on the tournament herself.

Question #10

A tournament awards $400 to first place, $200 to second place, and a Force of Will to 3rd and 4th. The four semifinalists want to split, but they can't evenly split two Force of Wills among four people, so they agree to divide the prizes such that two people each get $175 and the other two each get $125 and a Force of Will. They agree to pick randomly who gets what.

This is fine. The players are allowed to agree to a split among themselves. Making it based on a random method is a little iffy, but doesn't run afoul of the Wagering rules because they're not bringing in anything external to the tournament.

Question #11

Alice is playing against Bob in a win-and-in for top 8, and they've reached the time limit in game 3. Bob fills out the match slip 2-1 in his favor, says "I'm a gentleman", winks, and hands it to Alice.

Uh, no. Bob is clearly trying to imply that he'll share some of his prizes with Alice if she concedes. This is Bribery.

Question #12

Alice and Bob are in game 3 of their match. Alice offers to pay Bob $10 if he doesn't attack with his creatures this turn.

Nice try, but no. Bribes aren't allowed for in-game decisions either. The IPG fails to mention this, but this is an error; the MTR clearly states that in-game decisions are subject to the same rules as for match results.

Question #13

Alice and Bob are playing in the last round of FNM. Alice says "If I concede, will you give me a ride home?"

Not allowed, this is Bribery.

Question #14

Alice and Bob are playing in the finals of a Regional Championship for an invite to the Pro Tour that also covers airfare up to $800. Bob says that he doesn't have that weekend off anyway, so if Alice gives him half the airfare compensation, he'll concede.

Not allowed. Airfare is a part of the Pro Tour invite, and it can't be given to another player. Alice giving Bob $400 would be bringing in external cash. This is Bribery.

Question #15

Alice is uncertain whether she should attack this turn or hold her creatures back to block. She decides to flip a coin to make this decision.

This is fine. Unlike Bribery and Wagering, Improperly Determining a Winner only applies to actual match results, not to in-game decisions. Players are allowed to make strategical decisions randomly.Seems like a bad idea though.

Question #16

Alice is playing against Bob in the last round of Swiss. Alice got the pair down, so she can make top 8 if she wins the match, but Bob can't make top 8 if he wins. Alice offers to split prizes 50/50, and Bob accepts. Alice then asks Bob if he would like to concede, and Bob does so.

By default, this is allowed. The concession was not contingent on the prize split nor the other way around; Bob could equally well have chosen to not concede.

However, if there was an implied agreement, then it's Bribery. For example, if Alice would have gotten upset at Bob if Bob had accepted the prize split and then not conceded, then Alice would be guilty of having offered a prize split that's contingent on a match result; Bribery.

Question #17

Before starting their match, Alice offers Bob $20 to see his decklist.

This is not allowed, though the reasons for it are a little weird. According to Official written policy, this is perfectly fine. However, Toby Elliott, who is in charge of policy, has ruled on Twitter that this is an error and it shouldn't be legal.And this Reddit thread is a nice example of how these errors in policy lead to different L3s guessing at what's intended and arriving at different answers.

Presumably the intention is that where the MTR says "an in-game decision", it actually means "an in-match decision".

Question #18

Alice and Bob are the only 2 undefeated players in their FNM, so if they draw the last round, they're guaranteed 1st and 2nd place. However, a draw means that which players gets the 1st place prize will be determined by their tiebreakers, which they don't like. So they agree to draw the official match and play an unofficial match to determine which of them gets the 1st place prize.

Not allowed, this is Bribery. The agreement to draw the match was contingent upon a certain way of distributing the prizes.

It would be legal if they had drawn the match first without any agreement on what to do with the prizes, and then decided to play an unofficial match for the prizes afterwards. (Which either player could have declined to do.)

Question #19

Alice and Bob are entering the last round of Swiss before top 8. Alice can make top 8 if she wins the match, Bob cannot. Bob concedes out of politeness. Later on, Alice finds Bob and offers him some of her prizes as a thank-you.

This is fine. The concession was not contingent on the prize sharing; Alice just wanted to be nice.

However, if this happens consistently enough that it becomes a social norm, such that the players are expecting it and any player who did not share their prizes would incur social penaltiesAnger, ostracization, the withdrawal of favors, etc. from the others, then there is now an implied quid pro quo, and this is Bribery.Some professional Magic players have this sort of implied, "under the table" bribery agreement in order to attempt to circumvent the rules against Bribery. If the judge finds out that that is happening, those players should be disqualified.

Question #20

Alice and Bob and paired against one another, sitting next to Carol and Dave. Alice and Bob talk about the standings for a while, then turn to Carol and Dave and say "if you two draw, so will we".

Not allowed, this is Collusion. When deciding what they want to do, Alice and Bob are allowed to take into account the result of Carol and Dave's match, and they're allowed to talk with them about the standings, but they may not decide on a match result that is contingent on the other match's result.

Question #21

Alice and Bob are in the semifinals of a small RCQ. Alice says “I just want the invite, so you can have all my prizes”, Bob replies “ok, I concede then”.

This is theoretically fine as stated, but in practice it's probably a Bribe. There's technically no bribe because Bob can just say "neat, thanks!" and keep playing to get both Alice's prizes and the invite. If that happens, then if Alice tries to take back her offer after seeing that Bob isn't conceding, we'd know that this actually was a bribe and Alice has committed an infraction. (And if the judge believes that Bob conceded because he thought that Alice's offer was only open if he concedes, then that makes it a Bribe too.)

Question #22

Alice enters an LCT intending to concede to her friend Bob if she gets paired against him, to give him a better chance at winning the byes. (She already has byes, so winning wouldn't help her.)

This is allowed as long as Bob isn't giving her anything in return. If Bob is paying for her entry fee on the condition that she concede to him, or anything like that, then this is Bribery.

Question #23

The top 8 are discussing a prize split. One player says "I really want the invite and I think my deck is favored against the rest of the field, so I'll agree to a split if I can have the invite".

Not allowed, this is Bribery. Prize split agreements may not be contingent on match result (or in this case, 3 match results) unless it's the finals.

Question #24

Alice and Bob are playing in a side event at a Magicfest and have gone to time. They ask a judge to see the prize structure, and figure out that they get more tix if Alice wins than if Bob wins or they draw. Bob concedes. When questioned, they tell you that they're married.

This is probably fine. If the implication were "we're only splitting prizes because we went to time", then that would be Bribery and not allowed. But much more likely is that they were always planning on splitting prizes, no matter what the match result was, because they share a collection and whatever prizes they redeem from the prize wall will just be shared anyway. So while a bit of investigation may be warranted, this is probably not an issue.

Question #25

Alice offers Bob a draw, and Bob agrees. Alice then offers to split prizes, and Bob says no. Alice then says "ok, no draw then", and continues playing.

Not allowed. By demonstrating that the draw was contingent on a prize split, Alice has clearly indicated that this was a bribe. (And given how she poorly tried to hide it by offering the draw "separately" first, she probably knew it was illegal and should be disqualified for Cheating.)

Question #26

Alice and Bob sit down to play the last match. Alice says she's bored of Magic and offers to play a nice game of chess instead, and hand in the result of that game.

Not allowed, this is IDaW. The fact that chess contains no randomness doesn't matter; it's still a "method outside the current game [of Magic]".

Question #27

Alice and Bob are on turn 5 of game 3 after time has been called in the round. Alice offers to arm wrestle to determine the winner.

Not allowed, this is IDaW, since they're offering to play some other game.

Question #28

Alice and Bob are on turn 5 of game 3 after time has been called in the round. Alice offers to have them look at each other's arms and whoever seems more likely to lose an arm wrestling contest will concede.

This seems fine, since they're just using personal characteristics of the players to determine the winner. (As far as I know this has never come up, and Wizards has not given us an Official ruling, but it seems the most consistent with their decision to allow players to determine a winner based on who would get more enjoyment out of it, or who really needs the money.)

Question #29

Alice and Bob are playing a win-and-in for top 8. A spectator offers to buy Alice some burritos if she wins and makes top 8.

This is allowed. It's only a wager if the person stands to both win and lose something based on the result of the match. "I'll buy you burritos if you win, you buy me burritos if you lose" would be a Wager and therefore illegal, but if the offer just goes one way, it's fine.

Question #30

Alice and Bob are playing each other in the finals of an RCQ. Alice really wants the invite, and offers Bob all of the prize support, plus the promo she'll get from the RC she qualifies for.

Not allowed. Bribes are legal in the finals only if what's being offered is prize support from the current event. The promo from another event is an external incentive, making this a Match Loss for Bribery.

Question #31

Alice and Bob are paired next to Carol and Dave in the final round of Swiss. The 4 of them discuss standings, and determine that it's only safe for one match to draw if the other plays it out, so they agree to all play it out instead.

Not allowed. This is "reaching an agreement in conjunction with another match".

It's a little weird, because the agreement that was reached was to not draw, which is the default. But that is still an agreement between matches, and it does have a notable impact on the tournament. (They've committed to not draw a match they otherwise could have done so.)

Question #32

A group of friends go to an RCQ. They agree beforehand that if any of them win, that person will buy the others dinner.

Not allowed. The participants each stand to lose something (if they win) and to gain something (if their friend wins), so this is Wagering.

Question #33

Alice and Bob are paired up for the final round of Swiss before top 8. Alice is undefeated and is guaranteed to make top 8 even if she loses this match. Bob tells her that if she concedes to him now, he'll concede to her the next time they're paired up in a future event.

Not allowed, this is Bribery.

Question #34

Alice and Bob are paired for the last round of the tournament. The winner gets a Taiga and the loser gets nothing. They would like to split, but they don't want to tear the Taiga in half, so instead they decide that the winner will pay the loser half the price of a Taiga in cash.

This is clearly not Bribery, IDaW, or Collusion. The question is whether it's Wagering. Technically, the players have indeed wagered something on the match result. However, it's being done entirely to offset the implicit wager of a Taiga that already existed for the match. Given that the wager of a Taiga is legal (that's the point of a tournament), I think an offsetting Wager like this, that's effectively just an attempt to prize-split, is also legal.

Question #35

Alice offers to pay Bob's entry fee to a tournament, and in return Bob gives her 90% of any prizes he wins.

This is ok. It's a "gamble" in the sense that Alice is paying money for the opportunity to win more money, but that would also be the case if Bob paid his own entry fee. The inherent "wager" of a tournament is not against the rules, and it doesn't matter who is paying for it.

Question #36

The top 8 of an RCQ wants to split the cash prizes and just play for the invite.

This is allowed; players may agree to any split among themselves. However do note that splits like this are not enforceable by the judge. If one player wins first place and decides they no longer want to split and want to keep the whole 1st place prize to themselves, that's allowed.

Question #37

3 players are playing in a team event, and not doing very well. One teammate wants to drop and go eat lunch, while another wants to keep playing. Can the first person offer their teammate free lunch in return for a concession?

According to the IPG, this is fine; it's only Bribery if an offer is made to an opponent. However it says to refer to the MTR for a more detailed description of what constitutes Bribery, and the MTR defines it as applying to any offer, not just those from an opponent. (Which makes sense, since obviously a spectator shouldn't be allowed to bribe someone to concede to their friend.)

However, the intention of team events is that teams are treated as a single player for these sorts of things (e.g. the rules on Outside Assistance), so I think this is fine, and it's just an omission in the MTR.

Question #38

A spectator is watching their friend play a win-and-in in the last round of Swiss. They offer to buy their friend lunch if they lose, as a consolation prize.

Not allowed. This is Bribery, since the friend could choose to concede to get free lunch.

How have things gotten so bad?

I'm writing this article because I'm frustrated and saddened by the state of knowledge about this. The RNOLs are rules that any long-time competitive player will know about, yet their actual understanding of what is and isn't legal is abysmal. Consider this hypothetical situation that a player presented on Reddit a few years ago as an example of why they don't like the rules on Bribery:

Upon review of the Collusion and Bribery rules, here's an absurd corner case to show just how bad this rule is.

Alice and Bob are playing, and Alice is hard of hearing. Bob, not realizing this, offers a bribe quietly before the round starts.

Alice doesn't hear the offer and does not respond.

Rule 5.2 is unambiguous - Alice must be DQed if she does not call a judge. No ifs, no buts, no maybes. Not hearing the offer due to a disability is no defense. The offer was made. Alice didn't know it was made, but she has committed Bribery by not calling a judge.

Alice may very well have a legal case here to sue the TO for discriminating against someone with a disability (depending upon the local laws), but the TO's hands are tied. Alice must be DQed.Disqualification at GP Houston

This comment is completely ridiculous. If Alice was not aware of the offer, then there's no reason she would have to call attention to it. The fact that she has a disability is a red herring; it would have been the same situation if Bob had whispered an offer under their breath while Alice was standing 5 tables away and couldn't hear them.This was back when not calling attention to an opponent's offer was a DQ. That's not the case anymore. The player who wrote this comment clearly didn't have the vaguest idea of what Bribery policy actually was at the time. Yet this comment was highly upvoted in that thread by other players, and not a single person responded to point out that it was wildly inaccurate.

Here's another one:

Speaking with the judge after the fact, he basically stated that any "If...Then..." agreement regarding a match result is considered wagering. Some examples...

Now, wagering on matches is and should be a severe offense with a severe penalty. But if I walk up to the top 8 table, and say "You all did great today, Well Done, if you get top 4 I'll buy you a taco" and you say yes, then you shouldn't be disqualified.PSA: Agreeing to anything regarding a match result is an automatic DQ.

Not a single one of those 4 examples is illegal. As I mentioned above, it's only a Wager if the player stands to both gain and lose something. One-sided offers like these that are only downside for the offerer are allowed.

These sorts of misunderstandings aren't limited to players either. Here's a quote from a judge's tournament report a few years ago:

Around 6pm Top 4 started. There were two players that didn’t want the byes, and the other two want to battle for the byes. I told them that I will not facilitate prize spilt. There was a player who didn’t understand the concept of prize spilt. So all of Top 4 players stepped outside the store to educate the new player about prize spilt. The reason why they did this was because they couldn’t say the words “exchange” near me, or else I would DQ all the players involved. When the players came back in, they offered a prize restructure, which I had no problems adhering that.And this isn't even that unique. Just a few days before posting this article, an L2 judge and well-known community leader said basically the same thing in a judge Facebook group.

Tournament policy does not have a clause that says "if the players aren't within earshot of any judge, the rules don't apply to them". If a player comes up to me and says "Hey judge, I was thinking of keeping some extra cards up my sleeve and sneaking them into my hand if I'm losing the game", my response would not be "ok, just make sure you only do that when I'm not looking at you".And to top it all off, it doesn't sound like those players actually wanted to do anything illegal. Prize splits are allowed.

Another example from a judge article:


This is not correct. It is in fact perfectly legal for a player to allow a prior decision to split prizes to influence their decision of whether to concede; players do that all the time. It's also legal to do the other way around; if a player already knows the match result, they're allowed to take that information into account when deciding on a prize split. It's only when one decision is contingent on the other that we have a problem. In other words, when it's a "both or neither" situation.

For an especially egregious case, see this tournament report, where the judge staff tells Caleb Durwald that Caleb is allowed to bribe their opponent, then disqualifies Caleb for doing exactly that. While trying to justify this ruling, the head judge of the PTQ for some reason claims that ...splits are only allowed in the top 8?

A level 3 judge on staff then offers to talk to Caleb later to "explain the policy". They make several more wildly incorrect assertions, such as claiming that splits (with no concession) when playing a win-and-in for top 8 are not common, and that it's ok to bribe your opponent if you do it out of earshot of the judges.

Caleb eventually manages to get in contact with a judge on Twitter who actually knows what they're talking about, which confuses them even further when correct answers are provided that contradict the incorrect answers they had gotten previously from the PTQ's head judge and L3. They justifiably conclude their article with the observation:

To me, this is the scariest conclusion, as it means someone can get a ruling from a L4, act on it in another tournament, and be DQ’d.

It's truly an astonishing read; you keep thinking it can't get any worse, then you read the next paragraph. By the end of it, you have the judge staff entrapping a player into getting disqualified, then proceeding to give the player advice on how to cheat in future events and falsely claiming that other judges will turn a blind eye to such behavior.

Even the people making the policy sometimes can't keep this labyrinthine set of exceptions and exceptions to those exceptions straight. Here are two excepts from the MTR's section on Bribery:

It is not bribery when players share prizes they have not yet received in the current tournament and they may agree to such before or during their match, as long as any such sharing does not occur in exchange for any game or match result or the dropping of a player from the tournament.

Players in the single-elimination rounds of a tournament offering only cash, store credit, prize tickets, and/or unopened product as prizes may, with the permission of the Tournament Organizer, agree to split the prizes evenly. The players may end the tournament at that point or continue to play. All players still in the tournament must agree to the arrangement.

Why does the second paragraph exist? It seems redundant; everything it's saying is allowed was already allowed by the first paragraph. Apparently, the answer is that the second paragraph is supposed to refer to a split that is enforced by the TO. While all other splits that are allowed by the first paragraph are unenforceable, so a player could say "yeah sure I'll split", win the tournament, then refuse to give away their share of the prizes.

This is not what was said by the Wizards employee in charge of tournament policy several years ago, who wrote on Reddit that top 8 splits in an event with an invite like a PPTQ or RCQ are not allowed at all.

That ruling came as a big surprise to pretty much everyone else in the judge program at the time. It also contradicted a different Official ruling made by a different former level 5 judge and Official Wizards source, who had ruled that this was legal. It also came as a surprise to the Wizards employee on Reddit, who, despite being a level 5 judge at the time, apparently had no idea that this had been going on at PPTQs and it being ok was common knowledge among judges.

That kerfuffle happened back in 2015. No corrections or clarifications were made to tournament policy as a result, nor was there any attempt to improve the state of judge education. The only reason I now know that that Reddit ruling is wrong, and that the intended interpretation of those paragraphs is "players can do whatever splits they want, TO only enforces that specific type of top 8 split" is because I reached out to the person in charge of policy as part of doing research for this article, and that's the answer they gave me.

This still means that the thing that hundreds of RCQs have done, the thing that's standard practice across all of organized play, the thing that the MTR unambiguously states is legal, is actually not allowed according to Wizards. (The TO facilitating a top 8 split and then letting the players play for the invite.)

The Magic internet is absolutely littered with this sort of thing. Judge issues incorrect penalty, players get upset about it. Judge issues correct penalty, player misunderstands or misrepresents the situation on social media, other players get upset about it. One judge issues a penalty they've been told is correct, a different judge tells them that they've heard it should actually be something else, players get upset about it. Nobody is happy, everybody is confused, everything is terrible.This article has gone though several different revisions as I had to change a passage that turned out to be wrong due to some Official ruling I was unaware of.

These sorts of things keep happening because for whatever reason, neither Wizards nor the judge program (now Judge Academy) seem to really care about this. While plenty of articles on the RNOLs have been published on the judge blogs, they all tend to restate a few of the most common issues, making no attempt to clear up the parts that people get confused about. I've even seen a number of high-level judges who intentionally try to be vague and will flat-out refuse to answer questions about certain aspects of tournament policy.I think this usually happens because they don't know the answer, and are trying to avoid making either themselves or the judge program look bad by admitting as much. Unsurprisingly, this has led to a lot of judges not knowing the policy.

Then the problem gets multiplied by gossip among players. Match Losses and Disqualifications are a Big Deal™, so when a player receives one of the RNOL infractions, they tend to talk about it with their friends. Usually that player didn't have a great understanding of the policyWhich is why they got the penalty in the first place., and with each retelling the story gets further and further from what actually happened.Not to mention that people will very frequently change stories about themselves to make themselves look better, even if just unconsciously. Most people don't want to say "yeah that was my fault", so the story tends to get framed in a way that makes it look like someone else is to blame. When a post about one of these situations goes viral on Reddit, things only get worse. These massive games of telephone can easily lead to players hearing a wildly different story than what actually happened.

It doesn't help that this is one of the few situations where players have an almost completely adversarial relationship with judges. In most situations where a judge gets involved with a game, there will be at most one player who doesn't want the judge there. (Because they committed an infraction.) Even when we have to disqualify someone for Cheating, that player is gonna be unhappy about this, but their opponent will be thankful. But with the RNOLs, it's something that both players want to do, and it only indirectly harms other players who aren't involved in the conversation. So when judges have to interact with players about the RNOLs, there's often a very clear "us vs. them" vibe. This makes cooperation and clear communication a lot harder.

The only way this is going to change is if Magic players and judges make a collective decision to cut it out. If this is something that matters to you, take some time to actually understand the policy. If you don't understand the policy, then that's ok, but don't try to explain it to other people. If you have a question about tournament policy, ask a judge who knows what they're doing, not a stranger on Reddit.

And judges, stop violating tournament policy just to make yourself feel better.Or because you don't like what a player did and feel that they need to be punished, even though they didn't break any rule. This happens too. Whenever you make rulings that are inconsistent with the rulings other judges give, you are directly contributing to this morass of confusion and the abuse that other judges endure for correctly enforcing policy. The best way to fix all the feel-bads is to help make sure that players have a clear idea of what the policy is and how to avoid running afoul of it.It's worse than just judges doing it; some tournament organizers do it too. It's common for players in side events at a Grand Prix or a CommandFest to bribe each other, and judges are instructed by the TO to do nothing about this. Some comply, some don't.

No, Seriously

Before I end this already very long article, I want to take a moment to try to explain why people should stop trying to look for ways to circumvent the policy.

On a global level, it is much better for all players if they don't bribe/gamble, because that allows Magic tournaments to keep existing. But no single person gambling on their FNM is likely to lead to the authorities coming in and shutting down your store. This means that the individual incentives are pushing players to bribe/gamble, but the group incentives are pushing players away from it. This state of affairs is known in economics and game theory as a collective action problem.

The typical example of collective action problems is that of a lake with a bunch of fishing businesses around it. If they all dumped their waste in the lake, the ecosystem would collapse and they couldn't fish there anymore; clearly a bad outcome they'd all rather avoid. But if just one business dumps their waste in the lake, that's too small an amount to have a noticeable effect; they could keep it up for years and the lake's ecosystem would be just fine. So as a group, the businesses would prefer that none of them pollute the lake; they'd all vote for a policy of "don't pollute the lake", since it benefits them all. But for any individual business; let's say, uh, Fishmart, it's even better if everyone else refrains from polluting the lake while Fishmart gets to do so unimpeded. So everyone has an incentive to vote for a certain policy, and also has an incentive to break that policy.

The ideal solution is for all the businesses to realize that they all have the same motivations and decision-making processes, meaning they're all going to behave about the same. Given that they're all going to behave similarly, there's no longer an option of "I get to save money polluting while the others don't do that"; there's just the option of "we all pollute" vs. the option of "none of us pollute", and the latter is better. So they all choose to not pollute.

But actual humans don't usually behave that wayThree reasons: 1) The solution in the previous paragraph only applies if the businesses are all actually similar enough that they can safely assume they'll make the same decisions. This actually is true for a lot of humans and businesses, but it's not guaranteed. 2) That solution only holds for rational agents who always make good decisions; actual humans are not rational. 3) That solution relies on all the businesses having perfect information about each other, such that they know that 1) and 2) are true. In reality it's difficult to get that much information about other people., so the more common solution to collective action problems is to create some method of enforcement to keep everybody cooperating and doing the thing that is in the group's overall best interest. In the real world, that's the primary function of government.

In the Magic world, this is what judges are for. If you're a player who really wants to win money at Magic events and doesn't have any moral objections to bribery or wagering, the existence of judges who prevent Bribery and Wagering is in your best interest, since it keeps those tournaments in existence, even if in your own matches you'd prefer if those judges weren't around.

The situation is made worse by two cognitive biases: neglect of probability and the availability heuristic.

Neglect of probability is the fact that people tend to round off low probabilities to 0. Magic tournaments getting banned across the entire United States is quite unlikely. In the interest in practicality, people naturally dismiss low probabilities and consider them not worth worrying about. And usually this is fine! But when the event in question would be really, really bad, and affect a huge number of people, we need to remember that unlikely events can still happen, and if the potential impact is high enough, it's worth taking action to mitigate the risk. Given how incredibly detrimental it would be if Magic started being legally prohibited across the country, it's worth taking steps to avoid even if it doesn't seem very likely.

The availability heuristic is the fact that we tend to give more weight to things we're already familiar with. We underweight the possibility and impact of things that we haven't encountered before. Magic getting banned across a large swath of the world is not something we've seen happen yet, so it's easy to think of it as an exaggerated concern that will never happen. But Wizard's lawyers were worried enough about it that they gave us this policy, despite all the PR hits Wizards has suffered from players having a bad experience at a tournament. Just because something has never happened before doesn't mean it can't happen in the future, and we need to take all the evidence into account rather than poorly extrapolating from the past.


The RNOLs are trying to prevent from happening something that is unlikely and has never happened beforeExcept for all the times that it has happened, like in Germany., but if it happened it would be really, really bad. Even if the existence and enforcement of the RNOLs only lowers the probability from 1% to 0.1%, that's very much worth it in expectation.

Believe me, I get why this is frustrating. When I play in Competitive events, I would love to be able to come to some mutually beneficial arrangement with my opponent about prize support, or have a friendly wager with my partner on who has to do the dishes. But the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.While I was searching for that quote, I came across an article arguing against Spock's claim on the basic of Ayn Rand's Objectivism that people should always act in their own self-interest, and thus the needs of the many do not outweigh the needs of the one. So if you don't agree with Ayn Rand's philosophy, the best way to spite her followers is by following Magic's tournament policy on Bribery and Wagering.


The current situation is unfortunate, and it seems unlikely that it's going to get much better any time soon. Judges have to be very strict about the RNOLs, and it is quite correct for them to do so. So until the world's legal systems change for the better, we want to focus on education and changing the culture.

It's my hope that this article can serve as a comprehensive guide to what is and isn't allowed, since official policy is so vague. If you come across any situations that aren't covered by this guide, please let me know so I can add them.

As for what we should be doing:

If you're a judge, inform your players proactively about the things they are not allowed to do. An announcement at the beginning of each of the last few rounds is good, and you can hang around the top tables to interject into any dangerous conversations. Make it clear that this is not about some specific "magic words", this is about the actual agreements that they are and aren't allowed to reach. These sorts of reminders prevent a huge number of infractions that would otherwise occur. At the end of the day, we do not want players being disqualified from our events, and we should take all reasonable steps to help players avoid breaking these rules.

If you're a player, don't do anything with items of value or match results other than ask for or accept an intentional draw, ask for or accept a concession, accept a prize redistribution that is not contingent on a match result, or accept a prize redistribution in the finals. And help spread the word among your fellow players. The better everyone understands the policy and the reasons behind it, the fewer harsh penalties are going to be issued to unwitting players.A popular Magic streamer once said on Twitch that they had placed a wager on how they'd do in an upcoming event. How many players do you think heard that and now think it's ok? If you're ever in a situation where you're uncertain about what you can legally do, call a judge, say you want to talk away from the table, and ask them about it. If they know what they're doing, they'll give you a clear and unambiguous answer. They might even help you figure out the legal offer that benefits you the most; we're allowed to do that!

If you're a tournament organizer, try to make sure your players are aware of these policies in advance, such as by sending them this tournament primer. You can also try to create prize structures that don't incentivize players to break the RNOLs. Alternatively, run unsanctioned events where you can be more lax about these sorts of things. (Just be sure to clearly communicate that to players in advance, and be careful not to create even weirder incentives.) If you want some ideas:

And if you're someone who can help influence your local governments to have more reasonable gambling and bribery laws, maybe see about doing that.For a great example of how things like this can be surprisingly tractable for just a small group of people to change, see this article on attempting to legalize prediction markets.

Thank you to Tobias Vyseri and John Brian McCarthy for providing feedback and suggestions on this article, and for catching several of my errors in the process.

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