Welcome to a very special edition of What We Learned. The past 48 hours have been a tumultuous time for the Magic community. Today we take a look at the recent wave of judge suspensions, what we know, what we don’t know, and what we can expect moving forward.

The Wrath of Wizards

Leaks are a fact of life when your business involves keeping secrets. For Magic to be made the cards simply need to pass through far too many hands for leaks to be completely eliminated. It should be expected that from time-to-time someone along the chain is going to get their hands on a card and decide to share it with the public. After all, it’s very exciting to have a secret and share it with the world. Last week, Jess talked about the moral implications of taking such action.

That said, just because it can’t be prevented, doesn’t mean Wizards can’t do everything in their power to prevent it, and it doesn’t change the fact that Wizards gets very, very upset when it does happen. Just read this post by Trick Jarett. Or this one by Mark Rosewater. Or this one by Mark Rosewater. Or this one by Kyle Murray. I think you get the idea. Wizards is not happy. You could make a strong argument, given what I said above, that Wizards is unreasonably unhappy, and very emotional, but it is what it is. A lot of work goes into making Magic and you can’t blame Wizards for protecting its product.

As an aside, this isn’t about protecting some corporate interests or shareholder value for Hasbro. It’s about the livelihood of the people who work at Wizards HQ in Renton. The brand managers. The designers. The administrators. The janitors. Everyone who collects a paycheck from Wizards of the Coast is potentially impacted by these events, which is why Wizards takes it seriously.

But what happens when Wizards catches the responsible parties?

In other words, they're not fucking around

So what does a disproportionate response entail exactly?

What We Know from Wizards

Between Friday and Monday the DCI suspended 15 judges for various lengths of time. You can always check the full list of suspensions for yourself here. I’ve also provided a screenshot below, just in case:


There are some very important names on this list including several Level 2 and Level 3 judges. Among them are Adam Hubble, who was previously the only Level 2 judge in Mississippi, and Justin Turner, the Level 3 judge who serves as the Regional Coordinator for the southeast region of the US. All of these judges are widely respected and almost all of them are deeply involved in tournaments in the southeast US.

Level 2 judges are necessary to run PPTQ events while Level 3 judges are needed for Grand Prix tournaments and Pro Tours. In the interim, Level 5 judge Scott Marshall will serve as the Regional Coordinator for the southeast.

Wizards had very little to say, but here is what they provided as a statement:

Last week, Wizards of the Coast, after completing our investigation, temporarily suspended the DCI accounts of a number of individuals found to have been involved in collecting, accessing, and disseminating Wizards’ confidential and proprietary information before it was made public..

Wizards of the Coast takes seriously the protection of our property and we investigate every leak or report of leaked material we receive.

Surprisingly that wasn’t the only statement made. Arthur Halavais, a Level 2 judge from California, shared this statement that was made by the Judge Manager and distributed to the regional coordinators:


What We Know from the Judges

The impact to the judging community was severe. The judges, or at least those who are the most vocal on social media, feel that the suspensions have crippled their ability to function in the southeast. However, where they are most maligned is with the final part of the judge manager statement from above. “Individuals believed to not be directly distributing proprietary and confidential information were given shorter suspensions.”

The 12 judges who were given three-month suspensions did not engage in disseminating any information. Based on the rest of the statement they engaged in accessing the information. This is where things become more unclear because we don’t really have a clear definition of what “accessing” means. Wizards of the Coast has not responded to any requests to elaborate. Some of the suspended judges, however, have been more than happy to disclose some more details.

James Bennett is a Level 3 judge who runs www.magicjudges.org. At this time if you click on that link you’ll be redirected to the following statement by Bennett, who is not one of the suspended judges, but is one of the moderators of /r/magicTCG on Reddit. You can read it all for yourself, as it compiles most of the information that was provided by judges publicly and privately.

Statement 1

Statement 2

Statement 3

Dropping the Bomb

I have to tell you something, dear reader. I had already written another 600 words talking about the dissonance between Wizards statements and Bennett’s statement. There is a lot to dissect here but more importantly there are some big gaps in the stories. How long was this really going on? Did Wizards really suspend people who had done nothing? Where did the leaks come from in the first place? Then, at 9:30 PM EST on Tuesday night, Helene Bergeot updated Wizards official statement:

The Bomb

Helene’s statement is a direct response to James Bennett and attempts to address each of his concerns. For the record, this is pretty clear evidence that Wizards is very, very aware of what the community is saying. In fact, one of you reading this right now (maybe two of you) works for Wizards of the Coast. It’s cool.

To summarize, Helene shared the following points:

  • Wizards does not have any issue with the community discussing unofficial spoilers that have reached the wild. So places like Reddit and MTGSalvation have nothing to fear.
  • The information was stolen from Wizards. (still very vague but as I said above we won’t get more details because Wizards doesn’t want to encourage copycats)
  • This took place over multiple sets, though that could mean two and it could mean twenty.
  • The information appeared in the group well ahead of preview season. (again, vague)
  • In the past, members of other groups with similar information have come forward and prevented major leaks.
  • The passive participants who were suspended (James Bennett’s biggest gripe) were not involved in a one-time affair but multiple expansions.
  • Statements will be accepted as part of the appeals process but not as part of the initial investigation due to the nature of the investigation.

This provides some clarity but still also leads to some more questions, mostly around details. At this point, however, Wizards seems to have attempted to answer many of Bennett’s concerns, and provided that the passive participants are not as passive as they have claimed to be. Most importantly though, there will be a formal appeal process and the judges involved have had this communicated to them.

What Next?

It’s difficult to speculate on the appeal process but it’s entirely possible that some of the suspensions will be overruled. The damage however is done. Wizards has made their disproportionate response and now we begin a waiting game to see if it will have the desired impact. That, however, is more of a long-term concern. In the short-term, what’s going to happen to the judges of the southeast? Will events be canceled? Will they be run in an inadequate manner (e.g. understaffed)? Will Wizards or high-level judges formalize a policy of whats expected of their rank-and-file with respect to leaks?

The damage has been done to both sides and that includes harm done to the relationship between judges and Wizards of the Coast. Could this have been better communicated? Absolutely. We didn’t need a major disruption to the judge community in the southeast and we certainly didn’t need an incredibly valuable resource for the judge community going dark. That’s on Wizards and we have to hope they’ve learned a valuable lesson here.

There are a lot of problems in the relationship between Wizards and the Judge Community and this incident is going to exacerbate a lot of them. There’s a better place both parties can come to, and we’ll talk about that in the coming weeks (no spoilers), in hopes that we can all move forwards as a community.

What We Learned is a weekly feature here at Hipsters of the Coast written by former amateur Magic Player Rich Stein, who came really close to making day two of a Grand Prix on several occasions. Each week we will take a look at the past seven days of major events, big news items, and community happenings so that you can keep up-to-date on all the latest and greatest Magic: the Gathering community news.

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