by Terence Jason Dorman, Awesome Manager of Inspired Writings
When I covered for Ken last week and wrote Let’s Build Something #6, I discussed why I feel errata is always the better option over ban. The downside to errata, as I discussed, is that both players and judges have to keep up with the most recent version of errata’d cards, knowing their new text word for word, or at least having access to it.
This reminded me of a situation that arose on the forums years ago regarding the card Fleshripping Scenepuller. The text, which had no errata, read “If this card is blocked, it gains 4 strength for each member in the opposing party.” This caused me to raise a question on the forums, asking if this strength bonus was supposed to be permanent. It didn’t seem like it should have been, but that’s how the card was worded. This brings us to today’s question:
Should judges rule by intent or by text?
When this first came up, I argued that as judges, we must rule by the wording of the cards and the rules as those are the tools at our disposal and, barring a direct discussion with a card designer, we have no way to know the intent of a card.
Thankfully, The Spoils has a great online community with access to the card/rules designer, so we can ask questions like this and get an answer. Josh Lytle eventually explained that the intent of the card was for the strength bonus to only last for the turn, so judges could rule it that way from that point forward. The card was later errata’d to read “If this card is blocked, this turn it gains 4 strength for each member in the opposing party.” It was also reprinted in Second Edition with this wording. Problem solved.
The problem arises, however, when not all judges have access to the forums, or aren’t active on them. Plus, the forums won’t answer a question quick enough when you are in the middle of judging an event, be it a local ASS event or a large scale event like Nationals at Gen Con. In these cases, judges have to return to the question I asked above: rule by intent or by text?
As I said earlier, I always favor ruling by text. This is because, if the cards make grammatical sense (which they usually do in card games), the text of a card is objective. The cards tell you what they do, and the rules tell you how that effect works in the game.
There are certainly some situations that aren’t covered in the rules and that will require some on the fly thinking. Of course, these situations are usually extremely convoluted and usually only come from the mind of Kallisti and, thankfully, they rarely come up in tournaments.
For situations like the Scenepuller, however, I see no reason why judges shouldn’t rule by the text of the card. Sure, it may seem powerful, and it pretty clearly wasn’t the intent for the card, but that isn’t the point.
It basically boils down to this: players and judges alike can argue about the intent of cards for hours. Players and judges cannot, however, argue about what the card reads as that is completely concrete and definite. In the case of Scenepuller, the card said that it gained 4 strength permanently.
I know many judges out there disagree with me on this topic, which is part of the reason why I brought this up for this month’s edition of From the Judge’s Chambers. I’m really curious to see what other judges think about this topic and am especially curious to hear why they think I am wrong, so please discuss in the forums!