Winning by Disqualification: When a Magic Pro Tour event ended on a technicality

Professional Magic: The Gathering player David Mills during the 1996-97 MTG Pro Tour. (WOTC)

How professional Magic: The Gathering player David Mills found himself disqualified during the 1996-97 MTG Pro Tour.

Magic: The Gathering Pro Tour stops and other high-profile tournaments have ended in a variety of ways with some event champions winning conventionally through damage or a well-played combo of sorts while others, such the 1994 World Championships, were something of a free-for-all. In 1997, however, things ended in a way that had never happened before and, for a tournament of its scale, had not yet been seen again.

The final match was decided not by damage or decking, but rather by disqualification.

Here's how it went down.

Back in February 1997, the Pro Tour Los Angeles -- the third stop in Magic: The Gathering's 1996-97 season -- kicked off. By all accounts, things were more-or-less going as they should with the event's front runners pulling ahead of the pack. It was a Rochester draft (Mirage - Visions) Limited tournament with 236 players and a prize pool of $150,000. Of that, the purse for the winner totaled $26,000.

By the time of the final, it was down to Tommi Hovi of Finland and David Mills of the USA.

At the time, there was a rule in Magic: The Gathering that stated that players had to tap their lands before casting their spells. Not a big deal now, but the judges and most players at the tourney were rule sticklers (as they should be, really). And, throughout his previous matches, Mills had been reminded over and over again that he needs to tap for his spells correctly as he had been doing things in the reverse order -- playing his cards before tapping. Mills kept apologizing, but kept doing it regardless.

It didn't help things that he had learned to play Magic: The Gathering that way. Sometimes breaking old habits are hard. Mills was soon going to learn just how hard.

By the time of the final against Hovi, the judges said that if it continued, he would be disqualified.

You can probably see where this is heading.

In the match against Hovi, Mills was doing rather well. In the best-of-five final round, Mills was up two games to one.

In match four, the American was in position to win it all. That's when it happened.

He played a card without first tapping his mana.

He immediately apologized, but the judges had already warned him of the consequences.

Mills was disqualified, allowing Hovi to become the first Finn to win a Magic Pro Tour event. 

However, many of the professional players watching thought that was a stupid reason and rushed the stage when awards were being handed out. Mark Justice and Tom Guevin personally led the revolt. Tournament manager Andrew Finch begged people to stop, and it only calmed down when event officials agreed to give Mills his prize money ($16,000) that had originally been held back due to his disqualification. 

And, while disqualifications continue to occur from time to time at major Magic: The Gathering events (Juuya Watanabe being disqualified for marked cards during Mythic Championship II and a bribing scandal in 2000 involving three different players come to mind), none of them have actually decided the end result of an event like it did at the 1997 Pro Tour Los Angeles.

Evan Symon

Evan Symon is a graduate of The University of Akron and has been a working journalist ever since with works published by Cracked, GeekNifty, the Pasadena Independent, California Globe, and, of course, Magic Untapped.