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Competitive systems can exhibit both hierarchical (transitive) and cyclic (intransitive) structures. Despite theoretical interest in cyclic competition, which offers richer dynamics, and occupies a larger subset of the space of possible competitive systems, most real-world systems are predominantly transitive. Why? Here, we introduce a generic mechanism which promotes transitivity, even when there is ample room for cyclicity. Consider a competitive system where outcomes are mediated byarXiv:2205.08015v1 fatcat:jwjzw3o4gzdkbo5f2jylzajy3q