The ugly underbelly

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We all love playing Magic the Gathering in some way, shape or form. Sometimes, it’s with friends at a school cafeteria, sometimes around a kitchen table slinging EDH cards, and sometimes it’s in tournaments – for money. Cheating is a problem in all these situations, but it becomes very real when you deal with it at tournaments. “Hang on for just a minute”, you might say. “I’ve never seen a cheater at a tournament, and I’ve played loads!”

Well, for the sake of argument, watch this video, from the SCG standard open just this weekend past. The jury is still out on this one, but the supposed “cheat” happens at around a minute in. Carefully watch how Trevor Humphries shuffles his opponent’s deck – he peeks every once in a while, and stacks the lands on the bottom of the deck and the spells on top, effectively mana-screwing the opponent. His opponent mulligans to five in the first game, by the way, and plays off of one land in the second.

Granted, this could be very well random chance, and Humphries is innocent, but according to this thread on Reddit, StarCityGames have already taken action and submitted the video to the Judge Program, pending an investigation. For the sake of not only Humphries himself and his image within the community, but also the game’s image and the tournament scene in its entirety, I hope he didn’t cheat on purpose.

The jury isn’t out on my next example, however. For reference, this video:

ExploreThis is one of several infamous Alex Bertoncini cheats on camera. In case you weren’t following (these cards are a few years old now after all), Bertoncini casts an Explore on his second turn, drops his third land, and passes the turn. On his third turn, he plays a land, casts a second Explore, drops a land, casts Preordain and then tanks for a bit. He puts both cards on the bottom, draws the card for the Preordain, and tanks some more. “Two explores?” he asks his opponent, who nods. Bertoncini drops his third land for the turn – one more than allowed – and passes the turn. The camera man, Drew Levin, questions the situation, but Bertoncini’s opponent defends him.

Levin has written an article about Bertoncini’s escapades and it’s all readily available here. The article and the following shit-storm eventually led to Bertoncini getting banned for 18 months. Shortly after coming back to the scene (after having his ban shortened and then extended after making “quaint” remarks about a player’s skills while commenting on a live stream), Bertoncini had the balls to answer “Explore” to the question “What is the most misunderstood card in Legacy?” in this SCG open Top 8 player profiles article. What a class act.

As for myself, I’ve gotten into some strange situations in tournaments. Once, in a Vintage tournament long ago, I forgot to shuffle my graveyard into my library when my opponent cast a Timetwister, but I drew seven cards. I wanted to just back up and shuffle my graveyard into my library, but my opponent was adamant about calling a judge. If my memory serves me, I got a game loss, rightfully. Backing up meant shuffling my hand into my library and re-drawing seven new cards. In another Legacy tournament, I was playing UW Tempo, a deck with (and I’m going to link these cards, because they are quite obscure) Weathered Wayfarer and Fathom Seer. The deck’s idea was to abuse Weathered Wayfarer and do tricks like “Sacrifice my fetchland, hold priority and activate Weathered Wayfarer”, and draw a bunch of cards with Fathom Seer, Brainstorm the lands onto the top of the deck and then activate Weathered Wayfarer and so on. In my upkeep in one of the games, I activated Weathered Wayfarer and suddenly found that I had nine cards in hand. I notified my opponent of this and he called a judge, who forced me to discard a card (which I had forgotten in my previous clean-up step) and gave me a warning. All very just, all very fair judge calls, and I didn’t feel sour for too long after.

DivinationIn another instance, my brother was playing against an acquaintance of mine in a tournament, a small local deal, REL Regular, I believe. In one of my brother’s opponent’s draw steps, I noticed how the opponent drew a card and then fanned two new cards in hand. I was absolutely sure that he had drawn an extra card in the draw step, usually something that is awarded a game loss on Competitive REL levels, but not Regular. I didn’t bother trying to alert the judge, since he was playing his own match, and my brother handily crushed his cheating opponent despite being down on cards. After the tournament, I alerted my brother of the cheat, and he just responded “Huh… Good thing I won then.”

I can’t blame my brother for his reaction, but I think there’s something wrong with the tournament scene when blatant cheating is dealt with such a lax reaction. This can’t be allowed in places where we actually pay money to play for cash prizes. Cheating must be dealt with harshly and swiftly after it is discovered, lest the integrity of the tournament scene is at stake. As long as there is cash to be made, there will be “opportunistic” players to take advantage of this, and as long as cheaters get away with it, they will continue to play in the community and they will continue to cheat.

As a part of the community, you can contribute to making it a better place for the rest of us by making it a worse place for the cheaters. Don’t ever let anybody shame you for calling a judge at a tournament, if you so much suspect that a rule has been broken or if there’s anything unclear about a situation at the table, call a judge. It is better to call the judge once too many than once too few, always. If you are spectating a match, remember that you shouldn’t interrupt it at any point, other than to stop and call a judge, if you suspect something is wrong. Constant vigilance, as professor Moody would put it. It’s for the best of the community, and it’ll ensure the tournaments’ integrity. That alone, is worth more than all the cheaters in the world.


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  1. Grim Lavamancer

     /  October 21, 2014

    Ha! I love it how Moody is glancing down at the Dimir symbol below, might be something worth investigating.

    I’ve caught myself cheating a few times, having by mistake drawn an extra card after a muligan or forgotten to put my sideboard cards back in the board and such things, a few times I’ve forfeited the game when I’ve noticed, I few others I’ve just rolled with it. I guess that makes me a bad lavamancer.

    Liked by 1 person

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