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Cheating - What You Should Know - Joel Palmtag (6/3/2009)

When one speaks of a platform for brain based competition, there is probably no better example of geekiness than that of Magic: The Gathering. This fifteen year old game has been played competitively at the tournament level nearly since its inception. Prizes range from the thousands, to the tens of thousands of dollars, with some competitors reaching as high as a quarter of a million dollars (or more!) winnings in their lifetimes.

This game provides a competitive outlet for many individuals, and continues to gather new players every day. Still, many times newer players attempt to compete at the tournament level and unfairly get bullied out of tournament play. Now perhaps bullied out is a bit harsh, but the implied psychological warfare and constant threat of cheaters makes playing, even for more jaded players, more involved than one would think.

When I say that, I am not discounting the millions of games that are done for the pure joy of the game. Nor am I discounting any of the players, some of whom I may have mentored, who are ignorant of these cheats and are routinely tricked with them. The game is about playing and having fun, but some people take the competition very seriously. These articles are for those people, and anyone who wants to play at the same level as those individuals without being at a disadvantage.

I believe if the playing field is even and all players play without cheating the game would be much more fun. The only problem is the newer the player the less their familiarity with the rules and the higher the possibility cheating will go unnoticed. As a result many new players end up playing the role of chump because their opponents seize an opportunity to win without merit.

A simple example of basic forms of cheating I've witnessed personally:

You are about to play round 2 of a Friday Night Magic tournament at your local venue.

Your opponent has his cards set on his playmat and has a tablet of paper and pen slightly behind his library. You set your cards and your life counters (dice) down, stack shuffle a few times and present your deck to your opponent who promptly cuts and hands your cards back to you. He presents his cards, without shuffling stating, ´´I shuffled while I was waiting for you.´´ You take his cards, being a gentleman, cut them as he did yours and present them back to him.

You play several turns and die while mana screwed on your opponents turn five. Most of the game you have to ask your opponent your life total because you want to make sure your die matches his notes, and you can't see his notes behind his library. Frustrated, you scoop your cards, throw them all on top of your library riffle shuffle three times, and return the cards to your opponent to cut. What you didn't notice, since it's pretty normal in casual play, was that your opponent scooped meticulously placing his land proportionally on top of his library. After sideboarding, he then side shuffled 3 times. He presents his cards to you. Which you promptly cut, as he did your cards, and hand them back.

Five turns later, you are again dead to mana flood and your opponent had yet another near perfect land drop ratio.

Well, you might say, ´´What's wrong with that?´´ Truly, there are many things wrong with the above scenario a seasoned player will spot right away. Lets break the situation down from the very beginning: The first thing the novice player normally does wrong in a tournament setting is not have a pen and paper. This is key! DCI floor rules state that this is the only sanctioned recording mechanism for life totals. If a judge ever has to make a ruling on life totals and you do not have a pad of paper keeping these you will almost always lose the ruling.

The second thing some people will miss is allowing the opponent to partially obscure the life totals he was recording, if you and your opponent are both keeping accurate totals, there's no reason to hide them and if you both can see what the other is writing there can be no arguments after the fact based on the numbers themselves. However, especially in the case where you are not recording the totals yourself the opponent can falsify these numbers and you have nothing to dispute it with.

The third thing most people don't do well, this applies to casual play as well, is shuffling. Three stack shuffles is not sufficient randomization. In point of fact, if all the novice did was stack shuffle (this is for all of you worried about your cards' quality more than the rules!) that's grounds for a game loss. Some easy math and you can figure out the order cards needed to be in in order to sort perfect draws. However, often times (through no fault of their own) new players end up stack shuffling 3 times, followed by a riffle or two, from a deck layout (4x this 4x that) and end up hurting themselves with exceptionally bad draws.

The fourth thing that was forgotten was the opponent's deck. By taking the opponent's word that they did shuffle one has no idea as to how the deck was randomized. Had the experienced opponent been mana weaving (as it appeared he was) a few shuffles wouldn't affect his deck manipulation enough to bring his increased odds to truly random.

As a smart man once said, if you're ever presented a deck: SHUFFLE IT. Even if you only riffle shuffle 2-3 times with a few cuts in between, it's only common sense to shuffle the cards. Make sure while you're shuffling you don't look at the bottom card, or show your opponent. The first is cheating the other is just silly.

Now I'm not trying to scaremonger. Most people I play with shuffle well, and I still like to shuffle once or twice anyways just because it's good sense. The chance you'll get nailed by someone stacking their deck if you always pickup and shuffle is far less than if you cut the stacked deck in the approximate area the cheater assumed you would.

The next time you are in a DCI tournament setting keep your wits about you and hopefully you will practice the above common sense.

Next week, we'll go over outside help and stalling.

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