Friday, February 24, 2012

Dropping the Banhammer, Part One: Under Hot Lights

There has been a trickle-down effect since the announcement that #twoexplores is no longer a valid excuse for rampant cheating.  The most noticeable is the intensity of the community's vigilance when it comes to policing high level play on camera. 

I try to add something to the discussions that take place away from the tech and video media centers of the Magic universe online.  With that in mind, here are five things that you will do on camera at some point if you attend enough events, along with what might happen when you do.

1) You will misplay tapping your lands and mana sources -- It happens way more often in real life than you think it does, especially if you primarily play online.  In fact, while I frequently add my two cents to the feed when something like Todd Anderson's Lingering Souls happens, we all need to step back from this one a little bit.  The truth is that more often than not, players are playing quickly and forget that they need the Cascade Bluffs to keep the combo going, while backing up is definitely an advantage for the player who made the mistake, imagine how frustrating it is to be locked into a misplay that you would never have made without cameras in your face. 

My focus for this issue is in shadier circumstances.  If you tap your mana for Ponder, see a black spell that you need your Darkslick Shores to cast, and try and back up, that's Cheating.  If you have a black mana source available and it's obvious to everyone that you plan to Tragic Slip after Pondering, and you accidently peek at one card before realizing that you need to tap differently, then that is just nerves.

Again, I am merely pointing out that the vilification of someone who taps wrong one time is slightly overwrought.  There are enough actual cheaters and even more deviant behavior that all go unpunished that we should be focusing our efforts there, not on Local Hero X.

That is his game face.

What's the worst that can happen? -- As the tournament rules stand, this is definitely something that can escalate rather quickly if it occurs more than once.  And the community watches this so closely you can smell the schadenfreude.  Tighten up and commit to a style for tapping your lands before entering an event where your goal is to play on camera at least once (in the finals, if nowhere else). 

2) You will miss a trigger -- It won't be a big important trigger, you'll likely stack dice on your library to remember your Ichorids or Pacts or even Bob.  No, it will be subtle, like not putting Chandra's Phoenix back into your hand after you dome them with Volt Charge to tick up your Shrine and cast some bloodthirsty Berserkers.

For those of you who prefer Photoshop.  I'm the one on the left.  No, bit further.  Off the frame, really.

Maybe you'll forget to charge your Ratchet Bomb and want to do that quick before snatching up your draw.  Not all of these situations involve actual triggers, but when you are playing on camera, they feel mostly the same. 

Whenever this happens, you can expect that at least one of the commentators will notice and start having a heart attack in the booth, which will equally frighten the viewing audience, all of whom will suddenly believe that you are the second coming of Mike Long, and you'll live in infamy even if they manage to stop the match.

What's the worst that can happen? -- A Game Play Error - Missed Trigger is a warning.  But as I alluded to above, don't expect the community to let you off on this one, especially if you gained an advantage, no matter how slight.  As with mis-tapping your lands, this one can get out of hand quickly, and not playing carefully in the future can have negative effects on your image.

3) You will forget a creature has died -- Especially if you happen to be playing Limited.  A lot of the things that go wrong under the lights are the results of over-crowded game-states and late-game stalls.  You try and push through when you draw your trick and she has the counter or a defensive trick that messes up the combat math.  When the dust settles, you both forget that your Wolf token or what have you was actually blocked, and you end up with an extra 2/2 in play.

Like this, but in your living room.  In three dimensions.

If you can't tell, this list is organized in increasing complexity of the issue of accountability and whether or not an intentional misplay was made in order to gain an advantage.  Mana issues, while they can seem hugely important, come about because at some point you start going into auto-pilot when it comes to tapping your lands.  Patrick Chapin has written about short-cuts and the way they affect our game, and the same thing happens with triggers.

With creature combat, however, we are into an area of the game that has recently become the strategic focus for players of all levels.  Giving someone a free pass at this stage has to come with complete plausible deniability.  If it's a 1/1 Soldier token, I'm not too suspicious.  If it's a Hero of Bladehold that you "forgot" was hit with a Gut Shot or a Township pump on its opponent, well, now I have a hard time believing you.  And if you keep trying to bin a Spirit after a Day of Judgment that was generated by a departing Doomed Traveler, well, now I know something is up.

What's the worst that can happen? -- Cheating - Fraud, comes to mind.  Again, if you are playing technically sound, then it might just be Failure to Maintain, and there will be warnings all around.

"You'd be amazed, really, at what you can do, if, well, once we got that extra bit in there the first time."

4) You will look at extra cards -- Most of the time, you'll be shuffling really fast and something will fly out of your hands and reveal your entire game plan to your opponent. Sometimes it will happen when you are shuffling their deck.  Occasionally, your hand will be shaking from so much Red Bull and Adderall, that you'll flip the top card of your library trying to resolve Sleight of Hand or scry abilities.

As you certainly expect, the community is on this one like brass on a doorknob.

The community: You can't always see them, but they are always there.

Are you showing her the Emrakul to make her think you are on Tron when you are playing Hive Mind?  Or did your sideboard Corrosive Gale flash and now you've lost almost half its value out of your U/W Humans deck.

Intentionality is key, here.  A lot has been said about the role of judges in terms of their ability to adjudicate actual issues, especially when it comes time to determine disqualifications and increased penalties.  The general consensus seems to be that judges don't want to be forced into situations where they have to make calls based on scant evidence or conflicting descriptions.

When everyone is watching at home, however, it becomes a little more obvious when someone is clearly trying to gain advantage.  If we know they are holding a fetchland, and bump their library in order to possibly glimpse the next card before cracking it, that's a bit more damning than a table judge blindly evaluating what happened without knowing the whole context.

What's the worst that can happen? -- Back into Cheating, possibly for some late night Hidden Information Violation action.  Basically, if you do reveal extra cards, or draw seven when you should be on six, or anything whatsoever involving drawing more cards than you should, you need to call the judge instantly, and preferably before you could have possibly gained an advantage.  It isn't going to exonerate you in the eyes of the viewership, but it's the start on a path towards Twitter rambling and apologies, claiming you "didn't mean it, really, it was an accident."

"Adding the winking smiley face is a bad idea?  You sure?"

5) You will win a game you should have lost -- Or you'll lose a game you should have won, but the Internet is fickle, and will probably not care unless you are famous enough to have your name appear in the Wall Street Journal

For the purposes of this article, your win will also involve something happening in the game that should not have.  You can pick from the grab-bag above, or reach into the mystery box, but either way, the result is going to be that you end up alone, living in a van, unless you didn't do anything wrong, of course.  You won't be considered innocent, but you might be able to avoid being branded.

You could, for example, start going off with Melira Pod, only to have someone notice, long after the game, that your Redcap had a -1/-1 counter on it already, that got lost in a spell battle involving a complicated Chord of Calling to get a Seer back in play.

Or, more innocently on your part even, you might go off with Storm into Grapeshot, your opponent scoops, and the folks at home devouring the coverage realize that your opponent had a Leyline of Sanctity in play.  They might not know that you didn't ask him to pack them in, that he did it himself, and that's how rumors get started.

What's the worst that can happen? -- Finding information on the kind of situations this covers is trickier, but what seems to happen is, well, nothing.  What if it happened during Round 4 and it wasn't caught until you are playing in the semi-finals?  Like most of these scenarios, the big issue is if you won by misrepresentation and intent to defraud.  If you didn't, a one-time hiccup isn't the end of the world, but you put yourself into the unenviable position of needing to defend yourself and insure it doesn't happen again.

Coming Up: Part Two

I want to expand on the importance of policing cheating, and I'm going to take another whole column to do so, because I believe that it will require a multi-pronged approach, and because I feel that there are several issues to address.

I'll wrap up by re-asserting that mistakes happen.  I was at 27 when I stopped counting the number of times that something from this list appeared on coverage over the last two weeks.  The reason I wanted to emphasize the items on the list is that many times, these are innocent errors.  When the community becomes wolf-crazy whenever the slightest mechanical choke slips on camera, it leads us to a dangerous territory where the actual predators can hook up their invisibility cloaks.

And play chess, apparently.

Bonus Legacy Decklist:

For those of you who just can't stomach a Magic-related blog without decklists, here's a fun, though competitive, brew that combines three of my favorite combinations.

A few quick tips if you want to give this a shot:

* Your opening hand determines the combo you are going for; for example:
                Imperial Recruiter + Grindstone = Painter's Servent
                Imperial Recruiter + Sundering Titan/Minderslaver = Welder

* There are hundreds of lines of play with the deck, and it's a neat high variance build.  Since the cards all work together extremely well, no matter what you end up with, you have a good opportunity to combo out on turn three or four.

* Again, the emphasis with this deck is on how fun it is to play for those of you who like puzzles and miss being allowed to win through disruption as early as turn 2.

Have You Met Ted?       

4 Imperial Recruiter
4 Goblin Welder
3 Snapcaster Mage
1 Painter's Servant
1 Sundering Titan

13 Creatures

2 Spell Snare
1 Misdirection
1 Force of Will
4 Brainstorm
3 Sensei's Divining Top
2 Counterbalance
1 Chain of Vapor
4 Faithless Looting
2 Illusions of Grandeur
2 Donate
1 Mindslaver
1 Grindstone
1 Crucible of Worlds

25 Spells

4 Volcanic Island
2 Wasteland
4 Ancient Tomb
4 Scalding Tarn
2 Mishra's Factory
1 Mountain
2 Island
1 Steam Vents
1 Seat of the Synod
1 Great Furnace

22 Land

(edit: I added Bazaar Trader as a charming extra interaction, and someone pointed out that this doesn't work, so here is the original list, I apologize for that mistake)

Ben Snyder is a freelance writer who just published his first eBook.  The fast-paced science fiction thriller (all 105000 words of it) is available now for the discounted price of only 99 cents.  That's right, you paid five times more for that delicious Starbucks mocha, and his book will last at least twice as long.  You can follow him on Twitter, @snglmaltproof, and always be the first to know about new content on WhereTheMeatComesFrom.  Questions, comments, just looking for a friend (come on pornbots, I know that's all you want, just a hug)?  E-mail him at

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