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"Scrub's Corner": Cheating and Etiquette
By Shawn J. Houtsinger
Hello all,

There is nothing more vital to card play than a fair game. Along with that is a good line of communication and good sportsmanship. If any of these are missing, the game will tend to be a war of egos. This has happened to many an MTG player.
I will start off by saying something that I heard recently about myself.
I have been accused of cheating.
Now, at least to me, there is nothing more morally repugnant than cheating in order to win. I want to take a closer look at cheating, play etiquette, and the responsibilities of players.

Cheating: the ability to deceive or manipulate in order to win, gain power/control; pure deception for one's self.

When I first heard this, I was astounded. There is nothing worse in the MTG community than being known as a cheater (example: Mike Long).
It’s an outright attack on your integrity , not your game-play or style necessarily...a threat of stripping away your dignity.
Let me set up the story line a little better so you have a full understanding of MY side and the situation at hand.
I will not mention names, since I am not one to say things [in general] that use peoples' names, with full awareness of what harm it can do.

Recently I have been playing more games, as all of you well know if you read any of my crappy articles. I have come from a 1679 rating at Gecon, in Milwaukee, to a full-fledged 1855, as of today. I have had the pleasure of playing with the Milwaukee crew [VGC] and a great partner Ryan Strand (best draft player I know). Three top 8's and two near misses have really gotten my confidence (not ego) up. Not bad for a scrub. I’m not a good player, but a decent player. I will state this now: I have made mistakes in games along the way… a LOT of mistakes. The unfortunate part is that few, if any, of my opponents have noticed or taken advantage of that. I can recall many instances of what might have been a horrible move on my part or just downright stupid defensive strategy. But you will never hear me say I was ever a good player in the first place. I am learning. I am fully aware of that, and will tell anyone if they ask me. After all, isn't that what you do in order to become better? Make mistakes and learn from them? That is how I view it. In the Indianapolis tournament I asked my partner Ryan to watch me and tell me what mistakes I made after the game. I knew I was going to make some and with only one game away from qualifying for a Pro Tour, I wanted to learn from what would be my past mistakes.
Well, during my play testing, Ryan had mentioned that some of the players from the Milwaukee area had questioned why Ryan was playing with me since I cheat a lot (referencing to tournament playing). Most of them must have been watching me. I am presuming Ryan defended me, but that isn't the point.
The first thing that popped to my head was: If I cheat so much, how come no one has caught me? And why hasn't anyone said anything?
So I thought over in my head as to what might have caused them to think that. There is only one answer:
I am not a good player. I don't hide that.

Let me give you an example of what they might have thought was cheating. Since this word can be used so vaguely, I want to really stress what makes a cheater and what cheating IS. I am picky about how words are used [yes, this is coming from someone who used 'asshole' as a way to describe an individual], and this involves knocking my integrity.

The way I view cheating (as defined) is a way to deceive (coerce) or manipulate intentionally to win. Cheating is hard to prove, since the intent of doing it is what is important. What do I mean?
Well, you could say my opponent lost a game when he drew an extra card during his draw phase, but that might have been a game error or mistake. It's hard to determine, sometimes, if he MEANT to do it for beneficial reasons (as they always are) or just lack of skill, concentration, or mental error. That is the hard part. Another example: During the Chicago PTQ last weekend, I noticed an argument over sideboarding between two opponents. After listening, I figured out what the problem was. Player 1 had sideboarded after the first game. Player 2 went to shuffle Player 1’s deck and noticed a slightly larger deck. Upon counting the sideboard, Player 2 saw that it was 5 cards short, meaning that Player 1 had put in more sideboard cards and didn't sideboard out 5 cards. The reason was: Player 1 was blue and Player 2 was sligh. You could say that Player 1 was afraid of the match-up and wanted every edge. I agree with this. Why? Well it is hard to conceive that a player in a tournament would NOT notice 5 cards short in sideboard. This can easily be taken as a deliberate attempt to cheat. Now, if the sideboard was 5 cards larger, that could also be taken as cheating, however the amount of cards not being noticed (as alleged by Player 1) and the match-up is the key ingredient in what can be viewed as a clear intention to cheat.

My example:

I was playing Recurring Nightmare deck. I had cradle in play with 3 creatures; one is a B.O.P, and two other lands. I tapped my birds and two other lands to play Recurring Nightmare. I then tap my cradle for mana and cast Spike Weaver. The opponent nods his head and takes his turn. I didn't realize that I didn't have the right mana until it was mentioned after the game.

This is the judgment call. Is this cheating? Sure. You can call it that if you want, but the intention is what counts. If it goes un-noticed it makes it even harder to derive the clear intention of what I was trying to do.
I wasn't trying to cheat. I merely made an error/mistake that went unnoticed. If the judge had come over and called me on it, I would have gladly accepted the consequences and the folly of my play.

Let's take a look at what the Wizards of the Coast: DCI Sanctioned Coordinator Handbook says on this.

"Cheating will not be tolerated. The head judge reviews all cheating allegations, and if he or she determines that a player cheated, the head judge will issue the appropriate penalty based on the DCI penalty guidelines. All tournament disqualifications are subject to DCI review, and further penalties may be assessed. Cheating includes, but is not limited to, the following intentional activities:
-Receiving outside assistance or coaching
-Looking at opponents cards while shuffling or cutting
-Taking notes
-Misrepresenting cards or rules
-Using marked cards/sleeves
-Marking cards/sleeves
-Drawing extra sleeves
-Manipulating which cards are drawn from your deck or your opponent’s deck
-Stalling the length of a turn to take advantage of a time limit
-Misrepresenting PUBLIC INFORMATION (life totals, number of cards, and so on)

If you notice, the main issue is a judgment call by the head judge after reviewing the play. I am glad that all of the above are considered cheating regardless of intention. After all, we don't want to come into any situation of how a person acts or question his character. If you drew an extra card, you cheated. You will be penalized.
If you… blah, blah, blah. You get my point.
However, calling someone a cheater brings out a completely different aspect. You are calling that person the lowest common denominator of all MTG players. Trash. An insult.

Etiquette is very important when playing. What do I mean?
Playing nice. Being friendly, courteous, communicative, and overall, understanding of social interaction. I will admit I haven't been friendly all of the time. I can admit my faults. Let me show you a good example:

At the Chicago PTQ, I had been informed by my other partners that my wallet couldn't be found in my car after much searching. I lost my notepad (stolen actually) and life counters. That, plus the fact that I was 2-1-2, was frustrating. I started to play against my next opponent with unrelenting tension. During the match, I cast a Spike Weaver and was taking damage also from his permanents. I didn't have any counters and he gladly borrowed me some. He finally asked me after 20 minutes into the round if I had any way to represent my life. I said no, deciding not go into my horrible day. I just sat there. He called the judge. The judge went and got me a pen and paper. I clearly stated to my opponent how upset I was for him doing this, even though it was clearly in the game’s guidelines to do so. I didn't say anything else during the rest of the game. I lost the game. After packing up, he handed me a gold dollar coin. Nothing more. Just: "Here, have this". Now the guilt set in. I apologized and explained my reasoning. Things worked out well, but I was happy that he was above the game. Not just a 'yeah, I won' attitude. He was just someone who was nice. I really learned something from him.

Maybe people expected more from me since I have been doing well. Maybe they thought I had been cheating on purpose in order to win. Or maybe they thought that I was cheating in order to win, to hide something or deceive my opponents. I place myself in the middle. Neither.
I am merely a player who makes mistakes. I may have cheated, sure. I made some plays that, under the guidelines, would be considered cheating. But am I a cheater? No.
You see, I will tell you and everyone all of my mistakes and triumphs.

I hide nothing so don't expect any surprises.

Practicing Scrubiness in Wisconsin,


Shawn J. Houtsinger
The one and only,

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