Hey guys, I’m Jonathan Cheng. I’ve only been playing MtG for about two to three years; however, I’ve been playing strategy games professionally ever since Starcraft: Broodwar up until Starcraft 2. I love seeing how strategy translates across different games, and dedicate my articles to approaching strategy in easy-to-understand  ways. That being said, because I’ve been playing competitive strategy games for so long, I’ll be spending several articles on what it means to have a “competitive mindset”. Furthermore, because strategy has been so integrated with my life, I care deeply about the integrity and strength of the community itself. I hope these articles become interactive and a forum for lively discussion. Here’s my Spare Cheng:


Legitimate Misers: Our Rules, Our Competitors, and Our Community

We’ve all been misers at some point in Magic; whether it is top-decking the right card or you notice your opponent tap the wrong mana. The hilarity and bitterness of the experience is that, essentially, we’re winning under certain circumstances when we very likely would have lost otherwise. In short, we “mise” a game.  Despite understanding that mise-ing isn’t the best form of learning or winning, our Competitive  REL reinforces the mindset of “mise-ing” by incentivizing vigilance with free wins. The amount of times I’ve seen individuals manipulate our rules framework in order to obtain free wins is a little disgusting. What I’m pointing out is that our rules enforcement has an awkward contention between being a protection mechanism against cheating, yet simultaneously incentivizing people to use the rules system to “mise” wins. We’re all aware of competitors who use underhanded tactics in order to win; however, it’s a completely separate problem when competitors can use certain “legitimate” penalties/ rulings to dish out game losses. It’s a complex problem that I don’t think I can provide a solution to within the confines of this article alone.  I can, however, outline factors to consider when tackling the issue of competitors abusing the rules for individual benefit.

What Judge rulings should look like

Our Rules :

Here’s an anecdote of my friend playing in a win-and-in for the top8 of a large legacy event where the losing opponent used game-loss mechanisms in order to force a game 3:

I got a game loss that basically would have sealed the deal for the win and in. There was an upkeep trigger on the stack with delver flipping; the trigger resolves. I say okay; my opponent says okay. I draw my card. My opponent then says still during upkeep crack my fetch. I brainstorm in response, but I already drew my card for draw step. Since I failed to acknowledge that we were not in upkeep and in draw step, I was penalized with a game loss for drawing extra cards. The game was locked for me otherwise.

            Normally, I’d give the benefit of the doubt to the opponent and give my friend crap about not announcing phase changes, but his opponent was a well known grinder with a shady history. In several tournaments I’ve seen this grinder pull similar stunts with other opponents in order to force a judge-sanctioned game loss. The most frustrating conundrum that we face here is the inability to call out someone who’s using official rules enforcement in order to capitalize on free wins. Furthermore, I have a huge contention with judges being able to grant game losses without actually being physically there and have nothing to go on other than the players’ testimony. I’ve seen judges regrettably say “we have no other choice than to grant a game loss here, given what we know”. If we have such regret about how our rules enforcement functions, shouldn’t we be reformulating our rules in order to safeguard our players from this sort of manipulation?

Our Competitors:

            Not all of our aspiring competitors behave this way, but to say that the grinders and “competitive” players of our community don’t have a reputation of being cold would be ignoring a problem that our gaming community suffers. You might be wondering, “How does this relate to our rules enforcement?” I would argue that competitive players feel justified in their manipulation of the rules because there is this antiquated notion that, being a professional in strategy translates into being incredibly uncivil for the sake of winning. I’ve seen this in several gaming communities, though my experiences in the magic scene has been more trivializing, as being uncivil is legitimized by the rules structure we have.

Another anecdote: I was competing in a standard side event of Grand Prix Chicago of around 250 people. Because it is a side event of a GP, there are several grinders and well-known players. As we were setting up for Round 8 in the x-1 bracket, I was shuffling cards and a friend -unfamiliar with magic- approached me and was curious about the professional scene of the game. As I was pointing out some of the well known players, I was being drowned out by a grinder sitting next to me who was literally on the edge of his seat saying “please start the round, I want a free win!” Despite the attempts to get a free win off of tardiness, his opponent arrives just in the nick of time, yet the enthusiastic grinder calls a judge and attempts to give him a game loss. Needless to say, I was a little embarrassed to consider myself as part of the same community when explaining to my friend that this is what I do. The judge awarded the game loss, and I sat there wondering if this is really what I want to be doing with my spare time. Both my friend and I became incredibly disenfranchised with the game, because being completely uncivil to another member of the community is all of a sudden legitimized by being awarded free wins.

Now, I’m very well aware that not all players behave this way, but it reflects upon us as a whole community when we ignore something as large as our rules structure legitimizing this sort of behavior. Thus far, the excuses for this have been “that’s the way it is, we’re incentivized to play this way, our rules system is the best we can do”. From my experience in other professional games, despite the large incentives, it is entirely possible to create a civil space that is simultaneously competitive –and it is imperative that we work to create one. If the Magic the Gathering community ever wishes to become a more legitimate competitive pastime, then we really need to consider what behavior our rules enforcement legitimizes. I’ve had several friends who go to a big tournament for the first time, wanting to take their game to a new level, just to be incredibly disenfranchised by the behavior they see there.

As I said before, this is a complex problem with several avenues to explore. I will write further articles on the issue, because I don’t think we can properly address the issue in its entirety here. I hope to explore ways our community can respond to “competitive behavior”, as this problem will be a test of all of our efforts. Until then, thanks for reading!

Jun 28, 2013 –