Cheating in Magic: Asking questions about our community and our morals

I apologize the article I am writing this time is a bit strange. It’s a hybrid of an opinion piece and a call to arms. It seems as though I have ventured yet again into questioning certain aspects of our Magic community. One day I’ll give a sweet deck tech to you all.

I’m also going to start this article by saying outright that I am very inexperienced with many of the larger personalities of the Magic community. However, now since I have started writing for WNY Gaming and dealing with the challenges of starting the Buffalo Magic Sisters group, I’ve been told that I need to be a little more plugged into this larger community. After I decided to start my Twitter account in earnest, the 2018 Hall of Fame nominations started and I want to let you know I was not prepared.

We have had Mark Rosewater explain his thoughts on Michael Long’s name to be considered for the Pro Tour Hall of Fame. Toward the end of the voting period for the Pro Tour Hall of Fame, Sam Black accused Brad Nelson of costing him top four at Worlds. Additionally, the twice banned cheater Alex Bertoncini has had his tournament ban lifted and played GP Phoenix.

Now, I did mention that I am a novice on the larger culture of Magic but after many days of hard thought and knowing my own Magic community there are some conversations that I would like to start about what I have been seeing in the past month. Namely, where do each of us see cheating effecting the game of Magic?

Mark Rosewater recently has had to deal with a Twitter storm of Magic players criticizing his past nomination for Mike Long’s place in the Magic Hall of Fame. Mike Long, for those of you that don’t know was one of Magic’s earliest celebrities, held many great finishes in some of the largest Magic tournaments, and is a well-known cheater.

I had not heard, or perhaps more accurately forgot about, Mike Long so I turned to the internet to find out what the fuss was about. While on that search I found this article was written by Rosewater in 2005, but there are some things that stand out here that I want to talk about that I believe have an effect on this game today. I would recommend reading the article. It’s lengthy but I think that it’s important for players to see what someone like Rosewater has to say. At the end of the day, his decisions and opinions effect the game we play.

There is one particular quote that I want to take away from the piece and discuss quickly:

But where Mike blows this category [Player Performance] out of the water for me is what I called charisma last week and today will call “star power”. You see, I spent almost ten years working on the Pro Tour. My primary job was star building. I’m the guy who came up with the idea for feature matches. I’m the one who chose who was featured. It was also my call who was put on camera during the final rounds on Sunday. And I had input into how the Pro Tours were covered in print and online.

How did Mike [Long] fare at star building? He’s the best I ever had. If I put him in a feature match or on camera, people showed up. In large numbers.1

It is interesting that that Rosewater stresses Long’s “star power”. From the perspective of Rosewater I can’t really see another personality trait that has had as much impact on camera than this. Long’s presence almost screams, “Are you not entertained!” He takes all the focus on him and he owns it. That’s something I think that the Magic community lacks at certain points in its history, a charismatic ‘bad’ guy. Why are we, the Magic community drawn to this charismatic cheater? Perhaps we just want to see him lose?

I’m seeing this play out again as the community has a laser focus on Bertoncini as he makes his way onto the Magic stage once again. There was chatter around GP Phoenix centered on Bertoncini and his cheating past. I will admit it is very healthy for a community to come together to talk about how cheating affects our game, but I find that we have a new Long being made right in front of us. Is Bertoncini who we really want to talk about? Will the community’s fixation on a cheater once again catapult an infamous player above other players that are ignored? Will we have this same discussion in ten years’ time about Bertoncini as we have about Long? Or perhaps this isn’t a problem? Does Bertoncini’s reentry into the game give us a good opportunity to talk about how we should deal with cheaters in Magic?

More recently Sam Black on his podcast Pro Points had a discussion about how he would never vote for Brad Nelson. Mainly this centered around a match they had against each other at Worlds where Black believed Nelson ran the clock during Black’s end step so he would have an extra turn when time ran out. My aim here is not to discuss whether or not Nelson did this on purpose. Instead we should use this as example to ask as a community do we think this type of play is bad sportsmanship or outright cheating? Also, if we are going to be honest in this discussion, haven’t we made a play that gave us an edge in a game only because it wasn’t technically illegal?

This phenomenon of playing in a way that is not strictly forbidden but is not quite stipulated in the rules is called angle shooting. These interactions angle a game in your favor. For instance, flashing a Lightning Bolt when your opponent is at 3 even though you don’t have the mana to cast it; getting your opponent to concede to you without actually being able to beat them. Saying that your opponent didn’t specifically trigger an action on a card while they play that card so you can gain advantage. If you would indulge me again, I would recommend reading another article after this, Angle Shooting by Eric Moyer2 to give a better description than I have of angle shooting. Moyer does a great job of providing some examples of this type of play and his own idea of what is acceptable or not in the game.

The reason I brought this up is to give ourselves some time to introspect. There are times when we are all offered a moral quandary when we have played? Few of us have outright cheated but from my perspective there have been times where each of us has skimmed the line of fair play. How much distance is there between an outright cheater and a questionable play we ourselves have made?

In the end we have to ask, what does this game mean to us? Are we willing to let unscrupulous people into our midst just so we can be entertained or can we put in the hard work to ensure that the only people that we raise on a pedestal are the ones that belong there? Are we fine with letting our morals slip once in a while just so we can win a couple of matches?

I think that there are a lot of things to be said on this topic and I want to start a dialogue. Was there a play that you made that you didn’t feel great about? Have you been the victim of cheating? What do you think Wizard’s should do about repeat offenders? What do you think we as a community should do about this problem?

Let me know what you think.

1 Rosewater, Mark. “It’s a Long Story.” Making Magic https://magic.wizards.com/en/articles/archive/making-magic/it%E2%80%99s-long-story-2005-06-27

2 Moyer, Eric. “Angle Shooting.” Channel Fireball https://www.channelfireball.com/articles/angle-shooting/