CEDitor's Note - In light of the recent DCI suspensions and importance to the community, this article has been moved to Select for your enjoyment.
Don't cheat. It's not worth it.
Your reputation is your greatest asset. Whatever short-term gain you squeeze out by being dishonest isn't worth the risk. Respect doesn't come easy. Neither does trust. You earn respect and trust slowly and cheating will throw that all away in an instant.
Being a cheater isn't something that goes away over time. Once you're branded as a cheater, it's lifelong. Not to say people can't change their ways, but once the public eye views you as a cheat, that's the way you'll be perceived every time you walk into a Magic tournament. A ban may "only" last 2, 3, or 4 years but the impact is a lifetime.
Every cheater has their reason. In all cases the results are the same: the cheater is achieving a better result in the tournament and likely winning money that would otherwise be distributed to a more deserving player or group of players. Make no mistake: cheating is stealing.
Most commonly it's those who have something to prove. The biggest place to watch out for cheating is the final rounds of a PTQ or other medium-high levels of Magic that aren't quite the big stage. These are also rarely under camera so there isn't really permanent evidence of what takes place. PTQs are the most cutthroat environment in Magic and are the time when people will throw their morals aside and risk themselves to be on the coveted Pro Tour. These are things that have happened to me in PTQs:
- Trying to block with a tapped creature when I'm attacking for lethal.
- Filling out the result slip in their favor after they've lost.
- Grossly looking at the bottom card of my library during shuffles.
People cheat because they either have something to gain or something to prove. When the stakes are higher the urge gets higher as well. Temptation, however, is no excuse for cheating. Cheating is a crutch, and if you can't get the finish you like through clean play then you won't do well once you get to the next level, whether it be the Pro Tour or a StarCityGames Invitational. You're better off focusing your efforts at becoming a better Magic player.
Why do people cheat?
Money . The most obvious reason. There are huge prizes on the Grand Prix and Open Series circuit, and breaking the rules for extra hundreds or thousands of dollars is very tempting. The truth is that the money they gain as prize money is stolen from more deserving players. The bigger the prize, the bigger the appeal of cheating.
Social recognition . With fortune comes fame. Some people want their name out there as a good player or their picture on a top 8 profile. People just want to be known as a good player. Magic is hard and it takes a lot of practice, experience, and perhaps a touch of talent to win a big tournament. Good Magic players are looked up to, which is a good feeling. Some cheaters just to want to feel like they're a good player, when likely they aren't.
Because they like cheating. It's a challenge to them. Getting away with cheating is exciting. They go to sleep at night trying to figure out new and more elaborate ways to cheat. They repeat the conversation with a judge in their head over and over before it happens to make sure they get their story of "playing dumb" down to the word and tone. These players are likely actually good at Magic, as the cheats are often well thought out and have a touch of creativity to them. These are also the most dangerous and toxic players for Magic.
Some people just want to watch the world burn
How to Protect Yourself
Make sure your sleeves are clearly unmarked. You're likely playing in a tournament that means a lot, either monetarily or for an invite to a big tournament. The cost of fresh sleeves outweighs the chance that you could get a warning or worse a game loss for ratty sleeves. Don't be afraid to pile shuffle your opponent's deck to check the integrity of their sleeves as well.
Shuffle with the bottoms of the cards either facing downward or facing away from both you and your opponent. I tend to watch my opponent while I'm shuffling, thus making it clear that I'm not looking at the deck that I'm shuffling and watching my opponent for any shady action. If for any reason you catch your opponent looking at your bottom card, call a judge. It's extremely unlikely that they are doing it unintentionally and are likely doing it with malicious intent. Here's a good video on what to look for and how a player may use the information of the bottom card to manipulate your deck.
Keep notes. One of the biggest discrepancies that can come up in Magic is confusion over the life total. Especially in a world with fetchlands, painlands, and Mana Confluence, it can be easy for small life changes to be overlooked and to be lost track of. A good habit to get into is to keep track of how life changes are taking place. I like to mark a small reminder of what caused the change next to the number to keep track of everything in case a miscommunication arises. Here are some examples:
X or - for combat damage
SR for Siege Rhino
F or PD for fetching with Polluted Delta
P or BF for the pain damage from Battlefield Forge
LL for lifelink
Be clear about the gamestate. Make sure that your opponent draws six cards after a mulligan. Keep track of the number of cards in their hand from time to time to make sure no extra cards got there. Make sure that both players agree about what creatures are attacking (this can come up with vigilance). Other questions to ask can be what are the power and toughness of creatures like Tarmogoyf or when an effect like Sorin, Solemn Visitor is on-going.
After the match is done and you've won, make sure that your opponent is signing the match slip correctly. It's also proper procedure for the winner to take the match slip and deliver it. The loser of the match should not deliver the slip, as it only gives an opportunity to mark down a changed result.
Help Stop "Sloppy Play"
What is plausible deniability? From Wikipedia:
" It refers to lack of evidence proving an allegation. Standards of proof vary in civil and criminal cases. In civil cases, the standard of proof is "preponderance of the evidence" whereas in a criminal matter, the standard is "beyond a reasonable doubt." If an opponent lacks incontrovertible proof (evidence) of their allegation, one can plausibly deny the allegation even though it may be true."
Some people play sloppy from time to time, tapping for the wrong kind of mana or forgetting the boardstate. Sometimes that happens in a player's favor, sometimes not. When someone is making repeated sloppy mistakes in their favor is when alarms are raised. The only way for judges to keep track of who's playing continuously sloppy in their favor is to inform a judge when it occurs. It's all of our responsibility to alert the judges so they can keep track of repeated mistakes.
If you're a spectator and see someone playing "sloppy" by either not taking damage from a painland or them playing a spell that they don't have the appropriate mana for, you have the right to stop the match and call a judge. Often one player won't see a mistake that a spectator does and that mistake will go unaddressed, and worse, might even cost the victim the game. Too often do I overhear a conversation that involves statements like, "Hey man, you forgot to gain life from your lifelink creature," or "Hey, they totally didn't take one from their fetchland" after the game has completed.
Everyone is innocent until proven guilty. The only way to prove someone guilty is to keep the evidence coming. When the penalties for sloppy play are stricter and go from cautions to warnings to game losses people will clean up their play.
What to do if You Think You're Being Cheated
Call a judge immediately. Ask to talk to the judge away from the table. You may be nervous, but try to explain the situation and your suspicions as clearly as possible. If the judge doesn't grasp how you suspect you're being cheated, ask for the head judge to get involved. Don't worry, you'll get extra time in your round as appropriate. Even if the result isn't a disqualification, the issue will be on record and judges track the accumulation of infractions over time so your efforts will be worth it.
It's never the victim's fault. Don't be ashamed to call a judge. Cheaters will often be very nice people that are very charming and charismatic and want to put an impression on you that calling a judge will upset you. Don't worry, that's part of their game, and we have to be strong enough to overcome the fear of upsetting someone. Odds are they know what they're doing and the last thing they want to see is a judge being notified of their shady play. For every player that calls a judge for shady play, there are many, many more that are afraid to do so, letting the cheaters get away with what they're doing against more people and for longer.
Magic After #ShuffleGate
What doesn't kill Magic makes it stronger. This is undeniably a dark time for Magic. I've heard some people not wanting to play right now. The worst is when someone jokingly (or worse seriously) accuses another person of "putting on that cheater cut" when they are naturally getting unluckily flooded/screwed or having to mulligan.
You shouldn't have to request for the judge to shuffle your deck/opponent's deck. Nor should you have to request a judge to personally watch your match because your opponent is notorious for shady play. The only way to get Magic to a good, clean state is to reveal and oust cheaters at all opportunities. The image of Magic will make it through and will be better off afterwards.
Wizards of the Coast has to swallow its pride and credibility from time to time. It's not easy for WotC to ban someone with a high profile, someone who've they've spent time promoting and who've they've covered on multiple instances. Tomoharu Saito was banned right before he was inducted into the Hall of Fame. They swallowed their pride and I'm sure it doesn't look good to their organization to induct someone into the most prestigious of all of Magic's accomplishments when they've been outright tarnishing the name of the game the whole time. Nor was it easy for WotC to put the hammer down on the reigning Rookie of the Year. But WotC and the DCI do make the right decisions, and I expect them to continue to do so.
Take my advice: cheating has never been nor will it ever be worth it. The only way to get what you want out of Magic is to become a better player through good, clean Magic. Even if you get away with something, you'll stop pushing yourself to get better and rely on your cheats to get you your wins. It will catch up to you and not only will your skills degrade, but you will get caught. Once you do, your career in Magic will be over. Once your reputation is gone, it's gone forever. Do yourself a favor and don't cheat. And do the community a favor by doing your due-diligence by calling a judge whenever you suspect ill-willed actions.