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Circle of Protection: Cheaters

On any given day you can log onto the Interwebs and read some awesome insight regarding the different formats. This knowledge equips us for a better understanding of what we are up against. It gives us that extra edge we need to win the event and move on, or simply reap the awesome prize support. It is what it is. But another facet of the game is understanding not just the cards in front of you, but the behaviors of the players around you. Cheating is not a happy subject, but it's one that you should have the best understanding of to protect yourself and others from becoming a victim. 

Five years ago I walked in on my girlfriend cheating on me with another girl. She was shocked, frightened, and quite frankly, just didn’t know how to respond. Our relationship had been a lie: She was cheating. You see similar reactions through who we thought was Magic’s best current players as they are being exposed through different forms of coverage. In the past month, 3 major names in the Magic community have been exposed for cheating. Alex Bertoncini (again), Trevor Humphries and most recently, rookie of the year (title revoked) Jared Boettcher. Their Facebook statuses erupt, their Tweets stop making sense, their feature matches go viral on Youtube (complimented by Reddit insights), and then the cheaters have the audacity to become defensive. The final confirmation is their utter silence while the world continues to speculate on their ill decision-making. Technology has come a long way. Whether it’s the social media and “dojo keyboard cagefighting” as Trevor Humphries called it, or the beauty of Feature Cam coverage catching them red-handed, we have come a long way in terms of exposing those who try to cheat the system. Cheaters on the other hand are still morally bad players and that is ultimately a reflection of their integrity.

It raises several mixed feelings and questions that we aren’t really 100% sure on how to approach or answer. So, let me provide some perspective.

How frequent does cheating occur?

At Friday Night Magic and other casual nights, the amount of cheating would vary quite a bit based on the venue. That’s not to say that the venue itself should be branded as a home for cheaters, but rather we need to look at what kind of staff are moderating the event, and what kind of steps are they taking to ensure the integrity of the game? Certain variables need to be taken into account, but we can minimize the cheating by being proactive and having a judge that is actively watching the scene. Of course, if there’s a cheater in the midst, it doesn’t really matter what the environment is – they’re inevitably going to cheat regardless of the environment and risk. After all, we’ve caught three big name cheaters on the Feature Camera. Still, in a casual environment especially, cheating can happen on a smaller scale which maybe roots as an accident but grows into a habit, ie. (Drawing too many cards and not acknowledging it.) Address the behavior before it grows into something more serious. Accidents happen and that doesn’t make it cheating necessarily – even if you receive a game loss for it. It’s when you don’t acknowledge the accident and pretend like it never happened that turns it into cheating.

Note: Misunderstanding the rules or protocol does not making it cheating, but it should still be handled in a way that is fitting and immediate.

One example of an accident that turns into cheating is when a player mulligans to 6, and then accidentally draws 7, but doesn’t a call judge on themselves and the opponent doesn’t notice. It’s still cheating. Let’s be clear here, while there are different levels of punishment for different kinds of cheating, there is no such thing as “different levels of cheating”. By that I mean cheating is cheating, and whether it’s drawing one too many cards and not calling a judge on yourself, or stacking your opponent’s deck, they are both acts of cheating, and it is a reflection of bad integrity if you consciously make those kinds of decisions. That cannot be tolerated.

At events like Opens, Grand Prixs and PTQ’s, cheating as we have witnessed in recent reports is not uncommon. For a lot of players, Opens and PTQ’s are breakout opportunities to be playing on the pro level. Channel Fireball provided some a good insight during one of their Magic TV show episodes: Given the size of the tournament and the cost to enter, a lot of players are more likely to not call a judge on themselves if something like drawing a sideboard card by accident occurs after forgetting to take it out from the previous round.

It is important that when accidents happen, and then we notice it, that we address it right away. For instance, during GP Orlando I played a face-down card for its Morph cost. I passed turn, and when I went to glance at my morph card to see the cost to turn it face up, I realized it wasn’t a morph card. I had accidentally put another creature down with the same color - a simple error for lack of paying attention to new and unfamiliar cards. I immediately paused the game and called the judge. The judge reversed the game state, had me put the correct card down, and then we fast forwarded to the point of the present. I received a game warning and a time extension. Had I not called a judge on myself, and let that card stay face down throughout the game, the judge’s ruling may have been far more severe.

On the other hand at even bigger events like the Pro Tour, even though there is a lot more money on the line, I would theorize that cheating is less likely. Players at the Pro tour are already at a higher level, and wouldn’t want to jeopardize that reputation. That’s not to say you shouldn’t be conscious of your surroundings at the Pro Tour; you should most definitely take proper precautions to protect yourself as well as the other players at the event from being cheated.

“This really upsets me. How many times was I cheated in a tournament by playing in the same event as one of these guys?”

That’s a great question, but one where the answer won’t provide you any satisfaction. While it makes perfect sense to be upset for potentially being cheated out of a better finish, there's no way to replay the event. Wizards, StarCityGames, and other big name companies that are connected with the cheating players are doing their best to handle and acknowledge the situation. But at this point, the “game state is beyond repair, and we cannot undo the damage that has been done.

What are Wizards of the Coast and StarCityGames going to do about it?

Let’s begin by clarifying that WotC, TCGPlayer, SCG, etc. are all completely separate entities. Wizards of the Coast is the actual company that sanctions Magic; TCGPlayer, StarCityGames, or even your local LGS are businesses that hosts the events. However, WotC does do its own investigation into the matter. That said, if a player is convicted of cheating after a DCI investigation, there is suspension/ban from sanctioned events at their discretion. In addition, any other business which offers titles or standings may also strip away titles, points, and if it has not been distributed yet, prize money. In the event that the prize money hasn’t been given out yet, businesses like StarCityGames will donate the money to charity.

How can I prevent myself from becoming a victim?

When I first started playing competitive Magic, there were several matches where I would lose based on the fact that my opponents didn’t understand the rules, and I took what they said as correct. In some instances looking back, I don’t think they were cheating, but others were questionable.

A good example of this was at an IQ. My opponent had several tokens generated from Elspeth amongst several other non-token creatures. He attacked and I declared my blocks. In several instances throughout the game I had to stop and ask him how many of his tokens were attacking because it’s not like you could tap dice. When I asked him if he had token cards, he said no. I didn’t fret about it, not thinking it would be that big of a deal. But then I lost that game after I misunderstood how many of his creature tokens were actually attacking. I expressed to him, “I wish you would have been more vocal about attacking with your tokens.” His reply was, “I was, I even picked up the dice to distinguish they were attacking. You probably just overlooked it in the midst of your thought process.” Valid point, maybe I did and regardless, the fact that I made that remark was just me being upset at myself for not paying closer attention. After that match, I was out of the running for Top 8. I hung my head low, and re-told the story to my friends. A judge overheard me and said, “You should have called a judge.”  He went on to refer to a ruling that stated “Players using markers to represent in-game components (e.g. permanents) must have a way of clearly representing any in-game status, such as whether a permanent is tapped.”

Had the judge not overheard me, that player probably would not have been confronted and informed that he needed to use something more distinguishable than dice. Chances are, I’m not the only player who would have misunderstood the calculation of attackers because the dice wasn’t distinguished. Had I called a judge, maybe the game would have been different. I can’t blame my opponent as much as I can blame myself in that incident.

Ultimately, calling a judge is as much of a responsibility as it is a privilege. People often have this misconception that they’re the bad guy if they call the judge. The reality of the matter is if you don’t call a judge on something you’re confused or suspicious about, you’re the unintentional bad guy. First off, it’s important that you have a judge confirm all of your questions just so that you have an official answer and you’re more equipped moving forward. Secondly, if something is told to you incorrectly, and you take the knowledge as it is to your next match, you could very well turn into the perpetrator when the next person calls a judge on you. Sorry but “Well, my opponent at my last match told me…” isn’t a real excuse, and you will be punished accordingly. Most importantly, by calling a judge you are not only protecting yourself, you’re protecting everyone else at the event while setting the example on why it is important to call a judge in the first place. I can’t stress that enough.

How often does cheating actually happen and we don’t hear about it?

Such a broad question. Players are disqualified for both cheating and excessive game warnings all the time, but by no means should they really be put in the same category. So it’s not fair to estimate. I wouldn’t worry about “how often it occurs” because that’s just going to make it difficult to enjoy the game in its purity. You should just be very conscious of everything that’s happening in front of you, and never take a mistake or question for granted.


Cheating is bad. I know, it seems like such an elementary idea to grasp a hold of. The community has done a wonderful job making an example out of the recent trio of cheaters. I believe moving forward after these recent reportings, players will be more conscious of the things going on around and in front of them. We can also hope that the effective push in campaign to expose those cheating (follow Frank Lepore and Todd Anderson for instance), will make potential cheaters less likely to make poor decisions.

If you suspect someone of cheating, it is your responsibility to take action. If you have any information, or evidence concerning someone who is cheating at events, please contact your Tournament Organizer and/or utilize to ensure the integrity of the game.

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