Good Game: Beware the Dark Side

Good Game: Beware of the Dark Side
by Andrew Hanson

As cool as he seems, you don't want to be that guy.
Recently, MTGSalvation's Ari Lax put up an article on "mind tricks," the gray area of Magic where you can get an advantage by bluffing an opponent, putting them on tilt so they make bad plays, and catching unintentional glimpses of their deck. You know, the kind of tricks that the truly competitive will embrace, but the more casual abhor. That article garnered more comments in less than 24 hours than I have ever seen on any article.

Many of those comments, though, condemned the use of these tactics and incorrectly called them cheating. And then some people shared their mind trick stories which were actually instances of cheating, not sneaky playing. So where does the line lie? When are you using a Jedi mind trick, and when are you using Sith cheats? That's what we'll be looking into today, in this unusual installment of Good Game.

Really, the majority of the confusion results in not fully understanding the Communication Guidelines set forth in the Magic Infraction Procedure Guide (formerly the Penalty Guide), so I would like to start there. Specifically, I'd like to talk about the different kinds of information that are involved in a game of Magic. You see, all information about a game in Magic can be divided into three different categories: free information, derived information, and private information.

Free Information

Free information, taken right out of the Penalty Guide, "is so called because all players are entitled to this information without contamination or omissions made by his or her opponent." In short, that means if you ask an opponent for a piece of free information, they have to tell you the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. So what is considered free information?

1) "Details of current game actions and past game actions that still affect the game state." Basically, this just means, "what the player did." What did he declare as attackers? Did he tap land for mana? Did he cast a Giant Growth on that Grizzly Bear? But remember, if it happened in the past, it has to affect the current game state. For example, your opponent cast Giant Growth and you ask if they cast it on the Grizzly Bear or the Craw Wurm. Since it would have an affect on the game state (the size of the creature), they have to answer. But, if you asked what creature they pumped with Giant Growth eight turns ago, well, that has no bearing on the game state and they don't have to answer.

2) "The name of any object in a public zone." Mostly, this is important when dealing with cards in a foreign language, or if you're illiterate (kudos on managing to be able to play Magic, by the way), otherwise you could just look at the card. And, in case you're unsure, a public zone is either the in-play (soon to be know as the battlefield) zone, the graveyard, the removed-from-game zone (as long as it's removed from the game face-up; also, soon to be exiled), the stack, and the ante zone—don't worry if you don't know this one, it's use died out long ago (rightfully so), but since there are still cards that reference ante, the rules still support it.

Ready to go from the graveyard.
3) "The physical status (tapped/flipped) and current zone of any object." Is that creature tapped or untapped? Is that Hellspark Elemental in the graveyard or removed-from-game zone? If these seem obvious, it's because they are. But the game has to define this stuff as freely accessible, otherwise you'd never even know what I had in play, much less whether it could block or tap for mana or whatnot. Imagine playing a game of Magic where you couldn't see your opponent's cards...

4) "Player life totals and game score of the current match." This one shouldn't need any extra explaining other than the game score of the current match is referring to tournaments, where matches are determined by the first player to win two games.

These are the kinds of questions your opponent cannot avoid answering. "Is that Hellspark Elemental in the graveyard or removed-from-game zone?" cannot be answered with "Well, it's not in play." The last thing about free information, though, is that if you are "unable or unwilling to provide free information, call a judge and explain." Sometimes, you might feel that telling your opponent some bit of free information could give something else away, something you don't have to tell them about. If you're worried about it, call for a judge. Judges are always your friend.

Derived Information

This type of information is available to all players, but it might take some figuring out to determine, and it is therefore not the responsibility of a player to assist his or her opponent with derived information. Examples are

1) "The number of objects in any game zone." How many creatures does your opponent have in play? How many cards in the graveyard? How many cards in their library? Keep in mind, what this says is that they don't have to assist you in determining the answers, but you still get to know. How many creatures are in play? They don't have to answer you, but they can't stop you from counting. Same with their graveyard, library, hand, etc. Because you will eventually find out, most opponents will just tell you.

How big is he? Figure it out!
2) "All objects in public zones and any of their characteristics that are not defined as free information." How big is that Tarmogoyf? I don't have to tell you, but I can't stop you from figuring it out. Again, unless an opponent thinks you will screw this up, they'll usually just tell you this stuff to save time.

3) "Game Rules, Tournament Policy, Oracle content and any other official information pertaining to the current event. Cards are considered to have their Oracle text printed on them." The reason all this is considered derived information and not free information is that, as tournament officials, we don't want players to have to be able to answer this stuff completely and honestly. Can the average player field all rules questions? Of course not. When you have questions on this, call a judge. The other side of this, though, happens when someone asks you what your card does. You can't lie, but you don't have to tell them everything. For example:

Player A: "I Magma Spray your Kitchen Finks."
Player B: "What does Magma Spray do?"
Player A: "It does 2 damage to a creature."
Player B: "Okay, it's good."
Player A: "Remove your Finks from the game, then."
Player B: "What..."

As a player, it is your responsibility to know exactly what your opponent's cards do, and if you don't know and can't just read the card, then call a judge. They will be happy to provide you with a card's oracle text.

Now, as mentioned above, most players will simply assist their opponent's with this kind of information. They get to know anyway, so why waste time? How many cards are in your hand? Most players simply answer, because the opponent gets to know. But you don't have to tell them the answer. Why? Because part of the skill of this game is being able to determine the outcome from the card interactions, and if your opponent miscalculates how big your creatures are, that's their fault.

But, keep in mind that derived information, like free information, cannot be "incorrectly, improperly, or falsely" represented by you. If your opponent asks, "How big is that Grizzly Bear?" you don't have to answer. If they ask, "Is that Grizzly Bear a 2/2?" when in actuality it's a 3/3 because you have a Glorious Anthem in play, you cannot say "Yes." You can still not answer, but chances are good that your silence will be telling.

Last thing about derived information, and this one is important: at Regular REL events, like FNM, Prereleases, and Release events, all derived information is considered free information. So that newbie who's still getting the hang of things and only plays at FNM? Yeah, you can't really hide the size of your creatures from him. Or how many you have. But that's the point of those events, right? They're supposed to be fun, near-casual things where judges are there to teach as much as anything else.

Private Information

The last bit of information is what we call private information. This is called thusly because "players have access to this information only if they are able to determine it from the current visual game state or their own record of previous game actions." For example, you can see your hand, so you know whats in it. But your opponent can't see your hand, so he's not entitled to that kind of information. Neither of you can see what's on the top of your deck (Future Sight not withstanding), so neither of you are privy to that information. Also, anything that's not considered free or derived information is considered private information.

Here's the thing about private information: you know that rule about not misrepresenting derived or free info? That doesn't apply to private information. You can lie about it all day. "Oh yeah, I'm holding Cryptic Command." "No, I would never run Flame Javelin in this deck." The half-truth bluffs where you tell the truth, just not the whole truth, usually revolve around derived information, where you don't have to tell your opponent anything, but what you do tell them can't be a lie. The full-on bluffs revolve around private information, where you can say just about anything.

Of course, you have to tell a judge anything and everything about any kind of information if he asks you. No lying to them. Ever. If you don't want to answer a question in front of your opponent, though, as you don't want to tip him off to something he doesn't know, you can request to answer away from the table.

And, finally, perhaps the most important rule about information: intentionally violating any of these rules governing information will result in a Cheating-Fraud penalty.

Drawing the Line

Whew. With that done and out of the way, let's take a look at specifics in Ari's article and some of the methods he described, and identify where we find the line between Jedi mind trick and evil Sith cheats.

If you make it happen, you're cheating.
First, on "Take Free Info Where Possible." He mentions sneaking a peek at your opponent's deck while shuffling. If an opponent happens to reveal a card (this happens most often during a riffle shuffle), and you notice, there's nothing wrong with that. Even just keeping an eye on your opponent's deck while he shuffles isn't against the rules. How else could a player be expected to catch a cheater trying to stack a deck?

However, if your opponent is going out of his way to make sure you don't see his cards, a couple of things crop up. First, his entire deck must be visible at all times. If an opponent puts his library under the table so you can't see it, that's illegal. Why? Because they could just be stacking their deck, and since you can't see it, you wouldn't know.

Now, as Ari mentioned, if they hold their cards far out to the side while shuffling so no one can see them, kudos to them. If you, however, still try to sneak a peek by craning your neck or some such foolishness, you may be jacked by the Cheating-Hidden Information Violation. That clause that goes "as long as he or she does not go to excessive lengths to take advantage of this," is left a little vague on purpose. It's the judge's discretion that determines what lengths you went to, and there is no safe line we can draw here.

Of course, that might make it seem like the line between extra edge and cheating isn't defined, but really, you can still get plenty of info while playing it far on the safe side of this gray area. Shuffle your library, watch your opponent shuffle his. Leave the revealing up to him. If you have to do anything other than keep your eyes open to notice a card, you run the risk of a cheating infraction.

The same thing goes for the content of their hands. If they happen to flash a card in your direction, there's nothing wrong with taking that information. There's also nothing wrong with keeping your eyes peeled for such accidental information leaks. But, if you're doing anything other than keeping your eyes open, chances are good that you're bad.

So how does this work with the glasses thing? Well, Ari pretty much nailed it in his article. If the tilt of their hand and their head gives you a decent reflection, that's not your fault. If you do anything to try to prompt a reflection on their glasses that isn't there, though, you've crossed the line.

So what about staring into their glasses, waiting for them to tilt the right way to give you a peek? Well, you're staring into their face. Does that sound like going to an excessive length to you? If not, well, chances are still good that it will to a judge, and you'd still get the DQ. So where's the safest line? Simple, don't stare. Some judges might not nail you for it, but I promise that they are the exception, not the rule. In short, if you catch a reflection unintentionally, lucky you. If you actively try to catch a reflection, bad monkey.

You can't got this far, though...
On to "Witty Banter." There is nothing wrong with talking to an opponent, especially if they haven't asked you to stop, and as long as you are not trash talking them excessively. In Ari's article, he mentions asking how they've been doing, how their matchups have been. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this. Against the more serious players, they won't answer, or they'll answer vaguely enough that you won't be able to glean anything. Against the more casual players, they'll spill their guts to you and then think you're really cool because you actually talked to them like a civilized person. There's nothing wrong with gaining a small edge because you had a friendly chat with your opponent.

Now, "Promoting Punts." Lets begin with the mulling strategies. Fist pumping when your opponent mulls? Not very sporting, but certainly doesn't fall under Unsporting Conduct. Though some might try to liken it to "taunts his opponent for making a bad play," two things should be considered. First, a mulligan is not a bad play. Second, a fist pump is not a taunt. It is a sign of happiness. You are happy your opponent has to mull. Of course, your opponent isn't happy about mulling, and may resent your happiness, but that's not your concern. Unless you get excessive about it.

A quiet, simple pump is nothing. Hooting and hollering while pumping your fists is disruptive. So is getting up to run a victory lap. Both of these are easily an "action taken by an individual that is disruptive to the tournament or its participants," (Unsporting Conduct-Minor) and a victory lap is even leaving your seat without permission, meaning you could hit with a Tournament Error-Slow Play penalty. So where's the line?

Simple: are you disrupting the tournament? If yes, then you've ventured into the realm of penalties. If no, then you're fine. If the person two chairs down from you doesn't notice your victory pump, you're fine. If the whole room notices you celebrating, you're being disruptive. You wouldn't want to have your thought process interrupted by someone celebrating in a different match, right? Don't disrupt them.

As for trying to sidetrack an opponent in the hopes that they'll draw an extra card, this is the same as Witty Banter. There is nothing illegal, or even unsporting, about engaging your opponent in friendly conversation. Of course, if they ask you to stop and you don't, things can get dicey. You're straying into that area of being disruptive to the tournament or its participants.

Not pointing out your opponent's missed optional ("may") triggers is also fine. You are under no obligation to remind your opponent about these. Even trying to make things complex so that they miss their triggers is fine. But making things complex is not the same as obscuring the game state. In the context of combat, for example, you can't constantly rearrange your blocks, then start pulling creatures back so it seems like they're not blocking, then say you finished declaring blockers, leaving your opponent totally befuddled by what you did. What creatures blocked whom is free information. Remember, you can't contaminate or omit anything here.

And when it comes to reminding them about the little triggers so that they are careless with the big ones, there's nothing wrong with that either. Any time you remind your opponent about an optional trigger, you're giving them freebie. You are under no obligations to give your opponents any freebies, and you are fully within your right to pick and choose the freebies you do give them.

You'd better remind me about this.
Remember what Ari said about mandatory triggers, though. Not reminding your opponent about these when you notice it is Cheating-Fraud. For example, they forget to make a token with Bitterblossom, so you don't say anything. That's not an optional trigger—they have to make a token. By letting it slide, you are committing Fraud, and if it's discovered, you will be DQed. The same goes for an opponent missing anything mandatory, such as replacement effects, or the effects of cards.

Here's two examples, just so we are perfectly clear on what is not legal for you to let slide. First, player A has a Boon Reflection in play, and gains life, but forgets to double it. If you notice this, but don't say anything, you are committing Fraud. Boon Reflection's replacement effect is not optional. Second, a player cycles a Resounding Thunder, but forgets to draw a card. Again, if you notice but keep your mouth shut, you are a cheater. Drawing a card for cycling is not optional.

Now, you might be thinking something along the lines of "Why do I have to remind my opponent to do beneficial things? I have to play the game for them?" Of course you don't. In fact, if we were to go strictly by the letter of the rules, you shouldn't even remind them and move on. You should call a judge. You're right: it is not your responsibility to make your opponent's beneficial plays for them. If they are forgetting them, call a judge right away. The judge will have them do the right thing, and then tell them not to forget in the future. Also, the opponent will be given a Warning for Game Play Error-Game Rule Violation. Further offenses on their part could lead to upgraded penalties.

Of course, you have to call the judge right away. If you wait until an advantageous time to call a judge about an opponent's Game Rule Violation, you've just committed Fraud. That warning they will receive will pale in comparison to your DQ.

As for giving your opponent advice, even bad advice, there's nothing against it—again, as long as they haven't asked you to stop. If they have, and you haven't, then you are harassing your opponent. Harassing an opponent easily gets you an Unsporting Conduct-Minor penalty, and those penalties upgrade, even if the cause of the penalties differ. So if you ran a victory lap around a table and got an Unsporting Conduct-Minor, then later harassed your opponent mercilessly and got another, chances are good the second one is getting upgraded to a game loss.

Windmill-slamming cards, the "hasta la vista, baby" comment, and even bragging about having a superior board are all under this same area—you can do them, until you get excessive about it or you are asked to stop. If you keep pushing it after that, you run the risk of penalties. If a judge asked you to stop, there's no risk of penalties; they are assured, and it'll be a game loss for Unsporting Conduct-Major (specifically, Failure to Follow a Direct Instruction from a Tournament Official).

The last thing I want to talk about is the Patrick Chapin play. That play alone sparked the most debate in the forums. Here's a quote from the original source of the play:

Originally Posted by ThePChapin
I would have liked to talk about this story in my article, but basically it is along these lines-

I have Chameleon Colossus, Cloudthresher, and two Wilt-Leaf Liege, as well as 8 land. My only card is Thoughtseize. I have 10 life.

My opponent has been playing off the top and has a Siege Gang, 4 Goblin tokens, an Elspeth, an Elspeth token, two Stillmoon Cavaliers, 2 untapped mana, and 17 life.

What is the play?

I drew the Profane Command and immediately showed it to him very happily, hoping to draw the concession. He does nothing.

I say, It is a Profane Command. You are at 17, right?

He says yes, but what are you going to do with it?

So, I think and have to decide in a split second whether to kill Siege Gang and be likely doomed in time or try a bid at the win somehow.

I tap all 8 land and say, "Profane Command, you lose 6 life and all of my legal targets gain fear ." [The emphasis is mine, not Chapin's.]

Then I think he asks me something to the effect of, do you attack with everything?

Then I turn all of my creatures sideways and attack with the team.

He does not block with anything but the two stillmoons, and is dead as a result. I immediately tell him afterwards, both for his personal use in future situations and to avoid any confusion with random people watching the feature match pointing out that he could have blocked [the Chameleon Colossus] afterwards.

I believe that in every aspect that turn was legal and I took great care to in NO way indicate that Colossus had fear, as I did not point to it, I did not say all of my guys have fear, I did not say the team gets fear, etc. Also, he did not ask me any questions regarding any of my creatures after I played the Profane Command, beyond "So this is a 6/6? and this is a 9/9?"

You've got a little wiggle room. Just be clear.
A lot of people have accused him of playing dirty here, and of cheating. As for playing dirty, that's up to the individual to decide. But in no way was this play illegal, and therefor not cheating. There were agruments in the forums that when he said "all of my legal targets," it was vague and he could have been targeting his opponent's creatures, as they were legal targets of his Profane Command. But the important thing, from a judge's standpoint, is that it was clear to Chapin and to his opponent that the possessive was referring to creatures that Chapin controlled. There was no confusion in the match on this aspect of the scenario.

To an alert person, it is also clear that the Colossus does not gain fear, as it is not a legal target of Profane Command. Of course, by wording it that way, Chapin did not draw attention to the fact that the Colossus didn't get fear. He was, in short, being sneaky.

Which brings us to why this sparked so much controversy: what Chapin targeted with Profane Command is free information. He cannot omit or contaminate what anything about what he's doing with that Command. But look at what Chapin said: "all my legal targets gain fear." He did not omit, or even contaminate, anything. He simply stated what he was targeting to give fear: all his creatures that he could legally target with Profane Command. If the opponent asked what specific creatures Chapin targeted, he'd be forced to list them off, and it'd be very clear that the Colossus wasn't targeted.

Simply put: Chapin did not lie, omit information, or contaminate information, and thus committed no infractions.

I hope this gives people some perspective on what is, and is not, allowed in a game of Magic. At the higher level events, should you feel the need to play cutthroat, hopefully you'll know enough now so that you don't accidentally stray into the region of cheating, where judges lay the smack-down on you. And, of course, if someone is trying to pull one these maneuvers on you, now you know how far they can go, and some of your recourses against it (essentially, call "Judge!" and raise your hand).


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