How to not get cheated in MTG – Spread the Sickness by Grant Hislop

UB Mystical Teachings – A Pauper Video Article by Grant Hislop


For those of you not aware, there’s been some controversy regarding SCG Player of the Year, and Invitational Champion Alex Bertoncini, pertaining to some pretty savage cheating throughout the tournaments. These have ranged from possible mis-plays to the obviously intentional cheat. Video evidence exists of some of the cheats. Enjoy.

At around the 6:50 mark, following a warning in the same game for failing to put back cards from a [Card]Brainstorm[/Card]… The second [Card]Brainstorm[/Card] of the match resoves, and Alex seemingly draws 4 cards. Fortunately, on this occasion, he remembers to put cards back…

Around the 35:00 mark, you’ll see Alex misusing a [Card]Kira, Great Glass Spinner[/Card]. Alex’s Kira is bounced by Jace, which Kira should counter, then his opponent uses Cursed Scroll to kill it. Alex returns the Kira to his hand, and replays it on the following turn. His opponent uses the same sequence of plays the following turn on the Kira, and this time Alex puts it into the Graveyard. I wonder what made him realise what was happening this time around…

You’ll see Alex cast [Card]Explore[/Card] on turn 2, turn 3, and end his T3 with 6 lands in play. Um… When the cameraman asks him what turn it is, he replies with ‘Two Explores’, rather than directly answer the question, and be caught in the cheat.

These are just 3 examples of dubious plays. All are on camera! Can you imagine what this guy is like when the cameras aren’t on him? Frightening. There are examples of him pre-sideboarding in bad matchups, cards mysteriously finding their way from the Graveyard to hand and other such questionable activities, including asking warnings to be downgraded to cautions, and as such, not a mark on the record of the player, making multiple instances of similar warnings more difficult to track.

I know people have talked about how much better Magic is than it was in the Bad Old Days on the tour, where seemingly everyone was trying to cheat everyone else, and I think to an extent, that’s true. But it is important to realise that cheating still exists, and that there are people out there who are looking to take any possible advantage, gap in knowledge of the rules, or penalty procedures and use them to their advantage. As many judges say before tournaments ‘If you have questions, ask a Judge, your opponent doesn’t have your best interests in mind’.

As before, there are differences between misplays and cheating. Everyone’s been guilty of making mistakes, and this shouldn’t turn into a witch hunt. If someone makes a genuine mistake, it’s probably not in your best interests to push judges for Game//Match losses etc, unless you’re Matt Light :P

I’ll run you through some of the more ‘common‘ cheats that can be used, and hopefully you’ll be better informed, and know what to look for in the future.

Life Total Discrepancy Cheats.

One of the biggest cheats in the casual spectrum. This should be obvious, intentionally either ‘forget‘ to reduce your life total, or to move it in the opposite direction.

There is a reason that you are required to track both your own and your opponent’s life total in high level events. Even in the case where you are tracking both, you can run into discrepancies. I myself was cheated by a Frenchman (Obv) at GP Paris a couple years ago in this fashion.  Playing for Day 2, in the final round of the day, I’d engineered a race where I would win assuming I resolved a kicked [Card]Bold Defence[/Card] on the final turn.

I did so, and my opponent continued looking at his cards. I asked ‘Game 3‘, at which point he called a judge (Also French). They spoke for a while, and the judge said to me ‘Do you know what we’ve been saying’, I replied in the negative. We ran through what had happened on each turn, but my opponent disputed one of my attacks. The judge ruled in his favour, and the Head Judge upheld his ruling. They wouldn’t accept my assertions that the manner in which I had played for the last 4 turns would have made no sense unless my opponent was on the life total I knew him to be.

I was furious. Life tilt happens to us all, and is especially likely when you’ve just been cheated out of day 2 of a GP.

Mana Cost Cheats.

Relatively innocuous, this happens when someone tries to play spells that they can’t. Whether this is only tapping 5 for a Titan, or only having a single white mana, but still trying to [Card]Day of Judgment[/Card].

It’s obviously really important to pay attention to what both you AND your opponent are doing. When they stack all lands on top of one another, and tap the whole stack, take a second to look at quantity and type of mana produced. 99% of the time, it’ll be fine, but there’s no excuse to lose games to this type of cheat.

[Card]Vampiric Tutor[/Card] Cheats.

Should be obvious. This is where your opponent shuffles a particular card to the top of their deck. This is why we cut our opponents deck. Always.

Always cut in a different way too.

I’m not advocating this, but if my opponent always cuts in the same fashion, I could theoretically increase my chances of drawing the card I want by engineering it that it’s around the place where my opponent will cut to. There are Blackjack players who can track multiple cards throughout a game, following one (of up to four) cards out of a 60 card deck should be simple by comparison.

Marked Sleeve//Card Cheats.

This is the idea that certain cards will look different in sleeves to the rest of the deck. Whether this is through more worn sleeves for certain cards to foil cards or particular cards being double sleeved to increase the weight of them.

This is why you’re not allowed to play foil lands with normal spells or vice versa. Foils can warp, and can be more easily identified in a sleeve. If you’re playing foils, look after them. Re-bend them flat after each round, and mix them up. Don’t have your only foils being your promo [Card]Cryptic Commands[/Card], or you’re likely to get in trouble.

I’ve heard stories of multiple people from GB Nationals who’ve had to drop from the tournament due to judges deeming their foils were marked.

When looking for this cheat, just try and keep track of what your opponent is playing that’s foil, and have a good look at his sleeves. Usually when cutting, I’ll pile shuffle my opponents deck, which allows me to have a good look at his sleeves. Again 99% of the time, any wear and tear on the sleeves is innocent, but again, remain vigilant.

Lack of Randomisation Cheats.

It’s statistically impossible to fully randomise a deck. The task is to create a reasonably randomised deck to play with.

It’s important to understand the difference between uniformity and randomisation. If my deck is truly in random order, I could statistically draw all my lands in order, followed by all my spells. If my deck is uniform, I’ll typically draw 1.5 spells to each land I draw. Obviously, this doesn’t happen (or very often, anyway).

This is where things like mana weaving come in. Mana weaving is stacking your deck land, spell, spell, land, spell, land, spell, spell etc. Typically opponents who do this will attempt to do this, offer a couple of overhand shuffles, then present. The overhand shuffles haven’t broken the pattern, so your opponent will be drawing a mix of lands and spells.

If your opponent does this, call a judge immediately, before you cut, and tell him/her that your opponent mana weaved (wove?), and you’d like him/her to check. Ideally the judge will be experience enough to know what to look for, and you’ll get a free match win.

Slow Play Cheats.

Slow play is cheating, but some people don’t understand this. My opponent and I are both expected to complete 2-3 games of Magic in the allotted time period. If I, or my opponent plays slowly, we can lose the opportunity to do so. Assuming 50 minute rounds, I’m entitled to around 25 minutes of priority. Things change depending on the matchup, shuffling etc, but all things considered, I should expect under half an hour of priority.

The best way to handle this is to call a judge, and to do so early. If your opponent is just a slow player, it’s more likely the judge will be able to do something the earlier you call him. At a recent PTQ, I was playing UB Control, and found myself playing someone with a mono-green deck. He played slowly throughout the game, spending time holding his deck rather than shuffling, cast Kozilek’s Predator off 6 mana, spent 45 seconds finding the appropriate tokens from his deck box, then immediately sacrificed the tokens, putting them away in the deck box, to cast a second Predator, repeating the 45 seconds to find the appropriate tokens. I asked him to speed up, and he replied ‘I’m entitled to play at the pace I want’.

This is obviously nonsense. This series of plays put me on life tilt, big time. I called a judge, asked him to watch for slow play, but things didn’t especially improve. He was still holding his deck, rather than shuffling it, and seemed to me to be playing for the draw (I’d mulled to 4 in game 1) rather than let the game take its natural course. Given that the judge seemed unwilling to do anything, or see anything untoward, I was left with no choice rather than to rush my turns, to try and get the win. I knew UB pretty well, and the point in the game we were in, I was content to sit behind a Wurmcoil Engine, and just kill him with Creeping Tar Pits. I estimate I took around 10 seconds per turn at this stage, but each step, he would think for a bit, spend ages untapping, and other nonsense. Fortunately, he was unable to stall sufficiently, and I killed him on turn 5 of extra turns.

Afterwards, he accused me of rushing him, to which I replied ‘I wanted to finish the match, and not get cheated out of a win by you deliberately stalling me’. He again retorted that he was entitled to play at his own pace. What a joke. Life tilt again.

One other point to really hammer home is to USE THE JUDGES BETTER. These guys and girls have studied the rule books extensively, and know what they’re talking about. Use them. They’re not just there to hand out game losses, they’re a resource. Use it, and don’t be afraid to call a judge if you think your opponent has done something shady. They will have heard of these cheats, even if they’ve never seen them first hand, and they should know what to look for.

Stay classy, and don’t get cheated.



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