Including A Blind Magic: The Gathering Player – Your Questions Answered, by Imogen Tilley
Early last week I posted this post on the Magic subReddit about how I included Richard, a blind player who comes to our FNMs, in the Magic Origins Pre-Releases at the Juicafe in Lancaster where I run events. Having previously asked Reddit for ideas on how a blind player could be included in pre-releases I submitted the post to show other organisers how we’d done it in the hopes that it would give them ideas on how to include visually impaired players in their area.
The post took off and before I knew it far more people than I ever imagined would be interested, had seen it. It made not only the front page of Reddit but also Imgur and was soon picked up by other websites who spread it on Facebook and Twitter.
While on Reddit I was able to keep up with most of the questions by the time it had spread to the wider internet I couldn’t keep up with the sea of not only questions but also presumptions and allegations about the legality of the way Richard plays. Manaleak.com were kind enough to approach me to see if I wanted to write a follow up article and I jumped at the opportunity to answer everyone’s questions. I hope this clears up the questions people have had and continues to inspire people to make Magic in their area a game for everyone.
“This is great and all but he couldn’t play like that at Competitive REL”
Actually Richard can play at Competitive REL using his braille sleeves. The way he plays has been tailored to comply with the Magic Tournament Rules and to prevent him from being at any advantage or disadvantage. Richard was cleared to play at Grand Prix London this year after talks with the Head Judge, TO and David Lyford-Smith the lead of the Player Experience Sphere, a project working to improve magic tournaments for all players. Sadly Richard ended up not able to go the the Grand Prix as it clashed with a family holiday but he’s looking forward to going to his first Grand Prix in 2016.
“But aren’t his cards marked?”
The backs of Richards sleeves are indeed covered in a pattern of little dips (backwards inverted braille) as the whole sleeve has to go through the brailler. This means that yes his sleeves are marked, however he cannot see them and so it doesn’t give him any advantage, the even coverage of braille also means that his deck shuffles evenly and doesn’t cut to any particular cards more than others.
“He can feel the top card of his deck and know what it is though!”
The little dips on the back of his cards are very difficult to feel and also the words written backwards so even if Richard could read the inverted braille it would take him a long time to work out what it said and be very obvious to an opponent.
“Well he can still feel the bottom card while shuffling and stack his deck!”
It’s no easier for Richard to work out the bottom card of his deck that for a sighted person, to read the bottom card of his deck he’d have to shuffle in a very specific way that would make it really obvious what he was trying to do. Also at Competitive REL he would never be the last person to touch his deck as the opponent always gets the opportunity to shuffle it.
“Can’t his opponent tell what’s in his hand if the back of his sleeves are marked?”
I’ve been playing magic with Richard for almost two years now and I still have no idea how to even go about trying to work out what cards he’s holding based on the back of his sleeves. For one thing the dips aren’t very obvious and you can’t always seem them (as is the case in the pictures I included in the article where his hand or the top of his deck is visible but not the dips), for another all his cards have the same amount of typing on so you can’t tell the difference between wordy cards and simple cards. It is plausible that someone could learn to read backwards inverted braille and work out all the abbreviations Richard uses but it certainly wouldn’t be easy and it would probably become quite obvious and easily picked up by a judge if someone was attempting to get a good look at the back of his sleeves.
“If he relies on his opponent to tell him what they’re doing, can’t they just lie?”
They could lie, yes, and that’s a big part of the reason that Richard is playing at a huge disadvantage to the average player. At FNM and Pre-Releases I rely on the good will and honesty of the other players at my events to not take advantage of Richard and it’s something I am careful to look out for. In order to help this not be an issue Richard asks a lot of specific questions while he plays.
Under the Magic Tournament Rules players are required to honestly and correctly answer any questions about free or derived information (things that most players can blatantly see or work out from what they can see respectively), as Richard cannot see this information he needs to hear it. It is cheating to lie about free or derived information and if one of Richard’s opponents was found to be doing this, they would be disqualified. It is however legal for a player to miss things out when talking about derived information (such as a card’s oracle text) which is why Richard is very careful with the wording of his questions to prevent this being possible.
At Competitive REL a judge would be needed near Richard’s table to ensure his opponent is sufficiently announcing what they’re doing and not lying about free information or dishonestly answering Richard’s questions about derived information.
“There was a blind player who used braille sleeves like this in the L5R card game who cheated!”
From what I have managed to gather from various commenters posting about this and my own research, the player in question managed to cheat using a collection of adaptations that Richard doesn’t use and that his sleeves being brailled had very little to do with it. It appears that this player kept their deck and hand in large pockets which they then hid cards inside of instead of presenting them with their deck, literally pocketing cards to then draw whenever they needed them. Richard plays with his deck visible on the table just like other players, occasionally keeping it upright in a box to help stop him accidentally knocking cards off the top.
I think it’s important to remember that there are far more ways for a sighted person to cheat at magic than a visually impaired person and that if someone wants to cheat, then they will find a way but the majority of players want to play fairly and Richard is among that majority.
“Is he any good/how did he do?”
Richard’s been playing for about two years now but doesn’t take the game too seriously, he plays to have fun and meet new people. That said he’s definitely improved a lot over those two years, placing higher and higher at FNMs. The Pre-Release held a whole new challenge for him as it was his very first time playing limited and he had far fewer of the available cards memorised than he’s used to. He didn’t do as well as he usually does at Standard events but that certainly hasn’t put him off!
“Why not use Pen friend or QR code stickers that can be read by an electronic device and he can hear through headphones?”
Various people posted about other methods that Richard could use for identifying cards while playing. While I’m sure a lot of these methods work great for the people that use them, Richard’s method is the one that works best for him. Lots of technology exists to help with this sort of thing but it often requires buying scanners and using a phone or other electronic device to read the cards. This gets complicated with the rules against having electronic devices available during matches at Comp REL as well as requiring Richard to wear headphones which would make him less able to clearly hear his opponent and any tournament announcements which, somewhere as noisy as busy as a Grand Prix could be very detrimental to him. Things like stickers attached to the front of his sleeves would also obscure the card for his opponents or change the weight of different cards which could make them less suitable for tournament use.
“I know someone who just has someone whisper to them which card they drew”
This method does often seem to be the easiest way for visually impaired players to first get into the game but it’s riddled with potential flaws. There’s the potential of someone over-hearing the whispered information, the possibility for the assistant to offer outside help during the match and the biggest thing is that this method relies on another person who is willing to sit there not playing and just announcing cards. One of the best things about the way Richard plays is that he plays independently once his deck is sleeved. At our standard FNMs he needs no additional assistance at all and at sealed events an assistant is only needed for deck construction. I’d certainly recommend this as a method for visually impaired players to first try out magic with friends or family but wouldn’t recommend it long term.
“How does he fit all the card text for complex cards on his sleeves?”
Richard uses a lot of abbreviations along with letter conjunctions that are common in various types of braille. He memorises a lot of the information on the cards too and so essentially just uses the braille as a prompt. This was a much bigger test of his memory at the Origins pre-release where he had not had long to learn the cards but he still only occasionally had to check with his opponents exactly what some of his cards did.
“Why aren’t there any official rules on how visually impaired players can play/can we introduce some?”
While I think there’s a lot that can and is being done to improve judges and tournament organiser’s knowledge of how they can make their events more accessible I don’t think that having official rules would be helpful. The key to accessibility is flexibility which is something the Magic Tournament Rules currently allow for by leaving all final decisions and possible adaptations down to the discretion of the Head Judge. Of course not every Head Judge will agree on every method a differently abled player could use to play magic but with more stories like Richard’s being shared the knowledge and understanding that the judge programme has is growing and allowing for more and more people to enjoy the game. A good Head Judge or Tournament Organiser will always look for a way to include a player before turning them away but it’s important to give them plenty of warning in advance of any changes or adaptation that have been made or may need to be.
“Can I send Richard cards/sleeves/congratulations?” “Can I ask you/Richard more questions?”
I’ve already passed on a lot of the amazing feedback that my original post got to Richard and he’s really excited to have helped out other players like him who may not have realised how accessible Magic can be. If you would like to contact me or Richard with further questions or see what you can do to improve accessibility in your area for players of all abilities then feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a message below!
Richard did a great job of summing up his and my response to the post’s unexpected success by saying “This is a great time to be a blind guy in Magic!” and I hope you agree.
Do you have a Magic: The Gathering related rules question? If so then you may be interested in using this group – mtgUK Rules & Judges Questions
Thanks for reading,