“Fishing,” if you’re unfamiliar with the colloquialism, is the practice of trying to win games and matches not on deck choice or play skill, but by very actively following up on apparent tournament rules violations in hopes of getting your opponent game- or match-lossed.
There’s a lot of fuzzy thinking about “fishing” versus “proper play,” and this is contributes to some players’ hesitation about calling a judge. Are you “fishing” if you call a judge because your opponent missed a trigger, or because they searched for a card, riffled once, and then presented the deck to you?
Fishing is usually done intentionally in gray areas, like insisting that a scuffed sleeve is actually marked (which amounts to fishing for a DQ, which is pretty ugly) or that your opponent is player slowly when they actually aren’t. More to the point, if you know you aren’t fishing, then you aren’t fishing. If you legitimately want to call a judge, do so. Don’t sit there second-guessing the decision to call. If you have correctly identified a game play issue, then the judge will let you know. Similarly if you haven’t. Either way, it’s fine.
I was accused of fishing by one commenter on my report from GP Oakland because I count out my opponent’s deck each time it’s presented to me to start a game. That’s not fishing – it’s just good standard operating procedure. If everyone did this, it would stop any cheaters and generally lead us all to clean up our act in sideboarding. Perhaps even more to the point, at GP Oakland I caught my opponent’s error of shuffling his Marit Lage token back into his deck – there was no game loss for that one, and it headed off the giant mess that him drawing his token would have yielded once we were well into the game.
So far in my sanctioned tournament career, I’ve only made three judge calls that led to opponent game losses. Two were for tardiness, which doesn’t really fall into the same category – although one of these led to a match loss when my opponent was tardy, and then we were deckchecked and he had a registration error. The opponent was Kenny Ellis, though, so he naturally had a great attitude about what a comically bad beat he’d just experienced. My one other “game lossing” of an opponent came during a Standard tournament just after the 9th to 10th edition transition, when I was resolving a Head Games against my opponent and noticed he had Weird Harvest in his deck.
Overall, I’d say that good players don’t tend to fish. They may call judges more often than a typical PTQ player would, but I think that comes down to an attention to proper player procedure more than anything else.
This is on my mind after a match yesterday that mixed clumsy fishing with player sloppiness.
This was late in the tournament, and I was having one of those “deck malfunction days,” including highlights like mulliganing down to four cards in search of land in a deck featuring twenty-four of them. I’ll talk more about the deck in another post, but this was Extended, so it was Gifts.
In game one, my Scapeshift opponent hits the eponymous spell and says “I do eighteen to you” without doing anything else. I wonder for a moment how many people have just been scooping to him there, and say, “Show me.” He then explains that he’s going to get a Valakut and six mountains.
“Okay. Run through it for me.”
And no, it wasn’t a bluff, he had the lands (in fact, barring a weird draw that saw them all in his hand, I don’t know how he couldn’t have, so I don’t know why he didn’t just do the spell properly in the first place).
I lose that game, then take the second on the back of a Bitter Ordeal for all of his Valakuts. Ordeal is a hilarious card in an environment with fetchlands.
In the third game, I play a Snow-Covered Island and he asks, “Did you write Snow-Covered Island on our deck list?”
I don’t know if I was annoyed more by the fishing, the fishing in the wake of the half-assed Scapeshift execution, or the half-assed nature of the fishing itself. I assured him that I did, indeed, write the correct card names on my deck reg sheet and we moved on…to him playing two lands in the same turn a few turns later.
I said, “That’s your second land this turn.” He picked it right up and put it back in his hand, and I said, “It’s not a big deal, but I’m going to go ahead and call a judge.”
Which I did, and he picked up a Warning for a Game Rule Violation. I wasn’t fishing for anything here – I didn’t imagine he had prior Warnings, and I was going to be dead to an unopposed Scapeshift awfully soon. That said, you need to do these judge calls because:
- 1 – You don’t know if they’ve been doing this all day, and you’re going to actually stop them by netting them their third Warning
- 2 – You don’t know if they’ve been doing this all day and no one’s called them on it, so you want to be a good citizen and make sure they play properly and there’s a record if the sloppiness continues
Either way, I did die to that unopposed Scapeshift soon after, and even that execution was sloppy, as he cast Scapeshift, then picked up his library and began to search without sacrificing anything. At a PTQ, I think I’d stop him there, call a judge, and point out that he was searching for no lands because Scapeshift requires that you make the sacrifice choice first. At this local tournament, I just stopped him and made him do it right.
My punchline here is that this was one of those rare moments when my opponent’s behavior just put me off. That said, I think it’s important to remember that it’s okay to call a judge, and helps improve the environment of the tournament in general. Even though some folks will clumsily fish for wins via the tournament rules, if all you want to do is make sure the game proceeds correctly, it’s okay to call a judge. Fishing is all about intent – if you’re not trying to do it, you’re not doing it.