While you’re waiting – awesomeness!

I am super-busy-man for one more week here, so you all have to suffer through another week without In Development and The Field Report, I’m afraid.
In the meantime, however, check out this awesomeness from my pal Inkwell Looter:
InkwellLooterplayeroftheyear.gif
Click here to see the full-size original of this poster.
And can we have some kind of standing contract for Inkwell Looter and Justin Treadway to produce Fillmore-style posters for each PT and GP?

Patterns of behavior and an eighteen month DQ

So, we all know about this.
SaitoSuspension.png
…and it has naturally sparked the expected mountain of conversation, although that has calmed down a touch, at least on the twitter side. I assume people are still vigorously flaming each other on various forums, and Luis’s announcement about dropping Saitou from ChannelFireball is clocking in at a svelte 367 replies, last I checked.
Immediately after the initial DQ, I wrote about slow play, stalling, and related issues, and I’ve previously written about my disappointment about general impressions of cheating in any group, be it “Japanese people” or “pros.” I reiterated that concept over here.
Notice that those ideas vary between paranoid (pros) and head-slappingly racist (Japanese people — come on, folks, Kenji exists!).
Eighteen months?
Saitou strikes
However, all of that stuff aside, there’s the bonus question of “is this offense worth an eighteen-month suspension, or is that too long?” Sam Stoddard brought up a good analogy that I expect occurred to many people – suspending Saitou for Stalling may be like jailing Capone on tax evasion.
Or, in a closer analogy, like suspending Katsuhiro Mori for “sloppy play” when even everyone’s favorite Magic cherub, Rich Hagon, out-and-out says that Mori cheats.
But I think it’s a little different than all that.
Most of us don’t need to think too hard about the fact that all of our accrued Warnings during DCI-sanctioned events are tracked. I figure I rack up about one Game Play Warning of some kind per every three or so tournaments. It happens. Someone misses a trigger, or a card ends up in the wrong place. No big deal.
However, it’s been reported to me that Saitou very consciously tracked his Warnings during each tournament. Second-hand info is second-hand info, so take this with that giant caveat (e.g. don’t invade any countries based on it), but the report was that he was not just “being aware” that he’d picked up a Warning, but actively and repeatedly calling over judges to check on his total Warning count.
Billy Moreno has also posted a report about Saitou’s slowness that strongly suggested intentionality.
What I suspect the DCI did is decide, following a pattern of extensive accrued Warnings for Slow Play, that the identification of intent behind the latest slow play issue forced them to reconsider this as a pattern of Stalling.
Let me explain a bit why that’s a reasonable idea.
Mistakes versus cheating
Niels Viaene wears his focus on his sleeve
Over in science, people screw up. It happens.
Back when I was in grad school, another lab produced a very exciting result. It was a result that everyone in our research area would want to build on.
So we all tried to, and nothing worked. Extensive research by other labs came to one undeniable conclusion — the reported result wasn’t real. Our various labs came together and spoke to the head of the lab that published the report. He put his head together with the postdoctoral fellow who’d done the work and they realized, much to their embarrassment, that they’d screwed up.
They found the mistake and amended their research paper on the topic to explain that they’d screwed up. And then, because the head of that lab is the kind of guy who is almost certainly going to win a Nobel in the next decade or so, they re-did the work with their mistakes patched up, and found a new awesome result to replace their mistake.
Fair enough. In science, that’s someone screwing up an experiment. Basically the same as when you miss a critical trigger and inadvertently win a big match because of it, and that can’t be fixed afterward. You’ll feel embarrassed and apologetic to the other guy, but no one was cheating.
However.
Sometimes, a researcher has one scientific paper that has to be yanked because of some issues in it.
Then they have another.
Then another.
And then a committee from the Office of Research Integrity really looks into the issues and realizes they faked data in that third paper.
Suddenly, you must presume that those other “accidents” weren’t accidents at all. They were cheats.
Over in science land, this means we re-evaluate the experimental work via the published version and the scientist’s original notes…and in cases where there’s been one fraud, there’s usually lots of fraud.
In Magic, we don’t have the luxury of looking back at the games where a player picked up a bunch of the same Warning. However, the presumption of intent based on the discovery of intent later on is just as reasonable.
A genuinely glacial player will pick up a stream of Slow Play Warnings through their career, but it is highly unlikely that a judge will see behavior that suggests intent when watching them play.
PTQ semifinals match
Michael has never looked like he’s cheating to me. Kind of looks like he’s actually died at the table sometimes, but never like he’s cheating. His pace of play does not change. It’s just slow.
In contrast, it can be hard to pick up on a player who changes the pace of play voluntarily, largely because people don’t call judges on slow play early enough or often enough, and, as I discuss in that link, judges can lose track of time, too. However, even if you miss the tempo shift where the player starts to intentionally play slowly, you’ll still see the resulting slow play, which is enough to earn the warning.
The shift is intent, the outcome is slow play.
More briefly, Slow Play never looks like Stalling, but Stalling frequently looks like Slow Play…at least to the judge who wasn’t there the entire time.
I think it’s reasonable, then, to look at a pattern of abundant Slow Play Warnings and reconsider them in light of having caught the player Stalling. Given an identified case of Stalling and a history of Slow Play Warnings, it is highly likely that some portion of those Slow Play Warnings are really Stalling offenses…and if so, the player in question has dodged some finite number of DQs, including in events they may have won.
The overall view
Sort of like a guardian angel
This picture makes me sad.
It’s from PT San Diego and it is, appropriately enough, Saitou watching Mori stall.
In retrospect, it makes me think that Saitou was hanging around with the wrong crowd. Kenji wasn’t at San Diego, of course, but we don’t see Mitamura, Nakamura, or Watanabe birding his matches (and, as I recall, they pretty much split into two groups along those lines).
Saitou and Mori both are very good players. They are also two players who can play well while playing quite quickly – even frenetically. Watch Saitou and Mori in their top eight appearances. They snap through plays without making any errors – in the Worlds 2005 coverage, Mori ends one game so quickly that Randy Buehler isn’t sure who won!
I’m sad that a player who has excellent play skill is also highly likely to have been cheating over the last couple years. Saitou may or may not have considered it a “big” cheat, but as Sam Stoddard reminds us, they all matter.
Saitou is not among the CFB writers whom I know personally, so I can’t say much about him from that perspective, but as a player who has watched him play and has seen him drastically alter his pace of play beyond what is reasonable – and has heard about a lot more of that behavior – I think it is reasonable to believe that evidence of Stalling now does provide enough suspicion of intent for many, many prior Warnings…
…and a year and a half off from the game is not unreasonable.

Magical cheating sauce

I write about narrative a lot.
Narrative is, briefly, the thing we do where we come up with an explanation that “sounds good” and then don’t fact check it at all. Typically, this means the narrative is overly simplistic as well – “The NASDAQ went up today as investors regained confidence in tech stocks following a solid Black Friday showing.” Things like that.
In fact, the easy narrative option can even overshadow genuine, valid “simple” answers – “The NASDAQ went up today because Apple stock went up, and Apple is a disproportionately large share of the NASDAQ index.” (That’s true, by the way, it is a pretty big chunk of the NASDAQ.)
I mention this today because Luis had to make a hard decision this week following Saitou’s DQ in Florence – Saitou will no longer be writing for ChannelFireball.com, at least for the foreseeable future. You can read Luis’s explanation and a plethora of follow-up comments here.
Feeding the comment trolls…with truth!
Among the earliest comments was the risible suggestion that Saitou was just the first member of “team ChannelFireball” to be caught cheating, but now the DCI would get all of us!
This is, of course, an extended dance mix version of the “all successful players cheat” fallacy that I talked about here. This is a nice little narrative that lets a player off the hook for being bad at the game – or, at least, not as successful as they’d like to be.
After all, if everyone cheats, then losing becomes your marker of integrity.
Of course, this accusation just makes me feel as if I’m being cheated out of the magic cheating sauce that makes Luis, Brad, Josh, David, and many other writers at CFB so successful at the GP and PT level. What do they call that magical cheating sauce again?
Ah. Practice. Right.
But it can’t be practice, can it? Then we could all do things to improve our success at tournament Magic, and it wouldn’t simply be that other players are cheating their way to victory. After all, Brad and Luis must be cheaters – that’s why they do so well on MTGO, right?
Oh, wait. You can’t stack your deck and mark cards on MTGO?
Crap. Well, that’s a second try at that narrative down the drain.
Less sarcasm, more action
My paired Magic mantras these days are “Be good to each other, and call a judge.”
The former because this is a game with a community, and when we’re good to each other, we all win. This includes not short-changing yourself and hurting others by randomly accusing everyone who experiences an ounce of success with cheating (I bet these folks love a band right up until it signs with a major label, and then whine that they “sold out” too…).
The latter because it removes opportunities for conflict spawned by confusion (“How does this card work?”) and brings light into dark places where cheaters fester.
This has been a week of Theodore Roosevelt, oddly enough – from some twitter traffic about the man with Trick Jarrett through talking about him with family over dinner today. It is the essence of “speak softly and carry a big stick” to be warm, welcoming, and friendly to the community at large while reserving harsh and immediate responses for those few people who genuinely try to spoil the game by cheating.
I don’t have a handy politician to stand in for what our forum troll was trying, but it assuredly is the opposite – sort of “bark loudly and then refuse to back your claim.”
More Roosevelt, less of that. Please.

Slow play, stalling, and enforcing the rules

In case you missed it, Tomoharu Saitou, fellow ChannelFireball writer, Hall-of-Famer-elect, and generally skilled player was disqualified without prize from Grand Prix Florence today.
Here’s the announcement.
In this case, Saitou took the hit for Stalling, which is, essentially “Slow Play with intent.”
We’ve had hearsay about Saitout being a total clock watcher in the past year, most notably at GP Columbus, and this seems to play into that idea. Given that Stalling is an intent-based offense, there will naturally be a follow-up investigation, which could put the DCI, and subsequently Wizards, in the odd position of having a player who can’t attend his Hall of Fame induction because he’s actually on suspension right then.
This differs from Bob Maher and Olivier Ruel, who both had their suspensions done and out of the way before being inducted. Of course, Saitou was in that position of having his suspension “out of the way” as well…so if he picks up a second one, that’s bonus unpleasant for everyone involved.
One thing this brought up over in the resulting twitterstorm is just how underenforced clock penalties are. One of the issues here is that they’re a little more subtle than obvious problems like spells cast on the wrong mana or running a double nickle cheat. The other issue, of course, is that players don’t think to call a judge on slow play, either because they’re shy about calling a judge on their opponent or because they’re simply used to thinking that play takes as long as it takes.
Two of my favorite events of all time include some serious Slow Play (we’ll capitalize it now, since we’re talking about the actual tournament rules offense here):
The first is Mihara in the quarterfinals of Worlds 2006, in which he actually does pick up a Warning during his incredible recovery turn, but quite probably should have picked up a second Warning, leading to game loss.
The second features this guy:
FrankKarsten2005QF.jpg
…taking about a million years to consider each play in the quarterfinals of Worlds 2005. I love that match, but if you’re going to watch the video, make sure you do it in the background, because Frank’s play is glacial.
Now, the important point here is that both of these are instances of Slow Play. When I wrote most recently about Mihara over at Channel Fireball, a couple people suggested he should have been disqualified – but that’s not right. Mihara is clearly not Stalling, which is burning the clock with intent. After all, he’s not even in a timed round. He’s just trying to figure out how to not lose, and, well…picking up a Warning or Warnings for Slow Play in that case is pretty much fine. What’s the worst that can happen?
Right. Two Slow Play Warnings, the second one upping him to a Game Loss, and he’s out of the quarters…but not disqualified!
Now, I was talking about this match with local L2 Judge and rules guru Eric Levine a little while ago, and we both agreed that Mihara probably should have received that second Warning, escalating to a Game Loss and thus being out in the quarters…but there are some reasons it probably didn’t happen.
First, it’s incredibly hard to knock someone out of the final stages of a big event based on a seemingly prosaic series of Warnings. We can all understand this – it’s like telling Lance Armstrong he has to lose because he wore the wrong color jersey (or, perhaps, like not being able to run for office because your paperwork was misfiled).
Second, the rule of thumb for judges is that if you’re bored, it’s slow play. So, if you’re fascinated by how Mihara (or whoever) is going to get out of this sticky situation, you don’t realize you’ve been watching him for minutes at a time.
…and, of course, it sucks for someone in Paulo’s position, because as much as Magic players like to complain that Mihara took too long, you know you’d be calling Paulo even worse things if he’d called a judge to get his opponent Game Lossed out of the the top eight.
But nonetheless, it probably should have happened, just like Karsten probably should have picked up a Game Loss against Leung — and a Warning during the match, instead of between the quarters and semis.
But that’s all Slow Play. What does that have to do with Saitou?
Well, I think that the degree to which we don’t tend to enforce Slow Play opens us up for Stalling, which is what earned Saitou this DQ, and earned Max Bracht:
MaxBracht.jpg
…a suspension.
In reading what other people have to say about slow play generally, it seems to me that in the Northern California area we’re pretty intolerant of it. I don’t know if you’ve seen people Game Lossed out of events for accumulated Slow Play warnings, but I have. I’m also a relatively brisk player, but I’ve nonetheless been given the “hurry up” by our judges more than once when I paused too long during a single turn.
It’s possible that they just don’t like having long rounds. I think it’s more likely that they dislike seeing pace of play abused, so they tend to crack down on pacing issues regardless of intent.
As we’ve seen with a lot of the other cheats out there, the more you clean up a general area of the game, the more obvious it is when someone cheats. When you follow rigorous drafting procedures, it’s harder to monkey with the cards. When you make players shuffle each others’ decks at competitive-level events, it makes stacking and marking harder to pull off.
Similarly, if you make sure to keep every opponent on pace, it’ll be glaringly obvious when someone is Stalling rather than simply falling victim to Slow Play.
And you know, to paraphrase Zac Hill, “It’s fun to finish games.” I don’t really have a lot of room to spare for analysis paralysis in casual, non-tournament games, whether we’re playing Magic, Axis & Allies, or checkers. It’s actually rude to the other players, and makes for a boring time for all. So I definitely don’t enjoy having it both spike the fun in tournaments and open up opportunities for stalling.
Short version – call a judge on slow play, everyone has more fun.

Sean’s Boros dilemma

So, here’s a cool way to ask for advice about your deck:

Over on twitter yesterday, Sean asked for advice about his current Boros build, and posted a link to the video above. I’m about to head out to a PTQ, but I had a chance to watch the video, scribble some notes, and offer my thoughts about the deck.
If you haven’t watched the video yet, you probably should, or the notes won’t make much sense.
Click through to the extended entry for the notes.

Continue reading

Kelly brings the rationality

If you’ve been stewing in self-righteous fury over the cessation of the Magic Player Rewards Program you might benefit from reading Kelly Reid’s article on ManaNation this week.
Or it might really anger you. Hard to say.
Either way, I appreciated Kelly’s pleasingly titled How to Overreact, where he addresses the reality of why Wizards might want to change away from the old MPR model, and how we might need to pull back just a bit from being focused on just how awful this is for us.
Also, this is pretty much a classic #firstworldproblem, so I appreciate Kelly’s rational discussion.

Call a judge. Right. Right? (on Mori and cheating)

Rich Hagon is one of my favorite members in the meta-community of Magic. He’s the reason I know the name of many more players than we see in the coverage and than I have met personally. He’s why, anytime a player finally “breaks through” in the text coverage, I tend to find myself thinking, “Wait, I already know this name…right, because Rich interviewed him last year in his podcast coverage for a GP!”
Rich Hagon’s article this week is about the Hall of Fame. It’s not about his vote in particular so much as, in appropriate Rich Hagon style, it is about all the candidates.
Hagon on Mori
Since Rich is also a super-nice guy, the kind who is loathe to say anything negative about anyone, his commentary about Katsuhiro Mori really stands out:
Katsuhiro Mori

I hadn’t anticipated that (Leyline popularity)

My favorite regular features on the mothership are Latest Developments, Savor the Flavor, and Top Decks, with a side helping of The Week That Was.
In this week’s Latest Developments, Tom LaPille does a final roundup of development stories from M11. What really caught my eye were the results from last week’s survey:
LeylinePoll.png
I didn’t have a specific expectation for which Leyline would win, but I don’t think I would have put my imaginary money on Anticipation. This is fascinating to me, in that it feels as if the results here speak to the broad base of Magic’s customer demographics. For folks like me who spend most of our time writing about and hanging around with “competitive” players, we would naturally expect to see the tournament-playable options at the top of the list. Like so, perhaps:
Leyline of Sanctity
Leyline of the Void
Leyline of Punishment
…other stuff
I think Void beats out Punishment, even though only Sanctity and Punishment see a lot of play of any kind in Standard at the moment, as Void is probably the best Leyline of all time (cue Kanye West here).
Leyline of Anticipation, however, may well be the coolest Leyline if we can divorce ourselves from the strictures of competitive play. Think about the plain language description of what each Leyline does:
Anticipation – No I don’t have to decide whether to main phase that Sorcery or hold back for countermagic!
Lifeforce – My creatures can’t be countered. Okay.
Lightning – I deal a bit of extra damage. Hm.
Punishment – Now I can win with burn!
Sanctity – Now burn won’t kill me!
Singularity – You can’t swarm me!
Meek – Tokens are bigger? Okay.
Void – Kill your graveyard! Hah!
Vitality – Creatures are a little bigger.
I think, in plain language, the idea that you are relieved of the burden of deciding whether to hold our mana open or not is a big deal. In addition, there are all the Johnny options, and the idea that every creature you have is now a potential combat trick. Although it tends to fall short of the mark in practice in competitive play, the idea of everything you can do with the card is super-exciting.
The percentage for Anticipation roughly matches the next two entries, combined. I think this is pretty telling, and a solid reminder that the folks going to tournaments are far from the only folks playing the game.
For the record, I voted for Void.

This week’s In Development – Sampling your stories as the MEP rolls on

It’s In Development time again, on my new day, Thursday! This means, of course, that the article is up at the usual midnight Eastern time, so you can go read it now.
In my ongoing effort to become the Studs Terkel of Magic, I’m giving everyone a taste of the answers I’ve received to the Magic Effectiveness Project survey.
There may also be mockups of famous primate researchers as Fauna Shaman variations. That may be in there, too.
Head on over to see the many faces of “Magic strengths” as relayed in the words of your peers, and then enjoy the convenience of the new, web-based version of the survey. If you haven’t shared your stories with everyone, now is the time to do so.
Click here to read the article, and then find me on twitter to let me know what you think.
And, by all means, take the survey.

Yo! MTG Taps! Episode 30 – unofficial liner notes

Episode 30 of Yo! MTG Taps! is up – click here to listen to it. Topics this time around include M11 release events, EDH play, expensive decks, and more.
And namechecking me twice, which is always nice. 🙂 It also means I have a little bit to contribute.
Notes on casual play
Joey and Joe interviewed Adam Styborski, who writes about ‘casual’ play for both Daily MTG and Mananation. I generally find Adam a cogent, easy-to-follow writer and speaker, and I appreciated his take on the whole you’re doing it wrong discussion about Elder Dragon Highlander (EDH).
I thought Adam made a nice analogy this time around between the unspoken social contract that is often present in a casual game and the unspoken behavioral “rules” of competitive play. His main point was that as you enter a new environment, you’ll find that you need to figure out how to behave. Very true.
However, there are still significant differences between the two situations. I’d make an analogy that goes like this:
The accepted social rules in competitive play – such as the idea that you’re likely to concede to an opponent if a win keeps them in contention but a win does nothing for you – are similar to the “don’t eat food and touch my cards” social rules in casual play.
In contrast, the other social rules of casual play, such as “Don’t counter too many of my spells” or “Don’t play cards that let you take extra turns” are like an unspoken version of the Tournament Rules. In fact, running afoul of these invisible rules of casual play often has a first-blush similarity to running afoul of a tournament rule:
Tournament
Player A – “Judge!”
Player B – “What?”
Player A – “My opponent missed her Dark Confidant trigger.”
Casual
Player A – “Dude! That’s so uncool. I didn’t know you were like that.”
Player B – “What?”
Player A – “We don’t do land destruction here, ’cause it sucks.”
The chief difference is that the Magic Tournament Rules are written down, so there’s a unified place everyone can go to learn about them before they ever go to a competitive event (and recall that you’re really talking about PTQs or higher before this will really, really be an issue).
Now, you may be thinking, “Well, we can communicate in casual play, too.” You sure could. In fact, if you do, I’m thrilled. But this doesn’t always happen, and the problem is twofold.
First, some people just don’t think to do it. They assume their idea of casual is everyone else’s idea of casual, so they don’t want to spell it out.
Second, and much more problematic, is the issue that people don’t know what their rules are.
In the interview, Joey brings up the idea of the social contract, and Adam seems to take it that “social contract” by default means “make sure everyone has fun.” Really, though, a social contract is any set of rules that a bunch of people operate by. The deal with it being a “social” contract is that you didn’t, you know, sign a legal contract. So, a social contract can be anything from the rules at the place where I used to train BJJ (i.e. no striking during practice, since that wasn’t what we were there to learn) to a general agreement that if you take a Coke out of the fridge, you grab another one from the closet and stick it in the fridge.
This doesn’t mean that “Try to make sure everyone has fun” can’t be a social contract, but it does mean that this tends to be a messy, hard-to-follow, hard-to-enforce social contract. I’ve written about this before, and the gist of it is that for a lot of gamers, casual seems to informally mean, “Keep the game close, and let me play the way I want to.” The problem with this is that it means that someone who is in a position to dramatically outperform you – say by being a more experienced player, or simply owning more cards – has to then choose to suck by some ill-defined amount to give you that experience.
Set aside whether that’s fun or not for the “better” player – it’s simply a hard thing to do. Wizards has developers who spend significant amounts of time balancing two decks against each other. For someone who’s just showing up for the weekly game, not knowing exactly what everyone else is bringing this time around…it’s nigh impossible. And this means that they’re stuck trying to figure out how to best “throw, but not quite throw” the game once it starts.
Without, of course, letting your friends know you’re throwing the game.
I’m certainly not telling anyone they’re doing it wrong. The number one rule remains “have fun,” so if you go each week and you and your friends all have fun, you’re gold and nothing else matters. What I am saying is that statements like, “It’s about making sure everyone gets to play” are content-free. They’re not actionable. They don’t help other gamers figure out how to achieve this goal.
This is why I like structure, no matter what that structure is. Although I do tend to cleave to the “competitive” formats, my casual play in the last year has included cube drafting and playing with Duel Decks, and they were both awesome. But you’ll note that they’re also both structured – get the cards, play the cards. I didn’t have to try and throw the game a bit to make stuff fair in the cube drafts; we just drafted and played.
Ban Jace!
Well, really don’t.
Joey and Joe talked for a bit about a commenter who wanted some serious discussion about banning Jace, the Mind Sculptor. The context as given was the idea that Jace is “everywhere,” and that decks that “have no business running Jace” are nonetheless using him.
But I think the subtext is pretty clear – the card is really expensive.
Cards don’t get banned for being expensive. They just don’t. That would murder the heck out of the game’s salability if they were, and it wouldn’t help, since beheading the format’s price list would simply drive new cards up to the top of that list.
Cards are banned for causing problems, whether these problems are procedural (e.g. Sensei’s Divining Top) or format-skewing (e.g. Skullclamp). Jace is neither. He is a good card, and good cards show up in decks. Once they show up in enough decks, they rise in price.
But as our two Js point out, Jace is not format-skewing. The solution to Jace? Play creatures and certain kinds of removal. If there were no Jace, what would many decks out there want to do? Play creatures and certain kinds of removal. One of the genius aspects of planeswalkers is that the solution to any (any!) planeswalker is to just do what you were going to do anyway. Summon monsters, attack. Cast burn spells. O-Ring some stuff. Deny it with a Mana Leak, take it with a Duress.
This is not 2007-era Extended Dredge, where you either dedicate half your sideboard to the matchup or cross your fingers really hard and hope for good pairings. The solutions are already in your deck anyway.
Sure, it can be frustrating to not have ready access to all the expensive cards. But cards shouldn’t (and won’t) be banned for financial reasons.
For the last year or more, the consensus best deck has never wanted to play Jace, and has been relatively budget, as J&J pointed out. And really, they hit the mark in addressing this issue – no matter what, having a competitive deck will cost you. It’ll either cost you money, as you pay increased secondary market prices to buy the cards for a proven design, or it will cost you time and effort, as you develop your own. There is no third option.
Anyway, enough of that. If you haven’t listened to this week’s Yo! MTG Taps!, go do so (right here). And then check out the Magic Effectiveness Project and fill out a survey, if you haven’t yet.