There was a lot of hullabaloo recently around reports and video of Trevor Humphries, Alex Bertoncini, and Jared Boettcher apparently cheating in high-profile events. Reactions around cheating, and allegations of cheating, are diverse and exhausting: anger, frustration, disillusionment, schadenfreude, witch-hunting, and a disturbing amount of social-media bickering and belly-aching.

In the case of the players named, the DCI acted very quickly in issuing bans. Other cases are still being reviewed. Rather than talk about the specifics of these events, though, I want to talk about how we can all work together to keep cheaters out of competitive Magic. If this issue is important to you, we need you to participate in solving it: judges can’t watch every game, and we certainly can’t rely on video coverage to catch every cheater. Cheaters learn. Invariably, some already have learned not to cheat on camera.

Here are three things every honest Magic player can and should be doing to clean up the game and keep it clean. I say this as someone who has been around the game since the beginning: I experienced the game when cheating was everywhere and policing was minimal. I’ve seen the game get cleaned up, I’ve seen witch-hunts, and I’ve seen overzealous rules enforcement. There is only one thing that can keep cheating out of Magic: us. The players.

Thing 1: Play clean

I’m not talking about “not cheating” (that’s assumed): I’m talking about cleaning up your mechanics. Sloppy game management appears to be growing as the game does, and perhaps as Magic Online players transition to the paper game. There are two important elements here. One is to operate game mechanics correctly: untap all of your permanents before you draw and start your turn; proceed through phases in order; tap your lands when you cast your spell, not after it resolves; use clear language to communicate phase changes. Sloppy play leaves space for cheaters to take advantage by hiding cheats behind sloppiness: if clean play is the norm, sloppy play stands out and attracts scrutiny. Imagine a world where every person who shuffled their opponent’s deck held it clearly in a non-visible way and looked away from the shuffle: how much more obvious would that make Trevor’s maneuver?

The other rules to play by are those surrounding the tournament itself. The rules in competitive events require you to shuffle your opponents deck every time they shuffle. The tournament rules dictate that you keep your hand above the table at all times. The tournament rules tell you to handle cards in different zones without letting them touch your hand! I routinely see these rules broken in competitive events by apparently well-meaning people. Those rules exist for reasons, though, and they help maintain a fair playing field. A cheater can’t load their deck and guilt me into not shuffling by smiling and offering my deck a simple cut: he’s required to shuffle, and so am I. This logic applies to all the rules that players tend to ignore for convenience or politeness.

Thing 2: Watch, learn, and speak

If you watch the video of Trevor Humphries stacking his opponent’s deck and focus on his opponent, you might notice that his opponent is watching him like a hawk as he shuffles! This is good: his opponent knows that you need to keep an eye on your opponent. So why didn’t he say anything about what Trevor was doing? There are two possible explanations: he didn’t recognize the cheat, or he was afraid to say something.

Keep an eye on your opponent, even if they seem nice. Call a judge if something strange happens, even if you are certain that it’s an accident. This doesn’t mean you should be a jerk: just call a judge when there is an issue, and keep your eye on the game.

Learn how people cheat at Magic. Trevor was using a trick Casey McCarrel was caught using in the Top 8 of US Nationals in 2001: any of Trevor’s opponents could easily have learned how it works. Learn what the five-pile is. Learn about the sideboard-draw trick*. These are all effective cheats that are easy to avoid if you know about them. Few cheaters are inventing new tricks: so learn the old ones and how to spot them.

Speak up not only to call “Judge” when something strange happens, but when your opponent neglects to shuffle your deck. We all need to follow the rules: kindly tell your opponent that they are required to shuffle you. Speak up when someone brags about using slow-play to salvage a draw — let them know that isn’t cool. Speak up with new tournament players about the importance of rules and the possible cheats they should watch out for.

Thing 3: Remain calm

Paranoia about cheating has the potential to be more destructive than cheating itself. Magic is a complicated game, and people make mistakes. Not every error is evidence of malicious intent. By the same token, when something goes wrong in a match, call a judge and tell them facts: don’t hyperbolize, don’t get angry, don’t say “my opponent is cheating!” Leave the judgements to the judges: they are trained for that.

Continue to remain calm when rulings are issued, even if you don’t like them. Judges are there to help us, and shouting at them is almost never productive. I have, in my time, become heated with judges on a number of occasions: it was never a good idea, and it never did anyone any good. Appeal if necessary, but do so calmly.

Invariably, judges will make mistakes. So will our opponents. So, as unbelievable as it might seem, will we. We are all human, and we are all somewhat strangely invested in a game. Judge errors, like mulligans, will go for and against you: that’s part of the game.

Cheating isn’t, and we can keep it that way if we work together.

* Sideboard draw trick: The cheater sets his sideboard near his deck, face-down, and leaves a chosen card on top of it. Threaten or Falter are natural choices. Then, when he needs that card, he can “accidentally” reach past his deck to his sideboard pile and draw it to win the game. Never allow your opponent’s sideboard to sit around: request they place it in a deck box.

Gabe Carleton-Barnes has been playing Magic for over 20 years, mostly as a PTQ grinder and intermittently as a Pro Tour competitor. Currently based in Portland, Oregon, where he is an Open Source web developer by day, Gabe lived in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, for three years. While there, he failed to make a documentary about competitive Magic but succeeded in deepening his obsession with the game. Gabe is now a ringleader and community-builder for the competitive Magic scene in Portland, wielding old-timey slang and tired cliches to motivate kids half his age to drive with him to tournaments.

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