Riddle Me This: A Fool’s Question in the Aftermath of a Secret Judgment

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By my completely unscientific estimation roughly a billion writers before me have attempted to describe the critical factor that separates an adult from a child. For some it’s maturity, for others the ability to love romantically, and for others still, becoming an adult is all about exposure to life’s harsh lessons at as early an age as possible. These are all legitimate answers and to be fair the truth for each person lies in how they were raised and the experiences of their young and adolescent lives.

To me however the point when a child starts to become an adult is when they learn to shift away from reactionary, emotional thinking and move towards true critical thought. Real life is pretty much all about processing the information around you, reflecting on that knowledge and deciding what is true, what is partially true and what is false for yourself. Without the ability to think critically your life becomes a cascade from emotional response to emotional response and while we accept this behavior from children, society frowns upon it in adults. For those of you wondering how this relates to Magic let me remind you that every time you study the board, represent a spell, work out your opponent’s possible hand or call a bluff in Magic you are engaging in a type of critical thinking.

Magic players tend to be pretty good at critical thinking, and those who aren’t quickly develop the skill by playing the game itself. With this in mind I’d like to present to you the facts in what is quickly becoming known as “The Josh Meckes” incident:

On Day 2 of Grand Prix Toronto, during a televised match at the highest possible level of rules enforcement, a player “unintentionally” added a card from the top of his library to his hand. What’s more this card was added to his hand upside down and cameras clearly show him examining his hand immediately after the card is added. The player did not report the extra card to anyone and went on to lose the match.

You don’t have to take my word for it folks; everything I just said is recorded on videotape for all of the world to see. Start the video at 1:34:43 and run it through until about 1:37:30 or so. Watch closely, if you blink it can be easy to miss what’s going on here. Notice that the player repeatedly stops to adjust his deck for no apparent reason multiple times? Did you see the card get knocked off the top of his deck? How about the pinky finger that drags that card into his hand? Most importantly do you see the player staring at the upside down card in his hand moments later while the cameras roll?

Now let’s see what WotC had to say about this incident shall we:

Meckes Investigation Results
Wizards of the Coast
Wednesday, December 19, 2012

After investigating the incident involving Josh Meckes at Grand Prix Toronto, the Investigations Committee has determined that the infraction was not intentional. Wizards of the Coast supports and encourages players to express their opinions via public media, however we ask that such expressions avoid accusations and other demeaning language. We value fairness and fun, and urge anyone with concerns about the integrity of the game to contact a judge at the event, his or her local judge, or his or her Regional Judge Coordinator.

I have two problems with this statement; one minor and one that I consider quite serious. The minor problem I have is pretty simple to be honest; I believe they got the ruling wrong. As a critically thinking adult, and as a Magic player, I watch that video and I see someone adding a card to their hand through careful obfuscation. What’s more; even if somehow it was a mistake I definitely see a player adding a card to his hand at a high level event while on camera and then failing to report it when he noticed the extra, upside down card. You can spin your tired yarns about the possibility of not noticing an extra card in your hand all you like but as someone who’s played Magic for half her life I call bull-puckey. Any competent FNM player knows how many and what cards are in their hand during a match; I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect the same out of a Day 2 Competitor at a 1000 person Grand Prix.

To be completely fair; while I count a number of DCI judges among my close friends, I myself am not a judge. Maybe there’s a subsection of the rulebook that explains away all of my concerns on this one, but I can’t think of what it could be. What I am aware of is that the DCI has stated that this incident was unintentional, the matter is closed and that there will apparently be no further penalty. While I certainly understand the difficulty in applying penalties after an event has ended, I’m incredibly scared of the precedent this sets. What’s more; as a player I feel like there is a vast “disconnect” between DCI rules enforcement at tournaments I’ve attended and this incident. I’d love to tell you this is a writer’s device but frankly folks I’m pretty confused. Let’s look at some examples I am personally aware of or have witnessed:

At an M11 Pro Tour Qualifier (PTQ) a friend of mine registered his sealed pool incorrectly. He’d been running out of time and while glossing over cards he likely would never play accidentally indicated that he had a Dragon’s Claw when he really had a Demon’s Horn. Unfortunately this wasn’t discovered until later in the day during a deck check and he promptly received a game loss which helped put him out of the tournament. While I wasn’t there I’m 100% sure that no sane, rational judge could think my friend was trying to cheat in this situation; he clearly had the Demon’s Horn in his pile of cards and had not added a Dragon’s Claw. This had virtually no bearing whatsoever on the decks he presented all day. I’m willing to bet the judge who issued the game loss even told him something like “I’m sorry but the rules are the rules. At this level that’s a game loss; good luck in your match.”

At a recent Grand Prix Trial I attended I happened to sit down with a young man who’d just won his first round. I’m not sure how old he was but I’d guess anywhere from 13-16 and he’s a very bright young man regardless of his age. Before round 2 started he was called over by the judge to resolve a deck registration error; he’d accidentally written down 59 cards instead of 60 on his decksheet. The judge carefully counted his deck and it was determined that the young man was in fact playing 60 cards; in other words this wasn’t a cheat, just an honest mistake. When the judge told the young man that he was going to have to give him a game loss in the next round I could tell that it hurt both of them. The kid didn’t complain and the judge did his job but I got the impression both of them wished they were in some other, happier situation at that moment.

Another friend of mine recently found himself in the top 4 of an important tournament that featured a variety of prizes. What interested him most of all was the championship trophy for winning the event. My friend plays Magic for both the good times and the sport of it; money and card prizes meant very little to him compared to that trophy. I can also say with some chagrin that he’s sorta new to big stage events and unfortunately his innocence and that lack of experience cost him the right to contend for that trophy. During casual conversation with his opponents he mentioned that all he really wanted was the trophy and a nearby judge construed that to mean he was proposing a bribe. Once again the concept of right or wrong wasn’t super relevant; to my understanding virtually every person in the area (including the judge) knew he didn’t understand how he was breaking the rules. The rules however, are the rules and he was disqualified from the event. Much headshaking, hugging and condolences ensued but all of his friends agreed that the DCI policy was quite clear.

So let me see if I understand; all kinds of other completely unintentional situations during competitive or higher level Magic events come with automatic penalties applied regardless of a judge’s opinion. In fact to my understanding if the gentlemen in question had called the judge on himself he would have received at least a game loss and perhaps an outright disqualification. Yet because he claimed that he did not notice, did not call a judge, and later explained it was all a big accident, there is no further penalty? Furthermore, there was no mention whatsoever of 3 other strange “incidents” that occurred on camera that GP including; a player putting 2 lands into play on the same turn, a player slowly migrating his Spreading Seas from a RB land to a GB one and finally a well-known player fishing a Stomping Grounds with a Marsh Flats. Is Wizards actively trying to encourage people to have “accidents”, forget how many cards are in their hand, and refuse to report their own rules violations or am I just a crazy woman? Why is it that the DCI has policies that force well-meaning judges to apply severe across-the-board penalties to clearly accidental behavior but on camera rules violations can be explained away by intent? Hey, I’m not a judge folks but this fool can read between the lines when she has to and the resulting message is incredibly confusing.

The sad part is that isn’t even the major problem I have with this statement. My real issue with Wizards of the Coast’s (WotC) letter is the part where they reaffirm their desire for me to talk about Magic on social media outlets but refrain from accusations (presumably of cheating). Read carefully; “Wizards of the Coast supports and encourages players to express their opinions via public media; however we ask that such expressions avoid accusations and other demeaning language.” They go on to recommend that if I have concerns about the integrity of the game I should contact the proper authorities. This is not only mildly threatening when packaged with an absolute ruling from the DCI but it’s also somewhat insulting to me as a critically thinking, rational adult. Calling someone a cheater or saying that someone has cheated at Magic is not a hate crime. Cheat is not a bad word and while the term is often thrown around too much there’s a fair time to use it; when someone is cheating at a game. Wizards doesn’t want people running around the internet saying “so and so is a cheater” during an active investigation but I’m not really sure they have any right to tell someone what to think after that person watches a video with their own eyes. I find it hard not to read this statement in the tone of a frustrated parent dealing with a confused child. I’m being told that video evidence and my observations mean nothing, scolded for making “accusations” and told to take problems to my betters next time. So which is it?

Am I free to tell a judge anything, ask any questions and report any rules violations I see?

OR

Do I refrain from accusations and talking about cheating because I might get in trouble if the guy is deemed innocent later?

Does the DCI or WotC really believe that they are the sole arbiter of truth and that without their clearance I can’t possibly determine what is and isn’t cheating at Magic? That can’t be right can it? I realize that transparency is not one of the strong points in the DCI investigation process but this is most certainly a little bit hard to swallow. “Move along, nothing to see here and if you complain about it on Twitter we’ll know!” How far does this extend? Does anyone really know? Can I call someone who actively cheated against me a cheater in the privacy of my own home or are you guys watching my every move? This is ludicrous but there’s only one way to find out just how ludicrous as far as I can tell. Here goes:

I think Josh Meckes cheated, I’m saying so right now in a social media setting and I am fully aware that the DCI ruled it “unintentional”. This means very little to me in the face of video evidence that Josh added a card to his hand and didn’t report as much to anyone in a position of authority. While I am prepared to accept the DCI’s ruling my own personal opinion was that this incident was a clear case of cheating and was improperly dealt with. If this makes me a thought criminal on the new Magical Internet then I am prepared to accept that judgment; so long as you understand that I don’t think said judgment is rational in the slightest.

With that very foolish statement I now propose the question that is the central premise of this article: “If I don’t agree with your ruling and my opinion is that this was cheating am I still allowed to play Magic?” I patiently await your answer Wizards.

– nina

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