Sperling’s Sick of It: January 2018

As is customary, I begin with an expression of shame over not returning to this column as frequently as I (and the people who come up to me at events) would like. I usually feel a mix of pride and shame when having those conversations with readers like the ones I had at the recent Grand Prix Santa Clara. Pride in that I have vocal fans at all, and shame that I let them down nearly every month when I ignore my “write Sick of It” alert I have set up in Google Calendar.

Feelings of inadequacy aside (and oh boy, did Grand Prix Santa Clara provide me with plenty of those!), let’s get to my top 4 that I’m sick of right now.

1) Standard Makes the U.S. Political Climate Look like a Stable Environment

What’s truly breathtaking about all the bans is how many truly different things have gone wrong recently:

  • Oops, we missed it (Felidar Guardian)
  • There’s one number that matters, we know it’s the casting cost, we know it matters, but we can’t find the right number (Emrakul)
  • 2-mana artifact that every deck wants might be bad (Smuggler’s Copter)
  • Should we think about how this works with the fatties we just printed? No, it’s fine—it’ll rotate soon, I guess (Aetherworks Marvel)
  • The pre-constructed deck (meaning you just put all the cards that say “energy” together) is broken
  • Let’s make exactly one playable Dinosaur. Hopefully it isn’t too playable or the Dinosaurs will go extinct from tournament play (Rampaging Ferocidon)

How do you begin to “fix” a problem that’s actually 10 different problems? Forgive me if I’m skeptical that, “Easy—put Paul Cheon, Andrew Brown, and Melissa DeTora in a room for a few days” will prove a reliable answer. You can hire a QA team at the turd factory, but that doesn’t make it a widget factory.

2) Please figure out what the hell to do with tournament-playable removal

Pick an ecosystem:

  1. Efficient, often instant-speed removal, and threats which provide a way to get ahead even if answered by that removal (Ultimate Price, but also Gearhulks, Titans, Toolcraft Exemplar, etc.)


  1. Inefficient removal and few threats that absolutely punish you for trying to answer them with that inefficient removal (Vraska’s Contempt, but no Gearhulks or Titans or Toolcraft Exemplars)

When we switch between these paradigms frequently and rapidly, blocks don’t combine well to form a healthy and fun Standard environment. What is Standard’s baseline for killing something the opponent spent 5 or 6 mana on? What should the player who spent 5 or 6 mana get out of it if the threat is not answered? What should the player who spent 5 or 6 mana get out of it if the thread is answered? Some stability in how we answer these questions will help the stability of Standard.

Oh, and don’t print the damn Chupacabra in the same set as the 6/6 Sphinx with fake hexproof. I know that you know that your splashy rares shouldn’t be newbie traps, so it’s just a bit strange to see not just an available answer but one of the more pushed cards that is a deadly weakness for the Sphinx, in the same set.


3) The S****y Blessing

The rules they rolled out alongside the city’s blessing are incredible. They went so far down the path of “nobody should be able to mess this up or lose the blessing” that they forgot the “gotcha” of your opponent not having to tell you they have it. For turns. Several turns. Days. You might wake up in 2024 and try to attack a 3/3 past that damn 2/3 flying Snake and 5 other permanents only to find out your opponent’s great-great-grandfather in fact had 10 permanents in play during a game of gin rummy played in 1907. “Those are the breaks. Any effects?”

4) At the end of the game, why is it legal to reveal your hand but not top card of the library?

Ask someone this question, even a judge, and you often get a very vague answer about “you know, the gambling laws.” Ah yes, that age old gambling law that differentiates between the types of zones of hidden information revealed after a match. What about the argument that the order of the library is “random,” so revealing it is using “random” information to determine the outcome of the match, which is gambling? By that logic, game 5 of extra turns would also be gambling, and hell, the entire match would probably be gambling were we to apply this reading of “the law” to what we’re doing as a match of tournament Magic is played.

No law cares about this distinction at all. The intent and actions of the players are indistinguishable, legally.

What about non-legal arguments like this slowing the tournament down and leading to awkward and heated “who would have won?” discussions after the match has ended? Well, that may be a good reason to ban all revealing of hidden zones and post-match discussion of who should concede, but why wouldn’t it apply to revealing your hand and making the same argument? If we are banning the “post-game show and tell and debate about who would have won,” then ban it. Don’t ban one version and allow another very similar version that even induces the opponent to do the illegal one.

5) Opponents who bend the corners of my sleeves when shuffling

Not everyone shares the same set of proficiencies. But there has to be a way to avoid immediately ruining something I just paid $6-10 for before the event began. There are many methods of shuffling a deck of sleeved cards. Let’s all become proficient enough with at least one of them such that our opponent’s sleeves (and cards—it’s happened to me and I’m sure it’s happened to you) are safer from damage during deck presentation.

I know this one is going to scare the crap out of at least one person who is already nervous about their shuffling proficiency. I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but yes, your opponents have noticed and they do not enjoy their sleeves lasting 1/10th as long as they should. But let me try to put you at least somewhat at ease: I suspect most people who have this issue just need to loosen their grip a bit and find a better angle of holding and combining the cards. Practice finding a better angle and holding the cards more loosely and you will improve. The death-grip + bad angle = sleeves destroyed.

6) Judges who pattern-match without asking the players the right questions first

This has happened to me in many contexts now. So what am I talking about? I’m talking about situations where a player’s actions don’t fully reveal their intent, and so the judges have developed a framework for implying/assuming their intent to resolve the ambiguity, but then the judges don’t even bother to ask the player what their intent was!

For example, on camera in round 4 of Grand Prix Santa Clara, my opponent attacked with Goblin Guide and didn’t say anything. I said no blockers. He looked at me again, then turned to record the damage on the life pad. I called the judge to get a missed trigger warning enforced (which everyone should do when it comes to cards like Goblin Guide—as a community we cannot allow players, for whatever reason, to ignore the drawbacks on their cards without tracking how often it’s happening). No big deal though—happens all the time. So the judge comes over and we explain what happened, and the judge rules that “since the attacking player didn’t say anything, and you didn’t ask about the trigger, it’s not clear that he is waiting for you to respond to the trigger versus waiting to resolve damage.” Now, I had problems with that because I thought there was enough evidence that we were past that point, and I shouldn’t have to remind the opponent or get so far that I’m risking losing my own priorities in order to enforce the rules, but that’s actually neither here nor there. What bothered me most after the fact was that the judge never even asked my opponent whether the trigger was missed! “Were you waiting for Matt to respond to the trigger, or had you forgotten about the trigger and were you waiting on him for other effects?” An honest opponent brings us to the correct outcome, and a dishonest one gets exposed in a way that lets me know that I need to be on guard if my intuition is in sharp contrast with the answers he provides. The judge did not even give us this opportunity by conducting this basic step of the investigation.

In another context, an opponent tried to counter a spell that could not be countered. The judge at no point asked my opponent, “Did you know the spell couldn’t be countered?” The answer to that question is ultimately what separates cheating from mistake, yet the question was never asked.

And no, cheaters won’t always deny it, because they might not know it is illegal rather than a permitted edge. Again, people can lie to shoot the angle, but if you don’t even ask then you let them shoot the angle without even having to go out on a limb to do so. Ask the tough question, and do it early before the players are necessarily aware of what exact information the ruling will hinge on.

Even basic judge calls are investigatory exercises when the facts are unclear. Treat them as such by asking those in possession of the information that really matters to share that information, even if it is their own intent or state of knowledge about the game state.

7) Grand Prix Coverage “Shows”

We’ll see if my editor let’s this one through… Rich Hagon announced that each GP coverage day would be broken into three different shows such as “MasterPunt Theatre” at 9 a.m. and “Afternoon Nap” at noon (I might have already forgotten the real names of the segments).

I have what I think is an interesting proposal to make the show even better: Show me the damn matches and tell me what round it is.

Look, I know what round 5 of a Grand Prix is like. A couple 4-0 players will be looking to get to 5-0 whether you call it “Top Gearhulk” or “How Does Matt Nass Already Have 2 Losses Doesn’t He Have 3 Byes?” or whatever else.

Having said that, I’m ready to fully buy-in and sell this whole thing Rich, if you’ll have me in the booth at an upcoming event. I will sell out faster than you can say, “No thanks Matt, we’re all set for this episode of ‘Did You See How He Shuffled His Opponent’s Deck, Watch it Again, Sunday Morning Edition.’”

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