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Primitive Justice

Hypothetical situation: You’re in round three of a Dragon’s Maze prerelease. You’re 2-0, having beaten two perfectly nice but inexperienced players on the day. Your deck is okay, a tight little Gruul deck featuring double [card]Zhur-Taa Druid[/card]. Your opponent is a kid that’s been playing in your shop for maybe a year now. It’s hard to say—Magic’s a lot like gambling in that it distorts time completely. While you shuffle up, you learn that his name is Gus, and he’s a freshman in high school.

He is playing an above-average W/B/G deck and summarily smashes you in two quick games. You notice that the majority of his cards played are uncommon or rare. Since your opponents last round openly asked you about what cards you pulled—and you showed them—you decide to take advantage of the casual environment of a prerelease and ask him about all the stuff he got. He sheepishly shows you the following rares:

Foil [card]Teysa, Envoy of Ghosts[/card] [card]Advent of the Wurm[/card] [card]Deathrite Shaman[/card] [card]Immortal Servitude[/card] [card]Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord[/card] [card]Beck // Call[/card] [card]Catch // Release[/card] [card]Watery Grave[/card]

And one other Dragon’s Maze rare that wasn’t in his deck.

Yup, that’s a packed lunch if ever there was one.

All right, let’s slow down a minute. Take a deep breath. Benefit of the doubt, now. He’s just a kid.

“Wow, that’s a pretty sweet deck. Mind if I take a look at what you didn’t play?”

Gus is starting to look a bit apprehensive now. He hands you a deckbox. It has a bunch of Orzhov commons and uncommons in it.

Uh oh.

“I don’t think this is the right box,” you say, as the knot in your stomach gives a fresh wrench.

“Oh.” He grabs it back out of your hand and hands you a different deck box, this one clearly the remnants of his Sealed.

This is an awkward situation. What happens now?

You offer to take the match slip to the counter in the other room. At the counter is the part-owner of the store, Lance, whom you are on first-name terms with and have known for years. You see a bunch of people loitering around the counter; you want to tell Lance what the deal is with the kid and his juiced-up Sealed pool, but there’s no reason to let a ton of other people know about it. This particular store isn’t known for its forward-thinking, patient clientele, the shop’s scene is unfortunate in that the players looked up to the most are rampant jackasses, which is too often the case.

After a full two minutes of standing around waiting for the counter to clear, you realize that it’s just not going to happen.

“Hey, Lance—can I talk to you a minute?”

“Sure, what’s up?”

“I think I caught a kid cheating. My opponent this round.”

“Are you sure?”

You start feeling everyone’s stares on the back of your neck. It takes every iota of willpower you possess to ignore them. “Yeah.”

Lance pauses. “Can you bring him up here? I’m the only one working right now; I can’t leave the register.” You nod and make your way back to the table where Gus is sitting.

“Hey, Gus—Lance at the counter wants to talk to you.”

Gus gets up and leaves you behind, standing at the table. People all around are either playing their matches, trading, or just chatting. You’re jealous of them, because they have no idea what’s about to go down.

Right on cue, you hear shouting from the other room, so you go in, and there’s Brady—a 50-year old regular that spends hundreds of dollars on product every week yet can never find two match wins to rub together—making a huge scene about not coming back if the store’s going to allow cheaters. Not only is he causing a commotion, but he’s getting the rest of the regulars 20-and-up worked into a lather, yelling—yelling!—about refusing to come back if this kid isn’t banned.

A quick glance at Gus shows him in the middle of all of this, softly sobbing and glancing around for an exit: windows, doors, a vent, whatever. It doesn’t matter; the kid just wants out. In this moment it’s pretty clear that this is a pretty standard example of a young child with no real-world experience that made a decision that he clearly didn’t realize would impact anything but himself. Because that’s the key to narcissism: it’s not malicious. They aren’t cheating to see you lose, they’re just cheating to see themselves win. The merits of this fundamental difference are borderline irrelevant in a civil discussion, but they might have been worth mentioning to Brady.

Either way, this is obviously not what you signed up for. You didn’t want a cheater to go unreported, but you also didn’t want every idiot in the shop blasting off, making the poor kid cry. Sometimes you do indeed play correctly and get punished anyway.

After the dust settled, Gus was granted a disqualification, but had to wait at the shop for his parents to pick him up. Kinda awkward.

* * *

Was there any way to avoid that situation? It’s tough to say. You treat a kid you’ve seen around and has clearly played in tournaments differently than you would, say, a younger kid you’ve never seen before. At some point, you have to say that a kid just knows better than to cheat. I have no problem drawing that arbitrary line at age 13, or, their high school years. I mean, I wasn’t much younger than that when I was running the cheats myself, so maybe I’m just full of crap. Who knows?

Full disclosure time: This didn’t happen to me, it happened to a friend of mine. This isn’t one of those times where it’s like, “oh it just happened TO A FRIEND OF MINE wink, wink (the friend is me, you guys!),” this actually happened to a friend, in a different store and a different state. And it’s still totally unclear what he should’ve done or how he could’ve handled it.

Since it’s tough to put yourself in my friend’s shoes, just imagine if it happened to you, at your LGS. How do you handle that? Obviously the age of the kid and how they’re conducting themselves is a factor; it’s perfectly reasonable for someone unfamiliar with Sealed deck, nervous at such a big tournament (the prereleases I’m used to are big, anyway), just letting the player’s meeting go straight over their heads and then adding their personal cards to their Sealed deck without knowing it’s wrong. Handling that kind of situation, as opposed to dealing with an experienced, albeit young player cheating, obviously requires a little more understanding, patience, and grace on your part. There are a lot of moving parts to this equation. A poisonous player base, like my friends’ from the anecdote above, certainly complicates things.

As always, I’d love to hear your solutions to or thoughts on this in the comments. Catching a cheater is not usually as simple or straightforward as we’d like it to be. More often than not, the cheats are simply being committed by people who have no frame of reference (yet) about how their actions affect others. The best you can hope for is to not fly off the handle in outrage if a T.O. makes a judgment call you don’t agree with. A common rule in writing that also applies to life is, essentially, don’t go with the first thing that pops in your head—usually snap-reactions tend to be very base and, frankly, pretty stupid.

I hope to hear from lots of you in the comments. See you next week.

Jon Corpora
Pronounced Ca-pora
@feb31st

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