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Rule of Law – Should Alex Bertoncini be Banned?

Show me a player who has consistently had more success than their peers at Magic, and I’ll show you someone who has been accused of cheating. Sometimes it’s a whisper, sometimes it’s a shout, and sometimes the whispers become shouts if you piss off the right person or if you keep cheating.

Many of you are now familiar with this article

I consider Drew Levin a friend and I hardly know Alex Bertoncini. Still, I’m uncomfortable with only Drew’s perspective being presented in a detailed way, and not Alex’s. Alex went on the Men of Magic podcast and explained that he just made mistakes, but he didn’t provide a ton of detail about the specific situations. He might be receiving (sound) advice that since a DCI investigation is or might become active, relative silence is the best course of action to maintain DCI eligibility. He might also be uncomfortable writing his own specific defense when all he can say is basically “these were just mistakes” (this is all he can say whether they were mistakes or cheating) and he’s already said that much, and is unlikely to sway people’s opinions with just the obvious denial. What I’ve put together below started as what I would post if I were Alex’s attorney in the fictional court of public opinion or the court of the slightly less fictional DCI. I’ve added my own thoughts to the discussion since I’m not actually Alex’s attorney in any context and am instead a member of the community who is wrestling with these issues just like you likely are.

Do I think Alex Bertoncini cheats? Should he be banned from the DCI? These aren’t the same question. I can answer the first question with my own opinion and corresponding confidence level based on my “gut feeling,” but my answer to the second question needs to be based only on the evidence against Bertoncini. Since Drew Levin’s article, everyone seems to have formed an opinion about whether or not they think Bertoncini cheats. I think [REDACTED]. Who cares what I think? It would be easy but unfair to just read a very biased account of past events (Levin’s article) and offer my personal opinion about what they add up to.

To determine the course of action the DCI should take with Bertoncini, we have to look at the evidence, not our personal beliefs. The DCI doesn’t have the luxury of abstaining from judgment like I have chosen to in this article. These are serious allegations, and they demand the DCI’s attention.

Do I believe the evidence against Bertoncini should result in a ban from the DCI? Looking at the evidence, no, I do not. Alex Bertoncini plays a ton of Magic, and much of it is on camera these days. Individuals who, for whatever reason, have decided to pay close attention to Bertoncini have come up with 3 documented cases of incorrect gameplay that could be either mistakes or deliberate cheating.

The additional “stories” of cheating can’t be accorded much weight. Players who don’t like me might be telling stories, players who don’t like you might be telling stories, and it all could be made up. Here’s another possibility that doesn’t involve vindictive storytelling: At PT Amsterdam I had an [card]Ethersworn Canonist[/card] and a [card]Rule of Law[/card] in play. My opponent played a Borderpost and then went to play another spell. I informed him he had reached his 1 spell per turn limit (imposed by [card]Rule of Law[/card], flavor win!), and he agreed and passed the turn. Another player saw what happened and told a friend of mine that I had cheated, thinking that I was relying on the Canonist (which doesn’t apply to artifacts). I had to clear up the rumor before it spread any further. This is all just a long way of saying that whispers and war stories shouldn’t lead to DCI action.

Let’s get back to the 3 recorded incidents: the [card kira, great glass-spinner]Kira[/card], the [card sower of temptation]Sower[/card], and the [card]Explore[/card].

The [card kira, great glass-spinner]Kira[/card]

Youtube link

• Bertoncini might have thought Jace bounced the Kira.
• He might have played 3 Kira in his deck, but his deck was misregistered or misreported (both have happened many many times to all kinds of players).
• He might have cheated.

This situation sure feels “fishy,” but I honestly can’t rule any of the above cases out. Option two, that the deck actually had 3 Kira, seems particularly difficult to rule out. Did Darwin Kastle cheat every time he cast [card]Galvanic Blast[/card] in the TCG Open just because the deck was misreported to contain 0 copies? Examples of misregistered or misreported decks are endless. So for that scenario vs. cheats, I can guess which happened, but I don’t want someone else guessing about what occurs in my head when I make a mistake, so I must refrain.

The [card sower of temptation]Sower[/card]

Feature Match coverage

Decklist

The Levin article itself admits he might have just forgot to de-sideboard, but then states alarms should have went off when he saw Kira in his sideboard. I don’t look at my sideboard between games in competitive events, I shuffle it into the maindeck and then pull out the 15 cards I want to take out, and then pile and count to 60. Maybe Bertoncini does what I do. Maybe he was really tired and kind of “zombie-mode”ing through this round; I’ve done that too, and so have you if you play as much Magic as Bertoncini does.

The [card]Explore[/card]

Youtube link

This one is the least problematic of the three. Bertoncini’s opponent wasn’t cheating, he was just mistaken. Bertoncini could have been thinking the exact same thing this mistaken opponent was. Tone of voice or other context clues don’t come close to ruling out the possibility of honest mistake about how many lands [card]Explore[/card] really allowed to be in play. Players often get tripped up with [card]Explore[/card] and [card]Oracle of Mul Daya[/card] following a subsequent decision like [card]Preordain[/card]. Cheaters, of course, also cheat in this context, but I don’t see the evidence that allows us to place Bertoncini in the cheater camp and remove him from the possibly mistaken camp.

The Totality of the Evidence Argument

As it often goes, “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.” If you want to give Bertoncini’s deck an extra shuffle or two, or pay extra close attention to his hand size, be my guest. There’s enough smoke here to indicate that something may be going on. However, if I’m the DCI, I shouldn’t take a few inconclusive but fishy games from the thousands Bertoncini has been playing and conclude he has cheated.

Perhaps ironically, Levin is too biased in his article to highlight factors that may be biasing his collection of data. Incidents that are “fishy” are far more salient than games in which nothing happens or games in which a mistake favors an opponent (this isn’t fishy, and isn’t told around the water cooler). Levin calls attention to the “reports” he hears, just as the nightly news calls attention to certain reports of crime. The problem is that the nightly news method of gathering evidence about the totality of a circumstance by piecing together the most interesting tidbits that emerge is horribly flawed. (see the references section of this article for some academic treatments)

To use the totality of the evidence argument, you need to weigh the handful of fishy games against the backdrop of thousands of games played and many games recorded (the precise number I do not know, I don’t have access to everyone’s cellphone, as Rupert Murdoch did not finance this article). Is it plausible that a biased collection of data from a player’s match history (resembling Bertoncini’s) would reveal errors of this kind that seemed fishy even if the person wasn’t cheating? That’s what Levin is asking us to weigh, he’s just too invested to phrase it that way.

Final Thoughts on Shooting Messengers and Confusing Process Concerns with Opinions of Innocence

Jeff Cunningham wrote a thoughtful comment on Levin’s article that touches on many points I made above. Geordie Tait responded on Facebook with this: “Geordie Tait: Cunningham was just going for the trifecta of defending misogyny, rape threats and cheating in the last 4 months.” I don’t have the prior forum posts in front of me, but something tells me Ffej didn’t actually defend misogyny or rape threats then, and I know he isn’t defending cheating now. More likely, Geordie disagrees with Ffej and that’s all that’s going on. I also took up for Lucas Florent when he was banned for life, not because I defend rape threats, but because I thought that in that particular case he didn’t actually make a credible threat, but that’s a story for a different day. Getting back to this article, the court of public opinion seems to have adjourned on Alex Bertoncini, but I hope people are able to separate that sentiment from the ideas I am expressing here.

Bertoncini’s failure to mount a rapid and public defense to the allegations is another thing that plays in the court of public opinion but shouldn’t to the DCI. Drew Levin is asking the DCI to add up the evidence against Bertoncini and conclude he cheats, but if all three pieces of evidence could be an honest mistake, let he who has never made three honest mistakes in the complex game of Magic cast the first stone.

-Matt Sperling
mtg_law_etc on Twitter

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