Hand Shakes

I always offer to shake my opponent’s hand. Shaking an opponent’s hand is seen by some as the conclusion of a match, and some believe that this means the loser of the match should offer the handshake to indicate when it’s concluded. I personally shake my opponent’s hand to wish them well, as if I were saying goodbye to a friend or colleague, whether I win, lose, or draw. To me, the people in this community are all important and I treat them as such, in my own way. Is it about sportsmanship? Sort of. If you know me, you’ll know that I go out of my way to make sure people are happy. When people around me are happy, that makes me happy. If my opponent is frustrated about a loss, I’ll do my best to commiserate with my opponent, because I do understand losing sucks sometimes, and there are a bunch of frustrating ways to lose at Magic. The post-match handshake is about showing my appreciation for them as an opponent, and more importantly, as a person.

Does this mean you have to shake someone’s hand or offer a handshake? Absolutely not. You do you. Just be respectful to your opponents and the game of Magic, and most people will understand. In fact, many cultures don’t shake hands. This is fine, and if you’re aware of it, do your best to respect that. At the same time, I’ve played with many Japanese players who offer handshakes, and are perfectly happy to shake your hand after a match regardless.

What I dislike about this whole debate, and where I see the argument derail, is that it’s about the act of handshaking, when what I’d like to see change is judgment over how people approach this situation. Win, lose, or draw, I always offer a handshake if my opponent doesn’t beat me to it. When I see players say things like, “that’s so rude, loser should offer the handshake,” this feels personal to me, because I have nothing but good intentions. I’m offering a shake to show my respect to my opponent. Judging people for something they believe is a kind gesture is pointless unless it really is causing harm in some way. If your opponent politely declines your handshake, just let them be and understand that it’s not a good time for them. Respect how anyone handles their own post-game rituals, whether it’s how you would handle the situation or not. There is no one correct way to do things.

Ghosting

The latest community debate is whether “ghosting,” or watching an opponent who’s streaming, should be illegal, or if it’s unethical.

I was flabbergasted by the pro-ghosting argument. The first I saw was that you’re giving up a competitive advantage by not utilizing free information if your opponent is offering it to you.

Let’s say that you’re playing in a tournament and your opponent drops their hand on the table by accident and you happen to see it. You now have all this extra information. Given this information, you should play accordingly. Some people think that ghosting someone who’s willing to take the risk of streaming is equivalent. It isn’t. Some stream for fun, others for profit, and some to build a brand.

In any case, it’s a benefit to the game. Streaming provides visibility for Magic, and anyone can go on Twitch and watch an awesome personality stream the best game in the world. Who knows? Maybe it convinces them to try the game themselves. Ghosting discourages streamers from advertising our game, and the competitive advantage you’re giving up as a player isn’t worth the long-term costs to the game.

Imagine that your first time watching, you see a chat room full of people discussing the likelihood of the opponent cheating. That would certainly turn me off to that game and its community. If it’s competitive advantage you seek, you want more new players anyway! You’ll get your edge back in the long run. Those few times you’re playing against an opponent who happens to be streaming for a Magic Online booster pack just isn’t worth compromising that.

On the flip side, stop accusing people of ghosting! Both streamers and stream chats, whether the opponent is or isn’t ghosting, there’s not much we can do about it while on stream, so take your lumps and don’t draw attention to the opponent. This is impossible to prove without an admission of guilt, and in the case your opponent isn’t ghosting, you’ve just branded them as a ghoster or cheater unjustly. While I don’t agree with ghosting, I also dislike the constant speculation. There’s nothing that will make me turn off a stream faster than when a streamer is consistently wondering if his opponent is ghosting. Some people are good at Magic and play around cards, or don’t, at appropriate times. Some players make the wrong plays at the right times for reasons unbeknownst to us. If you’re a streamer, ghosting is an unfortunate part of the gig you signed up for, and while I definitely think it’s wrong to ghost, being paranoid about it won’t help. The best thing we can do to discourage ghosting is to point out that it’s wrong, not taking matters into our own hands and harassing people we think may be ghosting.

The second argument you’ll hear is that streamers get outside assistance from players in their chat. The chat can help the streamer make optimal plays, giving a disadvantage to the player without a chat room full of people to get advice from. To equalize this, the streamer’s opponent can watch the stream to work with perfect information.

But anyone can have people in their house at any time giving advice, or on Google Hangouts or Skype, and work together playing a game. I encourage people to. Working through a game with other players is a great way to learn and improve at the game, and during low-stakes Magic Online League matches, the benefit of a learning tool outweighs the downsides.

It’s true that streamers can play on a delay, or with a hand blocker to protect themselves while streaming. But that ruins one of the most important elements of streaming to me, and that’s teaching and learning. Being unable to discuss a game in full detail really takes away from the streaming experience, so I think this is a bad fix.

The last argument in favor of ghosting, or at least rationalizing it, is that opponents of streamers didn’t sign up to be put in a public setting, and therefore they might not want to be playing and judged in front of an audience. I understand that there are added stressors to playing in front of a crowd. I’ve made the worst mistake of my career on camera at Pro Tour Ixalan, and if I could choose to have had no one see it, I would. But even if that makes you uncomfortable, it’s still not right to do something wrong to someone else. If you’d rather not be scrutinized for mistakes, you can use an unknown Magic Online name.

Ghosting hurts the game and its community, and you shouldn’t do it. But making accusations because your favorite streamer is losing is also harmful to the community as a whole. Treat your opponents with respect, and be happy that people are promoting the game you love on a platform that reaches potential new players. Streaming is a way of teaching, learning, and advertising Magic, and discouraging people from doing it for a very small personal gain is selfish.

Rolling the Dice

The last thing I’d like to discuss briefly is something that’s been talked about in my private groups for quite some time, and recently Collins Mullen wrote an article about how archaic it is to roll dice to determine play or draw.

I really like Collins putting this up for debate, because for a long time my peers and colleagues discussed how much better it would be if play and draw were predetermined. While I’m not necessarily as vigilant about protecting myself as he is in the die roll, I am thinking about it more and more now. While I’m not going to try to speculate how simple it is to manipulate dice, I am certain it happens a nonzero percent of the time, and I’m certain there’s been a nonzero number of judge calls about determining which process to use to randomize for play and draw. I’ve heard so many stupid things happen over the years such as, “a die landed on top of something at an angle reroll” or “one fell on the ground so reroll both,” to “no, only reroll one!” It goes on and on.

Predetermined die rolls might lead to a slightly more smoothly run tournament, fewer judge calls over silly arguments, and the added benefit for commentary: “Seth Manfield will be on the play with his Tron deck, while of course Eric Froehlich is on the draw again, playing Burn.” “If Seth manages to get a Wurmcoil Engine in play on turn 3 that’s probably his best route to victory on the play here, while it may even still be too slow against a Skullcrack out of Eric on the draw.” I think this is something we can fix in competitive Magic and I hope Wizards is considering implementing it in the future.

To sum it all up, never shake Matt Nass’s hand, always ghost Matt Nass if he’s streaming, and never let Matt Nass roll his own dice.