Sperling’s Sick of It – December 2012

Many people don’t know that I’m 1/16th Grinch (on my dad’s side). Before you hit me with any of the insensitive stuff from Dr. Seuss’ hateful catalogue, remember that words mean things (I was told stating that would help). I don’t like holiday cheer, eggnog, or old crappy songs, but I don’t plot to commit grand larceny every December like Dr. of Propaganda Seuss would have you believe.

I’ve chosen to take time off from being sick of the holiday season to bring you the following Magic-related things I’m officially sick of. Check out last month’s rants, if you missed them.

1) 2013: Another year of a major Magic event being held on or adjacent to Valentine’s Day.

Pro Tour Gatecrash in Montreal is February 15-17, 2013. That means travel is inevitable on Valentine’s Day, Thursday the 14th. For those of you who are single, click here to get an approximation of how this is typically received in a relationship. Let’s see what the Ghost-of-Fighting-With-My-Significant-Other-Past reveals in our journey back in time:

PT Dark Ascension in Honolulu (February 10-12, 2012)
PT&GP Paris (February 10-13, 2011)
GP Oakland (February 13-14, 2010)
PT Kuala Lumpur (February 15-17, 2008)

Oh that’s right, several years of explaining the need (don’t ever use this word) to play a card game on Valentine’s Day and trying to make up for it the week after. Valentine’s Day is bad enough without starting behind in the count (trying to further alienate any non-North American readers still here with a baseball expression). I took my girlfriend to Paris in 2011 so we could spend the time together, and while it was fun, it wasn’t cheap.

Is there a good reason this keeps happening? Are the venues really cheap because even the pornographers and car freaks that normally fight for the convention halls shy away from booking on Valentine’s Day? Qualifying for PT Gatecrash in a North American GP or PTQ should come with a flight, an air mattress that fits inside a dog house, and three dozen roses.

“But Matt, many if not most Magic players are [insert virgin gamer nerd stereotype].” If this is the rationale, I’d love to see them come out and say it. In any event, this is “Sperling’s Sick of It,” not, “Random Loser Has No Reason to Be Sick of It.”

2) Cube articles titled “_____, Cubed!”


6 (Editor’s Note: In Matt’s defense, his original title was “Cube Strategy 1: Ramp.” We changed it.)

“Cube is so fun, it’s like (Magic x Magic x Magic)!” We get it. “No, check it out, if you took the product of normal Magic and normal Magic you would still be an entire normal Magic away from how fun the Cube variant is!”

Max McCall of “Max Reanimator vs. Max Ramp vs. Max Blue” fame thinks this Cube thing has gone too far.

3) Stupid Cards, December Edition

Ice Cauldron
[draft]Ice cauldron[/draft]

Here’s a good old-fashioned wall of text. The oracle text, in my opinion and in keeping with the oracle policy goal of having the cards do what you think they do when you read the text, should be, “XT: Put a card from your hand and a charge counter on [card]Ice Cauldron[/card]. Make up a reasonable effect for this card to have, and if your opponent believes it, do your thing. If not, sacrifice [card]Ice Cauldron[/card] and try again against someone else.”


Forget that you can [card]Defang[/card] a Slime token, that’s par for the course at this point. But even in its natural context, if you [card]Defang[/card] a Vampire, don’t they retain superhuman strength and quickness? Also, in addition to being strong and fast, they never sleep, so if you could Defang one somehow, couldn’t you just stake one in the heart instead? Is this a humane alternative to killing that’s like declawing a cat (which is only debatably humane in the first place)? Are the villagers like a newish sofa in this scenario? Lot of questions, not many answers here.

Stormbound Geist
[draft]stormbound geist[/draft]

In the same block, we find Sturmgeist. Sturm means storm, far as I can tell. The German version of Stormbound Geist is “Sturmgebundener Geist,” which, if you try to pronounce it, serves a passable impression of the Swedish Chef, despite being German. Storm Ghost and Stormbound Ghost in the same block—are there so few ideas for type of ghost, err “geist,” that we’re picking the same one twice and fudging the language to make it seem new?

4) The Cut-Your-Losses Award, or “Everyone just wants you to admit the mistake and move on.”

And the winner is… the rules team and the new trigger policy. It used to be that with regard to triggers, there were “may” triggers and “must” triggers, and basically both players were responsible for tracking the must triggers and making sure they happened. I look at it this way, mostly because this is the most sensible way to look at it: the players were jointly tasked with approximating the Magic Online rules engine. It wasn’t perfect, people would forget things, people would intentionally not say things, and it was hard to tell the difference (Angel of Despair and all that).

Still, people complaining about having to be the rules engine didn’t really get it, in my opinion. Does it totally suck when Magic Online reminds an opponent of a [card]Dark Confidant[/card] trigger? No, that’s what the card does.

Also, triggers aren’t the only thing that works this way. Players in paper Magic will always have to a) watch what their opponent is doing, b) point out things they are doing incorrectly or illegally, and c) track and be responsible for several aspects of the game state, some triggers, some not. And sometimes, with all the tracking and enforcing, people find an angle and shoot it.

Think about what happens when your opponent gains life from lifelink and forgets to write it down. You have to point it out, it kind of feels unsavory to do so, you aren’t left with a choice, and some people see an opportunity to cheat. So the old system lives on in many (most?) areas, and we’ve merely traded away a portion of that tracking and enforcement responsibility in exchange for a very counterintuitive, clunky, this-ain’t-how-modo-does-it workaround for triggers that has proven more trouble than it’s worth.

I’m not sick of the experimentation or the desire to improve the rules that drives it. What I’m sick of is that we haven’t gone back to the old system after several failed attempts to find a better one. The old system wasn’t that bad. I’m not saying scrap the good in search of the perfect, I’m saying scrap the bad in favor of the decent, and work on finding better systems offline, as a side project.

Also, the rules committee does a big disservice to the design and development folks who took time deciding that [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card] making an Angel token should be a “must,” while gaining a life from [card]Dragon’s Claw[/card] should be a “may.” It works pretty well on Magic Online, and we have a system that comes pretty close to replicating that, by asking both players to do their best, and tracking players who are excessively sloppy or suspicious. (And if you’re so sloppy in Professional Level events that we confuse it for cheating, that’s your own fault. We have to punish cheaters, we can’t read your mind, and this is a Professional Event, sorry.)

5) One more thing about judging…

Something else I’m sick of is that at the Pro Tour level, the words “I don’t know” and “I’m not sure” aren’t common enough initial rulings.

First, let me say that the judges work hard, do a good job in general, and mostly volunteer their time to do it. I appreciate that. I also know that the deck is stacked against these judges, in a way you might not have thought of yet. When two experienced players (experts) sit down and play, they can resolve most of the gameplay, and even many misunderstandings, without calling a judge. It is recommended that you don’t trust your opponent’s rulings on what the cards do, but sometimes they’re just reminding you of something you already knew, or they’re a trusted friend and you’d rather save some time. Plus, at the PT level, we just know the vast majority of rules likely to come up before we sit down. The result of these many factors is that judges are mostly called on to make difficult decisions.

It’s okay to admit, if you’re a judge, that you aren’t sure how one of these difficult decisions should be ruled. There is necessarily a threshold regarding every judge’s confidence level, below which they will say “I’m not sure,” and above which they will issue what they believe is the correct ruling.

The observed frequency of incorrect (overturned) rulings vs. the frequency of “I’m not sure” responses to me means that judges are overconfident and/or the confidence threshold for taking a stand is just too low. There is a danger of bias here on my part, since incorrect rulings are so salient, and certainly far more salient than someone saying “I’m not sure,” so I do want to be careful. Still, I pay pretty close attention and don’t call the judge that often, and I’d bet that both my opponents and I have successfully appealed many more rulings than have been automatically appealed or conferenced about following an admission of uncertainty from the judge.

Judges need to think hard about where their threshold is set, and leadership should provide some guidance. Maybe a guess is better than no answer on a judging test to make level 3 (I have no idea), but not so in real life, when the players might trust a ruling more confidently stated than it really is, and the head judge might be biased in favor of upholding a ruling for a number of reasons.

Owen Turtenwald and many others have trusted a judge’s ruling only to learn later that the judge got it wrong. Appealing every ruling as the solution stretches the head judge pretty thin, but that’s where we are or where we’re headed. Also, think of the reflection on the judging staff. “I don’t know,” followed by correct ruling a short while later is a much better experience for everyone involved in or observing the process than “Ruling X” overturned by “Ruling not-X.”

If the decision is a matter of judgment, such as whether it is too late to go back and tap a different land, judges should be using that judgment regardless of the likelihood of appeal, but with more “black and white” rulings; or, where the standards themselves aren’t clear, judges should seek guidance from other judges (up to and including the head judge) before making an initial ruling.

Finally, if you’re a judge (or anyone else) and you plan on commenting on this article, remember: “Play Nice, Keep it Concise.” I’ll even make up another rhyme to help you out: “If you didn’t edit, don’t expect me to have read it.” Too much of the rules discourse is complaining from the players side and stuff nobody cares to read through and parse from the judging side. Toby Elliot is an exception—follow his lead if unsure.

6) Monday Morning MaRo

We all have a certain friend. I call him/her the Monday Morning MaRo because after the set comes out, every set, this friend knows how to balance the format, sell more packs, fix the problem of fetchlands in Modern, cure the common cold, and get rich quick. This isn’t exactly all under MaRo’s job description, but I like the sound of the nickname. And, when something that he/she suggested happens down the line and it works out, he/she makes sure to take credit.

Here are the types of things an MMM will say:

• “There’s absolutely no reason lands shouldn’t all tap for any color and then just not untap the next turn” (Notice the ludicrous suggestion, the extreme conviction/hyperbole, and the fact that you aren’t even sure what problem he/she is trying to solve).

• “Don’t ban [card]Bloodbraid Elf[/card], ban [card]Maelstrom Pulse[/card].”

• “You should never have to remind an opponent of any trigger.”

My message to MMM is simple: Stay in your lane, keep explaining how that 5-4 PTQ was really 8-1 if you had gotten sleep the night before, and keep shooting that resume off to Wizards whenever there’s an opening. They need you—they just don’t realize it yet.

7) Can’t Get Out of Miracle Mode Guy/Gal

Here’s another guy or gal you know and love (to hate). This person drew [card]Entreat the Angels[/card] at the prerelease and forgot to miracle reveal, and they’ll be [card bonfire of the damned]damned[/card] if it happens again. So now, whether it’s Return to Ravnica draft or a Jund mirror match in Modern, CGOoMMG is staring at the top card of the library, each and every draw step, like Nic Cage seeing the back of the Declaration of Independence for the first time.

I don’t know if the pause is part of the habit, or if CGOoMMG is thinking, “how did I let myself become this?” every turn. I usually can’t take it and at some point in my RTR draft match I’ll ask, “Still no [card]Terminus[/card]?” and receive a confused look in return. The real perpetrator here is Wizards for making that awful mechanic, but CGOoMMG won’t let us all move on. There’s really two types of CGOoMMG, the one that draws a card over-confidently, feigning control of the situation with a pause; and the opposite, the insecure and nervous “check” the card, and hope the next play comes to mind through divine intervention during the pause. Now I have to stare at someone pretending to think every draw step, instead of just every combat step and first main.

-Matt Sperling
mtg_law_etc on Twitter.


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