Monday, May 16, 2011

Are we playing Brainstorm correctly? (A rules issue)

I'm playing in a Legacy tournament. My opponent has 6 cards in his hand to start his turn, and during his upkeep he decides to first cycle a Lonely Sandbar, and then to cast Brainstorm. He draws one for cycling, and then he draws 3 from Brainstorm, puts 2 back, then shuffles his hand around thinking about what to do next.

He decides to cast Bituminous Blast on my creature, and his cascade reveals the card Sylvan Library, which he casts.

We move on to his draw step, where Sylvan Library triggers, allowing my opponent to put back on top of his library any card that he has drawn this turn.

QUESTION 1: How can I obtain any level of satisfaction that the card he puts back is indeed one of the ones he drew this turn (for Question 1 purposes, assume neither of us realized this was a possibility when Brainstorm resolved)?

QUESTION 2: Next game, he casts Brainstorm during his upkeep, can I request that he openly track which cards he's drawn this turn? If not, why not?

QUESTON 3: A different opponent cast Brainstorm during a non-upkeep phase. Can I ask her to openly track which cards she's drawn this turn? If not, why not?

QUESTION 4: A different opponent draws his card for the turn. Can I ask him to track which cards he's drawn this turn when he, say, plays a land?


My argument for perhaps answering Question 3 in the affirmative is as follows: If "which cards are fresh," so to speak, is something I might need to know about, I should be entitled to track it so I know I am not being cheated. If I am entitled to track it in some contexts, nothing in the rules provides guidelines for differentiating those contexts from all others in which I might want to track the same information.


The rules handle a similar issue regarding Morphs by explicitly addressing the problem in the comp. rules.

"707.6. If you control multiple face-down spells or face-down permanents, you must ensure at all times that your face-down spells and permanents can be easily differentiated from each other. This includes, but is not limited to, knowing the order spells were cast, the order that face-down permanents entered the battlefield, which creature attacked last turn, and any other differences between face-down spells or permanents. Common methods for distinguishing between face-down objects include using counters or dice to mark the different objects, or clearly placing those objects in order on the table."


In a similar vein, all cards that search the library for a specific card type require that card to be revealed in order to avoid a "just trust me" result.

Rather than rely on a player's honor or a judge's presence, players are required to track openly what otherwise would be hidden information, where that information is necessary to maintaining a clear understanding of the gamestate. Why isn't there a similar rule for cards drawn, given that not allowing it to be tracked can lead a situation where I just have to trust my opponent?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Trace the Mistake Back...Now, Keep Going


When the spoiler bannings (Wafo-Tapa, Matignon, and cohorts banned for leaking the spoiler) were announced, a detail emerged that was glossed over by Wizards.

Why the hell were some players given confidential information that they could use to gain a competitive advantage in Magic tournaments?

Well, we kind of got the "why;" it was explained that the spoiler was given to aid Matignon in hyping the new set in his publication. There is no way disclosing the whole set is necessary. Why can't Matignon just talk about a preview card or two, or a mechanic? If an NDA is entered into with an author of preview articles, must it be a Pro Club member? The answer to these questions is that the benefit of providing this information to pro players couldn't possibly have justified undermining basic principles and expectations of fairness in competitive play.

It's really frustrating to see such oversights come to light only after a non-disclosure agreement was breached. I lost to Wafo-Tapa in Worlds (where I finished a win away from drawing into Top 8 in the final round), but I was outraged before I even remembered that fact. My friends and I fly around the world and try hard to prepare for these tournaments in the limited time we have with the new set. We show up to compete on a fair playing field. That's one of the things I love about the game, and it is an obvious pillar of tournament play.

The biggest mistake made was not Matignon sharing the list with his friends. It wasn't those friends sharing the list with the world. It was Wizards of the Coast providing an undisclosed competitive advantage to certain competitors.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Women and Magic, a missing piece of the discussion

Titus Chalk recently took a fresh look at the 15+year old question of why tournament Magic contains so few women (article can be found here,

The article is well written and contains many valid points about the gender gap in tournament Magic, but the article makes no mention of the body of research that does a lot of work to explain the gender gap.

There is a real gender difference in competitiveness (and performance in competitive vs. casual settings). Just as an example (I encourage Googling and/or looking up citations within this article for those with an interest), this recent article discusses the gender difference in competitiveness in the context of desire to enter tournaments:

Here's the abstract of the article:

"We examine whether men and women of the same ability differ in their selection into a competitive environment. Participants in a laboratory experiment solve a real task, first under a noncompetitive piece rate and then a competitive tournament incentive scheme. Although there are no gender differences in performance, men select the tournament twice as much as women when choosing their compensation scheme for the next performance. While 73 percent of the men select the tournament, only 35 percent of the women make this choice. This gender gap in tournament entry is not explained by performance, and factors such as risk and feedback aversion only play a negligible role. Instead, the tournament entry gap is driven by men being more overconfident and by gender differences in preferences for performing in a competition. The result is that women shy away from competition and men embrace it."


This gender difference is what I believe accounts (in large part) for the male/female ratio in tournament Magic. Comparing the field of any tournament to a figure such as "28 percent of people who play video games are female" is misleading. Women's reluctance to enter tournaments doesn't necessarily reflect a deficiency in Magic or an oversight by its creators or by tournament organizers.

Whether or not you enjoy competitive-level tournament Magic comes down to one thing: do you enjoy competing against and beating a complete stranger at a game. Not "do you enjoying playing a stranger." The joy must come from the (often intense) competition, otherwise FNM and the kitchen table provide everything you need, all without the car ride out of town and the $100 Jaces.

Entry into the tournament is not only optional, it's costly. Timed rounds, rules infractions, no take-backs, crowded spaces, entry fees, cutthroat deck construction, expensive cards, travel. Why are boys more interested in putting up with all this? Because they get more out of it. That's why they'll put more in.


Everyone enjoys beating their older brother at something, and many boys and girls enjoy beating their friends, but I think when it comes to being paired against a stranger and playing to win, the dynamic changes. Tournament Magic isn't about casting a cool Dragon or Vampire, or the laughter or joking that occurs as the games play out. It's about winning. Again, it isn't Magic that is this way, just tournament Magic.

Like many others, I think the Magic community can work to be more accepting and friendly toward female players that do choose to enter tournaments. However, we should be cautious (and look at the research) before we blame a harsh, male-dominated environment for having created a harsh, male-dominated environment.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Kenny and the Draftermath

Kenny Hsiung doing his THATS THE GOD DAMN GAME RIGHT THERE BOYS routine after money drafting till 6am one night. (watch carefully for when the laptop goes flying off the bed)