Harsh Judgment: My Take on Theron

In the beginning, there was Mike Long. But the DCI was just getting started.

In the beginning, there was Mike Long. Going back to the infamous Cadaverous-Bloom-in-the-lap incident and beyond, Long had a reputation for being shady. This infuriated a lot of the Magic community to no end. “No one should cheat as blatantly as he,” they cried,”and get away with it!” But the DCI let him off with warning after warning, much to the consternation of much of the community. Supposedly up to $50,000 of his winnings were considered "ill-gotten."

Recently, within the past year and a half, the DCI has begun cracking down. And we as players regarded this as a good thing. Mike Long was eventually caught stacking his deck at Nationals 2000 against Trevor Blackwell, was disqualified, served with a one-month suspension and has gradually disappeared from the Magic scene.

But the DCI was just getting started.

First was Ed Fear, caught supposedly drawing from his sideboard in a tournament, if I remember correctly. He was banned for one year, tried to appeal his case to the public, and lost.

Then there was Casey McCarrell. It was painfully obvious that he cheated by stacking his opponent’s decks. For his punishment, he was suspended for three years. And the players said, "Finally! The DCI is cracking down on cheaters." Nationals Head Judge Collin Jackson was being called the "new sheriff in town."

Okay, obvious case of cheating. DCI catches and punishes the perp.

That brings us to David Williams.

In the Worlds’ Top 8, he is disqualified for having marked (slightly bent) Accumulated Knowledges in his deck.

My take at the time was that at such a high level event, it is the players responsibility to make sure he has no marked cards well before the event. If he does not take the time to check his deck properly, then I won’t feel sorry for him when he gets disqualified.

For this, Williams was penalized with a year’s suspension.

I’m not going to venture a guess if Williams was cheating or not. The only person who knows with 100% certainty is David Williams. But rules are rules, and he should have known them. Ignorance of the law is no excuse.

That brings us to Theron Martin. I don’t know Theron Martin, but we’ve emailed a few times, and in my opinion and the opinion of many others, he seems like a straight-up guy and I’ve always found his Metagame Madness columns on Mindripper to be insightful and useful when prepping for PTQs and the like. You can read his reaction to a five-year ban here.

Supposedly, he was a beneficiary of fraudulent tournament reports. I’ll let you read Theron’s article and the other articles associated with it and let you judge for yourself. But it concerns me, as a player, that the DCI may be stepping too far in penalizing players, overcompensating for years of perceived laxness.

Apparently (and I don’t know this for certain, obviously), the DCI believes that fraudulent tournament reports are a major concern, and it is possible that by going after a "name" player, like Theron Martin, and levying what amounts to a lifetime ban against him, they hope to discourage others from committing this offense. It’s the same logic that police departments use to discourage prostitution by printing the names of arrested "johns" in the local papers.

Martin may be guilty. As I’ve said, I don’t know the man, but from what I know of him, he doesn’t seem like the man who would commit this kind of offense. Then again, David Williams has a large fan base comprised of many professional players who would say he’s not capable of cheating. But I’d like to think he isn’t.

The DCI is also taking these actions, given, for the long-term health of the game. No one is going to want to televise Worlds if there’s rampant cheating – or the suspicion of rampant cheating. The game will lose a lot of its core of hardcore players, the ones who drive 500 miles to a PTQ and spend thousands of dollars on cards, if people believe that no matter how good you are, you can lose to someone with better shuffling skills.

I hope we hear publicly from Chris Zantides and the DCI for a more definitive answer as to the charges levied against Martin. Generally, they’ve been pretty good about that. Because until we hear publicly from someone from the DCI, Martin’s case is going to grow stronger and a cloud of suspicion is going to grow over the DCI.

I’d like to think there’s a simple explanation for all this. I know that there is not.

Remember that the judicial system in the United States was founded on the principle that it is better that ten guilty men go free than one innocent man be wrongfully imprisoned – and for a long time, the DCI seemed to be following that paradigm. Now they have shifted to a more draconian system with harsher penalties, and I think the DCI needs to possibly reconsider how far they’ve shifted before they alienate all the players who once sung their praises. The DCI has walked a thin line in the past and done a fairly good job of it, but I’m concerned that they are losing their balance now.