How To Cheat Effectively At Multiplayer

"Did you cheat?" she asked me. She was broke, out of the game, and only wanted to know how I had won. We were friends, so I could afford to be honest. "Of course," I replied. I had cleaned the entire table of $20,000 at poker that very afternoon, emptying the pockets of five suckers…

"Did you cheat?" she asked me. She was broke, out of the game, and only wanted to know how I had won.

We were friends, so I could afford to be honest.

"Of course," I replied. I had cleaned the entire table of $20,000 at poker that very afternoon, emptying the pockets of five suckers – including Shannon – who had dared to test my cardsharking abilities. The money was gone now, of course, but wasn’t that the way of all things?

"But did you REALLY cheat?" she said. "In real life? Like ACTUAL sleight-of-hand and whatnot? Not just…" She waved a hand vaguely in the air.

"What else did you expect?" I smirked cockily. She groaned.

I suppose I should explain.

The game that afternoon was my first (and last) taste of live-action roleplaying. We were playing Deadlands, one of the best RPGs in existence*, and we were pretending to be cowboys on a train heading across the Midwest. My goal – along with about thirty other players – was to lie, cheat, and steal my way into enough money to enter the Wichita Gambling Contest. Gambling being a quick and widely-accepted method in the days of saloons and hydrochloric-laced whiskey, we sat down to play.

And here’s the thing: Everyone walked in character. They talked in character. Some of them DRESSED in character.

But they all used the game rules to cheat.

I’d be playing a hand, deep in thought, and then I’d hear the guy next to me call out for a game organizer. "JUDGE! HEY, JUDGE! How do I cheat, here?"

And some doof in a red vest would walk over, kneel down next to him, and explain the official cheating rules: "All right, now – roll this eight-sided die and add your DEX score to the total, and if it’s over your ‘cheat’ skill then you’ll be allowed to declare one card in your hand as wild…."

Meanwhile, I was holding cards under the table, shorting the pot, double-dealing, and filching chips every chance I got.

Nobody the wiser, my friend. And I won.

So now that you know my credentials, I am here to tell you how to cheat in multiplayer games. And let me dispel the first illusion most people have about cheating:

It’s not hard.

Everyone has this grand ideas about stacking decks, passthrough shuffles, and other feats of prestidigitory wonder – and you don’t need it. Most cheats require nothing more than the chutzpah to pull them off, and the good will of your friends. It’s more difficult to cheat in duels, where you have one player who should be watching you like a hawk – but in multiplayer? Man, talk aboutcher gangsta’s paradise. You can do ANYTHING.

And here’s how you do it.


First of all, remember one principle about cheating large groups of tables: You are here to have fun.

No, get all of those nicey-nice ideas out of your blubbery skull, you moron; if you’re cheating, you’re evidently in it to win it. But nobody’s going to TRUST you if you look like the conniving bastard that you are. So you need to cultivate an image as a friendly, agreeable player in order to get you into the catbird seat.

So remember, You Are Here To Do The Right Thing. Don’t be aggressive at rules-lawyering – just move on to keep the game flowing. If somebody informs you that you have miscounted your life total, don’t argue – shrug and change it willingly, as if they’re wrong… but you’ll gladly bow to the will of the table to keep this game moving. As if keeping the right numbers is Important.

Oh – and you will take every point of damage assigned to you scrupulously. You will remind players of card effects that make it easier to hose you. You will point out things that they could be doing better, and in general be the guy at the table who helps everybody along.

Because that way, when you get caught, NOBODY SUSPECTS YOU OF CHEATING.

It’s an honest mistake.


So then, you ask – how do you cheat?


There are three basic rules for successful (and simple) sleight of hand:

* Move casually.
* Don’t look at what you’re doing.
* Hypnotize ’em with eye contact.

Moving casually is simple – don’t twitch your way to a card, nor sidle up to it like a snake on Ecstacy. Just grab it like it’s the most natural thing in the world to do so. Anything else draws attention, which is what you don’t want.

As for not looking at what you’re doing, that’s key; when you’re off filching a card off the top of your deck or adjusting your life totals, you need to be scanning the table to see whether anyone is in danger of catching you. If anyone’s looking in your direction, this might be your signal to back off. Do whatever you need to do by feel and instinct, but eyesight’s a sure giveaway.

And speaking of eyesight, people tend to follow your eyes. If you’re looking at your deck, they’ll glance down to see what’s interesting – which is why it’s critical to work sightless. If someone looks in your direction, then immediately lock them in with eye contact. Do NOT look guiltily down; this is not You Getting Nailed. This is, rather, one of those minor-league embarassing moments when you get caught staring at someone absent-mindedly. Smile wanly. Don’t make a comment – you do and you might catch someone else’s attention. Finish your task (or abandon it), move your hand elsewhere (preferably to do something else, as camouflage), and nod in a friendly way.

Do this, and you’ve got the skills necessary. It’s not that difficult. Especially when they’re not expecting it.


Heck, why not start off with an advantage? When you start the game, draw eight cards and THEN draw one. Hardly anybody notices, especially if you keep your hand close together and lie about the count.

Stealing cards is a late-game winning method, though. Early in the game the graveyards are too shallow and everyone’s memories too fresh to get away with it. That first-turn Lightning Bolt is memorable. The seventh-turn Bolt gets lost in the ether. Wait until there’s a pileup somewhere before filching your way to victory.

Obviously, the top of your library is a good target… but risky. People do remember how many cards you had in your hand occasionally, and people tend to watch libraries just for these kind of shenanigans, so generally save the library for the times you really need them. Plus, there’s no guarantee that you’ll get the card you need.

A better place is the late-game graveyard, particularly after a mass-removal spell. If someone Armageddons, who’s going to notice if suddenly you gain a forest to help recover? Who remembers whether you had two or three Bolts in your graveyard? Try not to steal any spell you’ve only cast one of, notable power spells, or if you’ve used any mass graveyard recursion like a Nightmare or a Living Death – but getting your "third" Llanowar Elf is not something anyone will ever question if you already have a ton of cards there.

Both of those methods are risky, though, because one good permanent count can find you out. But I shall share with you my Super Secret Card Method, always have at least one other deck nearby that you’re "throwing together" for the next game because this deck is losing so badly. Make sure said decks share one color. Keep putting your hand down on the table during boring parts to "sort" your new deck, and then pick your hand up again. At one point, mysteriously, one of your cards will have migrated from one deck to another – and you’ll have just topdecked like a pro.

Incidentally, if you do this, don’t sleeve your cards. Most tables you’ll play on will be wood-based, so the gentle brown of a naked Magic card of blends in – but that shiny black stands out like a cockroach in the rice bowl.

(While we’re on the subject of cards, be sure to accidentally "scoop" up any annoying creature enchantments at the end of the game. If they’re in your deck they’re not in his, and when you draw it you can always reveal your mistake to the group. They’ll generally let you draw another card, and your opponent will shuffle said card back into his deck – guaranteeing that HE won’t see it for awhile, either.**)


Adding tokens to things that need it; if there are two or more tokens, hardly anyone keeps count. This works particularly well in conjunction with using tokens to keep track of your life. Don’t get greedy, but a three to five-point variance could be what keeps you in the game.


I’m sure there are a few squeamish nellie-nellies out there who feel uncomfortable palming cards – but we all know they’re just afraid of getting caught, right? Well, there is one absolutely uncatchable method of cheating that is actually within the rules:

Watch other people’s hands.

Poker players know to play it close to the vest, but most Magic players I know (even Judges) wave their hands around like some Southern Belle trying to fan herself off during a muggy heatwave. Particularly in multiplayer, where you’re sitting next to at least some of your opponents, the folks around you will continually give you nice, rich glimpses of their cards. Watch carefully, and quite often you’ll know exactly what your neighbors can do to you.

Want more information? During bathroom breaks, be sure to walk behind the players. If they’re too savvy for that, sneak up on them when you come back. Works almost every time.


If you’re under some baneful influence that pings you every turn automatically, like a Subversion or a Black Vise or a Juzam Djinn, mention loudly that you’re taking the damage – "Djinn pings me for one" – and mark it off.

For three turns.

Then, randomly every couple of turns after that, announce it and take the damage. Audibly. All the other times, go and fiddle with your life total, but do nothing. It may seem counterproductive to take the damage initially, but it sets you up as a dutiful player. If someone notices that you didn’t mark it off, then they’ll believe that you "forgot" instead of "cheated like a lying weasel."

Likewise, if you’ve got a Soul Warden or something that gives you benefits at random, forget to mark it off noisily a couple of times and make it up the next turn with a "D’oh!" sound – but count everything slowly. People will generally go along with it, this being casual play. After awhile, you can pretty much add up whatever numbers you want and people will believe you.


David Phifer, the guy who inspired this article, has pointed out quite accurately that playing with all dual lands has a benefit: People will never bother to double-check that you have the right mana. After the fourth land they see a blur of colors, and say to heck with it.

But that said, misplaying mana costs is a long and hallowed tradition in tournament Magic, so why not do it yourself? Tap one or two less land than you need to, and be sure to look innocently surprised should they catch you. You’ll fix that problem right away.


If you’ve ever been sitting there in bitter silence, muttering, "I could take care of {X}, if only effect {Y} wasn’t preventing me!", then you’ll appreciate this –

{Y} not try it?

Assuming that everyone at the table is as conversant with the rules as you are makes an ASS out of U and ME. (Well, maybe not me, but definitely U.) Quite often players will forget that a particular element is on the board, or don’t know the rules well enough to see that something is impossible. In either case, you can occasionally get away with dumb tiny things, like untapping, drawing a card, and THEN pitching it to the Masticore. Or Diabolic Edicting a player who has an Ivory Mask on. The more arcane the rule, the less likely that anybody will call you on it, so why not go for it?

If caught, look perplexed and then try to take it back, but let it fizzle if the table demands it. It’s a calculated risk. But usually if you can genuinely claim you didn’t understand, you get to try again.

This is actually one of the most powerful methods of quiet, underhanded cheating; done correctly, it evokes pity for you when it doesn’t work ("Aw, poor Freddie really TRIES to be a good Magic player – and he was such a good sport about taking it back!") and allows events that Should Not Be when it goes off right.


Right here is where I’m supposed to tell you that cheating is wrong, that it takes away from the fun of the game, and that it turns your brain into two Reagan-style scrambled eggs.

Forget it.

Cheating is a long and well-loved method of winning games, and frankly in my mind it’s a real Darwinian contest – if your friends are dumb enough that they don’t catch you, then they deserve to get cheated. If you’re terrified of getting ripped, then WATCH THE TABLE. It’s not that hard. And catching someone is supremely satisfying.***

And cheating – much like mastering multiplayer diplomacy – doesn’t win you the game by itself. It can provide an extra card here, four or five life there, maybe keep a critter alive for awhile… but it’s never going to save you from a crappy deck or lousy play skills. It’s an edge, but it’s not the whole sword.

That said, I also don’t cheat with my particular playgroup. For one thing, I usually have a DCI Level III Judge sitting at the table, which makes the risk of getting caught that much higher… but also, I enjoy playing with the guys I’m with. We have a fun time. Were I to start cheating them – and from what I’ve seen, I could cheat their collective pants off, as unappetizing as THAT image may be – then they’d start to resent me, and then it wouldn’t be as much fun.

When all is said and done, I’m not there to win. I’m there to have a good time. And I’m not going to throw that all away to get an additional card.

Well, most of the time, anyway….

NEXT WEEK: No, Especially Mega-Really! Creature Feature.

Signing off,
The Ferrett
[email protected]
Visit The Ferrett Domain if you’re not easily offended. Matter of fact, stay away if you’re offended at all. Probably it’s best if you leave now, really….

* – I was going to use this space to tell you how great Deadlands is, but frankly, I’ve had at least eight people write in to complain about how hard these footnotes are to read. They’re SUPPOSED to be. The footnotes are for really idiotic sidetracks that, while they could be safely ignored in a sane society, some maniacal reader is willing to go ALL THE WAY to the end of the page to figure out what idiotic additional thing I had to say. You should feel like you’ve really Done Something when you finally figure out what I meant by a footnote. Really. Trust me.

** – Just give it back at the end of the night. I said to CHEAT, not steal, you bozo.

*** – However, I do feel that if you’re playing for, say, $10,000 in a tourney, then cheating should have appropriate penalties – you’re not just cheating then, you’re STEALING.