Insider Information – The Scumbag Dilemma

Grand Prix GP Columbus July 30-August 1, 2010
Wednesday, June 30th – In recent tournaments, Cedric Phillips has acquired something of a reputation. Today, he explains and highlights a pair of controversial yet totally legal plays that he believes are the correct courses of action. He also debates the philosophy of the Magic “scumbag.” Do you agree with his outspoken opinions?

It looks like I am the talk of much scumbaggery lately. I’m not one to run and hide from controversy. In fact, I happen to love controversy!

Some people don’t like me. I am fine with that. I don’t want to be loved by everyone, and to expect to be loved by everyone is asinine. But what do people hate even more than me?

The truth!

No one wants to hear the truth. Ever. People who tell the truth on a consistent basis are often called “brutally honest.” Why is the word “brutally” always put before “honest” in that description? Why can’t they just be called honest?

Is it because the truth is brutal? I don’t think it is. The truth is the truth. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Today, I am going to be brutally honest on a lot of topics. If you don’t like it, I don’t know what to tell you. You can’t live under a rock forever.

Before we even begin to talk about me, let’s talk about each and every one of you.

Newsflash! You’re not as good at Magic as you think you are!

No one is!

Yet it seems I am the only one who is actually realistic in their Magic playing ability. I know I’m not that good at Magic, and have said as much so many times that I am beginning to grow tired of saying it. The fact that I am a Level 5 pro is still astonishing to me. Yet, everyone says I am terribly arrogant and cocky. Pardon me for showing a little bit of confidence when I am at a Magic tournament.

The people who I love are the ones that are honestly looking to get better at Magic as often as possible, those that are honest in their abilities. Christian Valenti is a perfect example. If everyone could approach the game like he does, Magic would be such a more pleasurable experience for everyone.

But everyone nowadays wants to show how smart they are. They want to be the one who points out to the pro what mistake they made. Seven years ago, this would get you exiled from the pro community forever. I wish things were still that way.

When Bob Maher Jr. was playing Magic, you watched him and didn’t say a word. You learned as much as you could and then moved on with your life. You didn’t try to look smart by pointing out what you think he did wrong. And you know why? Because you were nowhere near as smart as he was.

This past weekend, I said in a conversation that I was not good enough to win a Pro Tour. This is a statement that I truly believe. However, this statement caught Conley Woods off guard. Conley said, “I would do much better if I played better decks.”

Hello kettle. My name is pot.

To those who call Alex Bertoncini a cheater, give it a rest. Chances are he might just be good at playing Magic: the Gathering. Or he is cheating his way to the top of the SCG Player of the Year race in front of the same judges and GGSLive camera on a weekly basis.

Yeah… It’s certainly one of those two things.

Remember when Kenji, Shuuhei, and Masashi were called cheaters a few years ago? Oh, how stupid all those who called them cheaters look now…

Instead of criticizing everyone else, criticize yourself.

Now, let’s talk about my “scumbaggery”

First, let’s talk about the play that I made with Esper Charm. For those of you who don’t know, here is how the story goes:

It is round 4 of the Midwest Master Series in Columbus, Ohio. I am 3-0 playing Turboland against a gentleman playing some type of Esper Control deck. I am up a game, and the following play occurs:

Him: End of your turn, Esper Charm, targeting me.
Me: [brief pause] Esper Charm, targeting you?
Him: Yes. Esper Charm, targeting me.
Me: You’re targeting yourself?
Him: Yes. I am targeting myself.
Me: Judge!

A judge comes over.

Me: My opponent said Esper Charm, targeting himself. Do you agree with that?
Him: Yes. I said Esper Charm, targeting myself.
Judge: Okay.

Opponent goes to draw two cards.

Me: You have to discard two cards. The only mode on Esper Charm that targets a player is “discard two cards.”
Him: [confused look].
Judge: This is correct. The only part of Esper Charm that targets is the discard portion.

Opponent discards a land and Martial Coup. The game ends a few turns later.

I’ve asked opinions on this play from quite a few people, and it came up on both GGSLive, my Facebook, and the coverage of the StarCityGames.com Legacy Open in St. Louis this past weekend. Some have said it’s perfectly acceptable. Others have said it’s a scumbag maneuver. What is your opinion?

To those who say it is a scumbag maneuver, I’d love to hear your rationale why. Every person who I have heard say that it is a scumbag maneuver normally follows it up with, “I don’t like to win games that way.”

What does that… even… mean?

You don’t like winning games by playing by the rules? Nothing I did was illegal. I actually confirmed with my opponent that this was his play numerous times, and even called a judge over before I let the spell resolve. What more do you want me to do without saying, “don’t choose that mode”…?

To those who say, “I don’t want to win the game that way,” how exactly do you want to win the game? Do you point out every may effect that your opponent controls to make sure he/she doesn’t miss them? Do you let your opponent take free mulligans during a match? People say they want to play an honest game, but that simply isn’t true. No one feels sorry for the other person when they mulligan to five during a match. Those that say they do are lying to themselves, and to the person across the table from them.

“Gee, it sure sucks that you mulled to five with this Pro Tour invite on the line. What will I ever do get over this pain in my heart?”

Get. Real.

The fact that people are calling me a scumbag because my opponent made a mistake, and I upheld said mistake after confirming his mistake multiple times, is pure insanity.

Let’s get to the other issue at hand: The Mindbreak Trap play.

I’m playing Belcher in the StarCityGames.com Legacy Open in St. Louis this past weekend. My opponent is playing Zoo. I am on the play and have an Empty the Warrens hand. This is how the turn goes:

Me: Lotus Petal, Rite of Flame, Desperate Ritual, Seething Song, Lion’s Eye Diamond.
Me: Empty the Warrens?
Him: Nope. Mindbreak Trap.
Me: [tank for a full minute] I don’t feel like being difficult. That’s fine.

I go on to lose the match.

The play in question is Mindbreak Trap in combination with Empty the Warrens. At no point did I resolve the storm trigger of Empty the Warrens. I could have very easily allowed Mindbreak Trap to resolve on the original copy of Empty the Warrens and then resolved the storm trigger. Is this play acceptable, or is this play scumbaggery?

To those who say this is scumbaggery, do you announce the trigger on Demigod of Revenge to your opponent to ensure they don’t miss it? I doubt that you do!

The reason I went through with the Esper Charm play and didn’t go through with the Mindbreak Trap play isn’t really easy to explain. I think it had to do with my record at the time and my overall mindset on the day, but I’m not entirely sure. In the issue with Esper Charm, I was 3-0 at the time, up a game, and on my way to 4-0. In the issue with Mindbreak Trap, I was not interested in playing in the tournament anymore, everyone in my car was 0-1 (then Noah Swartz made Top 8), and we were all ready to go home.

Do I regret how either play went? Yes, I do. I should have been cutthroat on the Mindbreak Trap issue.

That is my only regret. Why?

Because I didn’t do anything wrong!

Rules are rules for a reason. The people who write the rules for this game don’t do it because they are bored. They write the rules to be followed. I don’t know what happened to my cutthroat attitude over the past month, but I will never let my mind waver again.

Some people may find this attitude to be harsh. That doesn’t surprise me. But let me lay out another situation for you:

You wake up at 5am to drive to a PTQ. You have tested a countless number of hours preparing for this PTQ, and you feel you have a realistic chance at winning the tournament. You arrive at the tournament site with deck in hand prepared to play. You purchase a brand new pair of sleeves, fill out your decklist, and pay the entry fee for the PTQ. It’s time to game!

The tournament is underway and you are 7-1, but you can’t draw into Top 8 due to poor tiebreakers. It is game 3 of the last round. You’re at five life and your opponent is at one life. You are going to win the next turn, as you have played your deck expertly and your cocky opponent has played poorly. Your opponent has ten mana in play and no cards in hand. He draws his last card of the game and a smile creeps on his face. He calls his friends over so they can watch his next move. He taps six of his mana and slams down Fireball for five. He then high fives his friends in a wild manner.

But within that six mana, one of them is a Scalding Tarn.

So, to all of you calling me a scumbag, what do you do now?

Cedric Phillips

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