The Art of Magical Warfare: Better Play Through Being a Jerk

In the past few days, it’s come to my attention that I am a bit more of a jerk than I intend to be. This week, it’s my loss and your gain, as I talk about how to be a jerk for fun and profit.

Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any one thing.

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)

In the past few days, it’s come to my attention that I am a bit more of a jerk than I intend to be. This week, it’s my loss and your gain, as I talk about how to be a jerk for fun and profit.

Success in tournament level Magic has many ingredients – play skill, intelligence, grit, determination, preparation, deck choice, temperament, and so on. However, there is one thing that can always, day in and day out, increase your chances at a tournament – being a jerk.

Now before you get angry with me and begin talking about karma and the sanctity of the game, let me explain. I don’t mean being a jerk like that sixteen-year-old who gets into an opponent’s face, trash talking and generally making a nuisance of himself. No, I mean being a “Jerk.” You know, like this.

“That guy counted my deck after I presented it to him and I forgot to take out one of my sideboard cards, so I had 61 cards and I got a game loss.”

“What a jerk!”

After I lost Round 1 at Regionals last year (I didn’t mulligan Game 1 and got smashed, Game 3 the guy got the nuts, but it was still my fault for losing Game 1), I was faced with going 8-0 in order to qualify for Nationals. Seems impossible right? Well, it would’ve been actually, if not for me being a jerk. You see, round 3 I was paired with someone who obviously was sort of new to the tournament scene. He had clear sleeves that stuck together; making shuffling impossible, but more importantly, he had what looked to be about 75 cards or so in his main deck. So Game 1 I get a semi-boring Affinity draw, and stall out, while he starts playing such winners as Sword of Light and Shadow and Leonin Den-Guard. I drew nothing and died.

So Game 2 he presents his deck again, and I’m thinking to myself, “You know, if I get a crap draw and mulligan to five or something, I’m gonna lose this match, this is stupid.” So I call the judge, saying I’m a little concerned that his deck doesn’t match his submitted deck list, because it’s so many cards. So the judge takes the deck, comes back, and gives the kid a game loss for mis-registering his deck, and I smash him in Game 3.

So I’m a jerk right? Yeah it’s definitely arguable, but look at it from a different perspective. I’m very serious about Magic. I love the game, I test way too many hours for most every tournament I attend and I want to succeed at the highest levels of the game. This opponent wasn’t going to Nationals, he didn’t want to attend the Pro Tour, and he was just there to have a good time. In the end, the more serious competitor won, and I went on to make Top 8 of that tournament. Machiavelli would have been proud.

When discussing risqué material such as this, it’s important to remind everyone of a simple word: Honor. I like to think that I have Honor, and I live my life in a way such that I treat each person I meet with the respect I except from them. Sadly, Magic is a game of winners and losers, and for some of us, winning is very important. Some things that I’ve mentioned and will mention in this article improve your winning percentage, but abuse or mis-use of this knowledge will lead to harsh consequences.

Counting Your Opponent’s Deck

This is the easiest method of catching easy match wins. It’s simple, pile your opponent’s deck in two or three piles (or more) and while you’re doing it just count his deck. If it’s not sixty cards, call a judge, and get a free game win. You can also do so after sideboarding as well, and make sure it’s the same number of cards it was before he sideboarded.

Note – I, personally, despise when opponents do this to me, and I rarely if ever do it to an opponent. It really is just looking for free game wins, and I find it sleazy to the max. That said, it’s not even close to shady, and if you want to do it, I guarantee you’ll catch people eventually.


You wouldn’t believe how many people don’t call the judge when they see people do something wrong. They draw a card at the wrong time, they untap before you say go, they draw two cards accidentally, they flip a card of yours over when they’re shuffling your deck, they take too long shuffling, they miss an upkeep effect, etc. These errors are rarely the same, but each results in the same thing (usually) – a warning. Just call the judge when you see your opponent do something shady or make a mistake such as this. Remember, what you should get out of this point is very simple – CALL THE JUDGE. Letting your opponent get away with something like this may be nice, but even a nice win is still a loss for you.

Note – No reminders, I do this pretty constantly. Try not to be too much of a rules lawyer and attempt to catch your opponent on something silly and inconsequential; you’ll just look like a (you guessed it) a Jerk. You wouldn’t want that would you?

The other day my team and I have made the Top 4 of a Team Sealed PTQ. Though my teammates lost after I savagely played non-Spirits against my opponent’s draw of Rend Spirits and Kitsune Diviner, it was still a good time and we got some packs out of it. Neutral Ground regulars Paul Allison, Daniel Olmo and Vince Kozlowski won the event, which was great. Anyway, during an earlier round, Round 3 I believe, my teammate Paul Jordan was up against a very difficult opponent playing a strong deck. I was in a tight Game 3, looking as though I was going to lose (I later won with a tricky/lucky Soulblast play) and Steve Sadin (our third) had already lost to dubs Glacial Ray in Game 3, so Paul had to win. After Paul’s opponent presented his deck for Game 3, Paul cut the deck, and then Paul’s opponent re-cut his deck, preparing to draw. Paul called the judge.

The rule behind this specific case is that you can only cut your deck if your opponent decides to do more than cut your deck. If he shuffles, you can make a final cut, but if he makes the final cut, you cannot cut back. Though the warning was reduced to a caution in this case, it still goes to show that Paul was looking for any advantage he could. He went on to lose the match, but if Paul’s opponent had had a warning prior, we could have won that round.

The important thing to note here is that Paul was not doing something to get his opponent in trouble. He was rather just alerting the Judge to his opponent’s failure to follow the rules. When you find yourself trying to manipulate or lure opponents into making mistakes, then you have to sit back and rethink if you’re still playing a game, or just trying to win at all costs. That said, again, if your opponent makes a mistake without your help, and you decide not to call the judge, then you have no right to complain about the loss. You allowed it to happen.

This is a tricky subject and every time it’s brought up there is a debate about where the line is drawn between what is right and wrong. I’ve always been more Machiavellian than many I know, so I know that I fall on the side of the fence that says use whatever you can to improve your winning percentage. That said, I know many other people think that it is wrong to use any means at your disposal to win, and will argue that it is bad for the game to use tactics such as this. Let me cut to the chase here.

If you’re looking to improve, you will face some of the best, and the worst, this game has to offer. I’m headed to GP: Chicago this weekend, and I’m sure that while I’m there, I will face some of the nicest, most wholesome people that I’ve seen at a tournament, and I’m equally sure that I will meet, the blackest, darkest, most despicable villain to grace the card table. In the eyes of the DCI, the Tournament Organizer, and even the match-slip to anthropomorphize a slip of paper many of us know well, there is no difference between the two. Either you beat the villain and become a momentary hero for Good, or you are demolished by the nicest guy in the room, and are forced to sign the slip and go into the loser’s bracket. At the end of the day, your opponent does not determine your success, you do.

I wish that in Magic, as in life, that we could all be winners. I’m a sappy romantic who likes happy endings in my movies and cries at the theatre (though I try to hide it as best I can). When I began my Magic career, I spent my tournaments going 1-3 or 0-2 drop quite a lot. In those times, I was rules lawyered, cheated, and sleazed out of games. In other games, I won through mental toughness and a little luck, and in others I just plain lost to better players. At the end of the day, my ratings history doesn’t differentiate between the three. Though I know I’m a good person, and wouldn’t stoop to cheating in order to win at Magic, I know that many others feel no such compunction. It’s up to you, and I, to catch cheaters and stop them from getting free match wins. How do you do that? It’s simple – you call a judge, just as you call a judge every time your opponent does anything that isn’t allowed within the rules. Sometimes it may be unfortunate to have to watch a fourteen-year-old lose a game because he registered 11 Plains instead of 13, but for each time that you call a judge on an unsuspecting mistake, you may just catch a cheater in the act of attempting to illegally skew the match in his favor.

Here’s to success in Magic.

-Michael L. Clair

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