The Riki Rules – Life Begins at 30

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Tuesday, August 5th – Turning 30 is supposed to be one of major turning points in life. I think I’m supposed to buy a new sports car, or have a kid. Neither seems likely, but I did do my share of soul searching as it were. At this time last year, just after turning 29, the highest level event I’d worked at was a PTQ. One year later I’ve certified for Level 2, judged at 3 GPs (soon to be 4), 1 PT, and my first Nationals.

No, this isn’t an article about Two-Headed Giant, although I have a quick 2HG tip. Divinity of Pride does not work, at least not the way you want it to. Each team starts with 30 life, but to calculate your very own life total at any given time, you divide that number in half. You, the individual player, start the game with 15 life, which is less than 20, and definitely less than 25. In addition to this, your team needs to get up to 50 (or 49 due to the rounding up) life for you individual life total to be 25.

The title of this article refers to the fact that the first day of U.S. Nationals, Grinder day, was my 30th birthday. Yes, really. At Pro Tour: Hollywood, I was at dinner with Feature Friday writers Nick Fang and Seamus Campbell, who had also both recently turned 30. Strangely, the fourth judge with us was the other current Feature Friday writer, Johanna Virtanen, who was not yet 30, but would be turning 30 on the exact same day as me! In a world of cosmic coincidences, this one felt a little too scripted, and I demanded that she show me her passport later that weekend. She did, and I confirmed that we are in fact judge twins.

Turning 30 is supposed to be one of major turning points in life. I think I’m supposed to buy a new sports car, or have a kid. Neither seems likely, but I did do my share of soul searching as it were. At this time last year, just after turning 29, the highest level event I’d worked at was a PTQ. One year later I’ve certified for Level 2, judged at 3 GPs (soon to be 4), 1 PT, and my first Nationals. Plus, I have this snappy little column here at StarCityGames.com. Suffice to say, being a judge is one of the most important things in my life now, and I couldn’t be happier about it. Here at an arbitrary numerical waypoint in my life, I finally feel like I belong somewhere. I belong with the organization. I belong with the people. I belong at the events. There’s a certain contentment that comes from that knowledge. And it’s a weird feeling when I’m certain that some of the people I’ve only met once or twice now at events are going to be friends for life.

End DCI promotional speech.

In the forums last week, I got a question about my feelings on the state of cheating in the game. I’m sorry I don’t have the forum user’s name on me, but the venue for Nationals, the Hyatt, is one of those big expensive hotels that doesn’t need the allure of free Wi-Fi to bring in customers. I may yet pony up the $9.95 per day for access – and I certainly would have if they had a cheaper full week rate – but I’m still a bit peeved over having to pay $2 for bottle of pop from the machine. Disneyland prices.

So, cheating. Is it worse now or back then? Partly, this depends on how far back then we’re talking about. I can’t really speak with any kind of absolute authority on the days of the infamous Mike Long, but I get the impression that those were dark times. I do know that judging technology has come a long way, even in the four years I’ve been a judge. The average judge is better educated on what to look for and how to deal with cheaters than “back in the day.” Certainly there are fewer judges who will get browbeaten into making a ruling in a player’s favor.

Still, judging technology still has a way to go, particularly in the field of mind reading. Head Judging a Two-Headed Giant event at the Eventide Prerelease, I came across a difficult situation where I could have used some ESPN the magazine. Team A had defeated Team B, and somewhat curious at how Player A-1 always had a full grip of cards, they asked for a library count. For whatever reason, Player A-1 had five fewer cards in his library than everyone else, indicating the distinct possibility that he had drawn several extra cards over the course of the game. A Floor Judge was called to the scene, and due to the potential for cheating in the situation, the Head Judge of the event (me) was called in.

L1 Brendan O’Connor, on loan to California for the summer from the Baltimore area, appraised me of the situation away from the table. Unfortunately, when we got back to the players, the game state, or in this case the post-game state, was irrevocably damaged. The players had already taken all of their cards and stacked them together. So while all the players concurred on the point of Player A-1’s smaller library, we judges had no way to confirm it. It’s not always necessary to have physical evidence of wrongdoing; sometimes testimony is enough. However in this case, I wanted to see more than just the smaller library. I wanted to know what cards had been played.

Player A-1 rifled through his deck and came up with three or four cards that drew a card, and there seemed to be a general consensus that he had played several of them. So halfway there and living on a prayer (whoa-oh!), Brendan and I pow-wowed away from the players. During the initial investigation, we had already essentially halved the number of extra cards that Player A-1 was supposed to have drawn. We could have dug a little bit deeper into other circumstances that could have led to the discrepancy. Milling cards were the next on the list, and certainly what most people would think of next. I also considered the possibility of effects like Aethertow altering the number of cards left in one of the other players’ libraries.

At that point, I was not comfortable continuing the investigation. With no physical evidence to start with, digging into the matter further would have meant relying solely on human memory, which is frankly very bad. I’m sure you’ve heard the old adage about ten eye witnesses giving ten different descriptions of a suspect in a crime. Blue shirt. Red shirt. Hat. Tall. Short. People remember things wrong, even very recent and important things.

Could Player A-1 have been cheating? It’s possible. Running the extra card draw cheats is actually easier in 2HG than in a normal duel. Even though there are two sets of eyes across the table, they aren’t necessarily watching you. Teams very frequently turn to each other to discuss upcoming plays. During these talks, their eyes are rarely on the field of play or the opponents’ hands. There’s also the magician’s misdirection factor. One head can make some very theatric plays and gestures, drawing attention to himself and leaving his partner free to commit crimes.

This brings up an interesting philosophical question:

Are you more or less likely to come across a cheater in a Two-Headed Giant tournament?

On one hand, being an easier format to cheat in might mean that more players will try to cheat. However, other than one Pro Tour and its corresponding qualifying season, 2HG has been relegated to casual events, Prereleases, and Public (don’t call them Side) Events. There is little at stake here compared to even a PTQ, so there is less value to be gained from cheating.

After the match, one of the players from Team B, the losing team, came up to talk to me about the ruling (or non-ruling). He basically wanted to know what he and his partner could have done that might have helped my investigation. One important thing that players can do for judges is to preserve the game state. In this case, that would have meant leaving all the cards in play, graveyards, and libraries alone other than for the purpose of counting. That would have made it much easier to investigate for milling effects or top of library affects that could have changed library counts.

Certainly in such situation it is then in a potential cheater’s best interest to pack it in quickly and demolish the game state. But of course just one player doing that can be suspicious. In the 2HG game, all four of the players had packed up their cards, making it impossible to discern such shady motives.

I know I could have done a more thorough investigation. It’s one of the things I need to work on as I advance in my judging technique. It takes a lot more experience than I have to be able to ask the right questions and ask them in the right way that will garner you useful information. I will add that both Brendan and I did not believe that Player A-1 was trying to deceive us regarding the library discrepancy. He seemed genuinely confused about the situation, a little bit worried that he was facing a serious penalty, and he was courteous and helpful during the investigation. Without the physical evidence as support, it wasn’t even certain that Player A-1 had in fact committed the unintentional infraction of Drawing Extra Cards, let alone an intentional act of cheating.

I’m afraid that I have to cut things short this week. Based on past events, I thought that I would have time to whip this article out during my down time at Nationals. Yeeaahh. Not so much. Between some extra responsibilities and knowing more players and judges to hang out – I mean “network” – with, I couldn’t get to my article until the flight home. Thanks to Rich Hagon for touching base with Craig to “okay” an extension on my deadline. You saved me $9.95, Rich.

You’ve no doubt noticed that despite writing this after Nationals, I’m not regaling you with fun stories as I did from Hollywood. I think less stuff happened this time that players would be interested in, but there was more judge-centric fun, which probably means that it’s time for me to finally contribute a judge article. It’s also the case that it takes me a few days to process my notes and get the stories straight enough to put in an article. So maybe next week, although I make no promises because this week is Grand Prix: Denver and I may be airport-writing again.

Until next time, this is Riki Hayashi, telling you to call a judge.

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