The Rules of Magic Friendship

Tuesday, November 9th – The following rulebook is a guide to developing and maintaining lasting friendships in the Magic: The Gathering professional or aspiring professional communities. Ride shotgun with Matt Sperling, as he lays down the law.

The following rulebook is a guide to developing and maintaining lasting friendships in the Magic: The Gathering professional or aspiring professional communities. Those who follow the rules will stick together and have a ton of fun. Everyone else ends up walking the tournament sites alone, looking for the one or two other outcasts they can converse with while they wait for the Extended Win-A-Box queue to fill. I’d rather spend my time boozing, money drafting, and making fun of Conrad “Caves of” Kolos, but maybe I’m just a sociopath.  

Rule No. 1: Keep a secret

“Snitches Get Stitches.” —Delonte West

I shouldn’t really have to explain why this is important, but here goes.

Only a few degrees of separation exist between your playtest group and whatever other groups you’ll be playing against at whatever tournament you’re practicing for. It may seem unlikely that what you told Antoine Ruel (a decklist, let’s say) would end up in the hands of Tomoharu Saito a day later, but imagine Antoine tells Olivier over dinner, and then Olivier and Mori have a Skype call about cheating methodology in the new age (where the Sheriff Colin Jackson is sitting on his porch retired), and guess what deck gets mentioned in passing. You get the idea. If you can’t trust those around you to keep a secret, how are you going to surprise the field with your team’s innovations or get bailed out of jail in time to make it to Day 2?  

Rule No. 2: Unless a male chicken has escaped from the ring and is attacking me, no c*ckblocking

Dan Burdick didn’t make the railbird Hall of Fame on the first ballot because of several prior suspensions for c*ckblocking. Don’t let it happen to you.

Don’t forget that getting paid is just as important as getting laid, and a c-block can be just as devastating. When LSV goes looking for money draft opponents, I don’t wanna hear that my best friend joined another team as the third instead of looking for me and intimidating/bribing the other two people to sit this one out.

Another danger is getting caught in the c*ckblocking Bermuda triangle that happens when two guys are both trying to block each other simultaneously. In unrelated news, did you know Brian Kibler and Zac Hill both design games for a living?

Rule No. 3: Big gambol/no nits

I have the following film at #1 on my list of 20th Century West German action comedy dramas, and believe it or not, I’ve never even seen
the film.

I’ve spent much, if not most, of my 27 years on this earth surrounded by degenerate gamblers. Not everything they believe in is a golden nugget of truth. I don’t try to track the dealer shifts at my local card room to improve my win rate. But one thing that definitely has improved my life is the cultural emphasis degenerates place on “having gamble” or as scientists might say, being highly “risk tolerant.”

It’s true, fortune favors the bold. Could Heezy and I have doubled our net worth several years ago in Vegas without me being willing to put our entire bankroll in play when Heezy walked away from the blackjack table for one second to throw away a Corona bottle? It’s unlikely. Will you ever go out with the chick at work you have a crush on if you never stalk her? I wouldn’t bet on it.

Asian gamblers like to say “No Gambol, No Future,” and the more I see, the more I believe. There’s a name for friends who won’t credit card roulette when the bill comes at a nice steakhouse: “enemies” (or alternatively, Paulo Vitor). There’s a name for friends who credit card roulette when the bill comes at a nice steakhouse, knowing that if they lose, their credit card will be declined: “Herberholz.” But at least Heezy has “future.” Speaking of the CC game, did you know that due to the CC game, LSV has fed more people than the Christian Children’s Fund?

Life is more fun when you know that if you buy this round of drinks, the guys or gals (who am I kidding, girls are all nits) to your right and left will pick up the next round. If a $15 cover charge affects your night in any way, it’s time to find new friends.

Rule No. 4: Don’t hustle your friends

To be a successful gamer you’ll need to have some “hustle” and know how to hustle, but knowing when

to hustle is just as important. Needling opponents in money drafts, borrowing cards from barns, betting the Lakers at -5 in Wednesday’s game even though you know the line has moved to -7, not telling your opponent about a missed Angel of Despair trigger, etc. Many people have a switch they can turn on to angle-shoot and be resourceful, but some people just can’t turn it off.

If I lent you a Scalding Tarn, give it back, even after it becomes clear I don’t remember lending it out. Nassif is the notorious victim of many such hustles. Nassif is too nice to turn down requests from his friends to borrow cards (on MODO or IRL), and he loses hundreds of dollars in cards each year.

Tom Martell asked me to borrow $150 to buy cards with at a GP in the first half of this year. He still owes me. Welching on a bet is one thing and is still disgraceful — I always think “If Clegg can pay a $10,000 bet over the lyrics of a song, I can pay all my bets” — but this is even worse, Martell took money out of pocket to purchase something and now is just lagging his way into an interest-free, long-term loan for no good reason.

When nice guys and d-bags get drunk together, the problem multiplies. The nice guy’s guard is way down, and the d-bag’s impulses to take advantage of that is now uncontrollable. The only two solutions are to not be a nice guy or to not be friends with d-bags. I’ve occasionally experimented with both solutions.

Rule No. 5: Tix before chicks

“You just told me you felt alive for the first time at a [email protected]#!ing card table. What’s that supposed to make me understand?” —Every woman I’ve ever loved

Alternate rule titles: Ram Gangs before ****bangs, Combos before Hoes, Cliques before Chicks. We’re all going to have boyfriends or girlfriends in our lives at some point (btw, some awesome gamer friends of mine have been gay; the “Chicks” in the title is there to rhyme and so that it lines up with naming conventions for “friends before sexual partners” adages, and I also didn’t want you to think I was writing “boyfriend” to imply that girls could be part of our Magic crews*). I’ve sometimes been guilty of too much texting with the girlfriend while at a tournament, or of not extending the trip a day or two in order to get home earlier, and I apologize here and now to everyone I’ve hurt with such selfish behavior.

If real life is calling, and you have to answer, which we all do sometimes, you have to make the best of it. At least make fun of yourself or try to make your friends laugh. Dave Williams trying to get his daughter named Chandra or Linvala comes to mind (his girlfriend snap-called knowing it was probably a Magic card). If you have to miss a GP for a wedding, and you don’t have an identical twin that can fill in (this isn’t a reference to something that really happened, just a fantasy of mine), helping your friends test for the event says a lot about what kind of friend you are.

Rule No. 6: Friends don’t let friends quit

“Just when I thought I was out… they pull me back in.” -Michael Corleone

If Matt Nass quits, LSV isn’t going to call him every month for the next two years asking if he wants to game tonight or book a ticket to the next GP. But I have to imagine Paul Cheon still gets those calls/IMs from LSV. The friends whose company we truly enjoy cannot be allowed to quit Magic and fade into obscurity. In fact, it’s probably a good idea to quit every now and then just “to see who shows up at your funeral” in the Magic sense. If Rietzl quit, I’d somehow lure him back. If Kibler quit, I’d click “unhide” on my Facebook news feed settings and then comment on something begging him to reconsider. If Calosso Fuentes quit, I’d probably never find out.

Rule No. 7: Business is business

Which Magic website someone works for should never impact friendships. Similarly, if someone tested with a different group of people for this tournament, you should still be able to get drinks afterward (just remember Rule No. 1 if you’re hanging out

the tourney). I’m still friends with Tom Martell even though every second spent with him makes me a worse Magic player.

It works the other way too, just ’cause you work with someone doesn’t make you friends. I occasionally test with Paulo Vitor Damo Antonino Esteban Villaraigosa Menudo da Rosa, but we’ll never be friends. It’s just business, not personal. And I wasn’t surprised when he accused me of spying on Team CF (“If you have Nassif’s deck, why are you even here?”) before they single-handedly resurrected American Magic by letting Paul win Amsterdam. It wasn’t personal, just business.


We all slip up and violate one rule or another from time to time. That’s fine, but it’s important to develop habits that are in conformity with the rules and find friends who do the same. Many of my closest friends are my Magic friends. If Magic was banned, we’d still be friends and probably make our living trucking draft sets out of Canada and running an FNM speakeasy. The point is, we’d still be friends. Something similar within us drew us to Magic (probably a dopamine deficiency), and once you find the people who are a lot like you and have the same hobby, that’s game, as they say.

Matt Sperling

mtg_law_etc on Twitter


* semi-unrelated end note: Chapin was telling me a story the other day about how on the Magic Cruise 1, some random male Magic barn propositioned him with a sentence that began, “First of all, I want you to know I’m not gay…” followed by, of course, an offer to engage in some activities most heterosexual friends avoid.

Patrick and I were laughing about what the funniest ending to that first sentence could’ve been, such as “First of all, I want you to know I’m not gay… but I think U/W Control is well-positioned in Standard.” Or “First of all, I want you to know I’m not gay… but I like Max McCall articles.” Let me know what you can come up with in Magic Boat Trip Mad Libs on Twitter (by adding @mtg_law_etc and #mtgcruise to the tweet).