There is a method of catching serial killers known as“profiling,” and it’s devastatingly effective if used right. Basically, the theory goes like this: Guys who stalk and kill people routinely do it because they enjoy it. But every criminal kills for a different reason. If you can find out what part of the killing they really get into, you can catch them.
Without getting too gruesome, the kind of guy who kills because he gets his kicks from making his victims beg for mercy will have an entirely different style of killing than a cannibal killer. Just as one relatively clean example, the power trip guy will tend to use a van, which is convenient for grabbing his victim and driving her to somewhere quiet and isolated. The power trip killer wants lots of time before the murder, then usually dumps the body somewhere as an afterthought. The cannibal killer, however, will usually operate out of his house; his satisfaction comes after his victim is dead, and he wants the remains nearby.
Both of these sick morons produce the same end product — which is, sadly, innocent dead people — but do so via different ways. And if you can use the clues left behind to figure out what makes the killer kill, then you can figure out how to throw him off-balance.
For example: The power trip killer murders because he’s usually an insignificant jerk with a nowhere job, and this is his method of feeling like a Big Man. He also wants publicity desperately; not only will it reinforce his tattered ego, but if he becomes a “name” killer — somebody who’s mentioned frequently in the newspapers — he can inspire even greater terror in his victims when he reveals who he is.
From this you can deduce that the power killer is looking through the newspaper the morning after the crime, waiting for his name to show up.
So you can throw him off-balance by having psychiatrists make public comments about how obviously this guy is a substandard moron and a loser. The killer will read the comments, get deeply upset… and then has a good chance of writing anonymous letters to taunt the police, which will prove how smart he really is. And if you can get handwriting samples, you can post them everywhere in the hopes that someone can identify the guy — which is how they caught the Unabomber.
That’s what profiling is. It’s not generally that simple (only a real moron would write a handwritten letter to taunt the police), but it works. There’s only two major problems with profiling:
1) It takes expertise to do it right.
2) It takes a lot of time to analyze the clues.
So profiling works, but it’s not immediately effective. You need a lot of data. If a guy’s killed only once, you’d be better off using cops instead of psychiatrists.
Likewise, weaseling your way through Multiplayer Magic is like Profiling. It can give you that crucial info-edge it takes to win the game, but you can’t expect to sit down at a table cold and start getting Joey to attack Horace on the first turn.
What you have to do, much like the FBI, is profile your killer before he can kill you — and then develop methods to counter him. So let us posit the first rule of Player Profiling:
By figuring out what drives a player’s enjoyment, you can control that enjoyment… and put him off-balance enough to win the game.
Which is the basic concept behind trash-talking and poker faces. Irritate someone enough with too much talk or utter silence, and they’ll get nervous and make mistakes.
Now, I don’t advocate trash talk because basically it’s being a complete yarshole. There’s no excuse for being a rude moron… but there are far more subtle ways of getting under people’s skin, of basically throwing them slightly off-kilter. And besides, there are much better ways of throwing them off-kilter… as we shall see.
The only problem is, how do you determine why a guy’s at the table? It’s not necessarily winning; multiplayer tends to be far more of a social activity, and there are guys who can go to a table, lose every game, and still come out happy. So let us then also make the second rule of Player Profiles:
Most players assume that others play the way they do.
Which is not to say that people expect everyone who sits down to have the same level of ability — that’s different, mon amigo. But sneaky players expect sneaky plays. Combat-heavy players expect you to attack them. DojoDorks believe everyone else is playing a DojoDeck, too.
And by watching and testing their defenses very carefully, you can build up a case history… and then predict.
But how, Ferrett? Tell us how!
Well, all right. There’s seven clues you should be looking for to get your man:
CLUE #1: COMPETENCY.
After two games maximum, you should have already scoped the competence of the people at the table — and you should know who’s dangerous. The dangerous ones are easily identified, because they know all of the little tricks: Casting instants during the end-step just before their turn starts, casting creatures only after they attack, countering the right spells at the right time. These are the people you need to watch closely, because they’re the ones who can screw you up if they choose to.
But while you’re watching the good players, help the bad players by giving them advice. (Good advice, you sleaze.) Not only does it endear you to them, but it makes them enjoy the game more because they feel like they’re really playing, it creates more threats for your opponent to deal with… and has the side benefit that you can conveniently forget to remind them whenever they have a card that could hose you.
CLUE #2: TABLE TALK.
Players generally talk (or don’t talk) for four reasons
1) They comment on things they find interesting.
2) They believe that Magic should be played like Poker, and think that not talking will get them further ahead in the game. (This is not true, incidentally, but it sure is less fun.)
3) They believe that lots of talking will throw people off-balance.
4) They want to draw attention to themselves.
So this is a big one. If someone doesn’t talk at all, you know they’re taking the game VERY seriously — try throwing out a couple of lines to see if you can crack the ice. (I realize this may be testing the social skills of some Magic players, but I have faith in ya.) If he doesn’t join in, he’s dead set on winning… or at least on playing his game perfectly. If a guy talks trash, he’s evidently trying to win at all costs, too.
If a guy talks incessantly, you might be able to scope him out by the end of the first game. Is the guy talky or close-mouthed? Will he comment on things going on over at the other side of the board, or does he only notice what’s happening to him? Does he make excuses when he’s land or mana-hosed? Will he compliment good plays, even when they’re directed at him? And does he predict what other players are about to do?
Remember, generally a player will only talk about subjects he finds interesting. This in itself is telling. You can lead the conversation in many directions to see where it goes.
CLUE #3: THE ASSUMPTIONS THEY MAKE.
Poke someone with a small, easily-killed creature attack once or twice during a quiet period when you and he are evenly matched, then watch their initial reaction. Make eye contact when you say, “I attack you with…,” just to catch it. Are they outraged? Impassive? Mildly confused that you would throw away a creature on this? Already scornful of your meager talents? By getting an idea what they think of you, you’ve got a clue.
Then note their reaction: Do they let it through, assuming you have some sort of trick up your sleeve, or do they block it to see what happens? And what do they block it with — the most powerful thing they have out there, or some mid-level critter they don’t mind losing? Then watch them elsewhere, and see whether they’re risk-takers, calculated risk-takers, or hermits who react only when they have to.
Remember: Most players tend to assume that others play the way they do. Their reactions here are often telling, and let you know what kind of attack plans they have.
CLUE #4: VINDICTIVENESS.
During their next turn, after you attacked, watch the follow through: Do they attack you on their turn or do they let it go? If they attack, is it all-out, or a cautious “let’s see” attack?
And afterwards, do they begin targeting you for spells and counterspells? Do they seem to do so out of sheer vindictiveness? Or, like a battle-happy Scotsman, do they seem thrilled just to have a worthy opponent who can pound on them?
Then don’t attack. See if they keep hammering you or whether they’re willing to let it go. See whether they keep it up the next game, even if you don’t kill them. The length of their memory tells you a great deal about what drives them to that table.
CLUE #5: DECK STYLE.
Most players have a favorite deck style. Control, combo, beatdown, modified play — they generally tend to be happiest (and at their best) slinging cards from the what they feel comfortable with. Can you see what that style is… and can you find ways to frustrate it?
CLUE #6: PLAY STYLE.
Are they sloppy or tight in keeping their hand hidden? Do they reveal their hand if it’s bad (or good) enough, or keep it behind closed doors no matter what? Do they even look at their hand when they’re losing?
Do they like attacking, or do they get more pleasure out of countering? Are they fond of instants or do they get sort of growly if they can’t cast creatures all the time? Watch what they do: This is the area that has the widest variance, so it’s difficult to give specifics, but careful analysis can get you much here.
CLUE #7: ATTITUDES TOWARDS LOSING.
By now everyone should have lost once or twice. (If the same guy has won every game so far, send me his deck immediately.) Question is, HOW do they lose? Do they shrug and quietly wait for the next game, or do they make a face and scoop up their cards sourly? Do they make excuses for why they lost — or congratulate the guy who beat them?
Then the post-game analysis: Do they hang around to see what happens, or consistently wander off to the bathroom to wait sulkily for their next turn? If they DO watch, is it with a goofy grin and evident pleasure, or do they sit there with narrowed eyes, scanning everyone’s cards? Do they give advice afterwards to whoever’s losing, trying to help him win?
If the guy doesn’t gloat when he wins, that too is a tell.
Remember, the win is generally a method to a goal, not the goal itself. Generally it’s just die-hard tourney players who ONLY get satisfaction from winning… and there are some players, unbelievable as it sounds, who get no pleasure at all from a loss or a win. Usually there is a hidden motive for playing, and if you can find that you can find the weakness.
CLUE #8: DECK-CHANGING
You’ve seen them lose — now see what happens when they lose consistently. Do they stay with a losing deck, or switch it out for a better one? If they stay, are they doing it out of sheer bloody-minded frustration, because they brought only one deck, or because they really want to see how bad this matchup is versus (green/red/whatever). Is winning important, or are the lessons learned important to these people?
If they beat the table consistently with a monster deck of some sort, do they switch it out for a “fairer” deck or keep hammering gleefully? And when they switch it, is it for a similar type (Control Blue, then Control Red) or an entirely different creation?
And finally, when they change decks, do they tell the table what kind of deck it is — perhaps even boasting about it, in extreme cases — or do they keep it a secret?
So Now That You’ve Got ‘Em, Use The Clues
Bad or novice players aren’t good enough to have a style; since one of the hallmarks of good play is consistency, it’s time to start seeing where they put their cards down. (Note that this applies to the weaselly player as well; you’re just consistently inconsistent.)
Now here’s the BIG difference between you and Jeffrey Dahmer.
Remember our serial killers back at the beginning of the article? With serial killers, you want to stop them immediately, since their needs can only be met by the gruesome deaths of complete strangers.
But although serial killers and multiplayers both act for reasons that stem directly from their personality — but if you can give a game player what he wants, you short-circuit their effectiveness in actual gameplay. In other words, they’ll be less likely to attack you… because they have so much fun playing against you. And you become less of a target.
Anybody who stifles that play is a source of frustration, and will be targeted for future destruction. But make it fun for them, and they’ll care less about winning. The trick is giving up some things without giving the game up.
NEXT WEEK: Sample Profiles: Can You Beat The Pros?
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….