Withholding Information

We’re headed up to Pro Tour: New York, for the weekend, which explains why this article, which would normally have surfaced on Friday, is here lousing up the internet today. I’m excited about going to New York– it’s going to be my first Pro Tour. I’ve been to Nationals, but never a Tour. Bear in…

We’re headed up to Pro Tour: New York, for the weekend, which explains why this article, which would normally have surfaced on Friday, is here lousing up the internet today.

I’m excited about going to New York– it’s going to be my first Pro Tour. I’ve been to Nationals, but never a Tour.

Bear in mind, that I’m not going to be playing. I’m, uh, protesting the Pro Tour. By not playing on it. Yes, that’s it, protesting until the DCI acquiesces and gives us the Type II Pro Tour. When they do that, I’ll cash in my ticket and hop on the gravy train.

Yeah, right.

But I’m excited, anyway. It should be a fun trip.

In anticipation of this little 125,000$ shindig, Star City ran a 1,000$ Masques Block tournament. We were interested in seeing what was out there, and were certain that the site’s readers were, too. The tournament had a nice turnout with several New York destined players attending. Of course, several of them made the Top 8. Good players tend to do well, etc. etc. etc.

I left for the night, fully expecting the Top 8 deck lists to hit the internet Monday morning. So did about twenty five other people, who emailed me, asking for the lists. When they didn’t surface, I called Pete, since he’s the guy who usually takes care of that sort of thing. I just wanted to make sure they hadn’t fallen in a well, or somesuch. He told me that six of the eight players had requested that their deck lists be withheld. Because of that, he rationalized, there was no reason to post a Top 8 list.

And he’s right, of course. What is the point of posting a Top 8 list that’s just a bunch of names and the words“deck list withheld by request?” It’s dumb– it’s a waste of our time to print it and your time to read it.

Withholding deck lists is a strange custom with foggy roots– it seems like a silly thing to me. Really, what are the motivations behind withholding a list? I’ll play some Devil’s Advocate.

My first thought, of course, would be to hide my“tech.” You know, I come to a tournament with a turn-two kill combo deck that uses nothing but Sixth Edition commons and uncommons. I win without losing a match. Regionals is in two weeks. Logically, I don’t want anyone to know which three cards are involved in winning, with this deck– because, if I do, everyone will be playing it at Regionals, and I know I’ll lose to my own creation. Right, right?

Well, the problem is in the truth. As a judge, I’ve seen the deck lists that we withhold by request for over a year. Not once, even once, has a withheld deck been so high-tech that no one else knew about it. Usually, the tech in decks we withhold are things like“I’m playing more Morphlings and Masticores, and no Palinchrons” or“I’m playing 3x Seal of Cleansing, 1x Disenchant in my White Weenie deck.” These are things a thousand people have already done– they just haven’t been on the net. This makes you the innovator, if yours is the first one that shows up with that configuration. Really, you know who the luckiest man in Magic history is?

Paul (?) Sligh.

Why? Well, he didn’t invent the Sligh deck– Jay Schneider did. He just made Top 8 at a high profile tournament with it. Now and forever (Cats!), his name is synonymous with a decktype that will always be remembered.

I’d say that 80-90% of the time, people who bring really cool decks to tournaments WANT their list out there– the people who tend to withhold lists are those who think their minor tweaks to popular decks are going to make a huge difference– so long as other players aren’t expecting them. Lots of“super-secret sideboard tech.” It’s never that impressive.

Okay. Reason two: I’m going to a big tournament soon, and I don’t want people to know what I’m playing. Fair enough. Makes sense and everything. However, there are a couple problems. For one, most Top 8 lists post the deck type (Replenish, White Weenie, etc.) along with the player’s name. So that smashed that reason. Additionally, people write tournament reports. AND, they always, always played you. It doesn’t matter who won or lost, everything interesting about your secret deck is out there, for everyone to see. And nothing can stop this. I’ve seen a player ask his opponent, who was obviously taking notes in order to write a report,“I’d appreciate it if you didn’t talk about my deck.” The guy says“ok,” and then includes this in his report:

Round 3: Captain Secrecy. I promised I wouldn’t talk about his deck. Suffice it to say, that it had an amazing combo involving Saproling Burst in it. He crushed me, 2-0.

Well, well, well. Captain Secrecy is screwed now. No matter what, everyone who really wants to know what he/she is playing has access to the key card. From there, it’s just reductio ad absurdum and bam!, there’s the deck.

Also, there’s scouting, now. Scouting used to be illegal, but it isn’t anymore. That means that people can and do scout. For example (picking on some of the people who were at the tournament, in a completely fictional account), if Lucas Hager won the tournament with FoodChain.dec, and Pete Leiher thought it was going to be a big deck, he’d have scouted it effectively, over the course of the whole tournament. So, if Pete knows, it’s a solid bet that Mike Long knows. If Mike knows, it’s a solid bet that all his friends do. If all his friends do, it’s a solid bet that all their friends do. And they call three friends, and they call three friends and so on and so on and so on. Pretty much, the only people who DON’T KNOW FoodChain.dec are the general masses, who aren’t going to be his direct competition, anyway. Ergo, the only people who are hurt by withheld deck lists are the people who have absolutely no bearing on Lucas’ Pro Tour performance, and are interested in seeing deck lists simply because they enjoy playing them against their own friends, or in local tournaments.

Of course, all this secrecy eventually backfires. Look at Cabal Rogue. The Cabal, for those who don’t know, is a very small group of the best deckbuilders in the world. They routinely produce excellent metagame decks for every competitive environment, which are usually innovative and interesting. The best Cabal decks end up as a serious force in the environments. The less impressive take the shape of a popular background force that comes up big a couple of times in the season. Always, always good stuff. When you sit down across from a Cabal member, be prepared.

To take good notes, that is. People do. Usually, a Cabal deck list (which tends to get withheld), surfaces on the net within days of it being played, accurate to only a few cards. Why?

Because people want the lists. People will follow Cabal Rogue players, documenting the deck, if necessary. Players know that Cabal decks are going to be worth scouting– so they do it.

Remember the old (well, kind of old) adage: information wants to be free.

take care.

Omeed Dariani.
[email protected]
Eic – www.starcitygames.com
Contributing Editor, Scrye Magazine

“Quick destruction of a few is more sensible than giving many the opportunity to ruin themselves. And then, degeneration, and so on. This is right– to the point of indecency.

We, Yevgeny Zamyatin”

-Should have been the flavor text on Greater Good.