Character Matters

It’s disappointing and frustrating to me that the trending topic of discussion from MC II London is the disqualification of Hall of Famer Yuuya Watanabe (on his way to Top 8, no less). Judge for yourself—here’s what WotC has posted about the incident:

“During a deck check in round 15 at the Mythic Championship II, the judge staff noticed an issue with Yuuya Watanabe’s deck where the sleeves of his Urza’s Power Plants were marked in a specific way. Three Urza’s Mines and one Urza’s Tower had a different marking, and three Urza’s Towers and one Urza’s Mine also had a different marking. No other cards in the deck, nor any sideboard cards had any of these marks. The judge staff determined that the odds of this happening by accident were close to nonexistent, and disqualified Watanabe from the event.”

MC II London is the second consecutive marquee event where gameplay discussion was hijacked and eclipsed by controversy surrounding a Hall-of-Famer. It’s an embarrassing look for the game and for high level play to see these negative stories repeatedly dominate headlines.

Today’s article isn’t about these incidents and what I believe people did or didn’t do. I wasn’t there and I’m not going to speculate. I have confidence WOTC will sort it out, and as long as there is Wednesday night Pauper at my LGS, everything in my multiverse remains fine and dandy.

None of us are beyond making a poor decision and I hope that if mistakes were made that we all take the opportunity to learn from them and hold ourselves to a higher standard. Today’s article isn’t about condemning or berating mistakes made. Rather, it is about striving to be better and rise above it.

What’s at Stake?

Magic is a wonderful game played by a community of hundreds of thousands of people all around the globe. It is a worldwide phenomenon that represents, at least to me, a celebration of a shared affinity for fantasy themes, gaming, and friendly competition. The community itself has undergone a transformation over the past several years and has become a shining example of what is possible when a group of people embrace inclusivity and create a fun, safe, and positive space where all are welcome.

99% of people who play are honest folks gathered to partake in a common experience and that is what gets lost in the shuffle of these negative headlines. It is all of our responsibility to treat one another with respect and decency. It’s a choice each and every one of us makes every time we game.

We can’t have it both ways. We can’t just say, “I love this community and what it represents as a bastion of open-mindedness and tolerance,” and then take shortcuts without acknowledging the hypocrisy of that behavior and the damage it causes.

That’s what’s at stake. All of it.

Sports Characters

I finished watching Friday Night Lights last weekend. It’s a fictional TV drama based on a nonfiction book about a football town in Texas. I saw a lot of parallels between FNL and MTG. Both communities are structured around gaming culture. It was a fascinating watch from an MTG perspective.

One quote that resonated with me:

“I said you need to strive to be better than everyone else. I didn’t say you needed to be better than everyone else. But you gotta try. That’s what character is: It’s in the try.” -Coach Taylor, Friday Night Lights

There’s often a lot on the line: money, fame, pride, and a sense of accomplishment. Somewhere amid the prizes, fanfare, and accolades it’s easy to forget that character and integrity are also in the mix.

Though character is rarely celebrated or rewarded in the same tangible way as winning, it still matters a great deal. In fact, I think it should be obvious at this point that the price for having poor character is steep. It can cost everything.

Most of the bad people do in life isn’t as blatant or malicious as stacking a deck, marking cards, or stealing. Most people don’t start their day thinking, “I have an excellent plan for doing terrible things that I’ve practiced to perfection and now can’t wait to execute.” Today’s article isn’t directed at pathological, professional cheaters or individuals who plan on running a backpack stealing crime ring at Gen Con. I have a difficult time fathoming how a person gets to that place, but I presume it has to start somewhere.

The majority of negative choices and actions arise from split second decisions made at an opportunistic moment:

If you found a deck full of expensive Magic cards and nobody saw you pick it up, would you turn it in?

If an opponent made an illegal play that benefited you and there were no judges around, would you take advantage of the moment or make it right?

These are more in line with the types of everyday conflicts of conscious I imagine people encounter. In these theoretical examples, an individual didn’t set out with the intent to do harm but there is certainly a choice to be made that will have an impact and consequence.

Character is Contagious

Good and bad character have a ton of agency in the world. If you are a good person, set a good example for the people around you, and do positive things, great stuff is likely to come to you and the people around you. If you take shortcuts, act selfishly, and do negative things, bad things will follow you around. It’s just common sense.

Believe me when I say that the conflicted battle between winning and character is not lost on me when it comes to being a tournament player. I’ve always tried to be open and honest about that dynamic because I believe it’s important and I wish there had been more discussion about this kind of stuff when I was learning to play tournaments.

I, at least, had the good sense not to cheat at cards. I worked too hard and I cared too much to undermine everything like that. On the other hand, I wanted to win and reach specific goals within the tournament scene, the same as everybody else. For a time, I certainly played on the edge of the rules, in the sense that I intimately knew what the rules were, and while I never stepped beyond them, I knew how to use my knowledge of the rules to gain advantage over players with a less savvy understanding of them.

I never enjoyed this aspect of tournament play. In fact, I thought it cheapened the game, but I also felt it was a necessary evil of playing Magic at a high level. It seemed to me that it was an understood facet of competition that other strong players also utilized to win. I’m talking about the typical gotcha! stuff that ensures missed triggers stay missed and/or punishing ways to exploit improper sequencing. It’s all stuff that still exists in some way, shape, or form today.


While I didn’t believe angle-shooting type stuff was in the spirit of the game, I blindly accepted that it was a part of the game since it was allowed within the rules. I had a big eureka! moment several years ago at a Khans of Tarkir Limited Grand Prix.

My opponent seemed like a nice guy and we were chatting after our match about our games after I had gotten the third game of our match. After a few minutes of post game conversation I began to pick up my cards and the opponent immediately called for a judge to report that I had failed to reveal my morph after the game, which was a game loss penalty back then. The small talk had been an elaborate ruse to distract me into failing to reveal my card to take the match on a penalty.

After it was all said and done, I still remember my opponent smugly apologized with feigned sympathy: “I’m sorry about that and hope there’s no hard feelings, but those are the rules…” As if he had been a passive participant in a series of unfortunate circumstances that were beyond his control.

Don’t feel too bad for me because it was one of the best possible things that could have ever happened. It was so blatantly clear to me that the rule was abusable—and had been abused—and I had zero respect for a person who would behave that way. Luckily, the irony of the situation was not lost on me. While I had never done anything so severe as to pretend to have a good-natured conversation with somebody while hoping to exploit that trust, it was clear that there were some uncomfortable parallels.

I decided back then to eradicate angle-shooting from my game. When I play Magic I show up ready to be the best version of myself, to play my best, and to do everything in my power to have a fun and positive experience with my fellow gamers. I communicate everything clearly. I point out missed triggers when they happen even when I’m not required to do so. I play a good, clean brand of Magic that I am proud of and that has made a tremendous difference in the quality and enjoyment of the experience.

I can say with certainty that the reason I was a bit of a rules lawyer was because I felt like I needed to do so in order to keep up with the Joneses. I believed I was losing equity in my tournaments by not taking every possible advantage of a missed trigger or sloppy sequencing because all the other good players were doing it and would just as quickly do the same to me if the roles were reversed.

Looking back, it was just rationalizing. The majority of people don’t angle-shoot each other. In fact, the majority of people are at the event to have fun and to do something they love. It was the correct choice for me to stop rationalizing “winning at all costs,” and instead focused on expanding my engagement with the game on something beyond a self-centric desire to win.

Whatever equity I’ve lost by reminding an opponent to get a 1/1 token is repaid a hundred times over because I enjoy friendly games of Magic so much more than antagonistic or confrontational ones. Equity is a measure of value and at the end of the day it all boils down to where you believe the real value in playing Magic lies.

Magic is only a zero sum game of wins and losses if a person decides to frame it that way. The point I’m driving at is that this whole crazy Magic experience, for better or for worse, is whatever we make it. We all put in a lot of effort and we all want to win, but when we respect the game, as well as one another, it’s a victory for everybody. Loving what you do, taking pride in what you do, and being passionate about what you do is superior in every way to winning.

Clear eyes. Full hearts. Can’t lose!”


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