Magic etiquette, at all levels, dictates that it’s rude to “slowroll” your opponent.
As an avid fan of Magic, I watch as much coverage as anyone. Like most of you, I always want to have—and help create—the highest quality viewing experience possible. When I’m playing in a tournament, I work to place my cards on the battlefield in a manner that is clear to my opponent for the purpose of playing a fair match of Magic, but also for an on-camera feature match. This philosophy demands that you abolish “slowrolling” from your vocabulary.
The conclusion of this match was so poorly executed it made me cringe.
This is round 6 of Grand Prix Toronto 2016 between Steve Rubin and Daniel Fournier. To be clear, both of these guys are great players, and have done absolutely nothing wrong—everything was both legal and reasonable.
In the video above (at 21:38), Steve goes for Archangel Avacyn with Hangarback Walker for 0 to flip the Avacyn. Daniel uses Dromoka’s Command to put a +1/+1 counter on his Bounding Krasis and have Steve sacrifice an enchantment (irrelevant). He then untaps and uses a second Dromoka’s Command to use his 4/4 Bounding Krasis to become a 5/5 with the modes +1/+1 and fight to kill the Avacyn before it flips. Avacyn is dead, fails to flip, and Daniel has lethal damage on the table.
Watching the game live, you’d have no idea that’s what occurred. Daniel knew that Steve was tapped out and could do nothing to interact with his game-ending series of plays, so he revealed the cards from his hand and explained what he was going to do to prompt a concession from Steve. You can even see it takes a moment for Daniel to think of the play, it takes a moment after he explains it for Steve to realize, and eventually they both come to an understanding the Steve is dead and the game ends.
But the announcers don’t even realize who won the game. This is a coverage tragedy. The announcers spend several minutes speculating on who won the game, because the actions performed by the players were so unclear to the viewing audience.
I think Marshall Sutcliffe and Randy Buehler are both phenomenal at coverage, too. Randy Buehler is in the Hall of Fame for his excellence at playing Magic, and even he could not immediately understand what was happening. Neither of them did anything wrong, but the whole situation was ugly.
If you look at game 1 of my semifinal match against Luis Scott-Vargas in the Top 8 of Pro Tour Eldritch Moon, you’ll see something similar happen.
At 5:00, you can see me resolve Ishkanah, Grafwidow in a game where Luis has had a pretty strong draw. End of turn he casts Archangel Avacyn, and it’s at this point I know that I’ll lose the game if he has a Dromoka’s Command in his hand.
I could just ask him “do you have it?” like most players would, and when he reveals it to me I could concede. It turns out that playing out the game with a 0% chance to win was actually really exciting to watch—a flurry of different triggered abilities with an Avacyn flip to kill my Spiders, and me getting attacked for 10 was cool. Many people felt this way.
Imagine you’re a new player and you’re seeing Archangel Avacyn for the first time. Would you prefer Luis show me a Dromoka’s Command from his hand and we both go about our business shuffling and sideboarding, feeling content about the fact that we both just saved a minute of time from our lives playing out a game we both knew the conclusion of? Or would you rather have Magic hero LSV demonstrate exactly what the cards do and show off their power?
One of the goals of coverage is to create exciting moments, and if it had been someone else in that match against Luis—someone who doesn’t want to get “slowrolled”—that moment would have been lost.
I don’t concede partly because I do want coverage to be better and I want new players to get to see the cards and appreciate what’s happening, but I also do so because I play to win and when you play to win that means you don’t just quit—you make your opponent perform every single final game action so the game is played fairly and to its natural conclusion. If you want to beat me you have to earn it and that means demonstrating that you have the knowledge of the cards and ability to execute.
Finally, I want to show you a particularly damning piece of evidence:
At 7:55, you see a Live Look-in match between Mike Sigrist and Ondrej Strasky. It’s regrettable that it happened between these two players, because I know they’re friends and I believe they’re both world-class players, but this example was too pronounced to overlook.
Mike Sigrist taps all of his lands to cast Dead Drop and Ondrej surveys the board, confirms that Mike is at 7 life, and reveals Awaken the Bear from his hand for what would be exactly lethal damage should the game remain unchanged. Mike gathers himself and plays a Rugged Highlands to gain 1 life to survive the spell and the game continues. The rest of the game is uneventful and Strasky wins.
The reality of the situation is that Ondrej revealed a card from his hand assuming that he had won the game in an effort to save some time. It was a totally incorrect assumption and not only did he end up looking foolish, but he gave up a ton of information and damaged his chances of winning the game. It’s never worth it to save 10 seconds of your life when some of the time you’re making a game-losing mistake deep in the Pro Tour.
As I understand it, there are two reasons why you might reveal a card from your hand in an attempt to get your opponent to concede: to expedite the process of playing out the game or to get your opponent to concede before he’s actually lost. I’ve seen this a few times as well, where players reveal a card that doesn’t actually win the game in the hopes an opponent misunderstands that cards impact on the game and scoops. To my mind, that is unfriendly and unsporting.
Like in the Strasky example, sometimes you assume you’ve won the game and you haven’t, so you’re flipping cards in your hand face-up for no reason. Occasionally, you don’t even have the mana required to cast the game-winning card in your hand. Save yourself the embarrassment and play out the game to its natural conclusion.
Often you assume that just revealing some information to your opponent will result in time saved, but I believe assuming your opponent has a deep understanding of all the cards and what’s happening in the game is just rude. Maybe you show your opponent a Fireball, and you know full well it wins the game—but maybe they have never seen that card before and need to read it, then they need to count your lands, check their own life total. Maybe they need to call a judge for a ruling about a card in their own hand, and now you’re aware of the fact that they may have some kind of interaction and you play the game differently.
It’s not fair to your opponents who may not know better to assume they understand what’s happening and expect them to concede. It’s terrible to make someone feel uncomfortable for not conceding a game. Many players would insist that it’s your duty to show off the kill when you know you’ve won to prevent slowrolling. The notion is totally ludicrous. Slowrolling isn’t real. If someone has the win and they intentionally take more time than they need, that’s just being a jerk. But it’s incredibly rare—I don’t think I’ve seen it happen in 10 years that someone was so unfriendly they wanted to waste a few moments of my time.
The reality is that in the vast majority of cases, when someone is accused of slowrolling, it’s really just someone who needed time to think up the game-winning play because it wasn’t readily obvious to them, and their opponent uses the claim that they were slowrolled to bully the slower player. “It’s so obvious!” the bully will say. “Why did you slowroll me?”
You didn’t get slowrolled. Your opponent just may not be as quick a thinker as you and needed more time to process everything happening in that game.
Magic is ridiculously complex and there are many moving parts. In a single game you may need to track your own hand, both player’s graveyards, 10 unique cards on the battlefield all interacting with one another, and to have memorized the contents of your deck and the contents of your opponent’s deck that have been revealed to you.
I believe it is the duty of the pro player to play more games to their natural conclusion and if more people think this way, it will foster a more positive tournament environment for new players and will drastically improve the quality of streaming Magic coverage. There are exceptions, as always: time is a factor in a tournament setting, and if you’re dead in game 1 and you want to save time, feel free to scoop. If you’re having a bad day or you’re not feeling well, it’s totally reasonable and understandable to quit—nobody should be forced to play a game they don’t want to play, but too many games, especially those played on camera, end too soon—and there is a very real cost.