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At What Point is it Cheating?

Quite often in this job, weeks go by that are a blur. I jump from place to place, event to event, game to game, and often forget where I was the week before, and where I’ll be next week. At times I amaze myself that I keep it all in some semblance of order, thanks in part to my wife, who reminds me of what weeks are open still and where we can fit the next event, and my good friend Jay, who often reminds me simply by being nice enough to ask me if I need help with my next event, at which point I have to figure out exactly what my next event is just so that I can answer his question.


Then the opposite happens, and I have an event that sits in my brain for a long time and stews there. It may be a time when I think I made an incorrect decision, or when I had a particularly bad experience with a players, or something went horribly wrong that I had to somehow fix, whether the players actually ever knew it or not. In this particular case, it was a decision I made that I think, even now, was the right decision, but I find myself questioning the theory behind the issue, and because of that, I thought it would be an interesting topic for this week’s article.


I hope the Pojo forgives me, as this article is about an Upper Deck event, specifically the Web of Spider-Man prerelease for Versus system, which another part of this very web site covers. Maybe I’ll get double billing this week. But the issue that occurred applies to all trading card games, so I think doesn’t stray too far away from what this corner is usually about.


So, what is this incident that got me thinking? Glad you asked! First, I need to give some of you some background information on how Versus system works, in case you don’t play it. I was going to place the comprehensive rulebook text here to explain an attack in Versus, but then I realized it was three pages long, and nearly undecipherable, so, instead, let me sum up, relating it vaguely to Magic terms.


  1. A player who has initiative (kind of like priority for Magic) declares an attack. In this attack, he names the proposed attacker(s) and proposed defender.
  2. This proposal goes on the chain (Versus version of the stack), and will not “resolve” until both players get a chance to respond, or both players pass. So, unlike Magic, there is a chance in this game to respond to a proposed attack to make it illegal.
  3. If, when it goes to resolve, the attack is still legal, you exhaust the character(s) attacking (tap them), and enter the actual attack. If the attack is not legal, go to 5.
  4. Both players have a chance to respond again. When both players pass, again, the actual attack itself resolves, and characters get stunned, players lose endurance, etc.
  5. The initiative player may either attack again (going to 1), or pass initiative to the other player.

Ok, I know this is not exact, but it’s a good approximation for the purpose of this experiment. Keep in mind that while you CAN respond to an attack to make it illegal, it doesn’t leave the attacker tapped, so he can just back up and swing again with the same guy, so its not very often that people respond to an attack, although it definitely does happen.


So, with that in mind, this is the incident sticking in my mind.


It’s the second flight of the prerelease, which is later on in the day, and it’s the next to last round. So, in simple terms, it’s getting late, and everyone is getting tired. This second flight is only 6 players, and somehow these guys are going to time and beyond every round, so the day is only getting longer.


This particular round, it’s now been TEN minutes past time called. I have already checked on the match once let once, and told them to get going, and it seemed like they were, but at this point its time that I personally went over there and “sat on the game” so to speak.


It’s the last turn and last initiative of the turn, which means when this guy is done attacking, the game is done, and he is behind by roughly 20 points of life (Versus goes to 50, not 20). So, I sit down, and tell them they need to get a move on, and they start moving. We’ll call Player A the attacker for this.


Player A announces an attack with one of his characters against one of the other player’s characters. He says, quite clearly, “pass priority,” so its obvious he is waiting for his opponent to respond. At this point I notice, that he hasn’t exhausted his attacker yet. So, mentally in the back of my mind, I note that he must be talking about responding to the attack proposal, and they aren’t in the attack yet, and that Player A must be playing it very by the book.


That’s fine, and also explains why this match is 10 minutes over time.


But then the opponent plays Spider Sense, which can only be played during an attack, in other words when the attack is declared legal. So, at this point, since Player A has not backed his opponent up saying they are in attack proposal, I modify the note in the back of my head that instead Player A must just be playing a little sloppy, and when the attack resolves, I (and another player trying to be helpful) point out that the attacker needs to be exhausted. He agrees and quickly exhausts him, and they mark down a 6-point life loss for the opponent, putting him still ahead by 14 (or so, it’s a couple days later, I may be a bit hazy on the exact life totals).


Player A then proposes another attack against another defender, and one again says that he passes priority. Again he doesn’t exhaust his attacker. At this point I’m getting a little concerned. This isn’t like the people who go draw, untap, upkeep in a rush because they’re just used to playing casual with friends and never have things happen during upkeep. This is an unclear game state, and some advantage could be gained out of doing this on purpose.


Sure enough, as I am mulling this over, his opponent says “no effects” and goes to mark down damage, but then Player A says “Wait, I want to pump my guy” and throws down a copy of the same card, which in Versus gives the character +1/+1. His opponent says “you passed” and Player A says “we were in attack proposal, the attack wasn’t legal yet” and hastily exhausts his character.


At this point its time for me to break in and go “HOLD EVERYTHING.”


I go through the entire sequence of events again, to make I understood what happened, then begin to talk to player A about misinformation, deliberately misleading an opponent about game state, and why its bad and quite possibly cheating. He of course says he simply forgot to exhaust the character both times, and he always goes through the declare legality step. I explain that just last attack he didn’t, and cite the Spidey Sense example. He explains that he didn’t realize Spidey Sense could only be used during combat, which is very possible, as he did not read the card, and this is a prerelease and so most people don’t know what the cards do. But still, his opponent played a card, and he let it resolve, his next step that turn should have been to exhaust his character and declare the attack legal, which he didn’t do.


So, I gave him a stern lecture about being clear about what he was doing, and how, intentional or not, what he was doing could easily be considered cheating and penalized as such, and then took the match result and went on.


Why didn’t I disqualify him right there? Well, I had a few reasons:


1                    He did it with me sitting there watching me. Either he had balls of steel, believed I was the worst judge in the world, or really didn’t understand what he was doing. I’m (perhaps inaccurately) going with option three.

2                    Through the entire conversation, he seemed to not understand what advantage he could get through doing this. I think at one point he actually said “How would I know what my opponent is going to do like this?” and “Even if I do something, he can still respond to it, so how do I gain any advantage?”

3                    And the capper, it didn’t affect the game. Even if I were to let that pump resolve (I didn’t), his opponent still won by two points.


So my final analysis was to try to determine under what circumstance would a player blatantly cheat in front of an experienced judge when there’s no way he can win the game even if he does cheat.


I couldn’t come up with a circumstance, so I passed on the DQ. I did let him know that likely, at a PCQ level, I would have ruled differently. But at prerelease, when players are more casual, and the new cards may not be well known by all players, I’ll tend to be a bit more lenient. He seemed to take it well, and even came up to me afterwards and talked to me a bit more about it, and to reiterate that he was not cheating, and didn’t even realize what was happening.


I still am not 100% sure it was the right call, especially since his story seemed to have a lot of holes in it, but I think my reasoning for not Disqualifying him for solid, and will have to stick with that.


So, the next time a judge is at your table trying to come up with a ruling that may seem simple to you, keep in mind that more often than not, the judge has picked up on something else in the game, and is making sure the ruling being made is taking into account everything going on in the game, not just what you asked, and cut them some slack.


See you next week!



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