Maybe We Owe Him a Few Words

You might have caught this Youtube video from GP Miami. You needed to watch really closely to catch what’s going on. Matt Linde casts Thoughtseize. Roby Escalanate presents Garruk, Ugin, Crux of Fate, Tasigur, and Silence the Believers. On the next turn, he draws a Llanowar Wastes and casts Hero’s Downfall. People watching very closely noticed that the Hero’s Downfall was underneath the Garruk.

A post was made on Reddit regarding the event. I then tweeted out a link to the video, which picked up a significant number of retweets. You can see that tweet here. There were immediately calls for bans and DQs, and everything else that happens whenever someone is caught cheating or appearing to cheat at a high level Magic tournament. Toby Elliott was the head judge at the event, he interviewed Roby Escalante, and came to the determination that the situation was accidental, which means that it was not cheating. I’m not a Magic judge, so I don’t know all the implications of how this fits into the rules, but apparently it means that he would receive a warning but not a disqualification, and certainly not a ban.

This puts the Magic community into an awkward situation. Cheating undermines all of competitive Magic. It’s difficult because Magic tournaments have a lot of games going on, between people of all kinds of different experience levels and reputations. Magic is a game that requires manipulating a lot of cardboard, and we often get into game states that are very easy to misrepresent. Players are trying to pay attention to the way that they are physically manipulating the cards while also paying attention to their strategy. There’s also the problem that so many games happen when they aren’t under the camera, where a player can cheat and get away with it a lot of the time, and where it will almost always be one player’s word against another’s. It is very important for the Magic community to call out cheating when we see it and to have stiff penalties in place for cheating, because we need to disincentivize players as much as possible from cheating in any situation, and not only when they are under the camera. It’s imperative that we build up a culture that is anti-cheating.

With that said, we also run the risk of turning our community into a pitchfork-wielding mob, as the saying goes. This is incredibly dangerous ground to tread. I invite you to check out this video from Edward R. Murrow, which is often cited as the moment when someone popped the bubble of McCarthyism.

I’d like to draw some parallels.

  1. Just as Murrow said that “it is important to investigate before legislating”, it is also important to call out cheaters, and inform the Magic community of which players have been noted for suspicious behavior. This is vital to creating an anti-cheating behavior. The key is that we don’t just want to eliminate deliberate cheats, we also want to eliminate the kinds of sloppy behaviors that make it easy to cheat or shoot angles.
  2. “The line between investigating and persecuting is a very fine one.” The line between informing the Magic community and turning into a mob culture is also a very fine one, and many, many players have stepped over that line repeatedly.
  3. “We must remember always that accusation is not proof.” This goes without explanation. People are accusing Roby Escalante of cheating. We even have a video showing that he made a play that could easily be cheating. This is evidence, but I don’t know that I could classify it as solid proof. Something happened, but it could be a mistake. It probably wasn’t, and we can go through the different reasons why it was probably a cheat, but we cannot really prove it. The question is if we have enough evidence to convict.
  4. “Remember always that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law.” Here is the key. We have some evidence. We also have due process. That process is for the Head Judge to investigate the event and come to a determination about whether to convict the player for cheating, by giving a DQ, Warning, or etc. Toby Elliott was the Head Judge, and he did his duty to investigate the event, and he came to the conclusion that it was not intentional.
  5. “We will not walk in fear one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason. If we dig deep in our history and our doctrine and remember that we are not descended from fearful men.” We cannot afford to create a culture where players are terrified that every person they play against is going to cheat them. We cannot afford to create a culture where every player is terrified that they will make a small error in manipulating their cards, and that the entire Magic community will come down with the wrath of a fiery mob to burn them to the ground. That is not a culture; it is the destruction of a culture. It is not a community; it is the destruction of a community.

Here’s the deal. I think that it’s somewhat probable that Roby Escalante was cheating in this circumstance. However, he’s also a relatively new player, and so he hasn’t built up a long term reputation for cheating. Also, there are several things about this case that seem to introduce some amount of reasonable doubt. This is the standard of evidence that we should hold ourselves too; that if we are to prosecute accused cheaters, we must produce evidence that proves the cheating beyond reasonable doubt. In the case of Roby Escalante, it is possible for a reasonable person to construct a reasonable scenario in which the player made an honest mistake. If we had seen a history of cheating, or if the proof was a little more clear, then it would push this beyond a reasonable doubt.

If I were to list the odds, I would guess that there is something like a 70% chance that Escalante was cheating. But as Juror #8 says, “We’re just gambling on probabilities. We may be wrong. We may be trying to return a guilty man to the community. No one can really know. But we have a reasonable doubt, and this is a safeguard that has enormous value in our system.”

I’m not comfortable with a community that rallies together a mob to force the DQ or ban of a player because they saw an instance of probable cheating on camera that cannot be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. There is a system in place for this, a due process that we must follow, and that due process was followed as it should be, and the Head Judge came to the conclusion that the player made a mistake and would not receive a DQ. We should stand behind Toby Elliott in this ruling, and there is no reason to call for Roby Escalante to be banned.

With that said, this is a data point to keep in mind whenever you sit across for Roby Escalante. I feel that the due process should be respected, but I also know that I’ll fan out all of Roby Escalante’s cards whenever I Thoughtseize him.

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