Cheating at Magic? You’ve got to be Kidding Me!

This Week in Popculture’s Cube: Cheating at Magic? You’ve got to be Kidding Me!

firepantsHot on the heels of the recent cheating scandals on the Magic circuit, I thought I’d give you my full and unvarnished reaction.

Are you KIDDING me?

Honestly, I mean that – are you kidding me? Set aside the fact that cheating is wrong, and the fact that the cheating was committed at public events where thousands, if not millions, had the opportunity to watch, and let’s focus on this one major issue: these fellows cheated at what is, ostensibly, a game marketed to children.

To the non-Magic-playing Outside World (who, let’s be honest, couldn’t care less), this is the equivalent of an adult cheating at Candyland. It’s an act with little to gain, and you just plain look bad trying.

And of course, we immediately have to ask, what drives these people to do these squalid, petty things? What would possess someone to cheat at Magic, of all things – a game that’s already got enough strategy and trickery built in?

The knee-jerk reaction is to say that there’s something inherently wrong with Magic itself as a game or as a culture that fosters this kind of problem. And, to the casual observer, this could be borne out in the evidence – hardly a GP/PTQ season passes us by that there isn’t at least one or two major cheating scandals by players that we are, supposedly, meant to look up to and emulate. Furthermore, I’m sure that each and every one of us have encountered players who, far from looking at the stiff penalties leveled at these folks and thinking “Boy, I better watch myself and straighten out,” will instead think “Heh, what a dummy – when I cheat, I won’t get caught.”

However, if we’re honest, we all know that cheating is not endemic only to Magic. We see it everywhere. Schools districts nationwide have done it, altering students’ test scores in order to get better funding; most famously, professional sports figures have been caught using banned substances to increase their performance.

Looking at that last examples, while the behavior is reprehensible and outright wrong, we can, perhaps, understand the motivation – these sports figures people have to keep producing strong numbers in their sports so they can make extremely large amounts of money, get their faces on Wheaties’ boxes, and what-have-you. This puts a lot of pressure on them, which undoubtedly drives, at least in part, the cheating impulse.

Which is, I think, what makes these Magic cheating scandals particularly damning. Magic professionals, while they are well-compensated, certainly don’t make millions of dollars. Further, their renown and prestige is limited to an admittedly narrow group of people (I for one, can’t name any more than one or two professional Magic players off the top of my head).

So, given that, why do it? It seems so petty a thing to scam another player just to get, at best, a few thousand dollars, or your name on a trophy. Why go to those lengths? Why got to that kind of risk for so little reward?

It tells me that these people, somewhere inside, have something to prove – either to themselves or to others. But they feel that they can’t do it honestly, they can’t do it with their inborn skill-set. They feel that they themselves aren’t good enough to win.

Which, in the end, simply makes me sad for them.

1 thought on “Cheating at Magic? You’ve got to be Kidding Me!”

  1. I have been on the receiving end of cheating in magic many times, and you are correct, it is dispicable. What’s most interesting is how often cheating shows up, even with no stakes at all; there have been a few times I’ve caught people cheating at casual games of EDH. The only way to protect yourself is to watch for it like a hawk, and discourage cheating in your local metas however you can.

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