Hunting the Rules Breaker

Posted in NEWS on February 29, 2000

By Wizards of the Coast

A journal from the jungle of tournament magic

Ray Powers

Ray Powers reporting to you from the grizzled jungle of Premiere Event Magic! Today, on the Discovery Zone, we're here to hunt the fabled myth, the rules breaker! Some call him a cheater, some say he's just a bad player. Today, we're here to find out how to hunt this creature and trap him in his own native environment, the Magic tourney.

The first thing to remember is that this rules breaker is the type of animal that often hides in plain sight. A wolf in sheeps clothing, so to speak. Searching through the underbrush and deepest darkest tables of the event wont bring him forward. No, you must look at the upper tables, towards the sky so to speak, in search of this elusive reptile.

The easiest method to find this cold-blooded creature is what is commonly known as the deck check. This archaic ritual involves obtaining a possession of the RB (rules breaker) known as their deck and sifting through it for information as to whether or not they mark their possessions in such a way as to make specific objects easily identifiable. How can they do this? Some simple methods are listed below:

1. The Set Matcher
This form of RB does not play with sleeves, and makes sure that all cards of one type are from a set other than the rest, or are marked in some way from the rest. As an example, having all Ice Age land, but the rest of the cards being from different sets creates a deck where it would be very easy to see if the next card was a land or not.

2. The Sleeve Scratcher
This RB is obviously one of the lesser developed sub-species, using clawing at their deck as a means of card recognition. These RBs range from the very basest form, where certain cards are scratched in a certain place on the sleeve to denote it as a required card, often for a combo deck. The more advanced form creates an archaic scratching pattern to denote what card the next one is, much like marked cards in Poker. We believe this scratching, like the ancient caveman scrawling on the wall, is the primitive RB's first attempt at modern communication.

3. The Shineys
All primitive animals have always been attracted to shiny things, whether out of fear or attraction, we may never know. Regardless, the RB's attraction to what we call foils can cause significant problems in a tournament. Unsleeved, the backs of these cards are noticeably different than other cards (see method 1). Sleeved even, foils have a tendency to bend, making them appear thicker in a sleeve than normal cards, again allowing a RB to cut to a particular card, or know if they were getting it next. Much like buried treasure in ancient temples, we must resist the temptation of Shineys lest they cause our downfall.

This hunting method, like all others here, is slightly a problem since just because they have not used any of the above methods does not mean that they are not a RB. They may simply be a very clever RB, and flushing them out of the jungle may take a little more work than you thought. Always remember to exhaust all your hunting methods before moving on to the next target.

The next best way to find a RB is to carefully watch their shuffling technique. Admittedly, as a hunter, this is a time consuming process, but no more so then waiting in the brush for hours on end for that tired lion to come by after a hard days work. The secret, just as with the lion, is in the camouflage. You must become invisible to the RB, appearing not to even notice them (much as the cheetah hunts their prey), while in fact carefully watching the shuffling movements to see some form of pattern.

As a sidebar to this method, it may not always be possible to watch everyone shuffle, so you may want to occasionally check for deck stacking. This method is particularly difficult, as you really may only do this at the request of a player who suspects their opponent may be a RB. Some things to look for when doing this sort of review would be:

1. Land/Spell Sequencing
Check to see if the deck has a very even land/spell sequence. For example, recently, when a players deck was evaluated, it had a sequence of spell, land, spell, spell, land, through the entire deck. These sort of patterns are obviously the work of a clever and methodical RB on the prowl for prey.

2. Card Spreading
Is this a combo deck? Are all the pieces of the combo very spread out across the deck? For example, are they playing Bargain, and the 4 Academy Rectors and 4 Yawgmoths Bargains are all spaced out evenly among the deck? This one is very difficult to determine, but may be used in conjunction with other hunting techniques to identify your target.

3. Card Grouping
This technique is very common among the lower level RBs, so popular a deck has been named after this technique, called Sticky Negator. In it, players would be sure to group together their Dark Rituals and Phyrexian Negators before shuffling, to ensure that they were always next to, or within one card of each other. In extreme cases, the RB would lick the back of the Dark Ritual and stick it to the Phyrexian Negator, ensuring that that the cards stuck together during shuffling. Another difficult hunting technique, this one is often very rewarding.

Another interesting way to track the more sophisticated RB, is the use of history. The best example is to ask yourself questions like this:

Does this player get a lot of Failure to Agree on Reality warnings?

Does this player often forget to pay alternate castings costs, or not play total casting costs?

Does this player have problems keeping their Graveyard and Removed From Game piles correctly? (Use this one only as an indicator when combined with other tell-tale signs, as this could just be an indication of sloppy play.)

Does this player often accidentally draw or see an extra card?

Do other players frequently complain about this player?

One of the best sources of information used in flushing out a RB is the prey of this creature, the players. The players often have stories to tell of comrades they once thought were players like them, only to find them unmasked to be RBs at the worst time! Be wary, some of these stories are pure myth, like that of the Loch Ness Monster. Everyone likes a scary story, and sometimes tales grow taller as passed from generation to generation.

Thats not to say these stories should be discounted completely. Take your time to research each story carefully, and it will help you identify proper targets for future hunts. And be sure to carry with you a mild tranquilizer at all times, as any confrontation may put a RB into aggressive mode, and they may need to be immobilized!

Keep in mind, the RB is a dangerous creature, handle with caution, and beware any misfires. Accidentally shooting a player you have mistaken as a RB can have serious consequences for you, and them.

This is Ray Powers signing off. Hunt Safely!

Ray Powers
Level 3 Judge