As a member of the Pro Tour Hall of Fame, I get to vote for potential inductees each year. Hall of Fame voters are asked to consider the following: “Voting shall be based upon the player’s performances, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, and contributions to the game in general.” Since there are often candidates on the ballot with whom I’m not very familiar personally, my vote is based primarily on stats. I place great value on lifetime Pro Tour points, number of Pro Tour Top eight finishes, and, to a lesser extent, Pro Tour median finish and wins at big events like Pro Tours, Grand Prixes, National Championships, and Masters. While I base my vote mainly on stats, integrity and sportsmanship matter to me also.
This can work both ways. My original ballot for this year was going to be:
I feel that Nakamura, Gary, Jonsson, and Mori have the four most impressive collections of stats. After those four, I feel there is a bit of a logjam statwise: Harvey, Osyp Lebedowicz, Mark Herberholz, Steven O’Mahoney-Schwartz, William Jensen, Patrick Chapin, etc. I chose Harvey in part because he’s a gentleman and a shining example of good sportsmanship. Apparently, Mori is somewhere on the other end of the spectrum. After I posted to Facebook that I this was my planned ballot, it was brought to my attention that Mori is a player of questionable integrity. I did my own research and discovered this to be true. A Google search revealed that he had been suspended by the DCI, for example.
As a result, I submitted a ballot with Osyp Lebedowicz on it, instead of Mori. The Hall of Fame debate got me thinking more about integrity as it pertains to Magic. Given the incredible stats of Mike Long and Mark Justice, I would conclude they haven’t made it into the Hall due to questions about their integrity (in the case of Long, the answers are quite damning.) While I pay attention to the things I hear about other players, for something as serious as a Hall of Fame vote, I try to rely on personal knowledge and on official suspensions and penalties.
Part of the reason for this is that, as a player in the public eye, I know what it feels like to have rumors and insinuations bandied about. As a member of the Hall of Fame, I take my role as an ambassador of the game seriously, especially playing with integrity and sportsmanship. When I lose, I make a point to congratulate my opponent, and I offer to shake hands. I hate it when a player loses a match and also loses his cool, storming off or trash-talking the person who just defeated him.
Of even greater importance to me is playing with integrity. As a result, I’m very sensitive to people who might suggest otherwise about me. I think part of being a player with integrity is to be responsible about how you characterize other players. I’ve been playing Magic for over fifteen years now, and there are three specific instances that stand out in my mind.
The first one occurred at Pro Tour: Houston in 2002. In the semifinals of that event, I was paired up against my best friend, Robert Dougherty. I was playing with the same sleeves that I used in the quarterfinals, and given how roughly I shuffle, some of them were apparently a little scuffed. Rob noticed and, unlike me, he’s very distracted by these sorts of details. He was even worried that over the course of the match, he might be able to determine what one or more of the cards in my hand were by the backs of the sleeves. The problem for Rob was that it wasn’t something he wanted to succeed or fail at. It was a lose/lose scenario for him. If he was successful, he would gain an unfair advantage against his close friend and teammate. If he failed, he could potentially even put himself at a disadvantage. In either case, it would be a distraction from the rest of the match for him.
Rob decided that the best way to handle the situation would be to ask me to put fresh sleeves on my deck, and I did. Rob ended up winning the match and then losing to our teammate Justin Gary in the finals. There were those who said, “Why would Rob ask Darwin to change his sleeves? It must be because as his teammate he knows that Darwin marks his sleeves.” Of course, just because this is a possible explanation doesn’t make it true. While most people are capable of understanding that just because Rob asked me to change my sleeves it doesn’t make a statement about my integrity, there are always going to be doubters.
Unfortunately, any time you’re extremely successful at something, there will be those who feel the need to question it. I’ve frequently heard of cheaters who justify their actions to themselves by thinking that it’s the only way for them to level the playing field. They know that they’re good at Magic, so why are others doing better than them? It must be because those people are cheating, right? Thus, it’s only fair for them to cheat, too, as a way to level the playing field. This is a very basic human trait, an inability to take responsibility for one’s own failings.
At Pro Tour: Yokohoma 2003, I drafted a B/W Cleric deck with Bane of the Living as my only non-Cleric creature. The strength of my deck was the synergy of my Clerics. I had cards like Akroma’s Devoted, Daunting Defender, Daru Healer, Celestial Gatekeeper, Whipgrass Entangler, Vile Deacon, Ancestor’s Prophet, and Shieldmage Elder. Each Cleric in my deck was just okay individually, but collectively they became incredibly powerful.
In the first round, I had a featured match against future Hall of Famer Bob Maher. Despite the fact that it was Round 1 and I was playing with fresh sleeves, Bob asked to have them inspected and replaced. The judges didn’t feel there was a pattern to any irregularities on my sleeves, but I went ahead and put new sleeves on my deck.
I proceeded to crush Bob’s R/B deck 2–0. In Game 1, I locked him down so completely with a board full of Clerics that he said, “I could have arranged my deck and drawn two cards a turn and I still don’t think I could have busted through. That amount of protection really puts it to R/B. Somehow I have a sneaking suspicion that Bane is the only non-Cleric in that deck.” Game 2 wasn’t much closer.
Later, Rob and I heard suspicions that somehow I had marked my Bane of the Living (which was useful in my match against Bob) and that I was able to strategically shuffle my deck in such a way as to ensure that I would draw it. When Rob heard this, he couldn’t help but laugh. This was for two reasons:
My ineptitude when it comes to shuffling. At Pro Tour: Paris in 1997, there was a rule that every player was required to riffle-shuffle his or her deck at least five times before presenting it. I was so bad at it (I’m getting better now) that whenever I attempted a riffle-shuffle, the cards would end up all over the floor. As a result, every round, I had to ask a judge to shuffle my deck for me. When doing my own shuffling, I typically pile-shuffle and overhand-shuffle. Unfortunately, I’m so bad at overhand-shuffling that I usually either damage the cards (when I’m not using sleeves) or my sleeves. Thus my need to frequently change my sleeves. Rob felt the idea of such a bad shuffler being some kind of shuffling mechanic to be laughable.
My prematch evaluation of Bane of the Living. While I had drafted B/W Clerics many times before the event, Bane was a rare that I had never played with. At the time it was passed to me, all of the creatures I had drafted so far were small Clerics, and I recognized that it was the sort of card that could crush my deck. Given my need to have several Clerics in play to make them really powerful, I was vulnerable to creature-sweepers. Sweeping damage could be managed a little by cards like Dauntless Defender and Daru Healer, but -X/-X sweeping was a bigger problem. So I went ahead and drafted it. I felt that my Cleric deck was coming together nicely, and I wanted to avoid one of the few cards that could cause me problems. While I recognized how powerful the card could be against me, I didn’t necessarily think it was a good fit for my deck. First, if I used its ability, I would probably be hurting my own team, which would be counterproductive, as I’ve mentioned. Second, it’s not a Cleric, so it doesn’t contribute to setting up my complete Cleric lockdown of the board. When it came time for deck-construction, I had more Clerics than I could use in my deck, so I didn’t need the Bane to fill out my deck. At the last minute, however, I decided that its ability might be useful for emergencies, so I cut my worst Cleric for it. In retrospect, I regard Bane of the Living as a terrific Limited card, and certainly on an individual basis one of the best cards in that deck. At the time, however, it was practically an afterthought in my deck and not something I was going to be planning my games around. Rob knew this from talking to me before I played Bob, so it was another reason why he felt the rumor was so absurd.
For the most part, I have always had positive experiences with Bob. He typically conducts himself as a gentleman, and to this day is quite friendly to me. Despite the fact that he was later suspended by the DCI, Hall of Fame voters must have taken his otherwise sporting conduct into account, since he is now a member of the Hall.
The third experience that stands out for me is more recent, less high-profile, and against an opponent who currently bears me ill will. In 2008, I was playing in a small, in-store tournament against a local player whom I shall call Ted, which isn’t his name. We were playing booster draft using Shards of Alara. We were playing a close, match-deciding game, and I had just played a creature in an effort to hold off his attacks long enough for me to take control of the game. Unfortunately for me, Ted had a Vithian Stinger in his graveyard and my creature had just 1 toughness. During his first main phase, he Unearthed the Stinger for 2 mana and used it to kill my creature. The exact sequence of events is extremely important:
- During his first main phase, he paid 2 mana for the Unearth ability of the Stinger.
- He picked up the Stinger from his graveyard and placed it in the middle of the play area.
- He tapped it to kill my creature.
- He picked it up again and set it to the side of the play area where we were putting cards if and when they were exiled.
- He paused to think, and I started to untap my permanents and get ready to draw for my turn.
At this point, Ted reacted with surprise and asked me why I was starting my turn. I informed him that removing his Stinger from the game only happens at the end of the turn, so it must be my turn now. This surprised and angered Ted, and he said that indeed he was not finished, and that he was getting ready to begin his attack phase. I informed him that if he disagreed with my interpretation of the situation or felt that it was appropriate for us to back up to his attack phase, he was welcome to call over a judge. Then we could let the judge decide what was appropriate. While frustrated, Ted decided that calling over a judge wasn’t necessary, and we proceeded with my turn. As far as I was concerned, this was an admission on Ted’s part that he realized he’d made a mistake. Thanks in large part to Ted’s missing that attack phase, I went on to win the match. At this point, Ted became angry again and gave me a piece of his mind before storming off.
Looking back, I was probably too much of a hard-ass rules lawyer for such a small tournament and would have been better off allowing Ted to back up and replay his turn. Perhaps if he had called over the judge, the judge would have backed us up to Ted’s main phase, since the event had a relatively low Rules Enforcement Level. At the time, I thought I knew Ted pretty well, and since I knew he was an experienced player, I didn’t feel bad holding him to a relatively high standard of play. I try to play with great precision, and I expect my opponents to be precise as well.
Afterward, Ted seemed to cool off, and I didn’t give the incident further thought. Apparently, Ted did. Upset about the incident, Ted told others about it. He claims he was even able to describe what happened to a judge in such a way that the judge said he would have penalized me for being unsportsmanlike. To my face, Ted acted like we were friends. He even loaned me some cards that I used in a Pro Tour. Behind my back was another matter. Things came to a head recently, after he befriended my girlfriend. Since I thought we were friends, I wasn’t overly concerned—at first. That changed when she told me about how Ted had told her about the incident and had characterized me as a cheater.
As I mentioned earlier, I take my role as an ambassador of the game seriously. If perhaps Ted had come to me privately as a friend to tell me that he was still upset about what happened, we could have talked things out and perhaps he could have gotten some sympathy from me. Given the low REL of the event, perhaps I would have even apologized for being such a hard-ass. Under these circumstances, though, my feelings are less sympathetic.
I take my integrity as a Magic player very seriously, and I expect others to treat it with respect, not to spread rumors to serve their own ends. It may soothe one’s ego to place blame elsewhere when you don’t win, but I think it’s important to take responsibility for your failures. When I lose a match, I look back at it and try to decide how I could have played it better. Of course, Magic includes lots of mana-related variance, which causes me and everyone else frustration, but I try very hard to take ownership of my losses. This is in part to prevent future losses. I also feel that part of being a Magic player with integrity is being careful what you say about other Magic players.
It’s easy to get caught up in discussions about the Hall of Fame and which big-name players have the necessary integrity and sportsmanship to go with their stats and are worthy of induction. I hope that such discussions can be a reminder that, just like winning isn’t the only thing that matters to being in the Hall of Fame, it shouldn’t be the only thing that matters to non-pro players, either. Integrity is important at every level of competition, not just for Hall of Famers. I feel that Magic can teach life lessons, and one of the most important is to take responsibility for your own mistakes. If you can’t do that, perhaps you need to give some thought to your own integrity, before you go about trying to smear the integrity of others.