Earlier this week, Joey Pasco (Yo! MtgTaps, SCGLive, Affinity for Islands, and @Affinityforblue on Twitter) wrote a brief yet highly insightful blogpost here. The situation Joey writes about is this:
"This past weekend during the Legacy portion of the StarCityGames.com Open Series in Memphis, TN, Drew Levin was given a game loss going into game 3 of his quarterfinals match versus eventual winner, Alex Bertoncini, for presenting a 59-card deck."
In his blog, Joey pontifies that the penalty here doesn't appear to fit the crime. Many judges and experienced players have already chimed in on Twitter, probably Facebook although I missed it, and in the blog's own comments section. Joey sums up the "opposition" thusly:
1) “These are the rules.” (I don’t dispute this.)
2) “It’s been this way for years.” (I don’t dispute this.)
3) “The reason it is this way is due to the potential for abuse."
I think that's a fairly accurate assessment of the general attitude of judges and regarding this incident in particular. Potential for abuse is one of those terms that gets waved around a lot to explain away penalties. "But look at the potential for aboooooose!" cry the judges.
There certainly is some potential for abuse. Those in the audience that are good at math can tell you all about it. If you have fewer cards in your deck, you have a better chance of drawing the ones that are still there. But I've seen similar math to this regarding fetch lands, and the percentages don't tend to add up to anything significant. Unless you have a "real" reason to run fetch lands (color-fixing, graveyard-filling, styling and profiling), the life loss outweighs the potential benefit of thinning your deck by a card. Clearly the possibility of getting a Game Loss for a "Deck/Decklist Problem," (the technical name for a 59-card mismatch situation like this) outweighs the potential benefit of thinning your deck by one or more. But would anyone want to run this type of cheat anyways?
Of potential cheats, this type of "math cheat" seems far too unreliable for those hardcore miscreants among us to attempt. If you're evil enough to cheat, why would you simply increase your chances of drawing your good cards when you could, I don't know, just draw your good cards through various nefarious means that have been documented over the years (card in lap, "Vampiric" fetch land)? Are there really people out there who like angle-shooting so much that they would shoot for the smallest angles possible?
I suppose that in the history of cheating there may be a dark corner where there is some greater potential for abuse with presenting the small deck, or big deck, or different deck. Certainly once you get in-game, changing the composition of your deck can have a much bigger impact, like removing dead spells against a certain match up so you don't draw them. But at the beginning of the game, especially at Competitive REL where many players count their opponent's decks while shuffling just on the off chance of getting that free win, presenting a 59-card deck seems purely in the purview of mistake with a capital M. And that's what Joey's getting at; clearly this was a mistake.
The kicker here is that there is another situation that can happen at the beginning of a game that has more potential abuse, is only a Warning, but is mirrored by an in-game infraction that is a Game Loss: Improper Drawing at Start of Game (IDSG). This is something like drawing 8 cards, or mulliganing to 7, or drawing when you are on the play. The latter is easy for your opponent to catch, but the first two can be obscured by cards sticking together or a player picking his hand up very quickly. And having an extra card in hand to start the game is a lot more abusive than having one fewer card in your library. Once the game starts, having an extra card in hand is Drawing Extra Cards, punishable by a Game Loss, and yet the IDSG is just a warning--even when it is caught by the opponent and not a player calling a judge on himself. Smells like teen spirit.
This is already much longer than I expected, so I will cut it short now, and leave with this thought: will there be more angle-shooting, 59-card decks presented if the penalty for this at the beginning of the game is just a Warning and "put a card back in and shuffle again"?