Gaming and Humanity

I put this under MtG, again, as it involves the special nature of high-level MtG, but – as always – I’d like to think I can capture bigger messages in these posts. In this case, we’re talking about this.

The gist of it: Last weekend, at Grand Prix Albuquerque, in the last round of swiss, Matt Sperling (the writer of the article) was playing against his best friend, Paul Rietzl. The players were tied 1-1 and we were in the third game. Sperling was about to win. It wasn’t like it was looking like he was going to win. Instead there was no question. He was going to win. We’re talking referee counting to ten, being on nine and the guy on the mat not even moving. Rietzl had no outs.

Then, Sperling stops the game and asks the judge whether he can look at the standings. He does a little math and decides to take a draw instead of a win. Now, he’s opponent, Rietzl tries to talk him out of it, but Sperling has made his decision. In the end, the Rietzl goes into the top 8 (a pretty big deal in competitive magic) and Sperling is left ninth.

All this was played out on camera.

So, Sperling is both a gamer and a lawyer, so his outlook on life is probably pretty unique. He is also a member of Team Star City Games, which is probably the best Magic team in the world right now. Granted, he’s probably the least accomplished member of the team, but still, you can’t get in without merit. After all, the team includes some of the all time best (Budde, Finkel, Nassif, even Maher was a member at least once), and some of the best current players (Sam Black, Owen Turtenwald, Reid Duke, and the aforementioned Rietzl), among renonwed deckbuilders (Chapin, Moshowitz, Black again). He isn’t unfamiliar with how things work.

Now, this happens in many professional sports. What’s different is that here’s its out in the open. We don’t often get to see these discussions on camera, but they happen and the rules allow it. In other sports, it happens, but its kept in the dark, because its against the rules. Of course, you can’t promise anything beforehand in MtG either, and doing so would probably be illegal bribery in many countries, but you can – and its often done – draw intentionally or concede a match.

Now, you should read the article to understand the Sperling’s thinking, because it outlines pretty well what it cost him and how he came to the conluclusions. Yes, it cost him, but it did help his friend.

Well, this is a sign of a true gamer, who probably has some economics and game theory background: He can make very rational decisions about things usually thought of as emotion based. He can place value on his friendship and understand that by helping his friend at cost to himself, he can benefit in the long run. Of course most people would think this is a really cold and calculating way of looking that things. Perhaps, but is it really wrong to understand these things?

I think Sperling’s views are very valuable to all of us. Because he is a lawyer, he can often bring unique points into the conversation. Granted, they are often very MtG-related, but I bet reading them would benefit a lot of people outside the game as well.

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