Even if they seemingly have more experience then you, sometimes they are just wrong. Sometimes they are actively trying to cheat you if they think you’re not as familiar with the rules as they are.
The impetus for this post is something that happened to me on Sunday. I was at the WMCQ playing an opponent mostly for fun and PWPs at that point. Getting into the top 8 was probably out of reach. Not quite, but at that point it was just improbable.
The situation was pretty uncommon. I had an Elemental token produced by [scryfall]Voice of Resurgence[/scryfall] like Monored decks tend to do (actually, I stole my opponents Voice with [scryfall]Harness by Force[/scryfall] and he had to kill my [scryfall]Mutavault[/scryfall] subsequently to survive the turn, leaving me with a token) and no other creatures, but I did have another Mutavault in play and a [scryfall]Boros Reckoner[/scryfall] in hand, of which my opponent was aware of after having [scryfall]Duress[/scryfall]ed me. My opponent only had the Voice and one card in hand. He was also at 2 life, while I had plenty.
He went into tank for a pretty long time and after resurfacing, he card [scryfall]Golgari Charm[/scryfall] choosing to give all creature -1/-1 until end of turn in an attempt to kill the token. I responded by activating the Mutavault, making the token a 2/2, so that it wouldn’t get killed.
Well, according to him, the token would still get killed at end of turn, when the Mutavault was no longer a creature. I disagreed. I called a judge, who agreed with me. All ‘until end of turn’ effects stop at the same time and state-based actions are only checked after that, at which point (after both the Charm and the Mutavault are no longer creatures), the token is again a 1/1.
Now, the player I was playing against has well over 4000 Planeswalker points, which means that he has played quite a bit, including quite a few events with a higher multiplier. I’ve also played against him before in a PTQ and talked to him at two different Grand Prix’s, so I know he’s no newbie. So, how come did he make this mistake? Did he just have a blind-spot? Seems a bit far-fetched, as playing the current Standard format actively he must have run into pretty much the same interaction with [scryfall]Pack Rat[/scryfall] and [scryfall]Mutavault[/scryfall] endlessly, as we all have.
Of course, there’s the more sinister possibility that he was testing the waters just to see whether he could get away with it. He actively tried to cheat, but did it in a way he wouldn’t get punished if I was onto him, as I couldn’t prove he did it maliciously. Right after, he extended the hand and conceded (as I had the win on the table).
Now, assuming he was trying to cheat, how many times has he done it before? I’m fairly new to the scene (well, not really, but there’s pretty much no one left from the time I was active in the mid-90s), so he might have assumed he might have an out here (not really knowing I’ve passed the Rules Advisor test, am quite exprienced in tournament play from the wilder days of the 90s and some of the judges were friends of mine and thus I wouldn’t have qualms about approaching them).
If he has tried it before (again assuming he was trying to cheat), he has probably succeeded. Otherwise he wouldn’t try it again. He has a certain air of authority for being a bit older than most players and having been around for a while. If you can declare your opinion on how the rules work with enough confidence, you can probably pull it off.
I’ve played plenty of matches against new players, who just take everything I say at face value. There’s a player I see in most FNMs, who has a hearing aid. First time I played him, I tried to explain to him that there was a disparity with life totals. I thought he had two more than he had on his pad. He misheard me and conceded immediately, when in fact he would have survived my attack we were resolving.
Another similar event happened earlier this year in Utrecht. I was playing against a young local kid, who didn’t speak English very well. I said I’ll take two, and he misunderstood me, adding two to my life total. I did correct the situation as soon as I found out (and I try to always say any lifetotal that has changed out loud so that my opponent can disagree, if there’s a discrepancy.
I hope the latter player didn’t learn wrong lessons from the match. Not all players are as helpful, and you really shouldn’t trust them. They are there because they want to compete. Not everyone is all about fair competition.
One mistake new players often make is not calling on the judge. They are there to help. I’ve called plenty of times I’ve known what is happening, but my opponent is not sure. Its not something to be avoided. If you look at enough games by Jon Finkel, you’ll see that he actually asks the judges quite often for rules clarifications.
Over time, the amount of cheating has definitely lessened, but it doesn’t it mean its not still happening. You don’t need to be very suspicious, but just keep your eyes open. Sometimes people tap mana wrong or forget they’ve played a land on that turn already. People make mistakes. I’ve done some with no intention of actually cheating. Sometimes you just forget you were supposed to mulligan to five and take six cards instead. Not everything is malicious, but its good to keep the malicious stuff from happening by calling the judge. Sure, some honest players will sometimes pay the price, but warnings are just warnings. They don’t become game losses or disqualifications unless you repeat them.