New Phyrexia Leak: the Real Problem

Wizards of the Coast has announced that they discovered the source of the New Phyrexia leak.

Guillaume Matignon received a 3-year ban, while Guillaume Wafo-Tapa, Martial Moreau, and David Gauthier all received a 1.5 year ban.

Matignon was the only one of the four who was supposed to have access to the full godbook, and the general understanding is that it went from him to Wafo-Tapa to the other two players.

This is troubling for a number of reasons.

The first is that Wizards of the Coast is continuing to use DCI bans as a bludgeon to punish people for doing things outside of the tournament world. This isn’t without precedent- but it undermines the integrity of the DCI every time it happens. This really should stop. What’s it say when someone who was suspended for Assault, Deck Manipulation, or Theft gets a 1-year ban, but spoiling cards gets a 3-year ban? Spoiling cards early may suck for Wizards, but it doesn’t screw over the integrity of a tournament or the DCI ratings system.

There are plenty of ways for Wizards to punish people for spoiling cards early – breaking the NDA is a contract violation and can be handled in a court of law. They could bar the person from ever working for Hasbro or having access to early spoilers ever again. That’s a bit obvious, but is at least a baseline. They could take it a bit further and bar any site or magazine they’re affiliated with from receiving early spoilers at all, which would effectively blackball them as writers- nobody would hire them as writers or sponsor them.

DCI bans should be reserved for people who actually cheat, steal, commit fraud, or otherwise ruin tournament play.

The second, and more troubling to my mind, is that this was even possible in the first place.

Matignon is a pro player, and was tied for Player of the Year last year, playing in a tiebreaker with Brad Nelson. He has been receiving godbooks in advance because of his association with Lotus Noir magazine. How long has this been ongoing? What kind of advantage has he received by getting additional time to test for tournaments with new cards?

Here’s an example.

Pro Tour: Nagoya is June 10-13, and is Block Constructed. The New Phyrexia prerelease is May 7th, and if the spoiler had followed the same timing as the Mirrodin Besieged one, it would have been released earlier that week.

In other words, we wouldn’t have a full spoiler yet- but Guillaume Matignon (and whoever else Wizards of the Coast has given godbooks to) would have been able to test since April 19 that we know of (the day the Godbook was leaked to MTGSalvation), likely earlier.

The rest of us would have to wait until May 4th or so, depending on what day the full spoiler was publicized. That’s a 2 week head start, and possibly longer – we don’t know when Matignon and the other pros got the godbook to begin with.

This is a ridiculous advantage at the Pro level, and even on the lower competitive levels. Matignon shared the spoiler with Wafo-Tapa, and according to Caleb Durward’s article, B-Boy (David Gauthier) had received the godbook from Wafo-Tapa. This group of players was already beginning to playtest the new format with the information they had that normal players didn’t get. Who else got information like this?

SCG Orlando is literally the week the set becomes legal, and SCG Louisville is the following week. Anyone attending those events who had access to the full spoiler early has a tremendous advantage over the rest of us. This is simply unacceptable.

There’s absolutely no reason why anyone outside of Wizards should be getting the complete set information ahead of anyone else- especially when the person in question is a Pro Player.

I understand that Wizards wants to do marketing. They obviously want to promote the new set. They’ve been sending out single cards to writers for years. That’s fine – people can’t make optimum decklists and play them against each other because they don’t know about all the other cards in the upcoming set. They just have to wing it with how that one card fits in, possibly in conjunction with earlier single-card spoilers, and move on. It’s not useful for testing purposes, and doesn’t give people a meaningful advantage since they only know one more card than other people. Even if a half-dozen writers got together and shared their spoilers with each other a week in advance, they still wouldn’t have a serious advantage over the rest of the playerbase. A complete set, however? That’s ridiculous.

The irony of it is that the spoiler getting leaked neutralized that advantage. That’s by far the best thing to come out of this – because of the New Phyrexia spoiler being leaked, PT Nagoya will be the first Pro Tour in what might actually be a very long time (but we don’t know just how long) to be held on truly even footing.

Wizards of the Coast should not continue giving certain players an unfair advantage. I’m not one to criticize without offering a solution, so here’s a rough sketch of a policy which would ensure that tournament play is fair going forward.

Starting with Magic 2012 and continuing thereafter, WotC needs to adopt a policy of not giving a single person outside of Hasbro and Carta Mundi access to the complete set. If this is unworkable for whatever reason, anyone who does get access to the complete set should be forbidden from playing in Competitive or Professional REL events until the next set is released. This is the only way to maintain tournament integrity while releasing spoilers of an entire set early.

Joshua Justice

Joshua Justice is a Magic player in Atlanta who's been to the Pro Tour twice. College put him on hiatus from the game until January 2010, and 5 months later he won his first Pro Tour invite with Super Friends. After a series of narrow misses in the second half of the year, Joshua won a GPT and used that to make top 16 of Grand Prix: Atlanta and secure his second Pro Tour invite in just over a year. While Nagoya was a bust, Joshua has been grinding points on the SCG Open Series, and is a virtual lock for the second Invitational. His focus is primarily on metagaming and deck tuning, and partially-open formats are his favorite playground.

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Comments

  1. Doug says

    I really liked this.

    My personal experience comes as a soon-to-be lawyer; we have legal ethics courses and a separate exam on ethics alone (yes, get your lulz out :) ). One of the big things is that you have an affirmative duty to disclose bad information, even if you don't want to, even if you think you can get away with not doing it. If I had my level 8 riding on this, with my 30k/year+ benefits, I'd be making sure Wizards knew I had this as soon as someone offered it to me.

    You raise REALLY good questions about how long these guys have had godbooks, and for how long they've been getting them. That's a pretty big story in itself. If QS got a spoiler a month ahead of everyone else, we'd have the potential to make a lot of money from it. I'm sure these guys had that chance, too.

    Also, WHY ARE WE DISTRIBUTING GODBOOKS TO FRENCH MAGAZINES? WHO THOUGHT THIS WAS SMART?

    • says

      Note that they both effectively lost their level 8 benefits. The people who got suspended until October 2012 are locked in at their current 2011 point totals, and depending on how WotC interprets the "no benefits for suspended players" rule they may not even get those benefits in 2012. Matignon of course is losing everything.

      From what I've been reading on twitter, godbooks are given to the print magazines early so they can get a full spoiler out after the set releases, because of the lead time that print magazines have to have.

      I don't think it's even necessary to get a full spoiler out in print magazines these days. A checklist of card names in the local language should be more than sufficient, I imagine.

  2. Wobbles says

    There is also the factor of giving players and possibly professional card buyers access to a spoiler in advance of their competition. I mean you’d never give out b/r announcement to some players or stores before others.

  3. says

    While I can understand the dismay regarding length of suspensions, to claim that these sorts of bans harm the integrity of the DCI is hard to accept. It has to do with Magic, therefore, the DCI has jurisdiction to levy punishment. It has for as long as I've been aware of the DCI. Why is this hard to accept? It is a privilege, not a right, to be allowed to play in a Magic tournament. The DCI and WotC have simply stated that that privilege is no longer being extended to these players.

    In regards to your Twitter comment ("As far as I can tell, there is nothing in the Magic Tournament Rules or the Infraction Procedure Guide about leaking spoilers.")
    The MTR and IPG are guidelines. They are not meant nor designed to cover every circumstance. Corner cases (such as the leaking of a Godbook) are not included. Additionally, the DCI is not limited to only acting in accordance to what is stated in the MTR and IPG. The only time the word 'suspension' is mentioned in either document, in fact, is the MTR stating that "Wizards of the Coast reserves the right to publish penalty and suspension information."

    I do agree that it seems unfair for some pros to have an advantage that access of this kind engenders.

    • ertaislament says

      Agreed. I differ with the initial author on the same point- in my opinion, all things considered if this is all there is, the handful of morons in France got off rather lightly.

      We might well have seen the 'end of the godbooks' as a result of this.

  4. F-WOTC says

    WOTC and the entire "pro" tour process lost all integrity with this. They've been playing favorites, lying, cheating, and effectively stealing from players who aren't getting their paid-off bullsh!t advantages.

    This is cheating, plain and simple. The "pros" have all been cheating to get their advantage with full advanced spoilers. The only thing they're "pro" at is kissing the most ass at WOTC, rubbing enough elbows, and rubbing who knows what else.

  5. says

    From what I've read elsewhere, the godbook (I haven't seen it) is dated in January. Have the pros with access to the godbook received it with how much advance…? Could it be a full 3 months before mere mortals? This advantage alone imbalances the tournament odds overwhelmingly in favor of already top players, that will continue to be there. A lot of testing time, finding new stategies and combos, knowing the best and more expensive cards beforehand… too many advantages!

    I think there should be a strict policy of NO DCI playing for those that have access to it, at a minimum they shouldn't be allowed to play before 1-2 months have passed since set release, to level the playing field (and I am being considerate to them not proposing forbidding it for the full time until next set, thinking writers wishing to do so should have a shot at playing).

    And, as with privileged information laws regarding stock exchange, all people with access to godbook (of course that includes Wizards personnel) should be forbidden to negotiate with cards before set release: they could potentially make a huge speculative profit (e.g. "I know there will be a new card that combos with a currently underrated one, lets go buy a load of them; also, this planeswalker will be reprinted and be cheaper, I will sell mine now and get them cheaper later…")

    This whole leak matter has exposed some serious problems we wouldn't be aware of if it hadn't happened that NEED to de dealt with, and as an unintended positive consequence levelled the playing field for New Phyrexia: let's see if the tournament landscape turns out more competitive in the following months.

    • says

      I don't know how you could possibly enforce people with godbook access not buying cards on ebay or whatever. It's a fine idea in theory but in practice it only works in the stock exchange because it's one centralized market.

      The secondary Magic card market has more in common with a black market than with the well-regulated stock market. It even has people meeting up in parking lots off Craigslist going "You got the stuff?" "Yeah, it's in my trunk".

  6. Tyler says

    Great article and a much needed discussion. I wonder how many people were expecting these leaks to be the fault of Pro-level players. Oofta.

    @Sioghlas makes a very astute point about the financial aspect of knowing what cards have the possibility of warping the format before everyone else. A lot of speculative profit can be had by scooping up and selling off certain cards. A lot like insider trading.

    The cautiously cynical part of me can't help but (unfoundedly) wonder if the banning/unbanning plans are somehow accessible to those who could take advantage of the information as well. But I suppose that's a different beast altogether and there's no reason to make jumps like that. Still can't help but wonder, though.

  7. says

    From the article:

    "DCI bans should be reserved for people who actually cheat, steal, commit fraud, or otherwise ruin tournament play.

    What kind of advantage has [Matignon] received by getting additional time to test for tournaments with new cards?"

    Is there a reason you wouldn't consider your own secondary point a threat to the integrity of tournament play? You say you shouldn't be banned from the DCI unless you cheat, and then you spend half the article implying that this godbook grants an illegal/unethical advantage.

    I don't actually care very much one way or the other, but your self-contradiction is puzzling. Clarify?

    Also, the "ban" on competitive play you suggest would need to extend until a set time after the set is legal, otherwise it doesn't keep them from using the advantage they have gained. However, it's untenable in practice either way because Wizards needs people to promote their product more than the (relevant) writers who promote it are compelled to do so. All professionals would rather play barring strange circumstances, so instituting this rule would really just lose Wizards a significant portion of its most popular marketing outlets (professional players in well-known publications).

    As someone who has worked in the TCG marketing industry for years, let me tell you that people rarely respond well to rules for rules' sake when it's easier for them to just not help you and continue about their lives. The carrot and stick works because there is a carrot.

    • says

      It's not a contradiction. I don't like people getting DCI bans for things that are nowhere mentioned in the tournament rules. It's basically a ban as vigilante justice because they can't/won't take them to court.

      The advantage they gained is a threat to the integrity of tournament play. But they didn't gain that advantage by leaking the set to the whole internet. Wizards gave Matignon the unfair advantage to begin with, for no reason other than he's a writer for Lotus Noir. The set getting leaked to the entire internet neutralized the unfair advantage WotC gave him (and however many others).

      • says

        Wizards gave Matignon the spoiler for the purpose of writing the article, true. The fact that it was given to other people, ostensibly for playtesting (by David Gauthier's IRC admission) changes a lot about how they evaluate the matter. That claim by David is enough evidence of that this information was being used and distributed in a way that threatened tournament integrity.

        Threatening the integrity of tournament play is a ban-worthy threat to the DCI–that's what cheating does by definition.

        • RadicalEuclayptus says

          I agree with this.

          Matignon may not have insufficiently randomized his deck, or drawn extra cards, or anything directly related to playing in a tournament, BUT, since the Godbook was given to him for the express purpose of publishing an article, and he used it for a completely different purpose which directly involves gaining an advantage in a DCI-sanctioned tournament (extra playtesting time, leaking to another pro, etc), then it is entirely appropriate for the DCI to levy this kind of sanction.

  8. says

    To make the details a bit more clear – from what I'm reading, Wizards did not give the godbook directly to Matignon. They gave it to Lotus Noir, who gave it to Matignon to write the set review. This doesn't substantially change the discussion – whoever Lotus Noir (and the other magazines) gave godbooks to still gain an unfair advantage over the rest of us.

  9. says

    Most sites staff writers for larger publications actually have access to godbooks, I'm certain most if not all of SCG's premium writers are getting godbooks, this includes Patrick chapin, Brian Kibler, Evan Erwin, and Flores (but he is also a staff writer for MTG.com). I'm sure the whole channel fireball crew has that godbook.

    • says

      According to the conversation on twitter yesterday, SCG and CF have never received godbooks, and CF's high-profile authors were all saying they didn't get godbooks.

  10. Doug says

    That's a pretty intellectually-dishonest comment, though. I don't really get a hit of jealousy in this; more than any other article, it raises the question about why we hadn't heard that some pros get spoilers before.

    Most of all, it reminds me of the quote that "Caesar's wife must be beyond suspicion." This is a good, succinct summation of it:
    http://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/Caesar%27s+wi

    Simply knowing that several high-performing players had access to spoilers and shared them with each other, perhaps frequently, casts suspicion on their entire performance, even if they did no actual wrong.

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