Frederic's Out Of His Indentures

Feature Article from Charles Mousseau
Charles Mousseau
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For a few of you, between the title of this article and a quick glance at the calender, you should be able to figure out what this article is going to be about.

I'll give you a hint: It's related to one of the most time-honored areas of Magic, and of gaming in general. Like all areas, it's been a pretty gray one over the years, and one that could use some defining in terms of what is acceptable or not - or to be more exact, what should be acceptable or not, since the evidence is mounting daily that if it doesn't lead to your disqualification, it's acceptable.

I'll give you another hint: It's somewhat related to last week's article, which we will revisit, as is tradition, to start things off.


We tried to make two basic distinction in last week's piece, "Rules and Fouls".

First and foremost was the difference between a game and a sport. Obviously, a strict dictionary-based necessity of physical exertion is one way to seperate between a game between a sport, which pretty much makes Magic a game, unless of course you consider "repressing your gag reflex after taking a whiff of the 'PTQ miasma'" to be physical exertion.

However, we went with a mathematical definition, namely, that a game has a finite number of states, and a finite number of rules to govern transitions between them. Sports with physical exertion obviously cannot be adequately represented thusly.

Rules are things which are not acceptable to be broken anytime.

This opened the door for our second distinction, namely, between rules and fouls. Ultimately, fouls are things for which it is understood thay they are going to be broken, due to the level of chaos that trying to control physical exertion brings. Rules are things which are not acceptable to be broken anytime.

That is to say, if you are about to receive a beautiful pass all alone in front of my net, and I throw you to the ice before the puck gets there, it is considered acceptable to drop them on their behind, because they might only score 25% of the time in their two-minute power-play, whereas they would have a 90% chance of scoring if left all alone, to say nothing about the added benefit of requiring time to be chewed off the clock for them to get that goal on the power-play, whereas the other alternative would happen almost instantaneously.

To some people, including Kyle Smith it seems, there is no distinction between rules that are intended to be followed at all times, and fouls, which are just regular rules with smaller penalties. That's his perogative, however, if he's correct, then Geordie Tait was correct - only the threat of punishment stops people from cheating, and everyone would cheat if they felt they could get away with it.

That's scary. Very scary. I know a lot of people who, thankfully, do not play like that. They feel that the rules are to be followed, and appreciate that the value of their victory in a game hinges completely on whether or not they played the game clean. Believe me, it's very disadvantegous sometimes. Imagine me, playing in my first major poker tournament, up against a seasoned pro for all the marbles. He proposes a prize split that is slightly disadvantageous to myself, but that "gives" me the trophy. I immediately refuse, and promptly get taken apart like a toy watch. That's life. I don't want a championship ring that says "look at what I was given". I want one that says "Look at what I earned" - and yes, this casino does give out championship rings for their poker tournaments.

Likewise, if I was a hockey player, and I hauled someone to the ice as in the above scenario, and the resulting rational transaction enabled my team to win the Stanley Cup, I couldn't be happier.

I would rather win clean than lose, but I'd rather lose than win dirty. Perhaps my black-and-white morality really is an anachronism that belongs strictly in B-grade Westerns and late-20th-century professional wrestling. Regardless, I will continue to hinge my satisfaction in victory strictly on how it was won. I invite you all to do the same.

On with the show.

Absolute Law

Some of you will remember that phrase as the title of a Magic card. Some of you will remember that, however, as the first series of articles I ever wrote, back when I was naught but a wandering scribe, looking for a place to call home. The focus of the Absolute Law series was, as you might guess, the notion that the rules were sacrosanct. If something made sense according to the rules, but was in violation of our perception of what should be fair, then the problem existed with our perception, and not the rules.

...if you can certify it, such that every possible circumstance is either true or false, then you have a rule...

Really, I don't think I've changed too much over the years. Yes, I've acknowledged that some rules cannot entirely be enforced in black-and-white, and require judgment and human consideration to correctly apply. However, the fact is this - if you can certify it, such that every possible circumstance is either true or false, then you have a rule, and those rules must be followed.

Even if a tournament director advertises a "Type 1.5" tournament, and decides to scrumptiously change the banned list without even announcing it publicly, to the effect that everyone's favorite rule-loving Lackey finds himself disqualified for having an illegal deck?


Regardless of how nonplussed I was, the fact is, I should have double-checked with the posted rules, seen that (for whatever reason) Berzerk was crossed off the Banned list while Maze of Ith was added in pencil, and undone the change I had made to my friend's deck to make it legal for this tournament.

Rather than protest, however, I accepted my fate. I, like every Magic player prior and since, was in a tournament where my entry came with a duty to uphold the rules, and at any price, I will do my duty.

There's your last clue as to what the title of this article signifies.

I am referring, of course, to Gilbert & Sullivan's classic Pirates of Penzance, which through its subtitle, The Slave of Duty, indicates that it is, in fact, the world's first comic opera devoted to the fine art of rule-mongering.

Snobby Cultural Reference Alert!

(those of you who had a problem with my use of Lucifer = Morning Star earlier, feel free to skip on ahead)

The plot of this 1879 masterpiece hinges around young Frederic, who as a youth, was apprenticed to be a pirate by his hard-of-hearing servant-maid Ruth (who was supposed to apprentice him to be a pilot) and, even though he finds himself disgusted with the profession, works through it literally to the last minute that he is bound by the contract, even giving advice and words of friendship to his soon-to-be-former cohorts, who are simply too tender-hearted to be profitable profiteers.

However, just as Frederic is getting his life back in order, his late commander returns and points out that the contract stipulated that Frederic was to be indentured not until he reached his twenty-first year, but until he reached his twenty-first birthday, and since Frederic was born on a leap year on the 29th of February, he was - going by birthdays - only five-and-a-quarter.

Of course, Frederic is disgusted, but begrudgingly tells his love that he will obey the technicality in his contract, and that, "In 1940, I of age shall be.. I'll then return and claim you, I declare it!" before going off to resume his duty, because "duty is before all, and at any price, I will do my duty!"

Now, as silly as it might sound, it really was a classic that captivated the public of the time, and was as ubiquitous in terms of cultural references as Star Wars or Raiders of the Lost Ark was to my generation. In fact, "Frederic's Out Of His Indentures!" was the headline of more than one major newspaper on February 29, 1940, on both sides of the Atlantic. Before you say how dumb that is, might I remind you that you are part of a generation that celebrates the major birthdays of an imaginary rodent simply because his face is plastered over most every huge theme park around the world.

Anyways, if you don't think you're up for seeing it in all it's capital-T-theater glory, I at least encourage you to check out the excellent movie version done starring Kevin Kline, Linda Ronstadt, Angela Lansbury and Rex Smith - who, for the uninitiated, is pretty much like Chris O'Donnell in every way, including his amazing ability to star in a hit movie or two then plummet into obscurity.

Back to the show....

"Beardy Rules"

Have you ever heard that expression before?

I hope you have, because I have only a vague recollection of it. From what I remember, it was on a flyer posted on a bulletin board at a certain large gaming store in Calgary. The flyer talked about some miniature game - Warhammer, I believe it was - where they refer to "beardy rules", and that anyone who insists by playing by them will not be welcome in their playgroup.

The thing was, "beardy rules" appeared without quotations on the flyer, so it must have been a very well-known figure of speech, yet Google turns up nothing. Anyone who can tell me more about this term, please let me know.

Anyways, it wasn't hard to figure out exactly what beardy rules are, from the context of the flyer, because they use words like "cheap" when describing them. "Cheap", of course, is the all-purpose adjective to describe any rule, maneuver or technique that is more sophisticated than you can handle. My first exposure to the term was on the "Street Fighter II: Champion Edition" circuit. Here's a hint: When playing against someone who is wearing the same clothes as the rest of the mob with him, and he shouts out "cheap, cheap, cheap!" when you beat him, do your best to refrain from saying anything like "That's the worst canary impression I've ever heard". Trust me on that one.

These "beardy rules", it seems, are things that get swept under the ubiquitous banner of "rule-mongering".

Does anyone really know, however, what is meant by that term?

When I think of rules-lawyering, I think of Magic, and some shifty player asking their opponent, ever so politely, if they may cast Lightning Bolt on them.

When I think of rules-lawyering, I think of Magic, and some shifty player asking their opponent, ever so politely, if they may cast Lightning Bolt on them. When the unsuspecting dupe says "sure", and the person responds by saying ".. oh, but I choose not to, and since we've both yielded priority, your main phase is over."

When I think of rules-lawyering, I think of poker, and some guy thinking about calling a big bet on the end, saying something like "looks like I might have to call you," and upon seeing his opponent immediately reaching for his cards to flip them over, say, "… or I might not" and folding.

When I think of rules-lawyering, I think of chess. Yes, chess. I think of chess, and what must account to the slimiest thing I've ever done in my life. I was only eleven years old, however, so please, show a little mercy. I had just read about this in a book, and thought I might try it myself.

All those of you who enjoy a little schadenfreude every time the Lackey talks about things he's done wrong, listen up.

Rules Laywering In Chess For Dummies.

It's late in a chess game, and the winner gets a prize, while the loser gets nothing. I have an edge, with my army of two pawns and a king staring down a king and one pawn. My opponent has two possible ways of playing. If he moves his king over to my "passed pawn" on the left side of the board...

Okay, let me stop here for a second. "Passed pawn" has nothing to do with the digestive tract, you sick buggers. Although, I must confess, the first time I ever saw a list of rules and regulations that people must follow when throwing the dice at craps here in Alberta, and my eyes wandered to the bottom warning which read "If the shooter insists on breaking these rules, management will pass the dice", I thought I had found myself a chance to get the story of a lifetime.

Anyways, a "passed pawn" simply means that there is no opposing pawn in its way on that file, and if left unopposed, the pawn would quickly march down to the last rank, becoming a queen and leading to sure victory.

If my opponent moves his king towards the passed pawn, he can stop it in time and come back to hold up my attempt to spring my other pawn free in the nick of time, holding the draw. If he moves his own passed pawn, he will be able to promote the turn before I get there, but when my pawn queens, it will attack the king, and when it moved out of check, I would be free to scoop up his queen with mine, giving me a sure win.

I've analyzed these variations in my head to the final step. My opponent is hesitant. Slowly, he reaches towards his king to move it, apparently saving the draw...

...except, of course, that I immediately shoot up out of my seat, point at my opponent and shout out "TD! He touched his king! He has to move it!" - the so-called "touch-move" rule, which is one of the traditional rules of the game, says that once you touch a piece, you have to move it. My opponent is immediately frozen in fright, his hand still centimeters away from his king.

The tournament director comes over, shaking his head at yet another touch-move argument. I state vehemently that my opponent grabbed his king. He insists he didn't. Eventually, I "relent", and my opponent, breathing a sigh of relief, goes to move his pawn... and promptly loses the game.

Pretty filthy, huh? Hey, I was eleven. I wasn't perfect then, and I'm not perfect now; I just try to be. Stuff I've done in the past - stuff I've done and learned from, I might add - could fill a whole article, and one day it probably will.

Now, notice the one thing that all these rule-lawyering issues have in common?

In case it's not clear, allow me to illustrate by counterpoint with some examples.

Rules Lawyering vs Rules Following:

When I think of rules-following, I think of Magic, and casting Armageddon with Energy Flux in play and informing my opponent... that he cannot tap his Moxes...

When I think of rules-following, I think of Magic, and casting Armageddon with Energy Flux in play, and informing my opponent, Ray Gareau, that he cannot tap his Moxes during his upkeep for mana to use until he's paid the upkeep cost on them, which was the rule at the time. Ray goes on to lose this game, but wins a big prize in a tournament in Edmonton by sideboarding in The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale against those annoying Instill Energy-powered, Birds of Paradise-upkeeping Stasis decks. A very subtle rule, one that if opponents were aware of, they would surely play around - but they were not aware, and so they fell into the trap.

When I think of rules-following, I think of poker, specifically, the no-limit hold-em tournament where I looked down at my pair of tens in the hole, announced "I raise," and before I could say an amount, a new opponent behind me excitedly stuffed all his chips towards the pot. Thus, the action was backed up to me, so I could make my play. I looked at the $25 big blind, dutifully put out the minimum $50 raise while simultaneously throwing my hand away.

When I think of rules-following, I think of speed chess, and how, unlike longer chess games, there is no rule which prohibits moving your king to a spot on which he can be captured, which means that you can also win the game by capturing your opponent's king. This game, specifically, was against one of my arch-rivals, who was quickly marching his pawn to the bank rank while I went for the only swindle I could - I marched my king right next to his. He promotes a pawn to a queen, I capture his king. Game over, Sylvester!

Now, some might label all three of those as "cheap tactics", and the Magic and chess cases both got me a rousing label of "rules-lawyer" slapped on me for my troubles. However, there's a big difference.

Notice how rules lawyering involves somehow twisting the interpretation of what you are doing, or what your opponent is doing?

Compare that to these three examples, which is just a case of me following the rules exactly, using everything legally to my advantage. In the second case, it's clearly not a case of what poker players call "angling", namely, faking doing something to gauge a reaction. That would be the poker example from the first set. In this poker example, the player is acting out of turn, in the middle of a series of binding actions by myself. Yes, it is still my duty to raise, but I used the information - fairly, I think - to determine the correct amount to raise. I'd have raised to $25.01 if I could, obviously.

It's from these examples that I would like to forge the following definitions:

Rules Lawyering is any attempt to either deliberately misinterpret your opponent's actions, or to deliberately obfuscate your own actions, to have one party or the other doing something other than intended.
Rules Following is any attempt to make any legal action or combination of legal actions, no matter how obtuse, unexpected or miniscule, in an effort to gain an advantage.

Note carefully that, at present, the "implicit bribery" rules are clearly Rules Lawyering and notRules Following. Yes, conceding is a legal action and giving an unrelated gift is a legal action. However, sometimes the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and it's just these kind of semantics that differentiate a highly legal singles-website-scouring gold-digging wench from your run-of-the-mill highly illegal prostitute.

As well, when your opponent makes his first block, puts the creature in the graveyard, and goes to make his second block, I'm sorry, but it's far too late. That's not Rules Lawyering either. That's following the rules. I'm not making a deliberate attempt to confuse what you are doing, you are not making a deliberate attempt to be deceptive. Your opponent is trying honestly, but failing miserably, to follow a simple procedure in the game.

Good For The Goose..

There's something else that this distinction goes a long way towards answering.

After all, it's hard to tell sometimes, because to judge these things, you really need to tell intent.

After all, it's hard to tell sometimes, because to judge these things, you really need to tell intent. All that would need to happen in poker example #2 of the second set is for me to go from trying to call out my raise legitimately to deliberately being confusing in my actions, maybe freezing up and playing dead, hoping to induce buddy with the big hand behind me to act out of turn, and I've become an angler, one of the more vicious terms one can use on the poker table.

Obviously, one thing you could attempt to use would be to determine whether or not the person is trying to simply play by the rules - all of them, not just the popular ones! - or is more concerned with gaining an advantage
It's very hard to judge in Magic, especially because in this game, almost every time your opponent breaks the rules, punishment thereof would be to your direct and substantial advantage.

So, if someone checks your deck after presenting it to you, pile shuffling it in order to count the cards and check for marked sleeves, and they discover you have presented an illegal deck, what are they to do?

Well, they have to call the judge, for starters. The rules clearly state that players cannot give clemency. This is why, at the recent North-South Grudge Match tournament here in Calgary, when I heard two players next to me both presenting illegal decks, and openly deciding not to call the judge because they would likely both get a game loss, I get upset.

It's happened at the highest levels before. Two pros realize they both presented an illegal deck? Oh look, rather than face the music, I think it's time for an intentional draw, don't you?

In any case, if they call the judge, as the rules insist that they do, and you get a game loss, what have they done wrong?

Trying for a game win via marked cards or illegal decks might be unsporting, but it is no more unsporting than playing on when you have all-but-lost the game! In the former case, you're hoping the opponent has slipped up on a fine point in the rules to give you a free win. In the latter, you're hoping the opponent has a brain cramp that lets them slip up on some not-so-fine point in the rules to give you a free win. I can't see the difference - can you see the difference?

In other words, calling the judge for the "free win via technical KO" is in no way rules-lawyering, but it does have an important caveat:

The acceptability of this tactic, in my mind, hinges on one important factor: With the situation reversed, and you discovered a technicality on your own side, would you call the judge to have the exact same judgment rightfully meted?

If not, then you aren't a rules-lawyer either - you're just a cheater. Common sense and the law agree - it is both players’ responsibility to make sure the game is played by the rules. If you are a miser when enforcing the rules on your opponent, but passively allow them to be broken in your favor, then you are a cheater. End of story.

The last word: on duty.
Each person who plays Magic has a duty to uphold - a duty to follow the rules, both for and against them. Gaining advantage by following the rules, even the obscure or 'cheap' ones, is no more or no less a valid way of winning than the ones you might know well.

See, you might think that the easily-deluded Pirates of Penzance might be rules-lawyers for how they treated poor Frederic, but they hold themselves to the same standards. They hold to their childhood vows to never harm an orphan (being orphans themselves) no matter that, now that word has gotten about, every ship they capture seems to be manned entirely by orphans!

Likewise, when they roust the Constabulary sent to eliminate them, the tables are turned at the last second when the Police Chief charges that the pirates yield "In Queen Victoria's name". Yes, for all their faults, these Pirates love their Queen - as duty would dictate.

Trying to deliberately bewilder your opponent by obfuscating your actions... has nothing to do with following the rules.

Trying to deliberately bewilder your opponent by obfuscating your actions, or misinterpreting his, has nothing to do with following the rules. It has to do with trying to do anything to win. However, if you make an honest mistake because you didn't understand, comprehend, or be truly aware of some rule or another, no blemish should befall an opponent who takes advantage of it. He is just doing his duty to make sure the game is played by the rules - assuming of course that he would hold himself to the same standards - and likewise, go ye, and do yours.

After all, when it comes to games, rules are above all. Without them, you have no game, just a chaotic mess of childhood make-believe.

Until next time, thanks for this one.

Charles Mousseau

* * * * *
"Stay, Frederic, stay!
They have no legal claim!
No shadow of a shame
Will fall upon thy name,
Stay, Frederic, stay!

Nay, Mabel, nay!
Tonight I quit these walls,
The thought my soul appals,
But when stern duty calls,
I must obey!"

- "Pirates of Penzance", Act II: 'Stay Frederic stay!'.

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