The Game Outside the Game: Player Management
What’s fuzzy my wuzzies? Let me start off with another awful pun. You can’t spell GeARGia without A-R-G. Hey, who threw that shoe at me? You’re not getting it back!
When judges answer a player’s call, they are usually operating in one of two domains: rulings or player management. Rulings relate to the technical side of how cards can be played on a table. Player management works, in a sense, with the game outside of the game. Player management addresses all sorts of issues such as tardiness, marked sleeves, rule-sharking (unsporting conduct), slow play, and the list goes on. My last article was on a very technical aspect of the game, the rulings and applications of effect negation. In this article I’m going to hop aboard the other ship and talk about player management.
Why does player management matter? Well, even though it deals with “the game outside the game,” player management issues quite literally influence your win/loss results and can be the difference between a successful tournament and an unsuccessful tournament.
At any regional, it is not hard to find players who are upset because their opponent slow played them into time, or rule-sharked them, or stacked them, or got away with an illegal move or incorrect ruling, or so on. When I see this happen to people I know, I feel sorry for them. At the same time, I still say, “You could have done something about it.” Obviously, players who win with shady activites are not “outplaying” you. If a player wins by cheating, then he is guilty of cheating, even if you dismissed your responsibility to stop him from cheating you. However, that does not mean to forfeit control and just blame your results on fate. There are things you can do about these activities, skills to develop that exist outside of the game, that WILL affect match outcomes. Playing competitively is not just making tight moves, but also knowing what to do when the fourth wall is broken and outside forces interfere with the technical aspects of Yugioh. This is relevant in many arenas of competition. Just think about why street ball looks so much different from NBA basketball; a lot of it has to do with players understanding how to operate optimally under the constraints of player management.
I’m going to address slow play and shuffling because they are the two most common matters that I personally have to deal with when competing, and likely the two most common things players overlook outside of technical play.
“I lost because my opponent took 5 bleeping minutes to make a single move!” We’ve all been here, one time or another. The lingering question is, “Well, what were you doing during those 5 minutes? Twiddling your thumbs and hoping beyond hope that he’d speed it up?” It’s time we took this matter into our hands.
Successfully dealing with slow-play, to me, hinges on two things: “when” and “how.” That is, “when” is the move taking too long, and “how” are you going to raise the issue with your opponent? My personal standard is that 50 seconds for a play is reasonable for the “when.” You can ask your head judge what he considers reasonable as well. When my opponent has an unusual pace for a move, I start counting silently. If I get close to 50, I take action. I don't do it at 50 because you have to add the time it takes to notice the unusual pace + the time counted. How do I take action? I learned this one watching Billy. "Can you please play faster?" "Please play faster." "Please pick up the pace." I say something different each time, I don't know why. But I have to do this several times EVERY tournament. This is why I think the matter is worth discussing. You will seldom play through a tournament where nobody tries to cheat you and everyone plays at an acceptable pace. Sometimes, I’m the one playing a bit too slowly, and I have to watch for that as well.
However you decide to bring it up with your opponent, do so in a non-confrontational way. The Konami penalty guidelines state that “Slow play is presumed to be unintentional.” For the most part, this is a safe assumption. The stress of a complex make-it-or-break-it situation can and does lead people to freeze up in contemplation of what their next move should be. Under the assumption that it’s unintentional, bring up the subject in a way that is not accusatory. “Did you just start playing this deck yesterday?! Make your move already! Quit trying to stall me!” is not likely going to help your situation. As a competitive player, I look at it this way: when I play the game outside the game, I want to create a situation that helps me win. If I am rude to my opponent at all, that will only cause delays, making it more likely I’ll lose in time.
If the pattern continues after a reminder or two, I call a judge. “I really don’t want to call a judge, so could you please play faster” is a non-confrontational way of getting an opponent’s attention. It almost never comes down to calling a judge because people change when they're embarrassed. Honestly, it’s a bit embarrassing when your opponent calls your behavior to your attention. If your intentions are good, you will want to change. If they are not, then better bring the judge in.
Speaking of looking in the eye, DO THAT. Look people in the eye when they shuffle your deck. Look them in the eye when you explain why their play is illegal. Look them in the eye when you tell them to speed it up. Through tight technical play, a professional presentation (which includes personal grooming and your game materials), and assertive body language, you establish a powerful table image. When your opponent feels that you are the veteran in relation to him, he is more likely to respect what you have to say (and in some cases, more likely to punt the game through technical error). If you don’t look him or her in the eye, when you play sloppy, when you make procedural errors, when your space isn’t neat, when you fumble the life point score, when you shrink in your seat, you subtract from your table image and give less credence to yourself as a person.
I understand that people can be nervous about having to point out someone’s flaw. A lot of you just want to play Yugioh and don’t want to have to deal with any drama that may happen after the match and within the community. It’s important that you conquer your nerves with practice. Practice with a friend. Practice with a mirror. It's a game-related skill, like any other; you get better at it with time, and you won’t get better at it unless you start doing it. Some people like to take a more aggressive approach. My first time judging, Frazier called me over and said, "Can you watch my opponent for slowplay? He's been taking too long reading my cards." Now, my duty was to watch two entire rows of players, but you better believe I gave extra attention to Frazier's opponent after that. Being respectfully assertive gets results; this is a life skill that is important outside Yugioh as well. Develop it! And shyness is not an excuse. I am one of the most introverted individuals you will ever meet. However, I recognize the importance of learned extraversion as it pertains to job and school interviews, business engagements, and day-to-day professionalism. If I can do it, anyone can!
Example 1. My opponent once spent over 1 minute on an extra deck summon decision. The gamestate was not very complex. I told him he had taken over 50 seconds and needed to decide. On my turn, I spent twice the amount of time playing. I made several moves that totaled a couple of minutes. He said, "You just took over 50 seconds for your turn too." I replied, "You spent that time on one move. I did not spend that long PER MOVE." Know your policy, be able to defend it, and look them in the eye and convey with body language that you know what you're talking about. If you give in, they will take advantage. If you communicate well, you can often save match time, as opponents are less likely to call a judge over about something that raises uncertainty if you can give them certainty with your words. (On the flip side of that, don't let an opponent's certainty deter you from calling a judge or appealing to a head judge if you know the opponent or the judge is incorrect.) Be knowledgeable about procedure and be confident.
Example 2. When I have a long game 1 (20 or more minutes), and it was not the fault of slow-play but just how the game unraveled, I verbally indicate to my opponent that we are running out of time. Since it's no one's fault, I word it as such, "This isn't your fault or anything, but that was a long game and we're going to both have to play faster to finish this match." Very, very seldom does this not work for me. As I said, players without ill intentions usually want to cooperate. All they need is reminding.
The more of a time crunch it becomes, the more I will bring up the issue. Now, I don't bring it up verbally each time, because that can be obnoxious. Instead, I engage in self-talk and show with my movements that I'm trying to speed it up. I place cards on the table with more alacrity. I ask "response?" quicker. I shuffle my hand in shorter bursts. I say "I gotta play this fast" loud enough for my opponent to hear. I tell myself how many minutes are left in the round loud enough for my opponent to hear. And again, they usually want to cooperate. They often ask me how much time is left without me needing to remind them (I wear a watch to anything regional level or higher).
I'm sure a lot of people have noticed that players often mimic your habits, especially when you play slowly. Unfortunately, I think mimicry occurs less for fast play and more frequently for slow play, but I believe it still happens for fast play, which is why I do this when time is a concern to me. This is also good incentive for you to not to play slow. When you play slow (even if it's not slow-play), not only do you lose time from YOUR plays, but you also lose time because your opponent will play slower as well, following your lead without realizing what he’s doing.
This isn’t an article on how to play in time, but just on slow play. However, I’ll briefly mention that there are other skills you need to develop that relate to time as well, such as identifying gamestates where it is advantageous to scoop before you’ve lost and identifying gamestates where you could win but the time it would take could lose you the match and you should therefore scoop so that you can go first in game 3 and have more time to play it. And of course, there are techniques for actually playing in time. Here’s some food for thought: siding out Upstart is often incorrect.
When you shuffle, demonstrate your good intentions by looking away from the deck. Don’t give your opponent any reason to doubt your legitimacy. I take this a step further by shuffling with the deck face-down on the table. I really admire when players do this. I have tremendous respect when my opponents do this without asking because shuffling with the deck on the table just goes above and beyond looking away from the deck.
Sam Pedigo is one of my favorite people to interact with and learn from in the Yugioh world. He has a rare maturity, honesty, and professionalism that have stood the test of time. You might also recognize him for his catchphrase, “Please shuffle face-down, parallel to the ground.” Rather than wait until an opponent tries to cheat him by sneaking peeks at his deck, Sam pre-emptively requests a face-down shuffle to cut off problems at the start. Of course, you don’t have time to do this for every single item on the player management list. When you begin a duel, you can’t say, “Please don’t cheat, stack, peek at my deck, slow play, treat women with disrespect, use obscenities, mark your cards, drink alcohol, kill a man, step on one of my cards and accuse me of having a missing card, cheat on your significant other, or misrepresent the game state during this duel.” There isn’t time for everything, but asking your opponent to shuffle face-down or look away while shuffling is likely the single best thing you can bring up when a match begins.
My own approach is to make eye contact with my opponent when we shuffle each other’s decks. This establishes mutual trust (hopefully), and in accordance with an idea I introduced earlier, you are already beginning to establish a dominant table image. Much to most of the time, my opponent is unable to meet my gaze 100%, usually due to shyness. That’s ok as long as he isn’t peeking at the deck, and these little things help construct table image. Who knows? Maybe one day you’re playing a round of Yugioh, you gaze up at your opponent, and staring back at you is the man or woman of your dreams. And if you hadn’t made eye contact, you would have played that whole match and had never fallen in love with each other. So sad.
Example 3. At my first regional, I had an opponent who asked what I played. I told him to wait and see. When we began shuffling, he started looking at my deck while he shuffled it. I won anyway, and based on his character, I think he really didn’t know that looking at your opponent’s deck was a serious infraction. And I didn’t either! For this reason, I didn’t even think to call a judge on him. At that same regional, someone else really did try to cheat me. I drew six cards by mistake and he told me I get a gameloss for doing that. Again, I didn’t know I could call a judge and ask! So I forfeited the game and proceeded to win the next two. I bring up the example of my first regional as a reminder that there are many many players out there who may not be aware that there is a procedural side to Yugioh, whether it’s because they’re new to the game, or they just never knew they could download policy and penalty documents on Konami’s website and read them. If you have a friend who is starting out or who may benefit from learning some player management, please send this article their way!
1. Send your deck lists (fully typed out like how you see them in my deck articles) to the ARG Deck Doctor facebook page! I will choose two people for my next article and write about their decks.
2. The Treatise is still in progress! Stay tuned for more abstract thought on competition.
3. Congrats to Pat on the fourth win! The Dragon paradox is real. Make funny faces under the camera, homie.
Until next time,
Play Hard or Go Home.
Photo credit: YouTube