If you’re a regular tournament-goer and the people in your area are, for the most part, fairly skilled and intelligent individuals I will make a claim that you’ve been cheated against at least a dozen times. While not all cheating is intentional, there are certainly less savory individuals out there who go out of there way to try to tip the scales into their favor.
The sad fact of the matter is some people feel winning is the most important factor of the game, more so then the strategical elements, the deck building, the theory and the collecting that comes with playing a trading card game. Like all "immoral" things in life from shoplifting to lying we often have the premonition that "if we don’t get caught we’re not hurting anyone." This is the sort of mentality most cheaters have, so long as they can slip under the radar and keep winning it doesn’t matter that they cheated to win, so long as the ends justify the means.
Unfortunately for honest players, cheating in a card game isn’t like stealing five hundred dollar bills from the bank in Monopoly. In casual play, I guess it’s "ok" but in the end sort of stupid and a waste of someone’s time, both the person who’s being cheated against and the cheater for mastering and utilizing cheating in such an insignificant game. Take it to your local tournament though and if the prize is store credit, a box of "Ancient Sanctuary" or as high as regional where winning and losing could mean your ticket to nationals that person stole from everyone in the tournament. They stole the store credit, they stole the box of card and they stole your spot to go to nationals. That to me is a big problem because while simply cheating at a game may not be the end of the world, taking things from honest people is a crime in and of it self. While I’m not harping that everyone become the rule police and pick on every aspect of game play and scrutinize your opponent’s every action, I am advocating that players should be less apathetic about cheating.
The reason I ask for this is two fold. One the more cheaters that get caught the less cheaters we have period. Either through suspensions or just by the notion that they’ve got caught once, they’ll most certainly get caught again the cheaters will slowly (thought never entirely) start to fade from the game. Second is for the aforementioned reason that cheater offer nothing to the game community. They don’t help anyone at all since you can never get accurate feedback for your deck if the game you loss was due to cheating and they steal prizes and spots in tournaments from players who are honest and willing to play the game properly.
Accidents and Cheating
Many of you may think I’m being rather militant about the whole issue and to an extent maybe but what I am not enforcing is to become the rules police and try to squeeze your opponent out of everything possible because of minor errors here and there. Accidents’ happen and ruthlessly jumping on and trying to get match losses out of them is doing as much of a disservice to the game as cheaters are themselves. Things like this include forgetting to pay life point costs to Archfiends or forgetting to place spell cards face down when Anti Spell Fragrance is out. These things can be seen as "minor" issues and are normally met with warning in Upper Deck’s penalty list but one thing is for certain, start to be more aware of these actions. Ninety percent of the time there are honest mistakes but if your opponent continually make these sorts of errors you may have someone trying to bend the rules in their favor. In situations like this with chronic "slips" being made it’s good to keep track of the duel, especially if you got some means to take notes and really try and notice what constant slips your opponent is trying to pass by. The unintentional facade is one that cheaters will try to hide behind.
Conversely if your opponent allows you to cheat you must oblige to them and tell them the situation. This can be something like your opponent blissfully forgetting that Berserk Gorilla must attack each turn or your opponent failing to search for a monster after you destroyed their Witch of the Black Forest. While one could chalk up this sort of action to "ignorance" it’s still cheating on your part. It’s best to inform your opponent of the action you failed to do and fix the situation as soon as possible. This not only helps teach new players to watch out for things like this but also strengthens your awareness of what possible cheat plays are out there. However this doesn’t cover stuff that has the "may" clause in it. If your opponent forgets to play a monster from your special summoning Gilasaurus there’s no issue in not telling them they can.
Savage Cheats are cheating methods that certain player employ to give them a leg up in the game. Obviously unlike our previous examples these are intentional, with the sole purpose of giving your opponent the advantage they normally wouldn’t have gotten before. Unfortunately the savage cheats cover a broad spectrum of cheating styles, each more difficult to pin point and prove then the next. We’ll break down the types of savage cheats and discuss how they’re achieved and how to prevent them.
Drawing Extra Cards
Out of all the savage cheats you’ll encounter, attempting to draw extra cards is probably the most common for a variety of reasons. One it’s overall effective, if draw effects are powerful in game certainly drawing a few extra cards to your hand through other means would also be powerful too. Two it’s easy, and there’s a variety of ways to draw extra cards, be it through the use of sleight of hand to simply taking advantage of the confusion on the field. Three it’s hard to track, because if you ever call a judge over and accuse your opponent of drawing extra cards you’re going to need to prove it, and most players do not keep track of how a play goes down during a turn and how that effects cards in hand.
One of the easiest ways to cheat on draws is to simply make casual blunders that most people will shrug off. One popular technique is to "accidentally" draw an extra card during the draw step or a draw effect. If the person is quick to put the card into their hand they’ve got a bonus, but this is usually shown to be too obvious to most players. Craftier individuals will often draw, apologize and place a card back on top their library, going by the "honor" system that the card on top is the card that was accidentally drawn. In either case it’s hard to call out your opponent on this, however if this happens once keep a note if it happens again and if it becomes a chronic problem during the match, you can actually bring in a judge and start to accumulate warnings for the match loss penalty.
Another common extra draw trick lots of people try to pull is the knocked over deck trick. Basically an opponent will accidentally knock over their deck, in the chaos of picking up the cards they’ll usually try and slip a card into their hand. Once again this is a difficult cheat to catch, because not only is it hard to prove your opponent added an extra card but they’re unlikely to try that stunt again in the same match. Often though cheaters will try to create complicated situations, like turns where a lot is occurring, to try to mask their cheating. Your best bet in this case is to just pay attention and if you really do think you have a strong case of cheating call a judge over and do a deck count of your opponent’s deck. Sleight of hand techniques, particularly palming of cards is probably the most difficult of these tricks to nab. Once again these players will often try to take advantage of busy or distracting moments in order to try and put more cards into their hand. While I haven’t encountered any of these players I have heard stories and usually they get caught by their own stupidity, but if your opponent’s hand just never seems to decrease start to pay more attention to what he does.
While attempting to draw extra cards during a turn is easy it’s also high risk as most of the techniques are somewhat obvious if you’re keeping your eyes peeled for them. Good cheaters then rely on techniques that are harder to track and less flagrant but equally or even more powerful. Stacking and the use of marked cards have been classic problems and while they’re difficult to catch there are small clues to see that you’re being ripped off.
The problem with stacking occurs with shuffling itself. In most card games most players are use to doing what is called "stack shuffling" which is placing cards one by one in three, four, five or whatever number of piles you want. While this is an effective way to prevent cards from clumping (i.e. getting into a part of your deck that is all spell cards can suck, especially if your opponent has Imperial Order out) however this is not true shuffling since cards are being placed in a sequential pattern. A card goes into pile one, then pile two, then pile three and so on.
Most people circumvent this by taking the piles and then doing a riffle or press shuffle afterwards, followed by a cut of the deck or some simple hand shuffling. A good cheater however can usually set it up so his stacks are done in a preset order and then, on the riffle shuffle, often a cheater will break the riffle shuffle, while seemingly looking like he’s randomizing his deck he’s actually good enough to put the deck into a proper stacked sequence had had previously set out to do.
If you’re ever dubious about your opponent and are keen on noticing some of the techniques mentioned above you can, if you want, decide to shuffle your opponent’s deck. Anyone who truly has nothing to hide will allow you to do it unless they’re a real jerk and most people who do have something to hide will usually try to back away. Make you sure you do a good amount of shuffling, because once will not usually be enough to truly split up the chunks and cutting the deck will pretty much do nothing at all.
As mentioned in the last section, marked cards is one of the hardest things to pin point in card games. Back in my early days of Magic I was able to tell when I was going to get my Balance because it hard one slightly worn corner. Marked cards by consistent cheaters have sophisticated to a level more sublime then that of worn corners and are often too hard for you to tell, let alone have a judge deal with.
One classic manner of marked cards is "warping" key cards. This is achieved due to the fact that foil cards are easier to "bend" slightly then normal cards. In Yu-Gi-Oh! this isn’t the preferred way of marking cards, since foils can often make up the bulk of a deck and a lot of them can be staple cards. However take notice if your opponent is using only a choice number of foils and seems to have them at opportune moments.
Watch out for clear backed or as I discovered, light colored backed sleeves, especially white. These types of sleeves make it easier to put indication markers on backs of specific cards to show you what you’re going to get. The white colored sleeves I’ve found to be particularly tricky, since the logos seep through it a player can conceivably put a small mark near one of them and from a far you wouldn’t notice but close up you will be able to tell what it is.
While I haven’t encountered this myself there have been stories of people actually using ultraviolet ink on their cards in order to tell what’s coming ahead. These deals usually come along with people wearing yellow or purple lens glasses though I doubt you’ll ever encounter this.
While it’s hard to prove your opponent is using marked cards, the best solution is to start playing smarter and realize he will most likely have answers to your cards. While they certainly have gained an unfair advantage they are far from unbeatable.
Peeking and Tutor Tricks
Peeking has always been an issue in card games and while peeking in and of itself isn’t as bad as the other methods of cheating, it is important to note because peeking can lead into other forms of more advanced cheating. Peeks can be something as innocent as drawing an extra card by accident and putting it back on top of your deck or as blatant as trying to palm extra cards to view during effects like Big Eye. No matter what peeking is hard to prove, but if things like these chronically happen during the match and you notice your opponent seemingly getting sweet cards for the right situation it’s time to consult a judge.
Tutor tricks are probably one of the easiest and most effective types of cheats in the game. The main reason is the fact that everyone runs tutor effects in all decks. Witch of the Black Forest, Sangan, Painful Choice, Mystic Tomato these are all cards that see a lot of play so we’re often lulled into the fact that my opponent is going to search for a card during any given game and will probably do it fairly often. Good cheaters use this opportunity to stack a needed card, like say Monster Reborn, onto to the top of their deck after they’ve used Painful Choice to dump three Dark Magician of Chaos cards into their graveyard. During all the confusion it’s extremely easy to do this.
The good thing about Tutor tricks is it’s easy to beat, simply demand to cut your opponent’s deck after each tutor. It only takes a second and a person who has truly nothing to hide will allow you too. However I have heard of stories where a cheater was savvy enough to hide the card they needed in the middle of the deck, thus an even cut resulted in them getting the card in two turns. This brings my second point, don’t cut exact piles. You never know how good a cheat you could be facing, but more often then not doing some sort of deck cut will usually nullify this form of cheating.
Graveyard manipulation is a particularly bad problem in Yu-Gi-Oh! because along with the graveyard we have other piles to contend with, the fusion deck and the removed from game pile. These can lead up to some strange opportunities for cheats no other game really faces.
Example, my friend was going to town on his opponent’s graveyard with Kycoo the Ghost Destroyer and the removed from game pile was already fairly stacked thanks to Bazoo the Soul Eater (this is pre errata), probably during a lapse where my friend was calculating and writing down life totals ,the opponent slipped a removed from game Gemini Elf from that pile to the graveyard and Reborned it a turn later.
Players will often abuse the effects of complicated graveyard manipulation to set up certain plays. Painful Choice is another one here, where a player has to send multiple cards to the graveyard. This can potentially set up certain graveyard stacking tricks, like changing the placement of monsters so you can nab it with Question and or slipping "dead" fusions that were killed during their summon with Magical Scientist only to come back with a Call of the Haunted.
Once again, keeping a keen eye on everything is a good start. If your opponent seems to be getting consistent goods from the graveyard you might want to make it a habit to inspect their graveyard every few turns and see what’s truly in there and what isn’t.
The Basics of Cheating
We’ve gone through all the basic stuff most people will pull, there are other more advanced techniques but I don’t think you’ll see them with enough regularity to put some in towards (not do I want Yu-Gi-Oh! players to start employing them) but in the end cheaters ruin the game for other players and for themselves. However we can even the playing field and generally pay attention to both your opponent's actions and how he responds to thing you do, a little bit of alertness can usually help you weed out any cheats you meet in the future.
If you wish to contact me write me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.