Is there a right or wrong answer to this question?

I was reading this article about using “mind games” in Magic: The Gathering. What the author calls mind games amounts basically to being a jerk to gain competitive advantage. When asking whether it is right or wrong to play mind games, the author has a couple of interesting things to say:

Personally, I don’t think there’s a right or wrong answer. Once again, context is important. Tournament Magic is competitive, and in competition, you have to be tough. You have to be willing to be ruthless and receive a bit of ruthlessness as well. Competition never is, and never should be, for the faint of heart.

But there are consequences. By all means, go after your opponent if you know they’re temperamental, lack emotional control, and tilt off easily. Do your best to send your nice, cordial, friendly, kind opponent off the deep end so that you can disrupt their ability to play their best. Just understand that other players may form a certain opinion of you and your character for doing so. If you’re willing to live with that and don’t really care about other’s opinions, then more power to you. But it is something you’ll need to consider.

Is that worth it? Is a reputation for being nasty and relentless toward your opponents worth whatever success you might get from it? Is having a community of players that behaves positively and politely towards each other more worthwhile and valuable than having a community of players who are always at each other’s throats during games so that they can gain a competitive edge? Again, in my view, there is no right or wrong answer. Only you can answer that for yourself.

I’m curious about two aspects of what he is arguing here, especially as it applies to Netrunner.

First, do we think there is no right or wrong answer about whether intentionally being manipulative or a jerk is right or wrong? This author appears to be staking out a relativistic stance on that – although curiously he asks questions about what is good or bad for the community at the same time.

Second, do you agree that in tournament play “you have to be ruthless”?


Alas, I think definitive answers to moral questions like this are impossible, though interesting and often worthwhile to talk about.

First, “being a jerk” is of course relative to the expectations of another person and the context one is in, and given we can’t read minds, there’s always a negotiation (either implicit or explicit) that has to take place. It might be nice if there were more explicit discussions of this, but it’s unreasonable to expect there to be in a tournament setting, when many players bring their many goals for the experience. Your question seems motivated by the potential of determining community norms for what is “being a jerk” vs. not, but I doubt such a thing will ever be possible. The tensions between gaining competitive advantage and “being not a jerk” are almost always present in this and other competitive games, and I doubt we’ll get to consensus on that here.

Second, again, it depends. If you really want to win, then, yes, being “ruthless” is a must. It is, of course, often more enjoyable to not be “ruthless” – because you’re able to better socialize with other players, or you gain enjoyment out of playing a less optimal deck, or winning is not a priority, or whatever – and again, your goals, the opponent’s goals, and the context all matter.


On the second question, to some extent, of course - but being ruthless doesn’t have to mean being unpleasant. Fundamentally, it means not being swayed by pity/compassion for your opponent. A personal example - in a tournament early in my netrunner experience, I played hard hitting news - leaving my opponent tagged. On their turn, they clicked up Kati Jones, when it was obvious that I would trash it next turn. So I said ‘Are you sure you want to do that?’, and they took it back. After the tournament, a friend took me on one side and said ‘Tolaasin, if you want to win, you have to talk about plays like that after the game, not in it’. Subjugating that feeling of compassion is important - but still, it’s context dependent, especially on the level of play.


I guess it is hard to answer without more details…

What ruthlessness/being manipulative/being a jerk are we talking about?

There are two parts of the Fundamental Event Document that seem relevant here. Some of the responsibilities of a Player are:

Interacting with other participants in a respectful manner, and providing honest and
complete information to leaders.

Not engaging in unsporting conduct or violating the integrity of an event.

These responsibilities are in place at all levels of organized play from a GNK to a World Championship.

Netrunner is a game of manipulating your opponent… I don’t want to put my opponent on tilt because being tilted is a miserable experience and playing against a tilted opponent is pretty miserable too. However, you are trying to manipulate your opponent and that includes acting in a way that puts them in a negative headspace if you so choose.

That said:

  1. You must treat your opponent with respect.

  2. You must not be unsporting.

Respect and sportsmanship are, of course, concepts that must be subjectively interpreted, but so is rudeness, and I don’t see much overlap there.

Can I be rude to my opponent to put them on tilt? I would say no, that is neither respectful or sporting.

Who is going to stop me? Nobody except for myself.

Please be ruthless. Please be manipulative. Please do not be a jerk.


What is unsporting is also spelled out very nicely in the Fundamental Event Document:

Unsporting behavior includes:
• Cheating
• Collusion
• Bribery
• Stalling
• Behaving in a manner which could be interpreted by a reasonable person as bullying,
harassment, belligerent, stalking, vulgar, obscene, threatening, or hurtful
• Knowingly lying to an event leader
• Encroaching on a participant’s personal privacy or safety
• Purposely violating other behavior guidelines at a venue
• Repeatedly refusing to abide by the instructions of an event leader

Though I would say from the wording that that is not intended to be an exhaustive list.


Agreed on “being ruthless/competitive” vs. “being a jerk.”

lol, just spent about five minutes typing up something, but then saw @Sanjay come in with a solid response that said it better than whatever stream of consciousness rabbit hole I was dancing down.


Any day I get to cite the very excellent Fundamental Event Document is a good day.


This is a great question I keep coming back to. One side says that if you are serious about competing and winning, you will do everything within your power under the rules to win. This side is best characterized by David Sirlin and his book Playing To Win: Playing to Win — Sirlin.Net — Game Design

One of his main points is you should take every legal advantage you can, regardless of any outside considerations (e.g. social status). He advocates for, and has successfully implemented, purposefully tilting opponents in a tournament. Many people in the community see him as a jerk because of this. Not doing so is artificially handicapping yourself for no competitive reason; he characterizes this as a scrub mentality. I think you could go even farther and include cheating as an option if it gives a competitive advantage worth the risk of getting caught.

I think Sirlin is correct, but his analysis only takes competitiveness into consideration as a factor (by design). For me personally, it’s not worth marginal gains in competitiveness to sacrifice my enjoyment of the game or its community. I don’t think there is a lot to be gained in mindgaming your tournament opponent, but if there were, I would enjoy the game less. I would rather play a friendly game and win based on skill, not through my opponent’s missed triggers or emotional state, even in a tournament. I do this fully acknowledging that I have a scrub mentality and I am not playing to win 100%, but I’m ok with that.


Part of this speaks to the kind of community we want to be as a whole, and whether Netrunner as a whole would be a healthier game, or a less successful product, if top competitors (or competitors in general)
behave like jerks by trying to make their opponent tilt in a way which is clearly unpleasant. I suspect this will drive people away from the game, not draw them in - and we struggle enough to maintain numbers at the moment. I


To the extent that being ‘manipulative’ might involve saying ‘I’m installing this snare here, and an agenda here’, with a wink, that’s fine. And if I could see that my opponent was uncomfortable with even mild banter like that, I would stop - because some people find saying ‘Please don’t talk to me about anything but your game actions’ hard/confrontational.

Being a jerk is never ok.


What complicates that is different definitions of jerk. Some people might include the play you described in their definition of jerk (e.g. What a jerk, lying to me and/or wasting my time; players don’t do this in professional poker, they shouldn’t do it here.). Likewise, there might be things other people do that fit your definition, but not theirs.

tl;dr: I agree, but people have different definitions.


I think this is the important part. If the banter is good-hearted it’s generally fine, but if your goal is to tilt your opponent, it is not. In general, I think taking any action outside of the game with the explicit intention to gain an advantage is - more or less - unsporting. If this advantage is derived from actually making other people feel bad, this is clearly crossing a line.

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Community norms are not actually some impenetrable mystery. We go to a tournament with expectations that people will conduct themselves in certain ways, and not all of these cases are covered by the official rules. Does everyone need to have the same expectations? No, but there’s an implicit social contract. I’m not going to do anything that I think my opponent wouldn’t have consented to. And yes, occasionally it’ll transpire that someone had extreme or unreasonable expectations, but again, communities are pretty good at establishing a consensus and enforcing it, both prospectively and retrospectively. We’ve been doing this kind of thing for a pretty long time.

(And maybe David Sirlin thinks this is a “scrub mentality,” but honestly that’s not even in the top five reasons why he’s a garbage human.)


It’s an interesting question - assume that the intention is not to make your opponent to feel bad, but to make them evaluate their decisions. At the most trivial level, that might be saying ‘are you sure?’ after they decide to access when they know you’re playing a trap deck. Is this gamemanship? I’d say not.

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i think trying to tilt someone isn’t the same as mind games

i had a game once at a regional where it came down to match point. there was an agenda in archives, but the runner decided to hit HQ. i tensed up. i let out a sigh of relieve when they didn’t hit it. they ran again. i tensed up again.
there were no agendas in HQ, and i ended up winning.

i was encouraging my opponent to make a bad play, but only because i knew information he didn’t. without knowing the information, hitting HQ was still a strong move
for clarity: he couldn’t have gotten into R&D, and there was only 1 facedown in archives, and i could have had a jackson on the board (it was actually the winning agenda, but he couldn’t get into the remote either)


I don’t think that’s any different than icing up R&D when you know you’re holding all the points in hand. It’s fine.

i’m not sure what you mean. are you saying that you disagree with me? because i also don’t see how they’re any different. i also don’t know if i my made my point clearly enough i guess? but i definitely feel that i did was fine. these are mind games, but i was not tilting my opponent into making bad decisions, just mind gaming them by using the information i had and manipulating a normal way of checking that information

i didn’t tilt them into making bad decisions by mocking them for failing to find an agenda but rather tried to express my relief that they didn’t find anything (which was genuine, but i was just channeling my relief that they chose to check HQ instead of archives)

No, sorry, I meant I agree that it’s acceptable behaviour, and I don’t think it’s any different than trying to trick your opponent into running the wrong server through your in-game actions (such as which server you choose to ice up) :slight_smile:

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As much as I hate to talk about the cancerous tumor that is League of Legends, it makes a good example here. To even create an account, you have to sign an agreement of sportsmanship (the summoners code). While general competitive nonsense is fine, violating the code of sportsmanship gets you reported and banned. Nobody in lol gets banned for playful banter, nobody gets banned for selling all their items and changing their entire build to throw off the other team, nobody gets banned for using game mechanics in-game to psych out their opponents. HOWEVER, the LoL community is known far and wide as a cesspool of toxicity and unsportsmanlike behavior, because even when someone isn’t doing anything in-game to be a dick, they are still crossing the line in how they are treating their teammates or opponents.

There is completely a right answer here. To say there isn’t is to purposely use vague, undefined terms to prevent really answering the question.

Anything within the mechanics of the game is fair trade. Anything done EXPLICITLY to make your opponent upset or that crosses the lines of obvious poor behavior or done with the intention of sneaking around the rules of the game or cheating your opponent out of plays/information they should have access to is inexcusable.

Example A: I Install-advance-advance a card and say to the opponent “it’s an agenda”. I could be lying. But it takes nothing from the opponent and is not rude to them. It’s potentially annoying, but harmless.

Example B: I notice the opponent makes a mistake in their play. This is a tournament. I do not say anything to them about it. That is being competitive. It’s THEIR job to play well. I will not help my opponent when stakes are on the line. Completely OK.

Example C: I act like a LoL player and scream obscenities and racial slurs at my opponent for 5 straight minutes (10 for adc mains) because they sole an agenda. Gameplay is completely unaffected, but I 100% guarantee you I will be kicked out of the game store and NOBODY will play with me ever again.

Example D: I flat-out cheat in any way. Unacceptable.

Example E: I do what that one asshole in MtG worlds did and try to abuse a language barrier with an opponent who doesn’t speak perfect english. Clear assholery. Unsportsmanlike. Deny’s the other players ability to play through no fault of their own.

Example F: When it comes to “tilting” another player, take the line from Batman Begins: “I won’t kill you, but I don’t have to save you”. Doing anything deliberately to irritate another player is poor sportsmanship, but if a player is known for getting upset easily, they rarely need a lot of help in that regard. Losing the game is quite often enough to make them angry and play poorly. By going into a competitive tournament, you are expected to be able to play in a competitive environment. This includes having the maturity and mental strength to handle stressful situations and lose a game without losing your temper. If you are against a player you KNOW is easy to tilt, the only thing you have to do is play well and get the advantage in the game. Their own immaturity will usually do the rest for you. Punish their mistakes and they will dwell on them and make more. Punish those and they will spiral into gamer rage. You don’t have to say a thing other than the plays you’re making, it’s not your job to be their babysitter. If they throw a tantrum and chuck their deck across the room because they lost, kick them out of the store, they are clearly not mature enough to play in a serious environment and the fault is completely theirs, not yours for being a dick.

The issue with excusing the kind of thing that this MtG article is talking about (excessive rules lawyering, trying to trick your opponent out of information, playing bagpipe music anywhere ever), is that when you excuse poor behavior with “well he was just being competitive”, it opens the gates to cheating as a form of being competitive, since you keep gradually blurring the lines of what’s considered “ok because it’s to win”. This has 1000% happened in MtG, because outright cheating is rampant, and I mean RAMPANT in MtG tournaments. And the excuse for cheating is ALWAYS “because I wanted to win”. (for real they did deck checks at a big tournament last year and 4 out of 5 people were caught with illegal decks. It’s BAD).

As far as which is worth more: a friendly, likable community that can go to a tournament without acting like spoiled children OR a super toxic, nasty, unpleasant and unwelcoming community of players who hate each other and are always trying to bend the rules for their own gain? How the Fisk is that even a question? If you would genuinely choose to be in the latter group, you need to have a serious soul-search about what winning and happiness and love of the game even mean to you.


It is 100% never okay to insult your opponent to gain a competitive edge.

Also; the “Four out of five decks” figure above is total fiction.


Because if got caught, each following win have no prestige for the rest of your lifetime. And this follows you in other games.

Just ask yourself why do you want to win at all costs that much ?