Jon Elden Deserves a Lifetime Ban From Magic

At Star City Games Detroit 2012, Jon Elden was playing in the sixth round of the Legacy Open when he was down 1-0 in a best of three match. His U/W Stoneforge Mystic deck served him well so far, but he was not in great shape. He had found a way back into the match with a Stoneforge Mystic getting a Batterskull. His opponent, Samuel Friedman, was playing “good stuff” BUG and was seemingly winning the matchup of two aggro-control decks.

Here is a video of the cheat. Lots happening in a short space of time, so I will break it down action by action. All of the timestamps below imply “08:” hours into the clip, the timestamps are mm:ss format…

10:50 Elden casts Stoneforge Mystic, fetching Batterskull. Passes.

11:00 Friedman Brainstorms, plays a land, passes with 3 mana open.

11:20 Elden untap, draw, passes with 5 mana open.

11:30 Friedman untap, draw, plays 5th land, passes. During Friedman’s end step, Elden activates Stoneforge Mystic, and in response Friedman casts Vendilion Clique. We see Jon Elden’s hand: Batterskull (which was tutored for a moment ago), Sword of Feast and Famine, another Stoneforge Mystic and a Vendilion Clique of his own.

Friedman chooses the Batterskull, which forces it to go to the bottom of the deck at 11:40. Elden draw a card as part of the Clique’s ability too (11:45), and now finally the Stoneforge Mystic ability resolves and Sword of Feast and Famine comes into play. (11:52)

11:57 Elden draws for his turn (forgetting to untap his Stoneforge Mystic, which Friedman does for him). Elden then taps two lands, plays a third one tapped, then plays his own Vendilion Clique (12:04). It is a legend, killing his opponent’s Clique and his own, but first Elden’s Clique’s ability goes off. Friedman’s cards are two Flusterstorms, and they don’t matter.

Here is the setup of the cheat: At 12:10 Elden places his hand of two cards down next to his deck and quickly adjusts his deck. He’s not drawing cards here, but he is sliding the deck towards his hand a bit, then sliding all but the bottom card of his deck slightly back where it was.

The important thing is that while Friedman is putting his hand back down on the table (because Elden was through with his Clique’s ability), it was at that moment (12:12) when Elden cracked his Polluted Delta to search his deck. And when he does, he picks up his entire deck except the bottom card. That bottom card is the Batterskull which was put on the bottom of his deck a moment ago. Notice that the Batterskull is sitting there on the table next to his hand of cards.

This is the moment before the cheat. The card above Elden’s left hand is the Batterskull which should be in his deck, which is being cut by Friedman. Below Elden’s left wrist is his two-card hand. The swipe happens right after this.

Here is the execution of the cheat: At 12:18 he gets the land from the Polluted Delta into play from his deck and he shuffles… at 12:22 he presents his deck to his opponent. Both of his hands are free as his hand of cards is on the table, next to the Batterskull (which by now surely Friedman just thinks is a card from Elden’s hand). In less than one second — while Friedman cuts the deck (at 12:24, to prevent cheating, you know), Elden uses both hands to quickly equip the Sword onto the Mystic and attack. He then uses his right hand to tap the two mana to actually have equipped the sword while using his left hand to touch or adjust his graveyard, which is sitting above where his deck will go.

At 12:25 Friedman has to discard a card (from the Sword’s ability) and while that happens Elden takes his deck back with his left hand, drops it back where it was, while scooping up his hand of cards and the Batterskull which should have been on the bottom of his deck before with his right hand at 12:26.

Elden now slows down his play, untapping all five of his lands (Sword), thinks about playing a card, shuffles his hand a bit, then plays… Batterskull. (12:40) “Wow,” says commentator Adrian Sullivan. “He actually drew the… yah, that’s it” as Friedman then drew a card for his turn, saw he was dead on the board, and conceded.

When I started writing this article, I was also wondering why his opponent didn’t see what happened. I mean, the cheat was not obvious — in the moments before the Batterskull cheat Elden did draw two cards (one for Vendilion Clique, one for the turn) which means it was possible he could have naturally drawn the Batterskull — maybe a second copy was in Elden’s deck or something? Seems plausible. Not likely but plausible.

When I started writing this article, I thought that Elden deserved a one-year ban. But after going through all of the details I have determined that Elden is a master cheat. I recorded the video of the twitch stream I linked above onto my ipad so I could easily rewind the section involved over and over. And only through looking at this 20 second slice of time for an hour can I see all of the little things he does to make this possible:

  • Elden was making little errors to force his opponent to worry about the board more than he should (order of tapping cards, forgetting to untap things)
  • Elden’s placement of his graveyard above his library allowed him to shield the final critical steps of the cheat.
  • Elden’s critical cheating steps all took place during split-seconds of time his opponent would need to be doing something that required any amount of attention. Like revealing his hand, discarding a card, shuffling a deck…
  • Elden’s frequent habit of touching seemingly random things at random times made doing things that would seem like cheating “normal” in the context of the match.
  • And to top it all off: All of this cheat happened in the span of six seconds. He does six things in six seconds with surgical precision — his skill is that of a professional who has spent thousands of hours perfecting his craft. Cheating.

Jon Elden deserves a lifetime ban from Magic. He is a blight on Magic the Gathering’s competitive game scene, and should be removed from it for good. This is clearly not the first time he has cheated — he is far too skilled to have done that only once. Ban him for good.

(This blog post was updated to correct a typo: “but he not in great shape” became “but he was not in great shape”. It was also updated to correct an error: “We see Friedman’s hand” has been corrected to “We see Jon Elden’s hand”.)

One more thing: I obviously cannot verify the accuracy of anyone’s feedback they leave below. I’m approving basically everything that is not a spam link, unless I have reason to suspect otherwise. Thanks.

After more than a week, this conversation continues… but the vast majority of new comments are spam. (Something like 25 to 1 at this point.) So this blog will timeout new comments after 7 days. Great feedback everyone.