How to Cheat

If you just want to get to the part about how to cheat, please raise your left hand and say “I solemnly swear I am up to no good,” and click the matching text below (but only if you promise to come back to understand the context)…

I solemnly swear I am up to no good. 

If you haven’t seen this episode of The Magic Show, I am embedding it here for you to watch (thanks good old YouTube!):

First of all I want to say that I really enjoyed this episode of The Magic Show and I don’t want this blog post to in any way be considered an attack on Evan or the Show. In fact, I generally liked his theme this week and can see players really improving their tournament performances by focusing on especially one skill at a time.

My motivation on this is about shuffling and how Evan suggests players shuffle only. I am working under the assumption that Evan is repeating something that someone represented to him as having some basis in mathematics (it doesn’t) and that person just thinks he smarter than he is, and that Evan is good-hearted and has no background in wrongdoing so didn’t realize what he was saying.

Unfortunately I am going to pull back the curtain on this one and it might not be pretty for a lot of you at home.

Let’s start at 2:20; Evan begins with…

One of the facets of this skill that I believe is much overlooked is actually randomizing your deck…

(And here Evan appropriately positions a picture of someone riffle shuffling a deck of regular cards.)

He goes on with an…

If you’re not OCD about it, then GET OCD about it!

I’m there!

My old playtest partner Scott McCord even argued that poor shuffling in playtest games was the number one source of bad playtest data!

I am personally a relentless shuffler and have practiced the mechanics of shuffling for hours, trying to figure out the best way to randomize my deck between rounds. I have done table shuffles, practiced riffling really well, and certainly studied every type of set formula (table) shuffle that cheaters use to set their decks (and see below!) that I have ever heard of. I actually spent several years doing 7-14 sets of pull shuffles in between five- or ten-pile table shuffles in addition to 7-14 riffle shuffles, which fascinated the top end of the Pro Tour.

Zvi Mowshowitz, for example, was very intrigued by my pull shuffle technique that he went on to study it himself back when his hobbies included “Magic and thinking about Magic.”

Pull shuffling, by the way, is very similar “mathematically” to riffle shuffling except 1) it takes about twenty times more time, and 2) a perfectly executed pull shuffle doesn’t actually randomize your deck; rather it simply mixes your deck base-two (like a riffle), albeit in a less predictable way than a perfect table shuffle (but almost equally not random to a table shuffle).

Anyway, Evan goes on to criticize players who don’t shuffle sufficiently between mulligans, which I can get behind.

The troubling bit comes up around 2:47, where Evan suggests:

At least two pile shuffles, if not three, with plenty of side / riffle shuffles to go along with it.

I would point out that even if pile shuffling randomized your deck (it doesn’t), these are not “OCD” numbers… But I’ll waive opinions / definitions this time for facts.

The really bad part is at 2:56, when he suggests in particular 5- or 7- card piles for table shuffling due to some mathematical word that I don’t know but that certainly doesn’t lead to randomized table shuffling.

I am going to approach this issue with three major points:

1) Table shuffling is a waste of time
2) Table shuffling doesn’t actually randomize your deck
3) Evan actually just told you to stack your deck

1) Table Shuffling is a Waste of Time

First of all, yes, I table shuffle almost every match.

I will typically do a five- or a ten-pile table shuffle (depending on how big my play area is) to open up my shuffling regimen, then do seven to fourteen superb riffles (I am an excellent riffle shuffler because I bothered to practice ten years ago when I realized I was losing to considerably worse players due to manascrews), then I do another five or ten, then another seven to fourteen. In fact I will keep riffling if my opponent hasn’t finished yet, and I don’t typically present unless I have done over 21 sets of riffle shuffles or my opponent has already presented.

“Mathematically” it takes just north of seven riffle shuffles to randomize a Magic deck.

By the way there was a point in the rules where players were forced to “end” shuffling regimens with at least three riffle shuffles but unfortunately that specific stricture has been removed from the books (I think it should be returned — but at seven rather than three — and I think that policy makers and judges who disagree with me simply don’t understand how shuffling works).

Remember we are tasked to randomize our decks, not separate mana clumps. Most arguments for “shuffling” styles other than riffle shuffling advocate separation of mana clumps when no one other than your imaginary guardian angel (who apparently doesn’t know math) is looking for that, certainly not the rules.

Remember I said it takes north of seven riffle shuffles to randomize a deck? Well as you randomize a deck more and more, guess what? Your mana is actually better and better distributed!

I am not up to speed on how judges today try to catch cheaters but I know if I were the policy maker I would do it like this:

Players would be penalized strictly based on technique. I am 100% sure a well known Japanese pro who has money finishes this year and impressive wins over some local GP and PT champions is a gigantic cheater. He stacks his deck, apparently every match. The problem is that some judges don’t understand how shuffling works (and he does) so he keeps getting away with it and they keep failing to see his pattern.

At the last Pro Tour I played in (Charleston teams), I, Josh Ravitz, and Morgan Douglass all separately caught him stacking and all called Judge! on him. I will say with complete confidence that if I say my opponent was stacking, he was stacking. End.

I am that sure I can recognize stacking when I am looking. When I was a more active PTQ player I had judges in multiple regions all commend me on how good I was at catching cheaters. I played in a Grand Prix where I caught a player stacking two matches over (against my friend edt), raised my hand, and he conceded the match on the spot, before the judge got there, because he knew he was kold; I actually got paired against him the next round so it was awesome :)

But for me, Josh, and Morgan to all catch the same Japanese player has to be something. He of course appealed to a Japanese judge and got a pass all three times, feigning an inability to speak English. The Japanese judge was either in his pocket (which I doubt) or (more likely) didn’t know what to look for and refused to recognize my arguments. By the end of this blog post you will not.

The unfortunate reality is that most judges — at least when I have encountered stacking but not gotten the penalty to stick, which is usually — look for a pattern but fail to find one. Here is my simple rule: The fact that my opponent is not very good at cheating, or that you couldn’t see how he was doing it, should not be the measure of whether or not he should be punished. The measure should simply be that he was stacking, intentionally cheating, sayonara.

I have been able to show judges how the patterns fall — with the cards face down even — and amazingly not gotten the call. I remember one PTQ where I was up a game with two rounds to go (undefeated) and my opponent cheated going into game two. I called the judge, he didn’t see the pattern; I set aside eleven face-down cards and told him to look at them. All eleven were sideboard cards!

… And no game loss.

Predictably I went manascrew, manascrew; manascrew next match, 12th. My opponent made the finals, cheating the whole way.

I didn’t mean this to be a rant about how cheating should be dealt with regarding shuffling. Sorry.


Think about a jar that can contain a little more than 1,000 marbles.

You put 500 white marbles into the jar.

You put 500 black marbles into the jar (these marbles are indistinguishable from the white but for their color).

What do you have?

A full jar of white marbles topped with black marbles.

Now shake the jar once; what do you have?

A full jar of white marbles topped with black marbles.

But shake it again and again, and they start to mix.

Shake it enough and what happens?

The marbles mix and mingle more and more.

This is how randomizing works: The more you shake, the more mixed they become! You can’t shake Shake SHAKE and come out with all 500 white on the bottom and all 500 black on top as you started. The system just gets more chaotic; it never becomes more orderly.

This is the problem with judges looking for a pattern, unfortunately: A perfectly randomized deck looks stacked.

Read that again: A perfectly randomized deck looks stacked.

The essential crux is that you actually get a more “stacked” [looking] deck by correctly randomizing (think of more and more repetitions with our jar) whereas you never randomize by table shuffling (the primary method of stacking).

Because as we saw with the marbles, the more you randomize, the more mixed the cards become. If you randomize really, really, well… No land clumps. Spells are distributed. Et cetera.

Riffle shuffling is a form of randomization. In fact, it is the best form for card games!

Table shuffling is “bad” for two reasons, and you already know them. The first is that it is a waste of time.

I am going to be generous and say that it takes you 30 seconds to pile shuffle your deck one time. In actuality it probably takes you 45 seconds if you are very good with your hands, but I am going to say that it only takes you 30 seconds. One pile shuffle doesn’t even distribute your mana clumps.

On balance, given 30 seconds you can riffle shuffle your deck 15 times. It only takes seven riffle shuffles to randomize your deck. You have now done twice what you had to do to randomize your deck in the time it would have taken you to do one pile shuffle, which not only doesn’t randomize your deck at all… it doesn’t even do what you wanted (even if you didn’t know you wanted out loud), which was to separate out your mana.

Why would you pile? Isn’t it stupid?

A better question: I’m not stupid. Why do I pile shuffle myself and my opponent?

Simple: Free wins.

I get free wins by not presenting some number of cards other than 60. I can recall being caught presenting non-60 one time. I lost the match for that; fixed my deck and won the next six, had to play the last round due to a first round loss, and finally lost one fair and square (raced by three Disciples of the Vault and a Ravager in the deciding game). My playtest partner with same 75 won the PTQ. I never want to go down for that one again. Ever.

On balance I have advanced from Top 8 to Top 4 because my opponent presented 59, and I wouldn’t have known but for the table shuffle; he was a 70/30 favorite to win Game One by the way, but I stole it; then I got to play two games with my sideboard. Just lucky he screwed up. In fact, I have advanced to Top 8 over a multiple Grand Prix winner because he presented non-60.

A compelling reason to table shuffle (counting)… But it is not a reason that randomizes your deck.

Now that you know that it is much less effective — even for separating out your mana — than riffle shuffling, you should also know that relying on pile shuffling for any other action than counting is tantamount to cheating.

But why?

2) Table Shuffling Doesn’t Actually Randomize Your Deck

The most common table shuffle numbers are 2, 3, 4, and 5.

Why?

Those are all numbers that are pretty convenient for 40- or 60-card decks. Simple. People look for patterns, and even piles of 30, 20, 15, or 12 cards make us happy.

Happy… but ignorantly so.

The worst thing about pile shuffling is that it is a waste of time. But it is also self-deceptive in that there is nothing random about it. It’s just a really bad way to separate out your mana (as we showed in the previous segment, simply riffling enough will get you to the point that you are nearly stacked).

Say you are doing a three-pile table shuffle.

One…
Two…
Three…
     One…
     Two…
     Three…
          One…
          Two…
          Three…

And so on. You are on card number three. How many positions can this card fall into?

Wait!

Don’t answer that.

Say you are doing a four-pile table shuffle.

One…
Two…
Three…
Four…
     One…
     Two…
     Three…
     Four…
          One…
          Two…
          Three…
          Four…

Same question: How many positions can card number three fall into?

One of three in the first, one of four in the second, right? Simple! Right?

Nope.

In both cases, card number three will always fall into position three. Now card number four will be in position one or four, respectively, but card number three will always fall into position three, and card number four will… um… always fall into position one in the first example and position four in the second example.

Have you figured this out yet?

If the cards always fall into the exact same scripted positions, with those positions varying only insofar as the number of piles, the system is itself not random.

Ergo, it is not just a poor but completely inappropriate system for randomization.

Sorry.

3) Evan Actually Just Told You to Stack Your Deck

I am fairly certain Evan didn’t know it at the time, but he just told you to commit a “shuffling” technique that has launched more than one Hall of Fame eligible career – The Double Nickel.

The double nickel is one of the simplest card cheats in the history of tournament Magic. When Evan told you to pile shuffle in a five because of a so-called SSS Prime… I don’t know who told him that was any kind of random, but as we saw in the previous section, no patterned pile shuffling is ever random, so I don’t know what kind of bogus bullspit math logic says that fives or sevens are somehow… I don’t even know how to say this other than poor Evan was misinformed by someone who thinks he is much smarter than he really is.

Instead I am just going to teach you a basic cheat.

This cheat always works because pile shuffling is not random.

It’s called the double nickel because you do two (“double”) five-pile table shuffles (“nickel”) and you have a perfect mana weave. It is a particularly effective cheat against those who think that table shuffling is random because they won’t call the judge on you. You can do some poor riffle shuffles or “side shuffles” which simply redistribute your perfectly stacked deck into different perfectly stacked positions and you will never be manascrewed; in fact you will always have a perfect draw.

Because pile shuffling is not random, and five pile shuffling is deviously not just not random, but the best known cheat.

Anyway, here’s how you do it with a Limited deck:

First let’s start off with forty cards numbered 1 through 40. The first eighteen are aquamarine to indicate they are land cards:

Now let’s do ye olde five-pile table. Our cards look like this:

We chunk them together into one forty card pile again, which looks like this:

Now we do a second five-pile:

When we chunk them back into one forty card pile, our, you know, “deck” what do we see?

That’s right! A perfect distribution of land and spells! It gets really dumb when we do the same thing for a 60-card deck with a paltry 20 lands :(

Opening stack, with 1-20 being marked as lands:

First piles, five-card pattern:

Deck looks like this:

Second of two nickels:

Final deck:

Now if you — like too many judges — didn’t know what to look for, you would miss the pattern. After all, there are several stretches of consecutive spells that seem — at least from far away — like they could be barren.

I want you to use different criteria.

Cut the deck anywhere.

There is no stretch of seven cards in a completed double nickel that that doesn’t have either two or three lands. In fact (and this could be obvious) there are literally no mana floods because there are no stretches where you get four lands and only three spells.

All you get, every time, is a perfectly distributed deck that doesn’t look to a less experienced judge like there is a mana weave pattern in play.

Take a deck — forty or sixty cards — and try it yourself.

There are equivalent cheats at different numbers that do different things. Four and eight, for example, allow you to reset an already stacked deck when you do them correctly.

But what I wanted you to get out of this blog post is that no pile shuffling is random (we already covered that it is inefficient). You use the table to count your deck. You learn to riffle shuffle to randomize your deck.

Evan, I love you man, but when you tell the readers to do “at least” two piles (read: two) and then tell them to do a five-pile or seven pile (read: five)… Don’t be surprised that their mana is suddenly coming out perfect. It’s because they were doing the double nickel, literally the oldest cheat in the Magic books.

LOVE
MIKE

PS And that’s game boys!

I’m sure a lot of you are clapping your hands together and proclaiming Halleluia! A return to old school michaelj!

There is an even easier way to access the aforementioned old school michaelj, of course. Saunter over to Top8Magic.com and grab yourself a copy of Deckade… It’s just ten years of my life, and about 700 pages of stuff like you just read.

Deckade – Because you know you want to.

PPS I am pretty sure I am going to get criticism for “teaching players to cheat” but the fact of the matter is, Double Nickel is the oldest stack in the book, and I hope I taught a judge or two something, too. This post was more a result of my wanting to respond to Evan’s video. I love The Magic Show, but in this case, Evan was accidentally teaching his viewership to do something I doubt he wanted to teach them. That said, if players really wanted to cheat, I doubt they waited until tonight to learn from me. They could have just gone and bought Penn Jillette’s book or whatever: How to Cheat Your Friends at Poker: The Wisdom of Dickie Richard

Currently Reading: Villains United

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37 comments ↓

#1 ProdigalT on 05.31.09 at 1:42 am

This is good in so many ways, and ought to be required reading for judges everywhere. Since I already have Deckade, you need to write old school michaelj more frequently. I learn much more from this sort of thing than “you make the play.”

#2 GRat on 05.31.09 at 2:05 am

Man, so many people are at risk of unintentionally cheating! Where would we be without an article like this?

MIchael J. covered it pretty well, but I just had a few random 5 A.M. thoughts on my mind…

I feel like shuffling, instead, should be looked upon as: “proving that you don’t know where anything is!” To me it’s also like regaining trust with someone you love…you need to show them through shuffling that you can be random again. “Look baby, I don’t know where anything is!” Then, as long as you were honest, you earn trust, and it’s actually very beneficial anyways! Each game in this case is a mutual relationship, if one person doesn’t want to be a part, he or she cheats and will end up facing much greater consequences. If it was their intent to stack, shame on them. If they even worried about not shuffling enough, they probably need to do more…and if they don’t, shame shame!

Thanks for the great read!

#3 sb on 05.31.09 at 2:17 am

Great article! A small niggle though; saying A perfectly randomized deck looks stacked is both wrong and inconsistent with your analysis of how pile shuffling yields a perfectly distributed deck.

The system would get more “chaotic” only if it were an isolated system, otherwise it can take energy from it’s surroundings to offset the losses to entropy. What decreases with every (good/fair) shuffle is the probability that the system is in an orderly state. However it’s still entirely possible to make a deck less random (i.e. it takes less bits to describe the whole 60 card sequence) by shuffling it. That’s why your point on how we should penalize based shuffling technique not result is spot on.

#4 Alfrebaut on 05.31.09 at 2:47 am

Back when I first started playing Magic, I remember stacking my deck sort of like the end result of the “double nickel” to separate my lands and spells whenever I would finish building a deck. I’d stack 1-3 spells then a land, then more spells and land like that. I mean, I’d shuffle afterward, riffle and pull shuffle… but I always noticed how much better my hands were right after I’d built the decks.

Also, I have a couple more comments on this subject. First, I do like this sort of revelation, it reminds me of the story of Mike Long and the Howling Wolves, where he had one stacked for every few cards deep so he’d get one in his opener or at least early on. These kinds of things don’t even occur to me, or I’m sure a lot of others.

The last thing is, if this supposed well-known Japanese player does these kinds of things, I wonder if it may be the case for other pros. The reason this comes up in my line of thought is that, considering that some pros have reputations for not doing well in feature matches and in top 8 performances, perhaps it is because of the increased scrutiny that they don’t stack during these closely watched matches and therefore perform relatively poorly. What do you think about that?

#5 FiveWithFlores - How to Cheat « The Mise! on 05.31.09 at 6:54 am

[...] @FiveWithFlores [...]

#6 kaoru on 05.31.09 at 8:17 am

Hey Mike,

Amazing article as always :) Your comments regarding a certain Japanese pro reminded me of this video I saw on YouTube a while back: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L5FoKImUjks

Is that cheating or not? I know the pile shuffles obviously aren’t randomising, but he does 14 riffle shuffles before that… Does 7 or 14 “perfect” riffles set the deck back to its original order? Also, if this is video evidence of cheating, can’t something be done about it? :(

#7 Gifts Ungiven on 05.31.09 at 9:06 am

“I am 100% sure a well known Japanese pro who has money finishes this year and impressive wins over some local GP and PT champions is a gigantic cheater. He stacks his deck, apparently every match.”

So, in addition to being clear penalty territory, do you think this is improving the unnamed player’s results? That is, are his opponents at GPs and PTs consistently failing to shuffle his deck when they are expected to?

There was a brief discussion in the most recent Justice League article on SCG (this one by James Elliot) about players failing to shuffle their opponents’ decks at PTQs and GPs. Obviously, cheating is cheating and should pick up a penalty, but I’m curious how much cheating gets a pass to actually be effective because opponents aren’t shuffling when they should. I’m always surprised at PTQs when opponents just cut my deck and hand it back to me. I know I’ve randomized, but I don’t see why they should rely on me for that, all things considered.

My game-opening shuffle of an opponents deck is a single pile shuffle bookended by triples or quadruples of riffle shuffles. As you’ve said, the pile shuffle is all about counting; I have yet to pick up a free win that way, but these days, it is a significant tell when someone’s deck is 61 cards.

#8 Steak on 05.31.09 at 10:04 am

Its cheating if you stack it that way. i use the five pile shuffle after ive already shuffled my deck once or twice an then again after. if you dont put all your lands on top its not cheating because the cards arent guaranteed to be in any order.

so i would disagree that Evan was telling his viewers to cheat.

#9 admin on 05.31.09 at 10:40 am

Responses, responses…

@ProdigalT
Glad you liked it!

@GRat
Pass. I was actually chatting with GRat last night and I wanted to go to sleep so I told him to just post a comment. He did! Thanks :)

@sb
This article is super nerdly. Yet your comment is so motherloving nerdly, I… I… That is a compliment :)

@Alfrebaut
I am not intimate enough with the present Pro Tour to say how rampant cheating is. I have heard lots of things about lots of relatively well-known players (that I will not repeat here). As for a couple of players — some very well known — I have seen them cheat repeatedly and reported them to the judges. So far, no bans yet :)

@kaoru
I don’t think Saito was intentionally cheating on that one, or cheating at all in this case. I am skeptical that the number of press shuffles he did would actually create a random system, but by the same token he would have to have a preternatural sense of touch in order to determine the order of his cards pre-five piling (he would have to be the world’s greatest safecracker, etc.). Also his five-pile begins in what looks like an arbitrary position and extends simultaneously sideways, plus he fumbles. I don’t think that there are any predetermined positions save 1 and possibly 60 (versus typical pile shuffles which have 60/60 predetermined positions).

@Gifts Ungiven
Pretty sure.

Keep in mind that even if his opponents are shuffling him, if a non-100% set of opponents are sufficiently randomizing him post-presentation, he is still getting an unfair edge in some percentage of his matches. Ergo, he MUST have positive results delta based on the stacking.

I have found that you get a lot of free wins from pile shuffling opponents who play a number of cards other than 60; for instance they can be sloppy in sideboarding with their 62-card deck and ship you 60, 63, etc.

@Steak
So, like Saito!

Or me, but the reverse. Remember, I admitted to pile shuffling myself. I find it to be useful to count my deck pre-presentation so I don’t give up a stupid loss. I used Evan as a springboard because he is a good man and would obviously never deliberately encourage people to cheat. Pile shuffling a randomized deck (or pile shuffling and then sufficiently randomizing a deck) pre-presentation is obviously not cheating. If pile shuffling does “nothing” RE: randomization, nothing + completely randomized or completely randomized + nothing = completely randomized :)

#10 underbond on 05.31.09 at 10:46 am

This may be a bit of a long one, so first, a little background about my perspective. I played paper Magic back in the days of Revised and Fallen Empires, and still dabble in MTGO from time to time, but my #1 card game is and probably always will be duplicate bridge.

When I was watching some videos of a Top 8 in a major tournament once, I figured I had to have been missing something when I was watching the players “shuffling” for a new game, because what you call “pile shuffling” we in the bridge world would call “dealing”, i.e. taking an already randomized deck and deliberately distributing it into equal piles to form the hands of the four players.

In the world of bridge, shuffling is riffle shuffling, and maybe some side shuffling. If someone did a “pile shuffle” and stacked the piles and tried to pass that off as randomization they’d get a lot of strange looks, at best, and a call to the tournament director (read: judge) if someone wasn’t in the right mood.

Your article puts me in mind of a bridge article that was actually written before I was born, but upon the author’s passing a few years ago was reprinted as one of the landmark articles of the game. Without getting into details, basically the cheating of that day, as apparently practiced by many top professionals, was to have a bid made loudly imply a stronger hand than the same bid made softly. By calling out the practice in the form of an article sarcastically endorsing it by way of explaining how it works, the practice swiftly came to an end.

Based on your descriptions I can only hope your article has a similar effect.

By the way, I looked up Mersenne primes in Wikipedia and Evan’s use of the term is total bollocks. There are a few random number generators that are based on very large Mersenne primes (we’re talking thousands of digits) but nothing about them is inherently random at the low end. And five isn’t even a Mersenne prime! 3, 7, and 31 are the first three Mersenne primes, which I only mention because the image of someone trying to deal a 60-card deck into 31 piles strikes me as amusing. I agree with the notion that Evan most likely got bamboozled with some math terminology that was over his head and decided to go with it rather than appear ignorant to whomever was telling it to him.

Anyway, enjoyed it and keep up the great work!

#11 Gifts Ungiven on 05.31.09 at 11:43 am

I guess it shouldn’t surprise me that people would be sloppy about shuffling their opponents’ decks even at the PT level.

I think an interesting associated point to this whole discussion is the social pressure, such as there is, against shuffling your opponent’s decks, etc. Once again, this was discussed in the SCG forums following the most recent Justice League article ( http://www.starcitygames.com/magic/misc/17544_The_Justice_League_Regionals.html ). I know that I’m about fifty-fifty to get a funny look and occasional comment when I pile shuffle my opponent’s deck at the beginning of the round (which, as we’ve discussed, is all about counting the deck) and then riffle it as well.

I’ve also noticed that most people I play against, even at PTQs, don’t actually shuffle their opponent’s deck at all following a search effect (e.g. tutoring up a creature with Primal Command). I always give the deck a quick series of riffles following this, rather than simply cutting it. Even putting aside the idea of active cheating, your opponent has just seen the entire contents of their deck, in order, and if they’ve done one or two half-assed riffles, or if they’re not actually good at riffling, they’re still left with a lot of information.

Or, more generally, I like having more rather than less shuffling because it means we don’t need to ever worry about whether we’re playing against a ‘good man’ or not. Makes for more civil, sportsmanlike play all around.

(Incidentally, the Saito video was taken by my friend while we were both lurking around day 2 of GP SF.)

#12 StaplerGuy on 05.31.09 at 12:32 pm

I loved the last time you did one of these over at SCG. Hell of a read, Mike. There’s a reason I enjoy reading you.

#13 NoblePunk on 05.31.09 at 4:50 pm

Articles like these are why you are my favorite magic player.

I hope this has an impact on the game as well (reference this in mtg.com article as well!)

Also, quit mentioning Deckade I am poor and can’t afford it. =(

#14 Shuffle Hard, Shuffle Real Hard « The Game I Hate on 05.31.09 at 4:53 pm

[...] thanks to Mike Flores and his article over at Five with Flores, I know the answer to that question. I do, in fact, suck at [...]

#15 roytang on 05.31.09 at 6:16 pm

Great article! Have you written any articles before about how to riffle shuffle effectively? I always riffle shuffle, but some friends tell me I may be doing it too roughly and maybe damaging the cards. Any tips?

#16 Jeranimus Rex on 05.31.09 at 9:43 pm

I’ve probably learned more non-magic related things from your articles than from any other. And that’s why you’re so awesome!

But I have a quick question, what is, and how does one, pull shuffle? (A google and Wiki search failed me)

#17 gro0003 on 05.31.09 at 10:22 pm

Great article. There’s just one problem.

I can’t riffle! =(

I practiced for about two hours and all I got from that was about 30 broken sleeves. I even managed to accidently get five cards in one sleeve, somehow.

#18 Amarsir on 06.01.09 at 11:20 am

It took me a while to get the hang with sleeves too. Don’t try top-to-bottom riffles like you would with an unsleeved deck. Start with side-to-side, riffling the piles longways into each other. Then transition from that to just riffling 2 corners – bottom left of your left hand, bottom right of your right.

If they rip from there, you should probably get higher quality sleeves.

#19 Amarsir on 06.01.09 at 11:21 am

Oops, I meant bottom right of your left hand, bottom left of your right hand. You know, two corners next to each other and easily riffled via the thumbs.

#20 The Dream on 06.01.09 at 2:18 pm

I have a question regarding an opponent who does the 5 and 5 pile method. Would it be legal, ethical, or even beneficial to take his deck, pile it into 3 piles, an give it back to him? Seems to me that in a 40 card deck that would give him a pretty bad starting hand. Would that be illegal to do? Do you have to finish off the shuffling of his deck with ripple shuffles also?

#21 ProdigalT on 06.01.09 at 3:22 pm

@The Dream. Yes, it would be illegal and unethical. It’s called “stacking your opponent’s deck.” You seem to have a misinformed notion of what “randomized” means. But why bother giving him a bad hand when you could just get the cheater a match-loss, DQ, or suspension instead? The judge won’t believe you? Print out this article and bring it with you.

#22 Jeranimus Rex on 06.01.09 at 3:31 pm

@ The Dream, while staking the opponent’s deck is bad, you do have the option and right to shuffle it for him. So you could pile 3 to count the deck, and then shuffle his deck apropietly. If my understanding of tournament play rules are correct, your opponent cannot reshuffle or cut the deck after presenting it to you, so they’ll be stuck with what you give them.

Granted, if they 5 pile shuffled (with no riffling) and you 3 piled shuffled in response, the only way they could possible call you out would be by implicating themselves, at which point it all depends on the judge/opponent.

#23 Five With Flores » Cut and Paste on 06.01.09 at 7:34 pm

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#24 Monday Night Magic #157 - Hrbek the Planeswalker | MTGCast - Magic the Gathering Podcast Network on 06.01.09 at 9:52 pm

[...] Nocturnus) and confirm the use of the term “battlefield” for being in play. There is a great debate article on fivewithflores.com discussing some topics brought up in the latest The Magic Show regarding table shuffling and deck [...]

#25 TimWilloughby on 06.02.09 at 5:10 am

I loves me a good article on people running the cheats. A few extra thoughts to contend with;

People piling in even numbered piles, or fives, are the ones who are most apt to be doing something dodgy. The reason I’d recommend seven piling if you are looking to pile is that it is the lowest convenient number which is very difficult to create a stacking pattern around.

While I know that it is quite common, it is a *very very* bad idea to ever do riffle shuffles face up. If you can riffle properly, it shouldn’t produce significant wear on cards, such that they need to be bent back into shape. Effectively, one face up riffle completely invalidates all shuffling that happened prior to it, as it leaves you aware of the location of specific cards in your deck. There have already been high profile game losses on this, and they are one of the few areas where judges seem confident in handing out shuffling penalties.

While shuffling it is considered good courtesy to look away from the deck you are shuffling slightly (so that you can demonstrate that you aren’t running the peeks). Learn to riffle such that this isn’t a problem, and then spend your time shuffling your opponent’s deck shuffling your own.

Over the course of a match, it is easy to get a feel for the rhythm of your opponent’s shuffling. If that rhythm breaks, it will normally be for a reason. I am very wary of opponents whose shuffling routine is different from game to game. Most obviously, some players will be looking for a nice even spread of land and spells for game 1, while in games 2 and 3 they will be trying to control for sideboarded cards.

When shuffling an opponent’s deck, it is worth it giving the deck a few cuts, both at the start and the end of the shuffling process. These are the easiest way of feeling for marked cards, and by finishing on a cut, you deny your opponent the opportunity to cut their deck after you have shuffled it – just in case they know something you don’t.

#26 whatisfgh on 06.02.09 at 7:19 am

Just a few things.

I notice that most of your examples of why pile shuffling is bad revolve around starting with a known deck, but how about if you just scoop up your cards riffle once or twice and then pile shuffle? this is in terms of you randomizing your deck (since you’re taking an “unknown” quantity and messing it around more? no idea on this one). Not in terms of catching a cheater who will be starting with a stacked deck.

second
“Because as we saw with the marbles, the more you randomize, the more mixed the cards become. If you randomize really, really, well… No land clumps. Spells are distributed. Et cetera.”

is not random, it’s an even distribution (though to be fair, most magic things mean some kind of pseudo randomness that is close enough) . While not impossible proper randomization can in fact produce large land clumps etc. taking your marble example only with an infinite number of them and equal probability. just because it’s 50/50 doesn’t mean that after some kind of equivalent sample that mirrors 6-7 riffles you won’t have huge clumps.

This is probably a huge problem for judges and probably why it is hard to catch cheaters (unless they are blatantly doing stacking/pile shuffling tricks… then umm… watch them or something…) as unless the judges are deck checking them regularly there is not a reasonable way to tell if the even distribution/clumps is a fluke.

“simply riffling enough will get you to the point that you are nearly stacked”
If riffling does in fact get you to the point where you are basically stacked I’d say it is stacking… but I suspect that it just gives you basically randomness and that will gives you “normal” draws with regular probability.

not harshing… big fan. It’s just the even distribution = randomness that bothers me

#27 stipes on 06.02.09 at 8:50 am

@Jeranimus Rex: As far as I know, you are allowed to cut your deck after getting it back from your opponent, but only if they actually shuffled it. If I stop being lazy some time later today, I’ll try to dig up the relevant tournament policy/floor rules section.

#28 wills on 06.02.09 at 6:45 pm

I just want to reiterate what whatisfgh said. A randomized deck is not a stacked deck. Sometimes it will have clumps. There is even the possibility that every single spell end up on the bottom of the deck with every single land on top of the spells. The advice of this article not to use pile shuffles and to watch your opponent for stacking is sound. I will add though that I usually do some overhand shuffles and a couple “random” pile shuffles where I don’t just distribute the cards one by one in a circle. These methods less efficient than riffling, but I am paranoid that my riffling my preferentially follow a certain pattern and so do these other techniques to break it up.

#29 gro0003 on 06.03.09 at 1:27 am

@those people arguing against the whole ‘a randomized deck looks stacked’ thing:
I think Mike may have been simplifying his explanation a little bit.

After all, nothing is completely random.

#30 troelslmunk on 06.06.09 at 3:51 am

I just have to get this straight:
The Double Nickel gets your mana distributed evenly over the deck, but is that cheating?
No, the deck isn’t randomized by the Double Nickel, but if you shuffle sufficiently before and/or afterwards, is there any point to doing a Double Nickel? And if so, is it cheating?
In other words, should I call the judge if my opponent makes a Double Nickel or only if that is all he does to “randomize” the deck?

#31 rkm08160 on 06.06.09 at 7:17 pm

The only thing I can think is that Evan (or whoever tried to explain it to him) misunderstood “Trailing the Dovetail Shuffle to it’s Lair” by Bayer and Diaconis.

#32 Shuffle Hard, Shuffle Real Hard « Games We Play on 04.18.10 at 7:26 pm

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#37 Nabil Stendardo on 12.06.12 at 9:35 am

If somebody really wants to cheat, think of this sequence. All lands on top. 3 Zarrow Shuffles + 1 5-pile shuffle + 3 Zarrow Shuffles + 1 5-pile shuffle + 3 Zarrow Shuffles. For those who don’t know, a Zarrow shuffle is a false shuffle that does not change the order of any of the cards and looks DECEPTIVELY like a standard riffle shuffle (look it up on YouTube). How on earth can a judge detect that one. You know how we say “trust everyone but cut the cards”. In MTG it’s more like “trust everyone but shuffle their deck thoroughly”.

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