Essay:Ken DeMyer and Magic the Gathering

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The text of this essay discusses Ken DeMeyer's method of argumentation, as exhibited here, and in other, equally fascinating locales on the internet(s).

What is Magic the Gathering?[edit]

A collectible card game created by Wizards of the Coast, Magic the Gathering pits players of the game against each other in a cardboard-backed analog of a magical duel.[1] Spells invoked in the "duel" may summon soldiers to fight the opponent, directly attack the opponent, or impede the opponent's efforts to do the same. Rather than playing with a stock deck, most players choose to create a "deck" of spells chosen for their abilities to work together. Synergy is the Magic player's best friend, and card "combinations" are a ubiquitous strategy, in which two or more cards, together, form an unbeatable combination.

Similarities, and Differences, with Real Debate[edit]

This argument may sound like a stretch, but bear with me. Just as Magic depends on synergy and the correctly timed use of enumerated and specific cards, argumentation, rhetoric, and even law require careful timing and application of specific facts, arguments, or pieces of data to satisfy certain enumerated elements. In a way, arguing a motion in court is like playing a short, high-stakes game of Magic: most courts require the moving party to satisfy specific tests, and in this analogy, each element of proof can be seen as a "card" played towards a winning combination. Just like in Magic, the pieces (often worthless apart) combine to become more than the sum of their parts. And also like in Magic, the adversarial system encourages appropriately timed and strategic satisfaction of these elements.

However, argumentation and legal practice have one very significant difference from Magic: the cards played with in Magic are self-contained and self-evident. One's opponent cannot say, "that is not a Lightning Bolt," and in so doing deny its effect. However, the "cards" used at law or in rhetoric - arguments, evidence, etc. - are not self evident, but rather, are often suspect, and require defense in and of themselves. Quite commonly one may look at an opponent's argument and object on the grounds that the argument is circular, begs the question, fails to prove the point, etc. Further, evidence in argument is far from self evident, but rather, often subject to vehement debate. Evidence may be irrelevant, immaterial, privileged (at law), etc., and thus, one's very "cards" in argument and law may be suspect. Not so in Magic.[2] One cannot just "play" a piece of evidence, or an argument. One must defend it to the death.

What Ken Doesn't Get[edit]

The idea that points or argumentation are rarely self-evident, and require defense other than simple statement, is one that eludes Mr. DeMeyer. Rather than actually engage in debate, Ken, instead, treats debate as a game of Magic. If you assemble the right cards - "right cards" being, for him, a lax standard - and play them, the argument should be won. If it is not, then the opponent should be blocked, thus properly resolving the argument. Failure to acknowledge Ken's "cards" is not cause for debate; it is cause for misunderstanding, confusion, and consternation on his part.

For example, common debate tactics that trackers of Mr. DeMeyer will understand are:

All these strategies evince a lack of understanding of the most basic precept of debate: for one's "cards" to have meaning, they must be enunciated, explained, and defended. Merely stating them, without explanation, deprives them of all of their force. Arguments are not self-evident or powerful by virtue of being arguments; nor are experts powerful by virtue of being experts![3] In short, arguments and evidence are not Magic cards. They may be impugned, and they may often be wrong. Statement does not mean victory. But in Ken DeMeyer's mind, it obviously does. And this, in short, is why arguing against him is so very, very much like slamming one's head against a wall.


  1. Despite being a very popular (and intelligent) game, things like this are banned at many southern schools for their connections to witchcraft.Yes, I'm serious.
  2. This may be one reason that lawyers are paid more than professional Magic the Gathering players...
  3. Law, in fact, quite ardently denies an expert force simply by being an expert. A court must not accept an expert's ipse dixit - "I said it, I'm an expert, ergo it's true" - rather, the court must be able to follow and affirm the expert's logic and reasoning. Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993).