Today, I Played Against a Player who Couldn't Hear Me


Earlier today, I tweeted:

Played against a 100% deaf player for the first time. Had zero communication-related errors which felt nice. #MTG

This got more feedback than I'd anticipated (which is to say, any feedback), so I thought I'd talk about it a bit.

For simplicity and anonymity, I'm going to refer to this player as "John" for the rest of this post. John is not this player's real name.

Talking to Someone Who Can't Hear You

As you may know, I work at my local game store. This means that I have a lot more interaction with players than I might otherwise.

When John came into the store, I talked to him a bit. I noticed him gesturing more than usual but thought nothing of it. When he went to check out, I noticed his cochlear implant*. I noticed that when he spoke to someone, he faced directly towards them. I immediately felt awful. I had been distracted when speaking to him earlier and had been looking all over the store, looking down to my phone, and interspersing talking to other people when he was attempting to read my lips.

In round two of our Thursday night Legacy tournament, I was paired against John. I resolved to make this as good for both of us as any match might be, regardless of his disability.

Playing with Someone Who Doesn't Speak your Language

I felt uniquely experienced to go into my match against John. In the early rounds of Vintage Champs 2016, I played against (and I must point out, I beat) famed Japanese player Hiromichi Ito.

I'll be honest. I have no idea how well Hiromichi understands English. But when we played our game, neither of us needed to understand much outside of what our cards did. For both of us, our communication was primarily simple game phrases and indicating numbers with our fingers. "Take 4 *hold up four fingers*", "your turn" and "mulligan" was as complicated as things got. Hiromichi may have a degree in English literature for all I know but we both boiled our communication down to the simplest things required and we both had full understanding of what was happening.

We also both had a great time. Hiromichi went on to win third place. In the feature match area, no one, including the opponents he was beating, could help but enjoy their matches. I would consider myself quite lucky to play against Hirmoichi again.

Playing with Someone Who Can't Hear You

I work the bar at my LGS on Legacy night. If you get paired against me, you sit at the bar, where I may be asked to fetch a beer or a soda mid-game. When I saw that I was paired against John, I thought, "aw shit." This wasn't because I didn't want to play against John but rather that I didn't want to make his experience more difficult simply because I needed to be at the bar. When I saw that I was paired against John, I did the same thing I do to any player who doesn't already know this. I said, "Hey, I'm working right now, do you mind sitting at the bar and playing?" John's response was an enthusiastic, "Hell no!"

When John sat down at the bar, I turned to my laptop to mute the music. John inquired as to what I was doing. I let him know I was doing and I answered. "I'm deaf. I can't hear it. Play it as loud as you want," John said. I pointed to John's ear and said, "well I saw your earpiece*, so I thought maybe it might drown me out or something." John responded, "I can hear sounds but I can't hear you talking." So we haven't even shuffled and I've already learned something.

When I said we had zero communication errors, that was a lie. We had exactly one. I attacked after marking damage, John drew his card for the turn. I said that I had things to do in my second main. John never drew a card against without clarifying that it was his turn.


I almost wish I could say something negative about my experience. If we all played as if our opponent could not hear us, we'd probably have far fewer communication issues in large tournaments.

Okay, again I've lied. I have one negative thing to say. John threw his deck together that day. It was casual Super-Friends deck. His most powerful land was Seaside Citadel. While I won the match, he took a game off me. I'm a little upset with myself for letting that happen.

I also almost wish I had more to say. If John had been wearing a beanie, I would've never noticed his earpiece. I would've walked away thinking that his mannerisms were a bit strange and that's about it. But things were great. Playing against a deaf player had virtually no impact on my ability to play a fun, engaging match.

I hope John comes back again. I hope that next time, he brings a sideboard. I hope that he talks to people. I hope that our community helps him with his deck and he gets more toward competitiveness. I hope that I've made the first steps in the direction of making a new friend.


* This is where someone may very well inform me that he actually had some completely different medical device. Either way, I was later informed that this device did indeed help him to hear.

I played mono-red burn with a sub-par sideboard in this event.

I work for my local game store and have requested and received approval from management before posting.