Are you planning on attending a Mythic Championship Qualifier? Joining the main event at a Magicfest? Is your local store running a Competitive event with a big prize for first place? These sorts of events are run at Competitive Rules Enforcement Level and are designed to test your skill at Magic under pressure. Players are held to a higher standard than FNM’s and other casual events and there are a few extra rules that need to be followed. Whether you’re a PPTQ grinder of days gone by in need of a refresher or a complete newcomer, this article will guide you through the main things you need to know before you sit down to play.
Here’s what we’ll be going through, if you want more detailed information, read on!
- Don’t be afraid of making mistakes.
- Don’t be afraid to call a judge.
- Only determine the result of your match by playing your match.
- Communication is key!
- Bring a decklist.
- Limited is done differently.
- Make sure the only cards in your deckbox are your deck and sideboard.
- Be on time at the start of the round.
- Shuffle thoroughly.
- Play at a reasonable pace.
1. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes.
Players at Competitive events are expected to have a handle on the game’s rules and be familiar with tournament procedures, but mistakes happen, and errors are not punished severely.
It’s both players’ responsibility to make sure that the rules are being followed. If you notice your opponent break a rule, call for a judge. It’s ok if you don’t catch it right away as long as you bring attention to it once you notice it. There is one exception to this – you don’t have to remind your opponent of their triggers.
Although it’s not ok to intentionally “forget” your own triggers, they’re pretty easy to miss in a heated match and most of the time not getting to use them is punishment enough, so you usually won’t be penalised for forgetting them accidentally. If you’re not sure if an ability is a trigger, check to see if it starts with the words “when”, “whenever” or “at”. If it does, it’s a trigger.
If you accidentally break a rule, you might earn a warning. Warnings are just that – a reminder to play a bit more carefully. They get tracked over the tournament, but with a bit of common sense and by reading the rest of this article, you should be able to avoid anything more severe than that.
Bigger problems can lead to game losses (eg, all of your Delver of Secrets can be seen through the back of your sleeves) and very serious problems can lead to a match loss or disqualification (eg, harassing another player). Any penalties you get will be written on your match slip by the judge.
2. Don’t be afraid to call a judge.
Judges exist to ensure everyone has a fun, fair tournament. It’s their job to explain card and rules interactions, help the tournament run smoothly and to handle any infractions,. They’re trained to fix issues in a consistent manner, so if you ever find yourself unsure about something happening in your game, or if you notice (or suspect) that either player has made an error, you should call for a judge. Even ignoring a small problem can lead to bigger problems down the line, and can enable cheaters. If your call takes more than a minute and the judge does not give you a time extension, ask them if you can have one.
If you are watching a game and notice something wrong, ask the players to pause their game and call for a judge.
Some common examples of times you should call for a judge is when you accidentally draw extra cards or forget to draw a card, when you think someone has played an extra land or you’re not sure if you have played a land yet, or if you’re unsure how particular cards interact. Cards don’t have to be on the field for you to ask a judge about them, for example, you could ask a judge “If my opponent plays a Blood Moon, will my Dryad Arbor still be a creature?” You can also ask a judge for the text of any card, as long as you can describe or name it, which is handy for older or foreign cards. Usually they know where the best local food is too!
3. Only determine the result of your match by playing your match.
This sounds simple, but it causes more disqualifications than anything else at high level events.
Don’t offer or request anything in return for a game or match result. This is considered bribery, and if you receive an offer you should call a judge immediately.
Don’t determine a game or match by rolling a die or flipping a coin, or by looking at the top cards of the decks to see who “would have won”. Arm wrestling, Pokemon battles, or anything else that isn’t Magic isn’t allowed.
Doing any of these will lead to a disqualification. You can, however, declare a draw at any time as long as both players agree on it, and you’re allowed to to concede at any time.
The exception to this rule is that players can redistribute the prizes in the single elimination portion of a swiss event, if they all agree to. Talk to your judge, or whoever is organizing the tournament when you get to that stage.
4. Communication is key!
When you cast Faithless Looting, Glimmer of Genius, or any spell that makes you draw, scry or search your deck, don’t assume it resolves – make sure your opponent doesn’t want to do something in response. Vice versa when your opponent casts one of these, let them know clearly whether it resolves or you’re thinking.
Be clear about what you’re targeting, when you’re moving to a different step or phase, and announce any changes to life totals. Keep track of your life total with a pen and paper or a writing tablet. Electronic devices that can store notes are a big no-no and dice can be bumped easily so neither is allowed.
Making sure the gamestate is clear and understandable will speed up your game and reduce confusion. Would a spectator be able to follow your game well? Can your opponent look at the board and know what’s tapped and what isn’t? If the answer to these sorts of questions is no, something could break the gamestate and the game could be determined by something other than skill.
Put counters on things that need counters, make it clear if you cards are tapped or untapped, put your Llanowar Elves among the creatures rather than the lands, etc. Whatever you’re using to represent tokens, make sure you can clearly show whether they are untapped or tapped, and make sure they can’t be mistaken for actual cards, so don’t use face down cards with the Magic back, or empty sleeves of the same colour that your deck is in. We’ve all forgotten what the stray dice on the table are representing, they’re easy to forget about and easy to bump or move away absent-mindedly, so representing tokens with them can cause problems.
5. Bring a decklist.
If your event is a constructed tournament you’ll need to bring a decklist. Some events will accept digital decklists, but check with the tournament organiser beforehand if you’re unsure. Your list has to have your name, at least 60 cards which you will play in your main deck and at most 15 cards in your sideboard. At large events you’ll want to write your round 1 table number on it as well.
Keep the list with you – the judge will pick it up at the start of the event. Some events might require you to hand decklists in earlier, so if you’re unsure, double check.
Decklist creators such as this one, can be found online:
6. Limited is done differently.
A couple of things are done differently to the sealed and draft events you’re used to at your local store.
One of the biggest changes is that unlike regular limited events, you cannot change your deck between rounds. This means that at the start of each round, your deck has to match your decklist.
Competitive draft events are strictly timed, someone will be calling out exactly what you should be doing at any time (“Please open your next booster”, “Pass the remaining seven cards to your left”, etc) and telling you how much time you have to pick a card. You can’t reveal any information about your cards, try to gain information about other player’s cards or communicate with other drafters. As always, there is an exception to every rule, and this one is that all double faced cards have to be revealed when opened and when drafted into your pool.
At a competitive sealed event, you and another player will be paired up when opening your pools. One of you will watch the other open their pool, then vice versa. Then you will register each others pools on the decklists provided, and build and register your deck on the same sheet.
For both sealed and draft, make sure you write down your basic lands, and don’t forget your name!
7. Make sure the only cards in your deckbox are your deck and sideboard.
All cards in your deckbox are considered part of your deck or sideboard – even if they are in different coloured sleeves. If these cards can be played in the format, you could have a problem. Did you just pick up a sweet foil Dark Confidant? Don’t leave it in your deckbox. You are, like in regular limited events, allowed to have as many basic lands in the sideboard of your limited deck as you’d like.
An exception to this is extra copies of double faced cards that you are playing in your deck, or double faced cards that you are using a checklist card to represent. Be sure to pull these out when you need them. Extra sleeves, tokens and anything else that isn’t a Magic card are also completely fine.
8. Be on time at the start of the round.
Once the pairings are up, head to your table as soon as you can. When the judge announces that the round has begun and starts the clock, you’ll be considered tardy if you’re not there. If you have to go to the bathroom or make a phone call during you match, or not long before it starts, call a judge first and you will get a time extension.
It’s not fair if an entire tournament is held back because one player was a few minutes late, so there are penalties for showing up late, which can include a game or a match loss.
9. Shuffle thoroughly.
Whenever you shuffle, make sure your deck is fully randomised and present it to your opponent so they may also shuffle it. A simple cut at this stage makes it much harder for cheaters to manipulate their deck in unfair ways.
Pile counting alone is not a sufficient method of randomisation, and any method of shuffling that takes too long and does not randomize the deck very well will be considered Slow Play.
10. Play at a reasonable pace.
These events are a test of your skill at Magic, and that skill under time pressure. That means you might not always have time to find the best possible play, and need to decide on a reasonable play quickly.
If your opponent is taking a long time to make decisions, it’s ok to ask them politely to play a little faster, and if the match doesn’t speed up it’s ok to call a judge.
And lastly, don’t forget to have fun! The stakes might be high but it’s still just a game and you should enjoy yourself!
If you would like more information, you can read the Magic Tournament Rules at https://blogs.Magicjudges.org/rules/mtr/
Thanks to Elizabeth Wallace to helping my to understand my audience better, Andrew Anastasi for making it a bit more lighthearted, Damien Berry for a whole bunch of rewordings and Fabian Peck for writing point 10. I also want to thank Ada Park, Tom Wood, Arthur Wu, Toby Hazes, David Lachance-Poitras, Elizabeth Wallace, Isaac King, Fry and everyone else who has given me feedback.The comments these fabulous judges gave me led to some great ideas and really helped me to shape this article to where it is right now. Special thanks to Andrea Vella, whose article inspired me to write this whole thing. You can find his original, in Italian, at http://italianMagicjudges.net/index.php?p=articoli&id=2781
If you have any questions, feel free to send me, Tyrone Phillips, an email at Hoiguyyami@gmail.com, or ask your local judge.