From Magic Arena to Paper – Paper Magic Etiquette

If you’ve not got much experience playing in paper, there are going to be all sorts of little cultural behaviors and customs that will be unfamiliar. MTG Arena might prepare you for gameplay, but it’s not quite as instructive about things like the paper Magic etiquette of touching your opponents’ cards, how to deal with not having a rope or the complexities of calling a judge (spoiler: there aren’t many).

Today, we’re going to get across some of the common pitfalls new players encounter when playing in paper at an LGS for the first time. We’ll talk about the Dos and Don’ts of paper Magic and discuss how best to make adjustments when your experience with Magic has all been digital so far. Let’s get underway!



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Call a judge if you’re unsure about something

This is the number one piece of advice for new players. Calling a judge is not a big deal – it’s a routine thing you should do the moment you’re unsure about anything. Don’t know how a card works? Call a judge. Unsure if you and your opponent are on the same page about something? Call a judge. Even Hall of Famers call judges to double-check things when they’re not sure, and you should too.

Similarly, when someone calls a judge because of something you did, it’s not a big deal. They’re making sure everything is fair and above board. You shouldn’t take it personally or get upset about it. Your opponent isn’t calling you a cheater, they’re making sure the game is as fair as possible. 

If anyone ever protests at you calling a judge on them, or tries to talk you out of it, that’s suspicious and you should definitely make sure you follow through on the judge call. Again: calling a judge is not a big deal. Anyone who behaves like it probably has something they don’t want a judge to find out about. 

In doubt about anything? Call a judge! We’ll talk in-depth about judge calls next week.


Ask before touching your opponents’ cards

It’s normal enough to pick up an opponent’s card to read it, or put it under something like an Oblivion Ring, but it’s polite to ask first. Some people are very particular about their cards, and while you don’t necessarily need to pander to them, remember that Magic cards often have both financial and sentimental worth. No reasonable opponent will say “no”, but still ask before picking up a card that belongs to them.


Give your opponent a chance to respond to your game actions

Unless your opponent specifically says something like “no responses this turn” or “F6” or the like, you should check with them before just assuming your spells and abilities resolve. Even when they have no cards in hand and are tapped out, it’s still good manners to phrase a spell like a question, and a good habit to get into in any case. 

There’s no automated passing system like on MTGA, so you need to give your opponent the chance to pass whenever you do anything. You’ll get the hang of the terms and rhythm involved in games – phrases like “untap, upkeep, draw” and “go to attacks” will become second nature, and you’ll quickly pick up on the appropriate pauses you need to add into your gameplay.


Take a quick break if you need to

It’s fine to call a judge over to the table if you need to answer a call of nature. The judge will sit at the table while you’re gone to make sure everything remains as you left it. If possible, wait until after a game rather than going in the middle of one – it’s smoother to take a bio break during sideboarding – but hey, sometimes you’ve gotta go. Call a judge over, no worries!


Play at a reasonable pace

This will vary from game to game and opponent to opponent, and for that matter, from deck to deck, but all the same try not to play too quickly or too slowly. Play slow enough for your opponent to follow what you’re doing, but not so slowly that you’re putting them to sleep. 

There’s no rope to hurry you along in paper – you need to monitor your own pace of play and make sure you’re not dragging your feet. Slow play is more common and more irritating than fast play, so if you think you’re playing slowly, apologize and explain you’re new to paper. If they’re still salty about it then, well, that’s on them (assuming you’re doing your best to play at a reasonable clip).


Call a judge if you’re unsure about something

Weren’t you listening the first time!? Seriously! It’s not a big deal to call a judge – if you’re unsure about something, just do it!


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Eat or drink while playing

Even if cards are sleeved, getting bits of food or grease from your fingers on cards is not only gross but very rude, as you’ll be interacting with your opponent’s cards as well as touching your own. Additionally, as we got across last week too, you’ll do a fair bit of talking at the table, and eating gets in the way of that. 

As for drinks – it’s fine to drink a bit of water or whatever out of a bottle with a closed lid, but absolutely do not leave a filled glass or an open on a table. If it gets knocked over, hundreds of dollars’ worth of cardboard will probably pay the ultimate price.


Listen to music

You might be used to having tunes on while playing MTG Arena, but you can’t do that while playing paper for a couple of reasons. First of all, it’s rude – you need to talk with your opponent about game actions and the like, and having headphones in (even having one headphone in) is discourteous. 

Second, at higher rules enforcement levels, it will get you in trouble with judges. After all, you might be listening to Limited Resources while building your draft deck, which counts as outside assistance and is against the rules. Don’t have headphones on while playing Magic!


Talk to other people while playing

Obviously a quick conversation about something not related to the game is fine – things like “we’re getting food, do you want anything?” or “can you give Cameron a lift home?” won’t get you in trouble. But to spend a long time chatting away with your friends and leaving your opponent waiting is poor form. 

Additionally – and more importantly – never, ever, talk about the game in front of you with anyone other than your opponent or a judge. This is more important when you’re spectating – if you’re watching a tournament game and offer advice, both you and the player will get in trouble. In competitive tournaments, the penalties are very harsh. You might think you’re helping someone by pointing out a mistake, but just don’t say anything.


Expect to be allowed to take things back

Some opponents will let you have takesies-backsies, but it’s not guaranteed and you shouldn’t feel entitled to it. Even if you’re new to paper Magic, your opponent doesn’t owe you special consideration. Many opponents will be nice about it at a casual level, but absolutely don’t expect mercy when things get more competitive. They’re your cards – learn what they do.


Let yourself be pressured by your opponent

If your opponent seems salty or cranky about something, if they’re frustrated by the way you’re playing, they don’t like your deck or in general they’re just giving you a hard time, ignore it. Assuming you’re not playing too slowly; you shouldn’t let your opponent share their bad day with yours. Stick to your guns, be polite and firm and don’t sink to their level.

This will most commonly be a problem when your opponent is hurrying you up, or trying to get you to concede. Don’t fall for it. Again, play at a reasonable pace, but don’t tie yourself into an anxious knot just because your opponent doesn’t like that you want to get a certain play right or think about how they might block. You also don’t have to concede because they ask – it’s fine to make them have it, assuming it’s not going to take all night. Don’t let your opponent dictate how you’re feeling at the table.


Force a post-mortem on your opponent

If your opponent seems interested in chatting with you about the match you’ve just played, great! Assuming you both have time, it’s fine to sit around and talk about what could have gone differently, other lines one of you could have taken, and the like. If your opponent wants to stick around and dissect the match, by all means do it. 

However, don’t force them into it, especially if you just won. Pointing out a winning line they missed, for instance, can come off as rubbing it in. Telling them what’s wrong with their deck might not be welcome feedback after you’ve just stomped them. Let them ask you for advice rather than offering it unsolicited. 

If you lose and want advice from your opponent – maybe they seem like they know what they’re talking about – be respectful of their time, and don’t force them to stick around and go over every card in your list. Sometimes people just don’t feel like a post-mortem, so give your opponent space after a match if that’s what you sense they’re angling for.


Forget to call a judge if you’re unsure about something

For the last time, it’s not a big deal!



Be sure to come back next week for an in-depth guide to judge calls – everything from resolving issues between you and your opponents to when to call a judge on yourself. See you then!



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