The Claudia Rules: It’s a Trap! Classic Pitfalls of Tournament Magic



Most of the recent articles have been about Magic 2010 or about the new rules. This means that a plethora of things having to do with the Comprehensive Rules have already been said. But let’s not forget about the other documents. Do you know them?

Up to now, they were called “Floor Rules,” “Tournament Rules” and “Penalty Guidelines.” I know that a lot of people didn’t bother to read them because they saw no use in them. I, too, had a hard time studying the Floor Rules and the Tournament Rules because I had to get the information I needed in bits and pieces out of them, and they contained a lot of details about games I had never played. Most times it was easier to just ask a fellow judge.

However, a lot of effort was put into restructuring these documents and making the necessary information accessible in a more clearly arranged way. They are now called “Magic: The Gathering Tournament Rules” (MTR) and “Magic Infraction Procedure Guide” (MIPG or IPG) and only deal with Magic.

So what are they about? The Tournament Rules are a description of how events are meant to be run. Why is that important for players? Because it tells you what you are expected to do. It defines your role and your duties in a tournament. The Infraction Procedure Guide is designed to deal with violations to these and the game rules.

I guess that a lot of people will be asking themselves: “Why should I care?” Because you can avoid unnecessary penalties by being aware of what is expected of you. And some things have changed and aren’t done like they used to be. Handing out penalties that could have been avoided if players had taken a bit more care in preparation for the tournament or during the tournament always breaks my heart, and I want to give you some advice on how to prevent that from happening.

One of the important changes for players is in MTR 2.3, “Pregame Procedures.” This describes what steps must be performed before each game begins and something major for a lot of people has changed; you are not allowed to “cut” your deck anymore after your opponent shuffles it.

Let me say that again. You are not the last person to change the order of your library anymore.

This was done to reduce the amount of manipulation that a player can do to his deck because it’s easy to, for example, cut to a card that you have marked. Therefore, I really like that change although it took some work to educate players not to do it anymore during our Prerelease.

Another thing that has changed is MTR 2.9, “Taking Notes.” YES, you are allowed to look at notes between games that have been made before the match. But these notes have to be brief–that means a sheet or two–and they have to be removed from the play area before the beginning of the next game.

What does this mean for you? Yes, you are allowed to make written notes on how to sideboard against certain decks, but no, you cannot use the notes to tell you how to play “right” during a game. That would be a serious violation of the rules and is considered to be “Outside Assistance.” You should also take care not to take too long in consulting your notes because you are still bound to the three minutes time limit for sideboarding and shuffling between games. Failure to adhere to that will result in a “Slow Play” penalty.

Let’s now turn from the things that have changed to a few things I’ve always wanted to tell players about. At almost every tournament, I encounter mistakes that result in penalties that could have been avoided by taking a bit more care while preparing for the tournament. It always pains me to hand out these penalties, and thus I try to give players as much advice as often as I can.

Most of the preventable mistakes have to do with the players’ decks and decklists. Having them in the expected condition is as important for the integrity of the game as playing by the rules. Players should and easily can make an effort to ensure this. There a few minor things I want to point your attention to that can save you from unnecessary trouble.

Take a look at MTR 2.7, “Deck Registration.” I am sure you are all aware of the fact that you need to hand in a correct decklist, but nevertheless at almost every tournament, I am surprised by the number of people that receive a Game Loss due to “Illegal Decklist.”

In Constructed tournaments, most of these players register less than 60 cards in their maindeck or something other than 0 or 15 cards in their sideboard, while others have incomplete card names on their list. This is mostly due to players being in a tearing hurry. They just decided that morning what to play or had to get some cards at the venue. So they finish their list just before they have to hand it in.

In Limited tournaments on the other hand, the mistakes arise by reason of carelessness. The most common mistakes are forgetting to register the basic lands or forgetting to list some of the sideboard cards in the total column.

Consider this–does checking and re-checking your decklist take that much time? It doesn’t, and the bit it takes is definitely worth it. Take three or five minutes to re-count the cards on your list. Or even better in Constructed, do it in the time before the tournament. In Limited, check both the number of cards in the played column and the number of cards in the total column. You can easily figure out how many you need in there by multiplying the number of cards in a booster by the number of boosters you got. And if in doubt, you can always ask a judge because we are happy help. These seem to be just minor precautions to take, but they can save you from getting a Game Loss for an Illegal Decklist.

What can we judges learn from this? I have made it a custom to remind players to check their decklists. At Constructed tournaments, I give players about 3 minutes to do that before they are collected. At Limited tournaments, I announce the number of cards they should have in their total column both before the deck building starts and when it’s about to end. And at the last PTQ I head judged, we didn’t have a single illegal decklist. I must confess I was really happy and proud about that.

For my next topic I am not leaving decks entirely, but moving on from decklists to the cards in the decks, more precisely the sleeves. This is probably the subject where the opinions of judges and players differ the most. I think that I’ve had at least one argument about them at every tournament where deck checks are done.

As you might guess, I am going to have a look at what the MTR says first again. Sleeves can be found in 3.9 which says, “Players may use plastic card sleeves or other protective devices on cards. If a player chooses to use card sleeves, all sleeves must be identical and all cards in his or her deck must be placed in the sleeves in an identical manner.”

What does that mean for players? All your cards have to look the same when you see their backs. There must not be a way for anyone to distinguish between any of the cards by what is on the back. Otherwise they are considered to be marked (MTR 3.10) and you will get a penalty for that depending on the kind of marking. Being able to know what kind of card will come next by looking at the sleeve is not part of the game.

The first situation that comes to my mind when thinking about sleeves is this: Before the tournament starts a player approaches me and asks me, “Are these sleeves still ok? Can I still play them?” What I have found quite useful in this situation is asking the player a question too: “Is there anything that makes you doubt that these sleeves are playable?” The answer to that is almost always “Yes.” Otherwise, players wouldn’t have asked in the first place. So, players, if you think that you might not be able to play your sleeves there is a pretty good chance the judges won’t like them either. Just change them before the tournament starts because they certainly won’t look better after a few rounds.

The following situations that can be solved or avoided in the same way:
1) A player in a Constructed tournament has the same markings on the four copies of the first card of his decklist.
2) The sleeves of the basic lands look different from the sleeves of the rest of the cards.
3) During a mid-round deck check the judge notices that the sleeves of the cards from the side board look don’t look the same as the ones from the main deck.

In all these cases, chances are that you will get a “Game Loss” for “Marked Cards – Pattern.” In these cases, that could have been avoided with a bit more preparation.

But let us consider first why this could have happen? The sleeves can be marked due to many different reasons: playing, being from different productions, having been damaged in the packing. As sad as this is, sleeves aren’t always faultless when you buy them. Edges might have been bent during transport, for example. I don’t like having to tell a player that his brand new sleeves are marked with a pattern but that’s the way it is. We cannot know how this happened and even if we knew they are still marked.

What can you do to avoid these problems? The first part of the answer is simple: get new sleeves and/or sleeve both your main deck and your side board in the same sleeves. But you can do another tiny thing: Shuffle your cards AND your sleeves before sleeving the cards. This seems like an unimportant thing you do but it will randomize the order in which the cards are put in to the sleeves. It’s unlikely now that all the four copies of your Bitterblossom will have the same kind of marking. If the cards still have markings on them that you didn’t notice, it will only be a Warning for “Marked Cards – No Pattern.” It doesn’t even cost you time because it’s the first step in randomizing your deck before the first round.

The last thing I’m going to tell you about today came across me at GP Hanover this year and I’m sure that it has happened at other tournaments too. At GPs, players get a promo foil card, usually distributed to them at the players’ meeting. And I see a lot of players putting it into their deck box. You shouldn’t do that if you don’t want to have a nasty surprise when you get deck checked. Any cards that are with your sideboard and could be played in your deck are considered to be part of it. This means a “Deck/Decklist Mismatch” and a Game Loss for you.

That is all I am going to tell you for today. I hope I could help you a little bit to avoid unnecessary mistakes in the future. Join me again next week when I’m going to bring you new tales from the world of judging again.

Auf Wiedersehen,
Claudia Nellessen


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