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Owen’s a Win – The Stop Drop and Roll

This is an article I have wanted to write for quite some time now, but (luckily) each week, I have continued to have strong tournament performances to write about instead. Today I want to talk about people who drop from a Sealed deck tournament during registration to keep the contents of their pool. This has always been a pet peeve of mine, and I think it should be disallowed. I think one of the worst things about it is that most people don’t even know that it’s a bad thing to do! In fact, most of the time people drop to keep their [ccProd]Thoughtseize[/ccProd], they brag about it to their friends and other people at the table.

I recently had a conversation about this exact topic with a friend who doesn’t play a ton of Magic tournaments, and I explained to him that if I opened a single [ccProd]Elspeth, Sun’s Champion[/ccProd] I would not drop from the tournament because the short term financial gain of +1 Elspeth to my collection was lower EV than just me playing out the tournament myself and trying to win the top prize. Then he asked me if I happened to get two foil Elspeth what would I do, and I said I would still not drop, though at this point it is clearly the correct move if all you’re trying to do is maximize dollar EV in the event.

I wouldn’t drop for two reasons: first because I believe it compromises the integrity of the tournament, and second because as a professional Magic player I take pride in my work and results. I like to finish what I start, and I am proud of the fact that when I play a tournament I give it my all. Now I recognize that you can’t win them all, but the fact remains that if I paid $30 to get in the tournament you had better believe I’m going to try to win it. I think dropping to make a $10 profit or to simply break even is senseless.

I have also heard people explain to me that if you open an incredibly valuable card and you’re forced to pass it, it feels terrible. I agree that it probably makes the person who passed the card feel bad, but it also makes the person who gets passed the card feel very good! If everyone plays under the same rules then it’s fair for everyone, a good card gets opened and anyone can get it since it’s totally random. If you happen to play exactly 1 Sealed deck tournament in your life and you open a great pool and are forced to pass it, then that does suck, but this is an acceptable risk. After all, wouldn’t it stand to reason that for as many people as this will happen to, there will be an equal number of people who play 1 Sealed deck tournament in their whole life and get passed a great pool?

Imagine you’re a grinder who plays in only local PTQs and your one and only goal is to get on the Pro Tour, but you can’t afford to travel. You get a couple Sealed PTQs a year, and you play them all and prepare extra hard for them. Let’s say your name is Mike Z, and every Sealed PTQ registration period is in alphabetical order, and there’s another person named John Z, and the two of you always sit next to each other. You would never drop under any circumstances, because if you drop then you can’t get 1st place and qualify for the Pro Tour, but John doesn’t care at all—he will drop if he gets any valuable cards at all. The fact that your tournament’s deck registration is seated alphabetically and that you usually pass to people at the same table means it absolutely does not matter what the contents of your pool are, someone else at the table will get it as it was opened.

John, on the other hand, exists only to remove high-quality cards from the pool at your table build from or to pass cards of low quality. When I say the word quality, I mean strictly in terms of financial value—but, very often for Sealed deck play, more expensive cards have a high power level for game play. This is true for cards like [ccProd]Elspeth, Sun’s Champion[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Sphinx’s Revelation[/ccProd].

Imagine the tournament is 100 people, one Mike Z and 99 people who are identical to John Z. Now assume that John Z chooses to drop during registration whenever he gets an [ccProd]Elspeth, Sun’s Champion[/ccProd]. Once you enter a tournament like this, it is now impossible to play with Elspeth in the Swiss rounds and you can only get paired against it. When incentives are this perverse and people always look out for their short term dollar EV, then the tournament on the whole suffers.

Once I raised this concern with a judge and they responded with, “that’s a great reason to not have the deck registration in alphabetical order.” This seems like a very lazy fix to me for many reasons. This doesn’t make the people who drop with good cards go away, it merely shuffles them around and adds a new element of randomness to the events. Now, before I hope to get a good Sealed pool, I have to hope to not be seated near people who are going to drop. I do agree that if you refuse to fix the core of the problem, then this will at least minimize the effects of it in small tournaments where the same people play on a regular basis.

When you go to a Grand Prix, you can now opt for the Sleep-in Special, and have your Sealed pool recorded by a judge. This circumvents the entire process of having another player register and verify the pool, and it means that the pool you receive will absolutely be six random boosters. The problem I have with this is that the Sleep-in Special usually costs $20, and now if you have the correct number of byes there is a service available to you where you can just pay money for an in-tournament advantage. I’ll admit that the advantage is small—you would have to be seated near someone capable of dropping when they get a great pool, and they need to open that great pool, and then they would need to have passed it to you specifically had they not dropped, but I still believe that all players should be on an even playing field.

My solution? Make it illegal. Is it really that difficult? Just make an announcement and tell people not to do it. Allowing people to leave with the pool they opened whenever they want hurts the tournament. If they leave without saying anything, the judges have to spend time figuring out who that person was, drop them, and instruct everyone else at the table to pass to people around them in a different way. It might be an unpopular rule at first, but I any reasonable person who understands the reasons why this rule exists wouldn’t disagree with it. It ensures fairness for all people in the tournament and it makes the event easier to run.

I was playing in a Sealed event at a recent GP and head judge Jared Sylva made an announcement to the effect of, “if you would like to drop with your pool, PLEASE LET US KNOW.” Jared is a great judge, and I’m sure that he made this announcement because he knew that doing so would help the tournament run more quickly. I was, however, annoyed—why would you want to advertise to people that they can just leave with a Sealed pool intended for a different person? In a perfect world, there would be shame attached to this kind of behavior and people would think twice before doing it, as opposed to now where these people are applauded. “You got a [ccProd]Thoughtseize[/ccProd]? Great job!”

Suppose you don’t want to make this illegal, that’s fine. That doesn’t mean there aren’t other things you can do to help deter it. It would be a huge step in the right direction if judges were instructed to tell people that this is a bad idea. Suppose someone calls a judge and asks if they can drop because they opened a foil [ccProd]Purphoros, God of the Forge[/ccProd]. A simple, “please don’t do that” would go a long long way. I feel judges should calmly explain to people that their actions affect others, and that everyone around them would be much happier if they didn’t drop for reasons other than wanting the foil Purphoros for themselves.

I actually used the foil Purphoros as an example on purpose, because in the situation I outlined at the last tournament, I saw a guy sitting near me open a foil Purphoros and drop because of it. I found this to be outrageous. If you wanted to buy a Purphoros from Channelfireball right now, it would cost you $25—let that sink in for a moment. This person paid $30 to join a Sealed deck tournament presumably with the intention of spending their day playing Sealed, only to drop for a net loss of $5.

If you didn’t want to play in the Magic tournament then don’t enter, it really is that simple. Just buy a Purphoros and keep the $5 extra. This isn’t an isolated incident either, often when people choose to drop it’s the incorrect move for maximizing their equity in the event.

I hope this article turned out to be informative—I tried to do my best to explain how to fix an annoying rule. If you think I’m wrong, feel free to tell me why in the comments. Also feel free to help come up with possible solutions if you believe this is a problem as well—any feedback is appreciated.

Owen Turtenwald
qazwsxedcrfvtgbyhnuj on Magic Online
OwenTweetenwald on twitter

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