Improper Drawing at the Start of the Game – Jens Strohaeker

Written by Jens Strohaeker

Written by Jens Strohaeker

3.5. Game Play Error — Improper Drawing at the Start of the Game


A player draws too many cards (or not enough cards) in his or her opening hand, while resolving a mulligan, or before taking his or her first game action. Once legal game actions have been taken, this infraction no longer applies and the infraction is Drawing Extra Cards.


A. A player draws eight cards in her initial hand (instead of seven).
B. A player draws seven cards in his initial hand (instead of six) after taking a mulligan.
C. A player who is playing first (as opposed to drawing first) incorrectly draws a card during her first draw step.


This is generally a minor infraction and deserves a fairly minor penalty. Removing one more cards than the player was supposed to have is quick, simple and avoids the possibility of a player gaining an advantage if he or she just wished to reshuffle his or her cards and draw a new hand.

Additional Remedy 

If the player has drawn too few cards, instruct them to draw up to the correct number. If the player has drawn too many cards, the judge will remove one more than the number of excess cards from the hand at random. If the game has not yet begun, shuffle them into the deck and the player may continue the mulligan process from that point if he or she wishes. If the game has begun, put the cards randomly on top of the deck.

First of all, we have to separate this infraction into two types of cases. Either a player has drawn more cards than he was supposed to or he drew too few.

Drawing too few

The latter is a case that is fairly easy to solve. There is rarely a reason why one would want to draw too few cards. Not drawing the cards leaves you with less information and fewer resources. Therefore, the remedy is pretty easy. Issue a warning to the player (as he still committed an infraction that could, in some cases, be potentially abused) and have him draw the cards that he was supposed to have drawn at the start of the game. Note that not taking such a Warning into account when determining an upgrade is an option to reflect the much lower potential for abuse of this situation.

Drawing too many

The other scenario is certainly more interesting. A player can either:

  • Draw more cards than he should when drawing his first seven or after taking a mulligan; or
  • Draw a card during his draw step although he was supposed to play first and therefore skip that step.

Drawing more cards in an initial hand

Technically the game has not begun by the time this infraction is noted by a player (For further information on when a Game is considered to be started, see below.)

Experience also shows that it is spotted a lot more often by the player committing the infraction than by his opponent, which usually leads to a player calling a judge on himself. It is an infraction that is very easy to commit. The player might be miscounting his cards or the cards are sticking together so that the player accidentally draws more cards than he was supposed to.

While the potential for abuse might in some scenarios be very high, it remains an infraction that is easy to commit (mostly due to dexterity or sleeve issues) that is also very easy to spot in the first place. Therefore the penalty is only a warning. 

However there is more to it than just the warning. Not only the exceeding card is removed but also one additional card is shuffled back into the library.

Why do we need to remove an additional card?

Looking at it from a different angle, the infraction seems very easy to spot and easy to fix. One might think it would be fine simply to remove the cards that were drawn too much and shuffle these back. Especially in scenarios where the player calls the judge on himself and thus admits he had committed an infraction, which we usually like to honor as much as possible.

As easy as the infraction is to spot, it becomes a bigger advantage when unnoticed. Cards in hand are the most valuable resource of the game. A couple of turns further into the game, the additional card becomes very hard to spot and very tough to track for the opponent (though counting might still be the best way to figure out at how many cards a player should have). This is also part of the reason why we issue Game Losses for “Drawing Extra Cards” even when they are drawn accidentally.

Therefore, removing an additional card serves two purposes. The first one is adding a minor deterrence to the players so they are more aware of what they are doing. Removing one more card than there should have been in the first place increases the risk for cheaters and also creates more awareness among honest players. People usually tend to be more thorough with things that potentially create bigger drawbacks.

Second, if we were only to remove the exceeding card, the infraction could be abused to get a free new card. Imagine: A player could draw his opening hand and, when he finds only one land in it, draw an additional card. Then a judge is called. The judge would remove a random card and they might end up with a better hand than they initially had. Of course committing the infraction on purpose would be considered cheating. But since it happens so often unintentionally, it is very hard to distinguish between cards drawn on purpose or accidentally. Therefore, always remember to do at least a quick investigation. The most minor mistakes are often the the easiest to abuse. Just asking a short question about how it happened helps you a lot when deciding whether it was a plausible turn of events.

Why do we remove two cards instead of shuffling the entire hand back in as we once did?

This serves two purposes. First of all, it is much quicker than having a player reshuffle his hand into his deck, having the opponent shuffle it as well and then draw another opener. Minor infractions should be served with quick solutions / fixes if possible. Second, the player does not get to see a full hand of new cards. There are scenarios, especially when a player incorrectly draws in his first draw step, in which he would like to see six new cards rather than the seven minus one he has at that moment. Such issues are dealt with by not reshuffling the entire hand into the deck. It also reduces the time needed in order to decide whether to mulligan because most cards are known to the player already.

Drawing in the first draw step

A player incorrectly drawing during his first draw step is a slightly more complex situation to deal with. The game has technically started and we could technically treat that as Drawing Extra Cards. However, this infraction is easy enough to commit so that we don’t want to treat it as Drawing Extra Cards, which would mean a straight Game Loss.

Indeed, it would be very unfair to lose a game because a player said, “Go” rather than “Keep” and misled a player into believing this isn’t turn 1. Therefore, it’s been decided to identify this situation as Improper Drawing at Start of Game. (For further information on the play / draw rule see below.)

However, there are situations where this infraction can turn into Drawing Extra Cards and the penalty switches from Warning to Game Loss. Even if it is unlikely, some game actions can happen before the starting player’s first main phase, such as putting a Leyline on the battlefield or casting a Vine Dryad in the starting player’s upkeep.

If this happens, then it becomes unsafe to allow a player to mulligan as he could base his decisions on that extra information gained. Therefore, Drawing Extra Cards should be identified and a Game Loss should be called.

The main reasoning is, if the player gained extra information because of his mistake, there is no reason to be lenient, as we don’t want to reward sloppy players.

So is there a case in which a judge could deviate from the IPG?

What about sleeves/ cards sticking together?


Every one of us has been in a similar scenario before. A player is playing round six of a tournament. His sleeves have become worn over the course of the day. Maybe the player has also had sweaty hands and now that he has drawn his opener the cards have been stuck together and thus he has drawn too many cards.

While it seems fairly clear how the player ended up in this situation, I would recommend you not to deviate from the IPG in this case. Players are always responsible for the condition of their cards and sleeves. While it is obvious that they are not the most resilient things on earth, you should not deviate from the IPG only because you think that the materials used abet such mistakes.

What should I do when the player laid out the cards face down in front of himself and hasn’t looked at them?

In this scenario you should first try to make sure that the players can verify that he really has not looked at them. It seems safe to remove a random card (or the last one put on the table if you can identify it) and shuffle that one back into the library. If no cards were looked at, don’t issue any penalties.



Play/Draw Rule

For the first game of a match, the winner of a random method (such as a die roll or coin toss) chooses either to play first or to play second. The winner must state this choice before looking at his or her hand. If the winner states no choice, it is assumed that he or she is playing first. The player who plays first skips the draw step of his or her first turn. This is referred to as the play/draw rule.

After each game in a match, the loser of that game decides whether to play first in the next game. They may wait until after sideboarding to make the decision. If the previous game was a draw, the player who decided to play or draw at the beginning of the drawn game chooses.

Pregame Procedures

The following steps must be performed before each game begins:

  • Players may exchange cards in their decks for cards in their sideboards (only after the first or subsequent game of the match).
  • Players shuffle their decks. Steps 1 and 2 may be repeated.
  • Players present their decks to their opponents for additional shuffling. The sideboard (if any) is also presented at this time.
  • Players shuffle their opponents’ decks.
  • Each player draws seven cards. Optionally, these cards may be dealt face down on the table.
  • Each player, in turn order, decides whether to mulligan. (Rules on mulligans can be found in the Magic Comprehensive rules, Section 103.4)Players may not use more than three minutes to perform steps 1 through 3. Steps 4 through 6 must be performed in a timely manner.
  • The game is considered to have begun once all players have completed their mulligans.

Pregame procedures may be performed before time for the match has officially begun.