Missing Cards: When Infractions Collide

Written by Joe Klopchic

Written by Joe Klopchic

I have seen countless judge calls across many tournaments stemming from one specific problem: a player realizes that their deck is missing a card. This article is going to cover several different situations where this can happen, and how they are solved according to the IPG.


I’m going to break down the times during which this call occurs into three categories:

  • The player realizes they are missing a card while not in a game.
  • The player or opponent realizes they are missing a card during a game.
  • The player or opponent realizes they are missing a card while the deck is presented.

Further, there are three different possible locations for the missing card:

  • The player knows where the missing card is.
  • The player doesn’t know where the missing card is, but can find a replacement.
  • The player doesn’t know where the missing card is, and can’t find a replacement.

This gives us nine different possible situations, outlined in the grid below. The rest of the article will address each of these situations.

When the player knows where the missing card is…

We can start with the easiest of the scenarios: when a missing card is discovered while not in a game, and the location of the card is known. In this case, we put the card back in the deck, and don’t issue an infraction.

The next scenario is where the problem is discovered during a game, and the location of the card is known. A common instance of this situation is when a card gets dropped on the floor and discovered later. This is a textbook Deck Problem. The player’s deck doesn’t match what they intended to play, as it is missing a card. Deck problem advises us to locate the missing cards, which we have done, and shuffle them into the unknown portion of the player’s library. We’ll issue the player a Warning, so we can track the penalty.

Next up, the player or opponent discovers the error while the deck is presented, and the location of the card is known. A likely example of this scenario is the opponent counting the deck, realizing there are only 59 cards, and the player discovering they sideboarded out too many cards. This is very similar to the previous situation, but we have now stepped into the upgrade territory of Deck Problem.

“Upgrade: If the deck is discovered to be incorrect while presented to the opponent for pre-game shuffling, and the missing cards are not in the opponent’s deck, the penalty is a Game Loss.”

In this case, and each other occuring during the presentation period, the penalty is a Game Loss. This upgrade path exists to discourage cheating; when a player presents their deck, they are asserting that it is legal and ready for their opponent to shuffle. The IPG preserves this opportunity for the opponent to discover an error and have it upgraded to a Game Loss.

We issue the player the Game Loss for Deck Problem.

Let’s return briefly to our chart. It now looks like this:

When the player can find a replacement…

Now we move onto the scenarios where the player doesn’t know where the missing card is. While I’ll talk a lot about Deck Problem and Decklist Problem here, this section requires referring to another infraction entirely. Tournament Error – Tardiness gives us this guidance:

“If, before or during a match, a player requests permission from a judge for a delay for a legitimate task, such as a bathroom break or finding replacements for missing cards, that player may have up to 10 minutes to perform that task before he or she is considered tardy.”

So, if a player approaches a judge at the start of the round, and explains that they are missing a card from their deck, they have 10 minutes to find a replacement.

If they find a replacement, add it to their deck and issue the appropriate time extension.

If they can’t find a replacement, then their decklist must be modified in order for them to continue playing in the event. Deck Problem provides us this insight:

“If a player is unable to locate cards (or identical equivalents) from their main deck, treat it as a Decklist Problem. If sideboard cards are missing, make a note of this, but issue no penalty.”

And further referring to Decklist Problem, we arrive at:  

“A player normally receives a Game Loss if his or her decklist is altered after tournament play has begun.”


“If the deck contains too few cards, the player chooses to add any combination of cards named Plains, Island, Swamp, Mountain or Forest to reach the minimum number. Alter the decklist to reflect this. These changes may be reverted without penalty if the player is subsequently able to locate identical replacements to legal original cards.”

The penalty in this case is a Decklist Problem, and carries a Game Loss. Allow the player to replace the missing card with an appropriate basic land of their choice, and alter the decklist to match the change.

Let’s revisit our chart once more:

When the player can’t find a replacement…

The next scenarios start to get a bit tricky. The player discovers during a game that they are missing a card, and they don’t know where it is. A likely cause of this is leaving the card in a previous opponent’s deck, and then searching for it during a game, and noticing it isn’t there.

Similar to earlier, the player has 10 minutes to find a replacement copy. While it isn’t required, I would suggest asking the player if the card is likely in a previous opponent’s deck, because of similar colored sleeves, or because the previous opponent gained control of the card during the other match. A small amount of judge resources, such as asking the scorekeeper (or checking WER yourself at a small event) for the name of the last round opponent, and finding that match, provides excellent customer service here. Excess judge resources, such as sending multiple judges to search through boxes of draft leftovers for a specific uncommon, isn’t advisable.

If the player finds the replacement, add it to their deck and issue no penalty, but give a time extension. Notably, if they discover the error while searching their deck, they can find the replaced card with the search.

If the player can’t find a replacement, then we have arrived at the same situation as we did previously. The decklist must be modified for the player to continue, and Decklist Problem instructs us to assign a Game Loss because of this. Replace the card with the requested basic, update the list, and apply the Game loss.

Our final destination is the trickiest, but we have a lot of good ideas covered already, so we should be able to manage.

The player, or opponent, discovers a card is missing during the presentation period, and the location of the missing card is unknown.

We know now that the player will get 10 minutes to find a replacement. If they don’t find a replacement, we follow the same logic. Game Loss for Decklist Problem, replace with a basic land, update the list. 

This situation is both a Decklist Problem and a Deck Problem. The list needs to be changed due to no replacement, so Decklist Problem provides a Game Loss. Deck Problem also requires a Game Loss because of the timing of the discovery, but the IPG tells us “If an error leads to multiple related infractions, only issue one with the most severe penalty.” So we issue only one penalty. You can enter both penalties into the tournament software for tracking

If the player does find a replacement, then they get to play with it. However, the error was discovered during the presentation period, and we know from earlier that this results in the Deck Problem being upgraded to a Game Loss. Replace the card, issue the Game Loss, and record the penalty.

That’s it! We made it through all nine situations. I’ve filled in our grid with the appropriate infractions, penalties and fixes.

That covers all of Competitive REL. It’s worth making a quick note about Regular REL. At regular, we don’t assess penalties, especially game losses, but the philosophy is exactly the same. That results in this reduced grid.

At Regular, we aren’t guided by the IPG, so no 10-minute rule applies. We should help the player attempt to find a replacement in a reasonable amount of time, and get the tournament moving.

Thanks for joining me in exploring the nuances of missing cards at a Magic tournament. Hopefully you’ve learned how to handle cards being misplaced, lost, found and replaced.