Leading the Deck Checks Team

Note: This article is dedicated to the logistical aspects of leading the deck checks team. For information about how to perform a deck check and philosophical goals of the deck checks team, please see this page.

The deck checks team is responsible for anything involving decklists. Collecting decklists, confirming everyone has turned in a decklist, performing deck checks, and making sure that throughout the entire tournament the decklists are organized enough so that any individual list can be found within seconds. Easy, right?

The deck checks team has a heavy logistics element to it. There are a lot of things to keep track of, and tournament conditions (number of players, number of judges on the deck checks team, number of judges overall, experience level of judges, tournament format, etc.) will weigh into what the best way to accomplish your assignments is. Keep that information in mind while using the lists below to help yourself and your team stay organized.

Before the player meeting:

  • Estimate how many players there are and make a plan for collecting decklists. Reference the next section for potential plans.
  • Estimate how many rounds the tournament will be and begin planning a break schedule. Coordinate with the head judge and other team leads to determine whether breaks will be team-based (all members of a certain team will be on break during one round, and members from the other teams will pick up the slack) or piecemeal (a few judges from each team go on break each round, and members from the same team pick up the slack, potentially aided by other judges conscripted from different teams).
  • Have a team meeting after the head judge concludes the all judge meeting. If you can’t get everyone together, you’ll have to go over all of this with each judge individually. Topics to cover:
    • Introduce yourself and invite the rest of the team to do the same.
    • Determine if anyone is new to deck checks or competitive REL. If there are any judges that fit these categories, consider pairing each one with another, more experienced, judge who can show them the ropes.
    • Disseminate your decklist collection plan to your team. If it’s a constructed format event, remind them to stack the decklists so that decks close to the beginning of the alphabet are on top of decks at the end of the alphabet. This may require putting decklists on bottom or on top of their pile, depending on what end of the row they start from.
    • If the breaks will be piecemeal, ask your team members to start thinking about what round they would prefer to have their break.
  • Set up the deck checks area. A good deck checks area will be easy for judges to access, close to the tournament tables, and marked in such a way that clearly indicates players are not supposed to be there. A table close to the main event stage works well because players instinctively know that area is for tournament use. Ideally, you will have access to the following:
    • lots of table space, and an appropriate number of chairs
    • Pendaflex folder or large file box to organize decklists in
    • box to put suspect decklists in. Don’t label this box in a way that attracts undue interest from players. Case boxes are about the right size for this and are usually in plentiful supply.
    • Separate box to put decklists that need to be refiled in. Alternatively, you can put these under the pendaflex, but be careful not to lose them.
  • If the deck check area will be in a spot where players might sit down and use the table space for themselves, get a few sheets of printer paper, write “This area reserved for judge use” on them, and tape them to the tabletop.
  • Plan a spot for the decklists to go where they won’t be in danger of getting lost, being stolen, or getting knocked down and flying everywhere. If the deck checks area is in view of the stage staff or segregated behind a cloth, this step is less necessary.

During the player meeting/deckbuilding

The deck checks team’s responsibility during this time is to collect the decklists from the players and begin organizing them. This process is radically different depending on the format of the event.

In a constructed tournament, judges collect the decklists from players at the player meeting. At a small event, just telling each judge to find one or two rows and collect all the decklists there works well. If there are a lot of judges or if the rows are long, have one judge to each end of a row and meet in the middle. Don’t be afraid to conscript additional judges from other teams to help out, since only paper team has need for judges during the player meeting anyway, and they probably will only really need one or two. For bigger tournaments, consider having table ranges assigned to specific judges to ensure coverage. A sticky note with a table range can be given to each judge along with any tournament swag that will need to be handed out. Have judges affix the sticky note to the top of their pile of lists when they turn them in to the deck check area. If you, as the team lead, will also be collecting decklists, assign yourself the closest table range to the deck check area so that you can be back first.

In a limited event, players will turn in decklists to judges as they finish deck building. Judges should make an effort to check not only that the player’s name appears on the list, but also that the player registered basic lands. Saying “Good luck today, [player name]” as you collect the lists gives a good customer service experience to the players and confirms that their name is present, legible, and in the correct spot. Rather than having judges carry lists back individually, it’s more efficient for deck check team members to collect decklists from other judges and carry them back to the deck checks area. For extra efficiency, you may consider having each judge collecting lists assigned to one area of the room. This way, lists collected by each judge are roughly confined to a letter range, which makes sorting easier. At around 10 minutes before the end of build, one judge can be permanently posted in the deck checks area to sort incoming lists. Before then, a clearly marked box for judges to put the lists in will suffice.

Team format events add the additional wrinkle of keeping each team’s decklists together. This can be done as lists are collected by giving staplers to deck check team members and having them staple lists as they are turned in. Alternatively, judges on the deck checks team can staple them together after they are collected during the verification process. The former is more foolproof, but leads to bottlenecks in collecting. The latter is more seamless, but introduces potential difficulties in figuring out which team lists belong to.

Organizing the decklists

The optimum method for organizing decklists varies greatly depending on the number of players in the event. At a small event (<~50 players), a rough ordering is sufficient. Simply putting all the A’s together, all the B’s together, etc. is enough to quickly find any player’s list. Counting the decklists and comparing that number with the number of players in the event can be used to confirm that each player turned one in. For larger events (~50-1000 players), a full ordering is desirable because confirming all decklists are in becomes easier. For even larger events (>~1000 players), fully alphabetizing is unfeasible, and sorting into piles based on player meeting seating becomes the way to go. A key showing which table the player was at and piles of about 50 lists to sort through is manageable and reasonable.

At a draft event (like day 2 of a sealed GP), sorting the lists into pods is easy and efficient. Because players play only within their draft pods, both players’ lists will be in the same pile, which saves time. Again, this requires a key that shows which pod each player is in, which the scorekeeper can provide. Writing (or better yet, printing) the pod numbers on the decklists can be done ahead of time and ensures that players don’t forget to do this important step.

Before the end of round 1:

Your first priority is to confirm that every player entered into the event has turned in a decklist. To facilitate this, you will need a list of all players, which you can get from the scorekeeper. While doing this, assign one of the other team members to collate all the decklists into a single pile, which should be approximately in alphabetical order, since players are seated by name in the player meeting. For a limited format event, this task will be more challenging and should be started in the deckbuilding portion of the event as described above.

There will usually be a few decklists that, for whatever reason, are turned in outside of the general decklist collection at the player meeting. Put these in a separate pile to deal with later. After that, go through the pile of decklists striking out every name on the master list as you pass their decklist in the pile. If you reach a name that you can’t find a decklist for, check the out of order pile. If this turns up empty, circle it and continue. If you find a decklist that you can’t match to a name or is far away from its appropriate spot, pull it out and put it in the out of order pile. After going through the entire pile of decklists, you should be left with a (hopefully small) pile of decklists that you couldn’t match to names and a master list with a few names circled. Make one more pass through the master list, attempting to match the names on that list to those on the decklists in the out of order pile. Here are some of the most common things that can happen that make it more difficult to match properly:

  • Players who weren’t at the player meeting or whose decklist is somehow out of order. You checked for these during the first pass, but sometimes they fall through the cracks. No further action needed. You’re hoping that all the stray lists will be in this category.
  • Players with byes not being listed in the seat-all list. If you have a lot of decklists with no corresponding player on the master list, this is the most likely reason. Ask scorekeeper for a list of players with byes if the tournament has them.
  • Players who forgot to write their name on their decklist, wrote it in the wrong spot, wrote it in a misleading way (first name where their last name should be, etc.), or have such atrocious handwriting that it’s difficult to tell what the name on the decklist is. If a decklist has a name on it, it’s typically pretty easy to resolve after narrowing the master list down to a handful of possibilities. Write the player’s name neatly in the appropriate spot in red ink to make these lists easier to handle if they come up again. If you come across a list with no name on it during the first pass, do NOT pull it out. Oftentimes you can guess whose list it is if there’s a gap near that area of the alphabet. Otherwise, you’ll need to go with process of elimination. Usually, there won’t be more than one or two of these in a single event. Always find the player and confirm that it’s really their list if there’s any doubt. Consider assessing a USC-Minor if you need to do this, since the player’s action of turning in an anonymous decklist probably disrupted the tournament by taking up time the deck checks judges could have used for something else.
  • Players not having the same name on their decklist as they have on the player list. The player list goes by the name associated with the player’s DCI number, and there are a number of possibilities why this might not match the name a player used on his or her decklist. For example, a married person who still has her maiden name associated with her DCI number; a person who writes their initials, middle name, or nickname on the decklist, but has their proper first name on their DCI number; or a person whose name in the DCI database is entered incorrectly. Be particularly aware of this issue in countries where names don’t follow the general “given name, family name” convention the USA uses, since the DCI database historically didn’t do a great job entering such names in. For these cases, attempt to pair the spare decklists with the circled names at the end, and correct one or the other, as appropriate, to remind yourself what happened if it comes up later. Don’t file the decklists paired this way until you’re pretty sure that you have it paired correctly.

If you come across a name or decklist that you can’t match during this process, wait until the whole player name list has been checked before bringing any outstanding issues to the head judge. In my experience, it’s very rare for a player to not turn in a deck list. It’s much more common for one of the above issues or some similar problem to be at play.

After this, make a plan for how many deck checks you will need to perform each round.

  • Determine your goal number of total deck checks by dividing the total number of players by 10.
  • For each pair of judges on your team, figure on performing at least 2 deck checks per round (both decks from one table in a beginning of round deck check).
  • For each pair of judges on your team, figure on doing midround deck checks in some number of rounds, which will provide 2 additional deck checks for those rounds.
  • Use these numbers to estimate how easy it will be to hit (or exceed) your goal number of deck checks. Then take the following list of of potential “stoppers” into consideration.
  • Round 1 may have fewer than this “best-case” number of deck checks performed, owing to the need to confirm that each player submitted a list this round. For beginning of round deck checks in round 1, I’ll assign one or two judges to this task while sending the rest in pairs to do beginning of round checks.
  • Additionally, some head judges prefer not to do deck checks in the last round, instead focusing on listening for collusion. Confer with the HJ on this point.
  • It will be difficult to perform deck checks if there is sparse floor coverage (perhaps because of breaks).
  • If you have someone on your team who is slower at performing deck checks, perhaps because they are new to deck checks, this may affect your ability to perform midround deck checks. Ordinarily, this problem will resolve itself naturally over the course of the day as the person gains more experience.

If you foresee a difficulty in reaching the goal number of deck checks while simultaneously maintaining adequate floor coverage (adequate floor coverage ~= 1 judge for every 30-50 players), consult with the head judge. Some possible solutions include:

  • Having the head judge help with deck checking.
  • Reducing floor coverage during specific rounds or at specific times where it is less likely to matter.
  • Missing the goal number of deck checks for the swiss rounds.

Goals for this round:

  • Confirm that each player registered in the event has submitted a decklist.
  • Alphabetize all the remaining decklists and file them. Especially for smaller tournaments, exact alphabetical order isn’t important. Simply having all the A’s together, all the B’s together, etc. is sufficient to facilitate the goal of this ordering – being able to quickly locate any player’s decklist.
  • Confirm break schedule and planned number of deck checks each round with the head judge.
  • Perform some deck checks.

During swiss rounds:

  • Perform deck checks according to the plan. Keep head judge aware of any significant developments, and check in approximately once per round to confirm things are going okay and keep apprised of anything you might need to know.
  • Team format deck checks introduce the additional wrinkle of needing to know the A player’s name in order to find the B or C player’s decklist, since team decklists are stored together. Remind team members that they need to ask for the A player’s name on each team if they swoop a deck before results slips are out.
  • Train new judges on how to perform a deck check (working with them may provide an opportunity for a review). Reference the deck checks article for specific advice on deck checks best practices.
  • Occasionally, a player will ask to see their decklist between matches, usually to confirm that they are desideboarding correctly. Per the MTR, such requests should be honored “if logistically possible,” which should be the case close to 100% of the time. Be sure to keep the player away from other decklists when you retrieve it, lest they gain any sort of information about a future opponent’s deck improperly. As the player gives their list back, suggest taking a picture of it to save time (both theirs and yours) in case they want to see it again in the future.

Before the start of the top 8

  • Confer with the head judge about whether deck checks will be performed before the top 8 and what course of action you should take in the case of a mismatch.
  • Perform deck checks on people who think they will make the top 8.
    • Sometime during the last round, the head judge should make an announcement that we will be deck checking everyone prior to the top 8 matches, so anyone who thinks they will be in the top 8 should sort their deck and take it up to the scorekeeper.
    • As decks come in, put a post-it note or piece of masking tape on each deckbox and ask the player their name. Write their name on the post-it and confirm with them before they head out. Inform them that you will hold on to their deck until the start of the top 8.
    • Deck check as many lists during the round as possible. Sometimes only 2 or 3 people will turn their decks in during this time, but every list checked here is one less judge that will be required when you check the rest after the top 8 is announced. If you’re short staffed (won’t be able to simultaneously deck check the remaining 5-6 decks), consider asking the floor team lead to tell the judges to ask for decks as top 8 contention matches finish.
    • Look at the sleeves, checking for marked cards. Go ahead and replace potentially marked sleeves if the player has extras in the deckbox, but DO NOT throw the old ones away. It’s extremely poor customer service to throw away someone else’s property, especially given that even marked sleeves could still be used, for example, in playtest gauntlets or for shipping cards. In any case, be sure to tell the player what you’ve done.

Additional considerations:

If the event has coverage, the casters will need the feature match players’ decklists every round. Confer with the head judge to establish how you will know which decklists the commentators need and make a plan to physically take these lists to and from the coverage area. The best method I’ve seen for this is to have a designated “inbox” and “outbox” in reach of the casters, but just offscreen. Casters can take and return decklists unobtrusively and you have a seamless way of knowing when they are done with decklists without having to talk to them.

Further reading

Running the Deck Check Team by David de la Iglesia, Jeremie Granat and Rick Salamin (2014)
Tournament Procedures — Lowering priority on Decklists counting by Kevin Desprez (2013)
Tournament Procedures — Sorting decklists efficiently by Kevin Desprez (2013)
The Pod People (Sorting DLs by pods) by Adam Cetnerowski (2014)
The Australian Deck Check Technique by Matteo Callegari (2015)
The “Lanes” Method for Midround Constructed Deckchecks by Fabian Peck (2016)
Running a Day 2 Deck Check Team: Tips and Tricks by Kevin Desprez (2017)