In this article we will cover what the rules say about shuffling, how to shuffle (and not shuffle) our own and your opponent’s deck and what we risk by not shuffling properly.
Why should we talk about shuffling? Well, there are several good reasons. First of all, shuffling is an important procedure that is often repeated throughout the course of a tournament. Furthermore, shuffling is one of the few procedures that lets you interact with your opponent’s deck. Finally, shuffling is meant to avoid some sort of cheating.
What does the rules say on shuffling?
|[MTR 3.9] Shuffling
This seems clear and straightforward, but there are some details we do not want to spare!
MTR says: a player “MAY” shuffle his opponent’s deck: this might fool someone into thinking this is not mandatory, well, it actually is.
This rule is only true at Regular REL: at Competitive and Professional REL players are required to shuffle their opponent’s deck.
At Competitive and Professional REL events, simply knocking on opponent’s deck is not allowed. Due to practical reasons, a simple “cut” in the middle is considered enough. Giving at least a couple of shuffles is always advised.
Another thing to note is that the point of shuffling is to make sure the deck is randomized. It is considered randomized once no player can know where any of the cards are. It doesn’t matter that you don’t actually know where any of the cards are. As long as we don’t shuffle our deck the rules assume we know the position of each card in the deck. Therefore, when you sit down at a table with your opponent, you are considered to know all the cards in your deck and randomization starts from scratch.
How to shuffle and how not to shuffle a deck
Shuffling techniques you can observe in a tournament are basically three. We will analyze them in detail below.
- Classic shuffling or riffle shuffling
Even if they are slightly different, these two methods results in the same status. In both cases, the player takes a big portion of the deck and inserts it in the other so cards from one portion are (ideally) alternate to the ones of the other one. This is a great method but only if it actually involves also the cards in the top and bottom portions of the deck, and only if it is repeated several times. Statistic simulations (on Casino Decks of 52 cards) show that a “prepared” deck loses its initial order starting from the seventh shuffling and is completely order-agnostic after 10 shufflings. Obviously assuming that the shufflings are properly performed.
- Pile shuffling
As the tournament rules specify, this method is not enough if used alone. This is an optimal randomization method if we start from an unknown deck configuration. On the other hand, if we start from a known configuration, “tricks” exist to keep the original configuration or to pass to another one. Since we assume that we start our process from a perfectly known configuration, this method alone is not considered to randomize the deck at all. It may be used with other shuffling methods or to count the cards in our deck while shuffling (to avoid problems like cards forgotten in our sideboard, etc.)
- Block shuffling
This method consists in taking a block of cards from the center of our deck, join the remaining two parts, and placing the block on top or bottom of the resulting part. The process is then repeated several times. There are actually many variants of this method, but all of them have in common the fact of keeping the order of the cards in the different deck portions. This is why this method is not enough if used alone. Cutting your opponent deck is considered as a single block shuffle. This is acceptable if we assume that this operation is performed on a deck already randomised by your opponent, unlike the case in which we are shuffling our own deck.
The best way to obtain a well randomized deck is to combine the first two methods using a single pile shuffling and making a dozen of classic shufflings/riffle-shuffles. This method is ideal at the beginning of a game, but it is not practical to use every single time you shuffle during a game (especially in formats including a high number of fetchlands and/or tutors).
In the end, the ideal solution is to avoid pile shuffling and to use a dozen of classic shuffles/riffle shuffles.
How to shuffle your opponent’s deck
After each shuffling, the deck of the players are presented to their opponents to allow them to shuffle it (which is compulsory at Competitive and Professional REL).
When shuffling your opponent’s deck, you can select among a wider set of methods. We are assuming that we start from a random configuration. As such, anything ranging from a pile shuffle to a simple cut is fine. The same is true for our opponent when shuffling our deck.
Also, at the beginning of a game, a good method may consist of a single pile shuffle and a few classical shuffles. With this we may discover problems with our opponent’s deck right away (missing cards, double faced cards with transparent sleeves, etc.). We may also prevent most of the possible deck manipulations that our opponent may have performed.
We must be realistic: cheaters unfortunately exist. Deck manipulation is an effective way to cheat as it gives a systematic advantage and is hard to prove. This cheating method may be practically erased simply by a proper shuffling of our opponent’s deck. Incentivizing this practice is of interest to all of us. If your opponents don’t seem interested in shuffling your deck, invite them to do so for the sake of the tournament integrity.
An exception: When you perform a riffle shuffle, you may ruin cards in the long run. In Eternal formats (where the same cards are used for years and may have high monetary value) you may ask your opponents to avoid this method, while being explicit that this is only to protect your cards and inviting them to shuffle your deck using any other method.
What do we risk if not shuffling properly?
There are two possible penalties for not shuffling our deck properly. The first one is a simple Warning for Insufficient Shuffling.
A classic case for this penalty is when a card falls from the deck after shuffling and we do not shuffle it again but simply insert it in the middle. Now we actually know the position of that card. Another classic case for this penalty to be assigned is when a player forgets to randomize the cards revealed through the Cascade ability before placing them on the bottom of the deck.
Another example of Insufficient Shuffling is when a player uses a fetchland and immediately finds the searched land. The player places the land onto the battlefield and decides to just perform a single shuffling before presenting his/her deck to the opponent, as he/she almost didn’t look at the deck. He/she almost certainly knows the penultimate card of the deck and that it’s in one of the last positions of the deck. In this case, the player will receive a warning and will be invited to properly shuffle his/her deck. This may look excessive, but this case may bring unexpected advantages. Take, for instance, a player playing a Storm Combo deck in legacy. He is at 12 lifes and is wondering whether to go for the combo or not with the Ad Nauseam. Knowing that the Past in Flames (one of the few spells with a CMC of 4) is at the bottom of the deck may strongly affect his choice.
Beware: These examples are all based on the assumption that the infraction was committed unintentionally. Any infraction committed intentionally to gain an advantage is Cheating and falls under the second possible penalty: Disqualification. Here we touch on a sensitive subject. There are many players with bad habits when it comes to shuffling their own deck, that they practice innocently. Bad habits include manaweaving and stacking and may induce judges to think they are dealing with a cheater. But let’s see them in details.
- Manaweaving: also known as mana-check, is the practice of arranging our deck as Land-Spell-Spell before shuffling
- Stacking: the practice of placing some cards at regular intervals among others, like the four copies of the card we absolutely want in our opening hand or the cards we are including from our sideboard.
These practice are theoretically fine as far as we properly shuffle our deck afterwards, but they are strongly discouraged in practice. What does it actually mean that we “properly shuffle our deck afterwards”? It means that we have no info on the order or position of cards. We should hence shuffle our deck up to a configuration in which it is as if we never performed manaweaving or stacking.
But then, what is the point of doing it? Manaweaving or stacking does not serve any function!
If you are used to these practices, ask yourself why you do them. If the answer is “because I aim at helping the probability of…”, this means you are intentionally manipulating your deck to get an advantage. That is not allowed!
If the answer is instead “superstition”, well, you can keep doing it. Still, if after a deck-check your deck should result in a clear pattern, know that you may risk being disqualified from the tournament.
Just for the sake of clarity: doing manaweaving and stacking because you think they are useful is illegal. If you instead do them but then make sure they could not have made any impact on the order of your deck, then you are not doing something illegal. However, know that the risk is that you end up in a scenario where it looks more likely that you did it on purpose to gain an advantage, so we strongly recommend against it.
Some closing advices
- When you are shuffling your opponents’ deck, look them in the eyes and invite them to do the same, so both of you are sure no-one is looking at the deck.
- When you shuffle a deck with the classic method you must be sure to shuffle the entire deck, including the first and last cards. If you for instance take the top half and shuffle it in the bottom one, but do not include the top three cards, they will remain the same even after many iterations. If a judge is present, this will gain you a Warning for Insufficient Shuffling. If the three cards are the ones allowing the best start of your deck, you will have a closer chat with that judge.
- Always keep the cards facing the floor when shuffling. If you shuffle with the front of the cards facing your opponent, you are giving away precious info. If you keep the card faces upwards or towards you, you are at risk of seeing your cards and therefore you’re not randomizing at all. This will also make judges look into your shuffling a bit closer because you could be using the shuffling method to cheat.
A small piece of trivia to end this article. Shuffling your opponent’s deck is not showing a lack of trust. It’s actually the opposite. This practice comes from American hazard players (especially for games as Gin Rummy), where cheaters were widely present. That is why an honest player, when it was his turn to distribute cards, he offered the possibility to shuffle to his opponents. It demonstrated his good faith but also proved that if he won, it was because of his skill or luck.
As such, when we shuffle our opponents’ deck, we are not acting in lack of faith, we are simply answering to their kind request of trust. You should therefore not be offended if your opponents are shuffling your deck. You should if they don’t, instead! If they don’t, they might not realize you won because you are awesome, not because you cheat.