Polishing Up Deck Check Technique @ San Diego SIQ 2015

Greg Lauro, Level 2, Irvine, California, United States

Greg Lauro, Level 2, Irvine, California, United States

After seeing the thread on the new Polish deck check method, I decided to implement the technique at my next event. This report will focus on my experiences with the trial.


I notified my floor judge Daniel Gilison the morning before the event that I was interested in testing the Polish technique, and he was happy to research and practice the procedure beforehand. He also displayed initiative in informing me of his needs and goals for the event. In particular, he wanted more live experience taking calls, issuing penalties, etc., which played nicely into giving the players an appeals process, though there were no formal appeals.

The event fell a little short of the TO’s expectation for player count, so registration was extended for about an extra ten minutes. Because of the small size of the event and the delay, I opted to forgo a player meeting and deliver my opening announcements after seating the players for round 1. There were two decisions (w.r.t. deck checks) I made in giving my announcements:

  1. After having to deal with seven no-name decklists in my last event, I placed additional emphasis on ensuring the players had completely filled out their decklists. This was successful: there were no D/DLP nor (DL) Tardiness penalties and every list had a name.
  2. I had contemplated explaining that we would be testing a new deck check method at this event, but ultimately I declined to keep the length of my speech manageable. Upon reflection, swoops would have been smoother had I included this in my announcements (more on this below).

Interesting happenings:

The event was pretty calm, so Dan and I were able to review each call after the fact. Dan implemented feedback immediately – for instance, we discussed approaching tables on the side of the player making the call. The majority of calls were rules-based. There was only one penalty issued during the event; unsurprisingly, it was Courser of Kruphix.

I noticed a call dragging on (this match had multiple calls successively), so I got involved. NAP was having trouble understanding the non-interaction of Hushwing Gryff and his opponent’s Genesis Hydra (he had allowed the trigger to resolve but wanted to respond and negate the trigger of the Dragonlord Atarka that had been put into play). Dan had delivered the correct ruling, but the player was only satisfied after I had given a more detailed explanation, walking through the triggers and when players could act.

The main issue I had with here was that players in the neighboring matches were trying to weigh in, undermining Dan’s authority and control of the call. At the beginning of the following round, I gave an overview of how and when to deal with observing an issue in a match as a spectator, and that put an end to the kibitzing. Players paid attention to this announcement, stopping some matches and getting me involved after noticing a problem – two of the three were non-problems, with the spectator missing an Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth in play. Thankfully there were no missed trigger heroes.

So it looked like both of my targeted announcements had been received well, making me think that I should have taken the time to announce the deck check trial.

When it came to top 8, there was no discussion among the players regarding prize splitting until the finals. At events closer to the clarification of legal prize splits, I had had players ask me about them. But it seems that players are getting used to the ‘change’.

Discourse on the method:

Going into the event, I wanted to focus on how players reacted to the innovation. Toward that end, I performed the majority of the swoops to hear feedback firsthand. Multiple times I was asked “Can we shuffle anyway? … Just a little bit?”.

This relates to an uncertainty I had with the method: where in pre-game procedures do the players resume? I decided to resume where we had interrupted, so the players immediately passed their decks to their opponents for further randomization. This helped reduce the desire to shuffle further. The other side is that if a judge has just reviewed your deck to rule out shenanigans, there isn’t much of a need for additional randomization.

The main apprehension that players and judges (including some HLJs with whom I’ve spoken) have is that it ‘feels weird’ – the same is true of the Australian technique. I’m curious to see how much of that sentiment is grounded in the status quo: if players can get used to the prize split policy, can they also accept a change in deck checks? There are some more concrete reasons to dislike the method:

  • Accidental judge-induced manipulations of the deck corrupt the process. This can be remedied by having the players shuffle when returning the decks. But if the error goes undetected, this can’t happen. This seems more of a problem with the Australian style, since there you’re culling cards, so an accidental regrouping can occur.
  • During my swoops, I encountered this problem: players putting their decks into their deckboxes would often do so in a manner such that the bottom card would be visible to them. If the players don’t shuffle again, then they’re presenting a non-random deck to their opponent. Given how many players just cut their opponent’s decks, this makes me especially uneasy. But this is something that I could have possibly avoided by explaining the process in my opening announcements (or even as I swooped).
  • Another potential source of problems is that players love to start thumbing through their decks after getting them back for whatever reason (‘Oh my deck is sorted, how neat!’). This seems relatively easy to avoid, and players would be quick to learn to not do this, but it’s something to keep in mind. My approach to avoiding this was after returning the decks, I would place each in front of its owner, but keep my hands atop the deckboxes while I disclosed that we were trying a new method and that they just needed to present their decks.

In terms of efficiency, Dan and I were able to complete the checks and give an average of a six minute extension. That might improve with practice. For comparison, when nothing goes wrong (or plays Pod), I’m usually able to complete a sorted check in four minutes. So the Polish check goes faster (though I think the gains are greater with the Australian method in Limited). This was also true of the mid-round check we attempted – checking the sideboard first is key here.

Overall, it has been my impression that the Polish deck checks pose an improvement over the sort method I currently implement. However, this can only be the case if we can (1) groom player behavior and (2) player expectations, as well as (3) remedy some of the procedural issues. It’s worth it to note that a number of players were also excited by the technique (“Cool!”; “That’s awesome!”) – they get to play Magic sooner (sitting nervously awaiting the results feels bad), and shorter extensions means they’ll less-often be the overtime table surrounded by a crowd of antsy players.

I’m interested to hear others’ experiences implementing the Polish or Australian methods, in particular what obstacles they encountered and how they approached them.

Editor’s note: Please leave your feedback and comments on the JudgeApps forums too!


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