Normally in a timed tournament match, when time is called in a round and players play five extra turns, any game in progress becomes a draw, and if both players have the same number of game wins, the match is a draw. In some rare situations, though, the match doesn’t end there. A timed single-elimination match, such as in an 32 player Grand Prix Trial “Grinder” at a Grand Prix, is not allowed to end in a draw. In that case, what’s called the “sudden death” rule is invoked.
First, when time is called, you continue with the usual 5 additional turns, to see if that game ends naturally. Then, if that game would be a draw, you check whether each player has the same number of game wins (usually 1-1). If they don’t, (e.g., it’s 1-0-1), the player with more game wins immediately wins the match. If they have the same number of game wins, you continue to the “sudden death” procedure.
The “sudden death” rule states that, in addition to all the normal win conditions (e.g., milling out your opponent’s library, poison counters, etc.), an additional condition applies: A player who has a lower life total than his or her opponent loses the game. Most of the time, when Sudden Death happens, the game will end on the spot in favor of the player with the higher life total; but if the players have the same life total and the same number of game wins, they continue that game until someone gains or loses even a single point of life! If, somehow, the game currently in extra turns naturally concludes in a draw (e.g., by casting Earthquake to reduce both players to 0 or less life), or the game that went to time ends during additional turns with a player winning and the game score becoming 1-1, then this is the only time a new game starts in extra turns, with the “sudden death” condition applied from the start of the game. (You can sideboard in between “sudden death” games, all the better to swap out those fetchlands or swap in any “gainlands”!)
Lastly, remember that the “sudden death” condition ONLY applies in cases where the match is both single-elimination (e.g., not a Swiss round) and timed (Top 8 matches after Swiss are usually untimed). Otherwise, if the game isn’t done at the end of turns, there’s no comparing life totals — it’s a draw!
Today’s Tournament Tip written by Jen Wong