Tournament Error — Deck/Decklist Problem

Lost cards, illegal decklists, failures to desideboard are all common mistakes. Knowing how to fix them properly is indeed very useful, but there’s many branches to follow to apply the rules correctly. Kim Warren and Paul Smith walk you through the reasoning.

The Rule


The Exploration:

Areas of Application

Deck/ Decklist problems cover a number of different issues:

  1. Discrepancies between the deck and the decklist.
  2. The deck and/ or the decklist fail to comply with tournament or format rules, for example by containing an insufficient number of cards, cards which are illegal in the format, more than the legal number of copies of a card, or more than the permitted number of cards in a sideboard.
  3. There is ambiguity in the decklist caused by the use of truncated card names that could apply to more than one card legal in the format.

This leads to a penalty which covers a wide range of issues, including both problems which begin before the tournament (a player turns up with a deck which is illegal in the first instance) and during the tournament (where a player loses a card, forgets to remove sideboard cards, ends up with a card belonging to another player in their deck or forgets to put cards that ended one game in another zone back into their deck before starting the next game).  It is worth noting the fact that registration errors for a limited sealed pool are exempted from this penalty, but that registration errors for a limited draft pool are not. 

Why are Deck/Decklist Problems infractions?

In competitive Magic tournaments, we want players to play with the same deck for the duration of the tournament (or, in the case of a split format tournament, the duration of that format within the tournament). If this infraction did not exist, there would be no reason not to change your deck around as much as you wanted during the course of a tournament. Taking this further, variance is a large part of Magic — and one which tends to cause people a lot of distress. If there were no penalties for failing to abide by deck construction rules, why not build a deck with 10 copies of your win condition, or only 30 cards, to increase the chances of drawing the cards that you want?  Defining this as an infraction is necessary to ensure that all players are playing the same game! 

Understanding the Penalty

Game Losses are a significant penalty and are not handed out for many infractions. The IPG says that “A Game Loss is issued in situations where the procedure to correct the offence takes a significant amount of time that may slow the entire tournament or cause significant disruption to the tournament… It is also used for some infractions that have a higher probability for a player to gain advantage.” When a problem is found with a deck during a game, the fix normally requires a full deck check to identify its extent. It is often quite impractical to do this without disrupting the current game state. In the case that a mistake with a deck or a decklist is found during a routine deck check, the player needs to be fetched and have the mistake, penalty and fix explained to them. Even more time may then be needed in order to find or replace missing cards, for example. This could lead to large time extensions and significant disruption to the tournament. Awarding a Game Loss to the player gets back much of the time that is spent on investigating and correcting the offence. Some of the issues covered by deck/decklist problems give a high potential for a player to gain advantage; having extra sideboard slots, a 5th copy of a key card, or a deck pre-sideboarded for a match are problems which would be very difficult for an opponent to detect, and could give the offending player a significant edge. Of course, if you think that a player has made these ‘mistakes’ intentionally, you should be investigating them for cheating anyway! But the higher level of penalty here provides a major disincentive to players who might seek to gain an edge in this way. At best, they are exchanging possibly winning a game against losing a game. At worst, they end up disqualified. We are already giving players a Game Loss for their deck/ decklist problems; this fact and a desire not to continue penalising players for their errors in every subsequent round is reflected in the additional remedy. In the case of a mismatch between the deck and the decklist, we change the list to match the deck; this latter is more likely to be what a player is intending to play, after all, and forcing them to play according to errors they made when writing out their list could well be tantamount to awarding them a Game Loss in every subsequent round! If the mistake relates to lost cards or a failure to remove sideboard cards from the deck before the first game of the match, we use the decklist as a guide to what the main deck and sideboard should contain, instead. When a player puts an ambiguous name on a decklist, we cannot be sure what card the player intended to play in their deck. This gives a potential for advantage where a player could look at what other people are playing and manipulate the actual contents of their deck in response. By awarding a Game Loss here and then correcting the list to clearly specify the card that the player has in their deck, we balance the potential for advantage without handicapping them going forwards. There is an exception where unique, truncated names are acceptable for storyline characters; this is because most people refer to Planeswalkers and Legendary permanents by just their first names in normal conversation. As a result, it’s easy to forget to add ‘The Last Troll’ when writing ‘Thrun’ on your decklist; because it is clear which card is meant, it seems overly harsh to give a Game Loss here. In the case of planeswalkers, such as Ajani, it’s generally accepted that ‘Ajani’ is a truncated version of the planeswalker’s name, and never of other cards starting with the possessive form such as Ajani’s Chosen. This exemption can’t apply if there are two planeswalkers in the format with the same name — for example, Garruk Relentless and Garruk, Primal Hunter in 2012-2013 Standard. A player needs to start the first game of each match with the deck that they registered. In constructed formats, sideboarding for subsequent games need not be on a one-for-one basis, but the sideboard has to remain at 15 cards at most and the maindeck at 60 cards or more. If the sideboard and the main deck are not kept clearly separated during games, it becomes impossible to tell that these rules are being observed. As we cannot determine whether the deck is legal, a Game Loss is issued and we rectify the situation. On the other hand, losing some or all of a sideboard is already quite a traumatic experience for a player, and with literally no possible potential for advantage to losing sideboard cards, we do not need to penalise this. 

Limited card pools

The penalty specifically highlights the fact that players should not receive a Game Loss for errors that have been made in registering a sealed pool. This is because in most competitive REL limited situations there will be a deck swap, meaning that the player who is ultimately playing with the pool was not the same player who registered it, and should not be held accountable for these errors (even though it would be nice if they checked their pool against their list upon receiving it!). Notably, this exception does not extend to registration errors in a player’s draft pool. While a clear difference is visible between these situations in that the player who drafted a deck is the sole person responsible for registering their pool, awarding a Game Loss in this situation may at first glance seem unduly harsh. However, when we consider that the vast majority of registered drafts happen in very high-level competition such as Pro Tours, Grand Prix Day 2s and Pro Tour Qualifier Top 8s, holding players to a higher level of technical proficiency in these situations is not unreasonable. Additionally, were the sanction in this situation to be a Warning, it opens up a the possibility of players not bothering to register all the cards in their pool if they do not think that there is any chance that they will sideboard them in. This could cause problems further down the line, for example if they decide that they do want to use one of these unregistered cards during a game. This could be avoided by ruling that if a player has not registered a card as part of their pool then it is no longer considered to be in their pool and they will not be allowed to use it in future. Once again, however, this runs the risk of punishing a player repeatedly for one offence; if they managed to fail to register a card in their deck or a key sideboard card, we could effectively be condemning them to further Game Losses in the tournament by removing their access to that card. To better understand why this infraction should merit a Game Loss, we can imagine what would happen in a world where a 41 card draft pool is a Warning, rather than a Game Loss. Imagine that there are two players, one of whom has registered his entire 42 card pool, and the other of which has decided to only register 41 cards. Both these players intentionally add another card to their draft pool. If you deck check both of these players, you find that the first has an extra card added to his pool, and likely end up disqualifying him for cheating. However, the player who only registered 41 cards can claim that he simply forgot to register the last card, and so would get away with a Warning. By giving a Game Loss, we lower the return over investment a player could hope from this cheat, and hopefully discourage players from attempting it. 

Downgrades for errors caught when a player draws their opening hand

If the player, upon drawing an opening hand, discovers a deck problem and calls a judge at that point, the Head Judge may downgrade the penalty, fix the deck, and allow the player to redraw the hand with one fewer card.

In this situation, the error will have been discovered by the player before the game has technically started. At this point, when no game decisions  can possibly have yet been made by either player, there is next to no potential for advantage for the player who has made the error, and it is relatively easy to correct the deck in a timely fashion without having to worry about affecting the game state. The fix itself is also tailored to ensure that any small potential for advantage which could exist from a ‘free mulligan’ is balanced out by effectively forcing a mulligan to one fewer card than they had to start with.More information on this topic can be found in the Improper Drawing at Start of Game article. But why go to all this effort rather than just awarding the Game Loss in the first place? The reason for this can be found in the opening paragraphs of the IPG: ‘Judges should be seen as a benefit to the players, helping to ensure the consistent and fair running of a tournament. Players should be encouraged to use judges as needed, and should not be afraid to call a judge when one is required.’ If a player has, for example, found a sideboard card from a previous match in their hand game one, it would be very hard for their opponent to catch the mistake. We want the player to feel that they can call a judge to get the mistake fixed, rather than deciding not call a judge because they do not want to receive a Game Loss

Waiting to give out deck/deck list penalties

At large tournaments, it is standard practice check the legality of a number of decklists every round, and then to wait until the beginning of the next round to hand out the penalties and correct illegal lists. While it’s increasingly common for large tournaments not to aim towards counting all the lists, the philosophy behind the timing of penalties stays the same. Waiting until the beginning of the next round provides consistency to the tournament. If we were to try to issue penalties as we discovered problems with lists, we would run the risk of finding that some matches were already finished and would have to wait to the next round anyway, that we would cause matches to finish on the spot by issuing a Game Loss to a player who had already lost a game in a match (which would increase feelings of resentment in players), and of having to interrupt games that are in progress. By waiting to the beginning of the next round, we ensure that all players with illegal lists receive the same treatment, and that they still get a chance to win the round in which they got a Game Loss.An exception to this rule would be noticing a player is playing cards illegal for the format. In such cases you might want to check the deck as early as possible (although most likely the opponent will call you if the card ever gets played). 

 Deck/Decklist problems’ key points:

  • Playing a deck that matches the decklist is important to maintain tournament integrity.
  • However, most problems being genuine mistakes, if they have a legal deck, modify the decklist to match the deck as this is what they intended to play.
  • If a player notices himself he presented an illegal deck, fix the problems and downgrade the penalty to a Warning.
  • Do not issue DDL penalties one by one. Treat all those you discovered at the start of the next round.

Kim WarrenPaul SmithUpdates by Daniel Kitachewsky