Tournament Procedures — Lowering priority on Decklists counting

Some of you have certainly noticed that we have been experimenting other ways to handle decklist counting and deck checks at 2013 Grand Prix. The emerged part of the iceberg is that we are not trying anymore to count all decklists by the end of round 1 and focus on decklist sorting, deck checking and floor covering instead.  After some months spent on gathering feedback from the judges involved in these “Deck Check Teams 2.0”, it’s time to officializethis change and answer to all those who wonder why we made it. I guess this blog is the right place to expand over them in depth.


An Event’s priorities

Our top priority: Players

We are running events for players’ enjoyment. Players expect from us that we (in no particular order):

  • Answer rules questions they may have.
  • Guide them through the tournament procedures.
  • Give a fair ruling if they are in a complicated situation.
  • Protect them from Cheating.

In order to achieve this, we need to be available for players, i.e. we need to be on the floor, ready to answer their questions and/or to watch for Slow Play. One of my pretty poor personal experience as a player happened a couple years ago when, during the first round of a PTQ, I asked  a judge if he could stay at my table to watch for Slow Play and he replied: “Sorry I can’t, I’m the only one on the floor, they’re all busy counting decklists”. His answer was all legit: After all, why would he favor me over all the others? But still, that left a bitter taste in my mouth, which became even worse when that match ended in a draw.


The other priority: Judges

When you’ve awoken at 07:00, that it’s a limited event, whose first round starts at 11:30, it means you’re unlikely to be able to take a real break until 13:00. First, I hope you’ve taken a solid breakfast. But even if you did, six hours without a break is really long, and this is even worse if floor coverage is scarce because almost all available judges are frantically counting decklists. Despite being seated, these judges aren’t nearly resting, far from it. And those who run from one table to another to cover the floor as efficiently as possible just lead towards exhaustion. Is that a great situation? Not at all.

Note: These are not the only priorities at an event, but these are the most relevant regarding this change.



What does Decklist Counting achieve?

Protection from Cheats

We require players to submit decklists to make sure they do not modify their decks throughout the day. Indeed, anticipating a tournament’s specific metagame as well as optimally building a Sealed Deck are skills that are tested at a Magic tournament. Following this reasoning, it’s important that players submit a correct decklist in time, and even more as the MIPG indicates as a remedy that if the decklist is illegal, we should modify it to reflect what the player actually plays.

That’s why we used to consider decklist counting so important: Detecting early who did not submit a correct decklist (and therefore who could get an undue advantage from it) was deemed essential to protect the tournament’s integrity.

Then we realized we could think another way: Considering the penalty for this infraction is a Game Loss, is it really a good investment for a player to lose a game in exchange for a couple extra rounds to determine what the last card you should put in your Main Deck or Sideboard is? That’s arguable, but we believe that the Return over Investment is probably too low for players trying to do it on purpose.

Actually, if a player really wanted to do so, why would he submit a 59-card list that will be easily detected by judges at some point in the day? He’d rather submit a legal decklist then adjust his deck and pretend he made a late change in the morning that he forgot to reflect on his decklist (which is why, in such a situation, you really want to talk to this player’s previous opponents to check which card they saw from his deck).


Or Cheating Grounds?

Another undesirable consequence from early counting is that players ended up realizing they could hardly be deckchecked in the early rounds, since Round 1 was traditionally dedicated to counting and Round 2 to distributing penalties.

This means that, as a player, you could just open an Intro Pack to play a damn good Sealed Deck or have 3 different sideboards in Round 1 and 2. Who would notice? You’d need to be very unlucky to have your opponent call a judge to have him to check your decklist. And anyway, because decklist sorting intervened after counting, the judge would most likely tell you he can’t help since decklists aren’t sorted yet.

Once put like that, this sounds like a fail in terms of Cheating prevention, doesn’t it? Based on these two aspects, why should we hurry on counting? Why should we put ourselves under a huge pressure that makes the day fairly worse for players, for us, for the event as a whole and as an indirect consequence for the TO?



The new procedure

That’s why we changed the system, to be applied from October 2013 at Grand Prix.

Let’s first go through a small before/after chart to better realize the changes:


Until September 2013

  1. Collecting (Deck construction)
  2. Counting (R1)
  3. Giving penalties (R2)
  4. Sorting (R2)
  5. Comparing to the list of players to identify missing decklists (R2)
  6. Deck Checking (R3)

Given this structure, do you see better why I stated players believe they can play with Intro Packs or additional SB cards in the first two rounds?

One of the reasons this structure has flaws is that all judges are focused on the same task at a given moment. Therefore, in this system, each of these steps must be performed after the other, otherwise conflicts will arise.


From October 2013

  1. Collect decklists (Deck construction)
  2. Pre-Sort (Deck Construction)
  3. Finish sorting, Check no decklist is missing (R1)
  4. Check decks (from R1)
  5. Count decklists (through the day, from R2)
  6. Give out penalties (through the day)


Sorting in R1 is essential, as it allows to check immediately that we have all decklists. Not submitting a decklist is actually much more abusable than submitting a 59-decklist. Additionally, it’s fairly impossible to efficiently check decks for added cards unless decklists are sorted. That’s why sorting has become priority#1.

Deck checking

If a gross pre-sorting has been done (in piles of 50 decklists for instance), locating decklists should not be too hard, provided you had your players seated alphabetically, and you had them write down their table number on their decklist. Therefore, you can efficiently check quite a few decks as early as Round 1!

Comparing to the list of players

Once everything is sorted, it’s very easy: Check if you have the appropriate number of decklists in the pile. If it’s there, it’s all good and you can proceed to the next pile. If not, one list is missing and you need to identify which one.

 A detailed description on how to perform these actions efficiently is available here.


The goal: Rebalancing efforts

Until now, we were doing everything in the very first hours of an event, up to the point we could say that the event was administratively over in R2, and up to the point we could also say we started caring for players in R2… to give them penalties, before going to get lunch…This new procedure does not really require dedicating more than one team of judges in Round 1, especially as, when it comes to an activity like sorting, too many hands trying to do the same thing end up being counter-productive.This lower need on manpower means that the other teams can be on the floor and/or take a lunch break (remember that in limited, round 1 often starts around 11:15-11:30).

Counting throughout the day

Following the same reasoning, it would be pretty pointless to assign all judges to counting in R2. This wouldn’t achieve anything but would just move the problem. Remember that the top priority is to serve players, and covering the floor efficiently is the best way to achieve this.

Counting all decklists is not mandatory anymore.

Ultimately, the goal now is to count as many decklists as possible. Focusing on counting all decklists is likely to negatively affect either players or judges, or both, especially when the event is understaffed or exceptional circumstances happened. On the contrary, focusing on checking more decks is likely to affect the event positively, as players will notice that we care about cards added to limited formats, cards added to constructed sideboards or pre-sideboarding.

To make sure that floor coverage is efficient and the end of round procedure is optimal, decklist counting is now similar to deck checking and should now be performed between the end of the mid-round deck checks and the moment the clock indicates there are 10 minutes left in the round.

At constructed GPs, remaining uncounted Day 2 players’ decklists should be counted during the first round of Day 2.


Issuing penalties and Handling dropped players

This change in counting also has repercussions in other areas, such as issuing decklist penalties. They should now be given at the beginning of the round following the discovery of the mistake.Of course, finishing counting in round 7 means that several players will have dropped by then. Is that unfair they do not receive a penalty? Not really.Honestly, if that player has already dropped, it also means that he probably didn’t gain a huge advantage from his mistake. And the penalties can still be entered in the software for tracking purposes.


One small step for GPs, a giant leap for Competitive

At the moment, this change has been designed (and tested) for Grand Prix. That’s why you’ve read words such as “teams”, “pre-sorting”, etc. If you forget about the logistical specifics this article mentions, you may notice that the philosophy behind this change also applies at your PTQ, where I believe it’s even more essential to run deck checks and be available for your local shop’s players customers: A player’s first attempt at competitive play is a much higher step than attending a GP when you’ve been to PTQs before.Kevin Desprez