Tournament Procedures — Sorting decklists efficiently


A Deck Checks Team aims at performing Deck Checks. Many of them! All day long! From the very first round to the very last! Did I say “the very first”? Indeed I did!

I hear more and more players saying they could easily bring an Intro Pack for the first 2 rounds of any limited event. Anyway, everybody knows that judges count during R1 and give penalties during R2. I don’t think a judge would like to hear it happened at one of his tournaments.


This article will not deal with the process of checking decks itself, as there is an impressive existing documentation on the subject, part of which is listed at the end of this article.

Instead we’ll focus on the different tasks the deck check team will do during the event and that are not to check decks. This process requires a series of steps which should be performed in an orderly manner to take advantage of the available team resources in the most efficient way and avoid unnecessary delays: In other words, creating an integrated process that makes things smoother.



Why do we check decks?


The answer to this question may seem pretty obvious but it is essential to know it to understand some processes.

The deck check team will focus all through the event on checking decks to preserve the tournament integrity, keeping players from taking advantage of manipulating tournament materials, be it by adding non-listed cards to their decks or not presenting a fully randomized deck.

Note that adding cards is not dedicated to limited as it is possible to add cards to a sideboard in constructed.


Although it would be ideal to check every deck at the beginning of each round, this is virtually impossible. Therefore we check a fair amount of decks each round, aiming at checking 10% of the room over the day.

The tasks of the deck check team are somewhat repetitive:

  • Select some tables randomly;
  • Pull the decklists out;
  • Collect the decks at the selected tables;
  • Check and return the decks.


However, in order to optimize this process, one major step needs to be performed beforehand: Sorting Decklists.

If your decklists are not sorted, finding them can be very messy and either you end up giving a lot of additional time, potentially delaying the tournament, or you can’t check nearly as many decks, potentially damaging the tournament integrity or you can’t check decks nearly as thoroughly, hence potentially missing infractions.

If it may remain doable at smaller events to check decks without a prior decklist sorting, the larger the event is, the more complicated it becomes.


Let’s try to fancy what it would look like at a 2000-player limited Grand Prix. How could we just find one decklist amongst 1999 others? More importantly, how can we find a decklist in Round 1? Let’s look at some methods.





Just like for many other areas of judging, an efficient preparation is the key. What do we need?

  • An adequate work place.
    Clean, large, free of bottles, food or anything that is not about deck checking. Putting signs on these tables helps preventing other judges, player or the event staff from using them for other purposes.
  • An adequate equipment.
    Pens, sharpies, folders to store decklists, Printed alphabet letters/Table number ranges.


Coordinating with the Head Judge


It’s very important that the Deck Checks Team Leader coordinates with the Head Judge, as he is the one who will be giving instructions to players during the Player’s Meeting.

Constructed tournaments – Seat players alphabetically


It’s a good idea to run a Seat All Players rather than a direct R1 pairings. By seating players alphabetically, we just need to collect decklists following table numbers. This gives us the chance to collect all decklists already sorted by name, meaning we don’t waste time sorting them before starting the deck check process.

It’s important that the judges in charge of collecting the sheets understand this process and collect them in order.

This step can unfortunately only be done at constructed events since players at limited events may submit their decklist any time they want


Limited tournaments – Take advantage of table numbers.


Even if we just said the method doesn’t work at limited events, it’s still a good idea to seat players alphabetically. We simply need a small additional step to quicken sorting: Right after the deck swap, before they start deck construction, ask players to write down their table number on their decklist (generally on the upper right corner of the sheet). This simple action really helps out the deck check team because it allows them to easily order the decklists by table number, which will result in having the decklists in alphabetical order.


The instruction to write the table number is crucial for plenty of reasons:

  • We learn to count before we learn to read
  • It’s a lot more instinctive to know which number is higher than another than understanding if a letter sequence goes before or after that another (there are only 10 digits compared to the 26 letters, not mentioning accents and special characters like the german “ß”)
  • Also, it’s much harder for a player to write numbers really badly, while hieroglyphic names are fairly common.
  • Finally, some names aren’t registered properly in the database (Especially the Spanish double last names).

This concept has been created in Japan where the Kanjis can’t be sorted alphabetically and where judges had to look for alternative ways to go. In general, the Japanese culture uses numbers much more than most Western cultures. For instance there are no crosswords in Japan, but they have Sudoku, which uses the same basis but uses numbers.


From now on, we’ll be describing some advanced concepts that we nowadays use at the most challenging events: Limited Grand Prix. This doesn’t mean that some concepts can’t be use in Constructed events. But Limited GPs are by far the most demanding events and the best providers for unreal scenarios.



Integrating processes


There are many tasks to be done by the deck check team and it’s important that they are performed in order so as to avoid doing the same job twice, which is a waste of time.

The main task for the deck check team at the beginning of the tournament is to sort decklists as soon as possible to be able to start checking decks in Round 1.

Checking decks in Round 1 cannot happen unless some steps have been integrated before. Achieving this main objective requires increased coordination within the team



The “integrated” way to go

  • Collect decklists (Deck construction)
  • Pre-Sort (Deck Construction)
  • Finish sorting, Check no decklist are missing (R1)
  • Check decks (from R1)
  • Count decklists (through the day, from R2)
  • Give out penalties (through the day)


The key here is to dedicate a small amount of resource to start pre-sorting while decklists are being collected. The idea is that there is an optimal point in the “efficiency/persons involved” ratio. Without judges, you can’t sort, but with too many judges, they start bumping into each other and become less efficient.

The other key is that you can check decks without having counted the decklist. What you need primarily for a deck check is to know where the decklist is! Which becomes doable of decklists have been sorted before. Finally, you will count that decklist while checking the deck.



Step 1: Pre-sorting


Before we start sorting decklists, it’s important to create a big space where we can pre-sort them. Identify on which table you are going to put the lists as they arrive and prepare pre-sorting:

  • Create piles of 50 decklists maximum. Stick signs that show the table numbers ranges:
    1-24, 25-49, 50-74, 75-99, etc.
    Even if 1-24 is only 48 decklists, it’s very unintuitive two piles after to not sort 50 along with 51.
  • Put a table in front where collecting judges can drop non-sorted decklists
  • Assign two or three judges to sort decklists. This way, as the decklists arrive, these judges may start sorting them to the right pile, looking only at the table number that the players wrote down.

At this time, judges should not care about the names on the sheets or if the decklists from table 23 are below of those of table 7.

When we are done receiving decklists, we’ll be close to have all of them semi-sorted in small piles of 50, ready to be fully sorted.


The key here is that two or three judges were not assigned to collecting but sorting. Combining these two steps, who were originally happening at very different moments, is the perfect example of an integrated process: you’re slightly downgrading one of the two process (in this case assigning less resource on collecting) to drastically improve another (decklists are sorted two hours earlier than before.)



Step 2: Start checking decks, Finalize sorting and Detect missing decklists


Make sure to finish pre-sorting in piles of 50, not throwing too much additional manpower in the process even if you have it, or you will decrease the efficiency of the process (instructions to give to the newly assigned judges, not enough space for them to work efficiently, etc.) and proceed to the next steps:

  • Checking decks
  • Sort decklists entirely
  • Check for missing decklists


What we have now are plenty of 50-decklist piles. It’s time to sort them!



Checking decks


While pre-sorting is getting to an end, send a couple judges to collect decks for the first deck checks. At this moment, players should be reaching their table for R1 and anyway, you can’t really proceed to the next step until pre-sorting is over.

However, it is already possible to start checking some decks since, even if decklists aren’t fully sorted, you can roughly identify their position: it’s one of these 50 or 100 decklists. And you don’t even have to look for the name, since you can get a copy of the posted Seat All Players from the Scorekeeper, which also alphabetized, and which therefore shows you the table number the player was building at.



Sort decklists entirely


This step is very easy and in general one of the quickest. Each member of the team will take a pile of decklists and sort it from lowest (on top) to highest (on the bottom) table number. This step should be a fast one as we’ll again only need use the numbers that the players wrote.

Since we’re likely to have more piles than team members, it’s necessary to make sure the already-sorted piles can be clearly identified.

It’s the team leader’s decision to choose the best method. Adrian likes to simply put the piles face down to indicate they have been taken care of. Kevin, on the other hand, prefers putting a sheet of paper on top indicating the status of the pile.

But this isn’t the only choice. You can also:

  • Tap them
  • Move them to another table (if you have lots of space).

If you use the method I recommend and haven’t started the next step you’ll have every pile of sheets face down and ready to be sorted by piles.



Check for missing decklists


We almost have our decklists sorted.  To finalize it, we just need to check we are not missing any decklists. To make that quicker:

  • Get a copy of the Seal All Players .
    If the SK didn’t save it, get it back from the Pairing Boards or Print the list of players (Print > Players by name in DCI-R)
  • Divide in two or three piles
  • Assign two team members to each pile, checking the physical decklists against the final list of players. This should be very quick as the decklists are fully sorted.

Don’t forget that some “missing” decklists may have been put somewhere else, especially those from the Sleep-in Special or VIP players who may not have built their decks yet (in limited) or those from players who handed them late.

Also, First and Last names may simply have been inverted, so checking in the other pile is worth it.



Keeping decklists sorted is also a routine task that should be performed throughout the day, in order to keep the decklists sorted and make the deck checking process more efficient.


This should be finished by the end of Round 1.




Step 3: Counting


Decklist counting deprioritized


Counting all decklists is not mandatory anymore. All the details on the reasons why this changed are available here.



When to count decklists


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.

To make sure that decklists aren’t counted several times, it’s important to have a paper on the top of each pile indicating if the pile has already been counted or not. So that we do not only count decklists from the early-in-the-alphabet players, it’s important to count random piles.


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


It’s no problem if all deck lists can’t be counted by the end of Day 1.



Dealing with an illegal decklist


If a team member finds an error in a list, this isn’t the moment to waste time analyzing it, just mark what’s the error found (“39 main”, “no lands”, etc) and place it in the specific pile. The Team Leader will double check afterwards anyway: Counting mistakes happen, and it’s better if they’re noticed before going to the player.

If the sheet doesn’t have any errors, indicate it as well: it can be the classic “OK” or “40” or “60” or anything deemed convenient: this will indicate that the list has already been verified and avoids counting the same lists several times.

In Limited, focus should be primarily put on counting Main Deck. Counting Sideboard should not happen unless there are suspicions that there is an issue.


Even if all decklists will not be counted, penalties should still be issued at the beginning of the round following the discovery of the issue.






  • It’s easier to sort small piles than big ones. Dividing our task, in this case all the decklists in small simplified piles, allows to divide the work, to assign different tasks and to have greater control over the tasks. It also quickens the process to pre-sort then sort, even if that feels counter-intuitive.
  • It’s more intuitive to sort numbers than letters. More natural, less different characters to consider (10 vs 26). Numbers are the same almost all around the world or at least easier to learn.
  • Being neat and having order reduces our margin of error to the minimum. Having everything ready and prepared before we start each task will save the time we would otherwise use to think how to do each tasks and will let us do the tasks almost automatically.

If we have a very complicated and big task ahead, that’s the time to think before we act so we can divide it into small steps and following those steps we’ll be able to finish that tasks that in the beginning seemed to be impossible.