Behave Yourself: On Bad Gaming Habits and Proper Play Etiquette

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After my unspectacular finish in Columbus I found myself playing in a TCG Player sealed side event on day two.

It was there that I battled what was probably the rudest player I had ever played against.

He gave me a “you were dead next turn” after I beat him in game one (with no respect to my five cards in hand nor the fact that I would have played differently had he actually had any shot in that game) and very angrily flicked the match slip at me while giving me a death stare as I signed it.

Sure, my turn one Arbor Elf into turn three Chandra was pretty nuts, but welcome to sealed.

Now, it might be true that I made a called shot that I wanted to “ruin that kid’s day” at the very beginning of the tournament, and it also might be true that I giggled uncontrollably as I shuffled up for our match in round four, but I’m not trying to make myself out to be a hero here.

What I’m getting at is that there is a lot of rudeness going around in the world of competitive Magic and that it would be great for the game as a whole if we all worked harder at respecting our fellow competitors. I’ve frequently heard many players saying that they can’t stand the competitive nature of even an FNM, which is pretty much supposed to be casual Magic with promos.

Below I have compiled a non-exhaustive list of bad behaviors in which I regularly see players engaged. Some of these offenses are more absent-minded than rude, but I believe that all of these behaviors have some negative impact on Magic as a whole.

On Checking Pairings

This section doesn’t really apply to smaller tournaments at all, but it’s something that you’ll see all the time at Grand Prixs and SCG Opens.

Blocking the Pairings Board to Line up Your Pairing

Don't block the pairings board. Don't be a Snorlax.

This one feels like a no-brainer to me, but I always see somebody doing this. A player’s table number is listed about an inch away from their name. There is no reason that you need to use paper or a card to line the two up. All that you’re really accomplishing is making it impossible for people with names after yours to find their tables.

I apologize if there is some manner of visual impairment that makes lining up such objects especially difficult for some portion of the population, but I can match up my pairing from two or so feet away.

Yelling All of Your Friend’s Pairings

Listen, I know that you like your friends a lot. I’m sure that they’re great people and all, but they should have to wait in line just like everybody else. Not to mention that by turning around to call to them you are either taking up more space and preventing somebody else from seeing the board or yelling in somebody’s ear.

Shuffling Etiquette

Riffling Your Opponent’s Deck

Or at least ask first if you really feel the need to. Even if they riffle their own deck, even if their deck is beat to hell because of it, you should still ask.

The reason for this being that there is no actual uniformity to riffle shuffling. Different players' fingers will fall on different places on the deck and apply different levels of pressure. I know multiple players who riffle in such a way that I can always tell which cards are theirs. If you had multiple such players riffle one anothers' decks, then they’d just end up a crumpled mess.

Of course, if you play a limited deck unsleeved then you should be aware that you are giving your opponent an invitation to riffle your deck. There is just no other way to reasonably shuffle unsleeved cards.

Flipping Your Opponent’s Deck Around

I’m not even sure how this one even happens, but it tends to happen to me at least once a tournament. When you pick up your opponent’s deck to shuffle it, you should make sure you put it back facing the same direction as when you picked it up. Honestly, I don’t know what part of shuffling has anything to do with changing the orientation of the deck, so this one is really baffling to me.

Shuffling Your Opponent’s Deck for in Game Shuffle Effects

This one isn’t especially rude, but it just eats time off the clock. If your opponent is a documented cheater then this is acceptable. I can also see doing it at very high level play when both players are otherwise playing at a crisp pace. For the most part, though, a simple cut should do the trick.

Pile Shuffling More than Once and/or Late in the Round

Don't be this guy.

I strongly recommend that everybody familiarizes themselves with this piece by Michael Flores on pile shuffling.

Basically, the point of his post is that pile shuffling is inefficient, not random and only useful in terms of counting a deck. Performing two pile shuffles before one game is a fantastic way to eat clock and will increase the number of unintentional draws you receive overall.

Performing a pile shuffle after a long game is behavior that I would argue borders on stalling, though in most players hands I am willing to admit that it is probably unintentional. Do everybody a favor and share the above Flores post though. It is beneficial on multiple levels.

This is another thing that I don’t think is rude, per se, but it is ungodly boring to watch my opponent pile shuffle while I actually randomize my deck.


Wearing Headphones

Why do people insist on doing this? Even if you don’t have the time of day for your mouth-breathing gorilla of an opponent, there is still going to come a time when the headphones are going to have to come off. Not everything can be communicated nonverbally.

Oh, and you look like a giant tool when you play with your headphones in.

Not Confirming Life Totals

This is something that is especially relevant in eternal formats. People near-constantly miss the life loss from fetchlands and Force of Wills. It takes all of two seconds to confirm life total changes as they happen.

I played against an extremely unpleasant individual piloting Merfolk when last I was in Indianapolis and he would never confirm when I stated life totals aloud. I don’t know if his intention was to tilt me or if he was just otherwise being a curmudgeon, but it made the entire match miserable.

Belittling Your Opponent

This one comes in all shapes and sizes. There is no reason to be ill-tempered with your opponent when they nut you out. It’s not like you’ve never done the same. Take your beating in stride and get on with it.

One of the more bothersome exchanges that I’ve seen happened at the most recent SCG Invitational. Michael Jacob was playing against some kid and the kid wasn’t sure what happened when his Gilded Drake died in response to its trigger. MJ explained that the exchange wouldn’t happen and the kid decided to call a judge. You know, like you’re supposed to.

To this, MJ responded by stating, “I know how Magic works, but whatever.” I couldn’t really believe what I was hearing. The very purpose of having judges is to clear up such questions. And you’re not supposed to trust your opponent in the first place. MJ was attacking his opponent for engaging in exactly the type of behavior that he should be expected to engage in.

Another thing that bothers me is when people accuse their opponents of slow rolling when their opponent clearly just didn't see the play. This happens to everyone. For instance, it takes me significantly longer to pilot a deck filled with tutors than it does for me to pilot one without.

Additionally, sometimes your opponent is just less experienced than you are. Just chill out and give the kid a break. When somebody is actually slow rolling you, it should be obvious.

Pace of Play

Your pace of play isn’t only important to you and your opponent. When you go to time, you cost everybody in the event hall a chunk of their day as well. Fifty minutes should be more than enough time to finish three games the vast majority of the time. If you’re going to bring a deck like lands to an event, then do everybody a favor and make yourself immensely familiar with the deck.

Not Acknowledging When You’re Drawing Dead

I cannot tell you how many games I’ve watched drag on for tens of turns despite one of the players drawing to a no-outer. Most often this happens in limited games at small shops. I know that it sucks, but you should really just be honest about it and scoop when your opponent lands that unbeatable Akroma's Memorial. You’re not going to have any fun playing the game anyway.

I understand that there is some merit to playing unwinnable game ones for a few extra turns to try to see more cards or to try to make your opponent think you have outs, but there is generally no reason to drag out the last game in a match.

Playing Turbofog

Don’t play Turbofog. It’s bad, and if it’s the type of deck that you enjoy playing you should feel bad. You are worse than the guy playing Battle of Wits. At least they can win in turns.

Post Game Etiquette

Not Extending the Hand

I get cut off like this all the time.

It is my firmly held belief that the loser should always extend the hand in order to concede. Even when your opponent’s sealed deck has 15 more rares than yours. Even when your opponent made a thousand more misplays than you did. Just do it. It’s a sign of integrity and it shows that you have respect for the game. I’m not perfect in this regard, but it’s something that I do far more often than not.

And don’t forget to give a good handshake. Limp handshakes and cutting your opponent off are not acceptable.

Showing Your Opponent How You Sideboarded

There is no greater way to dagger your opponent than to show them how wrongly you sideboarded after you beat them. If you lost then it’s perfectly acceptable to ask what you did wrong. Most players mean well when they win and do this, but it really just translates to rub-ins.

Additionally, showing your opponent what you still had in hand (aka, still had all deez) is extremely rude.

Saying GG

Geordie Tait’s “GG” is another piece that I recommend that everybody reads. The simple fact of the matter is that saying “GG” when the Gs were in fact not G, but were, rather B is another form of rub-ins. Geordie covers the intricacies of this very well.


I understand that, no matter how much is written on the topic, bad behavior in the community will persist. That said, I’m of the belief that there is intrinsic value in acting as a respectable human being. Magic is a great game, and acting in ways that cheapen the experience for others is pretty shameful behavior.

Personally, I stew over my own bad behavior just as much as I stew over misplays that I make. I treat each event as one more step towards reducing the instances of both, and I think that Magic would be a lot better if everybody did the same.

-Ryan Overturf

Ryan Overturf

Ryan has been playing Magic since Legions and playing competitively since Lorwyn. While he fancies himself a Legacy specialist, you'll always find him with strong opinions on every constructed format.

View More By Ryan Overturf

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25 thoughts on “Behave Yourself: On Bad Gaming Habits and Proper Play Etiquette

  1. I'd honestly get annoyed when somebody kept asking me to confirm the life totals with each and every minor change. I understand the reasoning why you'd want to do it, but there should be a better way than to keep repeating it each and every time there is a change.

    1. Get annoyed all you want, at Competitive REL and higher, it's in the rules. Players are responsible for tracking and confirming all life total changes.

      From the Magic Tournament Rules (MTR) section 2.13 (Life Totals):

      "A change in a player’s life total should be accompanied by a verbal announcement by that player of the new life

  2. Good article! It's advice everyone should follow. I agree that the competitive side of magic is sometimes unbearable depending on your opponent. Being someone who is 34 and has a job and family and doesn't get to play more than once a month, I tend to irritate opponents when I still win with my slower play and obvious misplays. It's good advice to remember that your opponent may not grind 10 hrs a day on MODO so what seems obvious to one person is a thought process for another.

  3. I really like your articles. That being said I do take some issue with parts of this one. Pile shuffling is done by unlucky players at times to try to not get cards clumped. I used to hate pile shuffling but I had things clump all the time now I table shuffle any game where I had 8 or more lands on the board and don’t have that issue. I do actually shuffle pretty quickly though and intentionally try not to take too long. Playing sports my entire life the hand shake thing is something I understand but that is not or ever should be a requirement. How about players not being an ass about winning also this is a two way street. Good article nice to see this touched on.

    1. Let me ask you this though- do you feel that pile shuffling makes your odds of not getting flooded better?
      If so, then can it really be considered "shuffling"?

      Personally I just riffle and mash my deck around thirty times before a given game. I find that by shuffling extensively I tend to get flooded and screwed less as my deck actually approached a random assortment the more I shuffle, and I find that piling is just the slowest way of approaching this point.

  4. i dont mind sharing sideboard strategies after a match, win or lose. i'm always trying to learn more and thats definitely one of the more difficult aspects of this game, i feel

    1. I agree that it's a good thing to discuss, but much like the approach of "when to gg" I would definitely consider my opponent's temperament before I started the conversation. If my opponent is quiet I just assume that they're not interested in talking and I just talk to my friends about my sideboarding instead.

  5. I would answer your question this way if you shuffle that extensively how are you changing anything. I don’t only pile shuffle for starters and have never once seen someone pile shuffle then offer up their deck I shuffle after the pile and 95% of the time offer my deck up before the other guy shuffling 30 times or whatever… typically I’m waiting.g after shuffling 2 different ways for someone else to be done.

    1. "I would answer your question this way if you shuffle that extensively how are you changing anything."

      I'm going to assume that what you mean by this is that my shuffling takes a lot of time. If I understand you correctly, then this is patently not true. I just timed myself performing 30 mash/riffles- about 4 mashes to ever riffle- and thirty actions took me about 54 seconds.

      Then I timed myself doing a five-pile shuffle. I will grant that I probably have less experience pile shuffling than you do, but the entire process including collecting all the piles took me 30 seconds. However, I can say for certain that I accomplished this MUCH faster than most players.

      Now, if I don't want to get called for insufficient shuffling I'm going to need to do a few mashes/riffles on top of this. If I'm quick, I can possibly accomplish this before the 54 second mark.

      The problem being, that at this point I have done considerably less shuffling than a player who only mashes/riffles. This will lead my deck to flood out/ manascrew a larger percentage of the time.

      My point wasn't only about eating clock, it was also about how inefficient piling is. A well-shuffled deck is the next best thing to a stacked deck with regard to producing good mana distributions.

      It is a myth that piling will distribute your mana any better short of actually stacking your deck.

  6. Call it myth all you want I cant count the games of magic I have played and I get much better results pile then side shuffle or whatever you want to call it the shuffle alone ….chalk that up to me being one in a million but ill stick with what works. Also you may rifle 30 times in 54 seconds but you are definitely faster than most people if so. On top of that I am completely incapable of rifle shuffling despite trying to learn from someone phenomenal at it my thumbs just don't work apparently. Tried since I was like 8. We are on the same page with "not being a Dick" my point is sometimes something works better for some people and if they aren't taking an absurd amount of time then just because they don't do the "norm" that shouldn't be considered bad etiquette.

  7. For the record I think every magic player should read this article because while we may not see exactly eye to eye on shuffling, I think we agree on the fact that people should handle shuffling in general better then a lot of them do. Many players should keep all of the content of this article in mind and new players should read it early on to hopefully avoid issues later. This again is why I love QS, not just how to make money but how to be a "better" player and a better player.

  8. I disagree with several points in this article and especially within the article mentioned by the author. Both authors strive to outline their definition of what they perceive to be proper etiquette yet also create rules that are clearly based on their own opinion of how the game should go.

    For instance, "Not acknowledging when you're drawing dead." I'm sorry, at what point does my opponent get to determine whether I get to continue to play the game? Based on how it inconveniences the opponent? Or better yet, what about my attitude toward any sport to never quit? Yet your perspective states that if I have little to no chance of winning, I should just roll over and die. Your style of play, not mine. Let's not make it a rule or classify it into "etiquette."

    Geordie Trait's classless article attempts to make light of international politics in a way that he is clearly ignorant and subsequently compares the end of a World War to saying "good game." His contention is that "good game" is interpreted in many ways so you shouldn't say it UNLESS it's according to his newly defined rules. Another outrageous concept. Whether the game was a complex match full of interaction and intrigue or it was a complete drubbing, "good game" is a customary salute to the other player acknowledging that you both engaged in a sport for which you have passion and in which involved spirited competition.

    Flipping an opponent's deck when they have black sleeves and you're not sure what way the deck was facing happens often and is a simple mistake. If you have an obvious direction that your cards are facing due to the nature of your sleeves and they become changed then I can understand your point.

    Finally, the argument over pile shuffling is ridiculous. Both parties have their theories and neither can agree with the other. I do agree that excessive time spent shuffling and the resulting time wasted should not be allowed, as in most sports.

    That being said, I agree with the rest of your points completely. Each sport has its rules and etiquette and they should be followed. We live in an age where online anonymity breeds a terrible habit of spewing all sorts of vitriole because there is no accountability. When you're face to face with someone else, that's not acceptable. What is acceptable is to treat another human being with the dignity and respect afforded to any person. Magic isn't any different.

    p.s. I realize that your article is not meant to be a strict definition of player etiquette and is also menat to be humorous. I do get a bit annoyed though when "etiquette" is code for "my opinion of how the game should be played." Awesome job generating conversation. I almost never comment.

    1. For starters, it's clear that you did not interpret drawing dead the way that I implied it. I mean, quite literally, scenarios where you've already busted and more cards can't possibly help you. Scenarios where your only hope is that the dealer pays your 22. This will happen in limited more often than constructed, as limited decks tend to be able to do less than constructed decks, and there tends to be fewer grounds for game rule violations. There is always some nonzero chance that your opponent will punt horribly, but there are some games where to expect as much is the same as wishing that your opponent would get struck by a meteor. If your change is legitimate and your pace is timely, then by all means keep playing. What I specifically discouraged was slowing the entire tournament down, not inconveniencing your opponent.

      I think it's interesting that you call Tait ignorant and claim that he only presents his unique viewpoint and then you choose to ignore the negative history associated with GG. The fact of the matter is that there is a loooooong history of "good game" being used as a condescending rub-in. Now, it's entirely possible that one can say "good game" in good faith, even after a bad game, but is it really fair to say that this behavior is actually a display of respect? I should think not, as respect has nothing to do with following your own principles. Respect for your opponent is all about acting in a way that they would appreciate. Does Tait take the matter to an extreme? Maybe, but if he does then you take it to the opposite extreme.

      I really want to make a gif of my friend Forrest flipping a deck because you really do have to try to change the orientation of a deck.

      I have yet to see anything in support of pile shuffling that I would call "theory", but if you have any such arguments then I would gladly look them over.

      Thank you for your comment.

    2. “GG(s)” is not the English gaming community’s version of “aloha”.
      It means “Our game/match is over and I am satisfied with the way it went down.”

      Even if you say it with utmost sincerity, implying that the game(s) “involved spirited competition” is subjective. Some games of magic are not good games. Some aren’t games at all. It can be hard to see this through winning eyes. You won. I’m sure your opponent doesn’t need confirmation that they played well on their mull to 4 with no lands.

  9. When I saw "drawing dead" I don't mean games that you have an outside shot. I mean games where you are stone cold short of your opponent having a stroke. I suppose it's always possible that your opponent finds a way to get enough game rules violations to get a game loss, but there are plenty of no win scenarios in Magic operating under the assumption that your opponent will not get themselves disqualified. For example, most M13 sealed decks are just cold to Akroma's Memorial if its controller has significant board presence. If you have a Naturalize in your deck then by all means, keep playing, but sometimes you just don't have any answers. When I say drawing dead I mean literally when you have 22 in blackjack and hitting can't do you any good. Sure, sometimes the dealer will pay you by mistake, but within the parameters of the game (not the rules) you can't win.

    I agree that Tait's article was dramatic, but this much is obvious. It just happens that "GG" is a turn of phrase that has a bit of negative history attached to it. I remember one instance when my opponent said the words "I don't think I can possibly lose now" before attacking me for lethal and then saying "good games" afterword. Good as his intentions may have been, his words clashed to an extent. I like the idea of wishing your opponent well at the end of a match, and I usually wish my opponent good luck in the rest of the rounds (which I stop saying when I'm playing on the bubble… awkward), but the point is that one should be careful with the exact words used.

    I really haven't seen anything that I would call a "theory" with regard to pile shuffling, but my thoughts on the matter have already been covered extensively.

    Thank you for your comment.

  10. I'm not sure if this happens often, if I was in the wrong, or if my opponent was being douchey, but some time ago I was playing legacy, and I had just began playing. It was, I think, my 2nd tournament ever, and it was just a local weekly legacy tournament with 40ish people.

    Anyway, my deck was playing cabal therapies, but since I was so new, I was having a really difficult time knowing what to call. So I'm playing against a Painter Stone deck. I had never seen this deck before, and we were on game 2. I played my cabal therapy, and I said 'Painter'. My opponent then responds 'You have to say the full name of the card'. For the life of me I could not remember what the card's full name was. In the end, I ended up having to say something else, and then after him revealing his hand I saw 2 Painter's servants in his hand, so I flashbacked therapy right there and took them anyway.

    I thought that was pretty dickish, but then again, maybe I should know the names of all the cards. The problem actually arises because so many cards have nicknames, or only one word in the card is actually used most of the time (Force, Painter, Stone, Bob, Mystic, Jitte, etc).

    What are your thoughts on this?

    1. Nope, your opponent scummed you. Technically, you are allowed the oracle text of any card you can uniquely identify-

      "The official text of any card is the Oracle text corresponding to the name of the card. Players have the right to
      request access to the official wording of a card only if they can uniquely identify that card, although the card does
      not necessarily have to be identified by name. That request will be honored if logistically possible. Identifying a
      double-faced or flip card by either name on it is acceptable, as long as the ability that requires the name does not
      refer to an object on the battlefield."

      There are all of three Magic cards with "painter" in the name, and only one of which is an artifact. Had you called a judge, I'm sure that your therapy would be checking for Painter's Servant.

  11. When people ask me why I pile shuffle I always give them the same reason, sleeves aren’t perfect. Sometimes they stick, sometimes there’s a lip on the edge, sometimes when you mash/ruffle these cards don’t separate properly. Whether they’re new sleeves or old sleeves, I always do ONE pile shuffle of my own deck, and in competitive, once to my opponent’s deck to count.

    Multiple pile shuffles are indeed superfluous.

  12. I do not agree in scooping before the game is over, ever.

    1) your opponent could misplay around an out he thinks you might have. Maybe he rushes for the kill thinking he needs to race your out. He may have you dead on board to an alpha strike, and doesn’t know you’re holding 3 lands. There are lots of ways that standing your ground can lead to a win.

    2) Every card your opponent plays is more information for you for your next game. Even if it’s the last game, scouting for your team mates isn’t out of the ordinary.

    Having said that though, you should still endeavor to play as briskly as possible. Stalling for a draw is still cheating afterall.

  13. I have no problem with people saying gg or showing their sideboard plans. If I’m not interested in their deck I’ll just give an emphatic, “good for you!” and move on. GG is a standard colloquialism that usually has no bearing on the actual game. Discouraging it is like saying, “Don’t say good luck to your opponent unless you really think they need it.” GG is a common courtesy.

    When it comes to mid game shuffles I’ll often do 2 mash shuffles and hand it back, unless I feel they didn’t properly shuffle. This takes a whole of 5 seconds to do.

    On that same note I’d also add to the etiquette guide that every time you shuffle you always offer your deck to your opponent before your next opportunity to draw. If they haven’t shuffled/cut ask them, even if they declined to cut the previous time. Unless they say something like, I never ever want to touch your deck, it shouldn’t be assumed that this time is the same as last.

    Just my opinion.

  14. My issue with Flores’ article is that he equates randomization with equal distribution which is categorically false.

    It’s just as likely to randomize your deck to put all your lands on the bottom, or all in alphabetical order as any other arrangement. So using his example, you could quite possibly shake the jar of marbles long enough to put all the black ones back on top.

  15. This is a nice article. I know I’m arriving late to the party with this comment.

    I find the blocking the pairings thing to be a bit iffy. It’s annoying to have to wait 10 seconds for someone to move but it’s also annoying to be sitting in the wrong seat when the round starts. I avoid high level events for that reason. Visual processing problems mean I’m probably going to get a game loss because I’m in the wrong seat and therefore not in front of my correct opponent when the round starts if I don’t inconvenience you. So if you see me at a Grand Prix I’m sorry but it’s in my best interest to annoy you. I’d rather not inconvenience you so I rarely attend a Grand Prix where it actually matters and if it does matter I’ll pay extra for separate pairings (which kind of feels discriminatory since I need them but I don’t complain). I’ll pay the cash so people like you aren’t inconvenienced and I don’t end up in the wrong seat.

    Not being able to line things up visually isn’t something that affects gameplay once everyone is seated so I don’t see why it should carry a penalty when finding your opponent.

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