Since I have an event coming up this weekend, I thought I'd cover some common tournament situations and easy ways to avoid having a bad day. These are all drawn from my experience judging events and having conversations with players and other judges. This isn't meant to be a be-all guide to maximizing EV. Rather, my goal is to help players achieve a generally enjoyable tournament experience.
Finish the Decklist Before the Tournament
One of the most common problems I see at events is a player rushing to finish their decklist. I cannot stress this enough: get it done beforehand. Not only does working on the decklist at the event potentially leak information, rushing through the process can lead to silly errors. I've seen a fair number of Decklist Problems awarded Game Losses because a player was in a rush and wrote the wrong card name or quantity. The vast majority of the time, players have their decks figured out at least the night before, so knock out that decklist before bedtime! Decklist.org is a great resource for this if the tournament uses paper decklists.
Take a Look, It's in a Book
I know the Magic Tournament Rules aren't exactly light reading. However, I'd recommend looking over at least Sections 4.1-4.8, which cover most of how players interact with one another. I talked some about 4.2 Shortcuts a few weeks ago.
Section 4.5 Triggered Abilities is also very important:
Players are expected to remember their own triggered abilities; intentionally ignoring one is Cheating. Players are not required to point out the existence of triggered abilities that they do not control, though they may do so if they wish.Magic Tournament Rules
First, this means "Chalice checking" an opponent's Chalice of the Void in hopes that they miss the trigger is 100% legal. There's an entire article about whether or not that's "sporting," but I'll leave that one to someone else.
Second, this means that letting an opponent miss triggers is the only lapse a player can intentionally make. Otherwise, all players should do their best to maintain an accurate game state. Knowingly breaking a rule, or letting an opponent break a rule, to gain an advantage is capital-C Cheating and earns a Disqualification.
Tools of the Trade
Any responsible player has the right accessories for whatever deck they're playing. Make sure to bring dice for those Hardened Scales counters or any necessary tokens for Urza, Lord High Artificer decks. This helps everybody maintain a clear board state, which prevents all kinds of errors. Similarly, every deck cares about life totals, so be sure to have pen and paper (or a Boogie Board or something). If I'm called as a judge to resolve a life total dispute, I'm likely to agree with the person who has things written down over the person using a spindown. Note that at Competitive or Professional Rules Enforcement Level, tracking life with pen and paper is not optional.
Self-Care Is Important
Tournament days sometimes go long. Even smooth events can run 10+ hours a day before the cut to Top 8. Get breakfast on the way in. Bring snacks. Drink water. Fit in a dinner break if at all possible.
Getting enough sleep the night before an event is also hugely important. I'm guilty of not following this advice. It turns out that staying up till 3:00 AM playing Commander with friends I haven't seen in months is very fun. But it will hammer your tournament performance.
Deck-Care Is Important, Too
Like Decklist Problems mentioned earlier, Deck Problems are both common and avoidable. Keep any cards that aren't specifically part of the main deck and sideboard in another deckbox. Promos handed out as part of the event, double-faced cards (DFCs) of cards in your deck, or damaged cards that were proxied are the only other cards that can be in the deckbox. Also, keep track of cards! Make sure to collect any auras enchanting opponents' permanents or that they gained control of. Check the area before leaving a table to ensure all cards are accounted for.
Marked Cards penalties start as a Warning but can upgrade to a Game Loss. Luckily, most problems leading to a Marked Cards penalty can be avoided by having good sleeves. Even the best brands still suffer regular wear and tear, so it's generally a good idea to check everything out before leaving the house. Replace any torn or otherwise damage sleeves ahead of time and skip the headache later. Bring extra sleeves, ideally from the same box. Dragon Shields come in boxes of 100 with a few extras, enough for your main deck, sideboard, and several accidents. Sleeves' corners bend unevenly depending on shuffling technique, and sufficiently bad bends can render cards marked.
For decks with any double-faced cards like Delver of Secrets // Insectile Aberration, pick up some checklist cards. While sleeves might look opaque at home, they may be a bit translucent under different lights. If I can see the back of a double-faced card through sleeves, I'll almost always upgrade to Game Loss.
Ask the head judge to approve any altered cards before the event starts. I know, I know - with all the Secret Lairs and weird card treatments, defining what "looks like" a real Magic card gets harder and harder. Still, until the altered card policy changes, we have a few points to abide by. The art can't obscure the card's name or mana cost, the card still has to be recognizable as itself, and the art can't contain any strategic advice.
For example, I wouldn't allow this Blood Moon alter from Reddit user /u/bufonia1 because it's not immediately identifiable from across the table. This Mayael the Anima alter from /u/lemondrop_4 is fine, though, since the card is definitely still Mayael.
With these handy dandy tips, have fun cruising to the next GP Top 8!*
*This is not a guarantee. I am not legally responsible for tournament results.
Next week, we'll wrap up the layers series, covering color-changing, ability-altering, and power- and/or toughness-changing effects. In the meantime, feel free to reach out on Twitter or our Insider Discord with any questions.
Question of the week: What's the pack 1 pick 1 breakfast for the morning of a tournament?