Deck shuffling is a feature of Magic that often goes uncredited for its impact on the game. Many players never realize that the way they shuffle their deck at tournaments can play a significant role in how they do at those tournaments. The following are some guidelines that are helpful to follow when participating in sanctioned tournament play.
It’s easy to discount the actual process of deck shuffling as an afterthought, instead focusing on play ability and deck choice. While these characteristics are naturally important, it’s also very important not to make the mistake of overlooking the necessary skill of shuffling. Shuffling improperly or carelessly can give your opponent a decided advantage throughout the duration of a match.
According to present rules concerning the act of shuffling one’s deck, each player must riffle shuffle their own deck before a game begins at least three times. In addition to a minimum number of shuffles, there is a time limit for the total amount of time spent shuffling: The official shuffling time for sanctioned Magic tournaments is three minutes. This means that before each game, both players have three minutes in which to sufficiently randomize their decks. For the second and third games of a match, the three minutes also include sideboarding.
In case you don’t know,”riffle shuffling” is where you split your deck into two halves and”riffle” the cards together, so that a few cards from either pile stack onto a few cards from the opposite pile until both piles are mixed together. A”Pile Shuffle” is where a player places the top card of his deck in a pile, then places the next card in a separate pile, then the next card in a separate pile, and so on until he feels he has made enough piles to randomize it. At that point, the player takes the top card and places it on the first pile and repeats the process.
Also remember, Wizards has declared that anything more than a single cut of the deck is counted as a shuffle.
Once finished shuffling their own deck, each player is required to present it to their opponent for shuffling, or have a judge shuffle it. There is no rule, however, that says you must wait for your opponent to reach the table before you begin shuffling your deck. Many pros will tell you that the more randomized your deck is, the better your odds of not seeing a bad hand will be, so it’s a good idea to take the minutes before the match begins and shuffle.
At many upper-level tournaments (i.e. Pro Tour Qualifiers and Grand Prixes), there is a significant penalty (usually a game loss) for not having your deck correctly configured at the beginning of the match. If, for instance, you de-sideboarded and accidentally forgot to take one card out, or if you left a card on the table from the previous round, you may face a game loss for an accidental mistake. During the shuffling period, you have a great opportunity to ensure that this doesn’t happen.
To protect yourself from this mistake, it’s a good idea to do a quick check through your sideboard to make sure all fifteen cards are present before you begin shuffling. Then, it’s a good idea to pile shuffle* your deck at least once before moving onto a riffle shuffle. The number of piles you choose to make depends on what you find works well, but shuffling into a divisor of sixty – or the number of cards in your deck, allows you to make sure there are exactly sixty cards in your deck as you pile shuffle. If you make ten piles, each should have six cards in them when you’re finished. If you end on the fifth pile instead of the sixth, then you know there’s something wrong… And you can fix the problem before a penalty needs to be imposed.
After you’ve pile shuffled at least once, riffle shuffle as many times as you can within the three minutes allotted. Don’t be intimidated if your opponent presents his deck to you before you’ve finished shuffling yours. As long as you remain within the three-minute requirement, you’re well within the rules to shuffle as many times as you want. Since it’s possible that you won’t be able to see any type of clock while playing, it’s a good idea to know beforehand approximately how many times you can riffle shuffle a deck in three minutes. To find this out, simply monitor three minutes (using a stopwatch, clock, or whatever is handy) and count the number of times you’re able to shuffle your deck before three minutes is up.
It’s important to remember while shuffling that you not reveal any cards to your opponent or yourself. If you riffle shuffle and shuffle the cards with their bottoms facing your opponent, it’s very easy for the opponent to get a sneak peek at what type of deck you’ll be playing, and adjust his game plan accordingly. Though it’s illegal to gain information in this way, it is a type of cheating that is very difficult to prove – especially since you are partly to blame for the conditions that led to it.
In addition to your opponent not being allowed to see your deck as you shuffle, it’s also illegal for you to be able to see it. Knowing which cards are where in your deck makes it very easy to manipulate your deck in an illegal manner. Though you know you’re not cheating by shuffling in this manner, convincing a judge of this fact after you’ve broken a rule is, again, a difficult case to prove. At Grand Prix: Milwaukee, a number of judges had to take players aside to discuss this with them. Commonly, the problem was that the offending player had shuffled a deck in the air, tilted at an angle to make it easier to slide one half of the deck into the other. It is unlikely any of these individuals planned on gaining any sort of benefit from this method of shuffling… But judges can’t take chances. Make sure that when you shuffle, every card stays face down.
After you’ve shuffled your deck, you must present it to your opponent so that they can shuffle it. This is to prevent someone from stacking their deck… And when your opponent presents his deck to you, you should shuffle it, regardless of whether or not they choose to shuffle yours. At some tournaments, this practice is frowned upon (at a prerelease, for example) – but if you’re at a PTQ, GP, or Junior Super Series, it’s your responsibility to ensure your opponent’s deck is properly randomized once he or she has finished randomizing it.
The final pre-game shuffle occurs when your opponent returns your deck to you. If they shuffled* your deck, you have the right to cut your deck once. Keep in mind that you may only cut your deck; you may only do so one time by splitting the deck into two piles and placing one on top of the other, and you may only do this if your opponent shuffled your deck.
During the game, shuffling after an effect is sometimes required. In this circumstance, you simply need to keep the previous rules in mind while shuffling. Again, you’re required to riffle shuffle three times – and you have to shuffle at a reasonable pace, without using too much of the game clock. If it was your effect that caused the shuffling, present your deck to your opponent and cut once if he chooses to shuffle. If the effect belonged to your opponent, shuffle the deck and return it. Keep all cards face-down, and never take too long.
To ensure you’re proficient at shuffling, it does help to practice. The best time to do so, of course, is when you’re playtesting. The conditions are quite similar to what they will be in a tournament, and you’ve already got everything you need to practice shuffling (read: your hands and your deck). If you find yourself having difficulty shuffling without revealing any cards, it may be a good idea to practice shuffling outside the game, at a different time. If you don’t know how to riffle shuffle, ask someone at your local gaming store, or the next time you’re at a tournament if they would give you some tips.
And if you don’t think you can pull off a shuffle without damaging your cards? Practice on a regular playing deck until your confidence level is built up enough.
Finally, remember to use discretion on when you choose to shuffle your opponent’s decks. Though you have the right to shuffle at any DCI sanctioned tournaments, you might want to be wary of doing so at low-level events where the focus is primarily on having fun, not necessarily competing. Following these tips can help prepare you for tournament play, as well as taking any type of advantage away from your opponent.
Always keep in mind that the most important part of shuffling is all in order to play a game and have fun!