Blog Fanatic: Deck Lists – The Silent Killer

Thousands of players each year receive game and match losses due to imporper deck registration. In today’s installment of Blog Fanatic, Ben looks at what can go wrong while registering your deck list, and what you can do to avoid losing to your own registration mistakes!

Thank you to everybody for tuning in to the last two weeks of Blog Fanatic! It’s been a pleasure to write for all of you, and I hope that you have enjoyed my columns. I originally started Blog Fanatic as a way to explore the game behind the game. Blog Fanatic was a look at all of the things related to Magic that didn’t involve playing the game itself – the friendships, the rivalries, the travels, the experiences. This is my last Blog Fanatic column for a while but fear not! I will be back again one day in the future with more stories to tell, and more topics to discuss.

I’d like to leave this two-week run with some helpful advice that will potentially keep you from losing unnecessary games. The advice is about deck lists. I don’t mean about building a deck, or discussing a deck online – I mean the physical act of registering a deck list at a tournament. I know it’s not the most exciting subject in the world, but I’ve seen countless players get game and match losses in tournaments because they did not register their decks correctly.

A little background: I’ve probably typed as many deck lists as anyone else in the history of Magic. I spent two years typing up tens of thousands of Constructed and Limited deck lists for Wizards of the Coast, and I currently type up all the 10K and Pro Circuit deck lists for the VS. game for Upper Deck on Metagame.com. In addition, I’m a level 2 DCI judge and I was once a highly competitive player back “in the day”. I’ve become experienced working with deck lists as a player, as a judge, and as someone who does massive database entry. In short, I feel the contents of this article are worthwhile and are informed.

What is a deck list? Many events require that you register the contents of your deck (and sideboard) on a piece of paper, so that the judges may check the contents of your deck should any problems arise in the tournament. They are necessary to ensure the integrity of high level events, since without a physical register of the contents of a player’s deck, that player would be free to swap cards in and out of their deck at will (cheat) and there would be no realistic checks and balances to prevent this sort of fraud. Deck lists are a bit of a pain to fill out (since you have to write down all the cards in your deck), but they are vital for keeping things honest and therefore are a necessary evil.

Constructed Events

Before you even start to fill out your deck list, take the time to organize your cards. I recommend either alphabetizing your entire deck or separating your cards by card type (lands/creatures/spells) and then alphabetizing them. You are allowed to play up to 4 copies of non-basic land cards in your deck, and it is very easy to miss whether you have 2, 3, or 4 copies of a card if your entire deck is jumbled together and in no discernable order. Putting the deck in some sort of order before starting to write down its contents will ensure that all copies of the same card are grouped together (to ensure an accurate count) and that mistakes on the deck list will be easily traceable and therefore correctible.

Okay, so you’ve gotten all your cards in order, and you’ve got a deck list in front of you. The next step is to write your name on top of the deck list registration form! I can’t count how many times I’ve seen people turn in completed deck lists – except they’ve left their own names off, which causes delays in the tournament as the judges have to track down the delinquent player by process of elimination (going through all the other deck lists). Forgetting your own name is also a sign of sloppiness and carelessness, and if you’re being sloppy and careless about registering your deck, you can forget about playing tight that day.

After you’ve ensured your name is on the deck list, begin writing down your cards. Write the quantity of a card, followed by the card’s name. Repeat this process until you’ve written down your entire deck. Use numbers (1, 2, 3, 4) to denote quantity. Do not use hash marks (which have a tendency to be hard to read), do not use words (one, two, three, four) and do not use roman numerals (I, II, III, IV). Using numbers (1, 2, 3, 4) will make your deck list easier to read, will lead to less confusion if you are deck checked by judges, and are universally understood.

Do not abbreviate card names ever! This is not a required step, but it is an important one if you want to ensure you do not cost yourself games and matches! Many judges will accept shortcuts (such as writing COP: Black instead of Circle of Protection: Black), but the extra time it takes for you to write out a complete card name is minimal compared to the amount of time you’d have to dwell about taking shortcuts if they cost you a game of a match. At States last year, we had a player who turned in a White-based control deck with the following cards listed:

4 Akroma

4 Vengeance

4 Dragon, the Good One

While this is an extreme example of laziness through abbreviation, it is a good one. For one, there were several cards that could have been “Akroma” – Akroma, Angel of Wrath, Akroma’s Vengeance, Akroma’s Blessing, Akroma’s Devoted. There’s a tournament legal White card in 8th Edition (from the 2-player starter set, which is legal for Standard play) called Vengeance – and while this player most likely meant he was playing Akroma’s Vengeance, he has the name of another card in its place. Lastly, writing “Dragon, the Good One” instead of Eternal Dragon is just being cute on a place where there’s no need to be cute. What if this player was playing a R/W aggressive deck – would “Dragon, the Good One” be Rorix or Eternal Dragon? While judges can and should use their discretion to determine player intent, it’s best that you not take shortcuts and leave yourself vulnerable to such scrutiny.

Here’s an example of how your deck list should optimally look (the deck here is Joseph Crosby’s 4th place finishing Mirari’s Wake deck list from Southeast US Regionals in 2003).

Joseph Crosby


3 Brushland

3 Forest

8 Island

4 Krosan Verge

3 Lonely Sandbar

3 Plains

3 Skycloud Expanse


3 Exalted Angel


4 Compulsion

3 Counterspell

3 Cunning Wish

3 Deep Analysis

3 Memory Lapse

2 Mirari

2 Mirari’s Wake

3 Moment’s Peace

3 Renewed Faith

4 Wrath of God


1 Chastise

1 Circular Logic

1 Deep Analysis

1 Elephant Ambush

1 Flash of Insight

1 Krosan Reclamation

1 Mirari’s Wake

1 Opportunity

1 Ray of Distortion

1 Ray of Revelation

3 Seedtime

2 Teroh’s Faithful

After you’ve written down the contents of your deck list, recount the number of cards on your deck list sheet. This is a critical step, and this is where most people get their game and match losses for misregistered decks. If you are playing 60 cards, count the cards up one by one until you are ensured that all 60 cards are written down on your deck lists. Not to pick on Ted, but at States two years ago, he left Broodstar off his Affinity deck list and turned in a deck with only 57 cards. This cost him any chance of winning the tournament, and a simple review of his deck list would have revealed this mistake.

One method I use is adding up the total of the cards in the deck on the right side of each card, in parenthesis. Allow me to give an example with Joseph’s deck list again:


3 Brushland (3)

3 Forest (6)

8 Island (14)

4 Krosan Verge (18)

3 Lonely Sandbar (21)

3 Plains (24)

3 Skycloud Expanse (27)


3 Exalted Angel (30)


4 Compulsion (34)

3 Counterspell (37)

3 Cunning Wish (40)

3 Deep Analysis (43)

3 Memory Lapse (46)

2 Mirari (48)

2 Mirari’s Wake (50)

3 Moment’s Peace (53)

3 Renewed Faith (56)

4 Wrath of God (60)


1 Chastise (1)

1 Circular Logic (2)

1 Deep Analysis (3)

1 Elephant Ambush (4)

1 Flash of Insight (5)

1 Krosan Reclamation (6)

1 Mirari’s Wake (7)

1 Opportunity (8)

1 Ray of Distortion (9)

1 Ray of Revelation (10)

3 Seedtime (13)

2 Teroh’s Faithful (15)

Make sure that you are writing these running counts on the opposite side of the card from where the card quantities are written, so as not to confuse the judges. Keeping a running count like this will ensure you are playing the correct number of cards, and will help you identify which cards are missing from your deck should you accidentally forget to write one or more down while initially registering your deck.

Once you’ve ensured you have the proper number of cards on the page, go through your deck a second time and make sure you’ve written down all of the correct card names. There are a lot of cards which have similar sounding names (such as Tendrils of Agony versus Tendrils of Despair) which are easy to confuse if you are not concentrating completely on getting your deck list registered. You may have been play testing several similar-functioning cards for a deck (such as Volcanic Hammer versus Magma Jet versus Shock). This may lead you to write down the wrong card name on instinct – and even though this is an unconscious mistake, it is one I have seen before that will lead to losses. A quick look to compare the card names on your cards to the names listed on your deck list will help avoid this potential problem.

Make sure you do not have the same card written down twice! Chris Pikula once did this in a high profile tournament, and it cost him dearly. It’s easy to write down Myr Enforcer twice when you meant to write Myr Enforcer once and Myr Retriever once. A review of your deck list against your cards will help you avoid making that sort of mistake.

If you’ve got bad handwriting, consider typing up your deck list the night before on your computer and bringing the print out to the tournament. Most tournament organizers will provide official deck registration forms at the tournament site, but they will also allow you to turn in a pre-printed deck list from home instead. If a judge cannot read your handwriting, this can also cause delays in the tournament as the judge has to track you down and interpret your hieroglyphics for him.

If you need to make a change on your deck list, clearly cross out numbers/names of cards and clearly write the new number/name of the card above/next to the original card name. Do not write one number over an old number (for instance, writing a 2 directly over a 3) on a deck list – this will lead to more confusion with the judges, as they will not be able to tell which of the two numbers had been written first. If you have multiple changes that need to be made, start your entire deck list over. It’s not worth to risk of a game loss to have a sloppy deck list that might have incorrect numbers/cards written down due to the last-minute changes you’ve made.

On any deck list in which you need a correction, call a judge over and have that judge initial the changes. Get that judge’s name – it’s important to know who has initialed your deck list in case the change is ever called into question later in the tournament. The judges are there to ensure the tournament is run smoothly and fairly, and they will not mind at all if they are called over to initial a change, and they will not mind at all giving you their name. Never hand in a deck list with cross outs/changes on it without having a judge initial all of these changes. Again, if you have multiple changes to your deck list, please start your deck list over to save yourself heartache and the judges time checking the deck list.

Never, ever, ever let someone else fill out your deck list for you. Never. Seriously, do not ever do this. This is the second biggest cause of deck list game losses past not double checking your deck. Obviously your teammates and/or friends are not out to screw you, but they are susceptible to error. Your deck list is rote and law of the contents of your deck, and is your responsibility and your responsibility alone. If you let someone else fill out your deck list and there is a mistake, you are still held accountable. It is better to take this responsibility into your own hands.

Give your deck list one last look over before you turn it in. Many organizers will not allow you to change your deck registration once you have turned it in to their judges. This is because the judges need to concentrate on making sure all deck lists are legal as soon as possible (as they are turned in) to ensure that illegal deck lists are corrected as early as humanly possible in the tournament. If a judge will not give you your deck list back after you have turned it in, they are not trying to be a dick – it’s that if they do that for you, they have to do that for every player that asks. This might delay the judges from checking the legality of all the decks in the tournament by a full round, and it would force the judges to have to recheck a deck each time it is turned back in.

Limited Events

Most organizers will provide a checklist of all of the cards in a given limited event. Use whole numbers (1, 2, 3, 4) when filling out the quantities of cards in your deck. There are usually two columns on a limited deck registration sheet – “Played” and “Total”. All cards that are not in your main deck are sideboard cards for limited events and should go in the total column. Make absolutely sure that you are registering your cards in the correct column – it once again delays the judges and makes things confusing if you put your sideboard cards in the Played column, or vise versa.

The Limited deck registration sheet usually has a column in the corner to register your basic lands. Make sure you register the basic lands you will be playing – I’ve seen numerous warnings and game losses accumulated because a player did not register their basic lands at all. It’s easy to forget to register your basic lands in, say, a booster draft (where you are given lands as you turn in your registration form) and you cannot rely on a judge to notice that you have forgotten to register your lands as you turn in your registration form (they will try to do so, but it is your responsibility to write down your lands, not theirs).

Make sure that you are registering the correct cards. On most limited deck registration forms, the cards are grouped first by set, then by color, and the alphabetically. Witness the following run of Blue cards from Odyssey:

Cephalid Broker

Cephalid Looter

Cephalid Retainer

Cephalid Scout

Cephalid Shrine

It would be very easy to register the wrong Cephalid card if you are being careless. If you make a mistake, immediately call a judge and have them initial the correction.

Count to make sure you have the correct number of cards on your deck list. For a booster draft, you should have 45 non-basic land cards listed on your deck sheet. For a sealed event (Champions/Betrayers) you should have 45 Champions cards and 30 Betrayers cards (1 tournament deck of Champions minus the 30 basic lands each contains, and 2 booster packs worth of Betrayers). Make sure you have the correct number of each commonality of cards (3 rares/10 uncommons/32 commons in a tournament deck, 1 rare/3 uncommons/11 commons in a booster pack) for the amount of cards you’ve opened.

For many sealed deck events, the organizers will require you to swap decks randomly – this means that the first deck you register is not necessarily the deck you will be playing with. This is to help ensure the integrity of the tournament – it helps to keep people from adding extra cards to their deck. If there is going to be a deck swap, you will need to register one deck, and then get a different deck back that you will play with. In this case, first sort the cards alphabetically by color, and leave them that way (so that whoever receives that deck will easily be able to verify its contents – and hopefully they will do the same for you). Make sure that only ONLY fill out the “Total” column and not the “Played” column. If you accidentally start registering the deck in the “Played” column, call a judge and ask for a replacement deck list.

Once you register the deck and get a second deck back from your deck swap, the first thing you should do (after the judges give you permission to go to deck building) is verify the contents of the deck against the deck registration sheet. Do this before you start building your deck! You want to catch any mistakes that were made by the person who registered your deck as early as possible, so that these mistakes can be corrected. Do not wait until after you build your deck – you might miss some of the cards that were misregistered if you have already started differentiating between deck and sideboard. Also, make sure there are the correct number of cards registered on the sheet, and the correct amount of each commonality of cards. If there are any problems, do not hesitate to call a judge to get the problem corrected.

If you open an anomalous pack (one that has an incorrect number of commons/uncommons/rares), immediately call a judge to have them witness the problem. Depending on the severity of the problem, they may replace the pack entirely (for instance, if you somehow open a booster pack that has a print run error of 11 of the same common in a row in the common slots). Also call a judge if you open any damaged cards – ones that have factory defects such as crimps, bends, tears, or blotches on the back which would cause the card to be marked. The judge will replace the card either with an exact copy of that card, or with a judge-approved proxy. Do not proxy the card yourself! Get a judge to correct the mistake, and have them initial your deck list to indicate there was a mistake in the first place.

Hopefully this column will be helpful to many people. Deck registration errors are entirely avoidable and yet multiple people get game and match losses each tournament due to laziness and a lack of a procedural method for registering their deck. If you take the advice I give you to each tournament, you will be assured of having no worries at all when your deck is chosen for a random deck check during the 6th round of a PTQ. I’ve never sweat when I’ve been deck checked during a crucial moment, because I know that by using these methods, I have double and triple checked the contents of my deck. You do not want to be the person who loses the first game of round 6 while sitting at a 4-1 record because you left Mogg Fanatic off your Red Deck Wins deck list registration. No amount of time registering your deck correctly pre-tournament is too much compared to the long drive home you’ll have kicking yourself over your own sloppy mistake.

Ben can be reached at [email protected].