FINAL JUDGEMENT: Survival Of The Smartest, Part I

StarCityCCG’s lovely and talented editor (and my dear friend since 1958) has asked me to write a Judge column. He even dreamt up a catchy name for it (although I dropped that icky "The"). The idea is for ME, who knows lots of stuff about the rules, to educate YOU, who hear "The Stack" and…

StarCityCCG’s lovely and talented editor (and my dear friend since 1958) has asked me to write a Judge column. He even dreamt up a catchy name for it (although I dropped that icky "The"). The idea is for ME, who knows lots of stuff about the rules, to educate YOU, who hear "The Stack" and think IHOP. If you want detailed Judge reports and concise technical articles about the game, read my stuff on the WotC Judge Certification page. But if you want to actually stay awake while you’re reading, read "Final Judgement".

As I said, the idea is for me to stuff little tidbits of knowledge into your already-overburdened noodle. I’m sure there’s some room left between your locker combination and the listing of Jenna Jameson pages. Before we get off into discussion of arcane rules or card combinations, we’ll talk about tournament survival. Today’s installation is about your opponent.

As a veteran Judge of numerous Pro Tours, Grand Prixs, National Championships and the like, I’ve seen Magic players try nearly everything. Unfortunately, the weasels aren’t limited to just the Premier Tournament scene. They’re skulking around your local tournaments and PTQs as well. In order for you to survive any tournament, you must know what they’re likely to pull. In the event that you run into a polite, sporting and literate player, congratulate him – he’s truly in the minority. Here are some of the cheap tricks you’ll see.

Drawing Extra Cards:
Your opponent will simply grab two cards when drawing. If he seems to have too much stuff in play or cards in hand, count everything together. Unless card-drawing effects were used, the combined hand, graveyard and in-play permanents of the player who played first should be exactly 1 less than the player who drew first (assuming an equal number of turns). If not, something is amiss. Call a Judge.

A player’s deck must be randomized. Pile shuffling is legal. Mana weaving – pile shuffling by repeatedly stacking one land card, then two non-land cards – is not. If your opponent does this, you can remind him that it’s illegal and then shuffle his deck thoroughly… or simply call the Judge. Sometimes, players will try to put two important pieces of a combo together; even shuffling won’t get these two cards apart. The bottom line is that anything other than randomly placing cards into the deck is illegal. Call a Judge.

Playing Fast (And Encouraging You to Play Fast):
The faster you play, the more mistakes you’ll make. Experienced players take advantage of newer players by goading them into playing faster than is reasonable. Play steadily enough to keep the game flowing, but not so fast as to make blunders. When time is running out, players (especially those behind in the match) will try to convince you to speed up. Don’t alter your pace of play just because it’s late in the match; he’s just hoping you’ll screw up.

Underpaying Mana:
You’ll see this in two forms, both of which count on you not paying attention. The first is when a player is playing fast: He’ll just tap three for a four-mana cost spell. The second is when a player is playing a combo deck of some kind, or one that casts many spells per turn. He’ll tap a large amount of mana and toss three spells on the table. Count and make sure he’s spent enough and of the correct color. In either case, let the Judge sort out the details.

Changing the Results Entry Slip:
If you sign the slip then walk away, you’re asking for trouble. Make sure that the Judge is the last person to sign the slip, and that he does it in your presence. Let the Judge then take the slip to the Scorer. Before each round begins, make sure you have the correct number of points. If not, go directly to a Judge.

Convincing You of a Ruling (Always in His Favor):
"Well my local Judge says…" or "No, I read it on the ‘net and it works this way" don’t float. The Judge is the expert, your opponent is not. If you waver, he’ll try the "go ahead and ask the Judge, but we’re running out of time" tactic. Stand firm. Playing with foreign cards is another form of this. It’s okay if you don’t read Portuguese. The Judge will have the exact card text, in English. In all cases, ask the expert.

Subtle Intimidation:
The guy wearing a "Pro Tour Competitor" shirt will name-drop top players or tell you what tournaments he’s won recently. He’ll tell you that he’s already Q’d and will regurgitate the latest "Playa" lingo. If his hair is blue, his name is Hacker. Otherwise, he’s probably just a scrub like you who happened to get lucky at a PTQ.

Inducing a Judge to Give You a Warning:
Experienced players will try this with inexperienced Judges. Your opponent will nitpick something you’ve done, then quote some obscure chapter and verse from the rulebook, adding that "he should get a warning". If your Judge doesn’t give him a penalty for Unsporting Conduct, call the Head Judge.

Stalling can take many forms, such as repeated counting of graveyards and libraries, or thinking over-long about a simple decision. As time winds down, a player ahead in the match will try to stretch out his turn as long as possible. Don’t wait until after the match is over to tell the Judge; by then, it’s far too late.

This isn’t an exhaustive list of the stunts some players will pull, but it’s a start. A good number of Magic players won’t try them. Unfortunately, you have to be on guard for those that will.

And that’s my Final Judgment.

Sheldon Menery