The Magic: The Gathering Tournament Player Handbook

Good social etiquette is confusing! That’s why Players’ Champion Jim Davis wants to help you out. If you’re new to tournament Magic and don’t want to shame yourself by acting with dignity or pride, Jim can show you the ropes!


My name is Jim Davis, and if you are reading this article that means you have decided to attend a Magic: the Gathering tournament. I’m here to show you the basics on how to conduct yourselves at a Magic event. You will meet many people over the course of a Magic event, and learning how to properly interact with them will make it easier for you to fit in, to enjoy yourself, and most importantly to do well in the event.

Let’s get started!

Getting To The Event

Packing for an event is important. Make sure you bring pretty much every card you own — you never know when someone is going to want to play Five-Color Canadian Tribal Wars Highlander with you, so it’s important you have your deck on you. However, don’t bother bringing dice or tokens – you can surely borrow those from your opponent or the players around you. Most important of all is to pack all of your stuff into an absolutely monstrous backpack. Not only does this demonstrate your great wealth of cards and accessories, but also it can be instrumental in clearing a path through the crowd that gathers at the pairings boards. One strong sideswipe of a well-stocked backpack can bring down even the sturdiest of Magic players.

Transportation is important too, so make sure you have secured a ride in someone else’s car so you don’t have to drive. Bring headphones so you can avoid conversation in the car and make sure to sleep if you can. Most important of all, make sure to tell the driver that you will pay them for the gas and tolls when the trip is over: if you play your cards right, they will forget all about it and you just got a free ride.

Once You Have Arrived

The most important thing about arriving at an event is the timing. You want to arrive at the precise moment that the event is supposed to start, thereby minimizing your wait time. A perfect arrival sees you signing up for the event as the seatings are being posted. Your wait time will be zero minutes and you can get right into the event… every minute not spent waiting is another minute you could have slept. If the person signing you up pressures you about being late, be sure to fire back with something assertive and condescending like “come on, I got here when I could. What are you, my mother?” Taking an aggressive attitude will stifle further questioning.

Now that you are at the player’s meeting, you can take this time to strike up some conversation about how stupid it is that they haven’t banned Eldrazi Temple yet or whatever the current hot-button issue is. Sure, the players around may look like they don’t want to engage in negative conversation before starting their tournament, but they’re just nervous. Be extra aggressive to help get them out of their shells. Also take this time to fill out your decklist, and be sure you use as many fun shorthand names as possible. “White Anafenza” and “Baby Jace” are some good examples, and remember you get bonus points for creativity.

Sealed Deck Registration

Every once and a while you will find yourself at a Sealed Deck tournament and will be required to register a pool of cards that is not yours to prevent cheating. This is the perfect time to converse with your neighbors and show of your knowledge of the format. You have a lot of time to register your card pool, make sure you use every last minute of it to converse with those around you.

Be sure to tell everyone around you how insane the pool you are opening is and how the person who gets is guaranteed to go undefeated. Mention how there are three copies of the best common in the set, how every rare is on-color, how much you wish you could just keep this pool, and how lucky the person who gets it is. Take the time to essentially build this lucky person’s deck and tell everyone around you how it should be built. Also be sure to bring up what sorts of improbable double-Expedition pool you would need to open to be convinced to drop from the event.

Most important of all is to let everyone within earshot know how below-expectation you run in Sealed Deck events. While the pool you are opening is obviously the best pool to ever see print, the pool you are going to end up with is going to be unplayable trash. Being born unlucky is a curse and you have a right to tell every person around you all about it.

The Pregame

How a player handles themselves before a game starts is very important. When approaching your seat, always try to approach from behind your opponent so you can get a peek of what they are playing. If this doesn’t work, try asking your opponent what they’ve played against during the day and what they’ve lost to. You know that Eldrazi Ramp has a bad Atarka Red matchup, so if they’ve lost to Atarka Red twice maybe they are on Eldrazi Ramp.

It’s also important to use this time to engage everyone around you in conversation. While you may be getting ready to play a match against one other person, there’s no reason why the whole table can’t discuss how bad the Eldrazi Ramp deck is against Atarka Red. Maybe some other play may even give you a small piece of advice you can use later in the match. You are given nearly an hour for each round and it is great to try and use all of it to both socialize with everyone around you and play your match.

When it’s time to randomly determine who goes first for the match, it is best to use a more fun method than the standard “odd or even” or “high roll” most players use. How about some Cee-Lo, or maybe best two out of three poker dice? Don’t be afraid to be creative. Also be sure to mention that you’ve already lost most of your die rolls today — your opponent will be thankful to know this useful information. Lastly, once someone has won the competition for play or draw and decides to go first, make sure you make a joke about Manaless Dredge and choosing to draw. This sort of humor will make you a favorite at the tables.

Shuffling is of course an important part of the pregame ritual, so make sure you do an extremely thorough job. Pile shuffle your deck at least three times and be sure to do it nice and slow while you engage in the above-mentioned conversation. It is also very important to pile shuffle at least once for each mulligan and make sure those land/non-land clumps are separated.

Once The Match Starts

When the pregame banter dies down, dice have been rolled many times and it’s time to finally finish shuffling and play, there are some important things you must know.

How you should spend your time on your turn seems fairly obvious: you will play your lands and your spells and do whatever it is that your deck does. Once it is your opponent’s turn, though, that’s when you get to take a break and relax. Feel free to zone out and use this for a little “Me Time.” Playing tournament Magic can be stressful, and it’s wonderful to have time built into the game for you to recharge. If you find this difficult and still can’t help but pay attention during your opponent’s turns, be sure to at least find the time to ask them questions about the game state that are not immediately relevant. A well timed “how many cards in hand?” when you are tapped out and your opponent is deep in thought can work wonders.

Dealing with judges is also a major concern for most tournament players, and occasionally your opponents will have the audacity to call one over when you make an honest mistake like drawing too many cards or casting a spell without the proper mana to cast it. The first thing you should do when your opponent suggests that a judge should be called is to say something like “really… it’s gonna be like that?” Show them your displeasure at not being able to solve the situation between the two of you, and if they insist on involving a judge don’t be afraid to get indignant. Calling a judge is very disrespectful to you as a player and everyone knows judges are mostly just there for show anyway.

If your opponent continues to insist upon calling a judge, it’s time to take some more direct action. Look them straight in the eye and loudly proclaim, “I am a judge!” It is very important to do this with a distinct air of authority, even if you aren’t actually a judge. If this works as intended, they will feel very stupid and will simmer down and accept your ruling on the situation.

While it can be frustrating when an opponent tries to call a judge on you, never be afraid to call a judge on your opponent for any reason. Judges exist to give out game losses to your opponents, and if you can trap your opponent into saying the wrong thing or getting snared in a technicality you can win just about any matchup. Remember, Magic is tough. Free wins are hard to come by, but every judge call you make has a chance to make a free win dream come true.


The most imperative thing you can do in a game of Magic is to practice good showmanship. While it’s nice to win and finish matches in a timely fashion, it’s much more important to look cool while you are playing. Aside from looking cool, good showmanship has the bonus benefit of helping you assert dominance over your opponents. How can you achieve this? There are a number of great ways.

Flicking the cards in your hand as fast and aggressively as possible is a sure-fire way to let your opponent know you mean business. The speed with which you can flick your cards is important, but even more important is making the flicks be as loud as possible. A good, loud flicking rhythm can really get into your opponent’s head and throw off their thinking.

A sidebar to this is making sure you handle your cards in a dramatic and exciting fashion. Don’t just draw your card for the turn, take it off your deck, place it face down in front of you, and very slowly peel it back to really build up the suspense. Be sure to do this for every draw step for maximum effect. When you are untapping your lands or tapping your creatures to attack, make sure you do so in showy and dramatic fashion. Nobody wants to see a Magic player be efficient, they want to see flair and dramatics.

To help to assert your dominance at the table, be sure to be as physically aggressive as possible. Whenever you have a chance to shuffle your opponent’s deck, be sure to shuffle it as harshly as possible. You can really enjoy watching your opponent wince as you manhandle their expensive cards, and if they ask you to be gentle say something along the lines of “sorry, judges tell me I have to shuffle my opponents’ decks.” It’s also important to grab your opponents’ cards at any possible opportunity. If you Fiery Impulse your opponent’s Mantis Rider, don’t wait for them to respond, just pick up their card and throw it at their graveyard. These sorts of actions will have your opponents afraid of you in no time and you can use that fear to your advantage.

The last and most important part of showmanship is the perfectly-executed “slow roll.” Magic is a very difficult and complicated game, and very often a game will come down to a dramatically-close finish at the end. If you have the kill and know the drama is about to end, don’t spoil the ending. Take your time, hem and haw, and then finally when your opponent is on the verge of calling a judge for slow play make your game-winning play in dramatic fashion. Your opponent will respect you for your showmanship and appreciate you taking the time to make it feel like the game was close for them.

What To Do If You Lose

The unfortunate reality of any game is that one player has to lose, but handling yourself in defeat is one of the places you can show your true character as both a Magic player and a person.

The most important word when dealing with a loss is the world “if.” Be sure to use the word “if” liberally when discussing your loss with your opponent, even if they don’t seem like they want to discuss it. It is of paramount importance that they understand if you had just drawn your sideboard card that you would have won easily. “If” can cover pretty much any circumstance in any game and can absolutely absolve you of any responsibility for the loss. For example, you can say things like: “If I hadn’t mulliganed to five I probably would have had enough cards to win” or “If you hadn’t drawn Siege Rhino at the end there I could have won.” A creative player can come up with a near-infinite number of reasons to have lost a match and by doing so remove all responsibility for the loss.

Of course, some opponents just won’t understand. They will insist on saying something friendly like “good game” when the match is complete. Make sure to explain to them how it wasn’t a good game at all and go into all the details about why it wasn’t a good game. It is very rude for a winner to say that the game was good and they should understand the pain you are going through as the loser of the match.

If they are still insistent in being friendly when the match is over, make sure you let them know that the matchup you just played is usually 80/20 in your favor and they must have gotten very lucky to win. If they are playing a deck that isn’t Tier One, make sure you mock their deck choice as “unplayable garbage.” If they are playing a Tier One deck then you can tell them how awfully they played and mention a spot in the game where they played suboptimally.

In the rare case that your opponent was playing a Tier One deck well, did not get lucky or have good draws, and you did not mulligan at all or have bad draws, you can try filling out the match slip wrong and hoping they sign it and don’t notice. Just because they are good at Magic doesn’t mean that they are good at paying attention, and you might just be able to steal a free win on a technicality.

What To Do If You Win

It is easy to be mad when you lose, but more difficult to know what to do when you actually win your match. Again, this is where good showmanship can come in handy.

As soon as you make the winning play, be sure to extend your hand fully and in the direction of your opponent’s face. A handshake is a great way to top off a victory and presenting your hand in such a bold fashion is a great way to make a statement. After your handshake, feel free to show your opponent all these cards you still had left in your hand. It is important for them to know the game actually wasn’t close at all and that while it felt like they were clawing their way back into the game after a mulligan to four they really had no shot.

Empathy is an important tool for any Magic player, so it’s important to fake it when your opponent is very unlucky and has to mulligan to four twice in a match. A disingenuous “sorry about the bad hands” can really make them feel like you care about them losing and create the illusion that you weren’t doing mental fist-pumps while they were shuffling during their mulligans. This will make you a well-liked and respected member of the community who obviously cares for the common player.

Even more important than letting your opponent know how badly they were beaten or being empathetic in the face of bad luck is to make sure you bring to light any troubles you may have had on your path to victory. Sure, you may have topdecked that Atarka’s Command to steal the game when they were at three life, but didn’t they see how many turns went by without your drawing a second land? It’s important to let your opponents know about the problems you are having during and after a game even if you win, otherwise they may end up forgotten.

The Postgame

Magic is a game of stories.

Once you have finished your match it is important to find as many people as possible to tell all about how your opponent drew running Lightning Bolts to beat you in an unlosable game. These are the stories that make Magic great, and you have only a limited amount of time between rounds to tell them. Try to make a game out of it and see how many people you can tell your bad beat story to before the next round is posted. This is a civic duty of all Magic players and must be taken very seriously. Just be sure to leave out the part about how a poorly-sequenced couple of turns gave your opponent the one-turn window to draw that Lightning Bolt, nobody wants to hear about that.

On the off chance that you are doing well in the tournament, it is also very important to let as many people know as possible. Of course it would be tasteless to just walk around blurting out that you were undefeated to every person that passes by, so instead try this more subtle approach. When you make eye contact with a player, ask them what their record is. You don’t need to pay attention to the response, but afterwards their natural instinct will be to ask you how you are doing. Then you may give them a smirk and proudly proclaim “3-0.” This is your moment, enjoy it.

Sometimes the time will come when you are no longer in the tournament. Once you have exhausted your ability to complain to every person possible about the bad fortune that saw you exit the event early, it can be fun to spectate some matches of Magic. While watching a match, don’t be shy about doing your best impression of Cedric Phillips and providing some commentary on the match. You never know when you are going to get the call to start doing coverage, so it’s best to practice your chops now.

Outside of the event itself there are many players gathered to do side events and trade. However, the players at the tables designated for trading are usually trade sharks that are looking to take you for all you are worth. Instead of staying in this area, try wandering around the tournament area instead. If someone makes eye contact with you, that is an open invitation to ask them if they would like to trade. Typically the players without backpacks or obvious binders are they best targets, as they probably know the least about what the fair market value for cards is. It is important to build the proper binder for trading at events, so make sure you fill it with a bunch of low-value rares that you can try and trade for Revised dual lands.

It’s All About You

In the end, your experience at a Magic event is really only about you. There may be a lot of people in the room, but only one really matters.

I hope you found this article informative, and should you ever doubt yourself when it comes to your conduct at a Magic: the Gathering event just remember this. You graduated from grade school and you don’t need to take crap from anybody.

Welcome to the Magic family!

Challenge Thursdays

The inaugural Challenge Thursday was a great success.

The winner of the first-ever Challenge Thursday was @dsreed112 with his “Modern Zombie deck” challenge. I was up to the task and was able to go 3-2 in a Magic Online League with the deck.

This week we have five new options:

Once again the poll will end at 6:00pm EST, which will give me one hour to construct my deck. Then you can tune in at 7:00pm for the start of the stream. I will be playing an entire League with the challenge deck, then tweaking it a bit and playing another League right after.

How many wins can I get? Cast your vote and tune in to my stream at 7:00 to see how it goes!