The Riki Rules – Shuffling Off

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Tuesday, November 4th – As the Monty Python boys taught us, three is the number of minutes thou shalt have to shuffle before each game, no more, possibly less. At the three minute mark you must present your deck. If you delay in presenting your deck after three minutes, you should receive a Slow Play infraction. I say “should” because this is one of those penalties that will almost never be given out.

Let’s talk about shuffling. This article would have been much better three weeks ago, following in the wake of Zac Hill article on the same subject. But if there’s one thing we’ve learned, it’s that I can get sidetracked on weird subjects.

As a Judge, there are three things that concern me regarding a player’s shuffling:

1) How long does it take?
2) Is the deck sufficiently randomized?
3) Is there anything suspicious about the way the player is shuffling?

Time is probably the one aspect of shuffling that players don’t have much knowledge about. Do you know how much time you get to shuffle before each game? Does that time include sideboarding? What about if you mulligan?

As the Monty Python boys taught us, three is the number of minutes thou shalt have to shuffle before each game, no more, possibly less. At the three minute mark you must present your deck. If you delay in presenting your deck after three minutes, you should receive a Slow Play infraction. I say “should” because this is one of those penalties that will almost never be given out. At the beginning of the round, most of the judging staff is busy running one of the following errands: passing out match result slips, doing deck checks, or issuing Tardiness penalties. There really isn’t enough staff to watch for players exceeding the beginning of match time limit. At best, the Judge who is assigned to swoop on a particular table for a deck check can watch to see if that table exceeds the time limit.

As a player, you should call a Judge if your opponent has not presented his or her deck when the round clock strikes 47:00 (or 57:00 for Pro Tours). This only applies to the original presentation of the deck, not any subsequent mulligans. For games 2 and 3 (and possibly beyond), the three minutes includes any sideboarding that goes on. The problem with these games is that there is no easy way to monitor the cut off like 47:00. I think a lot of matches come close, and I’m sure that a few go over the time limit. Try keeping track of the time when your first and second games end at your next tournament and see.

There’s no set time provided for shuffling time on mulligans. What’s certain is that you don’t get another three minutes. I think a good rule of thumb is to follow the same time limit as a midgame search, thirty seconds.

Speaking of searches, those thirty seconds apply to simple searches plus shuffles. This means thirty seconds to search for a land with a Panorama and shuffle the library afterwards. Pretty much anything where you’re finding one single card should be simple. Certainly any land search, even if you are getting two (Kodama’s Reach) or three (Seek the Horizon) lands should just be a matter of looking at your lands in play and figuring out what other lands you need to play all your spells. Finding a creature shouldn’t be much more complicated. You’ll usually have a good idea of what the best creature in your deck is, or if you need a particular ability like a Shriekmaw.

For more complicated searches, you may be allowed more time “at the Judge’s discretion.” What this means is about as ambiguous as what exactly Slow Play is. Do you just multiply thirty seconds by the number of cards being searched for? One minute for Kodama’s Reach doesn’t sound right. Indeed, there is no magic formula, and it is truly the Judge’s discretion to be determined upon each unique search. Kodama’s Reach may be twice as many lands as Rampant Growth, but the fundamental decision you need to make is the same (“What mana do I need to play my spells?”), and in fact, the typical Reach can probably be done in less than thirty seconds as well.

A far more complicated search would be a card like Gifts Ungiven. Four cards, and they all have to be different! For a search like this, it has less to do with the time spent and more about how you spend the time. If you rifle through your deck three times without pulling a single card out, there’s something wrong. The key to executing complicated searches like this in a timely manner is practice. If you are playing a deck with Gifts, practice with it and have some idea of common piles to pull out based on matchups and situations. When I played the Feldman/Hill Tenacious Tron deck, I either went for some kind of land recursion package, a threats package (sometimes with Academy Ruins recursion included), or a Counters and Card Draw package. Having these packages mapped out in my head allowed me to start with a basic plan and then customize it to each game state. If I had to put a number to an acceptable Gifts search, I would put it at one minute, but don’t accept that as canon.

Besides Slow Play, the other infraction that could apply to a shuffling situation is Insufficient Randomization. This might happen when a player rushes to present his deck and fails to give it an adequate shuffle.

A lot of players have bad habits with regards to shuffling. The so-called “mana weave” is the most notorious of these bad habits at the lower levels of Magic. Very briefly, a mana weave is when you separate your deck into two piles, lands and non-lands (or spells), and weave them together, usually in a pattern of land-spell-spell-land-spell-spell.

That, my friends, is a stacked deck. At the very least, the infraction is Insufficient Randomization. Now, you might be confused because you’ve seen people mana weave at tournaments. The thing is, you can stack your deck as much as you want, given that you sufficiently randomize it before presenting it to your opponent.

That’s a Catch-22. Either you present your mana-weaved deck and present an insufficiently randomized deck, or you sufficiently randomize your deck after mana weaving and completely invalidate your mana weaving, so what was the point in mana weaving in the first place?

If your opponent starts a mana weave, don’t stop them. As stated above, it isn’t Insufficient Randomization until they officially present the unrandomized deck. Given your opponent a chance to give the deck a few riffles after the weave. If they present their deck after only a mana weave, then it’s time to get a Judge involved. Doing side shuffles, splitting the deck is half and putting the bottom half on top of the top half, might look impressive, but it really isn’t doing much to change the spell-spell-land ordering of the deck.

Insufficient Randomization isn’t limited to just mana weaving, nor is it just for pre-game shuffling. After a search, complicated and simple, many players will barely shuffle their deck. Take the time to give your deck a thorough shuffle after any instance in which you’ve checked most of the contents.

Finally, as a Judge, when I watch players shuffle their decks I am looking for any visual clues that things are not on the up and up. I’m looking for potential Insufficient Randomization as explained above, and I am watching the players’ eyes. Someone who looks down while shuffling is going to come under some scrutiny. Understanding this, many Pros deliberately look up and away to avoid any suspicion of wrongdoing.

The best method is to shuffle completely flat or parallel to the table. Unfortunately, unless you’re a card dealer, most players perform a very imprecise riffle shuffle where you end up exposing the bottom of your deck at an angle. To compensate for this, some players riffle their deck upside down, so that the exposed “bottom” of the deck does not give any information away. Of course, this just flips the problem around literally as the top of the deck is exposed to you.

If your opponent shuffles with the bottom of their deck exposed to you, you are allowed to look and gather some intel. We’ve been over this territory with regards to Olivier Ruel and the sunglasses. You are allowed to get information from a careless opponent so long as you do not go to “excessive lengths.” Watching your opponent shuffle is far from excessive; it is recommended so that you can watch for any number of shady things that I have outlined today. If they shuffle in a way that allows you to get a look, it is certainly sporting to point it out or to look away, but not doing so isn’t unsporting. But once you take your opponent’s deck into your hands, all bets are off. Any free look you get is going to be a result of your own bad shuffling, and you will be subject to penalties all the way up to Disqualification.

Asking a Judge to shuffle your deck… yes, it is written in the rules that a player can ask a Judge to shuffle a deck. However, this does not mean that we have to honor all such requests. After all, we have things to do, like deck checks and passing out match result slips. It’s not an excuse for you to be lazy. When we get this request, we will ask a very simple question: Why? If you have a valid medical reason like an injury or a handicap, we will be more than happy to help. If you’re just trying to use Judges as free slave labor, we’re going to have some words.

Bonus Shards of Alara Rules Tricks

Another week, another PTQ. This time I got to slide back into my familiar role as Scorekeeper, while Jeff Morrow handled the Head duties. Stalwart Eric Levine joined us, and we became Three Amigos versus 188 players. That was it. For some reason no one else showed up for this one, or more correctly they didn’t show up to Judge. Our six levels of judgeship were matched by three L2s in the playing field (Ryan Reynolds, Peter Manning, and Cody Gates). If Luis hadn’t flown to Berlin early, we would have been outnumbered.

The result was a blur of clever improvisation and cutting of corners – nothing essential, mind you. But when you only have three judges, the mid-round deck check just isn’t happening. Even with Scorekeeping, I spent a lot of time on the floor and got a wide array of interesting calls and questions.

Swerving an Agony Warp is a play that has gotten some recent attention. Obviously if you target two different creatures, it isn’t going to fulfill the Warp’s “single target” requirement. But what happens when you target the same creature with both sides of the Warp? The answer is that you still can’t Swerve it. Even though the spell is only targeting one permanent, it still has two targets. They are in fact the same target, but it is technically targeting that one creature twice.

Another multiple target card that has led to more than a few Judge calls is Soul’s Fire. The spell has two targets, the creature dealing the damage and the creature or player to which you are dealing the damage. Making one target illegal won’t fizzle – err, counter – the spell on resolution. However, a Soul’s Fire with one legal target doesn’t do anything useful. If you make the creature or player you are trying to damage an illegal target through shroud or protection, you won’t damage it. If you remove the source of the damage, Soul’s Fire won’t have anything to reference for the damage. And no, it will not use Last Known Information. Soul’s Fire quite explicitly states “target creature you control in play,” so things couldn’t be clearer.

Although Soul’s Fire itself is Red (subject to chicanery from protection from Red), your creature is the actual source of the damage. If you Soul’s Fire with a Green creature, protection from Green can also thwart your day. Although Soul’s Fire will resolve just fine, the protection will prevent all the damage from your creature.

Also, Soul’s Fire plus deathtouch is some kind of tech.

Speaking of deathtouch, that’s actually the best way to take out an Empyrial Archangel. If anything with deathtouch deals damage to your opponent, it will redirect to the Archangel. The source is still the creature with deathtouch, so that ability will trigger. And yes, it is a triggered ability, something that I had to confirm because they no longer print reminder text for it. I knew this day would come ever since they keyworded it, and I’ve been dreading it. Using Soul’s Fire with a deathtouch creature targeting your opponent will also kill the Archangel.

Devour seems to be giving people trouble. One match in the Top 8 was decided on a poor devour play. Player A had a Rockslide Elemental with 2 counters. Player B played a Caldera Hellion, which would have killed the Elemental… if Player B hadn’t decided to devour a creature. Devour happens “as the creature comes into play” which is a replacement effect, not a triggered ability. At that point, the Elemental’s counter ability triggers. However, it’s not time for it to go on the stack yet. The ability has to wait for just before a player would receive priority to do that. The Hellion continues to go through the motions of coming into play, including triggering its comes into play ability. Now both abilities will try to go on stack at the same time, even though the Elemental’s ability technically triggered first. Going in APNAP order, the Elemental grows before taking three damage.

Next week, I should be home and rested (relatively) from Berlin. Until next time, this is Riki Hayashi telling you to call a judge.

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