I’ve been holding out on you guys.
I’ve actually had a decent article covering some important tournament fundamentals in me for a long time now – and I haven’t shared it with you. Before you curse at me, I assure you that I have a very good reason for my holdout: I have only ever played in one DCI- sanctioned tournament – and that was nine years ago.
Obviously, my experience was less than stellar.
I want to relate my experience to you here and now because, from what I’ve been reading around the ‘net, the negative stuff I encountered long ago is still running rampant on the tourney scene today (though mostly at the lower levels of the scene). By sharing my story I think some of you will be able to identify with me as I put into words the nastiness, arrogance, poor sportsmanship and generally bad atmosphere that exists at many of these events. Also, I will provide a few pointers along the way that will hopefully help you improve your game and turn your tournament into a positive experience.
As with all good stories, some background information is in order. I started playing Magic right at the end of The Dark, and I quickly took to the Type I scene in small-town Northern California (Arcata/Eureka). I had many friends who played both casual and competitive formats, and I was one of the most consistent high finishers in the few tournaments we had up there. Now, our tournaments – though competitive – were, shall we say, extremely casual. Take-backs were allowed; people would watch and give tips; entire decks would be changed mid-match, and so forth. The level of friendliness was very high, and everyone wanted to help others and get more people into the game. All of this happened before Type II was even a format and what few tourney rules there were only referred to what you could and could not put into your decks. There were no real judges to speak of; if you had a question, you just asked the player with the highest skill level and his word was gold.
Now, cut from small-town NoCal ’95 to big-city Houston, Texas ’96. I had just moved to Houston to attend graduate school, and I managed to find a store that held those new-fangled Type II tournaments downtown at the intersection of Greenbriar and Sheppard. So one Friday night I pull up in front of the store in my beat-up ’79 Camaro sporting California plates, wearing a Grateful Dead tie-died T-shirt and long hair, and smelling of… grasslands (from burning incense in my car…I had no AC! I had to carry a gallon of water, a towel, and an extra shirt everywhere I went!). As I grab my pack out of the back, I look in the window and see a bunch of guys staring at my car and me and looking at each other in disbelief.
Well, let me foreshadow a bit here wit’ y’all that that was one group of good old boys I was obviously not going to get in tight with. Not that I would be missing much…
I walk in, register with the DCI, get my free “M” Swamp, sign up for the tourney at the front desk, and walk into the side room. There were at least thirty to forty guys in there, all sitting at the tables and yakking away with their neighbors while fixing up their decks or carrying out trades. I grabbed one of the last open chairs and pulled out my trade binder (as I’ve discovered there is no faster way to make friends in a new environment – usually) and I started walking down the table, looking at what people had out when some large dude wearing a baseball cap backwards (an Oilers cap! I wouldn’t have advertised either) came up to me and yelled in my ear:
“Hey! No scoping out decks before the tournament! Sit down and wait or I’ll run you out of here!”
Hi, nice to meet you, too. And oh by the way, “What the hell did I do wrong?” I asked him, nicely. It turns out at that time it was illegal to “spy” on the opposition during a tournament – a rule that has since been changed, but by God it stood that day. Wish I’d known the rule ahead of time – and that wasn’t the first time that day I’d wish I’d known the rules…which leads to tip #1 for you newbie tourney players:
Before playing in any tournament, be sure you have read and are familiar with tournament floor rules.
This was easier said than done at the time, as I had no idea where to find such rules. I had a basic grasp on what you could put into a Type II deck from reading The Duelist, but complete floor rules? Today, you can simply go to Wizards.com and find what you need with a few clicks. That option didn’t exist back then – but it does now, and I advise you know them like the back of your hand (or the front, if you’re single).
So anyway, I’m there for one minute and I’m already being called out for “spying,” though all I was really doing was seeing what people had out for trade. No matter, I decided to just start building a sideboard for my deck. I pull out my R/G deck capable of churning out second-turn Orggs and Goblin Mutants and finishing with Stormbind (okay it was a bad deck – especially in the midst of Necro summer – but I was proud of it!) and started grabbing Flashfires and Tsunamis when Mr. Big Bad Judge comes up to me, looking all incredulous, and says: “I oughtta just throw you out on your ass right now! Building a sideboard after looking at everyone’s decks?”
He huffs a of couple times, then tells me: “I’m gonna be watching you. Better not pull any more stupid stuff, or you’re gone!”
Well, let me tell you, if I had really been spying on my opponents I wouldn’t have been wasting time with Flashfires and Tsunamis. Turns out that almost everyone there was playing Swamps – which leads in to tip #2:
Before playing in a tournament at a new venue, if possible you should play there before the event to get an idea of the kind of environment you may encounter.
Obviously this approach won’t really work for big tournaments like Regionals, but for small-time stuff like Friday Night Magic it can be a big help. On to tip #3:
When attending your first tournament at a new venue (or your first tournament, period), you may wish to simply watch and see how tournaments are run at that particular store before participating.
Some stores are much looser with the rules than others and the judging quality varies greatly from place to place. I apparently found the tightest-ass store in all of Houston, and I could have benefited significantly from my own observations had I just sat and watched the game play that night. I probably would have decided to find another place to play – and who knows? Maybe I’d still be playing tournaments today. Sadly, I didn’t…and I’m not. So before I forget, tip #4:
Have your deck and sideboard all sleeved and ready to go before you leave for the tournament.
Now, sometimes you might not have all the cards you want before leaving for the tourney and you might be planning on picking them up at the site; that’s okay, as long as you know exactly what you need and are reasonably certain you can get what you need quickly. As far as sleeves are concerned, at the time of this tournament the only sleeves I had were those crappy clear plastic ones that were used for baseball cards. Almost everyone at the site had some of those new-fangled “Dragon Sleeves” on their decks, and I wish I had put the money down for some before the tournament started (consider this foreshadowing…).
A tip on sleeves:
Use fresh sleeves before every tournament, and check them after every match to make sure none are bent, torn, or otherwise marked.
I finally got my deck and sideboard all put together when the first pairings went up (after being warned to put all my extra cards away by the guy sitting next to me). I drew some big guy who looked like a cross between Jon Becker and Ben Bleiweiss (hey Ben, were you in Houston circa ’96?). He had a five-day scruff going and wore a denim baseball cap with the curved brim pulled almost over his eyes, and the way he sat it was really hard to see his face. I walked up to him, put my deck down on the table, said “hi” and offered my hand in greeting…
…and he grunted, asked if I’m presenting, and grabbed and shuffled my deck -all without looking at me once!
I stood there nonplussed, wondering if that grunt was his greeting or merely acid reflux (if you’re gonna greet someone with a grunt, at least put some diaphragm into it so they know you mean it) and then I went nearly ballistic when he started shuffling my deck! I had never, ever heard of anyone doing that before this tournament and I immediately called the Big Bad Judge over. Bad move: he cautioned me for “being disruptive.”
At this point, I asked him if he could show me where in the rules all this stuff was and if I could have a copy of them to read myself, and he looked at me like I was some kind of moron, shook his head, pointed to his dome and said, “It’s all up here, idiot.”
The guys around us burst out laughing. One guy goes: “Hey judge, recite the part about DQs and banning!” This was followed with more howls of truly derisive laughter.
Welcome to the big city, country boy.
In order that the human race might be saved, I plead with you, no – beg of you – that you follow this advice not just in your Magic dealings, but in your everyday life as well:
Be civil towards your opponents, and always show good sportsmanship.
There is no bigger rule, in my book – and it is the lack of good sports in Magic that has kept me out of the tournament scene.
So dude shuffles my deck and makes some snide remark about not having sleeves, when I grab his deck and start shuffling. He looked me in the eye then, all right – and he gave me one of the most hate-filled glares I have ever encountered. Still, I advise all of you:
Always shuffle your opponent’s deck before games.
This prevents people from getting away with stacking their deck, among other things.
We roll a die to see who goes first, and he wins. We draw seven and we both keep, though I only had one land (at the time you could only mulligan if you drew no lands). He starts off with Swamp/Dark Ritual/Dark Ritual/Hymn to Tourach/Hypnotic Specter, knocking a Lightning Bolt and Orcish Lumberjack out of my hand.
I draw and before I even play my forest, he asks, in a harsh, demeaning tone: “Are you done yet?” Startled and without thinking, I said, “yeah” – and he quickly untaps and draws when I say “Wait – I was going to play a land and cast something.”
He says, “too late, pal, you said ‘done’ and I drew.”
I called the judge over and told him what happened, and he asked me: “Did you say you were done?” I replied, “yeah, but…” and before I could finish, he shouted, “I can’t believe you bothered me! Quit wasting my time or I’ll kick you out so fast your head will spin!”
Needless to say, I was nonplussed. Tip:
Never allow anyone to pressure you to pass priority until you are sure you are done with your turn. (Though almost any good judge would rule in your favor on this one, especially if you’re new to tournaments – The Ferrett)
I was pretty mad, now. To make things worse the dude hits me with the Specter and grabs my forest, and then plays a Swamp and Hymns me again, grabbing my Tinder Wall and Orgg. I drew a Mountain and played another Orcish Lumberjack. He untaps and draws, then animates my Orgg and that’s basically the game…
Except he looks at my mountain and my forest in the ‘yard, notices something and calls the judge over. “Hey judge, look at his lands. They look marked!” Sure enough, all the lands in my deck are beat-up betas and the other cards are newer, so they stand out in my deck. “That’s it – you’re gone! Pack up and get out of here!” I do so, gladly.
I can’t say I didn’t deserve the DQ, as my lands were truly marked. I can honestly say, though, that I never thought twice about it as I had always used those lands and never really thought about any edge I may have gotten by knowing what was coming. Keep in mind that the tournament scene was in its infancy at the time, and that people were just starting to realize all the different ways one could cheat to “gain an edge,” and that I still consider the harshness with which I was cheated a far greater offense than my use of “marked” lands. Had someone pointed them out to me before the game, I surely would have either changed them out or bought sleeves; I just didn’t know better at the time.
In any case, that tournament was the first – and last – DCI-regulated tourney that I ever attended. If there is any good that came out of it, it is that my game and conduct were never reported to the DCI so I am still, for all intents and purposes, a “virgin” if I ever do decide to go pro. (I lost that original DCI card and applied for another one later when I was required to at one store later, but I’ve never used it either).
That’s my story, and I hope that by sharing my experiences and suffering some of you will be able to benefit and improve your game. Me, I’ll stick to multiplayer games, thank you very much. In the meantime, please: