Judge Advice for competitive Players

As you might know, I tend to watch and judge the competitive scene far more than I play in it. I’m a huge fan of Legacy, and EDH (I still don’t like calling it Commander). If you see me at an event, I’m probably either judging it, helping the TO or playing an endless multiplayer game. However, today, I’m going to talk about Competitive REL events and common mistakes that players make.

Some of the situations may be unintuitive to most players if they are not familiar with Competitive REL events. REL stands for Rules Enforcement Level. The REL of an event dictates how the judges handle fixing situations as well as some other things. The following events are not run at Competitive REL but are instead run at Regular REL: Friday Night Magic, side events of most competitive events, and most of Magic tournaments. Events at Competitive includes PTQs, GPTs as well as GPs (well, Day 1 anyway). A good rule of thumb is that if the event requires you to fill out a decklist, it is Competitive REL.

Event Start

Most large one-day events follow a similar schedule. The judge call is at 9:30. Registration starts at 10:00. The actual event should begin at 11:00. I recommend arriving at 10:00 if possible. The first common mistake that players make is coming in a rush at 10:55, registering and then noticing that they didn’t finish their decklist. Filling out your decklists incorrectly is the easiest and most common way for a player to receive a game loss. This game loss is normally awarded at the start of Round 2.


Filling out your decklist correctly will greatly increase your enjoyment of the event and giving it written on a A4 page will increase the enjoyment of the judges :). I recommend that you check your decklist in the same way that I might deck-check you. Take your deck and flip it so that you can see the cards. Sort the cards out by name and type. Next, look at the cards as they are written out on your decklist. Scoop up those cards and just pile them up in order. At the end, your deck will be sorted exactly how it is written out on your decklist. If your deck and list are in disagreement, you will know and have enough time to change it. After that, I recommend you count the cards. You can do this by pile shuffling using either 5 or 6 piles since you’ll need to shuffle your decklist thoroughly anyways. Don’t forget to check your Sideboard as well! Sort your sideboard the same way and count them (without mixing it with your main deck of course). I have informed players of far too many game losses for fourteen-card sideboards and 56 cards decklists (4ofs missing). Alternatively, you can exchange decks with a friend to make it more interesting.

Sometimes, players grow concerned because they’ve written down a number and then crossed it off to write a new number. This is fine. As long as your list is unambiguous, there is no problem. It’s best to give you decklist to someone else to check if they actually understand all the modifications you have done. If you wrote your name on your decklist, not having your DCI number on it tends not to cause any problems. It’s very rare that you have two players with the same first and last name playing at a tournament (except maybe GPs). Not writing both name and DCI number however, will be more problematic and is a sure way to get deck-checked early. The Judges have to be sure one of the anonymous lists left over is really yours after all.


The next-easiest way to acquire a game loss is to arrive late to your seat for the round. The head judge might announce the tardiness policy in his opening announcements. At most events I’ve judged, there is a zero-minute tardiness policy for a game loss. What this means is that a player arriving at his seat after the clock started will receive a game loss. At other events, I’ve seen a three-minute tardiness policy or a one-minute tardiness policy. If you don’t know the policy because the HJ didn’t explicitly state it or because you were busy counting your list, assume the policy is zero minute. Players arriving ten minutes late forfeit their matches and are dropped from the event unless they speak to the head judge or scorekeeper prior to the end of that round.

Calling a Judge

After an event ends, I sometimes hear a player tell me about some error that occurred that wasn’t fixed because he didn’t want to bother a judge. I probably drove one and a half hours to arrive at 9:30 and left about twelve hours later for the sole purpose of judging the event. I greatly enjoy answering your questions. That’s why I became a judge and spent fifteen or so hours of my life to be at this event almost without pay. The Judges at the event are there for you and actually enjoy answering your questions and solving problems.

Multiple Deck Checks

Sometimes, I hear a player complain that he was deck-checked multiple times. Normally, the judge staff chooses which table to deck-check in a round through a very secretive method (that I am about to divulge here and now!). We click the random-table button in Wizards Event Reporter and deck-check that table… That’s basically it. Occasionally, we will flag a player for a deck-check. There are two common reasons—and one less common one:

  1. You filled out a list with sixty-one or more cards in it (especially if you write that there are sixty total cards in your main deck). we may want to check to make sure you got it right.
  2. You didn’t write your name + DCI on your decklist
  3. And finally someone may have observed that your sleeves looked to be in bad condition. It is relatively rare that cheating concerns are raised, and we need to verify for those purposes.


When informing a player of a warning or a game loss, the player will sometimes respond by informing me that he or she is not cheating. If a player is receiving a warning or a game loss, the judge staff does not believe that the player in question is cheating. Players the head judge thinks are cheating are disqualified and removed from the event. While we understand that players make mistakes, these rules exist for good reason and should be followed.

These penalties probably appear harsh. Forgetting to write down the sixtieth card on your decklist or arriving at your seat a minute and a half after the round started are probably honest mistakes. We are aware of this. The decklist penalty is harsh to prevent potential cheating, and the tardiness penalty is harsh because it both delays the event and makes the event less fun for your opponent (and everyone else).

If the player who wrote fifty-nine cards on his decklist only received a warning, it might be advantageous for the player to do this intentionally. A judge would bring the incorrect decklist to the player’s attention at the screened.com start of Round 2. At that point, the player will know who his Round 2 opponent is as well as the meta played in the tournament and be able to change that sixtieth care accordingly. At that time, that player’s decklist would be finalized. With the current system, a game loss is sufficient to make the expected value of such actions negative—even if the player could ensure that he wouldn’t be disqualified. The current system greatly discourages trying to take advantage of the system by filling out one’s decklist incorrectly.

In short, making sure you show up on time to each round with the correct deck and decklist helps you and the judges out.

Another infraction that may appear unintuitive is called Failure to Maintain Game State. This is a reminder that when your opponent cast his 5-mana spell with 4 mana, you are partially responsible for allowing that to happen. Most judges will never upgrade Failure to Maintain Game State warnings into a game loss. So, if you do receive one of these, I’d like you to think, “Hey, I should be watching what my opponent is doing more carefully,” and nothing more.

Triggers @ Competitive

You may have heard about “lapsing triggers” as well as something about how you are no longer responsible for your opponents’ missed triggers (or read my article about the subject here). The missed trigger rules have changed again. Lapsing triggers no longer exist. The Power That Be decided that lapsing triggers were confusing and overhauled the missed trigger policy again. The new policy is simpler and a lot more intuitive than it ever was before. What you need to remember is that you need to just announce all of your triggers but you are still not responsible for you opponent’s triggers. It doesn’t matter how obvious it is that you know about your triggered ability—just make it clear that you are aware of it when it triggers. If you control four 1/1 white Spirit creature tokens with flying, cast [mtg_card]Craterhoof Behemoth[/mtg_card], and turn all your creatures sideways without saying anything or tapping on the Behemoth to show you know there’s a trigger, you missed [mtg_card]Craterhoof Behemoth[/mtg_card]’s triggered ability. My advice is to cast your card, poke it with your finger, and say, “Trigger.” It seems like something that should be possible to remember and repeat throughout a day, where not only your mind, but also your luck and stamina, are put to the test.

If you have a question about judging, competitive situation you are not sure about or need some advice about tournaments in general, please ask in the forum thread. I wish you the best of luck to you at your next event.