Thursday, December 13, 2007

Avoiding Unnecessary Game Losses

I've seen it happen, and it's not a pretty sight. A player goes to a PTQ full of hopes and dreams but picks up a crucial game loss or even a disqualification for an innocent mistake and his dreams of Top 8 are dashed. Even worse, he's been accused of cheating, and that's not something anyone wants to be known for. It's a horrible feeling and it leaves a bad taste in everyone's mouths.

The good thing is that all of this can be avoided by taking some precautions. These horror stories make some people treat a PTQ like a Big Scary Thing™, but it's really not. With some care and attention to detail, it's a lot like any other tournament, but with a bigger prize at the end. With these precautions, you can avoid unnecessary warnings, game losses, and disqualifications.

Before the tournament starts
Deck registration
This is simply a matter of paying attention to detail. Even if you don't have all the cards and you need to trade for them the morning of the event, you should have a decklist brought to the tournament, which you can copy onto your registration sheet. When you're scrambling for cards, things can get really hectic and it's really easy to miss that four-of, resulting in a fifty-six-card decklist.

If you are going to play with foil cards, be sure you have a mix of foils throughout your deck. If the only copies of Korlash you can find are the prerelease ones, be sure to have some random foil lands and other foil cards in your deck. At a PTQ, someone had four DCI foil Psychatogs in his deck because he couldn't find regular ones. Psychatog was obviously a key card in the deck, so when the judges found they could consistently cut to the Psychatog in his deck, he got a disqualification without prize. This was a player whose reputation was (and still is) sterling and someone who is known for his rock-solid integrity and honesty, but the judges still gave him the DQ on principle. Don't make that mistake.

Foils are cool and all, but I'm absolutely paranoid about playing them and I don't like to do it. I strongly recommend leaving the foils for your FNMs or trade binder and play with non-foil cards.

For Limited play, pay extra attention to detail and don't just blow through the decklist if there's a deck swap. I had a situation at a PTQ where the pool I received had a foil Plains and the registering player marked the Plains in the “played” box. I alerted a judge immediately, and he signed off on the change. Later in the tournament I got deck checked and a different judge called me over to give what was about to be a game loss for misregistering my deck. But since I consulted with a judge earlier on this issue, I was able to explain what had happened, that the Plains wasn't supposed to be in my deck, and judge so-and-so okayed the deck registration error.

On the deck registration sheets, write clearly. If you make a mistake and need to cross it out, cross it out and write on a different line. Don't try to write over the previous thing, as it tends to get muddy and it increases the likelihood of a judge misreading it.

Use new sleeves
In Constructed tournaments, make sure your sleeves are new and of a good brand with no reflective backs, no patterns on the back (the Magic branded one excepted), and no reflective faces. They should be a brand that doesn't mark easily. If you aren't sure if the sleeves are okay, check with a judge.

When you sleeve your deck, make sure it's been shuffled beforehand. If there's a factory defect with some of the sleeves and you happen to have all of your land in these slightly marked sleeves, it could create issues down the road if you get deck checked. To a judge, all they see is a pattern of marked cards that correspond to land. That doesn't look good for you. Having your cards randomized before they go into the sleeves will avoid this situation.

Pile shuffle your deck and look at the backs carefully for any markings or defects. I also suggest sleeving only your main deck and leaving the sideboard card unsleeved. Over the course of a long tournament, your main deck sleeves will be more worn than your sideboard sleeves and it could be considered marked. Though be sure to keep extra sleeves on hand in case one breaks. I've seen someone make the mistake of bringing exactly sixty cards to a tournament, and when one broke, he didn't have a replacement.

For Limited events, I suggest using sleeves as well and giving your deck the same treatment. An added benefit of sleeving is that over the course of a long tournament, your unsleeved cards will clump up and your nonland cards tend to stick together, contributing to mana issues in the later rounds. I know a guy who will aggressively shuffle his opponent's unsleeved decks in later rounds for this very reason.

Before the match
Show up on time
This should be an easy one, but it's important nonetheless. If you need to run to eat something between rounds, take a watch and keep a careful eye on it. Know what time the round ends and get back to the venue with enough time to get to your seat.

Verify your opponent
When you see your opponent's name on the pairings list, make a note of it or even write it down. When you sit down at your table, introduce yourself (it's the polite thing to do) and make sure your opponent is who you expected him to be.

Check your sideboard
For Constructed events, I go through my sideboard and ensure that all fifteen cards are there and that none of them belong in my main deck. If you don't sleeve your sideboard, you reduce your chances of having a 61-card main deck, which is often a problem when you are playing Wishes. Pile shuffle your deck (which you should do anyway) and count your cards. If your count is off, you'll know before you present your deck to your opponent and you'll have a chance to catch yourself.

Do not use notes for sideboarding. If you have notes for sideboarding, under no circumstances should you check them while the match is going on. This is a big, big no-no and can result in a disqualification from the tournament. If you don't remember how to sideboard your deck, look at the notes in between rounds and try to memorize them.

During the match
Draw carefully
This is a simple thing, but I see too many people just pick the card up off the top of their library and put it into their hand. This is all well and good, but if two cards stick together for whatever reason, then you've drawn extra cards and you're looking at a game loss. Even if the card doesn't go into your hand, if a card sticks to another, there's a good chance the second one will flip over and you can get dinged for looking at extra cards. Instead, slide the card off the top of your library onto the table face down, and then put it into your hand. That way, if things do clump together, they'll clump together on the table face down, and you'll be able to put the appropriate card back on the top of your library without looking at it or putting it into your hand. I've had many situations where the cards have stuck together, but drawing that way ensures that I'm safe.

Keep the cards in all zones separate
In an Extended PTQ last season, a friend of mine was playing Dredge-a-Tog and he made the mistake of having the cards in his graveyard (which he was holding in one hand because he was doing so much with it each turn) and the cards in his hand touch. Because his opponent claimed he couldn't tell what was in my friend's hand from what was in his graveyard, that was a game loss.

In Lorwyn, this becomes relevant when playing Ponder or any of the hideaway lands. Make sure that you differentiate very clearly between your hand and the cards you are looking at. I put my hand face down on the table when I do this just to make sure there's absolutely no question whatsoever as to what's going on.

You can also look at your sideboard during matches now. Similarly, make sure your sideboard is clearly different from any of the cards in play or in your library, graveyard, and hand. This is yet another incentive to play with an unsleeved sideboard.

Don't forget to reveal
This situation most often comes up with Dark Confidant. If you draw your card for the turn and you forget about Dark Confidant's trigger, that's a warning. If you forget to reveal off Confidant and draw the extra card, that's now a game loss. Now it's legal to put a counter on top of your deck to remind you to reveal off Bob (or pay echo, or pay for a Pact, or whatever), so take advantage of it. Some people think it's “not manly,” but how manly is it to get a warning or a game loss? Hey, Kenji does it – if it's good enough for him, it's certainly good enough for me. You have so many things to pay attention to, so why give yourself the opportunity to screw up? Similarly, be extra vigilant when revealing off Scrying Sheets or when transmuting for a card. Be sure you reveal to your opponent, because if you don't, that's a game loss.

And you're not necessarily done when the game is over. Remember to reveal your morphs!

Ensure search effects resolve before searching
This comes up in Extended, especially with Stifle in the format. If your opponent has a blue open (or a fetchland that could get a blue source), don't just pop your own fetchland and start searching all willy-nilly for your land. Make sure the trigger resolves, or you'll be getting a warning.

Along the same lines, if you are playing cards with Cycling, you have to be extra careful. If you cycle a card and draw off it and your opponent Stifles the Cycling, then you've drawn an extra card, likely resulting in a game loss.

Call a judge whenever in doubt
If you're not sure whether or not you did the right thing or if something weird is going on, call a judge. They are ultimately there to help you, so utilize their expertise. And if you can alert a judge to a potential situation before it becomes a situation, then do so.

In a sealed tournament that had no deck registration, I realized midway through the second round that I had an extra (non-foil) rare in my pool, giving me six for the pool. Had my pool been checked for whatever reason, this would have looked quite shady. I didn't feel comfortable with the situation and I called a judge over and alerted them to the situation. The judge took note, acknowledged that print errors did happen, and we continued play (this was at a lower REL, although a box of Lorwyn was on the line, so the stakes weren't insignificant).

Had I just said nothing, chances are nothing would have happened (I was only playing four of the rares, so it's not like I would have played the sixth and caused alarm). But if my opponent thought that it was a little weird that four of my five rares were on-color and wanted my deck checked, things would have looked really bad for me. I would much rather let a judge know ahead of time what was going on, which may have influenced the decision, and it put me in a better light. A cheater who adds cards to his deck isn't likely to call a judge and alert him to the extra cards to his deck.

An aside: I have to take some responsibility for not noticing it when I opened my pool. I tend to open the cards and throw them all together and start sorting by color and I don't really look at the rarity. Print errors do happen, and it was my responsibility to check for any anomalies. Sometimes it's obvious, like at the Dissension prerelease when there were several tournament packs with eighteen (!) rares running around. If there are weird markings or bends or creases or whatnot on a card, alert a judge so they know. If anything seems out of place at any time, let a judge know. They are your friends and they spend a lot of time and energy to make the game we play much easier, so utilize their skills.

This isn't meant to be intimidating, although I can understand how someone who hasn't ever played in a PTQ might think they will get punished for every little picky thing after reading this. These are outlining worst-case scenarios, and although it's good to be mindful of these things, if you just pay attention to detail, make sure you're not sloppy, and play honestly and ethically, you'll be fine.
by Zaiem Beg