DarthJacen’s Declassified Tournament Survival Guide Part Two

You’ve done all your preparations for the event – you have the best deck in the room, you know your matchups, you know how to sideboard, you know how to get to the venue and you know what time the event starts; you’ve pre-registered and verified that your decklist was properly submitted. DarthJacen takes us through the rest.

Getting Started

You’ve done all your preparations for the event – you have the best deck in the room, you know your matchups, you know how to sideboard, you know how to get to the venue and you know what time the event starts; you’ve pre-registered and verified that your decklist was properly submitted. Well, now it’s time to focus on the nuances of tournament play that players headed to their first PPTQs and various competitive-styled events might not know. Let me guide you through some of the best practices and things to know when it comes to surviving the competitive Magic scene, especially for newer players looking to win their way into the upcoming Pro Tours!

I spent several years as a level 2 Judge working various levels of events from Pre-release to Friday Night Magic, from running PPTQs to working Grand Prix main events, and even Star City Games’ Invitationals. I’ve seen just about every common issue that comes up during tournament play and today I’m here to help guide you through some of the most common and avoidable ways players trip themselves up at Magic tournaments.

Don’t Get Careless

I had a favorite saying when judging that I would use during each of my players’ meeting speeches and that was “Magic is a hard game. Don’t make it harder by getting penalties that you could avoid with a few seconds of consideration.” There are a few types of errors that players make frequently that, to me, come off as careless – here’s a brief list of them:

  •         Put your name on your decklist.
  •         Count your decklist to ensure you have the correct number of cards in your main deck and sideboard.
  •         Count and verify your sideboard before presenting your deck for any game 1.
  •         Make sure all your cards are facing the same direction when shuffling.
  •         Ensure you shuffle your sideboard cards into your deck facing the same direction as all other cards.
  •         Check your sleeves before the tournament and between days of a mult-iday tournament for noticeable markings. If any sleeves are damaged enough to identify them specifically, replace them.
  •         Double check that your sleeves are opaque, especially if you are using double-faced cards such as Modal Double-Faced Lands (Pathways).
  •         If you are using inner sleeves on at least one card, all your cards must be double-sleeved with the same style of sleeve. Perfect hard inners and generic inner sleeves can feel different in your hands and while shuffling.
  •         Don’t put cards in your deck box that are not registered in your deck. Especially cards that are legal in the format you are playing! If there are promos given by the tournament organizer at the event, you may put those in your deck box, but that doesn’t apply to promotional packs that contain random cards.

There are plenty more small errors that players will make at an event, but the above issues are free to avoid, and you are doing yourself a disservice to work hard leading up to a tournament only to spoil it with carelessness.

So, what happens if you avoid all these careless errors, but still manage to have something go wrong in your match?


Well, you call a judge! Raise your hand high into the air, call out “Judge” loudly, and leave your hand up until a judge has come over to your match. Make a note of what time on the round clock you called for the judge so you can ask for an appropriate time extension if needed. Then proceed with the judge-call.

I know that it can seem like you’re being a pain or nit-picking if you’re calling over a judge for small things, but in terms of Magic, the game is complicated and there are a ton of moving pieces. Never ever feel intimidated to call a judge and understand that while your opponent might be kind and a wonderful person – they don’t always have your best interest in mind when it comes to answering rules questions.

Want to know some common reasons to call for a judge at an event?

  •         You need to know what a card does – Ask for the “Oracle Text of X card.” So long as you can identify the card by its name etc. you are entitled to see the text of the card. This is especially important if you or your opponent has cards in a foreign language.
  •         You aren’t quite sure how a card will resolve or what will happen when a trigger resolves.
  •         You or your opponent accidentally see the top card of either of your libraries when you shouldn’t have.
  •         You need to use the bathroom during a match.
  •         You spilled your drink and need to clean it up. Special Note: Don’t put drinks on the table. Cards are expensive and accidents happen.
  •         Your opponent is playing unreasonably slowly.
  •         Someone in the event is making you or others feel uncomfortable. Depending on the why, this could lead to a penalty for that person for unsportsmanlike conduct.
  •         You entered the wrong information into the Companion App.
  •         You would like to split prizes with your opponent, but don’t know how to do that properly and within the bounds of the rules.

There are many, many more reasons to call over a judge, but the biggest take away from this is that judges are neutral arbiters there to help all players at the event to feel welcome and help enforce the rules of Magic, so matches are played on a level playing field. Always index towards calling judges more often rather than using them infrequently. Just remember to be courteous, focus on communicating your questions clearly, don’t lie, and remember that judges are human, so they can make mistakes too.

If you feel like a judge has made a mistake, ask them – politely – if there is a head judge or other judge to whom you can appeal the original judge’s ruling. Especially at larger events, there will be team leads or a head judge that will be the final arbiter on any ruling and you are always allowed to appeal a decision. As I said, the judges are neutral arbiters trying their best to be fair – so don’t be afraid to appeal their rulings, just do so with kindness.


One of the things that most players learn the hard way during their first events is that Magic has a lot of downtime. Did you finish your match 2-0? Are you playing an aggressive deck? Did you play against an aggressive deck? Any one of these reasons or more can leave you with 20+ minutes left on the round clock and with nothing to do. There’s also the possibility that matches run long or that judge calls or deck checks lead to match extensions and the round will take longer than the scheduled fifty minutes to turn over.

Be sure to consider how best to give yourself a break between matches. I like to walk around the venue, listen to music, and catch up with people that I know. Some people want to goldfish their deck, look over their sideboard plans or opening hands, play various card or board games, or even jam games with friends. Just ensure that you have a good method of resetting during your downtime, especially if you had a tough or tilting round. Magic tournaments are long and it’s nearly impossible to do well if you can’t fill the downtime and refocus prior to sitting down for your next round.

I see this happen to many newer players where between rounds, especially when they are two or three rounds away from a potential top 8, they anxiously sit and start to run themselves out of focus and energy. The more you play for high stakes, the easier it becomes to grow used to those situations, but everyone’s first few events are the hardest – even more so if you are winning and need to keep the nerves down.

I remember being 11-1 at Grand Prix Providence knowing that I was hungry but not being able to eat the lunch I had bought because my stomach was half-way to earning a boy scout badge for knots. Nerves hit everyone differently so focus on learning how you best deal with the nerves and recreate those circumstances to ensure you’re in the best fighting shape deep into the tournament.

Nerves can strike at 1-0 in a PPTQ or at 0-0 at FNM. Don’t give yourself a hard time for the emotions you feel, just work on processing them and understanding how best to work through them. It gets easier the more you play and the more often you’re playing in high stress situations.

Wrapping Up

With this tournament survival guide alongside the last one, I hope that you’ve found your way into the beginnings of a long career in competitive Magic… whether that’s simply playing in your local PPTQs or heading out to larger events. While everyone has different aspirations for Magic, it’s best to know how the game is played at any level so you never leave winning chances on the table.

Understand that you will make mistakes, you will get up from the table and remember something you could have done better, or a judge call you should have made. Learn from those mistakes and ensure you don’t repeat them, and you will always be moving towards the best version of yourself as a Magic player.

Be safe out there at your future events and best of luck! I look forward to battling with you all soon! 

  • DarthJacen

    Pioneer Competitive Guide

    Darthjacen has been playing Magic since Dark Ascension and plays Standard, Modern, Pioneer, and Limited. With a Grand Prix win in 2015 and an SCG Team Top 4 in 2019, he continues to pursue competitive Magic at every turn.

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