Cranial Insertion: I <3 Tournaments



Cranial Insertion
I
by Eli Shiffrin, Thijs van Ommen, and Tom Fowler

As I write this, the World Championships are being contested in scenic Japan. By the time you read it, the individual and team winners will likely have been crowned. So congratulations to them, whoever they may turn out to be. May the forces of evil become confused on the way to their houses.

Worlds this weekend gives us the perfect backdrop for this edition of Cranial Insertion. I’ve noticed an increase in the number of tournament-related questions recently, both in our Rulings forum here, and at other places. These aren’t rules questions, but questions about tournament policy and procedures. Eli covered some of the tournament basics already, but I want to devote this column to some of the questions I’ve seen of late regarding tournament and DCI policies.

As always, send your questions, be they rules-related, tournament-related, or what have you, to [email][email protected][/email].


Q: My friend told me that foils aren’t legal in tournaments. Is this true?

A: Yes. You should sell all of yours to me immediately.


Q: Really? Frown

A: OK, you got me. No, it’s not true. Foils are perfectly legal for use in DCI-sanctioned tournament play. Foils are premium cards designed to have a high collectibility value, and all indications are that they have had that high collectibility value since first appearing in Urza’s Legacy. Not allowing people to play with very collectible cards would be bad business for WOTC and Hasbro, and they’re not in the habit of doing things which are bad business. The Neopets card game aside, of course.

However . . .

(You just knew there was a “however” coming, didn’t you?)

Keep a few things in mind about foils:


Fear Dr. Teeth, especially if
he is your only foil...
1. They react differently to repeated shuffling than regular cards do. Foils will bend more noticeably in the center, often to the point that they can easily be discerned from a non-foil card. This is much more pronounced with older foils, made before the new card face debuted with the release of 8th Edition.

2. Foils react differently to being stored in areas of heat and humidity than regular cards. Again, they’ll bend and warp more noticeably. This is also more pronounced with the older foils. I have heard that storing your foil cards in the freezer will prevent this from happening, though I have not confirmed this for myself. Between pizzas, TV dinners, and dead bodies, my freezer is always pretty full.

3. Because of these factors, it’s best to play a random assortment of foils in your deck. If all your foils are, for example, the old Arena foil basic lands, or your four Psychatogs, then some folks could become suspicious. This can include judges, who dislike things like marked cards, especially when there’s a pattern to be found. Your cards may not be marked, but you need to realize there is a definite potential for abuse in only foiling out a specific card or cards in your deck.

As always, if you have concerns about the foils in your deck, show them to the head judge before the event begins. The head judge will tell you if they’re OK for play, or if he thinks they’re marked.

Personally, I don’t play with foils in my decks when I play in tournaments, but I’m also not a big foil collector to begin with. The important thing to remember here is that the DCI’s [O]fficial policy on foils is that they’re perfectly acceptable for tournament play. My addendum to that is to be smart about your foil usage, keeping the above points in mind.


Q: What about sleeves? I’ve seen players at high-level events play without sleeves. Are sleeves legal in tournaments?

A: Absolutely. Here’s another “however,” though: you have to be smart about your sleeve usage. What follows is not [O]fficial policy, but is Dr. Tom’s Handy Guidelines for Using Sleeves.

1. Buy opaque, matte sleeves. The darker, the better. You don’t want to be able to see through them, in the event that the backs of your cards are marked.

2. Avoid gimmicky sleeves with designs and patterns on them. These can often be marked out of the pack, since the design can be inconsistently applied. They also tend to be reflective, which is why I suggested matte sleeves in #1. A sleeve is too reflective if you can hold a sleeved card up at an angle and read it clearly in the reflection shown in the sleeve below.

3. If you can, buy sleeves in packs of 100 for Constructed play. Buying two packs of 50 each can lead to slight differences in cut length and hue.

4. Visually inspect the sleeves when you get them. Set aside ones which are crimped, damaged, or visibly marked.

5. When you sleeve your deck, shuffle both your deck and your sleeves first. “The sleeves, too?” you’re thinking. Yes, the sleeves too. Here’s why: if there’s a subtle marking on the sleeves that you missed, shuffling them will disperse them throughout the lot, not leave them all bunched up. Shuffling your deck on top of this ensures that you’re putting random cards in random sleeves. Having the 11 pieces of your countermagic suite in slightly nicked sleeves would be a Very Bad Thing. Having 11 random cards in slightly nicked sleeves is something that happens.

6. Most sleeves will become worn after a day’s worth of shuffling and playing. You can usually get two events out of a pack of sleeves, but my rule of thumb is to get new sleeves before each big event I play in, or before each day of a multi-day events. This means I have a lot of sleeves left over, which I use for drafts and testing decks.

As with the foils, if you have any questions about the sleeves you want to use, show them to the head judge before the event begins. Game stores should not, IMO, sell sleeves which can’t be used in their events, but gimmicky sleeves are popular. Stick to the basics, though, and you should be fine.


Q: My opponent and I want to work out a prize split in the finals. I thought it was legal, but he’s concerned about getting DQed. What can we do?

A: Let’s see what the Universal Tournament Rules tell us in UTR 25.

The following actions are prohibited:
-- Offering or accepting a bribe or prize split in exchange for the win, loss, concession, drop, or draw of a match
-- Attempting to determine the winner of a game or match by a random method, such as a coin flip or die roll

Players who engage in these actions will be subject to the appropriate provisions of the DCI Penalty Guidelines.

Players are allowed to share prizes they have won as they wish, such as with teammates, as long as any such sharing does not occur as an exchange for the win, loss, concession, drop or draw of a game or match.


UTR 25 says that offering any kind of result in exchange for a bribe or prize split is illegal. However, in the finals of events like PTQs, the head judge will usually allow the players to negotiate with the prizes available. One person gets the invite, the other is dropped from the event (ensuring no DCI points are exchanged) and gets whatever was worked out between the two players.

This is allowable in the finals because the head judge is there to tell you what you can and cannot say. (In short, you can’t offer anything outside the available prizes, so all the packs and travel award for the slot is OK, but all the packs and travel award, plus a cold, refreshing Pepsi, for the slot is not OK. Some division of the travel award and product for the slot is also OK.) During the regular rounds of the event, offering a prize split for a result is considered bribery, and will be treated as such. Basically, don’t do it, because it is a Very Bad Thing.

Effective with the current PTQ Honolulu qualifier season, WOTC has replaced the travel award with an actual plane ticket for the winner. The travel award had a known value and could thus be used in negotiations; the plane ticket does not, and cannot. This means PTQ finalists are going to be doing a lot more playing than ever before. And while there was nothing wrong with the split in the finals, playing it out does add something to the competition.

Note that these policies are not [O]fficial, and your PTQ head judge may do things differently. If you’re going to be in the finals of a PTQ, it would behoove you to ask what the deal is regarding splits before you sit down and say something you shouldn’t.

Teams and friends may legally arrange to split prizes before the event. This is not done in exchange for anything, and happens fairly often. Also, if you loaned someone a deck, you may decide, before or after the event, to tax their winnings at a usurious rate. That is also perfectly acceptable.

For reference, the UTR and other documents can be downloaded by going to the DCI homepage.


Q: Sometimes, I see players mana weave their decks while they’re shuffling. Is this legal?

A: To answer this, we’re going to need to define what “mana weaving” is.

Here’s how I’m going to define it: knowingly arranging the lands and spells in your deck into a pattern designed to encourage good mana draws. Usually, this is in the classic “spell-spell-land-spell-spell-land” arrangement.


Random != distributed
Whether or not it’s illegal depends on what you do after you mana weave. If you give a few halfhearted shuffles, then you’ve stacked your deck, and that’s cheating. A mana woven deck like that will earn you an early exit from the event, and a probable suspension from the DCI. You are required to present a sufficiently randomized deck, and a mana woven deck is far from that. Remember that spell clumps and land clumps are normal in a random distribution.

If, after mana weaving, you did a bunch of riffle shuffles and sufficiently randomized your deck, then your mana weaving was completely pointless. If the point of mana weaving is to reduce the likelihood of getting spell or mana clumps, then sufficient shuffling completely undoes your weave.

Basically, it comes down to the shuffling. If it was sufficient to randomize the deck, then the mana weaving was pointless. If it wasn’t sufficient to randomize the deck, then the mana weave affects the shuffle and the draws. This is cheating if it’s done deliberately. If it was done without the intent to cheat, perhaps by a rather naïve player who thought it was legal, then it’s not cheating, but it’s still Very Bad. In this case, I would tell the player that what he is doing amounts to deck stacking and strongly discourage him from doing it again. The DCI’s [O]fficial position is that a randomized deck after a mana weave is not a penalty, but it’s certainly not behavior that I want to encourage.

If you suspect your opponent is mana weaving and not sufficiently randomizing his deck, call a judge. The judge will look at the deck and, if necessary, talk to the player about his shuffling techniques. What you should NOT do if you think your opponent mana weaves is take matters into your own hands. Some players will do a three-pile shuffle after their opponent mana weaves, the result of which will be a pile of all or mostly lands ending up somewhere in his deck. (Three-pile shuffling your opponent's deck is fine in and of itself, but not as some retributive measure for a suspected mana weave.) Call a judge if you suspect shenanigans, and leave the vigilante justice to Bruce Wayne.

In short: don’t mana weave. If the judge thinks you did it with the intent of fixing your draws, you’ll get DQ’ed and probably suspended. If the judge thinks you did it with no malice aforethought, you’re still going to get a penalty and a good talking-to. In addition, spiders will pee on your head while your sleep. See, it’s just bad times all around.

Bonus: Let’s say you mana weave, and after that, you shuffle well. Well enough to sufficiently randomize your deck. However, your random deck happens to fall close to the mana-woven pattern of spell-spell-land. This would not end well for you. Judges cannot discern between a randomly stacked deck and an intentionally stacked deck, and will presume the worst because you started out by mana weaving. That’s another strike against it, in my opinion as both a judge and a player.


Q: If I get a game loss penalty while the game is in progress, when does it apply?

A: Most of the time, it will apply to the current game. Game losses are given out for decklist errors, grievous manglings of the game state, severe procedural errors, and major instances of unsporting conduct (though that can get you a match loss at higher RELs). The vast majority of the time, the right thing to do is to apply these penalties to the current game.

However, the Penalty Guidelines define a game loss this way:

A warning is always given with this penalty. If the player is in between games, the loss should be applied to the player's next game. . . . Judges must communicate game losses to the players to which they are issued and explain the infractions and possible consequences if the infractions are repeated.


So, if a player is between games when something happens that would earn him a game loss, the penalty is applied to the next game. As a judgment call, a judge could look at the game state and see that a player who has earned a game loss is in a hopeless position and is about to lose the game anyway. In that case, a game loss isn’t a penalty, just a confirmation of the inevitable, so the judge could assign the game loss in the next game. Assigning a game loss to the next game, however it is done, could mean that the player loses the first game of his next match.


Q: So if my opponent gets a game loss, how do we decide who plays first in game two?

A: Your opponent lost the first game. As the loser of the first game, he will have the option to play or draw in the second game.


Q: My opponent asked the judge for the Oracle wording of a card. Is he allowed to do this?


"Uh... that Angel from Onslaught that some
call 'Our Lady of the Bust Beatings?'
A: Yes, but it’s a privilege, not a right. A player needs a good reason to see the Oracle. A player with a rules question about the particulars of a card can see the Oracle wording for that card. A player confronted with a card in a foreign language can also see the Oracle wording on that card. Players are usually allowed to get the Oracle wording of a card when they need it, but they have to have an actual need for it. Random questions and stump-the-judge expeditions don’t cut it.

Also, spells which ask a player to “name a card” can also entitle that player to the Oracle. If I play Cabal Therapy and target you, but I forget the name of the card I want you to discard, I can ask a judge for the name of it. However, I have to be able to uniquely describe that card. “The 4/5 Angel from Onslaught that has spirit link” would suffice for Exalted Angel. “The Red instant that destroys an artifact,” however, could be one of several cards. And while judges are good at their jobs, we can’t read your minds, so we don’t know if you mean Shatter or Smash (or other cards), and we also don’t know about the impure thoughts you’re having regarding the Pamela Anderson poster on your wall.


Q: I’ve heard that I can take brief notes during the game, like the contents of my opponent’s hand when I Duress him. Why can’t I have outside notes, then?

A: Because there is a large difference between notes taken about an in-game situation and notes brought in from outside. If I Duress you, I’ve seen your hand, so I know what’s in it. Magic is not a game of memorization, however, so I’m allowed to record the contents of your hand when playing something like Duress (notes must be taken in a timely manner, of course).

Outside notes, however, are a different animal entirely. You can have a complete sideboarding guide to your deck. In-game notes reflect knowledge that you gained because of a spell or ability you played. Outside notes are an unfair advantage with an enormous potential for abuse. The other players don’t have sideboarding guides folded up in their pocket. If you need to know how to sideboard against MUC, I suggest you find a good article about it, or you playtest enough to know what’s good in the matchup.

Because of the unfairness presented by outside notes, a player caught with them is usually disqualified.


Q: My local store is advertising a 10-Proxy Vintage event. I thought proxies were illegal?

A: They are . . . most of the time. In sanctioned play, proxies are 100% illegal unless they are issued by a judge. Judges have very few reasons to issue a proxy, and they’re all related to damaged cards. If a card of yours has become damaged over the course of play, the judge can issue a proxy for it. Ditto if you opened a damaged card during a Limited event. The proxy goes into your deck, and is replaced with the real card if it would enter play.

Losing your deck, or losing certain cards in your deck, does not entitle you to proxies. While judges are sympathetic to those who have had their property stolen, that doesn’t mean we’re going to proxy your cards for you. You would need to either replace the missing cards somehow, or have them replaced with basic lands. Depending on how long that takes, you can receive penalties up to a match loss. Tournaments wait for no one.


Proxy or real? You decide!
In the case of Vintage events which use proxies, those are unsanctioned. (The major sanctioned Vintage event, the Vintage World Championships, is a sanctioned event and does not allow any proxies.) Proxy tournaments allow players to play with powerful cards they don’t own, giving them access to decks they could not have otherwise built. There aren’t that many sets of Power 9 out there, so without proxy events, not nearly as many people could play Vintage. Proxy events were responsible for the huge growth the format experienced starting about two years ago. There are now several major proxy events every year, giving Vintage diehards and players just dabbling in the format a chance to experience fun and swingy games.

If you’re proxying a card for an event like this, here is my advice on how to do it. Start with a white-bordered basic land which is not in your deck (I suggest white-bordered because the vast majority of players will use black-bordered cards whenever they can). Use a Sharpie and write the card name and mana cost across the top. Then write the card name again in the text box. You don’t need to add the rules text unless you want to, perhaps in the event that you’re proxying an obscure or confusing card. If you do add the rules text, write it in the text box in lieu of repeating the card’s name.

(Editor’s Note: Some Vintage tournaments that allow proxies have specific rules on how the proxies should be made. For example, the Star City Games Power 9 tournaments require the card text to be written on the card. Always consult the posted rules, or ask the head judge, before beginning play in one of these tournaments to make sure your proxies are acceptable.)

Q: I checked my DCI rating online, but what does it mean? How is it figured out?

A: Your rating measures your success in sanctioned events. Everyone’s rating begins at 1600, and goes up or down from there based on how well you do in tournaments. If you defeat a player with a higher rating than you, you will gain more rating points than if you defeated someone with a lower rating. Similarly, if you lose to player rated higher than you, you lose fewer points than if you lose to someone rated lower than you. The ratings formula includes a probability of winning, so you gain more (and lose less) when playing opponents rated higher than you.

Here is some more information about ratings from the UTR. Caution: math ahead. Avert your eyes now if you need to.

The DCI uses the following equation to determine a player’s win probability in each match:


Win Probability = 1 / 10^((Opponent’s Rating–Player’s Rating)/400) + 1

This probability is then used to recalculate each player’s rating after the match. In the equation below, players receive 1 point if they win the match, 0 if they lose, and 0.5 for a draw. Players’ new ratings are determined as follows:

Player’s New Rating = Player’s Old Rating + (K-Value * (Scoring Points–Player’s Win Probability))


The K-value is a measure of how prestigious the tournament is. The bigger the event, the bigger the K-value, and the more points on the line with each match. Friday Night Magic has a K-value of 8, while Pro Tour Qualifiers have a K-value of 32. If you get to the Pro Tour or Worlds, be ready to put 48 points on the line with each match. Generally, if you beat a player with a rating about equal to yours, you’ll gain half the K-value in rating. Those of you who love doing math can figure out what happens if you beat someone rated 150 points higher than you in a PTQ.

Bonus: Math makes me sad. Frown (It’s not that I’m not good at it; I simply don’t enjoy working thru it. I much prefer writing, and i right reel godo.)

That’ll do it for this installment of Cranial Insertion. Hopefully, this cleared up a lot of questions about tournaments. Now go out there and compete.

-Tom Fowler

(Edited by: Binary)

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