2HG Guide for Judges

Posted in NEWS on December 16, 2009

By Wizards of the Coast

Translated by Eli Shiffrin (L3, USA)


In this guide, we will discuss Two-Headed Giant (2HG), the multiplayer Magic: The Gathering format in which two teams of two players each face off for one game. This format, which has been DCI-sanctioned since 2007, is still unknown to many due to it being played so rarely; for that matter, it's rare to have the opportunity to judge such an event seeing as there are so few tournaments in this format.

We've gathered the most important and relevant aspects of this format and compiled them into a guidebook for you to refer to for the most common questions and interactions, as well as listing the penalties and infractions that are handled differently than in "normal" Magic. At the end, we'll cover a few examples that help make sense of how these rules are applied in case you're confused.

Description of the 2HG Formats

Matches in 2HG consist of only one game in which each team starts at 30 life; since there's only one game, Constructed 2HG decks have no sideboard. If the game ends in a draw, the players play a second game, and so on until one team has won a game or the round goes to time. Should rounds happen to go to time, the teams take three additional turns rather than the normal five.

The members of each team sit next to each other on one side of the table, with the "primary player" on the right and the "secondary player" on the left (the choice of who is primary and secondary can change from round to round). This may be relevant if the two players on the team can't come to an agreement on a choice they must make, which creatures attack, or the order that multiple abilities are put on the stack; if so, the primary player is the one to make the decision. The primary player of the active team also draws first if an effect instructs multiple players to draw a card at once (and then the secondary player of the active team, then repeat this order for the nonactive team).

Both players on one team share their life total, but not any other resources (cards in hand, mana, etc.).

The rules for winning and losing are the same as usual, but with a few nuances:

  • Players win and lose as a team: if one player loses, his team loses, and if one player wins, his team wins. Similarly, if an effect says that a player can't win or lose, his team can't either. For example, if a player controls Platinum Angel, his team can't lose.
  • If one player concedes, his team leaves the game.
  • If a team has 0 or less life, that team loses the game as a state-based action.

Among the sanctioned formats for 2HG, we can find Constructed (Standard, Extended, and Block Constructed), Eternal Constructed (Vintage and Legacy), and Limited (Sealed Deck and Booster Draft). Some of these formats come with additional rules:

Rules for Constructed 2HG

The rules for Unified Deck Construction are used in Constructed, which means that the two players may have no more than four copies of any card between their two decks, with the exception of basic lands. In addition to cards banned or restricted in the normal Constructed formats, Erayo, Soratami Ascendant is banned in all Constructed 2HG formats. Sideboards aren't used for 2HG Constructed formats.

Rules for Limited 2HG

The same rules apply as to normal Limited tournaments, although the DCI recommends that each team receive eight boosters for Sealed Deck and six boosters for Booster Draft. All cards not included in the starting decks are the shared sideboard for the two players, and both have access to them.

2HG Booster Draft follows a somewhat different procedure than usual:

The teams are randomly distributed into pods and the players of the same team sit together. After opening the first booster, each team selects two cards before passing to the left. These cards aren't assigned to a specific player, but rather form a common card pool from which both players will construct their decks.

The process continues, picking two cards each time before passing to the left, until all the cards have been drafted. The order alternates between boosters as normal, going left-right-left-right-left-right.

Player Communication

Teammates may communicate verbally with each other at any time (although nothing stops them from talking too softly for the opponents to hear them). Taking notes while drafting remains forbidden, but teammates may communicate in writing at other times. Each player can look at his teammate's hand and discuss strategies, but they can't manipulate each other's cards or permanents directly.

Turn Structure

A turn unfolds the same for both players, so they'll always be together in the same step, phase, and turn. If an effect makes a player gain or skip a turn, phase, or step, this will affect the entire team; both players gain or skip that turn, phase, or step.

If a player somehow gains control of an opponent's turn, that player will control the affected player's entire team's turn.

Pregame Procedure

At the start of each round, the players on a team should decide which will be the primary player, seated on the right.

Once the decks have been shuffled and presented to opponents for additional shuffling, each player draws seven cards. Then each player decides whether or not to take a mulligan, starting with the players on the team that's playing first.

When considering mulligans, the players on a team may talk and decide together, but a player can't wait to see his teammate's new hand before deciding whether to mulligan or not. Any of the four players who wish to take a mulligan do so at the same time as in a normal game.

In 2HG, the first mulligan is free, and the player's new hand will be seven cards, but after that each mulligan will leave the player with one fewer card. Once a player decides to keep his hand, he can't take any more mulligans, though his teammate can (one of them can mulligan to six and the other to five, for example).

The team that plays first skips its first draw step together, as usual.


In 2HG games, teams get priority rather than individual players. Whenever a team has priority, both players may cast spells, activate abilities, or take special actions. Additionally, each player draws a card during the draw step, and each player may play a land on each of his team's turns.

There are small modifications to the general rules covering priority due to teams receiving priority rather than players:

  • The team whose turn it is is the active team, and the other is the nonactive team. If both teams have to make decisions at once, the active team makes its decisions first, then the nonactive team, but the actions happen simultaneously.
  • If multiple abilities have triggered and are waiting to be put on the stack, the active team puts its on the stack first in any order, regardless of which of the players controls those abilities, and then the nonactive team does the same.
  • Just like the normal rules, if a team has priority and neither player wishes to do anything, priority passes to the other team; when both teams pass in succession, the top object of the stack resolves and the active team receives priority again. If the stack is empty and both teams pass, the next step or phase begins.

The Combat Phase

2HG uses different rules for combat than other multiplayer formats. During the combat phase, the active team is the attacking team, and each member of that team is an attacking player; similarly, the nonactive team is the defending team, and each of its members is a defending player.

We'll run into various effects and abilities that refer to a "defending player":

  • If a one-shot effect refers to "the defending player," the controller of this effect must choose one of the two defenders when the effect is applied. He can't choose both players. The same applies to one-shot effects referring to "the attacking player."
  • Similarly, if we have a characteristic-defining ability (CDA) that refers to "the defending player," it only refers to one of the two, and that player is chosen by the controller of the corresponding object as soon as there become defending players.
  • In any other situation where a "defending player" is mentioned, it's referring to both defending players and we'll get two answers. If we're supposed to make a comparison (such as asking whether the defending player controls an Island, for example) or a relative comparison (such as seeing whether you have more creatures than the defending player), the answer is "yes" as long as one of the two players could answer "yes" to this question if you asked them individually.

Now let's look at the steps of combat that could present some differences or difficulties:

  • As the declare attackers step begins, the active team declares its attackers, which must be altogether legal as they're treated as a single group of attackers. If an effect stops a creature from attacking one of the two defending players, that creature can't attack the team.
  • Analogously, as the declare blockers step begins, the defending team declares its blockers as one group of blocking creatures which must be legal when taken together.
    • For example: If a player attacks with Merfolk Seastalkers, and one of the defending players controls an Island, that creature can't be blocked at all.

During the combat damage step, if a creature has to assign damage to a defending player, the active team chooses which of the two players will be assigned damage from each such creature, keeping in mind that each of the creatures can assign its damage to either of the two players; it's not necessary for all to be assigned to the same one. The default player to be assigned damage is intentionally undefined – nevertheless, it's an acceptable shortcut to let damage be unclearly assigned unless one of the two teams thinks that it will be relevant and asks to clarify to whom specifically the damage will be dealt.

Life Totals

Each team starts the game with a shared life total of 30. If this total reaches 0 or less, the team loses as a state-based action.

While the life total is shared, all damage, loss of life, or gaining life happens to one of the players individually and the result is applied to the team's life total.

Sometimes effects do need to know a player's individual life total (such as for setting, as mentioned in the last paragraph), in which case that number is the team's life total divided by two and rounded up. Despite that, if an effect lets a player pay any amount of life, that player may pay as much life as the team has, not as much as his individual life total.

If an effect sets a player's life total to a certain number, that player's individual life total becomes that number and the team's life total is adjusted according to how much life that player gained or lost. However, if an effect sets the life totals for each player to a certain number, the team's life total becomes the sum of those numbers.


There are some infractions that require a different penalty when a match is only one game, as is the case in 2HG.

If a player commits Tournament Error—Slow Play, in addition to the penalty corresponding to the REL, we must add one extra turn per team, which will take place, as always, after the end-of-round procedure and after any time extensions that were given for other reasons.

When dealing with multiplayer games, we need to remember that if we have to assign a GPE—Failure to Maintain Game State (FtMGS) infraction because one of the players has committed another infraction, this infraction is assigned to each of the other players including his teammate.

Some infractions carry a Game Loss as a penalty, but since we're dealing with single-game matches, the penalty is instead a Match Point (since a Game Loss would be equivalent to a Match Loss in this case), which means that the team loses one point from their total match points accumulated throughout the tournament.

The infractions that carry a Match Point penalty are:

  • Deck errors that would result in a Game Loss and are discovered during a deck check
  • GPE—Drawing Extra Cards
  • TE—Insufficient Randomization
  • TE—Marked Cards-Pattern

Additionally, if the game can't be continued due to physical reasons, a Game Loss must still be assigned. In the case of repeated infractions and having to upgrade the penalty, it will be a Match Loss.

A Match Point penalty must only be applied in these cases, and never for repeated offenses being upgraded. It can't be used in cases of TE—Tardiness or USC—Major.

Examples from Zendikar and Magic: 2010

Having reviewed the rules for 2HG to clarify the possible interactions, let's look at some examples using cards from the latest expansions.

We'll start with a few situations that can come up in the combat phase:

Let's say that one player on the defending team controls a Mountain, but his teammate does not. If the other team decides to attack with Cliff Threader, it can't be blocked, and happily climbs up the Mountain! Looking at other bonuses and restrictions on creatures, if one attacking player controls Serpent of the Endless Sea, either of the defending players must control an Island to be able to attack with it. This is because the answer to, "Does the defending player control an Island?" is "yes"—so long as one of the defenders controls one, it's enough.

Other creatures are also problematic when attacking. If on one team each player controls a Jackal Familiar, both can attack since together they form a legal group of attackers. Jackals can either attack as a pack or not at all, and they can attack in a pack with your teammate's Jackal!

We attack with Goblin Guide, and since the defending player has to take an action, we have to choose one of our opponents to reveal the top card of his library for its triggered ability. I don't know if that makes it a good guide, but it's the best we've got.

Suppose that the attacking team has four creatures attacking, two from each player. The defending team can cast Lethargy Trap paying just U. They have all fallen into our trap!

Life totals are also a source of questions in 2HG:

The opposing team has 15 life and we cast a kicked Blood Tribute targeting opponent A. To calculate opponent A's life total, we take the total (15) and divide it by two (7.5) and then round up, so he has 8 life. We take away 4, leaving the team's total at 11 (15 - 4) and our team gains 4 life.

We have a creature enchanted with Celestial Mantle, our life total is 7, and we deal combat damage to the opposing team with that creature. To double the Celestial Mantle's controller's life, we take the team's total (7), divide by two (3.5) and round up to 4, and then we double it to 8. So we gain 4 life overall, which brings our team to a total of 11 life.

If the opponent's team has 32 life and we activate the second ability of Sorin Markov targeting one of the opponents, we calculate half of that team's life total (16, and we don't have to round this time!) when the ability resolves and leave that player at 10. Since the player lost 6 life, that leaves the team's life total at 26 (32 - 6).

Later in the same game, things have gotten a little complicated for us and we're down to 1 life when we activate the ultimate ability of Ajani Goldmane. The Avatar token is a 1/1 right now (half of 1 is 0.5, which rounds up to 1). Next turn, we activate Ajani's first ability, bringing our team's life total to 3 and bringing the token to a 2/2 (half of 3 is 1.5, which rounds up to 2).

Sometimes things will get very complicated and we'll have to do a few calculations to arrive at the final result. Suppose that both teams are at 30 life and player A on the active team controls Rafiq of the Many, and then he enchants his Battlegrace Angel with Celestial Mantle. When the Angel attacks, it will be a 9/9 with double strike, lifelink, and flying! What happens with your life? Player A gains 9 life upon dealing first-strike damage thanks to lifelink, then Celestial Mantle triggers. Since his team has 39 life, each member's total is 20 (39 divided by two is 19.5, which rounds up to 20). That player doubles his life, putting him at 40 and gaining 20 life, which results in the team's life total being adjusted by the same amount, arriving at 59. After this, the process repeats thanks to double strike: player A gains 9 life, putting the team's life total at 68, which means each player's individual life total is 34; doubling this again reaches 68, and the team's life total will be 102. A total of 72 life will be gained from one swing with a sweet little Angel!

After all this math and numbers, let's move on to some final examples:

The defending team hasn't blocked the two attacking creatures, a 2/2 and a 3/3. If player A on the defending team casts Safe Passage before combat damage, when the attacking team deals damage they have to specify which player will be dealt damage: Safe Passage will only prevent damage that would be dealt to player A, since he's the one who cast the spell. Therefore the attacking creatures can deal 5 damage to the other player and this damage won't be prevented.

The active team casts Earthquake for 3. The nonactive team has 13 life, nonactive player A controls a 1/1 creature, and nonactive player B controls two 2/2 creatures. If nonactive player A casts Safe Passage, it will prevent the 3 damage that would be dealt to him and his creature, but the 3 damage that Earthquake would deal to his teammate and his creatures will not be prevented. The nonactive team's life total will end up at 10 and player B's two creatures will be destroyed, but player A's 1/1 will remain intact on the battlefield.

Player A on the active team casts a creature spell, and then player B casts another. The nonactive team can't cast Whiplash Trap for its alternate cost since the required condition for it says that the creatures had to have entered the battlefield under the control of an opponent, meaning that a single opponent had to have two creatures enter.

Phases, turns, skipping them, controlling them . . . so many things can happen with the turn structure. For example:

If one player activates Sorin Markov's ultimate ability on his turn, when it's the other team's turn, we'll control that team's entire turn and not just the player we targeted. Sorin Markov is a bad enough planeswalker to enslave as many minds as necessary.

I control a Magosi, the Waterveil. If I activate the ability to put a counter on it, sadly for my teammate, we'll skip the team's entire next turn. However, when I can activate the last ability, both players will take an extra turn together and my teammate will surely be much happier.

And finally, if we have a Luminarch Ascension when our opponents' end step comes around, if it's going to trigger, it'll trigger twice. This is because it triggers at the beginning of the end step of each opponent. Our opponents only have one end step, but there are two of them having it! It seems like in 2HG, we can complete this quest much more easily.

We want to thank David de la Iglesia for giving us some ideas and guidance in writing this article and proofreading. Also thanks to Eli Shiffrin for proofreading and translating.

Sandra Regalado and Daniel Mencía