There are 2 main goals when conducting a deck check. The most important is making sure that players are playing correctly registered decks. It is administrative by nature, but necessary. Players should want decklists to be used - the only severe penalties are for those who are caught cheating. The second goal pales in comparison, that of speed, which will only come through practice and knowledge of the environment being played. This article addresses how to break down a deck in a quick and efficient manner, while not missing the problems that deck checks can find.
1) Beginning of the round
While the pairings are being posted, randomly determine the pair (or pairs) to be checked. Pull out those decklists, checking to make sure the deck registered has a legal number of cards, and legal cards listed for the tournament. Assign one judge per pair to pick up one set of decks. These judges are subtle. They don't hover over the pair to be checked. The players should have the opinion that the judge is most likely checking some other table, or that the judge is just making sure everyone hears the announcements. The judge waits until both decks have been presented to be cut, and then steps in. If a player cuts his opponent's deck, and the opponent lays out his hand of seven - still wait until the other deck is presented. If a player finds a card, after the judge moves to pick up the decks, it was not in the deck when it was presented to the opponent.
2) Preparation of the deck check area
The area where the decks are being checked should be clean - no sticky areas from beverages, no miscellaneous cards that get mixed in, and no papers that cards can slide between.
3) Deck check itself
a) Skim through the deck itself. The judge is checking for mana pockets. The number of pockets of land should not equal the number of lands. This is the easy way to check if a deck has been "mana-weaved", and then not randomized. If the deck is weaved, leave the deck in its current state for when the player is called up. Evidence should not be destroyed. Penalty: Cheating: Fraud - Disqualification without prize.
b) Sort out the land from the non-land.
c) In Limited-format events, I recommend sorting out by set/color, and then just comparing to the decklist, item by item. In non-Top eight checks, skim the sideboard - but don't burn time. If the player was going to cheat by adding extra cards, they will likely be playing with them. In single-elim finals, the deck check should be thorough. In Constructed deck formats, I sort each spell into its own stack. Item by item, check the number in each stack against what is listed on the decklist. Conduct the sideboard check in a similar fashion.
d) Check card/sleeve wear. We check this last - if there is a pattern to the wear, it will be easy to tell if the pattern is is based on what card it is, because the cards are still sorted by type.
Sleeves. If some of the sleeves are new, and some are worn, and there is no pattern, when the decks are returned, ask the player to fix it for future events. If there are some dings or scratches, ask the player to fix those sleeves before the rest of the match proceeds. If sideboard sleeves are of different condition than the main deck, make sure the player is notified to switch the sleeves. Non-sleeved. Concern yourself with the color of the back of the card - different editions, different print runs - different colors on the back. The easiest part to note is the color of the black border on all Magic cards. Non-sleeved cards also show damage that can't be fixed. If the cards are equally damaged and without pattern, it's okay. If you feel it would hinder or distract his opponent (is his Prodigal Sorcerer going to fall apart this turn, or next turn?) - recommend a fix for the situation. It is the player's responsibility to fall within the rules.
e) Return the decks. If there is a penalty or concern regarding a deck, keep the deck and have the player brought up. Having a debate about the contents of his/her deck, or penalties discussed in front of his/her opponent causes problems. Instruct the players they need to shuffle their decks thoroughly and how much extra time they have for their match, either noting it on the match result slip, or writing it down at the scorekeeper' s station where the extra time is tracked. If there is a game loss penalty attached, the toss is still random as to who chooses play/draw.
The total time should take about 7-8 minutes, if you have a staff for each deck being checked. The more familiar that staff member is with that environment, the easier they can identify cards, and the faster they can process the check.
Any kind of warning or penalty, for offenses other than Cheating, should be accompanied with a lecture on how the player can avoid this problem in the future. It could be as simple as taking more time, counting his or her deck before each game, or even taking a second to count their sideboard.
Conducting the random deck checks - it is within tolerances to have the same player's deck checked more than once in a tournament. (I would not recommend more than twice, without reason.) You may decide to restrict the checks to higher tables, on the assumption that a player might resort to cheating to ensure a higher finish. Keep in mind though, a player at any stage can make errors, and that you are present to run the entire tournament in an even, fair-handed fashion.
Jimmer Sivertsen - Level 3, Seattle.
1999-2000 Universal Tournament Rules,
1999-2000 Magic: The Gathering Floor Rules, 1999-2000