Deck Checking

Posted in NEWS on December 7, 2015

By Wizards of the Coast

B Tucker

Ah, the always-interesting deckcheck. Deckchecks can be the judge's best friend and the sketchy player's bane. This simple, ten minute procedure can often reassure the judging staff, while keeping the players alert that "the judges are watching." (Big Brother is watching you)

First and foremost, the deckcheck should not exceed ten minutes unless a game or match loss is going to be awarded. There are four things involved in performing an effective and speedy deckcheck: randomization, sleeves (very important), contents of deck, and finally, contents of sideboard.

Deckchecking is a recurring judge responsibility

However, before getting to the good stuff, a judge must learn to master "The Swoop." This is the process of collecting the decks from the players. As with all things, there is always a trick: being inconspicuous. This simple element is key. Standing a few tables away from the target is the first step (making other players worry that they are getting checked). Immediately when decks are presented, you need to get to the table before their opponents cut and shuffle their decks. Not crucial, but this definitely improves the effectiveness of the check. By this time, the judge collecting decks should already have the decklists pulled for the appropriate players. Decks should be checked away from the tournament area whenever possible.

First, make sure that you have the correct deck for the correct decklist! (I have seen many judges start screaming for penalties when decklists were similar and happened to get mixed up. Just remember, it can happen to you!) Next, check the top seven cards of the deck. If the hand seems fairly reasonable, look over the next five or so and check for anything fishy (four Fact or Fictions in the next five might qualify).

Sleeves / Card Backs
Having good lighting over the table will help in this process, as it will bring out marks, scuffs, wearing, creases, etc. Here's the many different situations:
No sleeves - Whitened corners/edges, creases, and fading are things to look for. Revised, Ice Age, Mirage, Urza's Saga, and current sets all have different intensities of ink on their backs. Although I've seen it very rarely, it can always happen.
Transparent sleeves - Not much different here. See above.
Opaque sleeves - Personally, I find this part of deckchecks quite amusing. Look for patterns and fingernail marks, as well as, what could be mistaken for, manufacturer defects (just remember, sideboard sleeves will be played less, and therefore will be less worn than the rest of the deck). During my experience as a judge and player, here's what I've found

  • Ultra-Pro (Non-textured) - These are the worst, especially the green and blue. Ultra-Pro packages these sleeves in a way where every box seems to have a good deal of the sleeves chewed up by machines .
  • Ultra-Pro (Textured) - I have had very minimal experience in playing with these, but have had very few qualms with them except for the silver ones. The silver sleeves act as mirrors, and cards can easily be seen in their reflection. I've been told that the gold ones do this as well, although I have not tested it myself. These sleeves do not seem to get marked very easily.
  • Dragonshields - Made by Arcane Tinmen, these are my favorite. Very few, if any, sleeves are damaged during the packaging process, and the box that they are sold in can hold 75+ sleeved cards, whereas the Ultra-Pro boxes cannot. Gold tends to be my preference, as they are dark enough that dirt is hard to see. The blue and green sleeves tend to have length inconsistencies, so you may want to stay away from them.
  • If you find any sort of patterns that appear to be suspicious, give the deck to another judge to see if he/she can pull out near the same cards. A judge with a good memory can be quite helpful as well. Allow him/her to look at the marks for ten seconds or so, shuffle the cards into the deck, then let them attempt to pull the same cards. Another note: should you feel necessary to penalize someone for marked sleeves, remember that the penalty for a pattern is a game (REL1-2) or a match (REL3+) loss. This penalty is for marked cards, not for cheating. In the event that this penalty comes up, explain to the player that the penalty is _not_ for cheating, but simply for marked cards. Also note that Marked Cards - Minor is one of the few penalties where REL 3 follows REL1-2 severity, and not REL4+.

Main deck Contents
In order to maximize efficiency, begin by sorting the deck into two piles: land and non-land. After doing so, sort the lands and non-lands into their respective "by-name" piles. The most common penalty that you will need to apply during this period will be a game loss (across the board for all RELs) for Procedural Error - Failure to Desideboard. This occurs when a player fails to return their deck to its listed state on the decklist before presenting it to their opponent.

Sideboard Contents
Not much will happen here, as sleeves have already been checked for their condition. The only real problem that I've seen before is when a player has other cards in their deckbox besides the sideboard and main deck. If the sideboard is sleeved and the extra cards are not, there is less suspicion for a player possibly trying to gain an advantage over their opponent. If the sideboard and extra cards are not sleeved, it would be in the tournament integrity's best interest to watch the player for any suspected cheating after the deckchecks have been completed. Whenever I am playing and have extra cards in my deckbox, I let my opponent know that they are there and I ask him/her if he/she wishes for me to remove them. If they do, I remove them. If they don't, I don't. You may want to pass this suggestion along to the player to prevent future miscommunications. When it comes to judges restricting this sort of behavior, a few approaches can be taken: a player with extra cards in his/her deckbox must tell his/her opponent about them before starting each game, or not allow extra cards in or anywhere near the deckbox.

Finishing Up - No Penalties Issued
After everything has checked out, be sure to write on the player's decklist the following information: the current round, how long the deckcheck took, and who did the deckcheck. Return the decks to the players, and grant them an extension of X+3 minutes, where X is however long it took to complete the deckcheck. The extra three minutes gives the players adequate time to shuffle their poorly randomized decks (since the judge probably ordered it quite nicely). Write the length of the extension on the result slip and record that a deckcheck was issued.

Finishing Up - Penalties Issued
Follow the same instructions above in regards to writing on the player's decklist. When returning the decks, pull the penalized player away from the table before explaining the penalty. If a penalty is being issued to both players, it is fine to pull one player away from the table, and leave one sitting. Make sure that the penalty (penalties) are recorded on the result slip along with the time of the extension. If a game loss or match loss is being issued, it is usually acceptable to exceed the ten minute threshold. Also, remember to let the players know that they cannot sideboard for Game 2.

Here is a list of the most common penalties that will be issued during a deckcheck:

  • Illegal Main Deck (Legal Decklist) - Game Loss for all RELs
  • Illegal Sideboard (Legal List) - Game Loss for all RELs
  • Failure to Desideboard - Game Loss for all RELs
  • Marked Cards (Minor) - Caution for REL1-3, Warning for REL4-5
  • Marked Cards (Major) - Game Loss for REL1-2, Match Loss for REL3-5
  • Cheating - DQ w/o prize for all (you expected otherwise? =D)