Deck Checks

Posted in NEWS on November 22, 2004

By Wizards of the Coast


Performing a deck check is one of the toughest things a young judge must learn. The goal of this article is explain to all younger judges deck check philosophies and standard procedures. What this article cannot teach is experience. There are a few tricks, which can make the difference between a good deck check and a professional one. The only way to learn these tricks is performing real deck checks in real tournaments with experienced judges.


A deck check starts with the choice of the table. Usually the choice is random. DCI Reporter has a function to randomly select tables or players, but you can use any kind of system to determine which table to choose. Many times, especially in later rounds of tournaments, tables which can actually make Top 8 are reasonable choices, but is very important to maintain the integrity of the entire tournament. No player should feel as though he's free from being checked or that we're watching out for his best interests, regardless of table number.

Once the table has been selected, it is important to avoid letting the players know they will be checked this round. If you have two judges performing a single check, the best method is for one judge to pick up the decks while the other retrieves the deck lists.

For the judge picking up the decks (also known as "the swoop"), it is a bad idea stand behind the players, look them for long time, focus on their table, or do something that can reveal the intention to check that table. Try to be natural, relaxed, and at the same time, try to observe the players' pre-game behavior: how they shuffle, where they look when shuffle, and how much they shuffle (always without being observed).

It is important to wait until the deck has been presented to the opponent before picking it up. After shuffling the deck and putting it in the middle of the table, the player is basically saying: “Okay, I finished shuffling my deck, I declare its matches my decklist, is unmarked and sufficiently randomized.” If you pick up the decks before this time, you haven't given the player the opportunity to make this implicit declaration. If the deck is not presented, our deck check will be useless, since you've given the player the knowledge that you're checking him, and if he's engaged in any spurious behavior, he can reverse it and you be none the wiser.

The decks should be picked up before the opponent can cut or shuffle them but sometimes it happens that one of the players presents his deck early and his opponent cuts it before to presenting his own deck. This is not a problem. In this case, let the “early” player to draw his initial hand, wait for the second one present his deck and then pick up both decks. Waiting until both players have presented their decks is the desired state of affairs, but if not, make sure you keep the cards they've already drawn in order on top of the deck after you pick it up. This can be important if there are penalties to be issued due to insufficient randomization or deck stacking.

When you pick up decks, be sure to pick up sideboards and all cards in the same box or in the same pile of the sideboard, even if unsleeved. Sometimes players keep extra sideboard cards in the same box and when they receive a deck check, they simply hand the judge just the ones on their decklist.


Once picked up the decks go to the deck check area. Ideally, it should be a large table far from the eyes of the players (giving privacy to the deck check and prevent scouting or player interference). The other judge should have already found the decklists. Each judge selects one deck and performs these actions, in order. The order is significant because earlier actions can impact later ones:

If no sleeves are used ignore this check.
First of all check if all cards has been sleeved at the same depth. It’s very easy to sleeve some cards deeper than others to find them cutting the deck or to sleeve the lands deeper than the spells to easily see if shuffling some block of cards that can cause manascrew or manaflood. If you notice this anomaly, do not alter the order of the deck. If all cards deeper or less deep have a pattern, this is Marked Cards – Major; if not, I usually prefer to ignore the problem and continue.
After checking this, then check the sleeve size. If there is a difference, proceed like the “deeper” case and apply the same actions.

To correctly perform this check, it’s very important that you have not changed the order of the deck during check number one. You can also perform this check first, if you prefer, but in this case be sure to not alter the depth of the sleeving. A deck must be presented in a sufficiently random order. If you observe that the scheme of the spells is “unnatural” (usually land-spell-spell-land-spell-spell for the entire deck), investigate thoroughly. It's likely that the player has somehow stacked the deck. If the cards are in a random order, this check is successfully passed. To understand if a deck is sufficiently randomized requires experience (play-experience also helps) especially to distinguish between cheating, unintentional insufficient randomization, and “the very rare statistical probability that the deck just ended up this way. If the opponent shuffled the deck, you can in most cases ignore this check. If the deck was cut or a 7-card hand was drawn perform it, but keep that in mind when evaluating the schemes.

Now you must check that the presented deck is exactly the listed main deck. For constructed tournaments, I usually sort the cards in piles of the same card, then read the list and pick up from the table the cards I’m just reading. For limited tournaments, I prefer sort lands and non-lands, then read the decklist in order and search the deck for non-lands. I like this method because they are the quickest I've tried, but feel free to use the method most comfortable to you--be sure to use a method that can find both if there are extra or missing cards.

Now check the sideboard in the same way. For limited tournaments, sometimes it's better to check just the stronger cards or some random cards in order to save time. Be sure to check if there are some “extra cards” with the sideboard that can be used in a fraudulent manner in this tournament (for example the 4th copy of the cards played in just 3 copy in a constructed deck). Again, for this reason is important to pick up the entire box that contains the sideboard and not let the player pick up his sideboard from somewhere.

Now check the cards for marks on the sleeves. This is aided by good light. Remember to do so with sideboard cards as well. Check the sideboard and main deck sleeves to see if there is a difference. Whenever you find a marked card, don’t look it yet, just sort the marked cards in piles with the same mark and turn them over when you're finished. It will be immediately evident if there is a patter or not.

Players will appreciate it if you explain to them the detail and potential abuses of marked cards. While you're explaining the penalty to them, feel free to demonstrate how easily you can recognize the markings on the cards.

Feel free to invent your own kind of check. There are numerous ways to cheat by manipulating a deck, and there are numerous ways to catch them. If you have time, feel free to try another check in addition to the other five.

The problem of the deck check is that usually delay the tournament of his duration plus 3 minutes. So is also important to be quick and to think as quick as necessary to not waste time and at the same time to assure the player a fair penalty and a fair investigation.
A good deck check require 5 to 7 minutes, if you reach 10 minutes stop immediately the deck check and give back the decks to the players skipping all others remaining checks but… you failed… too slow…

If you have a question about which penalty to issue, discuss it with other judges or the Head Judge. During deck checks, it’s difficult to have cases so evident to not need a little investigation, and you have to decide if the infraction is intentional. Consider all the options and don't just jump to the first conclusion. Consider the following:

  • How much of a real advantage can the player take?
  • The player's history. If you consider this, use real evidence, not hearsay
  • Possibility the event occurred randomly
  • How easy it is to perform the infraction
  • How easy it is to abuse (if it’s very easy to take a great advantage of this or if it’s very difficult that it can be useful during any game)

After this consideration, use all your skills and experience, aided by the opinions and the points of view of the other judges; what’s the appropriate penalty to issue.

Sometimes, if you are in doubt, especially if you are not sure if it’s possible to abuse of it or if you are not sure if the infraction is intentional, the best way to act is give back the deck without penalty and observe the player in the next 2-3 rounds during shuffling and play. This way is easy to determine if the player is cheating or not.

As always, consult the Penalty Guidelines for the appropriate actions. Here are a few notes on the philosophy of penalties:

  • DISQUALIFICATION : is the appropriate penalty for ANY intentional infraction of ANY kind.
  • MATCH/GAME LOSS : they are the appropriate penalties for cases where you think the penalty is unintentional, but great advantage can be taken.
  • CAUTION/WARNING : usually this is the appropriate penalty for minor infractions like worn sleeves or an insufficiently randomized deck where the player cannot take an advantage. The difference between this kind of infraction and the previous one is the advantage the infraction can give to the player.

Because the tournament will be delayed for the time you’ll need to check the deck and issue a penalty, if appropriate, you must make a timely decision. When you give back the decks the players will receive the time elapsed plus 3 minutes to shuffle and present their decks.

  • A deck check with no problem should be completed in no more than 10 minutes.
  • If you are thinking about a Warning or a Caution don’t spend more than another minute to decide. It's detrimental to your tournament to think for half an hour if to issue a caution or a warning and delay the entire tournament this long..
  • If you are unsure between a Warning or a Game Loss be sure to not spend more time than 15 minutes to decide (including deck check time). Again, long delays to your tournament are bad.
  • If you are thinking about a DQ you are plenty of time. Even if you later decide that the infraction is unintentional in most of cases a match loss is also appropriate, because the match will be not played at all you have about an hour to decide to disqualify the player or just issue a match loss. When you do a DQ investigation be sure to take all time is necessary and to consider every option. DQing a player is very serious! Remember, you don't need complete empirical evidence to DQ a player. If you're reasonably sure that the player has cheated, issue the DQ if you're the Head Judge, or recommend it to the Head Judge if you're not. If you decide for the DQ, remember to get statements from all involved parties and fill out the appropriate DCI paperwork, to include the report to the Policy Manager. When you DQ a player be sure to respect his rights and his privacy. Speak with him in a separate place and don’t call him cheater, even if has cheated. Stick to explaining the facts. Especially with young or inexperienced players, explaining to them what they did wrong is more profitable than any suspension will be


After the deck check is finished you must give back the decks. When you do, don't give away any strategic advice to either player. Asking, "Who's playing Affinity?" is the wrong question. Make sure you're giving the correct decks back to the correct players.

If you need to issue a penalty call the penalized player away from the table. Explain to him the penalty, the infraction, what he can do to avoid this kind of problem in the future, and what can happen if he repeats the infraction. Then go back to the table and explain the penalty to his opponent. Again, give the opponent a minimum amount of information. Don't say, "he had five Arcbound Ravagers," say "He had an illegal main deck."

Remember to check how much time has elapsed, add 3 minutes and mark the additional time in the upper right corner of the result entry slip with your initials and “DC”. The deck check is now over.


The deck check described above constitutes 95% of the deck verifications judges usually make during a tournament. Sometimes other deck checks are made between games, upon request of one player if he notice something wrong on his opponent deck or to check other particularities of the deck.

Sometimes a player will call for a judge because he’s worried about some mark he noticed on his opponent's deck or because he think his opponent has not shuffled sufficiently. These calls must be specific. It’s not acceptable that a player just asks his opponent to be deck checked without reason. It’s unsporting conduct and must be penalized. If a player asks you to check a particular thing about his opponent's deck, your goal is to verify it as quickly as possible as to not delay the tournament. For example, if a player tells you that he think his opponent has not sufficiently randomized the deck just take it, go away from the table, and check if it’s true without changing the order of the cards. If everything is fine give back the deck and tell them that the deck is fair and it should not be reshuffled, so you need just to give them the extra time spent to check this problem without the 3 minutes to shuffle the deck again. If you notice any problem instead make deeper investigation and take a normal time to do so.

If you have a suspicious looking any game you have many option depending on what’s suspect. If for example, observing game one, you see a card that usually players’ use in their sideboard, without saying anything to the players, check the decklist of this player. Act only if your suspicion is confirmed. If you think he has too many or too few cards in his sideboard feel free to take them and count them. If your doubt is for marked cards, is better to delay the check to the next match, so you can make a targeted deck check, choosing yourself the table to check instead of doing so randomly.

You can also do a deck check after game 1 to check if someone has added cards other than those in their sideboard. Be sure also for the middle round deck check to wait for the deck presentation before picking up decks and remember to pick up also the result entry slip to remember which players are you checking and find the proper decklists.

This is also a stamp check to check if someone has altered a booster draft or a Rochester draft but this article will not cover them.


Performing a deck check is very important. It keeps the tournament fair, but it’s very difficult to perform well. Everything explained above is what a “less experienced judge need to know in theory, but the practice will teach you what cannot be explained in a article. All the “steps explained above should be enough to find the major anomalies you can find during a deck check. Issuing the penalty is more difficult. Even though I explained the philosophy on what penalties are based on, there exist infinite different cases, different situations, and different way to act that can be learned only observing real deck checks. Every judge, even the more experienced, can learn something more about deck check and about handling penalties for deck check infractions. For this reason is important to share opinions during investigations and ask t experienced judges their opinions on what you are investigating. This will result in the player receiving the most appropriate penalty, but more importantly, will help you to improve your experience and be a better judge. Obviously, not all judges can be involved in the investigation for each deck check, but be sure to share everything interesting with every judge at the end of tournament, during judge meetings, or during breaks. Everyone can learn something from any interesting case, not only the less experienced judge.

If you have comments feel free to mail me to Thanks to Sheldon Menery for editing and some translation to English.

Diego Fasciolo, level 3.

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