GP Richmond 2006 – The use of the mid-round deck check

Posted in NEWS on April 10, 2006

By Wizards of the Coast

Players tend to be very creative, and those who want to cheat often do so in creative ways. As judges, one of our jobs is to prevent, deter, or catch these players, and this requires us to refine our methods as time goes on. At GP Richmond 2006 we tried some techniques that proved to be extremely successful. One of them, the mid-round deck check, is the focus of this article.

When I began head judging larger tournaments about 18 months ago, I experimented with mid-round deck checks, which are checks made when players present their decks for games after G1. To my knowledge, I was the only judge who routinely used this technique. While judging PTQ’s in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, I worked with several judges from the Southern New England region, and I began trying out this technique and introducing it to other judges. One of my good friends, judge Adam Shaw, has helped develop some of my ideas while I was testing them. Though I had never found any problems in the mid-round checks I had done, when I got the job of Team Leader for Deck Checks at GP Richmond 2006, I knew I had a perfect proving ground.

At Richmond we had a large, experienced staff. I had nine floor judges working on my team, including two L3’s. I broke them up into four pairs with one judge to man the deck list folder and me observing. My intention was to do six pairs of checks per round with the four pairs of judges. Each round two of the pairs would go back to the floor after their primary check and scout for any table at which the players were presenting for G2 or G3. In this way we checked twenty mid-round decks throughout the day, and we struck gold in terms of tournament integrity. We found four serious problems in these twenty decks. In the worst case, judge Yuval Tzur found a player who intentionally added three cards to his sealed pool; this was a DQ of course. But we also found three fairly normal cases of Illegal Main deck for 39-card decks. Two were simple cases of an enchantment that was left on an opponent’s creature from the previous round, and another was a case of a lost card. So, 20% of our additional checks found problems, including one worthy of a DQ. Though it’s a fairly small sample, there is no question that the method proved itself. However, the reaction of the player community in the hours and days that followed is what really makes me know that we were successful.

As you might imagine at a GP, word got around fast that the judges were ‘up to something.’ Well, sure! We were up to ‘judging!’ And the player response at the GP was phenomenal. Many players, including high-level competitors, loved the idea that we were not only posturing against cheaters but also catching them. But there was a bigger bonus still to come for me; when I returned to Boston, the players there already knew about what had happened, and they were praising the job we had done! Apparently the word had spread fast in the week that followed the GP, especially with Sheldon’s interview with Brian David Marshall. With the kudos from the players, I knew that the experiment had been successful on all levels.

Though I take some credit for putting the idea out there, I want to give most of the credit to my checks team at the GP. They bought into the idea from the start and performed their checks accurately, admirably, enthusiastically, efficiently, and successfully. I could not have manifested this idea without their help. Well done, Team!

Here are some of the things we learned about mid-round checks:

  1. When you go out to scout a random table that is presenting for G2 or G3, be sure to scoop the match slip as well. If you do not, you will have to find the players’ names from the pairing sheet, and this will waste some time.
  2. Since four separate teams went back out with no particular table in mind, we mid-round checked the same player multiple times throughout the day. This isn’t bad, of course, but we ended up checking one player three times and another player four times. We began to realize that going back out randomly could tend to focus the mid-round checks toward players with faster decks – after all, they will be more likely to be done first so that a roaming judge may eyeball their match starting G2 before other tables. I think we can refine the process in this area. One possibility is to insert a 15-minute time delay between the primary deck checks and the mid-round deck checks.
  3. Remember that in G2 or G3 the decks may be sideboarded, so the deck you scoop may not match the decklist “played” column. Some of the judges momentarily forgot this, and so we used some time worrying why their decks didn’t match the list. It’s a small thing, but we should remind each other about it. As you check, sort the deck into two piles: cards that are in the maindeck and cards that were sideboarded in; this way you’ll get a clearer picture of the changes in case anything is irregular. When you are finished, return the deck to the player in its sideboarded state.
  4. When you scoop in mid-round, players may ask questions or feel otherwise uncomfortable since they will not often have seen this technique before. You can certainly put them at ease by keeping an easy demeanor and saying something like. “Hi, guys. Just doin’ a quick check between games.” This way they’ll know it’s routine. If they ask, tell them we’re trying out new deck check ideas. If they continue to have questions, or seem genuinely interested, ask them to come and see you at the end of the round when you can explain in greater detail. Anything will work, really, just help to make them comfortable.
  5. When you return the decks, return them in their sideboarded state, and inform the players that you’ve done so. Remind the players to check the contents to verify this and, of course, remind them to shuffle well.

So where do we go from here? I think that an in-depth look at the philosophy of our detection practices is in order. Clearly we need to find new ways of adapting to the needs of maintaining integrity in organized play. I’ve been developing some ideas about how to assess our tournament techniques, and I will present them in a future article.

Thanks to all at GP Richmond for a fun and productive judging experience.

Eric Lee Shukan, L3
Somerville, MA