How to organize a tournament - Part 1: The Venue

Posted in NEWS on December 7, 2015

By Wizards of the Coast

Deke Young

My name is Deke Young, a level 2 judge and Tournament Organizer in the Atlanta Georgia USA area. I work with Anthony Edwards running Atlanta Premier Events ( We run events for 8-24 players FNM, 16-48 player Grand Prix Trials, 80-180 player Qualifiers, 282 player (over multiple flights) Pre-Releases and 430-440 player Southeast Regionals.

In this article I will discuss the following:

  • Table Space and Layout
  • Table Numbering
  • Scorekeeping Stations
  • Land Stations
  • Registration
  • Pairings and Standings
  • Side Events
  • Other "Herd" tendencies

TABLE SETUP (apologies all measurements are in feet, not meters)

The basic building blocks for tournament spaces are table, usually in 3 sizes:

  • The rare 60" x 30" or "5-foot"
  • The 72" x 30" or "6-foot"
  • The 96" x 30" or "8-foot"
  • The 72" x 18" or "6-foot half"
  • The 96" x 18" or "8-foot half"

The War room has a few 5-foot tables that we like to use for feature or top-record tables. The legs for these tables are at the extreme outside edge of the table. Given 4 chairs the players are allotted 2.5 feet of lateral space and no problems with table legs interfering with human legs.

The standard 6-foot table can seat 4 chairs comfortably (which we do at FNM, GPT and PTQ events) or 6 chairs uncomfortably (at Pre-Releases.) While it appears that a 6-foot table gives the player more table space, the positioning of the table legs means that the outside 9-12" of the table is not usable and the players really only get 2.0 feet of lateral space.

The standard 8-foot table can seat 6 chairs comfortably (which we do at FNM, GPT and PTQ events) or 8 chairs uncomfortably (at Pre-Releases and Regionals.) An 8-foot table also has legs under (rather than on the edge) the table but the legs are usually at least 2 feet in from the edge. This allows 2 feet of lateral space outside of the legs. Because of the legs, 8-foot tables are usually more efficient than 6-foot tables.

The only place you are likely to see 6 and 8-foot half tables are in a hotel or banquet hall. Be cautious when asking a hotel to set up a room "classroom style with chairs on both sides" as you may end up with 18" wide half tables instead of the standard 30" wide table. And before you plan to put two half tables "back to back" remember that they will create a table 36" wide, not 30" wide. This extra 6 inches will cause you to run out of floor space quickly. If there is a market for half wide tables, it is your dealers. Display cases and half tables are a perfect match.

First suggestion is to inventory your tables. Some venues will have enough tables in good working condition to fill your needs, but check for broken tables. The time to replace a table is before you set up the event, not in the middle of a round when the table collapses. Next check the vertical height of the tables. So long as they are the same height as all the other tables in that row they will suffice, as the joints between the tables will be level.

If you are obsessive-compulsive detail oriented like me, you will then measure the venue with a 100-foot wind up tape measure. Next I build an excel spreadsheet to create a grid for the floor space of the venue. (If you are not an excel geek you can skip the next section.)

Select an area larger then your venue in square feet, as an example Winfield hall is 57 feet by 90 feet according to the contractor's floor plans.
Set the column width to 4 and the row height to 25.
Use the border function to set your outside walls
Lay out the room with 3x8 or 3x6 blocks, set your isles to either 5 or 7 as described later in the article.
Be sure to indicate exits and other doorways on the "map."

The first consideration will be traffic flow. Determine where you want your players to walk to view pairings. Set up central isles as walkways. Tables should not be placed more than 4 tables end to end. More than 4 will restrict the number of paths a player can take to his seat and delay the tournament from starting each round.

Rows of tables should be spaced 5 feet apart for regular rows and 7 feet apart in walkways. This is the distance between tables where chairs are placed. Spacing between table's ends should be 4 feet. There should be 4 feet between the wall and any table. Resist the temptation to place a table end against a wall, unless your space is so small that you cannot set up tables end to end.

If you want my opinion, send me an e-mail to with your measurements and I can help you out on a floor plan.


Tables should be numbered in a logical sequence. I recommend a "serpent" method were the first row tables are numbered 1,2,3,4 the second row 8,7,6,5 the third row 9,10,11,12. This will facilitate handing our match result slips.

When numbering tables be aware of two factors:
a) There will always be a crowd around table 1.
b) As players drop out, you will need fewer and fewer tables for your main event.

While most people tend to place table 1 near the scorekeeping station, I actually prefer to place table 1 AWAY from the scorekeeping station. If you can place table 1 away from the pairings, exits, restrooms, all for the better. Choose an area away from fragile displays, for a observer wearing a 50lbs backpack is a very dangerous thing.

Tables should be numbered without disrupting the play surface. Do not tape numbers to the middle of the table where players will place their permanents, rather off to the edges of the table. I recommend that the number does not face either of the players, so that the number can be read from both sides of the table.

The optimum solution we have discovered is to use disposable colored plastic tablecloths that we staple to the tables. A roll of 100 feet is around $10 US dollars. We then take a very bold tipped marker and write the table number right on the plastic tablecloth. No tape, no paper, no confusion in this method. We use colored plastic at Pre-Releases where we have multiple flights designated by color (red 1, White 1, Blue 1, Yellow 1, Red 2, White 2, etc.)


Aside from the usual concerns, here are some issues for scorekeeping stations.

Staff Baggage: Regardless of my requests, my staff still shows up with a backpack full of cards. It would be best if everything was left in the car, but magic judges are all at some level still magic players. I place an extra table in the staff area and bring extra boxes to uses as "temporary lockers."

Physical Barriers: At the Invasion Pre-release a player knocked my IBM ThinkPad 600 off the scoring table and onto the tile floor. As this happened during a round and I had done a backup to diskette after pairings, no data was lost and I was able to get the tournament running in less than 20 minutes. However the impact damaged the hard drive edge connecter and in the end I was forced to replace the laptop's hard drive.
Since that incident I now place a physical barrier between the throng and myself. Particularly dangerous are the 12-16 year old crowd carrying a 50lbs backpack. They will back into anything and remain ignorant of the damage they cause. I have a 5 foot round table that fold in half and bend upright that fills the twin function of a physical barrier early in the tournament and a 8 man draft table for a limited event top 8.

Paper cutters: We have not had a safety incident with the paper cutter yet and I plan to maintain that record. Isolating the cut machine from players is critical. So much in fact that the cut machine merits table space of it's own, usually on the back wall.

I will provide many more details about scorekeeping in a future article.


Unlike the scorekeeping stations, your player will need access to a land station. Best to provide a 8-foot table with a line at each end. Place a judge at the head of each line to collect deck sheets and verify for accuracy. A new item we added at the Judgment Pre-Release is to issue each player a post-it note, then instruct them to write down their starting land count on the post-it note. This way a judge could read the post-it note and quickly issue the correct amount of land to the players.
If you let the players get their own land, assume that they are utter pigs and will make a mess of any arrangement. Best to put out a limited amount of land into boxes or trays, and replenish the 5 boxes/trays as they run out. If you put 200 of each land out in 5 organized piles, you will have a big mess in less than 10 minutes.


We set up a table in a hallway leading to the gaming room for registration forms, and then give the players instruction to take them into the tournament area to fill them out. Then we start a second line in front of Anthony (the Tournament Organizer) so they can pay for the event. What is important is to provide space for a line. I highly recommend forms, because you do not want that line anywhere near your scorekeeping station.


Put up pairings and standings in at least 2 locations in the venue. Mount them eye level OR HIGHER. I am fond of placing them 9 feet high on a wall, where several players can see the form. If you place pairings lower some player will feel obligated to place his finger on the form in order to be sure about his table, blocking the view of every other player.


At our Pre-release and Regional events we have dedicated space just for side events. At GPTs and PTQs, we hold Side Events in the tournament space vacated by dropped players. You need to designate an area so your booster draft players have an area to congregate. We waste a lot of time trying to find players who have signed up for a booster draft, better to have a table number for them to sit at while they wait for the draft to start.

Always keep some buffer space between the Main event and side events.


Players will go to any space where they can sit down, but hate to stand anywhere. We have tried a few times to "clear the tournament area" once a round is completed in order to identify games in extra turns. This only works if the players have a place to sit. Shuffling them outside, even if only for 5 minutes, will lead to irritable players.

The only mechanism I know to address the trash problem is to place LOTS and LOTS and LOTS of garbage cans all over the venue. Trash is like Marshall Faulk, "you cannot stop him, you can only hope to contain him."

Likewise, the only way to prevent players from using them as a personal timepiece it so place a large face clock on a wall near the scorekeeping station. They will still ask, but trust me it is easier to point at a clock 100 times a day than it is to tell them the time 100 times a day.

As often as I complain about magic players, they are a smart bunch and will learn (in time.) If you use the same venue, try to keep the changes to the important ones, and leave the small things the same as last time. Over the course of a year the players will learn how you run your events and adapt to the local environment.

Watch for Part 2 of How to Organize a Tournament -Scorekeeping